Ratcliffe Hicks.

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duties is the levying and collecting of taxes. Our
system, if you may call it a system, is a piece of
badly constructed patchwork, and needs an entire
reformation. It now shields those interests which
are best able to bear taxation, and imposes taxes
upon those interests least able to bear it.


It remains to be seen whether the mcoming
Legislature will have the nerve and courage to go
to the bottom of this whole matter. I am not the
champion of any particular interest, but I want
something that is equal and just and permanent ;
something which imposes taxation upon those in-
terests that ought and are best able to bear it.
Every man holds his life and property subject to
such regulations as may be best for the whole, and
this he agrees to when he becomes a member of
any civilized community.

1. It would be better to have our assessors
chosen county-wise, and hold oiSce for five years.
This would secure an equal and intelligent assess-
ment throughout the county and State. Now
property is assessed very differently in neighboring
town 1. In many towns the assessments are never
legally made, and bunglers are doing the work.
It needs to be put into the hands of systematic
and competent men, who will introduce into the
offices of assessors as much neatness, system, and
completeness as you find in a bank. If it were
not for the healing act passed at every session of
the Legislature to cover up the blunders and mis-
takes of town officers, one-half of the towns in the
State would never be able to collect their taxes.
It has been called " The Fool's Act."

2. There is no need of an assessment oftener
than once in three or five years. There is no great
change in the value of the property in any five



years ; and if there is any change, it is general, so
that the assessment would bear a like proportion
to all property, however changed in value. Taxes
should always follow the property, as all deeds
should provide that the purchaser shall pay the
taxes ; otherwise they should be paid by the man
to whom assessed.

3. Taxes should be laid on the rental value of
real estate instead of on its supposed value. Taxes
should be levied upon live, not dead, property.
You do not lay taxes on cemeteries or churches ;
and so you ought not to lay taxes upon a factory
or a dwelling-house that is unoccupied. Besides,
if the tax were laid upon the rental value, with
perhaps a certain per cent added every five years
for possible increase in value of property, it could
be more easily and accurately ascertained. Take
the Hartford Trust Company building. Men
would differ $25,000 to $75,000 on its real value ;
but its rental value depends not on guesswork, but
on book-keeping, and can be accurately ascer-
tained. It is always well to eliminate guesswork
as far as possible from all business, and to reduce
it to a mathematical calculation.

4. It would be well to dispense with all taxes
upon personal property. The assessment of per-
sonal property is so unequal, and so easily and so
universally evaded, that it is almost a farce and a
fraud upon the few honest men who pay their full
taxes. Stocks are transferred to people outside



the State, to savings-banks or national banks, to
escape taxation. Bonds, jewelry, notes, valuable
goods, etc. are buried so deep that no assessor can
ever find them. The whole thing is a sham and a
burlesque on justice.

5. All special taxes upon insurance companies,
savings-banks, and railroads are based upon wrong
principles. They are akin to brigandage, which
levies where it thinks it can collect the easiest.
Every man recognizes the justice of levying taxes
upon rum and tobacco, for they are hurtful ; but
why select one kind of legitimate business for tax-
ation, and allow others to go scot-free ? Why levy
taxes on life-insurance companies, and not on the
manufacturers of silks, guns, and powder? The
world can get along as well without the last as
without the former. The only principle upon
which such taxes can be sustained is that these
institutions are spendthrifts, bound to squander
their property, and that some of it might as well
go for taxes. Would it not be better to stop think-
ing how much taxes we can get out of these semi-
charitable institutions, and spend a little more time
in trying to make them safe and sound, and as
permanent as the government itself? Should sav-
ings-banks in this State be allowed to invest one-
half their assets in New York City bank-stock, and
thus furnish the means whereby stock-gamblers
may force the money of the poor people of Con-
necticut into Wall Street to the demoralization of



all honest and beneficial business ; to stake the
assets of our banks where the officers themselves
do not dare to invest their own money? Who
would dare to advise the poor people of Connecti-
cut to invest their money in New York City bank-
stock ? But there is where it is being invested every
day. Why should life-insurance companies be
permitted to scatter their assets to the four quar-
ters of the earth ? Ought they not to be as safely
managed and as carefully guarded as a savings-
bank? Why should it be a race to see whether
the man or the company will live the longest?

