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Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 72 of 194)
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ments is estimated at 200,000 dollars, their an-
nual product at about 600,000 bushels, weigh-
ing 78 lbs. each, of the best quality of salt. It
was also stated that the price of salt was now
about 35 cents, and that it had been reduced
nearly 30 per cent, in the last three years, ow-
ing to a competition between the importer and
manufacturer. The manufacturer could not af-
ford it as low as it was now sold ; and a re-
duction of the duty would operate greatly to
his injury. When the duty was repealed in
ISOT, they must have all been ruined, had not
Massachusetts exonerated their works from all

Now, sir, this is a small section of the coun-
try ; but in this small strip of coast, one thou-
sand people, and a capital of two millions, are

employed, and they annually produce six hun-
dred thousand bushels of the article. Yet, this
is considered of no importance, and we are told
that the whole must go by the board, by reduc-
ing the duty which has hitherto protected
them. He would call the attention of the
chairman of the committee who reported this
bill, to one question. Is it a fact, that, by re-
pealing the duty on this article, the consumer
will use more, because of a reduced price, and
thus the country reap the profit? This was not
the case formerly, when the duty was repealed.
For a short time it was lower ; but it soon rose
up again. How was this to be accounted for ?
Why, because salt was not a principal article
of trade, but entirely one of a subsidiary char-
acter. No trader will import salt rpgularly;
he will not send out his ships to bring back a
cargo of salt ; but, on the contrary, it is import-
ed to make out an incomplete cargo, or as bal-
last. Thus the importer, holding the article by
chance, and there being no permanent trade in
it to regulate the price, is enabled to fix it, and
the profit will accrue to him, and not to the
consumer. It is self-evident, that, if you repeal
the salt tax, you will put down all manufacto-
ries of the article. You will want just so much
salt, whether at home or from abroad ; and if
the manufacture is broken down, all competi-
tion with the importer is destroyed, and he is
at liberty to set his own price. One way or
another, the bill will produce bad effects.
Either you do reduce the price according to the
duty taken off, or you do not ; and if you do
reduce the price, the manufacture is destroyed;
if it does not, we have lost 300,000 dollars of
revenue, without benefiting any one. If the
manufactories are broken up, where are we to
look for a supply of this most indispensable ar-
ticle when war overtakes us ? The manufacture
of any article which is required in great quan-
tities, wants time and encouragement to make
it perfect and abundant. It cannot be expected
that it will grow up in a day, to meet the sud-
den exigency of the country; and hereafter,
should Congress pass this bill, the country may
need the assistance of the manufactories which
it will have destroyed. It was in vain to sup-
pose that they could flourish until there was
something should occur to check importation.
These loose ideas he had. thrown out, on the
moment, convinced that the bill ought not, on
many considerations, to pass.

The Senate adjourned without taking the

Feidat, February 2.
Dutp on Salt.
The unfinished business of yesterday being
then taken up, the Senate proceeded to consid-
er the bill making a reduction of the duty on
imported salt.

Mr. Sanfoed said, that £he bill was taken up
at so late an hour yesterday, that he had not
the advantage of hearing the views expressed



Febrcakt, 1827.]

Duty on Salt.


