IF we take the arm of Mr. Smith, who is one of many perplexed at this time by the cost of living, and go round with him to rebuke the tradesmen who oppress and devour him by overcharges of every kind, we shall find these obdurate persons very quick upon their defence, and full of admirable justification of their supposed extortion.
The wicked grocer, who in these piping times of peace makes Mr. Smith pay twenty cents a pound for sugar, fiftyfive cents for coffee, and a dollar and a half for tea, replies, when reproached with his heartlessness, that Mr. Smith gives him depreciated paper, not gold, for his sugar, while he must pay the importer for prime cost, freight, and duty, with the added premium on gold, and the importer’s profit on the aggregate, as well as the new duty on refining ; and that as to coffee, it has actually risen in price at Java through the Dutch government’s monopoly of the entire product, while our own law has imposed a duty of five cents in gold upon it. This abandoned tradesman declares that he must have a large profit to cover risks in holding such articles as tea and coffee, when trade is unsettled and gold falling; and asserts that he makes no more on tea now than he did in the days when it cost Mr. Smith only thirty-five or forty cents a pound. The duty of twenty-five cents, and the withdrawal and destruction by privateers of many ships formerly engaged in the trade, have brought up the price of tea, and the grocer is none the richer, though Mr. Smith is considerably the poorer.
Equally unblushing is the butcher,— a man who ought to have finer feelings and some sense of remorse. Steak, he tells us, is thirty, second cut of the rib twenty-eight, mutton twenty-eight, and poultry thirty cents a pound, because, as he pretends, the farmers exhausted their supply of cattle in feeding the army for so long a time, and now find it more profitable to raise their lambs, and keep and shear their sheep, than to kill them. To which he adds a note in the minor key concerning the price of gold, and the increased expenses of living, which he has himself to meet, and drives us in despair to the pitiless merchant of whom we buy our dry-goods. He evidently expects Mr. Smith, for he says, with a shameless frankness and readiness : “ I admit that I have doubted my prices, but fifty per cent of the rise is due to the premium on gold. Then there come in the war duties, and then the internal revenue taxes. Don’t you know that Congress has put taxes on the materials, and upon every process of manufacture, and a further tax of six per cent on sales, to say nothing of stamps and licenses ? Look at the report of the Revenue Commission,1 which tells us that most of the duties are duplicated, till they lap over like shingles and slates, and come to ten or twenty per cent on manufactures. Look at their story of the umbrella ! Think of Webster’s Spelling-Book printed in London for our schools, to evade the taxes! Think of the men who go to Montreal, Halifax, and even to London, for new suits, in consequence of the duties, and of others who once came to me quarterly for a new coat and gave away their worn garments, and who now conie yearly ! Please examine this bill for coal at fifteen dollars instead of six dollars a ton, and do not forget the city, State, and national taxes,”
Incensed to the last degree by the merchant's effrontery, Mr. Smith hurries us to the den which the cruel coaldealer calls his office, and demands to know how it is that, when the nation no longer requires coal for the uses of war, and coal ought, in the very nature of things, to come down, he has actually raised the price of it to fifteen dollars a ton ?
“ Gentlemen,” answers the coal-dealer, with a hardness not equalled by the hardest clinker in his own anthracite,— “gentlemen, it’s true the war is over, but there are taxes on cars, engines, repairs, and gross receipts, that add fifty per cent to transportation, while for five years past the nation has required so much coal and iron to carry on the war and to repair Southern tracks that few coal railways have been built and few mines opened. There must be rivalry and increased production to put down prices. New mines and railways cannot be opened with gold at the present rates, or while the internal taxes, direct and indirect, add fifteen dollars to the cost of each ton of bar-iron. Nor can there be a great fall while there is a prospect that the coal from Nova Scotia is to be excluded or raised in price by the repeal of the Reciprocity Treaty. Freights have risen to the unprecedented rate of four or five dollars per ton between Philadelphia and Massachusetts and Maine ; and if we wish for former freights of two dollars per ton and lower prices, we must build steam colliers like those which run between Newcastle and London, and bring back the coasters that left the trade and took shelter under the flag of England. But the first thing is to bring down the price of gold, which will bring down both freight and profits, and enable the poor to enjoy the sparkle of the black diamonds. And now, Mr. Smith, let me say that what with the city, the State, and the national taxes, I am obliged to raise my rents, and I take the liberty to notify you that houses are scarce ; and although I regret to disturb an old tenant and customer, I must add another hundred to the rent of the house you occupy. Houses are in demand ; fewdare to build while materials are so dear. And there are the Shoddies, who would take mine to-morrow at any rent.”
