Nestled deep in the legislative records of the First U.S. Congress rests the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service.1 At a critical and divided time in U.S. history, Alexander Hamilton used his power as Secretary of the Treasury to send forth a federally armed seagoing force, ostensibly to aid in the collection of revenue. The service emerged as a calculated attempt not only to further strengthen the authority of his massive Treasury Department, but also to fan the flames of Federalism and further Hamilton’s unifying vision for America.
1. While the Congressional Record from 4 August 1790 does not specifically use the term “Revenue Cutter Service,” it referenced “revenue cutters” and “revenue officers.” From this, the Revenue Cutter Service was born. In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service was renamed the U.S. Coast Guard and subsequently absorbed several other services over the years, namely, the U.S. Lifesaving Service and the U.S. Lighthouse Service, to become what is now known as the U.S. Coast Guard. See www.uscg.mil/history/ for the official history.
2. Bernard Bailyn, The Origins of American Politics (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), 13.
3. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic: 1789–1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 93.
4. Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), 295.
5. “Legislative Acts and Legal Proceedings,” City Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 15 June 1790, vol. 3, no. 4995, 2.
6. J. A. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715–1795 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), 78.
7. Alexander Hamilton, “Report on Public Credit,” 4 June 1791, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., vol. 8 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 6:101.
8. Alexander Hamilton, “Circular to the Collectors,” The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 8, 5:420.
9. Alexander Hamilton to Otho H. Williams, 24 May 1790, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 6, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 429.
10. First Congress, Second Session, Ch. 35, Sec. 63.
11. Thomas M. Truxes, Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 157, 173.
12. Alexander Hamilton, “Report on Defects in the Existing Laws of Revenue,” 22 April 1790, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 6, 381.
13. First Congress, 2nd Session, Ch. 35, Sec. 62.
14. Benjamin Lincoln to Alexander Hamilton, 17 September 1790, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 7, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 57.
15. Sharp Delaney to Alexander Hamilton, 7 October 1790, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 7, 98.
16. Annals of the Congress of the United States, First Congress, Second Session, Ch. 41, “An Act authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to Finish the Lighthouse on Portland Head, in the District of Maine.”
17. Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 10 September 1790, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 7, 31.
18. Alexander Hamilton, “Treasury Department Circular to the Captains of the Revenue Cutters,” 4 June 1791, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 8, 426.
19. John Steele Gordon, Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt (New York: Walker and Company, 1997), 17, 20.
20. Alexander Hamilton, “Circular to the Captains,” 8:432.
21. Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 1,” 27 October 1787, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 302.
22. Cecelia M. Kenyon, “Men of Little Faith: The Anti-Federalists on the Nature of Representative Government,” The William and Mary Quarterly 12, Third Series, no. 1 (January 1955): 5.
23. Kenyon, “Men of Little Faith,” 6.
24. Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 281.
25. Gordon, Our National Debt, 17.
26. Robert E. Wright, One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe (New York: McGraw Hill, 2008), 342.
27. Wright, One Nation Under Debt.