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tions, which, if enforced, would produced a revolution in Austria or Turkey.”—Chicago Tribune.
The officials of the State of Massachusetts, also, in attempting to carry out a system which provides for the valuation of that which is intangible, and the assessment of what is invisible, acknowledge the necessity of the employment of extraordinary measures, and accordingly resort to a method of procedure, which has no parallel except in the records of the middle ages and of the inquisition, and constitutes, in itself, a satire upon any claim to the enjoyment of a wholly free and enlightened government. For failing to obtain satisfactory information about the private affairs of any individual; the chief assessors and their subordinates to the number of some fifty, meet in secret session, in a large upper chamber set aside for the purpose and appropriately termed the “dooming chamber," when the citizen in question, without being present either by counsel or in person, is arbitrarily doomed to the payment of any.sum which a majority of those present may think proper; and from which “dooming” there can be no appeal.
Now the old Pagans, the officials of Illinois, and the Boston assessors, have undoubtedly been consistent in following the only line of action calculated to render their ideas of raising revenue by taxing all descriptions of property, in any degree effective; and the people of the State of New York ought clearly to understand that the same course is the only one open to them, which can, by any possibility, make their existing system anything different from the farce which every intelligent person must acknowledge that it now is.
But supposing the people of the State of New York were willing to inaugurate and put in practice such inquisitorial, arbitrary and pagan measures, of which indeed all the evidence is to the contrary,* there are three questions which it is important to first take into consideration :
1st. Is an arbitrary, inquisitorial, illogical system of taxation in itself desirable ?
2d. Is such a system anywhere effective, or can it be made so ?
3d. Is there any way of collecting the revenue of the State with certainty, equality and economy, without resorting to arbitrary and inquisitorial measures ?
* The constitutional convention of New York in 1868 adopted the following provision and submitted it to a separate vote of the people: “Real and personal property shall be subject to an uniform rate of assessment and taxation.” The result was that the proposition was signally disapproved, the majority against its ratification and adoption having been in excess of 44,000 in a total vote of 457,000.
CONSIDERATION OF THE FIRST QUESTION. 1. In response to the first question, “is an arbitrary, inquisitorial and illogical system of taxation desirable ?” the advocates of the theory of the existing system may make, and in fact have made this answer: That each individual owes the State annually a certain sum of money in the way of taxes proportioned to his entire property. If he voluntarily pays, he escapes arbitrary measures. If he declines to pay or tries to avoid payment, he has no just cause to complain if he is regarded in the light of a criminal, “or if the same arbitrary measures are used to collect his tax, as if it were a debt owing by one citizen to another.”
But let us examine this averment. If the defaulting tax-payer is to be regarded as a criminal, and as such placed in the worse possible light, he certainly ought not to be deprived of the privileges of a criminal; which are a right to a public investigation according to the rules of evidence adopted by free and enlightened communities; a right to be heard before condemnation; and the right to be presumed innocent of having property subject to taxation until the fact is ascertained otherwise by legal proof. But under the existing tax laws, we do not accord to the tax-payer the privileges of a criminal; for no tax can be assessed on a large proportion of the personal property of the State, according to any rules of legal evidence that any common law court would adopt. No assessor, under the laws of New York, in assessing personal property can act judicially. The law gives him no power to obtain legal testimony of a character that is admissible in a court; he must act the part of an arbitrary despot against an inculpated tax-payer, or not act at all, and his conclusions for acting must be reached at best by the testimony of those who have no means of knowing anything, in a legal sense, about the subject-matter under investigation. It seems clear, therefore, that any attempt to tax without legal evidence, is an act of usurpation or despotism, wholly antagonistic to the principles of a free government, and that it is a mockery to characterize such acts as, in any sense, judicial proceedings.
