Could customs collectors, the tax men of early America, be the unsung founders of the early United States?
Today, we explore the creation of the United States Customs Service and its contributions to the establishment of the federal government with Gautham Rao, an Assistant Professor of History at American University and author of National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
In this episode, Gautham Rao, an Assistant Professor of History at American University and author of National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State, takes us through the establishment of the United States Customs Service.
During our investigation, Gautham reveals details about the origins of custom duties and custom houses; The role British custom officers played in North America prior to and during the American Revolution; And, the establishment of the United States Customs Service and the role it played in instituting the federal government.
What You’ll Discover
- Custom duties and custom houses
- Custom houses in British North America
- The fiscal military revolution
- Duties of British custom officers prior to the American Revolution
- The role British custom officers played in the American Revolution
- The Boston Massacre & the custom house
- Why the United States established a customs system modeled on the British imperial system
- How custom collectors gave permanency to the new government
- How United States custom collectors’ worked
- Relationship between U.S. Custom Houses & importing merchants
- How Democratic-Republican leadership affected U.S. custom collection policies
- Thomas Jefferson’s embargoes
- How Thomas Jefferson enforced (or tried) the embargoes with custom houses
- Custom houses along the Canadian border
- How the government reformed the Customs Service after the War of 1812
- How the customs policies from the early republic influence the United States’ present-day fiscal system
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Gautham Rao
- Gautham’s website
- Gautham’s American University webpage
- National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State
- Thomas Truxes, Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York
- Joshua Mitchell Smith, Borderland Smuggling: Patriots, Loyalists, and Illicit Trade in the Northeast, 1783-1820
- Episode 016: Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy
- Episode 034: Mark Cheathem, Andrew Jackson, Southerner
- Episode 057: Max Edling, War, Money, and the American State, 1783-1867
In your opinion, what might have happened if the customs officials, appointed by President Washington, had not viewed it as their duty to use their office to provide permanency and legitimacy to the new federal government after 1787? What would have happened to the United States government if customs collectors had not been able to forge a cooperative relationship with importing merchants?
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