George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Merchants of Charleston, South Carolina, 8 October 1792

From the Merchants of Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston So. Carolina 8th October 1792.

To The Honorable President & Members of the Senate of the united States in congress assemble’d

The Petition of the Subscribers, Merchants residing in Charleston, in the State of South Carolina, humbly sheweth,

That by an act pass’d at the third Session of Congress, to regulate processes, in the Courts of the United States, “It is enacted that the same mode of proceedings shall be had, & the same fees exacted in each State respectively as are now us’d, or allow’d in the supreme courts of the same[”];1 whereby your petitioners are subjected to the same enormous fees & obnoxious mode of proceedings in the court of Admiralty of the United States, in this State, as were practis’d & receiv’d in a Court of similar jurisdiction before the revolution; The Legislature of this State having never made any regulations or alterations therein; Your petitioners have annex’d hereto, a bill of costs in the said court as tax’d by the Judge, a reference to which by your honorable house, they presume, will render it unnecessary for them to use any arguments to induce a reduction of such excessive costs.2

Your petitioners feel themselves bound to make honorable mention of the most numerous & respectable practitioners at the bar, in this city, who have invariably, when in their power, refus’d to practice in a court, become obnoxious to all reasonable men, by the great & enormous costs to which Litigants there are made liable.

Your petitioners beg leave further to shew, that by an act pass’d at the Second Session of Congress, to regulate Seamen in the Merchants service, Ships or Vessells & their appurtenences are made Liable to actions of trivial amount, whereby it often happens that your petitioners are compell’d to submit to the most unreasonable demands as a Lesser injury, rather than suffer the detention of their Vessells; an evil which your petitioners apprehend may be remov’d without injury or Loss to any one, by giving power to the Judge of the Court, to accept of other sufficient security where the sum in action does not exceed One hundred & Fifty dollars.3

Your petitioners therefore pray that your honorable house, will be pleas’d to pass a Law, restraining the proceedings & reducing the fees in the Court of Admiralty of the United States in this State, & admitting of other security being taken to the satisfaction of the Judge of the Court, in small & trivial causes brought by seamen or others against Vessells in the Merchants service, & Your petitioners, as in duty bound will ever pray.

DS, DNA: RG 46, Second Congress, 1791–93, Senate Records of Legislative Proceedings, Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents. Sixty-one signatures appear at the bottom of this petition and are on CD-ROM:GW.

This petition was presented, read, and ordered to lie on the table at the 6 Nov. 1792 meeting of the Senate (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 610). Section 8 of “An Act for regulating Processes in the Courts of the United States, and providing Compensations for the Officers of the said Courts, and for Jurors and Witnesses” of 8 May 1792 already had repealed the act of 18 Feb. 1791, and GW approved on 1 Mar. 1793 “An Act to ascertain the fees in Admiralty proceedings in the District Courts of the United States, and for other purposes” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 278, 332–33).

1During its third session the First Congress passed “An Act to continue in force, for a limited time, an act passed at the first Session of Congress, intituled ‘An act to regulate processes in the Courts of the United States,’ ” which GW signed on 18 Feb. 1791. Section 2 of the original legislation of 29 Sept. 1789 provided that “the forms and modes of proceedings in causes of equity, and of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, (a) shall be according to the course of the civil law; and the rates of fees the same as are or were last allowed by the states respectively in the court exercising supreme jurisdiction in such causes” (see ibid., 93–94, 191).

2The annexed bill of costs has not been identified.

3During its second session the First Congress approved “An Act for the government and regulation of Seamen in the merchants service,” which GW signed on 20 July 1790 (ibid., 131–35).

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