6. In place of a tax upon personal property, it
would be better to impose a tax upon the net
income of all persons and corporations. This
should include incomes from all sources, dividends
from savings-banks, interest on government bonds,
pensions, and wages, where the total exceeds
a certain sum ; deducting incomes from real
estate, as that is taxed in another way. If a cor-
poration makes no money, it should pay no taxes.
This is the way to encourage struggling industries
everywhere. It is the strong, not the weak ; it is
the prosperous, not the poor; it is those who
enjoy special privileges and reap great rewards, —
it is such that can and should bear taxation.
Gould and Vanderbilt pay no taxes. What a
mockery ! what a travesty on justice and fair play !
England, the greatest commercial country in the
world, whose government is controlled by wealthy
13 193


business men, raises a large proportion of its taxes
by an income tax, holding that this is the fairest
tax ever known. No fair and reasonable man,
however rich he may be, can object to paying his
proportion of the taxes, only provided all the rest
of the community pay in a like proportion.

7. The poll-tax should be abolished. It
amounts to nothing. It is a relic of bygone
times. Nobody pays it. But it is desirable that
every able-bodied man should contribute some-
thing, no matter if it is a small sum, towards the
expenses of society. It makes more of a man of
him. It keeps up his self-respect, and teaches
him that he is a part of the body politic, and has
as good a right to express his opinion as aVander-
bilt, so long as he contributes as much in propor-
tion towards the support of the government.
Society might be classified into occupations, and
every man pay a small license fee annually, which
shall secure him permission to engage in his par-
ticular calling, and which shall at the same time
be a return for that protection and assistance which
government affords to every man.

8. One-half the proceeds of the sale of liquor
should go to the State. It is intoxicating liquors
that fill our jails, state-prisons, reform and indus-
trial schools, and that largely necessitate criminal
courts. Thus is spent one-half of the public
money. The income tax from railroads, steam-
boats, mining telegraph, and telephone companies.



should go to the State. Ten per cent of the
receipts of all exhibitions should be paid to the
State. The railroads and bank and insurance
departments of the State should be self-supporting.
We should charge travelling agents from other
States the same as those States charge our own.
The foregoing would produce money enough to
run the State government ; but if it should not,
then the remaining sum needed should be assessed
to each town in proportion to its assessment list.

9. This is a practical age. The great question
of the hour is an economic political question. It
is the problem how to distribute the burdens of
society in the easiest and fairest way. This is the
task that confronts the legislator everywhere, and
is rising into prominence in all the States of the
Union. It is the question of tariff, of revenue, of
taxation, and of finance that is to engage the
thoughtful attention of the American voter for the
next ten years.

10. No man knows it all. Every man should
give his best thoughts to it. These are mine
to-day. Discussion may change them. The wise
man sometimes changes his mind; the fool,

Respectfully submitted,

Ratcliffe Hicks.
Hartford, Conn., Dec. 24, 18S0.


On the Irish Land League, delivered at Hartford^
February 28, 1881.

Mr. President :

I AM here to-night to do what I can to explain
the cause of the Land League agitation in Ireland,
and to place it upon such high grounds that every
man in whose bosom burns one spark of human
love — every man who fears his God — will give at
least his sympathies and prayers to the down-
trodden people of Ireland. In order that I may
speak with brevity and exactness, and may cover
many important facts, I have written out what I
wish to say.

