Lot 28
  • 28

Alexander Hamilton, as First Secretary of the Treasury

4,000 - 7,000 USD
9,375 USD
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  • Signed ("A. Hamilton") Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs
  • Paper, Ink
Printed document signed, 2 pages (9 x 7 1/2 in.; 229 x 190 mm) on a bifolium, Treasury Department [Philadelphia], 20 July 1792, docketed on the verso of the integral blank "A. Hamilton July 20 1792 relating to the Oath of the Collts. &c."; some browning, separation, and minor repair at folds, signature lightly faded.


The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold Syrett, 12:57–62

Catalogue Note

The office of collectors of the customs was established in 1789, the same year as the Treasury Department, to "receive the entries of all ships or vessels, and of the goods, wares and merchandise imported in them; [and to] receive all moneys paid for duties, and [to]take bonds for securing the payment thereof." 

In this circular letter, Secretary Hamilton give a detailed report on the responsibilities and performance of these officers, particularly emphasizing the necessity of a consistent application of regulations, without which "Merchants might have to pay higher duties at one port, than at another, upon the same articles; higher fees at one port than at another for the same services; and might otherwise be subjected to very dissimilar burthens and requisitions. Such a state of things would undoubtedly be a state of disorder; inconsistent with every idea of a well regulated government, and would have a natural tendency to produce discontent and disgust among individuals, and to bring upon the laws contempt and odium." 

Hamilton reminds the collectors of the oath they have all sworn and, after outlining several examples of recent deviations from that oath, explains his decision to address his comments "circularly, rather than to the individual Officers, whose practice in those instances has rendered them necessary": "1. That as misconceptions have taken place in some instances, it is possible that similar misconceptions may happen in others, and it is wished to anticipate and prevent them, from an ardent desire to avoid sources of misunderstanding as well as occasions of interruption to the due course of the public business—2. From the possibility that deviations may have happened in more instances than are known at the Treasury—and 3. From a wish to pursue the most delicate mode of animadversion."

The Secretary ends his missive on a conciliatory note: "To every communication of this sort I have always paid, and shall always pay careful attention. And as often as I can be convinced of an error, I shall, with chearfulness, acknowledge and retract it."