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sidered as wealthy; and that, on the whole, they certainly are intelligent and moral, rather than dull and corrupt. All these circumstances are favourable, and must lessen the difficulty.
Adam Smith tells us, that, in Hamburg, every citizen, annually, in the presence of a magistrate, puts into the public chest, a certain sum of money, which he declares, upon oath, to be one fourth per cent. of all that he possesses, but, how much is put in by each, is never known. It is presumed, however, that the tax is paid with great fidelity.
We further learn from the same author, that, in the canton of Unterwald in Switzerland, people, on certain occasions, declare upon oath what they are worth, in order to be taxed accordingly. For the same purpose, in that of Zurich, they declare upon oath the amount of their revenue, and, no suspicion is entertained that the government is deceived. In Basil, small duties are imposed on goods imported. Every citizen takes an oath, that he will pay, every three months, all the taxes imposed by law. He is himself entrusted with keeping the accounts, which he sends in, periodically, to the treasurer, with the amount of the tax computed at bottom. It is not supposed that the revenue suffers by this confidence.*
Smith then observes, “To oblige every citizen to declare publicly, upon oath, the amount of his fortune, must not, it seems, in those Swiss cantons be reckoned a hardship. At Hamburg, it would be reckoned the greatest. Merchants, engaged in the hazardous projects of trade, all tremble at the thought of being obliged, at all times, to expose the real state of their circumstances. The ruin of their credit, and the miscarriage of their projects, they foresee would too often be the consequence. A sober and parsimonious people, who are strangers to all such projects, do not feel that they have occa. sion for any such concealment.t”.
The population of the United States consists of labourers, farmers, planters-who form the greater proportion; and of tradesmen, manufacturers, and merchants. The former, in their social relations, partake of the simplicity of the Swiss; the latter must necessarily be influenced by the same considerations as the people in Hamburg.
Could not the rule of declaration upon oath, be so modified, as to be equally compatible with the interests of all? Could it
• Machiavel mentions in the 55th ch. of the first book of his discourses on Livy, a similar trait in the history of the Germans. The whole chapter has a curious reference to our subject, and is worth perusing,
+ Wealth of Nations. Book V. part ii. art. 2.
not be rendered less rigorously precise, than it was in Switzerland, and consequently more easy of conscientious compliance; yet not so vague, as to leave dishonesty totally destitute of a check, as in the case of the contributions at Hamburg?
We must observe, that in a country like this, -where law gives security; property, credit; and credit, power-people, generally speaking, can have no interest to conceal their profits, though they may, occasionally, have an interest to conceal their losses.
But, the interests of the public revenue will be equally well consulted, whether the tax be paid on the true amount of net individual revenue, or, on the amount understood agreeably to the wishes of the contributor; provided that no actual revenue escape contribution. · The object, therefore, in our opinion, can be attained, and all reasonable interests reconciled, by enacting, that every man, subject to the tax, do declare upon oath, what specific sum his net revenue, during a stated period, according to his best knowledge and belief, has not exceeded.
If, the declaration be thus worded, a merchant, for instance, who has generally cleared from five to eight thousand dollars profit per annum, and has been in the habit of making his declarations accordingly, but then happens to be unfortunate, and, during another year, gains nothing whatever, may, if he chooses, declare, as before, that his profits have not exceeded five thousand dollars, or any other sum he may wish to name, and pay his tax accordingly; which will, plainly, obviate all the inconveniences, to which he otherwise might have exposed himself, by an imprudent disclosure of the real state of the case.
But, it may be objected,—what becomes in this event of the principle of justice? It is not enough that a man has been unfortunate:-he is obliged to pay a tax on supposititious profits, to avoid an injurious disclosure of his circumstances,- We ask in reply, does the person in question, because he happened for one year to be unsuccessful, sell his house and go to lodgings? Does he lay down his carriage, curtail the education of his children, alter his general style of living?--If he does nothing of all this, because he thinks it would not only be unnecessary, but imprudent to alarm his friends, and the public, expecting, that the profits of another year, will make up for the bad success of the last; and if, from these motives, he continues un. varied the usual scale of his expenditure, why not, from the same reasons, preserve it also towards the state, which continues to protect him in the possession of the same means, the employment of which procured his usual revenue, and would have still procured it, if, in their application, he had been more fortunate or more judicious? Can there be any violation of justice in laying him under an obligation to be consistent, and to act towards his country as he does towards himself!
But, if this objection should be conceived to have more weight, than it really has, it can be removed. Direct justice can be preserved, if constructive justice, though equally rigorous, should not be deemed sufficient. For this purpose, the following regulation would be required; that in the case of merchants and traders, whose business in a great measure depends on credit-in consideration of the hazards to which they are unavoidably exposed, and of the inexpediency which may exist as to a disclosure by them of the real state of their 'affairs, when, occasionally, they have been unsuccessful—the quantum of contribution shall be calculated on three fourths, or four fifths only, of the sum declared. The operation of this rule would be that, even if every four, or five years, for instance, the revenue of a trader, or merchant, were entirely to fail, and his declaration in the years of failure, stated an amount of revenue, corresponding with his general circum. stances, yet he would not, on the whole, pay to the state more than his due proportion. The state, under this arrangement, may be considered as relinquishing to traders and merchants, a small proportion of their yearly contribution in regular times, by way of premium of insurance, to secure a more steady receipt of the remainder.
