Abbildungen der Seite

day shall arrive, in which the best talents, and the best virtues shall be driven from office, by intrigue, or corruption, by the denunciations of the press, or the persecutions of party factions, legislation will cease to be national. It will be wise by accident, and bad by system.

[blocks in formation]


§ 110. We next come to the consideration of the legislative powers couferred on Congress, which are contained in the eighth section of the first article. The first clause is, The

Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, 'imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the

common defence and general welfare of the United States. * But all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. What is the true interpretation of this clause, has been matter of considerable controversy; that is to say, whether the words, 'to pay the debts, and provide for 'the common defence, and general welfare,' are to be read as an independent clause, or as a dependent clause, qualifying the preceding, and thus to be read, as though the words were, 'in order to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence, and general welfare.' The latter seems the more just and solid interpretation.

$ 111. The necessity of the power of taxation to the vigorous action of the national Government, would seem to be self-evident. The want of it was one of the principal defects under the Confederation. A national Government without the power of providing for its own expenditures, charged with public burthens, and duties, and yet deprived of adequate means to sustain and perform them, would soon become whol

ly inert, and imbecile. It would be like a man in a state of suspended animation. The power is, therefore, given in general terms, because, if limited to particular sources, or objects, these might, from accidental circumstances, or the change of pursuits, become inadequate, or totally fail; and, because the widest choice will enable the Government to select those, from time to time, which shall be least oppressive, and most productive.

112. The words used, are, taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.' In a general sense all contributions, imposed by the Government upon individuals for the service of the State, are taxes, by whatever name they may be called. In this sense they are usually divided into two classes ; direct taxes, under which are included taxes on land, and other real estate, and poll, or capitation taxes, or taxes on the polls or persons of individuals ; indirect taxes, or those which are levied only upon articles of consumption ; and of course, of which every person pays only so much, as he consumes of the articles. The word duties,' is often used as synonymous with taxes ; but is more often used as synonymous with ' customs,' which are taxes, which are levied upon goods and merchandize, which are exported or imported; in this sense it is equivalent to 'imposts,' though the latter is often restrained to duties on goods and merchandize, which are imported from abroad. 'Excises,' is a word, generally used in contradistinction to 'imposts,' in its restricted sense; and is applied to internal or inland impositions, levied sometimes upon the consumption of a commodity, sometimes upon the retail sale of it, and sometimes upon the manufacture of it. Thus a tax, levied upon goods imported from a foreign country, is generally called an'impost' duty; and a tax, levied upon goods manufactured or sold in a country, is called an excise' duty. The meanings of these words, therefore, often run into each other; and all of them are used in the Constitution, to avoid any ambiguity, arising from their various senses,

[ocr errors]

$ 113. The power of taxation is not, however, unlimited in its character. The taxes levied must be either to pay the public debts, or to provide for the common defence, and general welfare of the United States. They cannot be levied solely for foreign purposes, or in aid of foreign nations. In the next place, all direct taxes (as are seen,) are to be apportioned among the several States, in the same manner as Representatives, that is, according to the numbers of the population, to be ascertained in a particular mode. There is another clause of the Constitution, on the same subject, which declares, 'that no capitation, or other direct tax, shall

be laid, unless in proportion to the census, or enumeration, ' herein before directed to be taken.' All other taxes, that is, duties, imposts, and excises,' are required to be uniform throughout the United States. The reason of the latter rule is, to prevent Congress from giving any undue preference to the pursuits or interests of one State over those of any other. It might otherwise happen, that the agriculture, commerce, or manufactures of one State might be built upon the ruins of those of another; and, the combination of a few States in Congress might secure a monopoly of certain branches of trade and business to themselves. And further, to enforce this uniformity, and preserve the equal rights of all the States, it is declared, in a subsequent clause of the Constitution, that 'no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State. No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce, or revenue to the ports of one State over 'those of another ; nor shall vessels, bound to or from one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties, in another.'

$ 114. But, as the power of taxation is concurrent in the State Governments, it became essential, in order fully to effectuate the same purpose, and to prevent any State from securing undue preferences and monopolies in its own favor, to lay some restraints upon the exercise of this power by the States. Accordingly another clause in the Constitution de

clares, 'no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection ' laws. And the net produce of all duties and imposts, laid ‘by any State on imports and exports, shall be for the use of

the treasury of the United States; and all such laws shall be subject to the revision of Congress. No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any tonnage duty.' A petty warfare of regulation among the States is thus prevented, which might otherwise rouse resentments, and create dissensions, dangerous to the peace and harmony of the Union. The exception in favor of inspection laws to a limited extent is for the purpose of enabling the States to improve the quality of articles, produced by the labor of the country, and thus to fit them better for exportation, as well as for domestic use. Yet, even here, the superintending power of Congress is reserved, lest, under color of such laws, attempts should be made to injure the interests of other States. Having thus brought together all the various, but scattered articles of the Constitution on the subject of taxation, the subject may be dismissed with the single remark, that as no one was more likely in its abuse to be more detrimental to the public welfare, so no one is guarded with more care, and adjusted with more apxious deference to local interests.


Power to Borrow Money, and Regulate Commerce.

115. The next power of Congress is, ' to borrow money on the credit of the United States. This power, also, seems indispensable to the sovereignty and existence of the National Government; for otherwise, in times of great dan

ger, or severe public calamities, it might be impossible to provide, adequately, for the public exigencies. In times of peace, it may not, ordinarily, be necessary for the expenditures of a nation to exceed its revenues. But the experience of all nations must convince us that, in times of war, the burthens and expenses of a single year may more than equal the ordinary revenue of ten years. And, even in times of peace, there are occasions, in which loans may be the most facile, convenient, and economical means of supplying any extraordinary expenditure. The experience of the United States has already shown the importance of the power,

both in peace and in war. Without this resource, neither the war of Independence, nor the more recent war with Great Britain, could have been successfully terminated. And the purchase of Louisiana was by the same means promptly provided for, without being felt by the nation in its fiscal concerns.

$ 116. The next power of Congress is, 'to regulate com'merce with foreign nations, and among the several States, 6 and with the Indian Tribes. The want of this power was, as we have seen, a leading defect of the Confederation. In the different States, the most opposite and conflicting regulations existed; each pursued its own real or supposed local interests; each was jealous of the rivalry of its neighbors ; and each was successively driven to retaliatory measures, in order to satisfy public clamor, or private distress. In the end, however, all their measures became utterly nugatory, or mischievous, engendering mutual hostilities, and prostrating all their commerce at the feet of foreign nations. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the oppressed and degraded state of domestic commerce, manufactures, and agriculture, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. Our ships were almost driven from the ocean; our work-shops were almost deserted; our mechanics were in a starving condition; and our agriculture was sunk to the lowest ebb. These were the natural results of the inability of the General Government to

« ZurückWeiter »