Not in the least consoled, but rather exasperated by this suggestion, Mr. Smith fails to recover his spirits, even on the assurance of the city official whom we meet, that the city, impoverished by payment of soldiers’ bounties and allowances to soldiers’ families, as well as the payment of the interest of her debt in gold throughout the war, still hopes to reduce the interest to five per cent, and, when gold falls, to diminish the taxes.
But if our course of inquiry into the causes of the present ruinous cost of living has not given much solace to Mr. Smith, we may, nevertheless, from the facts elicited and from the arguments of the different tradesmen draw a few useful conclusions and decide what are the evils to be removed or obviated before we can reduce the cost of living ; and the chief of these, we have learned, are the following: —
The premium on gold.
The taxes on productions.
The duties on materials.
The charges on transportation.
The duties and taxes which absorb income.
Let us consider whether these evils may not be boldly met and surmounted, and this, too, without impairing the ability of the nation to meet the interest of the debt incurred as the price of freedom, or interfering with the payment of army and navy pensions, and similar expenses.
What is there to prevent the nation from resuming specie payments during the present year ?
There are those who profit by the fluctuations of gold ; who gamble in gold, and would make fortunes regardless of the consequences to others ; who control the columns of venal papers and write financial articles ; who claim to be the leaders of opinion, and tell their confiding readers that Great Britain did not resume for a quarter of a century ; that resumption implies contraction and portends ruin ; that we have a thousand millions to fund within three years, and therefore cannot resume.
But is not all this fallacious ? Our position is not that of the British Isles half a century since, exhausted by a war of twenty years, without a railway, with less than half the wealth and half the population, and one twentieth of the land and mineral resources that we possess, while their debt was fifty per cent more than our own. They were almost stationary, and we are progressive. In descending from a premium of 180 to 30 on gold, we have already accomplished five sixths of the journey towards specie payment without serious disaster and with an easy money-market.
As respects contraction, the instructive report lately addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury by Mr. Carey, the veteran advocate of manufactures, shows that the compound-interest notes are withdrawn ; that a large portion of the greenbacks is held as a reserve fund by the banks, another large portion is locked up in the sub-treasury, and the actual circulation of the Union but $ 460,000,000, — really-less than that of France or Great Britain, although our population exceeds that of either of those countries. And Mr. Carey, in his instructive letter, offers proof that our circulation, although in excess of the gold, silver, and bills circulating before the war. is not disproportionate to our commercial transactions. When the Secretary of the Treasury is ready, no serious contraction will probably be required, and no ruin will follow, if our merchants move with caution, and prepare for a return to the only safe standard of values. Let the manufacturer accumulate no stocks, but continue to make goods to order, to sell in advance. Let him cover his sales by the purchase of the materials as the wise and sagacious have done ever since the surrender of Lee, and we shall be ready for the notice that, after an interval of three or four months, the United States will meet their notes and contracts with specie.
Commerce will gradually adapt itself to this notice, as it has done to the decline of gold from 285 to 130 in less than a year. But it is urged that we have a thousand millions of debt to fund within three years, and therefore cannot resume. Did we not fund nearly a thousand millions at par in 1865, and most of this after gold fell to 30 per cent premium ? Then the amount was drawn from hoards and commerce ; but now our income exceeds expenditures, and we are reducing the debt ten or twenty millions a month ; we require no funds for war or unproductive investments, and when we pay one hundred millions, we return it to those who will seek new loans for investment, and doubtless lend on more favorable terms.
