Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress, 1789-1791 | Next Page
Establishing a Revenue System
Impost Act
Impost Act, [HR-2], July 4, 1789
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The second bill introduced in the House of Representatives proposed laying federal import taxes on goods coming into the United States. Members hoped that this bill and a related one that imposed a duty on the capacity in tons of ships entering American ports would pass quickly through Congress, but their progress was slowed by extensive debates over the tax on molasses and the desirability of making a discrimination between imports from nations that had made a commercial treaty with the United States and those that had not (most notably Great Britain). Some evidence accuses several merchant members of intentionally delaying both this bill and the Collection Act in order to protect goods on their own incoming ships from the duties. Rep. James Madison of Virginia expressed other reasons for the delay, including the impasse between the two houses over the discrimination issue:

"We are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us. It is consequently necessary to explore the way with great labour and caution. Those who may follow will have an easier task . . . . The discrimination was struck out of the bills in consequence of the refusal of the Senate to agree to the bills on other terms. They urged in a Conference between Committees from the two Houses on the subject, that something more efficacious was necessary in order to counter work the restrictions of G. Britain, . . ." (to James Madison, Sr., July 5, 1789, Library of Congress)

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