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4. Report of the State Assessors of the State of New York.
Transmitted to the Legislature, January, 1874. 5. Taxation ; Address of George H. Andrews before the Assem
bly Committee of Ways and Means of the State of New York.
Delivered October 6, 1874. 6. Exclusive Taxation of Real Estate, and the Franchises of a few specified Moneyed Corporations and Gas Companies. By
ISAAC SHERMAN. New York, 1875. 7. Methods of Valuation of Real Estate for Taxation. Read
before the Social Science Association of Philadelphia, May,
1874. By Thomas COCHRAN. 8. Taxes and A88e88ments in the City of New York ; Report of
the Commissioners of Taxes. 1875. 9. The Law of Taxation. By FRANCIS HILLIARD. Boston:
Little and Brown. 1875. 10. The Tax Question: What should be taxed, and how it should
be taxed. Suggestions for the People of Tennessee to consider.
By Enoch Essley, of Memphis, Tennessee. Nashville, 1873. 11. Taxation of Visible Property. By WILLIAM ENDICOTT.
Boston, 1875. 12. Unequal State Taxation. By Geo. H. ANDREWS. New
York, 1875. 13. Unequal Taxation in Delaware. By ISAAC HINCKLEY.
Philadelphia, 1875. 14. Report of Tax Commissioner, specially appointed under Re
solve of the Legislature of the State of Maine. Augusta, 1874. 15. Report of Committee of Ways and Means of the Assembly of
the State of New York, 1874-5; Special Investigation on the Subject of Taxation. Albany, 1875.
FOR many years previous to the commencement of the war in 1861 there was no one class of subjects which claimed in so small a degree the attention of the people of the United States as those of a politico-economic character, - more especially such as pertained to the fiscal administration of the State, the methods and objects of taxation, the distribution of wealth, banking and currency, and the like. That this should have been so is not, however, a matter to be wondered at. The nation, and the several States composing it, were at the period
referred to comparatively free from debt. All taxation was light. Direct taxation by the Federal Government was unknown. Pauperism was mainly restricted to persons of foreign nativity ; while to all who were willing to practise both industry and economy, the ability to command a good subsistence, if not an ultimate competence, seemed comparatively easy. Why should the nation trouble itself about vexing and intricate fiscal and social problems before there was occasion ? And taking counsel accordingly from the proverb, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," the nation did not trouble itself.
But with the advent and continuance of the war, the creation of an immense national debt, the suspension of specie payments, the resort to irredeemable paper money, and the re-enactment of extreme protective tariffs, the condition of things above depicted rapidly changed ; and the questions and problems which in popular estimation were before insignificant, have rapidly become so important, as to constitute not only the theme of never-ending public discussion, but also the certain issues, on which are to be built the national political parties of the future. And as illustrating in some degree the nature and strength of what may be termed the motor or impelling influences which have forced these changes in public opinion, what could be more pertinent than the statement recently made by the Governor of New York (message of May 11, 1875), that in 1874 less than two millions and a half of the inhabitants of the cities of New York paid in taxes, nearly as much ($ 50,429,000) as was the entire cost of the Federal Government — including interest on the public debt — in 1853, namely, $ 54,577,000 ? And he might to our profit and instruc tion have further added that, taking the aggregate of taxation as the basis of estimate, it cost more by nearly twenty millions to govern the entire State of New York in 1872 than it did to govern the whole Federal Union — war, navy, Indians, interest and all-in 1849. The general public, like the tortoise, is naturally sluggish in its disposition ; but as a coal of fire placed on the back of the latter wonderfully accelerates its movements, so the material influence of facts, like those above referred to (in contradistinction to any moral influence), gradually penetrating the hard shell of popular indifference, have
quickened in an amazing degree the interest of the American public in all manner of fiscal and economic subjects. And as a further illustration of how comparatively great the present interest in such subjects is among a people, who ten years ago read few books on political economy, and wrote and published almost none at all, it may be also mentioned, that on the subject of specie resumption and currency alone, probably not less than two hundred separate pamphlets — exclusive of Congressional speeches — have been issued from the American press since 1870.
