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this country, for which their faith is pledged. The capital of this debt can only be discharged by degrees; but a fund for this purpose, and for paying the interest annually, on every principle of policy and justice, ought to be provided. The omission will be the deepest ingratitude and cruelty to a large number of meritorious individuals, who, in the most critical periods of the war, have adventured their fortunes in support of our independence. It would stamp the national character with indelible disgrace.
An annual provision for the purpose will be too precarious. If its continuance and application were certain, it would not afford complete relief. With many, the regular payment of interest, by occasional grants, would suffice; but with many more it would not. These want the use of the principal itself, and they have a right to it; but, since it is not in our power to pay off the principal, the next expedient is to fund the debt and render the evidences of it negotiable.
Besides the advantage to individuals from this arrangement, the active stock of the nation would be increased by the whole amount of the do. mestic debt, and of course the abilities of the community to contribute to the public wants; the national credit would revive and stand hereafter on a secure basis.
This was another object of the proposed duty.
If it be conceded that a similar fund is necessary, it can hardly be dis. puted that the one recommended is the most eligible. It has been already shown that it affects all parts of the community in proportion to their consumption, and has therefore the best pretensions to equality. It is the most agreeable tax to the people that can be imposed, because it is paid insensibly, and seems to be voluntary.
It may perhaps be imagined that it is unfavorable to commerce; but the contrary can easily be demonstrated. It has been seen that it does not diminish the profit of the merchant, and, of course, can be no dimi. nution of his inducements to trade. It is too moderate in its amount to discourage the consumption of imported goods, and cannot on that account abridge the extent of importations. If it even had this effect, it would be an advantage to commerce, by lessening the proportion of our imports to our exports, and inclining the balance in favor of this country.
The principal thing to be consulted for the advancement of commerce is to promote exports. All impediments to these, either by way of
prohibition or by increasing the prices of native commodities, decreasing by that means their sale and consumption at foreign markets, are injurious. Duties on exports have this operation. For the same reason, taxes on
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possessions and the articles of our own growth or manufacture, 'vhether in the form of a land tax, excise, or any other, are more hurtful to trade than impost duties. The tendency of all such taxes is to increase the prices of those articles which are the objects of exportation, and to enable others to undersell us abroad. The farmer, if he pays a heavy land tax, niust endeavor to get more for the products of his farm : the me. chanic and laborer, if they find the necessaries of life grow dearer by an excise, must endeavor to exact higher wages; and these causes will produce an increase of prices within, and operate against foreign com
It is not, however, to be inferred that the whole revenue ought to be drawn from imports: all extremes are to be rejected. The chief thing to be attended to is, that the weight of the taxes fall not too heavily, in the first instance, upon particular parts of the community. A judicious distribution to all kinds of taxable property is a first principle in taxation. The tendency of these observations is only to show that taxes on possessions-on articles of our own growth and manufacture—are more prejudicial to trade than duties on imports.
The observations which conclude the letter on which these remarks are made, naturally lead to reflections that deserve the serious attention of every member of the Union. There is a happy mean between too much confidence and excessive jealousy, in which the health and pros. perity of a State consist. Either extreme is a dangerous vice: the first is a temptation to men in power to arrogate more than they have a right to; the latter enervates government, prevents system in the administra. tion, defeats the most salutary measui es, breeds confusion in the State, disgusts and discontents among the people, and may eventually prove as fatal to liberty as the opposite temper.
It is certainly pernicious to leave any government in a situation of responsibility disproportioned to its power.
The conduct of the war is intrusted to Congress, and the public expectation turned upon them, without any competent means at their command to satisfy the important trus:. After the most full and solemn deliberation, under a collective view of all the public difficulties, they recommend a measure which appears to them the corner-stone of the public safety: they see this measure suspended for near two years; partially complied with by some of the States; rejected by one of them, and in danger on that account to be frustrated; the public embarrass. ments every day increasing; the dissatisfaction of the army growing more serious; the other creditors of the public clamoring for justice; both irritated by the delay of measures for their present relief or future
security; the hopes of our enemies encouraged to protract the war; the zeal of our friends depressed by an appearance of remissness and want of exertion on our part; Congress harassed; the national character suffering, and the national safety at the mercy of events.
This state of things cannot but be extremely painful to Congress, and appear to your com ttee to make it their duty to be urgent to obviate the evils with which it is pregnant.
Resolved, That Congress agree to the said report.
