Alexander Addison to Thomas Mifflin
Washington 12th May 1794
My last letter to you was intended merely as an answer to your circular letter of 21st March, and was drawn from me by an idea, that it was proper for me to notice, according to my sentiments, the different subjects of your letter.1 Had I supposed, that it was to claim the attention of the President, to assume the solemn form of an accusation, and to be subjected to the resentment of a subordinate officer of notorious unfriendly affections, I should certainly have expressed myself with greater caution, and in terms less general. The intimation which I have lately received of this, I must submit to you, as my apology, for troubling you with a few explanatory remarks, and as my reason for requesting, that you will lay this letter also before the President.
There are, so far as I have understood, but two Collectors of excise in the four Counties of Pennsylvania on this side of the Mountains, Benjamin Wells of Fayette County is collector for the Counties of Westmoreland and Fayette, Robert Johnston of Allegheny County is Collector of the Counties of Washington and Allegheny. I know not of any office of Inspection either in Westmoreland or Washington.
Robert Johnston, so far as I have learnt of him, is an honest man, of good character, but more remarkable for simplicity, good nature, and inoffensive manners, than for those qualities of spirit, understanding, skill and address, which are necessary for carrying into execution a law odious and opposed where he is charged with its execution.2
Benjamin Wells, so far as I have ever heard him spoken of, is a contemptible, and unworthy man, whom, I believe the people of this Country would never wish to see in any office, or trust with an object of importance.
So much as to my opinion of the men, I shall now add something, as to my opinion of the things stated in my letter respecting the excise.
At last March Court in Fayette County, in a public Company at dinner, in the Tavern where I lodged, some of the most respectable Gentlemen in that County, and most strenuously opposed to the Excise law, proposed that a meeting of the inhabitants of that County should be called, in which it should be agreed, that they would all enter their stills, provided Benjamin Wells was removed from office, and some honest and reputable man, appointed in his stead. I will not say that these are the words, but I know it is the amount of the conversation.
With respect to tresspasses committed by the Excise Officers; I alluded to seizures of Whiskey in transportation from one place to another, for want of marks and certificates; when it was notorious, that the Whisky seized had been distilled from domestic materials in a country place; and when such Whisky is not subjected to the regulations of marks and certificates, nor seizable in transportation.3 I therefore, considered all such seizures as unwarranted by law, and, of course, tresspasses.
You have now the grounds of my sentiments: if I erred, it was an error of opinion, not a wilful misrepresentation. I will add also, that it is an error, which I yet entertain, with a confidence, which I have discovered no reason to shake. I am, Sir. Your mo: obedt servt
Copy, signed by Alexander James Dallas, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.
1. Mifflin’s circular letter of 21 March mentioned "the present state of our National affairs, relatively to the Belligerent powers of Europe" as likely to "produce that unanimity of sentiment and conduct among the people, that is obviously essential to give energy and success to the exertions of a Republican Government." Pennsylvania officials were encouraged "to inculcate and promote those principles of order and harmony, on which our social happiness depends; and of attachment to the Constitution and Laws, on which our political prosperity must be raised." The "objects of peculiar moment" were "to insure obedience to the Laws of that Government which is immediately intrusted with the National defence, and to establish the Militia of the State upon a respectable and efficient footing. . . . let it be deeply impressed on the minds of our Fellow-Citizens, that . . . every irregular and illegal opposition to existing laws, will not only embarrass the operations of Government, but eventually undermine the only real security for the liberty and property of individuals."
These reflections led to a discussion of "The disposition that has appeared in some of the Counties, to resist and counteract the execution of the Excise Law of Congress." Regardless of the "diversity of opinion" about that tax, Mifflin argued, "the propriety of acquiescing in it, while sanctioned by the Legislative authority, cannot be controverted, by any friend to the peace and happiness of his Country. The same Constitution that gave the power to lay a tax, has designated the mode in which original impolicy, or oppressive operation, may be represented to that tribunal which can, and, in the case of real grievance, is bound, to grant redress. As Freemen, let us always remonstrate against actual wrongs; but, as Citizens let us always obey existing Laws."
Mifflin added that he would receive "with pleasure, any communication upon the subject" of his circular (LS addressed to Edward Burd, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790-99; see also Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 4:49-50).
2. Robert Johnson was a tenant of Presley Nevill (Brackenridge, Incidents, 25). "Finding the opposition to the revenue law more violent than I expected, regreting the mischief that has been done, and may from the continuation of measures, seeing the opposition change from disguised rabble to a respectable party," he announced his resignation in July (Pittsburgh Gazette, 2 Aug.). However, he subsequently resumed his duties and remained a collector at least as late as 1798.
3. Section 19 of "An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same," 3 March 1791, required that "previous to the removal of . . . spirits from any distillery" the officer of inspection was to mark each cask "in durable characters" with the name of the distillery manager, the distillery location, and "the quantity therein, to be ascertained by actual gauging, and with the proof thereof." After the duties were paid, the officer would also "grant a certificate for each cask of the said spirits, to accompany the same wheresoever it shall be sent." Section 28 provided that the absence of such marks and certificates "shall be presumptive evidence that the same are liable to forfeiture." However, section 36 excepted "any person who shall employ one still only, and that of a capacity not exceeding fifty gallons, including the still-head," from the penalties of the act (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 . 1:199-214).