The one great question that is to-day agitating
the minds of the English-speaking race all round
the inhabited globe is the problem presented by
the Land League of Ireland. Thinking men, the
wide world over, are turning their thoughts to this

The history of Ireland for two hundred years

has been a history of agitation and turmoil. I

shall not attempt, in the short time I have allotted

to myself to-night, to review its sad history. In



passing, I can only say that it is a liistory crowded
with crime, persecution, and suffering ; and it is a
history that ought to mantle with shame the face
of every Enghshman as he reads it. Who can
remain unmoved at " the sight of those long and
fruitless struggles of a poetic, ardent, inconsolable
race "? The great Irish orator and lawyer, Henry
Grattan, aptly described the English policy towards
Ireland as one " than which you would hardly find
a worse if you went to Hell for your principles,
and to Bedlam for your discretion."

You are all, doubtless, familiar with the com-
mencement of those outrages committed by Eng-
lishmen, which two hundred years ago laid the
foundation of Ireland's misfortunes. It is a page
in the world's history which for two centuries has
cried to heaven for vengeance. It is the prayer
of every liberty-loving soul on this whirling planet
that the hour of Ireland's deliverance be brought
to pass, and that the wrongs of centuries be righted
forever. This question breaks over all national
barriers. There is no man, be he Jew or Gentile,
American or Asiatic, but feels in this question a
personal interest. Ireland is to-day keeping the
camp-fires of liberty. The sons of Ireland are
sounding the tocsin of liberty, and every man
born of woman should extend at least a brother's
sympathy to these fellow-creatures struggling for

And, above all other men on God's footstool,


this question ought to arouse the sympathy of
every true American. In the dawn of American
Hberty, one man, an Irishman, Edmund Burke,
stood up in the British parliament and pleaded for
the rights of America in those matchless words
that have never been surpassed in sixty centuries,
and that to-day stand as the highest effort of human
genius. From the opening battle of Bennington
down to the last skirmish on the far-off Western
prairies, there has not been one battle fought to
establish and perpetuate the liberties of America
where Irish blood has not flowed, and where Irish-
men have not laid down their lives to save for us
and our children the free institutions of America.
We, then, above all other men, basking, as we are
to-day, in the sun of American liberty, ought not
to forget this people who are bone of our bone
and flesh of our flesh.

Ireland has been called the English poorhouse,
supported by the people of the United States. For
half a century the American people have supported
millions of paupers made by the Irish land system.
We have sent millions and millions of dollars to
Ireland to keep the breath of life in her poor
people, and to fill eventually the coffers of her
landlords. We, then, have a personal interest in
the final and permanent settlement of the Irish
land question. If, however, there is any American
here to-night who feels no interest in this question,
let him go to some strange and inhospitable shore


where his language is not spoken, but where, per-
chance, he may hear, even though it be from
a stranger, and an Irishman at that, a few words
of his own magnetic language, his mother tongue ;
and then for the first time in his life, perhaps, he
will realize how near and dear to him is every man
who speaks the master language of the age, our
own good Saxon English.

Some people are so uncharitable as to charge
Ireland's misfortunes to her own people. They
say they are to be attributed either to the religion
the ignorance, or the slothful habits of the Insh
race Let us examine these charges.

Does any man dare to tell me that it is the
Catholic rehgion that has brought these misfortunes
upon the Irish race? I tell him he is a poor
student of history. I tell him that the wealthiest
nation to-day -the one where there are inore
men retired and living on a competence, where
there is more thrift and more saving than any-
where else -is Catholic France. I wonder if m
three hundred years, with all the unmeasured re-
sources of this magnificent country of America
we have not been able to reach the wealth of
France, — if ten generations have come and gone,
and we still lag behind, - how many more genera-
tions must come and go before we stand on a
level in wealth with Catholic France. God only

knows !

It was Catholic France that built the most



stupendous work of engineering of ancient or
modern times, the Suez Canal. It is Catholic
France, to-day, that cheerfully and heroically un-
dertakes to do what all other nations have turned
from in despair, — dig a ship canal across the death-
breeding swamps of the Isthmus of Panama. Go
out with me into the marts of trade, to your fac-
tories, to your farms, to your savings-banks, and
where can you find a more thrifty and saving people
than the Catholic Irish ? They are to-day starving
the close-fisted Yankee off these bleak New Eng-
land hills.