Thus modified and acted upon, we cannot conceive any thing formidable in the declaration; nothing incompatible with private interest; nothing that could make the tax requiring it, unpopular with an enlightened people, particularly when, on the other hand, the already enumerated merits of the tax, are of a nature so decided, and so well adapted to our peculiar situation.
The productiveness of the tax, and the cheerful acquiescence of the people in the new system, would, in our opinion, chiefly depend on the manner, in which its introduction should be attempted.
We are aware that perfect success, in this respect, must imply the prevalence of a considerable degree of honesty. But, we cannot help thinking that it is with this moral, as it is with other commodities:--it will be found to exist in proportion as it is made much of and valued. We deem, therefore, highly beneficial, and most salutary to the state, any political proceed
ing, into the character of which essentially enters, and with which, as it were, is embodied, a lively confidence, on the part of the government, in the good faith, and integrity of the people. We are fully persuaded, that nothing can be imagined, more powerful than this, for the support of public probity; as, on the other hand, nothing can be more destructive of it, than those jealous regulations, which seem to emanate from the supposition, that all men are knaves, and that security against crime can only be sought successfully, in the impossibility of its commission. The tax under consideration, in this point of view also, must strongly recommend itself to every politician, conversant with human nature, and looking to distant consequences.
Are our people made of different materials from those of Switzerland? Will they not evince the same virtue, if treated with a confidence equally generous? Are not our merchants reputed, and known, to transact their customhouse business with good faith? Yet, would the same regulations and laws, as to this source of revenue, be perfectly nugatory in countries, where defective institutions have established, between the people and their government, the relations of a secret warfare; where, consequently, successful frauds on the public revenue are generally viewed, in the light of dexterous selfdefence; where false oaths are considered as weapons of expediency.
Generally speaking, it may be taken for granted, that honesty will prevail, until superior temptation to an opposite conduct exist;-and this, judicious statesmen ought to know how to avert, in a country like ours, where a comfortable subsistence may be said to be within the reach of every able bodied man. There will be no fraud in revenue matters, till there is oppression, or the fear of oppression. The surest way to avoid oppression, is to establish taxes which are general and strictly just in their operation–because then, though light, they will prove sufficiently productive. The surest way to remove the fear of oppression, is to act with candour, and to enlighten the people.
We shall now proceed to make a few suggestions, concerning the mode in which, as we think, the introduction of the (tax ought to be attempted, and concerning the regulation of its details.
First. It ought to have a good name, expressive of its character, and associated with agreeable ideas. We could wish it to be called the Union Tax-because the permanèncy of the Union--we mean during a succession of ages-will, in a great measure, depend on its adoption.
Secondly. Preparatory to the introduction of this system of taxation, as well as for salutary republican purposes in general, we think that a political catechism ought to be drawn up, for the use of our citizens; in which the nature of the social compact, the necessity of a government for the well-being of all, the reciprocal relations between it and the people, and their mutual rights and duties, should be developed in a clear, plain, forcible and popular manner. We think there is nothing in these matters, that could not be rendered perfectly intelli. gible, even to ordinary capacity, by a person qualified for the task. It would then be generally understood, that every man ought to pay the Union Tax honestly; why he ought so to pay it, and what advantages he obtains in return. A sufficient number of copies of this catechism should be delivered to the governor of each state for distribution, and the proper steps taken, to introduce it, gradually but permanently, into schools of every description.
Thirdly. The law ought expressly to declare that this tax, and duties on imported goods, were the only taxes to be laid by the general government; that the Union Tax, and customs were, in future, to be considered as the only regular sources of the revenue of the empire; at least that no revenue was ever intended to be derived from the people, by means of any other contributions direct or indirect.-For the same reason, the postage of letters, which is now a heavy, and perhaps an injurious charge, ought to be reduced to what is merely necessary for defraying the expenses of the establishment, after the organization of the Union Tax.
Fourthly. The tax ought to be paid by all free males of age, deriving an income, from whatever source, in their own right, or as trustees for others; and by all females of age, deriving an income, in their own right, from real, or personal estate. Females of age, obliged to support themselves by industry, as they are not in a natural and favourable situation, ought to be exempt from the tax. But trustees, managing the estates of orphans, or the property of people residing out of the country, ought to pay it; for no good reason can be assigned why any species of net revenue, derived under the protection of the state, should be intitled to an immunity.
Fifthly. The declaration should be made in the month of February, when the results of the preceding year may be presumed to have been ascertained, and the quantum of contri