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Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy; Leggett, William
3 paragraphs found.
Part I, 12. The True Theory of Taxation

If we must raise the revenues of our federal government from imposts on commerce, the true theory to contend for, in our view of the subject, is an equal ad valorem duty, embracing every commodity of traffic. The importer of foreign coal will tell you a pathetic story of the hardships and sufferings of the poor at this inclement season of the year. He will borrow perhaps the eloquent language of the Evening Post, to describe the shivering inmates of garrets and cellars, and the poor lone woman who buys her coal by the peck. He will draw you to her wretched abode, and show her surrounded by her tattered offspring, expanding their defenceless limbs over a few expiring embers that mock them with ineffectual heat. When he has raised your sympathy to the proper pitch, he will then call on you to exert your influence to procure the repeal of a duty which places beyond the reach of thousands of shuddering wretches one of the prime necessaries of life, and leaves them to all the horrors of unmitigated winter, as it visits the unfed sides and looped and windowed raggedness of the poor. The dealer in foreign grain will have a similar tale to relate. He will expatiate on the sufferings of the indigent from the high price of bread, and ask you to exempt breadstuffs from taxation. The importers of books and charts, and of mathematical instruments, will talk of the advantages of a wide diffusion of literature and science, and ask for a repeal of duties on those articles in which their trade consists. Colleges will represent that the cause of education requires their libraries and laboratories should come duty free. Railroad corporations will point out the many political and commercial benefits that must accrue to the country from facilitated intercourse between its distant parts, and ask that their engines and other appliances be released from the burden of taxes. All these applications, and many others of a like kind, have something specious to recommend them to a favourable consideration, and some have been listened to and granted. The prayers of corporate bodies have been affirmatively answered, while a deaf ear has been turned to those of the ill-fed and unprivileged poor. In our sense, however, they ought all to be treated alike, and all to be rejected. The only legitimate purpose of a tariff is that expressed by the Constitution, "to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare;" and the debts should be paid and the general welfare provided for, in strict accordance with the great distinguishing principle of our government—the equal rights of the people. This never can be entirely accomplished while imposts on foreign commerce furnish the means of revenue; but it is the obvious duty of legislators to do nothing to increase the unavoidable inequality of the burden.

Part IV, 6. The Inequality of Human Condition

A very casual and imperfect survey of society, in regard to the vast disparity of condition it presents, must satisfy any reflecting mind that there is some great and pervading error in our system. If the inequalities of artificial condition bore any relation to those of nature; if they were determined by the comparative degrees of men's wisdom and strength, or of their providence and frugality, there would be no cause to complain. But the direct contrary is, to a very great extent, the truth. Folly receives the homage which should belong only to wisdom; prodigality riots in the abundance which prudence has not been able to accumulate, with all his pains; and idleness enjoys the fruits which were planted and cultivated by industry. It is not necessary to state these facts in figurative language, in order to render them worthy of serious and attentive consideration. Look through society, and tell us who and what are our most affluent men? Did they derive their vast estates from inheritance? There are scarcely a dozen wealthy families in this metropolis whose property descended to them by bequest. Did they accumulate it by patient industry? There are few to whom an affirmative answer will apply. Was it the reward of superior wisdom? Alas, that is a quality which has not been asserted as a characteristic of our rich. Whence, then, have so many derived the princely fortunes, of which they display the evidences in their spacious and elegant dwellings, in their costly banquets, their glittering equipages, and all the luxurious appliances of wealth? The answer is plain. They owe them to special privileges; to that system of legislation which grants peculiar facilities to the opulent, and forbids the use of them to the poor; to that pernicious code of laws which considers the rights of property as an object of greater moment than the rights of man.

Part V, 20. Free Trade Weights and Measures

Would the American see "all fitness" in a law requiring the butchers to cut beef into one, two, and four pound pieces, or into pieces of any other stipulated weight? Would it see fitness in requiring that a quarter of lamb should be of a given weight, or that a bunch of onions should contain a certain number, and of a certain size? There is no law hindering people to buy their bread by the pound, if they choose; and there is no reason why other persons than the members of the special bread committee of the Board of Assistant Aldermen may not discover, if they think the search worth their while, the shops where the largest loaves are sold. The law does quite as much as is necessary for the protection of the community, (this is always the pretext for these arbitrary restraints on the freedom of trade) when it fixes a standard of weights and measures, and requires all persons selling by them to have them stamped and certified by a duly appointed officer. We have our doubts, indeed, whether even in going so far, it has not exceeded the proper business of legislation. We have our doubts whether it should not stop when it has simply fixed the standard, leaving buyers and sellers free to conform to it or not, as they choose. There is no inspector of yardsticks; and yet we doubt very much if people who buy by the yard do not generally contrive to get good measure. If they do not it is their own look out. We would have it the same with regard to bread. We would let the purchaser take care of himself. The law has furnished him with all the necessary appliances and means to see that he gets good weight and measure, and the rest of the affair ought to be trusted to his own shrewdness and sagacity. The familiar saying, that a man's eyes are his best chapman, contains more wisdom than our corporation ordinances; and we were in hopes to have the American's cooperation in enforcing it as a rule of publick conduct, in regard to the matter now under consideration.