Page images
PDF
EPUB

compensation for all improvements he may have made on the premises subsequent to his purchase, the value of which improvements to be ascertained by three or more neighboring freeholders to be appointed by the clerk, who on actual view of the premises shall assess the value of such improvements on their oaths, and make a return of such valuation to the clerk immediately.

The direct taxes are a lien on all estates on which they are assessed for two years after becoming due.

Collectors are bound to give receipts when required for all sums collected by them, and in case of their being guilty of extortion or oppression, in the execution of their duties, or of demanding more than is authorized by law, a sum not exceeding $300 may be recovered from them by the party injured, in any court having competent jurisdiction.

The following sums are to be allowed to the assessors for their services : to each principal assessor, two dollars for every day employed in hearing appeals and making out lists, and four dollars for every hundred taxable persons contained in the tax list as delivered by him to the collector : to each assistant assessor one dollar and fifty cents for every day actually employed in collecting lists and making calculations, the number of days necessary for that purpose being certified by the principal assessor, and approved by the comptroller of the treasury, and three dollars for every hundred taxable persons contained in the tax list as completed and delivered by him to the principal assessor : the assessors are likewise to be allowed reasonable charges for books and stationary used in the execution of their duties.

In cases where no person can be found in any collection district or assessment district, to serve either as collector, principal assessor, or assistant assessor, the president is authorized to appoint one of the deputy post-masters in such districts to serve as collectors or assessors, as the case may be : and it shall be the duty of such deputy postmaster to perform accordingly the duties of such officer.

$ 21. The internal duties are to continue in force until a year after the conclusion of a peace with Great Britain, and during their continuance the secretary of the treasury is directed to lay before congress annually in the month of December, separate accounts of all monies received on account of them, and on account of the direct tax (whenever laid), showing upon what articles or subjects of taxation those duties accrued ; also, the amount of monies paid to collectors, assessors, assistant assessors or other officers employed in the collection ; distinguishing the amount of monies received from each state, and from what tax or species of duties received ; and distinguishing also the amount of monies paid to the officers in each state.

22. In the passage of these revenue laws, there was but little debate on either side of the house. The principal opposition was directed against the bill laying the direct taxes, and it was contended that it would be better to raise the revenue expected from this source, by an increase of the duty on distilled liquors.

Direct taxes, it was urged, are paid by constraint, indirect by choice. Should the crops of the farmer be cut short, his cattle die, or should he be unfortunate

any
other
way,

he can relieve him. self from the burthen of indirect taxes, by reducing in his family the consumption of the article taxed. With direct taxes there is no such alternative. It is said that the owner of land can always pay the demands of government: but land taxes sometimes fall

upon the poor tenant, and the owner hi self is not always able to pay, his land being often mortgaged to the last cent. A vast number of new settlers, who have purchased land on credit, and who have undergone every privation, and have with the utmost difficulty paid the state taxes, and the interest and perhaps instalment of their purchase, would be utterly ruined by the burthen of a new land tax.

The great importance, in a government like ours, of preserving the affections of its citizens was likewise urged. But by a direct tax much discontent would be created ; for while men will suffer much while left to choice, they will endure but little without murmuring, when constrained by the hand of power.

The wisest object of government is to tax the luxuries, and not the necessaries of life, and it is of importance that the laws should curb vice and cherish morality. Both these objects are effected by the tax on spirituous liquors.

It is but justice, it was added, that the burthens as well as the benefits of the union should be equally borne. Those who live on the seaboard pay a heavy tax on their imported liquors, and it is but reasonable that those in the more remote parts of the union should be taxed in their domestic spirits.

On the other hand it was urged, that there was a certain length to which taxation might be carried, and no farther. By an increase of the duty, the amount of the revenue was actually lessened.

That if every one insisted on the system of taxation which he thought best, there never could be any system adopted, and therefore it was necessary for every one to give way a little.

The natural and inherent difficulties of finance, it was stated, are aggravated in America by the diversity of the states, their sovereignty, and dissimilar resources for revenue, and consequently the almost impossibility of establishing a system which will press equally on all. A countervailing arrangement of taxes was therefore contemplated by the constitution. There is no objection to a whiskey tax, but there is a serious objection to raising all the revenue from whiskey, a beverage of the poor

and of the agricultural states and districts; more.especially when it is avowed that this unfair burthen is to be substituted for a land tax, which will fall equally on all real property, and every section of the country.

Taxation, it was urged, is the last experiment of republicanism. If we can tax, it endures; if not, it is high time to be done with it. Without the power of waging war, government is useless; and war cannot be waged without finances. If the country will not be taxed, it is high time we should know it. On the passage

of the bill for the assessment and collection of the direct tax, an amendment was offered, providing that a supervisor should be appointed in each state for the apportionment of the quotas among the counties. In support of this amendment, it was stated, that the apportionment of the quota of taxes among the counties was in many, if not all of the states, unequal, and consequently unjust; and that, with regard to the power left with the state governments of altering the apportionments, it was very uncertain whether the legislatures would interfere ; and be. sides, the correctness of doing injustice, and trusting to others to correct it, was very much doubted.