2. IN THE CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATION.
FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 1783. Resolutions were passed recommending to the several States to invest the Congress with certain specified powers for raising revenue to restore and maintain the public credit, &c. These resolutions were transmitted to the several States, with an address, prepared by a committee consist. ing of Mr. Madison, Mr. Ellsworth, and Mr. Hamilton, and adopted by Congress on the 26th April, 1783. The resolutions, as well as the ad. dress, consist, for the most part, of propositions and recommendations concerning the fiscal measures necessary to be adopted; from the latter, however, it is considered proper to make the following extracts:
The plan thus communicated and explained by Congress must now receive its fate from their constituents. All the objects comprised in it are conceived to be of great importance to the happiness of this confederated republic, are necessary to render the fruits of the Revolution a full reward for the blood, the toils, the cares, and the calamities which have purchased it. But the object of which the necessity will be peculiarly felt, and which it is peculiarly the duty of Congress to inculcate, is the provision recommended for the national debt. Although this debt is greater than could have been wished, it is still less on the whole than could have been expected, and, when referred to the cause in which it has been incurred, and compared with the burdens which wars of ambi. tion and of vain-glory have entailed on other nations, ought to be borne, not only with cheerfulness, but with pride. But the magnitude of the debt makes no part of the question. It is sufficient that the debt has been fairly contracted, and that justice and good faith demand that it should be fully discharged. Congress had no option but between different modes of discharging it. The same option is the only one that can exist with the States. The mode which has, after long and elabo. rate discussion, been preferred, is, we are persuaded, the least objectionable of any that would have been equal to the purpose. Under this per. suasion, we call upon the justice and plighted faith of the several States, to give it its proper effect, to reflect on the consequences of rejecting it, and to remember that Congress will not be answerable for them.
“Let it be remembered, finally, that it has ever been the pride and boast of America that the rights for which she contended were the rights of human nature. By the blessings of the Author of these rights on the means exerted for their defence, they have prevailed against all opposition, and form the basis of thirteen independent States. No instance has heretofore occurred, nor can any instance be expected hereafter to occur, in which the unadulterated forms of republican government can pretend to so fair an opportunity of justifying themselves by their fruits. In this view, the citizens of the United States are responsible for the greatest trust ever confided to a political society. If justice, good faith, honor, gratitude, and all the other qualities which ennoble the character of a nation, and fulfil the ends of government, be the fruits of our establishments, the cause of liberty will acquire a dignity and lustre which it has never yet enjoyed, and an example will be set which cannot but have the most favorable influence on the rights of mankind. If, on the other side, our governments should be unfortunately blotted with the re. verse of these cardinal and essential virtues, the great cause which we have engaged to vindicate will be dishonored and betrayed, the last and fairest experiment in favor of the rights of human nature will be turned against them, and their patrons and friends exposed to be insulted and silenced by the votaries of tyranny and usurpation.
“By order of the United States in Congress assembled.”
3. IN THE CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATION.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 1784.
Congress assembled. Present: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Congress took into consideration the report of a committee, consisting of Mr. Gerry, Mr. Reed, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Jeffer. son, to whom were referred sundry letters and papers relative to com. mercial matters; and the same, being amended, was agreed to as
“The trust reposed in Congress renders it their duty to be attentive to the conduct of foreign nations, and to prevent or restrain, as far as may be, all such proceedings as might prove injurious to the United States. The situation of commerce at this time claims the attention of the seve.
ral States; and few objects of greater importance can present themselves to their notice. The fortune of every citizen is interested in the success thereof, for it is the constant source of wealth and incentive to industry; and the value of our produce and our land must ever rise or fall in proportion to the prosperous or adverse state of trade.
"Already has Great Britain adopted regulations destructive of our commerce with her West India Islands. There was reason to expect that measures so unequal and so little calculated to promote mercantile intercourse,
would not be persevered in by an enlightened nation. But these measures are growing into system. It would be the duty of Congress, as it is their wish, to meet the attempts of Great Britain with similar restrictions on her commerce; but their powers on this head are not explicit, and the propositions made by the legislatures of the several States render it necessary to take the general sense of the Union on this subject.
• Unless the United States in Congress assembled shall be vested with powers competent to the protection of commerce, they can never command reciprocal advantages in trade; and, without these, our foreign commerce must decline, and eventually be annihilated. Hence it is ne. cessary that the States should be explicit, and fix on some effectual mode by which foreign commerce not founded on principles of equality may be restrained.
* That the United States may be enabled to secure such terms, they have
"Resolved, That it be, and it hereby is, recommended to the legislatures of the several States to vest the United States in Congress assem. bled, for the term of fifteen years, with power to prohibit any goods, wares, or merchandise, from being imported into or exported from any of the States, in vessels belonging to or navigated by the subjects of any power with whom these States shall not have formed treaties of com
"Resolved, That it be, and it hereby is, recommended to the legislatures of the several States to vest the United States in Congress assembled, for the term of fifteen years, with the power of prohibiting the subjects of any foreign state, kingdom, or empire, unless authorized by treaty, from importing into the United States any goods, wares, or mer chandise, which are not the produce or manufacture of the dominions of the sovereign whose subjects they are.
“Provided, That to all acts of the United States in Congress assem. bled, in pursuance of the above powers, the assent of nine States shal: ve necessary.”