by the gentlemen wlio addressed the Senate
upon the subject. At the last session, this bill,
or a similar one, was before the Senate, and, if
his memory served him, the first argument used
to support it was, that we could very well dis-
pense with the tax upon salt. It was admitted
that, at that time, we could dispense with that
amount of our revenue. We could have dis-
pensed with a much greater sum at that period.
Our funds were then ample, and by some it was
supposed almost inexhaustible. But the as-
pect of affairs had undergone a great change.
And now our circumstances were such that
we could dispense with nothing ia justice to
those claims which would come upon the Treas-
ury dm-iug the present year. There were now
from three to' four millions in the Treasury, ac-
cording to any account, and, upon this point,
statements differed. At any rate, it was clear,
that, with all the funds in our possession, and
all that were to be received. Government would
have a scanty amount to meet the expenses
which would occur beyond the estimates. The
revenue promised this year was much smaller
than usual, in proportion to the demands of the
country ; and he fully believed we should reach
the end of our money with the end of the year.
In this condition of things, it was certainly not
a time to reduce the income. This was not
the only reduction proposed during the year.
A bill had been reported to diminish the duty
on wine. The object was said to be to encour-
age a greater consumption of that article, and
thus increase the revenue. In regard to wine,
this effect might be produced ; but it certainly
would not be in reducing the duty on salt. As
to teas, we were absolutely forced to make a
great reduction of the revenue, or witness an
entire stagnation of the trade in that article.
Every member of the Senate understood the
cause of this. Formerly, we ha^ no rival in
the importation of teas, and this country, to a
considerable extent, supplied the consumption
in the British provinces. But, within the last
two years, immense quantities had been im-
ported by the East India Company into Canada,
free of duty, which enabled the British mer-
chant to supply our population at a very low
rate. This article, then, of the revenue, we
must inevitably reduce, or abandon the compe-
tition with the British merchants. As to other
branches of our revenue, he did not think any
improvement could be anticipated at present.
Some persons supposed that an increase of im-
portation, during the current year, would be a
natural consequence of its deficiency last year ;
but he was not of that opinion. He was sensi-
ble that this revulsion might be expected with
reason ; but he believed it was looked for too
soon. He anticipated no increase of imports,
either this year or next. The reflux would not
be so rapid as was imagined ; nor would the
change happen in less than two years. Nor
was he of opinion that prudence dictated the
repeal of the duty on salt.
Ml-. WooDBUKY. — ^The object and tendency of

this bill had, by some abroad, been misunder-
stood ; and by others, misrepresented. Stand-
ing, as may be thought, in some degree in a
paternal relation to the measure, it might be
expected that he should attempt to correct
these errors, and vindicate it from the numer-
ous objections with which it had been assailed.
The bill, as you well know, Mr. President, was
not intended to injure the fisheries; nothing of
that kind being either implied or expressed in
\tf provisions. But, its legitimate operation
will be to aid the fishermen, in common with
all other consumers of imported salt. Neither
is it gotten up in hostility to manufacturers,
nor will it prove injurious to any due encour-
agement of them. Just as little, also, is it cal-
culated to endanger the financial operations of
the Government, as permanently established
for peace, or as they happen to exist at the
present moment. The principle of the bill is
altogether different, and lies within a single in-
quiry. It is this : Ought not a war-tax — a tax,
imposed merely to meet the great exigencies of
such a crisis — a tax, temporary at its com-
mencement, exorbitant in amount, and partial
in its operation — ought not such a tax to be
now lessened? That is the question. Now,
after twelve years of plenty and peace, and af-
ter the fullest examination by committees has
shown that the passage of the bill will aid,
rather than injure the fisheries — will not sensi-
bly affect the present operations of the Treas-
ury, or any permanent branches of the reve-
nue, nor leave our manufacturers of domestic
salt without a protection, as great as is extend-
ed to any article of a similar character, in the
whole tariff — these various circumstances bear-
ing on the bill, shall be adverted to as briefly
as possible. But, the paramount — the primary
object — is to ascertain if the present duty be'
indeed a war-tax. When I call the present
duty on salt a war-tax, it is not by way of rhe-
torical figure, or for . effect upon any honest
prejudice ; but, it is to invite the attention of
the Senate to the true origin of the duty, as
tending strongly to illustrate the opinion, that,
not having been designed for the state of things
in peace, it is too large and unequal for any
legitimate purposes, in the present condition of
the country.

Gentlemen well remember, that, at the be-
ginning of our late war, salt was entirely free
from even the smallest duty. It was not till
July, 1813, in a state of obstinate hostilities,
under a diminished revenue, with extraordinary
expenditures, and accompanied by great finan-
cial embarrassments, that the present tax was
imposed. It is well known, that, in such a
condition of public affairs, all ordinary rules of
taxation must bend. They must yield far
enough to meet the controlling necessities of
the country. The necessaries of life must then
submit to be burthened as well as its luxuries ;
and the poor, in common with the rich, must
then defend their hearths and altars by large
contributions and large sacrifices. It is on such




Duty on Salt.