REGULATION OF ASSESSMENTS BY OATHS AN ABSURDITY. Nor does the right to reduce or regulate the assessment by the oath of the tax-payer relieve the law in any degree of its unequal and despotic character; for every individual holding public office in the United States knows, that oaths as a guarantee of truth in respect to official statements have ceased to be of any value. The assessments made according to the oaths of parties, furthermore, are not made according to legal evidence, upon examination and proofs; but according to the will and secret caprice of each tax-payer, instigated by his selfishness, and the natural depravity of human nature. Each tax-payer, under the present rule, becomes therefore the interpreter, not only of the law, but of the fact, and makes a secret interpretation of both, and we have as many interpreters of the law, as there are numbers of tax-payers; and also an indefinite multiplicity of assessors; for each person who unfairly reduces his own assessment, arbitrarily assesses thereby some other of the community for the difference.
TJE PRESENT SYSTEM A VIOLATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF CONSTITU
TIONAL GOVERNMENT. Now the commissioners, in the discharge of their duty, ask the people of New York, if all this procedure does not bear upon its face the most unmistakable marks of dishonesty ; if it is not in the highest degree heathenish and disgraceful; and if the fullness of time has not come, when it should be at once and forever done away with ? Could or would any people apply the same rules for the collection of debts? Is there any one who has so much confidence in human nature that he will propose a law, that a person who is sued, shall be discharged from all claims of indebtedness if he will make oath, interpreting both the law and the fact himself, that he owes the claimant nothing? Is it believed, that under tariff laws, the government could get sufficient revenue to pay for its collections, if the importer was permitted to offset debts against the value of his goods; or if the law was peremptory that his oath alone should be given; and that there should be no legal examination, inspection or proof of the value or character of the importations ?
In whatever aspect we view the present system, therefore, it is arbitrary and in violation of the principles of constitutional government. If the assessor acts, he acts solely by his despotic will, and without any reference to legal proof or evidence, such as is enforced in recovering private debts; and if the tax-payer, by his oath, becomes the arbiter, his will is supreme, and not subject to investigation or control. It is a system, in short, that violates all the laws of evidence, the growth of centuries in civilized countries; that makes secret that which should have publicity, and proceeds upon a basis that could not be recognized for one moment in the collection of debts, or in the trial of persons accused of the most henious of offenses.
INCONSISTENCIES OF THE EXISTING SYSTEM. But pursuing this inquiry still further, let us next consider what claim can be preferred for the existing system in respect to consistency and uniformity in its methods of administration or procedure.
It would seem as if the one principle to be recognized above all others, in any system of taxation, as fundamental and adınitting of no exceptions, should be that whatever rule of assessment is once decided upon and adopted, the same should be made uniform in its applications; and that officials should not be permitted to put upon it entirely opposite intepretations, according as it may subserve their interests to do so. And it would seem, further, as if any State, calling itself civilized and enlightened, would be ashamed to permit an inconsistency of this kind to find a place upon its statutes, or a recognition in its administration. And yet this inconsistency, which, stated in the abstract, no one would be willing to justify, forms the rule and not the exception of almost every State system of local taxation in the country. Thus, real estate is universally held to be taxable at the place where it is situated; but personal property, of an equally tangible and visible character as real property, is held, for the purposes of taxation, to follow the owner; and solely by reason of a fiction of law “mobilia personam sequuntur," which the Supreme Court of Vermont (Catlin v. Hall, 21 Vt., 152), has declared, was “ adopted from considerations of general convenience and policy, and for the benefit of commerce;" and which, according to every principle of common sense and equity, was never intended to have any other meaning, than that for the purpose of the sale, distribution, and other disposition of property, any act, agreement or authority, which is sufficient in law where the owner resides, shall pass the property in the place where the property is.