At Paris, Brussels, and Frankfort, the average rate of interest last year was less than five per cent. Give Mr. McCulloch power to go there, to issue bonds for one twentieth part of our debt payable there in the currency of the country; and with such a fund at his disposal, he can at once reduce interest and bring back specie, or rather retain it; for we need not seek it abroad. When the Committee of Ways and Means intimate that they will give him this power, gold and exchange fall ; if a doubt is expressed, both advance ; and the simple question before the public is, whether we shall cripple the Minister of Finance and give the power to Wall Street; — whether our finances are to be governed by the Jews of the gold board and the speculators of the stock exchange, or by the Secretary of the Treasury. If we ended the war by placing one man on the field to direct every movement, — after we had tried in vain to conduct it by committees of Congress and rival generals, — will not one statesman, with plenary power, be equally effective on the field of finance ?
The man who carried a Western State through the revulsion of 1857, and maintained specie payments when Boston and New York succumbed,— who has so well and so successfully wielded the limited power we have given him, — well deserves the confidence of the country. Let him have power at once to go to the fountain-head for the small balance we may require from the Old World ; let him have the authority to raise funds to meet the floating debt and temporary loan, and to replace the seven-thirties and compoundinterest notes as they mature, and we may confidently anticipate both an early resumption of specie payments and reduced rates of interest, and consequent diminution of debt. With a return to specie payments, our current expenses must fall from thirty to forty per cent, and we can well afford to resign any premium on gold we now enjoy.
TAXES ON PRODUCTION.
The Revenue Commission enlighten us on this point. In their very able and luminous Report they say: —
“ The diffuseness of the present revenue system of the United States is doubtless one of its greatest imperfections, and under it the exemption of any article from taxation is the exception rather than the rule. To assert this, however, is no reflection on the judgment or skill of its authors. The system was framed under circumstances of such pressing necessity as to afford but little opportunity for any careful and accurate investigation of the sources of revenue; but it has most certainly accomplished the end designed, namely, the raising of revenue ; and the country to-day is undoubtedly receiving by taxation far more revenue than is necessary for its legitimate expenditures. As a success, therefore, our present revenue system is a most honorable testimonial, not only to the wisdom of its authors, but to the patriotism of the people, who not only endured, but welcomed, the burdens it imposed upon them.
“ A system of taxation, however, so diffuse as the present one, necessarily entails a system of duplication of taxes, which in turn leads to an undue enhancement of prices; a decrease both of production and consumption, and consequently of wealth ; a restriction of exportations and of foreign commerce ; and a large increase in the machinery and expense of the revenue collection.
“ In respect to the injurious influence of this duplication of taxes upon the industry of the country, the Commission cannot speak too strongly. Its effect has already been most injurious. It threatens the very existence (even with the protection of inflated prices and a high tariff) of many branches of industry ; and with a return of the trade and currency of the country to anything approximating its normal condition, it must, by checking development, prove highly disastrous.
“ The influence of the duplication of taxes in sustaining prices is also, in the opinion of the Commission, tar greater than those not conversant with the subject generally estimate ; and were the price of gold and of the national currency made at once to approximate, and the present revenue system to continue unchanged, it would be impossible for the prices of most products of manufacturing industry to return to anything like their former level.”
The Commission arrive at the conclusion, that all our manufactures are by these taxes increased in cost from ten to twenty per cent. In the language of Senator Sherman, when defending the Internal Tax Bill in the Senate last year, the nation required funds to maintain its armies in the field ; it had put forth its arms and grasped the money of the country, and would reduce and equalize the taxes when the war was ended. The Revenue Commission find the taxes on our manufactures and their materials an incubus upon the industry and a check to the progress of the country, and recommend their remission. And this we may reasonably expect from Congress at its present session. But, it may be urged, how are we to meet the interest on our debt and current expenses of $ 284,000,000 in the aggregate, if we repeal these taxes ? The answer is a simple one. The Commission estimate our imports at $ 400,000,000, and our duties now average forty-seven per cent. Should this continue, we should draw from this source alone $ 188,000,000. There is also the revenue from public lands and miscellaneous sources, which the Secretary and the Revenue Commission both rate at $ 21,000,000, making an aggregate of $209,000,000; although the Commission, to guard against the effects of any change in the tariff, modestly rate these items at only $ 151,000,000.
