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National DutiesCustom Houses and the Making of the American State$
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Gautham Rao

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226367071

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226367101.001.0001

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Political Economy and the Making of the Customs System

Political Economy and the Making of the Customs System

(p.53) Chapter Two Political Economy and the Making of the Customs System
National Duties

Gautham Rao

University of Chicago Press

The American Revolution left the young United States awash in debt and without a central government capable of raising revenue. Throughout the 1770s and 80s, a coterie of nationalists led by Robert Morris and Alexander Hamilton looked to the precedent of the British Empire to demand a customs revenue system that taxed and regulated imported commodities. Gradually, as the nation’s debt morass worsened, Hamilton and Morris got their wish. With the Constitution of 1788, the federal government gained the power to tax, and Congress set about creating customhouses to reside in ports throughout the country. Meanwhile, President George Washington puzzled over whom to appoint to operate those customhouses before settling on a cadre of commercial, political, and revolutionary elites. Washington hoped that these elites’ distinction would legitimate inchoate federal authority and allow the customs system to work.

Keywords:   critical period, American Revolution, Constitution, Congress, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, tariff

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