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seventh. On the 22d of the same month a committee to whom this article among others was again referred, reported that in their opinion the following clause should be added to it : “ For payment of dents and necessary expenses of the United States ; provided, that no law for raising any branch of revenue except what may be specially appropriated for the payment of interest on debts or loans shall continue in force for more than years."
After undergoing two more changes in two days, it was again referred to another committee who reported it in the following form :
66 The United States shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States."
From this form it again underwent a change, but it was finally submitted for the ratification of the states in its present shape. Acts were accordingly passed calling conventions in the different states for the purpose of accepting or rejecting this constitution. We shall add some farther extracts from the proceedings of these bodies, as showing what ideas were entertained by them of the true extent of the powers of taxation granted by them to congress.
Massachusetts, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island annexed the following amendments, either recommending or insisting on their adoption. These acts evidently contemplate a system of taxation as a means of defraying common expenses, and as a means to be used for no other purpose whatever.
State of Massachusetts.—“That Congress do not lay direct taxes, but when the money arising from the impost and excise are insufficient for the public exigences ; nor then until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the states to assess, levy and pay their respective proportions of such requisition," &c.
State of South Carolina.-" That the general government of the United States ought never to impose direct taxes, but where the moneys arising from the duties, impost and excise, are insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then until Congress shall have made a requisition upon the states, to assess, levy and pay their respective proportions of such requisitions." &c.
State of New Hampshire.—That Congress do not lay direct taxes but when the moneys arising from impost, excise, and their other resources, are insufficient for the public exigencies;
nor then until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the states," &c.
State of Virginia.-When Congress shall lay direct taxes or excises, they shall immediately inform the executive power of each state of the quota of such state, according to the census herein directed, which is proposed to be thereby raised; and if the legislature of any state shall pass a law which shall be effectual for raising such quota at the time required by Congress; the taxes and excises laid by Congress shall not be collected in such state.”
State of New-York.-" That the Congress will not lay direct taxes within this state; but when the moneys arising from the impost and excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then until Congress shall first have made a requisition upon this state to assess,” &c.
State of North Carolina._"When Congress shall lay direct taxes or excises they shall immediately inform the executive power of each state of the quota of such state according to the census herein directed, which is proposed to be thereby raised, and if the legislature of any state shall pass a law which shall be effectual for raising such quota at the time required by Congress, the taxes and excises laid by Congress shall not be collected in such state."
State of Rhode Island.-“In cases of direct taxes, Congress shall first make requisition on the several states to assess," &c.
We now bring our extracts to a close, with the full belief that enough, and more than enongh, has been produced to satisfy every unprejudiced mind of the true intent and meaning of the grant of powers of taxation to the United States.
Let it be borne in mind that throughout our revolutionary war, the United States, in their aggregate capacity, were under the necessity of incurring debts without sufficient funds to meet the payment of them ; that these United States constantly represented to the people the national exigencies, and the necessity of investing the nation, in its corporate capacity, with powers to levy taxes or imposts, for the purpose, and as it was uniformly expressed, for the sole purpose of defraying the expenses and paying the debts of the nation ; that the people as constantly refused, for six successive years, to listen to any suggestion on the subject, until at length they were assured that the affairs of the United States were arrived at that crisis, beyond which it was impossible, under existing circumstances, for the union to continue; that public credit was at its lowest ebb; and that the only means to preserve the national character and national existence was to empower Congress to levy taxes for the payment of these debts, for which the public credit had
been solemnly pledged. Under these circumstances, and in this situation of affairs the constitution of the United States was adopted. We do not hear of any other inducement otiered; we insist that there was not any other; and we challenge the production of any proof of any other inducement for this same people to grant to the national legislature the powers of taxation, than that so repeatedly and urgently set forth in Congress, namely, the absolute necessity of enabling them to supply themselves with the means of paying the debts and providing for the common defence and general welfare. Is it not an outrage upon our understanding, upon common sense, to tell us that a whole people who even at the hazard of again being reduced under British domination, refused this license to Congress, should afterwards, and within the same year, grant the same Congress greater powers than they had ever asked or ever thought of! powers of determining whether a given method of honestly exchanging commodities between man and man, private individuals, and American citizens within the United States, is agreeable to their views of propriety or policy. If the constitution had explicitly required such a grant, does any one believe that the people would have knowingly consented to it? But it may be said that this means is resorted to, not for the sake of interference between American citizens in their mutual dealings, but in order to close this vent to British and other foreign commodities. This same principle, without extending it an iota beyond such a construction, empowers Congress to destroy the judicial system in order to prevent the foreign owner from supporting his legal rights in a Court of justice, or to lay a tax of ninety-nine per cent. on the rents of ware-houses to prevent the storing of British fabrics.
