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John G. Johnson

TARIFF POLICIES OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS. Tariff policies of the Republic of Texas varied from an approximation of free trade to the imposition of high duties for revenue purposes. In general, East Texas wanted low tariffs or none at all, West Texas and President Sam Houston advocated high customs for revenue, and president Mirabeau B. Lamar favored abolition of all tariffs. An ordinance of the Consultation on November 13, 1835, granted power to the General Council to impose impost and tonnage duties and provide for their collection. Between 1835 and 1842, seven tariff bills were passed and signed into law and several were passed by Congress but vetoed by Houston. On December 8, 1835, the General Council formed six revenue districts and fixed duties of 20 percent ad valorem on goods entitled to debenture or certificate of drawback in the ports from which they were exported and 10 percent on all other goods except household goods, guns, and ammunition, which were to be admitted free. The rates were raised to 23 and 15 percent respectively by an act of December 27, 1835. An act of December 15, 1836, provided a tonnage duty of $1.25 a ton on all vessels of more than ten tons and a duty of 12½ cents a gallon on whiskey and wine. These acts of the council were subsequently set aside by the Convention of 1836 on the ground that the provisional government had exceeded its authority in levying import duties. Money collected was ordered repaid. An act of December 20, 1836, to go into effect on June 1, 1837, established duties at a general average of 25 percent, with tariffs up to 50 percent on luxuries and rates of 1 to 10 percent on necessities. But a new law, passed on June 12, 1837, retained the distinction between luxuries and necessities; liquor and wine were taxed at 25 to 75 percent, and a free list covering foodstuffs, guns, ammunition, tools, and building materials was exempt.

On September 29, 1837, after calls for free trade, a special committee was appointed to report a bill replacing the tariff laws then in effect. This led to the law of December 18, 1837, designed to lower the cost of provisions and make some concessions to free-trade advocates. Staples such as sugar, coffee, and flour were added to the free list, and to the industrial free list were added such necessities as iron and steel, books, and lumber. A comparison of prices before and a year after the act showed no marked difference, however. Price differences were due to fluctuation of currency, not to the tariff. From the bill of December 18, 1837, until 1940 there was no change, though the issue was before Congress each session, and though Lamar called for abolition of all tariffs. However, the republic began to use the promise of favorable tariff laws and commercial regulations as a means to recognition by other nations. The United States recognized Texas on March 1, 1837. Commercial expansion, as well as the danger that Texas might form treaties with European nations, played a large part in the recognition. Although no treaty was concluded between Mexico and the United States, the commercial terms of a treaty between the two countries were in force after April 5, 1838. Texas made a most-favored-nation agreement with France on November 7 of that year; in 1839 France recognized Texas and the two countries signed a treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation. As a result President Lamar, by proclamation, canceled all duties on French wines, a move that was revoked by Houston in 1842 after the failure of negotiations for a French loan. Texas also signed most-favored-nation treaties with Great Britain and Holland.

The tariff act of February 5, 1840, was passed in accordance with the policy of low tariffs in recognition of independence. The rate was 15 percent on all but a few items on which a specific duty was charged and a few duty-free items. Most trade was with the United States. Imports for the year ending July 31, 1843, were worth $471,205, of which $412,983 came from the United States. Exports were $415,768, of which $281,342 went to the United States. The following year import ratios remained the same, but exports fell more than 50 percent because the United States needed no cotton. By 1844 the loss was made up by exports, mostly of cotton, to England. Of $615,119 in total exports between July 1843 and July 1844, $249,151 went to the United States and $205,345 to England. An attempt to replace tariff income with a direct tax by an act of January 16, 1840, failed. This, coupled with the Lamar administration's high spending, led to higher tariffs. The tariff act of February 5, 1841, provided that all specific duties be doubled and ad valorem taxes of 10 and 15 percent be raised to 45 percent. On January 27, 1842, in its last tariff act, the Texas Congress returned to the policy of specific duties instead of ad valorem taxes and lowered duties on necessities. Still, almost everything was taxed. A section of the bill required the addition of 5 percent from ships of nations without a trade treaty with Texas. This measure was aimed at the United States but not enforced until 1842, when the United States Senate failed to ratify a treaty with Texas. A bill to repeal the act was passed by Congress but vetoed by Houston because the United States raised its own tariffs. Though agitation for lower or no tariffs continued and several more bills were passed, they were all vetoed by Houston or Anson Jones. On December 31, 1845, two days after annexation, Texas was made a collection district of the United States. During its nine years, the Republic of Texas had derived more than half of its total income-$1,273,280 out of $2,186,982-from customs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Asa Kyrus Christian, "The Tariff History of the Republic of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 20 (April 1917). R. E. L. Crane, The Administration of the Customs Service of the Republic of Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1939). Edmund Thornton Miller, A Financial History of Texas (Bulletin No. 37, Austin: University of Texas, 1916).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, John G. Johnson, "TARIFF POLICIES OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS," accessed May 31, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mpt01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 3, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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