* As a principle applied to taxation, it has undoubtedly one argument in its favor, namely, that of old custom; but it is interesting to note, that when first made applicable in England, equity and consistency were so far regarded, that real estate was placed upon exactly the same footing as other visible, tangible property, and in common with the latter was held to follow the owner, and be taxable only at the place where the owner resided. But so early did liberal and simple views, in reference to the nature and scope of taxation, come to prevail in England, that the first English colonists and lawmakers who came to America do not appear to have brought with them any of the narrow and illogical views which have characterized their descendants. Thus, for example, one of the earliest laws of the Massachusetts colony reads as follows: “No man shall be rated here (Massachusetts) for any estate or revenue he hath in England, or in any forreine partes, till it be transported thither.” (Mass. Historical Society Collections, vols. 7 and 8, page 213*.) And in the first provincial codes of Pennsylvania, especial care was taken to confine taxation to land, and a very few articles of personal property of a visible character, as slaves, horses and cattle, and to exempt from taxation, debts, accounts, merchandise, and ships.t But in later days, when laws came to be made by legislators who could not conceive that anything more was involved in taxation, than the raising of a given amount of money, the discriminating rule in respect to the situs of real and personal property was generally adopted, and has resulted in the following absurdities:
* In the case of Catlin v. Hall (21 Vt., 152), the question at issue being, whether certain personal property, indisputably located in Vermont, could be legally taxed because the owner was domiciled out the State, and personal property having no fixed situs followed the owner, the court after referring to the fiction insisted upon, observed : “But this rule (i. e., that personal property follows the owner) is merely a legal fiction, adopted from considerations of general convenience and policy, for the benefit of commerce, and to enable owners to dispose of property at their decease agreeably to their wishes, without being embarrassed by their want of knowledge in relation to the laws of the country where the same is situated.” And in the case of Green v. Van Buskirk (7 Wallace, 139), the Supreme Court of the United States, by Mr. Justice Davis, held, that the fiction of law that the domicile of the owner draws to it personal estate wherever it may happen to be, yields whenever for the purposes of justice that the actual situs of the property shall be examined. “This fiction," he continues, "has yielded in New York on the power of the State to tax the personal property of one of her citizens situated in a sister State, and always yields to laws for attaching the estate of non-residents, because such laws necessarily assume that property has a situs entirely distinct from the owner's domicil.”
If a citizen, resident of Massachusetts, owns a farm, with cattle,
* When, therefore, the claim is set up as it has been during the past year, that the existing system of taxation in Massachusetts is founded upon, and is “justified by the wisdom of the fathers of the Massachusetts colony," the claim is preferred without any very exact knowledge of what the wisdom of the fathers actually was.
+ In a report of the law committee of the common council of the city of Philadelphia, submitted February 16th, 1871, we find the following historical review of the tax laws of Philadelphia, under the government of William Penn and his successors in the colonial government:
These laws “were framed to avoid repeating errors which had been proven by long experience in Great Britain and the continental countries. Anxious to foster trade, commerce and industry, and make the province the home of a free people, the founder of Pennsylvania came with a plan of government. The earliest enactments of direct tax laws show that he and those who followed him were as careful, in this regard, in profiting by the most enlightened views of his time as they were in planning the city with broad and regular streets for “a great town." Anterior to this period, although personal estate had not attained the magnitude and importance in Great Britain that it has at this time, yet tax laws had been enacted to rate it and make it pay part of the public burdens. These laws were found to be inquisitorial in their nature, and by concealment, evasion, and perjury, were not only demoralizing to the people, but the enlarged basis was found to be more unequal than the retention of a few subjects for the levy. Added to this, the higher rate of interest paid in France and other continental countries drew from the kingdom capital which should have been retained to improve their own country and give employment to the people. The English government, therefore, wisely abandoned this system, and it was in the light of these facts that our first enactments were made. We find the Provincial Council (1683) first determining that “a publick tax on land ought to be raised to defray the publick charge," and the enactment of 1700, fixing county rates and levies (which law was not enrolled), is believed to have been not larger in the subjects of county rates than in the act of 1724, which were real estate, horses, cattle, sheep, negroes and a poll-tax. It will be noticed, that the personal estate here enumerated was visible property not suis