The various subjects of a politico-economic character which since the close of the war in 1865 have commanded public attention have not, however, come up simultaneously for consideration ; but have been evolved, as it were, gradually, from the changing condition of affairs, and somewhat in the following order: First. The national debt and its transition from a miscellaneous and temporary to a more permanent and consolidated character, - a work the magnitude and delicacy of which, as well as the skill with which it was executed by the then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. McCulloch, - has never been properly appreciated. Second. The readjustment of the war system of internal taxation. Third. The questions of currency, specie redemption, and the retroactive application of the enactment of “ legal tender.” Fourth. The free-trade and protective question, - the interest in which was temporarily smothered by the paradoxical results of the Cincinnati Convention of 1872. Fifth. The relations of the State to common carriers, and the methods of intercommunication. Sixth. The extent to which the complicated system of import or customs taxes were to be administered through the agency of espionage, special agents and moieties; and latterly, and as yet to a small extent, the subject concerning which it is here specially proposed to treat, - local taxation.
In fact, it is one of the curious incidents of our times, that this particular subject, which exclusively embraces within its scope the methods of raising annually a sum for public purposes ($ 280,000,000, estimated) nearly double that at present derived annually from our customs or import taxes ($ 155,000,000 for 1874-5); and nearly three fourths of the total
revenue derived by Great Britain from all imperial taxes (£77,000,000 = $385,000,000, in 1874-5),* should up to within a very recent period have had absolutely no hold whatever on the attention of the American people, and no place of any account in economic literature, the only treatise or work of any importance, treating of local taxation in detail, published prior to 1870, of which we have any knowledge, being "A Report on the State Assessment Laws," by a joint select committee of the legislature of New York, in 1863, to which was appended “A Digest of the Mode or Method of Taxation in the several States," by Alfred B. Street. In 1870, however, the very great importance of the subject having impressed itself upon the attention of Hon. John T. Hoffman, then governor of the State of New York, he induced the legislature of that State to authorize the appointment of a select commission; which commission after an examination of the whole field of inquiry submitted two reports in two successive years, 1872 and 1873), embodying in addition to a draft of a code of laws and a digest of court decisions, much information of a historical nature; and for the first time in the United States, a discussion of the fundamental principles involved in local taxation, and the theory of their more harmonious application to the anomalous condition of thirty-seven contiguous, sovereign States, embraced under one over-ruling and greater sovereignty. These reports also for the first time in this country created any thing approximating to general public interest in the subject. The report for 1872 was immediately reprinted by private parties for sale as a matter of business, - a circumstance most unusual as respects a public legislative document; while to meet the demands of several constitutional conventions of other States then in session, special editions were ordered and distributed by the State authorities of New York. In Europe, also, both reports were
* The aggregate amount annually raised by local taxation (state, county, city and town taxes) for all purposes in the four States of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, is about $ 150,000,000, apportioned approximately as follows: Massachusetts, $ 28,000,000 ; New York, $ 55,000,000; Pennsylvania, $ 40,000,000; Ohio, $ 27,952,000. The amount raised by local taxation in all the other States of the Union cannot be estimated at less than $ 130,000,000 additional; making an annual aggregate of about $ 280,000,000.
reprinted and extensively circulated under the auspices of the Cobden Club of England.
In one sense the work of the New York Commission was a failure, but in another it has been a success. It was a failure in the sense that none of its recommendations nor its code have been adopted, and that successive Legislatures in New York have not even so much as proposed to consider its recommendations. It has been a success in the sense that it was the incipient agency in creating a permanent public interest in the principles it discussed, and of the present extent of which the partial list of recent publications constituting the preface of this article affords some indication.
Another agency which has also powerfully contributed within the last few years to make local taxation an independent economic issue of interest before the public, and is likely to continue to do so, is the action of the Federal Courts. So long as the aggregate taxation of the several States was comparatively small, as before the war, and so long as the spirit of patriotism engendered by the war regarded no burden designed to aid in the preservation of the Federal Union as too heavy or unreasonable, there was little disposition to criticise closely or to complain at the methods locally adopted for obtaining revenues by taxation. But when, after the war, this special burden by reason of increased debts and expenditures assumed the character of a continually increasing strain unrelieved by anything approximating to sentiment, then men became both critical and querulous, and very soon cases involving fundamentally the principles and constitutionality of the tax methods resorted to by the several States began to come before the highest Federal Courts for review and determination. The result has been that while as yet little or nothing in the way of reform in local taxation has been effected through the action of State Legislatures, a progress rapid, continuous, and complete to an extent which neither the bar nor the public seem to have as yet fully comprehended, has been made in this same department of fiscal science through a series of decisions of the U. S. Supreme Court; not a few of the most intricate questions involved, and concerning which it would have been hopeless to have expected early and concurrent agreement on the part of