Hamilton to the House: Report on Manufactures, Grain

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, Manufactures, Grain: Hamilton to the House of Representatives, December 5, 1791. Part Eight.


Manufactures of the several species of this article have a title to peculiar favor, not only because they are, most of them, immediately connected with the subsistence of the citizens, but because they enlarge the demand for the most precious products of the soil.

Though flour may with propriety be noticed as a manufacture of grain, it were useless to do it but for the purpose of submitting the expediency of a general system of inspection throughout the ports of the United States, which, if established upon proper principles, would be likely to improve the quality of our flour everywhere, and to raise its reputation in foreign markets. There are, however, considerations which stand in the way of such an arrangement.

Ardent spirits and malt liquors are, next to flour, the two principal manufactures of grain. The first has made a very extensive, the last a considerable progress in the United States. In respect to both, an exclusive possession of the home market ought to be secured to the domestic manufacturers as fast as circumstances will admit. Nothing is more practicable, and nothing more desirable.

The existing laws of the United States have done much toward attaining this valuable object, but some additions to the present duties on foreign distilled spirits and foreign malt liquors, and perhaps an abatement of those on home-made spirits, would more effectually secure it, and there does not occur any very weighty objection to either.

An augmentation of the duties on imported spirits would favor as well the distillation of spirits from molasses as that from grain; and to secure to the nation the benefit of a manufacture, even of foreign materials, is always of great, though perhaps of secondary importance.

A strong impression prevails in the minds of those concerned in distilleries (including, too, the most candid and enlightened), that greater differences in the rates of duty on foreign and domestic spirits are necessary completely to secure the successful manufacture of the latter, and there are facts which entitle this impression to attention.

It is known that the price of molasses for some years past has been successively rising in the West India markets, owing partly to a competition which did not formerly exist, and partly to an extension of demand in this country; and it is evident that the late disturbances in those islands, from which we draw our principal supply, must so far interfere with the production of the article as to occasion a material enhancement in price. The destruction and devastation attendant on the insurrection in His-paniola in particular, must not only contribute very much to that effect, but may be expected to give it some duration. These circumstances, and the duty of three cents per gallon on molasses, may render it difficult for the distillers of that material to maintain with adequate profit a competition with the rum brought from the West Indies, the quality of which is so considerably superior.

The consumption of geneva, or gin, in this country is extensive. It is not long since distilleries of it have grown up among us to any importance. They are now becoming of consequence, but being still in their infancy they require protection.

It is represented that the price of some of the materials is greater here than in Holland, from which place large quantities are brought; the price of labor considerably greater; capitals engaged in the business there much larger than those which are employed here; the rate of profits at which the undertakers can afford to carry it on much less; the prejudices in favor of imported gin strong. These circumstances are alleged to outweigh the charges which attend the bringing of the article from Europe to the United States and the present difference of duty, so as to obstruct the prosecution of the manufacture with due advantage.

Experiment could, perhaps, alone decide with certainty the justness of the suggestions which are made; but, in relation to branches of manufacture so important, it would seem inexpedient to hazard an unfavorable issue, and better to err on the side of too great than of too small a difference in the particular in question.

It is, therefore, submitted, that an addition of two cents per gallon be made to the duty on imported spirits of the first class of proof, with a proportionable increase on those of higher proof; and that a deduction of one cent per gallon be made from the duty on spirits distilled within the United States, beginning with the first class of proof, and a proportionable deduction from the duty on those of higher proof.

It is ascertained that by far the greatest part of the malt liquors consumed in the United States, are the produce of domestic breweries. It is desirable, and in all likelihood attainable, that the whole consumption should be supplied by ourselves.

The malt liquors at home, though inferior to the best, are equal to a great part of those which have been usually imported. The progress already made is an earnest of what may be accomplished. The growing competition is an assurance of improvement. This will be accelerated by measures tending to invite a greater capital into this channel of employment.

To render the encouragement of domestic breweries decisive, it may be advisable to substitute to the present rates of duty, eight cents per gallon, generally; and it will deserve to be considered as a guard against evasions, whether there ought not to be a prohibition of their importation, except in casks of considerable capacity. It is to be hoped, that such a duty would banish from the market foreign malt liquors of inferior quality, and that the best kind only would continue to be imported, till it should be supplanted by the efforts of equal skill or care at home.

Till that period, the importation, so qualified, would be a useful stimulus to improvement, and, in the meantime, the payment of the increased price for the enjoyment of a luxury, in order to the encouragement of a most useful branch of domestic industry, could not reasonably be deemed a hardship.

As a further aid to manufactures of grain, though upon a smaller scale, the articles of starch, hair-powder, and wafers, may with great propriety be placed among those which are rated at fifteen per cent. No manufactures are more simple, nor more completely within the reach of a full supply from domestic sources; and it is a policy as common as it is obvious, to make them the objects either of prohibitionary duties or of express prohibition.

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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