[February, 1827.

occasions only, that salt, though an article of
the first importance to all classes, may properly
be subjected to a great tax. Because it is thus
subjected in common with the soil we till for
our daily bread, and with the houses that give
Tis daily shelter from the weather. It is true,
I grantj that the great bulk and weight of salt,
compared with its value, and that its universal
use, often induce Governments, in these exigen-
cies of war, to select it for the most severe tax-
ation, in preference to other necessaries; be-
cause, for these reasons, it is more difficult to
be smuggled, and more certain to yield a reve-
nue. But these circumstances, it is manifest,
furnish no reason for the tax itself; and in an
especial manner, when the tax operates exclu-
sively on a single section of a country. The
true reason for the tax itself, is the controlling
emergency of the occasion — the stern necessi-
ties of war; and I trust that no fair-minded
politician can ever repeat again and again the
incidental circumstances before named, as the
true reason for either imposing or retaining a
tax so exorbitant, unequal, and oppressive.
Another decisive proof that it was deemed,
when imposed, a mere war-tax, is the express
limitation of its continuance in the act of Con-
gress to only one year after the war. Had it
been intended as a part of the permanent sys-
tem of our revenue, or merely as a protection
to maniifacturers, why this limitation ?

Again : The history of our country, which
on this point cannot deceive us, shows, that,
when the duty had once before been increased,
in 1797, as high as twenty cents, it was im-
posed as a quasi war-tax on account of our dif-
ficulties with France. Then, too, was a limita-
tion of it to three years — and never afterwards,
till totally repealed, was it continued without
an express protestation, in the act itself, that it
was not to become, for any purpose, either of
revenue or protection, a permanent part of our
tariff system.

Our statesmen, at both periods, had numer-
ous examples before them, and we now have still
more, that a large tax on this article was inju-
dicious, and inappropriate to any but a state of
war ; and that then, as before remarked, it had
chiefly for its apology the great tyrant necessi-
ty — ^the great principle of self-preservation, and
the right of Government to all constitutional
means most likely to preserve the endangered
safety of the Republic.

When the feelings of mankind, on any one
subject, in different nations and ages, thus coin-
cide, it is a pretty sure indication of their cor-
rectness. If a large salt tax in peace, then, has
justly been the abhorrence of mankind in all
time, something has always been thought, and
should now be thought due from Government
to^ such a universal sentiment. I shall not de-
tain the Senate by references upon this point,
when numerous instances are doubtless fresh
in their recollection; and when none of us
can have forgotten the eloquence upon this
subject, which was displayed in the Senate at

our last session, from the gentlemen, both, on
my right and my left. Permit me, a moment,
to appeal merely to what has occurred within
our own brief lives. Have we not seen the
salt tax, or gaballc, in France, first imposed as
a war-tax, become one of those wide-spread
and odious oppressions, most instrumental in
rousing the great mass of the population in
their late Revolution? A tax far more bur-
thensorae and execrated than even the tax upon
tea in our own Revolution. Let it not be for-
gotten that there, as here, it had commenced
as a war-tax ; and had been remitted and re-
nounced at different periods, till, under new-
pretexts, it slid into a permanent peace impost,
equalling nearly one-fourth of the whole reve-
nue of the Empire. So stealthlike and absorb-
ing is gyierally the character of power when
abused ; and if no peaceful correction is in time
made by rulers, the people themselves, in some
great crisis, are generally inclined to inflict
fearful retribution.

The tax on salt began in the same way in
England, and fluctuated in amount, and was
suspended on various occasions. But the vast
expenses of her continental wars, had, prior to
the year 1816, compelled her, as a measure of
unavoidable necessity, under such pressures, to
increase her excise on salt to 15 shillings ster-
ling per bushel, when used for domestic pur-
poses, and from two to sis shillings as used in
various other specified ways. These, too, having
began in war, and at first being limited in dura-
tion — both rulers and ruled felt it had swollen
with emergencies to a most oppressive burthen.
They understood the principle on which it
stood, and that it was fast beginning to be incor-
porated into her permanent system of revenue;
and though they at first resisted a repeal, on
arguments similar to those advanced yesterday
and to-day ; yet the natural hatred to such a
tax in peace, the strong sense of justice among
her statesmen, and the paternal regard of the
Government towards its agricultural subjects,
at length overcame every obstacle. All oppo-
sition to its repeal was in the end prostrated,
and in May, 1822, provision was made for the
gradual removal of the whole excise.

