HAMILTON, Alexander (1757-1804)
An Act to Provide more Effectually for the Collection of the Duties Imposed by Law on Goods, Wares and Merchandize Imported into the United States, and on the Tonnage of Ships or Vessels
New York: Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine, 1790. Small folio. (13 x 8 inches). 41 pp.
Bound to style in 1/4 morocco over contemporary marbled boards, gilt title on spine.
First edition of the act from Hamilton establishing the US Coast Guard.
In 1789, Congress passed the first Tariff Act, to both protect developing manufacturing industries at home as well as raise revenue sorely needed by the new Federal Government, by levying a five percent rate on all foreign goods arriving at U.S. ports. By 1790, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, calculating that the government needed close to $3 million to cover operating costs, and even more to pay down foreign and domestic debts, realized that this rate was too low and sought to raise it closer to ten percent. In order to successfully collect these tariffs against smuggling, Hamilton proposed commissioning a fleet of vessels, called revenue cutters, to patrol the coast and offshore waters of the country in order to intercept contraband and ships looking to avoid the tariff. Page 37 of this act outlines this proposal, and the creation of what would come to be called the Coast Guard (the oldest continuous seagoing service of the United States and eventually the fifth branch of the armed services). It details, among other things, the number of ships to be commissioned, the appointment of Masters and officers, their salaries, as well as their duties, stating that they, "shall have power and authority to go on board every ship or vessel which shall arrive within the United States, or within four leagues of the coast thereof, if bound for the United States, and to search and examine the same and every part thereof, and to demand, receive and certify the manifests herein before required to be on board of certain ships or vessels..." Hamilton was intimately involved with the creation and functioning of this unit. As Ron Chernow observes, "Hamilton advised Washington to avoid regional favoritism by constructing the first ten revenue cutters in 'different parts of the Union.' Previewing his upcoming industrial policy, he recommended using homegrown cloth for sails rather than foreign fabrics. Once again, an instinct for executive leadership, an innate capacity to command, surfaced in Hamilton. He issued directives of breathtaking specificity, requiring each cutter possess ten muskets and bayonets, twenty pistols, two chisels, one broadaxe, and two lanterns..." (p. 305). He even went as far as managing the proper conduct of the Masters and crew aboard these ships, advising them to act with the strictest professionalism and conduct so as to avoid turning the public against the institution. Today Hamilton is recognized as the "Father" of the United States Coast Guard.
Evans 22970; Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (2004).