Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56

Efforts to Prevent Customs Frauds After 1818 and up to 1861

Efforts to Prevent Customs Frauds After 1818 and up to 1861.

1823.—The law of 1823 formulated two oaths,—one for purchased and another for consigned goods; required the manufacturers to swear to "fair market value" at time, and place, of procurement; declared that the first appraisal shall be by official appraisers, and a reappraisement, if called for, shall be by them, associated with two merchants employed by the importer, with right of an appeal to the Secretary of the Treasury if desired, but added that the duty shall, in no case, be levied on less than the invoice value. The 13th Section substantially repeated the requirement, which had been previously enacted in 1818, that, if the appraised value exceeded by twenty-five per centum the invoice prices thereof then there should be added fifty per centum to the appraised value, on which aggregate amount the duties should be estimated.

1828.—At the end of the tariff law of 1828 there were inserted new regulations for appraisals, and especially of merchandise unfinished in manufacture. In the ninth section, the rule, prescribed in 1818, which directed that if the appraised value exceeded by twenty-five per cent, the invoiced price, there should be added fifty per cent. to the appraised value, in order to make dutiable value, was changed, so that if the appraised value exceeded by ten per cent, the invoice value, then, page XII in addition to the regular duty to be imposed if the merchandise had been invoiced at its real value, "there shall be levied fifty per cent, of the duty to be imposed when fairly invoiced."

1830.—In 1830 the appraising force in New York, Philadelphia and Boston was enlarged; power was given to the collector to order a reappraisement if he "shall deem any appraisement of goods too low," which last was then a new power. In the third section, a new and special contrivance was made for goods "of which wool or cotton shall be a component part," and when fabrics "of similar kind but different quality are found in the same package," which was repealed in 1832, and is in section 2911 of the Revised Statutes. The appraisers were required to adopt the value of the best article in the package as the average value of the whole. The fourth section of this law made a new departure in requiring collectors to cause one package out of every invoice, and one package at least out of every twenty packages of each invoice, and a greater number should he deem it necessary, (it is repeated in a modified form in Section 2899, Revised Statutes,) which packages shall be designated by him, to be opened and examined," and if the same should be found not to correspond with the invoice, or to be falsely charged in such invoice, then all the packages contained in the same entry must be inspected; and if any "invoice be made up with intent, by a false valuation, or extension, or otherwise, to evade or defraud the revenue, the same shall be forfeited." This forfeiture provision, it will be seen, applied to an invoice of consigned goods, as well as to an invoice of purchased goods, and declared that if the invoice be intentionally made by any device whatsoever to evade the revenue, all the merchandise contained therein shall be confiscated. But this law of 1830 repealed the previous laws of 1818 and 1823, and every other law, which imposed an additional duty, or penalty, of fifty per centum, upon duties on any goods which might be appraised at twenty-five per centum above their invoice price.

1832.—-The tariff law of July 14, 1832, after much alteration of the rates of duty, devoted a dozen more sections to a modification of the then-existing system of collecting those rates. Among the more important of the new executive powers conferred is that contained in the eighth section authorizing the appraisers to call any person before them and answer questions which the appraiser may deem material in ascertaining the value of imported merchandise, and also requiring an importer to produce any "letters, accounts, or invoices in his possession relating to the same," and forfeiting the merchandise if such owner, importer or consignee shall swear falsely. This provision was enlarged, by the law of 1842, and, as then enacted, is embodied in sections 2922 page XIII 2923, and 2924 of the Revised Statutes. The power conferred by these sections in the Revised Statutes upon all appraising officers, including the Collector and Naval Officer, to will witnesses before them in order to ascertain market value, and to require the production "of any letters, accounts or invoices" relating to the same, is very large. It applies to every class of importations, goods purchased or not purchased. What questions shall be asked is wholly within the discretion of the Appraiser or the Collector or Naval Officer, as the case may be. If any person called as a witness be not the owner, importer or consignee of the merchandise, and lie refuse to answer any question, the law inflicts a penalty of one hundred dollars for each refusal. If the person interrogated be the owner, importer or consignee, and if he refuse to answer any question put to him, or to produce "any letters, accounts or invoices in his possession," that may be called for, the appraisal made is final and conclusive and there can be no reappraisement; and, if the answer be wilfully and corruptly false the merchandise shall be forfeited. I am at a loss to know why these sections have not been and are not now more frequently enforced in New York, and I would respectfully commend an inquiry into the reason to those members of either House of Congress who have in years past been familiar with the administration of this Department.

1833.—The origin and history of the tariff legislation of March 2, 1833, teach a lesson which may I think be serviceable to-day. That law was, as I assume, a compromise between the contentions of the manu-facturing and the non-manufacturing interests of 1833, which contentions had engendered and inflamed alarming sectional passions. By it was ordained a ratable annual reduction of the rates prescribed in 1832, whenever those rates exceeded 20 per cent, ad valorem, which reduction was to begin on December 31, 1833, and continue without pause till June 30, 1842, when all rates were to be reduced to not more than 20 per cent. It directed that, after June 30, 1842, (1) "all duties shall be collected in cash and all credits be abolished," and (2) "that the duties thereafter laid shall only be such as may be needed for an 'economical administration,'" and (3) that "all rates shall be ad valorem, but levied on the value 'at the port where the goods shall be entered.' "On September 11, 1841, Congress was, by the condition of the Treasury, compelled to levy 20 per cent, ad valorem on articles then free, or paying less than 20 per cent., and on August 30, 1842, came the general tariff law of that date which entirely disregarded the pledges of what might be deemed a permanent, compromise made in 3833. A system of levying ad valorem rates on "home values" was thus in force from June 30, page XIV 1842, to August 30, 1842, as the Supreme Court decided, in Aldridge vs. Williams, (3 Howard, 23,) Mr. Justice McLean dissenting, and insisting that there was no law, or lawful machinery, between June and September, for ascertaining "home values." The records of this Department, especially the circular letters and reports of my predecessor, Mr. Levi Woodbury, show, during the last years of the life of the "Compromise" arrangement of 1833, when the average rates were approaching, or had reached, the limit of 20 per centum, that false invoices, undervaluations, and the nameless and numberless devices to circumvent, baffle and defraud the Treasury, when attempting to apply an ad valorem system, were in lively and successful operation. Much the same things were said and done then about customs frauds, in and out of Congress, by manufacturers and importers, their agents and representatives, as are done and said now in 1886, so uniform are recurrent events in the life of a government as of individuals, and so small in circumference are the circles of human transactions.

The tariff law of 1842 was approved by the President in August of that year. In the previous February, Mr. Millard Fillmore, then Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means in the House, sent to my predecessor, Mr. Forward, the following communication: