Hamilton to the House: Report on Manufactures, Cotton

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, Cotton: Hamilton to the House of Representatives, December 5, 1791. Part Ten.


There is something in the texture of this material which adapts it, in a peculiar degree, to the application of machines. The signal utility of the mill for spinning of cotton, not long since invented in England, has been noticed in another place; but there are other machines, scarcely inferior in utility, which, in the different manufactories of this article, are employed, either exclusively, or with more than ordinary effect. This very important circumstance recommends the fabrics of cotton, in a more particular manner, to a country in which a defect of hands constitutes the greatest obstacle to success.

The variety and extent of the uses to which the manufactures of this article are applicable, is another powerful argument in their favor. And the faculty of the United States to produce the raw material in abundance, and of a quality which, though alleged to be inferior to some that is produced in other quarters, is nevertheless capable of being used with advantage in many fabrics, and is probably susceptible of being carried by a more experienced culture to much greater perfection, suggests an additional and a very cogent inducement to the vigorous pursuit of the cotton branch in its several subdivisions. How much has been already done has been stated in a preceding part of this report.

In addition to this, it may be announced, that a society is forming, with a capital which is expected to be extended to at least half a million of dollars, on behalf of which, measures are already in train for prosecuting, on a large scale, the making and printing of cotton goods.

These circumstances conspire to indicate the expediency of removing any obstructions which may happen to exist, to the advantageous prosecution of the manufactories in question, and of adding such encouragements as may appear necessary and proper.

The present duty of three cents per pound, on the foreign raw material, is undoubtedly a very serious impediment to the progress of those manufactories.

The injurious tendency of similar duties, either prior to the establishment or in the infancy of the domestic manufacture of the article, as it regards the manufacture, and their worse than inutility, in relation to the home production of the material itself, have been anticipated, particularly in discussing the subject of pecuniary bounties.

Cotton has not the same pretensions with hemp, to form an exception to the general rule.

Not being, like hemp, a universal production of the country, it affords less assurance of an adequate internal supply; but the chief objection arises from the doubts which are entertained, concerning the quality of the national cotton. It is alleged that the fibre of it is considerably shorter and weaker than that of some other places; and it has been observed, as a general rule, that the nearer the place of growth to the equator, the better the quality of the cotton. That which comes from Cayenne, Surinam, and Demarara, is said to be preferable, even at a material difference of price, to the cotton of the islands.

While a hope may reasonably be indulged, that with due care and attention, the national cotton may be made to approach nearer than it now does to that of regions somewhat more favored by climate; and while facts authorize an opinion that very great use may be made of it, and that it is a resource which gives greater security to the cotton fabrics of this country, than can be enjoyed by any which depends wholly on external supply, it will certainly be wise, in every view, to let our infant manufactures have the full benefit of the best materials, on the cheapest terms. It is obvious that the necessity of having such materials is proportioned to the unskilfulness and inexperience of the workmen employed, who, if inexpert, will not fail to commit great waste, where the materials they are to work with are of an indifferent kind.

To secure to the national manufactures so essential an advantage, a repeal of the present duty on imported cotton is indispensable.

A substitute for this, far more encouraging to domestic production, will be to grant a bounty on the national cotton, when wrought at a home manufactory; to which a bounty on the exportation of it may be added. Either, or both, would do much more towards promoting the growth of the article, than the merely nominal encouragement, which it is proposed to abolish. The first would also have a direct influence in encouraging the manufacture.

The bounty which has been mentioned, as existing in Great Britain, upon the exportation of coarse linens, not exceeding a certain value, applies also to certain descriptions of cotton goods of similar value.

This furnishes an additional argument for allowing to the national manufactures, the species of encouragement just suggested, and, indeed, for adding some other aid.

One cent per yard, not less than of a given width, on all goods of cotton, or of cotton and linen mixed, which are manufactured in the United States, with the addition of one cent per pound weight of the material, if made of national cotton, would amount to an aid of considerable importance, both to the production and to the manufacture of that valuable article. And it is conceived that the expense would be well justified by the magnitude of the object.

The printing and staining of cotton goods is known to be a distinct business from the fabrication of them. It is one easily accomplished, and which, as it adds materially to the value of the article in its white state, and prepares it for a variety of new uses, is of importance to be promoted.

As imported cottons, equally with those which are made at home, may be the objects of this manufacture, it will merit consideration, whether the whole, or a part of the duty, on the white goods, ought not to be allowed to be drawn in favor of those who print or stain them. This measure would certainly operate as a powerful encouragement to the business; and though it may, in a degree, counteract the original fabrication of the articles, it would probably more than compensate for this disadvantage, in the rapid growth of a collateral branch, which is of a nature sooner to attain to maturity. When a sufficient progress shall have been made, the drawback may be abrogated, and by that time the domestic supply of the articles to be printed or stained will have been extended.

If the duty of seven and a half per cent. on certain kinds of cotton goods were extended to all goods of cotton, or of which it is the principal material, it would probably more than counterbalance the effect of the drawback proposed, in relation to the fabrication of the article. And no material objection occurs to such an extension. The duty, then, considering all the circumstances which attend goods of this description, could not be deemed inconveniently high; and it may be inferred, from various causes, that the prices of them would still continue moderate.

Manufactories of cotton goods, not long since established at Beverly, in Massachusetts, and at Providence, in the State of Rhode Island, and conducted with a perseverance corresponding with the patriotic motives which began them, seem to have overcome the first obstacles to success: producing corduroys, velverets, fustians, jeans, and other similar articles, of a quality which will bear a comparison with the like articles brought from Manchester. The one at Providence has the merit of being the first introducing into the United States the celebrated cotton mill, which not only furnishes materials for that manufactory itself, but for the supply of private families, for household manufacture.

Other manufactories of the same material, as regular businesses, have also been begun at different places in the State of Connecticut, but all upon a smaller scale than those above-mentioned. Some essays are also making in the printing and staining of cotton goods. There are several small establishments of this kind, already on foot.

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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