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of the war, a sound report we should have had. But as the Northern States raised no loans in Lombard Street (and could raise none because of their vicious paper money), Lombard Street did not care about them, and England was very imperfectly informed of the progress of the civil struggle, and on the whole matter, which was then new and very complex, England had to judge without having her usual materials for judgment, and (since the guidance of the “city” on political matter is very quietly and imperceptibly given) without knowing she had not those materials.
Of course, this error might have been committed, and perhaps would have been committed under a Parliamentary Government. But if it had, its effects would ere long have been thoroughly searched into and effectually frustrated. The whole force of the greatest inquiring machine and the greatest discussing machine which the world has ever known would have been directed to this subject. In a year or two the American public would have had it forced upon them in every form till they must have comprehended it. But under the Presidential form of Government, and owing to the inferior power of generating discussion, the information given to the American people has been imperfect in the extreme. And in consequence, after nearly ten years of painful experience, they do not now understand how much they have suffered from their inconvertible currency.
But the mode in which the Presidential Government of America managed its taxation during the Civil War, is even a more striking example of its defects. Mr. Wells
tells us :
“In the outset all direct or internal taxation was avoided, there having been apparently an apprehension on the part of Congress, that inasmuch as the people had never been accustomed to it, and as all machinery for assessment and collection was wholly wanting, its adoption would create discontent, and thereby interfere with a vigorous prosecution of hostilities. Congress, therefore, confined itself at first to the enactment of measures looking to an increase of revenue from the increase of indirect taxes upon imports; and it was not until four months after the actual outbreak of hostilities that a direct tax of $20,000,000 per annum was apportioned among the States, and an income tax of 3 per cent. on the excess of all incomes over $800 was provided for; the first being made to take effect practically eight, and the second ten months after date of enactment.
Such laws of course took effect, and became immediately operative in the loyal States only, and produced but comparatively little revenue; and although the range of taxation was soon extended, the whole receipts from all sources by the Government for the second year of the war, from excise, income, stamp, and all other internal taxes were less than 842,000,000; and that, too, at a time when the expenditures were in excess $60,000,000 per month, or at the rate of over $700,000,000 per annum. And as showing how novel was this whole subject of direct and internal taxation to the people, and how completely the government officials were lacking in all experience in respect to it, the following incident may be noted. The Secretary of the Treasury, in his report for 1863, stated that, with a view of determining his resources, he employed a very competent person, with the aid of practical men, to estimate the probable amount of revenue to be derived from each department of internal taxation for the previous year. The estimate arrived at was $85,000,000, but the actual receipts were only 837,000,000."
Now, no doubt, this might have happened under a Parliamentary Government. But, then, many members of Parliament, the entire opposition in Parliament, would have been active to unravel the matter. All the principles of finance would have been worked and propounded. The light would have come from above, not from below-it would have come from Parliament to the nation instead of from the nation to Parliament. But exactly the reverse happened in America. Mr. Wells goes on to say :
“The people of the loyal States were, however, more
determined and in earnest in respect to this matter of taxation than were their rulers; and before long the popular discontent at the existing state of things was openly manifest. Everywhere the opinion was expressed that taxation in all possible forms should immediately, and to the largest extent, be made effective and imperative; and Congress spurred up, and rightfully relying on public sentiment to sustain their action, at last took
up the matter resolutely and in earnest, and devised and inaugurated a system of internal and direct taxation, which for its universality and peculiarities has probably no parallel in anything which has heretofore been recorded in civil history, or is likely to be experienced hereafter. The one necessity of the situation was revenue, and to obtain it speedily and in large amounts through taxation the only principle recognized—if it can be called a principle-was akin to that recommended to the traditionary Irishman on his visit to Donnybrook Fair, 'Wherever you see a head hit it. Wherever you find an article, a product, a trade, a profession, or a source of income, tax it! And so an edict went forth to this effect, and the people cheerfully submitted. Incomes under $5,000 were taxed 5 per cent., with an exemption of 8600 and house rent actually paid; these exemptions being allowed on this ground, that they represented an amount sufficient at the time to enable a small family to procure
the bare necessaries of life, and thus take out from the
cent. additional, without any abeyance or exemptions whatever.”
Now this is all contrary to and worse than what would have happened under a Parliamentary Government. The delay to tax would not have occurred under it: the movement by the country to get taxation would never have been necessary under it. The excessive taxation accordingly imposed would not have been permitted under it. The last point I think I need not labour at length. The evils of a bad tax are quite sure to be pressed upon
the ears of Parliament in season and out of season; the few persons who have to pay it are thoroughly certain to make themselves heard. The sort of taxation tried in America, that of taxing everything, and seeing what everything would yield, could not have been tried under a Government delicately and quickly sensitive to public opinion.
I do not apologise for dwelling at length upon these points, for the subject is one of transcendent importance. The practical choice of first-rate nations is between the Presidential Government and the Parliamentary; no State