To these they add for excise, viz.: —
From five cents per pound on Cotton, $ 40,000,000
One dollar per gallon on Spirits, 40,000,000
Duties on Tobacco, 18,000,000
Malt Liquors at one dollar only per barrel, 5,000,000
Twenty cents per gallon on Refined Petroleum, 3,000,000
From Spirits of Turpentine and Rosin, 2,000,000
Licenses, $ 15,000,000
Salaries, Sales, and Successions, 9,000,000
They thus provide a revenue of $ 318,000,000, or $ 30,000,000 more than that required by the Secretary, — a surplus which, with the annual excess of duties, to say nothing of the future growth of revenue, would extinguish our debt in little more than thirty' years. But to guard against all contingencies, they propose to levy on incomes taxes to the amount of $ 40,000,000; and on the gross receipts of railways, bridges, canals, and stages, $ 9,000,000. These change the aggregate to $ 367,000,000 ; an excess of $ 81,000.000 over the estimate of our requirements by the Secretary.
The Commission give us the Budget of France in the following summary, viz.: —
Direct Tuxes, $63,072,280
Registry Stamps and Public Domains, 81,537,883
Customs and Duties on Salt, 29,485,000
Indirect Taxes, 115,600,400
Sundry Revenues, 26,441,989
Also, the revenues of Great Britain and Ireland for 1865, viz.: —
Customs, $ 115,023,808
Fund and assessed Taxes, 16,439,670
Income and Property Taxes, 39,928,865
Grain Lands, 2,212,000
Total, $ 354,131,773
If from these returns we deduct the earnings of the Post-Office Department, which are not included in the Commission’s estimate of revenue for the United States, that estimate will exceed the returns of revenue for France or the United Kingdom by more than thirty millions, although the expenses of each of these countries are at least fifty millions more than the computed expenses of our own. It is obvious, therefore, from the Report of the Commission, that we may dispense with the fifty-nine millions from income tax and the duties on transportation, and still have a margin of more than thirty millions to cover contingencies and provide for the gradual reduction of the debt. Such a victory in finance achieved the first year after the war would give us a second great national triumph.
The system proposed by the Commission is entitled to the most favorable consideration. The taxes levied during the war were multifarious in their character. Although effective in producing revenue, they were imposed without discrimination, and they bear heavily alike both on producer and consumer, checking the industry of the one and swelling unduly the expenditures of the other. The plan of the Commission strikes the handcuffs from industry, lessens the expenses of collection, enables our artisan to compete with the foreigner, and, as most of the manufactures of the country are consumed at home, consequently reduces the cost of living. It seems from the Report of the Commission, that their leading idea is to simplify the system and reduce the number of taxes; to shift them from the producer to the consumer, and thus stimulate the creation of wealth ; to diminish charges, and at the same time lighten the weight of the impost as it falls on the consumer. Another leading idea is to transfer a portion of our burdens to the foreign consumers of cotton, and at the same time stimulate our manufactures, and the production of cotton, by a remission of the tax on cloth exported ; while yet another part of their plan was to take from the illicit trader and give to the public coffers the profit he now realizes upon spirits, and to restore alcohol to the arts.
Let us give to each of these measures the attention it deserves ; and inquire if we may not take at once the steps, which the Commission defer for the present, toward the discontinuance of all charges upon transportation and incomes. In recommending the entire removal of taxes on production as the first measure to be adopted, the Commissioners advise: ‘‘That the capital stock of the country in the interval between 1850 and 1860, deducting the value of the slaves, increased at the rate of 158 per cent, or from $ 5.533.000 to $ 14,282.000 ; and that, if a development in any degree approximating to the past can be maintained and continued, then the extinguishment of the national debt in a comparatively brief period becomes a matter of no uncertainty. To secure this development, both by removing the shackles from industry, and by facilitating the means of rapid and cheap intercommunication between the different sections of the country, is to effect at the same time a solution of all the financial difficulties that now press upon us.”
