The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, 1789-1791

Gazette of the United States

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In Committee of the whole, on the bill to provide for the safe keeping of the acts, records and great seal of the United States, & c.
Mr. BOUDINOT in the chair.
Mr. SEDGWICK moved to insert a clause enjoining the payment of all fees to be received in the department of secretary of state, into the treasury: This motion was negatived.
The clause for establishing fees for searching the records was struck out of the bill.
Mr. SEDGWICK said, since the motion for paying the fees into the treasury is negatived, I hope the whole clause respecting them will be expunged. I am opposed to increasing the emoluments of an office in this way: I hope we shall never establish such a precedent in this government. This indirect mode of taxing the people is liable to a variety of objections— It will be increasing the income of an office to an amount which eludes all calculation. Every public officer should receive a competent allowance for his services— this officer will be very respectable, and very responsible; and ought therefore to be handsomely supported by a known salary; and I trust the sum intended will be generous— I hope therefore that all clauses respecting fees will be struck out: Not that I wish the idea of deriving an advantage from them to the public, should be abandoned: We ought to turn our attention to every source from whence money can be directed into the public treasury, without burthening the people— this I consider as one from whence considerable sums may be drawn with ease and facility— it is a custom the people have been used to, and in which they will continue chearfully to acquiesce; more especially when they consider that the small sums they are called upon to pay for receiving the evidences of their appointment to an office perhaps for life, are appropriated to public uses: I mean therefore to renew the proposition, when the bill comes before the house; when I hope that upon more mature contemplation of the subject, it will be adopted. He then moved that the clause should be struck out, which was seconded.
Mr. FITZSIMONS opposed striking out the words. These fees are to be received for extra services— services which must be paid for in this or some other mode, since the house has not thought proper to establish another department.
Mr. STONE made a distinction in the services to be performed by the secretary of state: The services he is to render the public as secretary, he is to receive an adequate compensation for by a salary: For other services, which by law he is to do for individuals, he ought to be paid for by those individuals; and for this reason I consider, said he, the fees proper.
Mr. GERRY was in favour of striking out the clause.
Mr. HARTLEY. I hope Sir, the clause will not be struck out; we are told that the public is not to be put to any additional expence on account of annexing these duties to this office; and for this reason the proposition for a new department has been repeatedly rejected.
It is evident that an additional number of clerks for the discharge of the business will be necessary, how are they to be paid? The public is not to be burthened— I hope we shall retain the clause.
Mr. LAURANCE observed, that if individuals have a right to apply for, and be furnished with copies of papers; it is but reasonable that they should pay for such copies. If they apply on account of the public, the public ought to be charged with the expence: If the application is for their own private advantage, they certainly ought to pay for employing the servants of the public; otherwise it will be unequal. There will be but few applications comparatively speaking: but those may engross a great proportion of the time for which the public is charged.
Mr. SHERMAN observed, as the officer is to receive a salary for his whole services, and to which every individual in the community contributes it would give more general satisfaction if this should be the whole emolument. We shall, I expect, set the salaries so high as will cause some uneasiness; and if in addition, we add fees to increase the income, I believe it will create universal dissatisfaction.
Mr. LIVERMORE observed that it is a very general custom for officers intrusted with public papers, to receive fees for giving copies, and other services of this kind, in addition to their salaries. If we do not make some such regulation, we shall have every person applying upon the most triffling occasion, who would find employment for more than 100 clerks.
The fees received may be sufficient to pay for the additional duties annexed to this department. I am not in favour of high fees— a small consideration will be sufficient.
The motion for striking out the fees was negatived.
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