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first, the power of interference steadily diminishes — the quantity of things liable to be arrested on their passage from the producer to the consumer, bearing a constantly diminishing proportion to that produced. With the enlargement of the last, the power of the producer to treat, directly, with those who perform the duties of government, grows steadily and rapidly—its growth manifesting itself in a steady and regular effort for removing the difficulties standing in the way of commerce.
That such has been the course of things in all advancing countries, may be seen by those who study the movements of Attica, from the days of Theseus to those of Solon, when so many thousands were freed from all necessity for carrying to their masters the produce of their labor—being, thenceforth, permitted freely to exchange among themselves. It will be found, again, by those who examine the course of England, from the time when Plantagenets bought and sold wool — when they debased the currency — when almost the only mode of taxing the land was found in stopping it on its passage from hand to hand, by means of purveyance, wardship, taxes on alienation, and the likedown to the passage, in 1692, of a specific tax, on the pound of rental yielded to the owner. — Turning next to France, in the feudal times, we find the land wholly exempt from taxation - the slave by whom it was cultivated being, meanwhile, liable to contributions of personal service in every form, and all his products being taxed at every step of their passage from the land on which they were produced, to the persons by whom they were to be consumed. Passing thence to the Revolution, we find the Constituent Assembly, in 1791, abolishing numerous taxes tending to stoppage of the circulation, and substituting direct contributions by lands and houses — now constituting the most important items in the revenue.—Spain, too, has done the same — a general land-tax having superseded the alcavala, which affected every transfer of movables, large or small, and numerous minor taxes tending to the stoppage of property on its way from the producer to the consumer.- Looking to Germany, we find, in all its parts, a growing tendency to the substitution of fixed money-rents for personal service; and of taxes on land, houses, and other fixed property, for those heretofore paid on movables passing from hand to hand, or from place to place.
Coming next to the United States, we find a corresponding state of things on passing from the Southern States, in which land is held in large plantations, and cultivated by men who are enslaved, to those of the North and East, in which land is divided and men are free. In South Carolina, nearly the whole expenses of the State are paid by taxes on slaves, free negroes, professions, and merchandise. Out of a total sum of $380,000, North Carolina takes but $105,000 in the form of taxes on land - looking for the remainder, to contributions by the owners of movable property.*
Virginia taxes traders and tavern-keepers, venders of lottery. tickets and physicians, attorneys and dentists, clocks, harps, pianos, horses, carriages, slaves, and other commodities and things -in this manner, providing for all the expenditures of a community of 1,400,000 persons, with the exception of $250,000 derived from taxes on lots and lands. Quite recently, it has been proposed, by the executive of that State, to increase the revenue by an export-tax on oysters!
Of all the communities of the world, it may be doubted if there is one occupying a country more blessed by nature, than is, or was, Virginia. Nevertheless, the powers of her land are gradually dying out; the proportion of movable to fixed property is gradually increasing; while she, herself, as regularly declines in wealth, power, and position in the Union. The cause of this, is shown in the following passage from an influential journal, the production of a writer whose highest aspirations are found in a desire for further extension of the power of trade, and more complete extermination of commerce :
“What have we done? What markets have we built up ? What great thoroughfares have we constructed ?
These are questions which now direct themselves forcibly to our interest, and should awaken us to a sense of the lethargy and indifference that have characterised our movements. While no State in the Union is blessed with a greater variety and multiplicity of natural advantages, probably no State has been more unmindful of em. With climate, soil, productions, minerals, grades, all in her favor and all pointing out the feasibility and incalculable advantages of a great thoroughfare to the great West-enabling her to rival successfully all competitors -- she is asleep, or, if not asleep, dragging her slow length along,' so mournfully, so sluggishly, that the hearts of her most hopeful sons are gradually sinking, deeper and deeper, into the slough of despair. They are almost afraid of looking into the future, so uncertain is the policy which obtains in Virginia respecting the progress of internal improvements. At one session of the Legislature, a fresh impetus will be given to enterprises of this kind; appropriations of a somewhat liberal character will be made, and the hope engendered that, in a few years at most, Virginia will be in a condition to retrieve some of her heavy losses, and become a successful competitor for a trade, which as legitimately belongs to her as do the waters of the James to the Chesapeake. At a subsequent session, however, the tide will be suddenly reversed, the pursestrings of the Commonwealth will be tied up into a thousand knots, and the great improvements of the day will be suspended in the tangled web of scheming log-rollers. Past appropriations are sorely regretted, and further liberality — as it is improperly termed—is fairly hooted at and repudiated. Debt! debt ! taxes ! taxes !"*
* The triviality of the sources to which communities, in which there is little fixed property, are forced to look for public revenue, is well exhibited in this State, in the following list of commodities and things taxed: bowieknives, pistols, pianos, harps, playing-cards, billiard-tables, bowling-alleys, circuses, shows, watches, plate, pleasure carriages, carriage venders, drugs and medicines, peddlers, retailers, taverns, inns, livery stabl dr rs, stocks of merchandise, negro traders, liquor dealers, auctioneers, insurance companies, bankers, exhibitors of natural curiosities, singers, dancers, and lecturers for reward, etc. Nothing seems to escape; yet, the total revenuo is less than fifty cents per head!