If you tell me that the Catholic religion is not
consonant with liberty, all your reading has been
in vain. It was puritanical Massachusetts that
drove from its borders every man who dared to
differ from the religion of the Colony. It was
Catholic Maryland that opened its doors to all
good men of every religion. Did the Catholic
religion destroy the devotion to liberty of the
French patriot, the Marquis de la Fayette, of whom
it has been said that he was the only man whom
George Washington ever loved? It is Catholic
France that to-day flaunts the flag of liberty in the
face of Europe, and maintains a sister republic
second to none in the galaxy of nations.

No ! It is not Ireland's religion or the indo-
lence of her people. Is it, then, their stupidity?
If you ask me for the greatest orator of twenty
centuries, I point you to an Irishman, — Edmund



Burke, If you ask rae for the sweetest poet in all
the ages smce the Psalms of David were written, I
point you to the wandering Irish bard, Oliver
Goldsmith ; or to that other inimitable Irish poet,
the much lamented and dearly loved Thomas
Moore. If you ask me for the greatest com-
mander of modern times, I point you to an
Irishman, the hero of Waterloo, the Iron Duke of

There is no sphere in life that has not been
filled by Irishmen. I am not here to-night to
flatter the Irish people. I am here to speak
the truth as I understand it. I am here to do
justice to an outcast and injured people. And
I am here to say that I have no sympathy with
those false pedantic notions so prevalent to-day,
which look with contempt upon the capacities
of the Irish race. No Irishman need ever be
ashamed of his country or of his religion. Let
every thoughtful Protestant remember that the
Catholic faith in Ireland has been nourished by
" the most sacred sentiments of the human heart,
by the hatred of injustice, and by the devotion to
one's forefathers ; " and that the Irishman loves
with equal fervor his terrestrial and his celestial

Now, let me invite your attention to what I con-
ceive to be the grievances to-day of the Irish

Nowhere are there any people speaking the Eng-



lish language who have as Httle voice in their own
government as the Irish. Any attempt to enforce
such a government in Canada or Austraha would
make either of those countries a great powder-house
of insurrection. Our forefathers plunged America
into the war of the Revolution for one-tenth the
pretext that to-day arouses all Ireland. It behooves
every American citizen to hesitate before he con-
demns the Irish people for disturbing the peace of
England. Washington unsheathed his sword in no
holier cause than inspires a Parnell. One hundred
years ago America appealed to the sympathies
of the civilized world for less cause than to-day
invokes the sympathies of civilized men everywhere
for suffering Ireland.

1. I want to show you how the taxes are laid in
Ireland, something that comes as close home to a
people as any branch of governmental duties.

As a relic of the days of the conquest, in every
county local taxes are imposed by a "grand jury."
These grand juries are appointed by the sheriffs ;
and the sheriffs, mind you, are appointed by the
English government. Almost as a necessary con-
sequence, the Irish grand juries are made up of
large landed proprietors and their agents ; and the
tenants, who compose a vast majority of the people,
have no representation or voice in this body
which levies the taxes. How unjust and how
undemocratic !

2. These same grand juries name one-half the



local governing boards in the baronies or sub-
divisions of a county. The other half of these
local boards, answering somewhat to our board of
selectmen, is composed of justices of the peace
appointed by the English government. What a
wickedly conceived and cunningly contrived substi-
tute for the voice of the people ! What a travesty on
the boasted free institutions of England !

3. The Board for the distribution of relief to the
poor and the sick derives its appointment from,
and is largely composed of, landed proprietors.
All clergymen are excused by law, and the English
government reserves to itself the right to fill the
entire board, which is often done.

4. Public education, which in England and
Scotland is placed in charge of a board elected by
the people, is in Ireland given to a board ap-
pointed by the Crown ; and its members hold for
life, — a scheme for governing a people worthy the
autocrat of all the Russias.

