Federal Hall and Taxes

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By Sam Brunson

I spent my Thanksgiving in New York this year, ostensibly to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.[fn1]

Before and after Thanksgiving, my family and I went to various National Memorials in New York. (My Hamilton-obsessed kids were thrilled to make a pilgrimage to Hamilton Grange, even if they haven’t actually seen the musical yet.)

And on Friday, we went to Federal Hall.[fn2] And, like our visit to Alcatraz over the summer, I was surprised (and pleased) to find a tax connection. 

The current building, it turns out, may be on the site of George Washington’s inauguration, but it’s not the building in which we was inaugurated. That was torn down in 1812. The building that overlooks the NYSE was originally the Custom House, and later because a branch of the United States Independent Treasury System.

And what does that mean? According to displays, when it was the Custom House, importers brought lists of their imported goods for inspection. And it was those import duties that provided the bulk of the federal government’s revenue prior to the federal income tax.

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And when it became a branch of the Treasury, it served, among other things, as a “money warehouse.”

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[fn1] FWIW, Tony Bennett got the biggest crowd applause I think I’ve ever heard, even bigger than minutes earlier, when a marching band played “Sweet Caroline” and the whole crowd sang along.

[fn2] It turns out that Friday was Evacuation Day, and it was being celebrated at Federal Hall for the first time in a century. Which meant my kids got to talk to George Washington and a Tory, we followed a parade to Bowling Green, and we heard a drum and fife performance.

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