It is true that Congress are constituted the sole judges of what is for the general welfare or not-they may, if they think fit, provide for the common defence and public welfare by giving Mr. Henry 40,000 dollars for state secrets, or by building castles to be converted into gardens, or by constructing steam frigates, to be used afterwards for hospitals,—for the obvious meaning of the constitution is that of all these things, Congress
shall be the sole and absolute judges. But the meaning of the constitution is equally obvious, that Congress shall have no power whatever directly or indirectly, to interfere between two American citizens, one of whom has money and the other cloth, and say to the first, it is contrary to the general welfare for you to offer your money for the cloth, and we shall take effectual measures to prevent it. But perhaps it will be contended, that it is of no great consequence
whether Congress have the right very clearly invested in them, as long as their acts are governed by a sound discretion. That for example in the present case the long list of petitioners is a proof that auctions are pernicious, and that a system which so many deprecate must be an evil. We have already admitted that auctions under certain circumstances are an evil, but we are not prepared to admit that the number of petitioners is a proof of the evil. There is no doubt that almost every house owner in the city of New-York might be prevailed upon to petition Congress to impose a tax of ten per cent. upon all farther building in cities where the houses exceeded a certain number. They could represent, plausibly enough, that the farther increase of houses is a serious evil; that houses do not now pay an adequate rent for the capital expended ; that there are already more than are occupied, &c. &c. A much greater list of grievances might be enumerated against printing ; and some Jack Cades may arise and procure thousands of petitioners for a tax of ten, twenty, or fifty per cent. to be laid on the sale of books and newspapers. If the number of yards of signatures is to influence the deliberations of Congress, it is no sketch of fancy that supposes the possibility of these things. Much has been urged too on the ground that on these points Congress will exercise a sound discretion. If we suppose that the members of Congress are men of the greatest and most disinterested virtue and integrity, we suppose quite as much as is true. Of the whole number of representatives we may safely say that the greater part are indifferent as to the fate of the auction bill; and this is as good an example as any. Men who are ignorant of a subject, or indifferent about it, will undoubtedly be influenced by those who are not ignorant and indifferent; and these are precisely the persons most interested, and consequently least likely to exercise a soundness of discretion. Witness the late discussions on the Tariff
. Can we reasonably expect them to exercise a virtue which we seem to despise, by voluntarily yielding the solitary check we now possess over them ?
It may be farther objected to us, that Congress may constitutionally lay a tax in order to pay the debts, &c., of the United States, and that, if it should operate as prohibitory, it is an accidental result of the law for which they are not responsible. But we insist that the law is to be judged by its effects; and if these are in any way unconstitutional, the law must be so likewise. The late decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden, on the question of Steamboats, is a case precisely in point. Besides the Vol. II, No. VIII.
same construction would justify almost any prohibition wbat
Once sanction this principle-give to Congress the right of prohibition, and the freedom of the people subsists only by the frail and precarious tenure of a legislator's wisdom, or a statesman's caprice.
(Sire of the silver bow, and sounding sheath!)
Which, at the wing'd steed's touch (so hards recount)