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Hamilton Countering Biases Affecting New York Taxes
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Available as part of The Alexander Hamilton Collection

A previously unrecorded partial draft of Hamilton’s famous letter to Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris. Hamilton discusses the “situation and temper” of New York, and its tax plan, which was intended to be based on a fair assessment of her citizens’ circumstances and abilities to pay.

perhaps the true reason was a desire to discriminate between the whigs and tories. This chimerical attempt at perfect equality has resulted in total inequality

ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Autograph Letter fragment, to Robert Morris, c. August 1, 1782, (heavily damaged with text loss) with many edits, from an approximately ten-page draft. The final draft, in Alexander Hamilton’s papers, dates August 13, 1782. 2 pp., 8⅜ x 10¼ in.

Inventory #24619      

Partial Transcript:

The ostensible reason for adopting this vague basis was a desire of equality: It was pretended, that this could not be obtained so well by any fixed tariff of taxable property, as by leaving it to the discretion of persons chosen by the people themselves, to determine the ability of each citizen. But perhaps the true reason was a desire to discriminate between the whigs and tories. This chimerical attempt at perfect equality has resulted in total inequality; or rather this narrow disposition to overburthen a particular class of citizens living under the protection of the government has been resorted upon the contrivers or their friends wherever that class has been numerous enough to preponderate in the election of the officers who were to execute the law. The exterior figure a man makes, the decency or meaness of his manner of living, the personal friendships or dislikes of the assessors have much more share in determing what individuals shall pay than the proportion of property.

He also provides thoughts on New York’s disadvantageous trade with neighboring states:

From Massachusettes and other parts of New England we purchase to the amount of about £50.000, principally in Tea & salt.... The immense land transportation of which the chief part is carried on by the subjects of other states is a vast incumbrance upon our trade.... These calculations cannot absolutely be relied on because the data are necessarily uncertain, but they are the result of the best information I can obtain; and if near the truth, prove that the general ballance of trade is against us; a plain symptom of which is an extreme and universal scarcity of money.

Robert Morris (1734-1806) immigrated from Liverpool to Maryland at age 13. After studying in Philadelphia, he became a partner in a banking and shipping firm in 1757. In the Second Continental Congress, he opposed the motion for independence but abstained in the final vote and signed the Declaration with the Pennsylvania delegation. He signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778 and the Constitution in 1787. Morris served as Superintendent of Finance from 1781-1784, and personally paid £10 million to fund the American army during the Revolutionary War. Morris served as Senator from Pennsylvania from 1789 to 1795. Deeply engaged in land speculation, he bought millions of acres in western New York in 1791, leading to his personal bankruptcy.

Full text of the recipient’s copy.


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