Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Holiday Just for Us

Yesterday was the anniversary of the passage of the Tariff Act of 1828, commonly known as the Tariff of Abominations.

I suggest that May 19 be declared a minor holiday for customs lawyers in America.

The Tariff of Abominations resulted from one of those great legislative follies in which a bill is put before Congress on the theory that no one will support it and then political hay can be made by blaming the defeat of the bill on political opponents. In this case, the southern states put together a tariff bill that raised rates on raw materials needed by northern industrial states as well as finished goods imported by southerners. It was assumed that the New England members of Congress would object to the bill and it would die. Turns out that it passed, causing tariff rates to rise on consumer goods and creating a political storm in the south.

This led to what is known as the Nullification Crisis, in which South Carolina moved to declare the tariff unconstitutional and unenforceable in that state. What follows is great. President Jackson sent a bill to Congress seeking authorization to use force to enforce the customs laws. The custsomhouses were to be relocated to ships in the harbor, cash payments (rather than bonds) demanded, and federal arrests for anyone refusing to pay duties whom the state did not arrest. In the end, a compromise tariff was enacted along with the Force Bill. The immediate crisis was, thereby, defused.

This created an environment in which South Carolina, the first state to eventually secede from the Union, rallied around the issue of states rights and the sovereign nature of the states. Thus, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the Tariff Act of 1828 -- the Tariff of Abominations -- was a contributing factor leading to the Civil War.

Next time I argue with Customs and Border Protection for a change in classification or duty-free treatment under some trade agreement, I am going to have to work in the larger implications. After all, what if the decision on widgets from Mexico leads to the next Civil War?

You may be wondering why I said May 19 should be a minor holiday. It's because I'm saving June 17 for the major holiday.


Anonymous said...

I think it best to leave July 4th as the "major" holiday which created our independence, which then led to our 3 intellectual founders(Hamilton, Jay & Madison) to create our constitution, which then led Hamilton to create the Customs Service to collect duties, which finally allows you a venue to fight for our rights as importers and make a nice living. All the other "stuff" is just incidental from the above.

Anonymous said...

Oh for heaven sakes! Lighten up and develop a sense of humor! Not only does this comment miss the joke, but it misses the point, which is sometimes, customs issues can have large and somewhat unexpected political consequences, it's not always a backwater in the law. No one was criticizing America. p.s. I typed this with one hand and was waving a flag patriotically with the other.

Anonymous said...

that's the problem w/texting, we can't describe our mood as we type this stuff. I do have a sense of humor and only wrote that first comment as a joke. never intended to be offensive in any sort of way. Do enjoy reading your blogs!!

Keep waving the flag...