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Articles of Confederation’s Weaknesses Become Evident in New Hampshire
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New Hampshire Act providing “for the Regulation of navigation and commerce,” featuring strict prohibitions against imports to or exports from New Hampshire in ships “being the property of any of the Subjects of the King of Great-Britain.” It also establishes mechanisms for enforcement and penalties for disregarding the law.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GENERAL COURT. Manuscript Document Signed by a Clerk, June 23, 1785, [Exeter], New Hampshire. Blindstamped “Archives de Chastellux” at top left. 4 pp., 8 x 13½ in.6/23/1785.

Inventory #25023.01       Price: $2,000

Provenance: François-Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788)

Historical Background

The Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1777, after sixteen months of debate. It then took until March 1781 to be ratified by the states. The system was inherently flawed; each state, no matter its size, had one vote in Congress; every act of Congress required the approval of nine states; there was no chief executive; Congress could not levy taxes (instead having to beg for requisitions from the states and loans from abroad); Congress lacked the authority to establish uniform regulations for foreign and domestic commerce. 

While the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War was pending in 1783, Great Britain closed its West Indian ports to most American goods. Once the war was officially over, British goods flooded American ports. The Confederation Congress had no power to respond. New York imposed a stiff duty on British West Indian imports, but voted against a 5 percent federal import tax. Massachusetts and Rhode Island passed their own protective tariffs. Inconsistent polices increased tension between the states and damaged already strained financial prospects.

An emerging nationalist bloc, led by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, proposed reforms. In September 1783, a Congressional committee concluded that Congress should ask the states to cede the power to set duties and regulate trade. On April 30, 1784, Congress passed a resolution asking to states to give it the power to regulate trade and negotiate commercial treaties. The resolution also mandated the power to set discriminatory duties or restrictions against trade with countries, such as Great Britain, who would not treat with the United States.

“Unless the United States in Congress assembled shall be vested with powers competent to the protection of commerce, they can never command reciprocal advantages in trade; and without these, our foreign commerce must decline and eventually be annihilated. Hence it is necessary that the states should be explicit, and fix on some effectual mode by which foreign commerce not founded on principles of equality may be restrained....

“Resolved, that it be, and it hereby is recommended to the legislatures of the several states, to vest the United States in Congress assembled, for the term of fifteen years, with power to prohibit any goods, wares or merchandize from being imported into or exported from any of the states, in vessels belonging to or navigated by the subjects of any power with whom these states shall not have formed treaties of Commerce.

Only Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia agreed to give Congress the requested power. Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and North Carolina added various qualifications or provisos.

On March 3, 1786, Congress passed new resolutions, including, “That the states of states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and North Carolina, be solicited to reconsider their acts, and to make them agreeable to the recommendations of the 30th April, 1784,” and “That the recommendations of the 30th April, 1784, be again presented to the view of the states of Delaware, South Carolina, and Georgia, and that they be most earnestly called upon to grant powers conformable thereto.”

That October, a Congressional committee examined the acts passed by the states, including new ones passed by Delaware and Georgia, finding seven to be in compliance. The committee recommended that New Hampshire and North Carolina be urged to reconsider their provisos, and  urged Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina to amend their acts regarding the requested fifteen-year term.

This failure to get the support of enough states to allow effective foreign and commercial relations was a key reason for the calling of the Annapolis Convention, which convened in September 1786. Delegates from only five states participated, without much success. Hamilton and Madison used the occasion to call for a broader convention. Congress concurred, asking the states to send delegates to a convention to amend the Articles. Once the Convention met in Philadelphia, the delegates quickly agreed to draft an entirely new frame of government.

The resulting United States Constitution gave Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States [and] … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States.”

 

Complete Transcript

State of New Hampshire

            In the year of our Lord, one thousand, seven hundred, and eighty-five.

An Act

For the Regulation of navigation and commerce.

            Whereas it has become expedient and necessary for this State to make some commercial regulations for the encouragement of their own trade.

                        Therefore

            Be it enacted by the Senate and house of Representatives in general court convened, that from, and after the first day of August next, and during the continuance of this act, there shall not be exported from any port, harbor. or creek, bay or inlet, river, shore or any other place within this state, any goods, wares, or merchandize, the growth, manufacture or produce, of this or any of the united States, in any vessel, or craft of any kind belonging (either in whole or in part) to, or being the property of any of the subjects of the King of Great Britain.

            And be it further enacted, that from, and after the said first day of August next, if any ship, vessel or craft of any kind, as aforesaid, be found in any port, harbor creek, or any other place within this State, taking on board, or having taken on board, while in this state, any of the articles aforesaid, contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, every such ship, <2>vessel, or craft, together with her lading, shall be forfeited, and shall, and may be seized by any naval officer, or by any other citizen or citizens of the united States; and the same may be sued for, and recovered in any court of Record within this state, proper to try the same; and after deducting the charges of prosecuting the same from the gross produce thereof, the remainder shall be given, one moiety to the person or persons who have made the seizure, and prosecuted the same; and the other moiety to be paid into the treasury of this state for the use of the same.