The policy of the Commission is the speedy abolition or reduction of all taxes which tend to check development. This policy is eminently wise and statesmanlike ; for while it removes some of our most onerous burdens, it gives a stimulus to the creation of wealth that must annually alleviate our taxes, and is entitled to the approval of an enlightened nation.
The second great measure of the Commission is to increase to five cents the tax on cotton, which has, since the close of our last financial year, begun to aid our revenue. The soil, climate, and seasons of our Southern States are peculiarly adapted to the culture of cotton. In India the fields are parched by the extreme heats of summer, and the staple shortened ; in Algiers, the rains of autumn, which favor the young wheat, prevent the opening of the cotton-balls ; but in the cotton States of the South, the moisture of the spring, the heats and showers of summer, and the dry weather and late frosts of autumn, all contribute to the full development of the cotton-plant; and the yield is twice or three times. as great as in the cotton districts of the East. The staple, too, is much more valuable, and the yield and the quality of the staple are both improved by the application of guano. In 1859 the yield of the United States rose to 2,080,000,000 pounds, while the consumption of the civilized world was as follows : —
In Great Britain, 1,050,000,000 lbs.
On the Continent, 700,000,000 “
In the United States, 400,000,000 “
Total, 2,150,000,000 lbs.
During the five years of war, the consumption was reduced more than one half by the deficiency ; Great Britain was compelled to pay twice the usual amount for half the usual quantity, and cotton rose from ten cents to sixty cents in gold. The world was ransacked for cotton, and the whole addition made to the supply (chiefly from India and Egypt) did not exceed the increase of three years in the United States previous to the war. The Revenue Commission have made a very elaborate report upon this subject, and base their conclusions upon the advice and opinions of the chief manufacturers of New England, who concur in the opinion that the tax will be chiefly paid by the foreign consumer ; that it will not give an undue stimulus to the culture of cotton abroad ; that Japan and China have, since the decline of cotton to twenty pence in England, ceased to ship it, and are drawing upon Surat and Bombay ; that Egypt, our chief rival, has nearly or quite reached her full capacity of production, while India makes little progress.
The late Confederacy, by imposing an export duty of twenty cents per pound, to be paid in gold; France, by her export duty on linen and cotton rags and skins of animals ; Russia, by various export duties ; Portugal, by her duties on wine exported ; Great Britain, by her export duties, imposed in India, on gunny-cloth, linseed, jute, saltpetre, and opium ; and Holland, by her monopoly and export duties on the coffee of Java,—-give precedents for a tax on cotton. The United States are prohibited by the Constitution from levying an export duty, but may nevertheless impose an internal tax which will cling to the cotton both abroad and at home. A tax of five cents a pound will add but one cent to the cost of a yard of calico ; and with a crop of 2,000,000,000 pounds, like that of 1859, will yield a revenue of $ 100,000,000, although the Commission do not anticipate more than half that revenue for a few years to come. It seems but reasonable that King Cotton, who made the war, should aid in defraying its expenses ; and it is also just that England and France, his chief allies, should pay their tribute for the suppression of the revolt they did so much to encourage. The planters and free blacks of the South have sufficient incentives to the culture of cotton in the high prices it must bear for years to come ; and the Commission have very wisely recommended a remission of the tax on all cotton cloth or yarn exported, which will give a stimulus to manufactures both at the South and the North, and enable our merchants to meet those of Great Britain in successful competition in all parts of the globe. The cotton tax, as a substitute for taxes on sales and manufactures, will meet the cordial support of our countrymen ; and, if it oppose a slight check to production. they have already learned that half a crop gives more dollars than a whole one.
