James K. Polk

Special Message

March 23, 1846

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

I transmit, for your consideration, a correspondence between the minister of Her Britannic Majesty in Washington and the Secretary of State, containing an arrangement for the adjustment and payment of the claims of the respective Governments upon each other arising from the collection of certain import duties in violation of the second article of the commercial convention of 3d of July, 1815, between the two countries, and I respectfully submit to Congress the propriety of making provision to carry this arrangement into effect.

The second article of this convention provides that "no higher or other duties shall be imposed on the importation into the United States of any articles the growth, produce, or manufacture of His Britannic Majesty's territories in Europe, and no higher or other duties shall be imposed on the importation into the territories of His Britannic Majesty in Europe of any articles the growth, produce, or manufacture of the United States, than are or shall be payable on the like articles being the growth, produce, or manufacture of any other foreign country."

Previous to the act of Parliament of the 13th of August, 1836, the duty on foreign rough rice imported into Great Britain was 2s. 6d. sterling per bushel. By this act the duty was reduced to 1 penny per quarter (of 8 bushels) on the rough rice "imported from the west coast of Africa."

Upon the earnest and repeated remonstrances of our ministers at London in opposition to this discrimination against American and in favor of African rice, as a violation of the subsisting convention, Parliament, by the act of 9th July, 1842, again equalized the duty on all foreign rough rice by fixing it at 7s. per quarter. In the intervening period, however, of nearly six years large importations had been made into Great Britain of American rough rice, which was subjected to a duty of 2s. 6d. per bushel; but the importers, knowing their rights under the convention, claimed that it should be admitted at the rate of 1 penny per quarter, the duty imposed on African rice. This claim was resisted by the British Government, and the excess of duty was paid, at the first under protest, and afterwards, in consequence of an arrangement with the board of customs, by the deposit of exchequer bills.

It seems to have been a clear violation both of the letter and spirit of the convention to admit rough rice "the growth" of Africa at 1 penny per quarter, whilst the very same article "the growth" of the United States was charged with a duty of 2s. 6d. per bushel.

The claim of Great Britain, under the same article of the convention, is founded on the tariff act of 30th August, 1842. Its twenty-fifth section provides "that nothing in this act contained shall apply to goods shipped in a vessel bound to any port of the United States, actually having left her last port of lading eastward of the Cape of Good Hope or beyond Cape Horn prior to the 1st day of September, 1842; and all legal provisions and regulations existing immediately before the 30th day of June, 1842, shall be applied to importations which may be made in vessels which have left such last port of lading eastward of the Cape of Good Hope or beyond Cape Horn prior to said 1st day of September, 1842."

The British Government contends that it was a violation of the second article of the convention for this act to require that "articles the growth, produce, or manufacture" of Great Britain, when imported into the United States in vessels which had left their last port of lading in Great Britain prior to the 1st day of September, 1842, should pay any "higher or other duties" than were imposed on "like articles" "the growth, produce, or manufacture" of countries beyond the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.

Upon a careful consideration of the subject I arrived at the conclusion that this claim on the part of the British Government was well founded. I deem it unnecessary to state my reasons at length for adopting this opinion, the whole subject being fully explained in the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury and the accompanying papers.

The amount necessary to satisfy the British claim can not at present be ascertained with any degree of accuracy, no individual having yet presented his case to the Government of the United States. It is not apprehended that the amount will be large. After such examination of the subject as it has been in his power to make, the Secretary of the Treasury believes that it will not exceed $100,000.

On the other hand, the claims of the importers of rough rice into Great Britain have been already ascertained, as the duties were paid either under protest or in exchequer bills. Their amount is stated by Mr. Everett, our late minister at London, in a dispatch dated June 1, 1843, to be lbs. 88,886 16s. 10d. sterling, of which lbs. 60,006 4d. belong to citizens of the United States.

As it may be long before the amount of the British claim can be ascertained, and it would be unreasonable to postpone payment to the American claimants until this can be adjusted, it has been proposed to the British Government immediately to refund the excess of duties collected by it on American rough rice. I should entertain a confident hope that this proposal would be accepted should the arrangement concluded be sanctioned by an act of Congress making provision for the return of the duties in question. The claimants might then be paid as they present their demands, properly authenticated, to the Secretary of the Treasury.


James K. Polk, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/200790

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