This amendment was negatived, and the bill passed in its original form.

Mr. Clopton objected to the duty on carriages, on the ground of its being a direct tax, which congress had no power to impose, except in the mode pointed out by the constitution. Carriages he considered to be a very proper subjeci of taxation; but this consideration could never induce him to mould the constitution into a form to suit the tax, or to endeavour to reconcile them by a forced construction. He was aware that the supreme court had sanctioned, by a solemn decision, the constitutionality of this species of tax. He entertained the utmost respect for the characters, talents, and stations of the public functionaries, and this respect would always induce him to examine with the utmost minuteness every subject on which he had to act, in which his conviction was contrary to their decision. But he should consider that he violated his duty, both to his country and his conscience, if he acted as a legislator upon the opinions of any man, however luminous his understanding or exalted his station, until he became convinced of their propriety. After a minute examination it appeared to him clear and unquestionable, that the

1

duty on carriages was a direct tax according to the meaning of the constitution. The difference between direct and indirect taxation he understood to be, that the direct tax was laid directly on property, the owner or possessor of which is immediately chargeable with the tax, and by which no other person whatever is affected; whereas the indirect tax affected principally the consumer, and not the possessor of the article at the time the tax accrued, the former indirectly paying the tax in the enhanced price. If this distinction were correct, the duty on carriages was certainly a direct tax. It had been stated that the commit. tee of ways and means considered carriages as articles of expence, and as such liable to this species of taxation. But were not slaves (one of the objects of the direct tax), in many instances, articles of expence also ? Was the carriage an article of expence, and not the servant who drives the carriage ?

This objection was overruled on the ground of the tax having been formerly in operation, and solemnly sanctioned by the supreme court; that it was one of the best taxes that could be imposed, as it fell almost exclusively on the wealthy, and was really a tax on luxury.

$ 23. The following is a statement of the votes on the tax-bills on their final passage in the house of representatives : On the bill directing the manner of assessing and collecting the direct taxes

yeas 95 nays 63 On the bill laying a direct tax

97 70 Duty on stills

85 49 On refined sugars

94

53 Licenses to retailers

84 46 Sales at auction

102 51 Carriages

99 52 Stamps

81

46 9 24. In addition to the internal taxes, a law was passed laying a duty of twenty cents per bushel or fifty-six pounds, on the importation of salt, to commence on January 1, 1814. The term of credit on this duty was fixed at nine months.

No drawback is to be allowed, but instead thereof a bounty of twenty cents per barrel on the exportation of pickled fish of the fisheries of the United States, which have been cured with foreign salt on which the duty has been paid. The bounty, however, is not to be allowed, unless it shall amount to ten dollars at least upon each entry.

This act also grants a bounty on the employment of certain fishing vessels, the particulars of which will be given when we come to treat of the law for the regulation of the seamen employ. ed in those fisheries, in the next chapter.

CHAPTER V.

$ 1. Webster's resolutions. 2. Debate thereon. $ 3. Answer of the

president. 4. Stenographers. 5. Russian embassy. 5 6. Mission to Sweden. § 7. Embargo. $ 8. Massachusetts remonstrance. $9. Debate thereon. 510. Distribution of arms. § 11. Amendments to the constitution. $ 12. Naturalization. S 13. British licenses. $ 14. Girard's memorial. $ 15. Seizure of East Florida. $ 16. Measures for defence. 17. Disabled militia and volunteers. $ 18. Reward of valour. $ 19. Encouragement to privateers. $ 20. Encouragement of the fisheries. $ 21. Loan. $ 22. Appropriations. § 23. Conduct of the war. $ 24. Barbarities of the enemy. S 25. Adjournment.

$ 1. Previous to the tax bills being taken up in the house of representatives, the house was principally occupied with contested elections, the accommodation of stenographers, and a motion of Mr. Webster, relative to the repeal of the Berlin and Milan decrees.

On the 10th of June, the following resolutions were submitted to the house by Mr. Webster, which were read and laid on the table.

Resolved, That the president of the United States be requested to inform this house, unless the public interest should, in his opinion, forbid such communication, when, by whom, and in what manner, the first intelligence was given to this government of the decree of the government of France, bearing date the 28th April, 1811, and purporting to be a definitive repeal of the decrees of Berlin and Milan.

Resolved, That the president of the United States be requested to inform this house whether Mr. Russell, late charge d'affaires of the United States at the court of France, hath ever admitted, or denied, to his government, the correctness of the declaration of the duke of Bassano to Mr. Barlow, the late minister of the United States at that court, as stated in Mr. Barlow's letter of the 12th of May, 1812, to the secretary of state, " that the said decree of April 28, 1811, had been communicated to his (Mr. Barlow's) predecessor there ;” and to lay before this house any correspondence with Mr. Russell, relative to that subject, which it may not be improper to communicate ; and also any correspondence between Mr. Barlow and Mr. Russell on that subject, which may be in possession of the department of state.

Resolved, That the president of the United States be re

« PreviousContinue »