Another change of great importance recommended by the Commission, both in their general Report, and in a special report devoted to this subject, is a reduction of the duty on spirits from two dollars to one dollar per gallon as a revenue measure, the higher duty having proved an utter failure. For some months past the average quantity that has monthly paid duty has been less than half a million gallons, or at the rate of six millions of gallons per year, while the entire annual product, by the census of 1860, exceeded ninety-two millions of gallons, and, at the customary rate of increase, would have amounted to one hundred and twenty millions of gallons, or ten millions a month, in place of half a million in 1866. It has been ascertained that in 1860 more than half the annual production was consumed in the arts. As alcohol it was used for ether, spirit-lamps, camphene, and burning-fluid ; by apothecaries for tinctures and medicinal preparations ; by hair-dressers for lotions ; and it was also consumed in many manufactures. The duty has carried alcohol to five dollars per gallon, and nearly stopped its use in the arts, while it has not stopped the use of spirits as a beverage. It has drawn a revenue from the pockets of the people, and transferred it from the government to the illicit trader. While the duty ranged from twenty to sixty cents per gallon, the amount assessed was from six to seven million gallons per month ; but the returns nearly ceased with the advance of duty two years since. Efforts have been made to sustain the present duty by reference to the practice of Great Britain, where a duty of $2.40 is imposed upon the imperial gallon ; but the imperial gallon is more than twenty per cent larger than the wine gallon of America. The average prime cost of good spirits there being sixty cents a gallon, while it has been but twenty cents in the West, the percentage of the British duty is but 400 per cent, while the duty of the United States is 1000 per cent, or a rate 150 per cent above the rate abroad. Great Britain, in her compact territory, has employed 7,200 men in the preventive service, and 66 cruisers to check the evasions of her duties on spirits and tobacco ; and it is estimated by good judges that a large part of the spirits, and more than half the tobacco, consumed in England escape the duty. Several thousand seizures are made annually, and it has been testified before Parliament that not one evasion in sixteen is detected. If this be so in Great Britain, it is not surprising that the government has failed, in this country, with its sparse population, to collect a duty of 1000 per cent, or that the experiment has cost the nation more than fifty millions. Such excessive duties may well be styled over-taxation, and tend to demoralize and corrupt our revenue officers, to encourage fraud, and to enrich illicit traders. The Commission believe that the reduction of the duty will restore alcohol to the arts, diminish fraud, and give us a revenue of at least $ 40,000,000 annually, — a sum nearly equal to the proceeds of the income tax.
The Revenue Commission clearly demonstrate by their Report and table of income, that this tax will not be required to meet our interest and current expenses, and they apparently retain a portion of it as a flank guard for their other items of revenue ; but it is obvious from their very guarded Report that this flank guard may be dispensed with. The Commissioners very properly suggest that it is better to place this tax upon created wealth and net income than to levy it upon production, and in this all sensible men will concur ; but we require at this time no surplus revenue of $ 81,000,000. Our revenue from foreign duties must exceed their estimate; and if it did not, a sinking fund of $ 32,000,000 is ample for a debt of $ 2,700,000,000, $ 400,000,000 of which draws no interest, and the residue of which we may well presume will soon be permanently funded at reduced interest. The income tax in Great Britain is but 1 2/3 per cent, and it is wise to reduce our own tax on the surplus incomes of the rich from ten to five per cent ; but the suggestion that an income tax should be imposed on rents exceeding $ 300 is in conflict with the Commissioners’ suggestion, at page 60 of their Report: “The general government has taken to itself nearly every source of revenue, except the single one of real estate, which had been before burdened with large expenditures for schools, roads, and other things with which the local governments stand charged,” and “cases can be cited in which taxation upon real estate even now falls little short of confiscation. Justice and wise policy, therefore, would seem to demand that the national government should not now adopt any measures calculated to maintain or increase these burdens, but, on the contrary, do all in its power to diminish them.”
Let the nation follow this judicious advice, and dispose of the additional charge on real estate by repealing the income tax, which we cease to require, or reducing it to a tax of three or four per cent upon dividends and coupons, which will yield at least ten millions. This will furnish a sufficient rear-guard for the corps which the Commission has marshalled.
