Thursday, July 31, 2014


On July 31, 1789, the U.S. Congress passed its fifth act establishing 59 custom collection districts in the eleven states that had ratified the constitution, and, thus, began a tradition of service that has grown with the nation.

I have worked in international trade at the United States Customhouse in San Francisco since August 1983 (except for a four-year-plus absence for grad school and other things between 1987 and 1991).

Our customhouse opened in 1911-- two years before the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which legalized the income tax. (I emphasize 'legalized' since Lincoln had imposed an income tax during the Civil War; but the Supreme Court later declared that tax unconstitutional, requiring the amendment.)

Prior to the income tax, customs duties were the principal source of revenue for the federal government. President Jefferson used customs duties to purchase Louisiana. They were used also to acquire Florida, finance the Mexican War, the Gadsden Purchase, and to buy Alaska. So a large proportion of the physical territory of the United States is a direct result of customs duties.

Several people have commented that our building is a cross between a fortress, a palace and a bank. All three descriptions are apt because the customhouse then represented the might, majesty and wealth of the United States of America.

When I started in 1983, our mission within the Department of Treasury was "To collect and protect the Revenue." Today our primary role within the new Department of Homeland Security is Anti-Terrorism. Even so, revenue collection continues to be an important function of the Trade side of the Bureau of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Image:courtesy GSA

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