            And be it further enacted, that from, and after the first day of August next, there shall not be taken out, or landed from on board any ship or vessel or craft, not wholly belonging to, or the property of the citizen or citizens of the united States, any goods, wares or merchandize in any port, harbor or creek, or any other place within this state, except the port of Piscataqua; and if any ship, vessel or craft, not wholly owned as aforesaid, shall be found in any port, harbor or creek, or any other place within this state, except the port of Piscataqua aforesaid, discharging her lading, or any part thereof, or having discharged her lading, or any part thereof, otherwise than abovementioned, the said ship, vessel or craft, together with her lading, shall be seized, and forfeited to be recovered, and appropriated as aforesaid.

            And be it further enacted, that from, and after the said first day of august next, there shall be paid by the master, owner, or consignee, of every ship, vessel or craft, owned (either in whole, or in part) by any foreigner, at the time of entring said ship, vessel or craft, into the hands of the naval officer for the port of Piscataqua aforesaid, for the use and benefit of this state, a duty of five shillings per ton for each and every ton said vessel may measure by carpenters measurement; and a further duty of two shillings and eight pence, per ton, as light <3> money, in addition to what by law they are now subject to pay, for the use and service of the light house; and shall likewise pay unto the naval officer double the duty on the goods imported in said vessel, as is, or may be paid at that time. upon the like goods imported in a vessel belonging wholly to the citizens of the united States; and a further duty of six pence upon every bushel of salt imported in any ship, vessel or craft, owned (either in whole, or in part) by any of the subjects of the King of Great Britain; and previous to their breaking bulk, they shall give bond to the said naval officer for the payment of the same.

            And whereas some persons, for the sake of enjoying more extensive privileges in commerce, have had double setts of papers for their vessels, in order that they might appear the property of one Nation, or another, as might best answer their purposes: for the prevention of which impositions.

            Be it therefore enacted, that from, and after the first day of August next, any vessels, which may appear to have two setts of papers; by the one of which they may appear to be the property of the citizens of the united States, and by the other, the property of foreigners; or if it

shall be made to appear, that any vessel, that is cleared at the naval office in this state, as the property of the citizens of these States, shall afterwards enter, and discharge her cargo taken in,

and cleared as aforesaid, in any foreign port, as the property of a foreigner, said vessel, upon her return into this state, shall be forfeited, and may be seized by the naval officer of this [state], or by any other person or persons, who may prosecute for the same, to be recovered, and the money arising from such forfeiture to be applied as aforesaid, and the master of such vessel. so offending, shall forfeit and pay, for the use of this State, the sum of one hundred pounds, to be recovered as aforesaid.

            And be it further enacted, that the naval officer in this state, previous to his admitting any vessel to an entry, shall administer the following oath, or affirmation, to the master, or one of the principal owners (provided said vessel shall appear to be the property of the citizens of these states) and certify it on the back of the Register (if not done before) in the following words.  Port of Piscataqua then personally appeared before <4> then personally appeared before me, one of the principal owners (or the commander, as the case may be) of the _______ and made solemn oath (or affirmation) that the said _______ is the sole property of the citizens of the united States, and that no foreigner directly or indirectly hath any part, or share therein.

            And be it further, Enacted, that if the naval officer shall presume to enter, or clear any vessel, contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, or if the said naval officer shall neglect any of the duties required of him by this act, he shall forfeit and pay the sum of three hundred pounds, one moiety thereof for the use of this state; and the other moiety thereof for the use of the person, or persons, who may prosecute for the same, to be sued for and recovered in any court of Record in this state, proper to try the same; and furthermore shall be rendered

incapable of holding said office.

            Provided nevertheless, that nothing in this act shall be construed to prevent any ship, or

vessel built in this state, and owned (either in whole, or in part) by any of the subjects of the King of Great-Britain, from taking a cargo upon her first departure from this State, upon the same terms, and no further restrictions, than if said vessel were owned by the citizens of these states.

            And be it further enacted, that this act shall continue in force, until the united States, in Congress assembled, shall be vested with competent power for the purpose; and shall have

passed an ordinance for the regulation of the Commerce of these states; and untill the period shall arrive when such ordinance is to take effect and no longer.

            Provided the aforesaid clause of this [act], respecting double papers shall not extend to any vessel belonging to any citizen of the united States, now absent from this State, until their

return from their present voyage and making application to be cleared out for another voyage.

 

State of New     {          In the house of Representatives / June 23d 1785.

Hampshire      {           The foregoing bill havng been read a third time, voted that it pass to be enacted.

                                                            Sent up for concurrence

                                                                        Christor Tappan  Speaker P.T

 

In senate June 23d 1785 this bill was read a third time and voted that the same be enacted

                                                                        John Langdon  President


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