To use another happy expression in the very able Report of the Commission, — “ Freedom from multitudinous taxes, espionage, and vexations ; freedom from needless official inquisitions and intrusions ; freedom from the hourly provocations of each individual in the nation to concealments, evasions, and falsehoods ; freedom for industry, circulation, and competition,—everywhere give the nation these conditions, and it will give in return a flowing income.”
We indorse the conclusions of the Commission, but would carry them to their legitimate results, — the repeal of the inquisitorial tax on incomes.
One of the Commissioners, Mr. J. S. Haves, in a special report upon the subject, proposes to draw some part of the revenue from the national bonds. Those which are now reached by the income tax when the holders are residents here should be reached hereafter by an impost on dividends and coupons, according to Mr. Hayes’s idea. He urges that these bonds were issued when the currency was depreciated to 73 per cent, or 27 per cent below par; but it was the government paper that depreciated it, and the loyal men who subscribed for the national bonds in many instances used funds drawn, from mortgages upon which they had advanced in gold the money they invested. Great Britain realized only 63 per cent or less in depreciated currency from her three-per-cents, but redeems them at par, or buys them in open market. There may be instances in which individuals evade local taxes by such investments, but even this tends to popularize the loans and reduce interest; and it may well be asked whether it would not be wiser for the nation to make the loan popular, treating it as sacred, and thus save twenty or thirty millions in interest annually by reducing interest one per cent, than to attempt to save two thirds that amount by taxes, which would inspire lenders with distrust, injure the credit of the nation, and weaken its resources in a future exigency.
TAXES ON GROSS RECEIPTS.
The Commission, while they condemn charges on transportation, continue for the present nine millions in taxes on the gross receipts of steamers, ships, and railways, which it would be wise to relinquish at the earliest moment. The railways to earn one dollar must charge two, which doubles these taxes to the public, and adds to the cost of delivering each ton of coal and each bushel of grain at the seaports, so that our internal commerce now presents the strange anomaly of Indian corn selling at one dollar per bushel in Boston, and at thirty-six cents in Chicago, or less than the price in gold before the Insurrection, Such charges are an incubus on trade, and may wisely be abandoned.
For the past ten years the Central and Eastern States have drawn large supplies of breadstuff's, animals, lumber, and other materials for our manufactures, from the Provinces ; and under the Treaty of Reciprocity our fisheries have grown vastly in importance. The whole amount of this commerce, including the outfits and returns of the fishermen, is close upon $ 100,000,000, and the tonnage of arrivals and departures exceeds 7,000,000 tons. Under the Treaty we have imported Canadian and Morgan horses, oats for their support, barley of superior quality for our ale, lustre-wool for our alpacas, and boards and clapboards for our houses and for the fences and corncribs of our Western prairies. Indeed, the facilities for communicating with the Provinces are so great, that for some years past we have imported potatoes, coal, gypsum, and building stone to supply the wants of New York and New England. Is it wise, then, to cripple this growing trade by placing a duty of fifty per cent on the spruce and pine we require for the new houses whose construction the war has delayed, and by denying to Maine and Massachusetts the privilege of sending their pine down the Aroostook and St. John, as those who own townships on the waters of the Penobscot propose ?
When Mr. Sumner moved the repeal of the Treaty, it was upon the ground that it prevented us from levying a tax on lumber. The Ministers of Canada have at once conceded this, and agree that internal duties may be levied on all they send to us, and thus meet in advance the position of Mr. Sumner. They have shown a desire to revive the Treaty, and to cherish the great commerce between contiguous states. Mr. Derby reports to the State Department that they will extend the free list, and include our manufactures ; that they will discourage illicit trade, and repeal all discriminating tolls and duties. The position taken by the Ministers of Canada is eminently wise and judicious. While we may not concede all the privileges they ask, is it our policy to decline to negotiate, — to shut out the materials we require and can command at low rates ? Is it wise to propose, as a committee of Congress has done, to reduce a free commerce of seven millions of tons to a traffic in plaster and millstones, and thus jeopard our fisheries and stimulate smuggling? The Canadian Ministers, who visited Washington on business connected with the Treaty, were kindly received by our Executive. They placed the Provinces on the true ground by their proffered concessions and offers to negotiate, and can stand at home upon the ground they took, while their course in retiring after the rebuff they received from the committee was dignified and judicious. When Congress has disposed of reconstruction, and found leisure to attend to revenue and finance ; when it sees that we need new materials for our rising manufactures, and require access both by the east and the west to the exhaustless pine forests of Canada,2 to provincial oats and barley, purchasable at rates lower than those at which the West can afford to send them, and to coal on coasts which Nature designed for the supply of the gas-works and steamers of New England ; when it finds proclamations issued excluding our fishermen from the waters to which the mackerel resort, — then Congress at last will doubtless be willing to resume negotiations, and to give to us coal, wood, butter, grain, fish, lumber, and horses at reasonable prices.