Pennsylvania raises more than $3,000,000 annually, two-thirds of which are derived from fixed property. The remainder comes from taxes on movables — on the passage of property from its owner to his heirs — on legal proceedings — and from licenses to be concerned in various trades.
With a population two-fifths as great, the taxes of Massachusetts are but $400,000, seven-eighths of which are derived from fixed property — leaving but the remaining eighth to come from interferences with commerce. A tax on auction sales, yielding but a small amount, constitutes the only portion of the State revenue, not derived from direct and honest application to the parties by whom it is to be paid.
* Richmond (Va.) Enquirer. VOL. III.-12
Boston, the chief city of the State, raises thrice as much — the whole, with the exception of a poll-tax of $1.50 per head, being derived from taxes on property. In no part of the world, is it so fully understood, that both men and property are entitled to pay for the advantages derived from the maintenance of security; and in none, therefore, is taxation so direct, or the government so economically administered.
Reviewing, now, the communities above referred to, we find that commerce grows, as we pass from those in which taxation is indirect, towards those in which it is direct-- the circulation becoming more rapid - consumption following more instantly upon production-production, itself, increasing, because of the economy of human force — and wealth augmenting, because of a growing power of association consequent upon the removal of governmental interference with the free exchange of ideas and services, commodities and things.
§ 4. Evidence of progress towards civilization being found in the substitntion of direct for indirect taxation, evidence of decline towards barbarism should be found in the opposite direction. That such is the case, is proved by all the movements, upwards and downwards, of the little community of Attica.
In the days of Solon, men were becoming more and more free, from year to year—the slave of an individual owner passing into the free citizen of a State. Taxation then addressed itself to fixed property — that of the pentacosiomedimnus, or largest land-owner, being entered on the books at its whole amount; the knight, or second class, at five-sixths thereof; and the zeugite, or third class, at four-ninths; the tax being fixed at two per cent. of the amount so entered. The fourth class, or simple laborers — the thetes — being ineligible to office, escaped taxation altogether, whether in the form of money contributions, or service in the field. Passing thence to the days of Demosthenes, men are found to have been re-enslaved, while taxation had been so far extended, as now to embrace all capital, whether employed or unemployed, slaves, raw and manufactured materials, cattle, and household furniture — “in short,” says Professor Boeckh, "all money and money's worth."* Frauds, of course, were almost aniversal—they being the invariable companions of indirect taxation; as that, itself, is a consequence of decline in the value of land and labor.
* Public Economy of Athens, book 4, ch. vi.
Passing thence to Italy, we meet the same phenomena — like causes producing, always, like effects. In the days of Ancus Marcius, when the Campagna abounded in towns and cities, the taxes were paid by property, and were not varied, or diminished, on account of claims upon its owner. Ancus Marcius, himself, created a salt monopoly, which appears to have been the sole exception to the system of direct taxation. Passing thence to the aristocratic period, we find a personal taxation of a more oppressive kind than almost any other recorded in history—the small proprietors being liable, at any moment, to be called to the field, and to have their farms plundered, and their houses burned, if they failed to answer to the summons.* There arrived, they were required to serve at their own cost — leaving the booty that was obtained, to pass into patricians' chests. Returning home, and finding their fields untilled, they became, of course, dependent npon their masters for the means of supporting life; and hence it is, that the Roman history of this period is that of a constant series of contests between debtors and creditors — private dungeons everywhere abounding, and the number of free citizens regularly decreasing, preparatory to the thorough consolidation of the land, and annihilation of the class of small proprietors, that subsequently took place. +
At a later period, that of the empire, we find the land of Italy to have become almost valueless — the free population having nearly disappeared. As a consequence of this, the condition of the government, as regarded revenue, was almost precisely similar to that presented on the left of the foregoing diagram, - a necessity for stopping the products of labor, on their passage from the producer to the consumer, having grown with the decline in the value of labor and land. Mines of every kind becoming the property of the State, the right of working them becomes a privilege to be largely paid for. Duties on imports and exports - on the passage of country produce into towns and
* NIEBUHR: History of Rome, vol. ii. p. 139. '† “Every patrician house was a jail for debtors; and in seasons of great distress, after any sitting of the courts, hordes of sentenced slaves were led away in chains, to the houses of the noblesse."---lbid, vol. i. p. 436.