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At the Constitutional Convention, it had been understood that the new government would levy taxes to pay not only its own expenses but the debts of the old government. The debts were the debts of the nations, regardless of which government contracted them.
On July 4, 1789, Congress established customs duties on all imports and two weeks later placed a tonnage duty on all shipping, with high rates for foreign vessels, low ones for American ones. When Alexander Hamilton took office at the Treasury, it became his task to apply the income from these duties to the national debt.
A Presidential appointed Commissioner of Customs was established in 1875, and administered all customs activities. The records in our collection, which detail locations and types of lights and fog signals, illustrate the agency’s concern with waterway activities. Since 1966, the agency has been under the administrative control of the U.S. Treasury Department, within the civil service system.1 Presently, the U.S. Customs Service monitors ship and air traffic at the entry parts of Wilmington and Philadelphia.

1 Blum, McFeely, Morgan, Schlesigner, Stampp, and Woodward; The National Experience.
jrf; February 14, 1989

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