Eliminating from the summary of the Commission the items which are condemned by their Report, we have the following result; —
REVENUE LIST OF COMMISSIONERS, EXCLUDING TAXES ON INCOME AND TRANSPORTATION.
Excise on Spirits, Tobacco, Malt Liquors, Cotton, Refined Oil, Spirits of Turpentine, and Rosin, 108,000,000
Sales, Legacies, &c., 7,000,000
Add Tax on Dividend and Coupons, 10,000,000
Total $ 328,000,000
Amount deemed necessary by the Secretary of the Treasury to meet Interest and Expenses of Government annually, 284,000,000
Surplus, $ 44,000,000
We thus deduce from the estimate of the Secretary and the conclusions to which we are led by the Commission a surplus revenue or sinking fund of $44,000,000, and this, too, after discontinuing all taxes on production, income, and transportation, and liberating industry from the trammels imposed by war. In addition, we may expect from cotton, whenever the crop exceeds two millions of bales, a further revenue from the five-cent tax, while the income from customs, which we rate at $ 130,000,000, has actually been increased since June, 1865, to the amount of $ 58,000,000 more.
These results, achieved by the country while emerging from the smoke of the battle-field, and disbanding its troops and placing army and navy on a peace footing, are in the highest degree reassuring. What is there, then, to prevent the nation's prompt return to specie?
Our chief bankers estimate their annual remittances to American citizens for foreign travel and residence abroad at less than five millions yearly. Our exports again exceed our imports, and foreign exchange is at 7 1/4 in gold, or two per cent below par. An emigration, chiefly from Germany, greatly in excess of any former year is predicted. It has been well ascertained that each emigrant brings, on the average, seventy dollars in funds to this country, and these funds alone will suffice to meet our interest abroad. What period could be more auspicious for a gradual return, say in six months, to specie ? Of course there would be some decline in merchandise, but the loss would fall on declining stocks, often sold in advance, and would not reach stocks in bond, the price of which is to be paid in specie. The improvident might suffer a little ; but when the first shock was past, would not a strong impulse be given to industry ? Would not enterprise be at once directed to the erection of the houses, factories, ships, steamers, locomotives, and railways which our growth demands ? Would not the community immediately seek to renew their wardrobes and furniture, now worn out or exhausted by the war ? Our mutual friend Mr. Smith might then meet his friend the coal-merchant with a smile, and cheer himself with his open fireplace, putting away his stifling but economic stove ; he might postpone his retirement from the threestory brick to the wooden two-story in the suburbs, eat his roast beef again on Sunday, and regale himself with black coffee after dinner, without a thought of the slow but sagacious Dutchman, who is transferring at his expense a national debt of $ 800,000,000 from the sea-girt dikes of little Holland to the populous and fertile isles and spice groves and coffee plantations of Sumatra and Java.
- Report of the United States Revenue Commission to the Secretary of the Treasury, January 29th 1866.↩
- The annual product of lumber in Maine is rated at 1,100,000,000 feet, worth $ 20,000,000. By the census of 1860, the lumber produced by all the States was valued at $ 95,000,000. The consumption was at least $ 100,000,000, or five times the amount furnished by Maine. Canada has 287,000 square miles of pine forest on the waters of the St. Lawrence.↩