Since the days of Cesar Augustus, when the edict went forth that all the world should be taxed, the subject of taxation has been one that has found no favor in the eyes of the people. There is an innate principle in man, that rebels against the idea of giving money for the general good. Even in his charities, he wishes his benevolence confined to a specific object. A subscription for the universal brotherhood of mankind would have few signers. As you narrow down the object, to our country, our State, our county, our city, our society, our relatives, our family, in proportion does man’s liberality expand. The man who gives grudgingly to his own family is a niggard, and will rarely be found contributing to any charitable object, and only then in the hope of subserving some selfish interest. How such men screw and twist in view of taxation. They regard it as money thrown away, and are ever ready to complain of the excess of their taxation over that of others. Next to the self-evident truth, that “all men are born free and equal,” is the right of every man to grumble at his taxes!
Our people have so long lived under a mere nominal taxation, that the idea of an increase sufficient to meet the heavy additional expenses, incurred by the war forced upon us by the South, has caused many to fancy they see ruin staring them in the face. Secretary Chase says, that the total national debt on the first of July next will not be over six hundred millions. Looking at this amount in the light of their own private resources, many persons are led to conclude that we shall never be able to liquidate such heavy indebtedness. Uncle Sam has a large number of children, and, compared with the amount of wealth in his family, this is but a small sum. After all, it’s his own children who are his creditors, and they will not be unnatural as to oppress him for the amount; so that they get the interest, they will be content to let the principal remain.
But before we conclude that all is lost let us compare our condition with other countries. There is Old England, for instance, one of the richest, proudest, most haughty and overbearing nations on the face of the globe. It is true that her children are the best taxed people on earth, and that she drove her son Sam away from her by her cruel and excessive taxation, but she will do for an example; for if she lives under the taxes she finds it necessary to impose upon her people, the United States can grow rich, every mother’s son of us, under the comparatively insignificant taxes that will be necessary to oil the machinery of the Government, and make its wheels run smoothly.
We will select, for example, two articles of luxury, those most generally used in our country and against which the most fault has been found with Congress for taxing so high in its tax bill, viz; spirituous liquors 15 cents per gallon; in England the tax is $2.50 per gallon! Quite a difference, say ye. In our bill tobacco is taxed 1-3 per alb.; the English tax it 40 cts. per lb. on unmanufactured, and $2.30 on cigars! Another difference. In this way Englishmen pay for their Government $360,000,000 annually. – This may seem to be an enormous sum to our inexperienced eyes, yet it is not one-half the taxes the people there have to pay for the privilege of being the subjects of Victoria, Dei gratia, Queen of England. Before they begin to pay this amount, or for leave to toil and earn it, they are subjected to $300,000,000 taxes in the shape of rent and tithes, and $40,000,000 poor rate, making a total of 700,000,000! Then there are the game laws and other peculiarly English regulations that in themselves amount to an enormous tax, perhaps more than the aggregate tax of which we complain.
Talk of taxation, look at that picture, note these facts and ask yourselves, if Englishmen can live and thrive under such a system of onerous and oppressive taxation, is there any fear that we shall sink under the modicum of taxes that it is proposed to impose on us? No, as the rich resources of our country are developed, and our people become more numerous, the entire debt of the nation, incurred in the prosecution of this war will be cancelled and we will gain become the most prosperous as the most powerful people on the face of the globe. Until then, let us bear our share of the public burden, meekly, and even though the traitors who have inflicted it upon us escape the just confiscation of their property to assist in lightening the load, yet let us shoulder it manfully and show to the monarchists of the old world that we, as a Republic, have the stamina to meet one of the exigencies that are common to the history of all nations.
– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Tuesday Morning, May 6, 1862, p. 2