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Dear Sir, - My accounts being settled and in the Register's office, you will be able to ascertain the principles which have been adopted. Compensation has been allowed to the 22d of July, the day of departure from England, and an allowance made for the travelling expenses incident to the removal of the seats of negotiation. This, in my case, has been for travelling from St. Petersburg to London and thence to Ghent, and from Ghent to London. I presume that in yours the allowance will be from Gottenburg to Ghent, and from Ghent to London. You have in addition your extraordinary expenses at Gottenburg. It did not appear to me that a charge could be made for the extra expenses in London.
You must have received a letter from the Treasury similar to that written to me respecting duties on our baggage. I have not answered mine, wishing first to know what you intend to do. I brought nothing but effects coming under the description of wearing-apparel, books, and furniture (including some plate and glass) to a very moderate amount, all for my use and that of my family, and all such as, when imported by a minister returning from a foreign mission, have by uniform practice been considered as exempt from duty, although many, if imported by a private individual, would have paid duty. The Secretary of the Treasury is under a mistake in his inference from two letters, copies of which he enclosed to me, that either an inventory (meaning thereby an invoice or detailed specification of the articles contained in each package) has ever been required from any minister, or that the question has ever been left to the collector to decide which of such articles were liable to or exempt from duty. In both the cases referred to in the letters above mentioned (Messrs. King and Erving), the collector is required to deliver the baggage without requiring duty, and nothing is left to his discretion; and the inventory alluded to in the letter respecting Mr. Erving, which was furnished by him, not required from him, was used for the purpose not of authorizing or enabling the collector to distinguish what articles might be liable to duty, but of enabling him to distinguish Mr. Erving's baggage from other packages imported in the same ship, the said baggage not having been brought in the same vessel in which he had returned home.
In every case referred to the Treasury, whilst I was Secretary, the order thus to deliver the baggage was, subsequent to Mr. King's case, given as a matter of course. But I believe that in most cases the collectors, knowing the practice, delivered the baggage without difficulty and without reference to the Treasury. The first reference was on Mr. King's return; he had much baggage, and it was the first case in that port since Mr. Gelston was collector. I knew the practice, although I could not find the instructions on record. They must, however, have been given, perhaps in private letters not recorded, or they may have escaped the research of the clerk. The easiest way to ascertain the fact beyond dispute was by applying to Mr. Jefferson for information, as he was the first minister who had returned from a foreign mission under the present government. He informed me that his baggage, which was valuable and contained at least as many articles, which if imported by individuals would have paid duty, as those belonging to subsequent ministers, had paid no duty, and that this was, as far as he knew, the constant rule. This case had, in fact, established the rule. I wrote accordingly to the collector of New York the letter respecting Mr. King's baggage. Such as has afterwards arrived in the same port under similar circumstances has been delivered without hesitation on reference to the Treasury. This was the case with respect to the baggage of Mr. Livingston, of Mr. Armstrong, (I believe of Mr. Barlow,) and lately of Mr. Crawford, which came in the Hesper from Havre. Whether on the return of Messrs. Monroe, William Pinkney, Charles Pinckney, and Bowdoin, the baggage was delivered by the respective collectors without reference to the Treasury, or upon an order from the Treasury, I cannot positively say, although I have some recollection of an application, verbal or written, in the case of Mr. W. Pinkney. But I can assert that the rule was uniform, and the order given at once whenever the case was referred to the Treasury. If a new rule be established, ought it not to be prospective? or, if retrospective on the assumed ground of error [or] reconsideration, should it not be general and embrace every case from Mr. Jefferson downwards, instead of being confined to a single case, nay, to a single vessel? for no question is asked respecting Mr. Crawford's subsequent importation of baggage in the Hesper, Mr. Erving in another vessel, or even ours, if any, in the Lorenzo. To this long detail I will only add that, according to practice, the error in the case of the Neptune was not the order to deliver to the ministers their baggage free of duty, but to have considered all the baggage and other articles on board the vessel as if belonging to the ministers and being exempt from duty. Upon the whole, have the goodness to let [me] know what you intend to do, and the final decision of the Secretary of the Treasury, to whom you may communicate this letter, - a course preferable in my situation to a more formal answer to his letter to me. Present Mrs. Gallatin's and my respects to Mrs. Clay, and believe me, truly and respectfully, your obedient servant.
- New York
- The writings of Albert Gallatin, Vol I, Henry Adams