Mr. Smith, of South Carolina, observed, that
he had but little to say at first on this bill, and,
since the gentleman from New Hampshire had
so fully treated it, he had now much less. The
manufacture of salt was mostly in the hands
of great capitalists : the two millions invested
in the Massachusetts manufactories, belonged,
in all probability, to the wealthy portion of tlie
people ; nor would the reduction of the duty
injure the poor and laboring classes of society.
To look only to New York, it was admitted
that about one million bushels was produced
there, which, according to his calculation, at a
duty of ten cents per bushel, woidd pay one
hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars into
the State Treasury — not to the public fund of
the country. He did not know before that so
large a sum was realized by any of the States



Feekuaey, 1827.]

Duty on Salt,


from an impost on so essential an article, both
to health and life : for, without it, both man
and beast dwindled from their native strength
and vigor, and the poor man who labored, in
proportion to his labors, the more required
tliis indispensable article. The farmers, spread
•through our country, and who were not only
the most numerous, but really the most useful
class of our community, required large quanti-
ties of salt for themseleves and for their stock.
In relation to the latter, experience teaches us
that the use of salt is not to be supplied by any
other ingredient of food. A statement has
been read by the gentleman from New Hamp-
shire, which established the fact that the use
of salt increased, to a vast amount, the weight
and value of stock, and made a much smaller
portion of food requisite. If, then, this article
was so vitally necessary to the agriculturists of
our country, it ought to be as free and un-
restrained by duty or imposts, as it was in the
power of Congress to make it. They were
told that the treasury would be drained ; but
this, with him, was not a sufficient reason for
retaining a heavy duty upon an article of such
common and constant necessity. They were
told also, that the duties on other articles must
be reduced ; but it appeared to him that no
one required it so much as salt ; for no one
e-xtended so universally to the food of all
.classes, or could be taxed with an effect of so
general a nature. In refusing to take oif the
duty upon salt, they would involve themselves
in a palpable inconsistency, not to say in an
act of injustice. AVhile they were giving mil-
lions to other objects, and lavishing the public
money as though their resources were endless,
was it reasonable to refuse so small a remittance
as was contemplated by this bill, to the most
laborious and useful class of society? The
brigades of engineers who had been spread up
and down through the country, during the last
year, had absorbed one million from the treas-
ury; and yet there was an unwillingness to
take off a few hundred thousand dollars, to re-
lieve the poor and industrious agriculturists.
The State of New York, where salt was pro-
duced in abundance from the Syracuse and
other salt works, laid a heavy impost upon the
article, equal to that which would remain upon
the imported salt, after the reduction contem-
plated in this bill should take place. But Mr.
S. had been informed that the article could be
manufactured on the Kenawha, in Virginia,
for five and a half cents per bushel, and, after
having been transported hundreds of miles,
might be aftbrded at twenty cents per bushel.
This statement was sufficient to show that the
manufacturers were able to make a small divi-
dend with the consuming community. On
other manufactured articles they had taken off
the war duties: for instance, on foreign rum
the duties had been greatly diminished. It
was true, it might be urged that good rum was
a good thing, and some of us, perhaps, are fond
of it. It was, however, merely a luxury, and

