Industry and Commerce, Fisheries: Hamilton to Goodue, October 29, 1790



Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 4


Industry and Commerce, Fisheries: Hamilton to Goodhue, October 29, 1790


October 29, 1790.
Dear Sir:

As the subject of the enclosed letter is of consequence to the Whale Fishery, I send it to you to read, and will be glad to converse with you about it to-morrow.

Your obedient servant,

A.H.


October 29, 1790.

My DearSir:

I am duly favored with your letter of the eighteenth instant, and receive the observations you have been so obliging as to make, not only with candor but with thanks, as a mark of your friendship and confidence.

I am far from relying so much upon my own judgment as not to think it very possible that I may have been mistaken in both the constructions on which you remark. Indeed I see abundant room for adopting opposite ones, and did not, till after mature reflection, conclude on those which had been announced, and not then entirely, without hesitation.

The reasoning which prevailed in my mind in each case was of this nature:

First, as to the bounty.

The original and express object of the allowance was by way of compensation for the duties on salt.

The declared motive of the suspension was, that there was salt within the United States on which on such duties had been paid.

The equity of the suspending clause, which is, that there ought to be no compensation where there is no consideration, and the general intent of the Legislature, which was, that there should be no compensation where there had been no such consideration, were therefore both manifestly against the allowance of the bounty on the articles shipped between the passing of the first act and the passing of the second. And though the letter of the suspending clause is future, yet its reason being retrospective, and the actual making of the allowance for articles already shipped being future also, I thought it admissible so to construe the law as to arrest this allowance, in that sense future, in conformity to the real justice of the case and the main design of the Legislature. In a circumstance in which the equity was palpable, and the law doubtful, I thought it my duty as an executive servant of the government not to let the public money be parted with on a mere point of construction, till that construction should be judicially established. This resource will be open to any individual who will choose to pursue it, by an action against the collector of the port from which the articles were shipped.

Secondly, as to the discount for prompt payment.

The words “prompt payment” are, in my apprehension, synonymous with immediate payment, or payment down. The most obvious import of the clause in question seems, therefore, to be this: when the amount of the duties exceeds fifty dollars, time shall be given for payment upon proper bond security; but if the party prefers making immediate payment, on paying the money down he shall have an allowance of ten per cent., on all above fifty dollars, for doing it. The confining the discount to the excess illustrates the meaning of the provision, and shows that payment in the first instance was contemplated; for if it had been intended that the discount might be made at any time before the bonds became due, it would be difficult to imagine why it should not extend to the fifty dollars, as well as to the excess.

I was the more inclined to this construction, because I supposed the contrary one was of a nature to be rendered more beneficial to any collector who might choose to avail himself of it than to the public. And in general, I doubt much that it is the interest of the public to make such a discount, as they now borrow at less in its operation than six per cent.; on which account I felt no inclination to extend the discount.

Thus have I, my dear sir, freely explained to you the motives by which I have been governed in the instances in question, and I shall be happy that they may appear to you satisfactory. I am sure, at least, that you will view the intention favorably; and I beg you to be assured of the friendship and esteem with which I am, etc.


Posting the entire Works of Alexander Hamilton is a project of Steven Montgomery. I’m posting these as a way to read and digest the works of Alexander Hamilton. The reader could profit by following along daily.

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