When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.

July 4, 1789 – TARRIFF ACT was the first major piece of legislation passed in the United States after the ratification of the United States Constitution.  This act had two purposes. It was to protect manufacturing industries developing in the nation and was to raise revenue for the federal government. It was sponsored by Congressman James Madison, passed by the 1st United States Congress, and signed into law by President George Washington. The act levied a 50¢ per ton duty on goods imported by foreign ships; American-owned vessels were charged 6¢ per ton.


An Act for laying a Duty on Goods, Wares, and Merchandises imported
into the United States.

Sec. 1. Whereas it is necessary for the support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures, that duties be laid on goods, wares and merchandises imported: Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the first day of August next ensuing, the several duties hereinafter mentioned shall be laid on the following goods, wares and merchandises imported into the United States from any foreign port or place, that is to say:

  • On all distilled spirits of Jamaica proof, imported from any kingdom or country whatsoever, per gallon, ten cents. are on certain.
  • On all other distilled spirits, per gallon, eight cents.
  • On molasses, per gallon, two and a half cents.
  • On Madeira wine, per gallon, eighteen cents.
  • On all other wines, per gallon, ten cents.
  • On every gallon of beer, ale or porter in casks, five cents.
  • On all cider, beer, ale or porter in bottles, per dozen, twenty cents.
  • On malt, per bushel, ten cents.
  • On brown sugars, per pound, one cent.
  • On loaf sugars, per pound, three cents.
  • On all other sugars, per pound, one and a half cents.
  • On coffee, per pound, two and a half cents.
  • On cocoa, per pound, one cent.
  • On all candles of tallow, per pound, two cents.
  • On all candles of wax or spermaceti, per pound, six cents.
  • On cheese, per pound, four cents.
  • On soap, per pound, two cents.
  • On boots, per pair, fifty cents.
  • On all shoes, slippers or goloshoes made of leather, per pair, seven cents.
  • On all shoes or slippers made of silk or stuff, per pair, ten cents.
  • On cables, for every one hundred and twelve pounds, seventy-five cents.
  • On tarred cordage, for every one hundred and twelve pounds, seventy-five cents.
  • On untarred ditto, and yarn, for every one hundred and twelve pounds,
  • ninety cents.
  • On twine or packthread, for every one hundred and twelve pounds, two
  • hundred cents.
  • On all steel unwrought, for every one hundred and twelve pounds, fifty-six cents.
  • On all nails and spikes, per pound, one cent.
  • On salt, per bushel, six cents.
  • On manufactured tobacco, per pound, six cents.
  • On snuff*, per pound, ten cents.
  • On indigo, per pound, sixteen cents.
  • On wool and cotton cards, per dozen, fifty cents.
  • On coal, per bushel, two cents.
  • On pickled fish, per barrel, seventy-five cents.
  • On dried fish, per quintal, fifty cents.
  • On all teas imported from China or India, in ships built in the United States, and belonging to a citizen or citizens thereof, or in ships or vessels built in foreign countries, and on the sixteenth day of May last wholly the property of a citizen or citizens of the United States, and so continuing until the time of importation, as follows :
    • On bohea tea, per pound, six cents.
    • On all souchong, or other black teas, per pound, ten cents.
    • On all hyson teas, per pound, twenty cents.
    • On all other green teas, per pound, twelve cents.
  • On all teas imported from Europe in ships or vessels built in the United States, and belonging wholly to a citizen or citizens thereof, in ships or vessels built in foreign countries, and on the sixteenth day of May last wholly the property of a citizen or citizens of the United States, and so continuing until the time of importation, as follows:
    • On bohea tea, per pound, eight cents.
    • On all souchong, and other black teas, per pound, thirteen cents.
    • On all hyson teas, per pound, twenty-six cents.
    • On all other green teas, per pound, sixteen cents.
  • On all goods, wares and merchandises, other than teas, imported from China or India, in ships not built in the United States, and not wholly the property of a citizen or citizens thereof, nor in vessels built in foreign countries, and on the sixteenth day of May last wholly the property of a citizen or citizens of the United States, and so continuing until the time of importation, twelve and a half per centum ad valorem.
  • On all looking-glasses, window and other glass (except black quart bottles), ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On all China, stone and earthen ware, ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On gunpowder, ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On all paints ground in oil, ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On shoe and knee buckles, ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On gold and silver lace, and on gold and silver leaf, ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On all blank books, ten per centum ad valorem (10%)
  • On all writing, printing or wrapping paper, paper-hangings and pasteboard, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all cabinet wares, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all buttons, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all saddles, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all gloves of leather, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all hats of beaver, fur, wool, or mixture of either, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all millinery ready made, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all castings of iron, and upon slit and rolled iron, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all leather tanned or tawed, and all manufacture of leather, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • except such as shall be otherwise rated.
  • On canes, walking sticks and whips, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On clothing ready made, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On all brushes, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On gold, silver, and plated ware, and on jewelry and paste work, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On anchors, and on all wrought, tin, and pewter ware, seven and a half per centum ad valorem (7.5%)
  • On playing cards, per pack, ten cents.
  • On every coach, chariot or other four wheel carriage and on every chaise, solo, or other two wheel carriage, or parts thereof, fifteen per centum ad valorem (15%).

On all other goods, wares and merchandise, five per centum on the value thereof at the time and place of importation, except as follows: saltpetre, tin in pigs, tin plates, lead, old pewter, brass, iron and brass wire, copper in plates, wool, cotton, dyeing woods and dyeing drugs, raw hides, beaver, and all other furs, and deer skins.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of December, which shall be in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety, there shall be laid a duty on every one hundred and twelve pounds, weight of hemp imported as aforesaid, of sixty cents; and on cotton per pound, three cents.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all the duties paid, or secured to be paid upon any of the goods, wares and merchandises as aforesaid, except on distilled spirits, other than brandy and geneva, shall he returned or discharged upon such of the said goods, wares, or merchandises, as shall within twelve months after payment made, or security given, be exported to any country without the limits of the United States, as settled by the late treaty of peace; except one per centum on the amount of the said duties, in consideration of the expense which shall have accrued by the entry and safe-keeping thereof.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That there shall be allowed and paid on every quintal of dried, and on every barrel of pickled fish, of the fisheries of the United States, and on every barrel of salted provision of the United States, exported to any country without the limits thereof, in lieu of a drawback of the duties imposed on the importation of the salt employed and expended therein, viz:

  • On every quintal of dried fish, five cents.
  • On every barrel of pickled fish, five cents.
  • On every barrel of salted provision, five cents.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That a discount of ten per cent, on all the duties imposed by this act, shall be allowed on such goods, wares and merchandises, as shall be imported in vessels built in the United States, and which shall be wholly the property of a citizen or citizens thereof, or in vessels built in foreign countries, and on the sixteenth day of May last, wholly the property of a citizen or citizens of the United States, and so continuing until the time of importation.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That this act shall continue and be in force until the first day of June, which shall be in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety six, and from thence until the end of the next succeeding session of Congress which shall be held thereafter, and no longer.


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Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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