could well be dispensed with ; and, what was
far worse, it was considered, justly, as one of
the greatest curses which could be invoked
for the destruction of human happiness, and,
indeed, he might say, human life. They might
almost as well attempt to reduce, as had been
intimated yesterday, the price of drunkenness
to one cent, and of dead drunkenness to two
cents — as was the case in England — as thus
keep down the prices of ardent spirits ; but
tlfey could not aftbrd to take off a few cents on
the price of salt, necessary to aU classes, even
to sustain existence ; that it was so essential
that it was used in greater abundance, by the
poor than by tlie rich, he believed, could not
be disputed. The rich man did not need it so
much ; he had other seasoning for his fo'od.
Spices and peppers entered into the composi-
tion of the savoury dishes which graced his
table ; and even Madeira wine found its way
into the sauces in which his food was cooked.
If, then, one-half of the duties on wines was
to be taken off, they would cheapen the season-
ing of the rich man's viands, and render it
more accessible ; while, by retaining the duty
on salt, the only article of seasoning within the
reach of the poor, would at the same time re-
main heavily burthened. Did gentlemen call
this extending equal justice to all ? He would
make one remark on the subject of war duties,
which he believed had escaped the gentleman
from New Hampshire, and it was the only one
that had escaped him. "When, during the late
war, the high duties were imposed on various
articles, they were included in one bill, and
salt was among them. The bill passed in the
Senate, and was sent to the other House ; and
the only article which was stricken out by that
body was salt, a duty on which, it was argued,
was too oppressive and odious. Nor could it
be reinstated in the bill without great exer-
tions, nor until a pledge was given by the
friends of the measure, that the tax on salt
should be removed at the end of 'the war. The
war had long passed away ; but this oppressive
tax still stood its ground. "War, he would al-
low, if he might believe the statements and
arguments of every day, was ahead of us : for
he had scarcely heard a subject discussed dur-
ing the session, in which money was touched
upon, in which war had not been, in one way
or another, alluded to. If a question was
argued, in which the object was an expenditure
of public money, it was said to be to prepare
for war. Or if the design was to save the
public money, then the object was, to provide
funds against a war. But, he hoped, and be-
lieved, that war was far off; and he should,
accordingly, vote for removing a war-duty.
He hoped the one-half of the present tax would
be taken off, ex-en if appropriations for some
other objects, in support of which Congress
had been so bountiful, were curtailed.

Mr. Van Bup.es said he had no desire to pro-
long the discusion on the general merits of the
measure under consideration. The subject had




Duty on Salt,

[February, 1827.

been placed on its ti'ue grounds, by Lis col-
league, and those who had spoken on the same
side with him. Mr. V. B. concurred fully in
the views expressed by his colleague, and was
unwilling to trespass on the patience of the
Senate by a repetition of matters which had
already been well and forcibly argued. His
sole object, in rising, was to notice a remark
that had fallen from the Senator from South
Carolina, (Mr. Smith,) in relation to a subject
upon which Mr. V. B. acknowledged that he
felt no inconsiderable degree of sensibility. He
alluded to the duty, alleged to have been im-
posed, by New York, on salt, manufactured in
that State. He might be mistaken, but he
could not perceive what bearing that circum-
stance could properly have on the question
before the Senate. As, however, he could not
know that others would think as he did, he
felt it his duty to call the attention of the Sen-
ate to a brief consideration of the motives and
consequences of the act referred to. It was
true, he said, that a duty, of the character
described, and to the amount, he believed, of
twelve and a half cents on the bushel, had
been imposed, and was collected by the State
of New York. It was one of the means em-
ployed by her, to make and complete those
navigable communications between the great
"Western and Northern Lakes and the Atlantic
Ocean, which had been accomplished by her
unaided efforts — works, he said, which, how-
ever considered, must be regarded as national
in their advantages, and which, if New York
had been treated with the same liberality that
has been extended to other States, would, in
part, at least, have been made at the national
expense. Such, however, had not been the
case. She asked, but was refused ! She
knocked at your doors, but they were not
opened to her. But, whilst she was applying
her own shoulders to the wheel, others solicit-
ed you for help, and had been assisted by the
dispensation of millions from the national treas-
ury. Thrown upon her own resources, she
was driven to the alternative of abandoning
the great object in view, or of applying her
utmost means to its accomplishment. Happily
she chose the latter course, and the result has
shown that she chose wisely. But, although
her success has been signal, and the advantages
resulting from it to herself and the Union im-

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 72 of 194)