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The import fees "represented a compromise between the advocates of a high protective tariff and those who favored a tariff for revenue only [to maintain the central government]." Charges up to fifty percent were imposed on selected manufactured and agricultural goods, including "steel, ships, cordage, tobacco, salt, indigo [and] cloth." On the majority of items subject to duty, a five percent fee was levied, ad valorem He acknowledged the South, the main wealth-producing part of the nation, would inevitably "shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial burden involved in the transforming the United States into a commercial, manufacturing, and maritime power." In its final form, the tariff erected "an American navigation system," superseding the individual state sanctioned fees designed to protect domestic shipping during the Articles of Confederation period from 1781 to 1789.
The act established tonnage rates favorable to American carriers by charging them lower cargo fees than those imposed on foreign boats importing similar goods.
To effect this, Madison called for a 60¢ per ton fee upon foreign carriers lacking a commercial agreement with the United States, while France, which possessed a treaty, would be charged tonnage at 30¢.
This measure alone "was equivalent to levying economic war" upon Great Britain.
Spain demanded, as the price for reciprocal trading relations, a surrender by the United States for 25 years the right of navigating the Mississippi, a price that the New England merchants would have been glad to pay.
France (1778) and the Netherlands (1782) made treaties but not on even terms; Portugal refused all advances.
The only clause in the treaty of peace (1783) concerning commerce was a stipulation guaranteeing that the navigation of the Mississippi would be forever free to the United States.Its most important additions to the power of Congress were those relating to finance and commerce: it enabled the federal government to levy taxes, regulate trade, coin money, protect industry, and direct the settlement of the West, and, as later events proved, to establish credit and redeem its securities.Under it, freedom of trade was insured throughout the young republic."Whereas it is necessary for that support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures, that duties be laid on goods, wares and merchandise:" The Federal legislature, acting under the recently ratified US Constitution, authorized the collection of tariff and tonnage duties to meet the operating costs of the new central government, to provide funds to pay the interest and principal on revolutionary war debts inherited from the Continental Congress.The debates over the purpose of the tariff exposed the sectional interests at stake: Northern manufacturers favored high duties to protect industry; Southern planters desired a low tariff that would foster cheap consumer imports.
Adoption of the Constitution meant the elimination of many of the economic ills under which industry and commerce had struggled since the war.