I've heard many times that the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution was (in part) designed to end tariffs between the thirteen states. Now that I'm trying to learn about those tariffs, I'm having a very hard time finding any information about them at all.

  • Were there tariffs charged on goods moving between states in the US before 1789?

  • How about before 1776, between the thirteen colonies?

(I'm expecting the answers to be yes (regarding the states) and no (regarding the colonies), but I have no evidence at this time.)

1 Answer 1


The answer appears to be "yes" in both cases:

Tariffs in United States history:

In the colonial era, before 1775, nearly every colony levied its own tariffs, usually with lower rates for British products. There were taxes on ships (on a tonnage basis), import taxes on slaves, export taxes on tobacco, and import taxes on alcoholic beverages. The London government insisted on a policy of mercantilism whereby only British ships could trade in the colonies. In defiance, some American merchants engaged in smuggling.

During the Revolution, the British blockade from 1775 to 1783 largely ended foreign trade. In the 1783–89 period, each state set up its own trade rules, often imposing tariffs or restrictions on neighboring states. The new Constitution, which went into effect in 1789, banned interstate tariffs or trade restrictions, as well as state taxes on exports.

The prevailing doctrine of Mercantilism advocated free internal trade and high external tariffs, so the Commerce Clause was an important indicator that the US was a single country.

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