5. The few town and city officers that are elected
in Ireland are chosen by electors whose qualifica-
tions are much higher than are required of electors in
voting for members of Parliament. The qualifica-
tions are so high in voting for local oflficers that the
management of local affairs is kept in the hands of
a few wealthy land-holders. Irish cities and towns
in which Roman Catholics are in a majority, at all
elections for members of Parliament, have local
governments composed exclusively of Protestants.



No Catholic country maintains to-day such an
arbitrary and unrepresentative government as that
under which all Ireland is groaning. Not Catholic
France, Italy, Austria, or Spain, can boast such an
infamous scheme to cheat and drown the voice of
the people.

6. Let me call your attention to the marked
difference between the methods employed by the
British government to govern her own petted Eng-
land and the despised Green Island of the sea.
As I have already shown you, the great matter of
public education which in England and Scotland is
placed in the hands of a board elected by the
people is in Ireland managed by a board appointed
by the English government, whose members hold
for life.

By the law of i860, passed by the British Par-
liament, the landlords in Ireland possess summary
powers of ejectment far in excess of those possessed
by the landlords in England. In England they
have county officers elected by the people, but in
Ireland such officials are appointed by the English
government. As a result of this Land League
agitation, headed by those noble Irish patriots,
Parnell and Davitt, Mr. Gladstone has promised to
submit to this present Parliament a bill extending
the same county organization and privileges to
Ireland as are enjoyed in England.

7. It is almost impossible to make an American
comprehend the impediments which exist in Ire-



land to the transfer of real estate. There are no
offices or places where deeds can be recorded.
All records relative to real estate are kept in the
office of the attorney. If a man wants to make a
deed, he must go to some particular attorney, and
have him prepare an abstract showing how the land
is situated and encumbered, and the attorney
draws the deed and keeps it. For these services
he charges from one hundred to five hundred
dollars. It has long been mooted to establish the
American custom of recording deeds in some
public office ; but John Bull is slow to move, and
hates most of all to acknowledge that America can
teach the proud Briton anything.

8. All wills made in Ireland, where the amount
involved is more than twenty-five dollars, must
be filed and recorded in Dublin. If you want
to find out about any will, you must employ
some attorney at Dublin, whose charges are extor-
tionate. This matter of wills is of far more conse-
quence across the water than in America ; for here
we limit the power ot any man to tie up his estate
to the life of some person in being and twenty-five
years thereafter, while under the English govern-
ment there is no such limitation, and wills may
reach down through several generations. Thus
they have much more occasion in Ireland to
inquire into the terms of wills than we do. How
inconvenient it would be if all the people of the
six New England States and New York were


obliged to send to Albany before they could make
a deed, a mortgage, or a lease !

9. As I have just explained, a man may in Ire-
land encumber his estate with legacies and settle-
ments extending down through several generations,
or for long periods of time. A person who has
not investigated the matter cannot appreciate what
a burden it becomes to the landed interests of
Ireland. So many different parties living off the
industry of the tenant, so many idlers staring every
purchaser in the face, so many sluggards encum-
bering every acre of land paralyzes the sale and
transfer of real estate, and freezes the industrial
ambition of the people.

10. The great trouble with the English govern-
ment is that it was originally created for the benefit
of the rulers. For four hundred years the great
mass of the people have been struggling to secure,
one by one, some of those great and inalienable
rights which, by " the laws of Nature and of
Nature's God," belong to all men.

One of the abominable customs which dates its
origin back to the mediaeval ages, and which ought
to wither and die in the light of modem civiliza-
tion, is the custom prevailing under the English
government to-day that you cannot attach and sell
the land of a bloated aristocrat, though he may owe
a hundred times as much as he is worth. Every
other man must pay his honest debts except this
pampered son of luxury and of wild and reckless


extravagance. England is cursed with that other
twin reUc of a barbarous age, primogeniture, which
robs a whole family to make one child rich. Poets
may write and philosophers may soliloquize on the
marvellous liberties of the British government, but
they look mean and contemptible beside the price-

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Online LibraryRatcliffe HicksSpeeches and public correspondence of Ratcliffe Hicks .. → online text (page 11 of 18)