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after they had reached their destination? Unless he had satisfactory reasons to believe it was his interest, he would be just as far from doing this as a high-minded merchant from a western city would be from asking it, or receiving it if offered. All who have assumed to represent the feelings of the merchants of New York, embraced by this bill, have expressly disavowed, on behalf of those merchants, a desire or even willingness to accept of the proposed measure, as a favor, boon, or charity, from the Government. They say they rest this claim upon its intrinsic justice; that it is founded on correct principle; and demand of us, as a matter of right, the passage of this bill; to prove which, they assume that the importer is a mere agent of the Government; that the bond he executes for duties is executed under a sort of legal restraint; that his contract is not voluntary. Both of these positions 1 consider altogether untenable. The importer cannot, in my conception, be understood to sustain to the Government the relation of an agent to his principal. It certainly cannot be, as the supporters of this measure have contended, that the importer sustains to the Federal Government the relation that the collector of the revenues in the States does to the State Governments. The collectors of the ports, as I understand it, answer to the place of the collector of the revenues in the States, and the importer, to every intent and purpose, answers to the place of tax payer. The collectors of the revenues in the State Govern. ments have no right of property in the taxes they collect, and are, in strictness, agents, just as much as the auctioneeris the agent of the owner of the goods which he sells, An agent has no right of property in the article the owner has placed in his hands: the owner has the entire right; and thus the one is easily distinguished from the other. Is not the importer, then, to every possible intent, the owner of his imported goods? Can he not keep and use them himself, or retail or wholesale them out, or refuse to do either, at his own option? None can deny this. And, if so, how can it be contended that the importer sustains the relation to this Government of a mere agent? It really seems to me the position is too self-evidently fallacious to be susceptible of elucidation. The gen. tleman from Massachusetts contends that it is the spirit and intention of the law that the consumer, and not the importer, should pay the duty. And hence, before the goods are sold to the consumer, if they are destroyed by fire or other accident, the importer should be released from the duty. Now, whilst I readily admit the practical effect of imposing duties upon importations, in this as in every other country, is, that the consumer pays it, I do deny that there is any thing in the spirit and meaning or policy of the laws imposing duties on importations that requires a sale by the importer, or a consumption of the article imported, before the Government has a right, in justice and in law, to exact its duties. When an importer introduces a foreign article into this Government, he acts with a view of making a profit by it. If it be in great demand, he perhaps makes a heavy profit; if in less demand, his profit diminishes in the same proportion; if it be in no demand, he perhaps fails in his sale, and loses upon the article. IIe makes his importation with a full knowledge of all his risks, and only does it because of his conviction that the prospect of a good profit is greater that the probability of a loss. . . His is a chancing bargain; and, if he lose by it, nothing but just one of those contingencies which, in the nature of things, must occasionally occur, has transpired, and he has no just ground of complaint. Suppose an importer introduce a quantity of some article subject to become worthless, and, after he enters it, and gives his bond for the duty, it actually becomes
worthless, will it be contended the importer shall be released from the duty, because the article had not gotten off his hands before it spoiled? Surely, none will so contend. As well might it be contended that, if such article had enhanced in value, the Government should be entitled to the increased value. Such risks are incident to the nature of the business; and every rational man who engages in it so calculates, and lays his profits accordingly. I do not consider that the profit or per cent. which the importer makes upon his importation is the consideration that supports and renders valid the bonds given by him for duties, but it is the privilege of importing, and taking the chance of making a profit, that constitutes their real consideration. The Government does not undertake to guaranty to the importer a sale of his imported goods, or a profit upon that sale. None, it is to be presumed, will contend that the importer who has failed to realize more than cost and carriage for his cargo, shall claim to be released from the duties he owes his Government, because he was unable to make a sale covering cost, carriage, and duty. The consideration of a bond for duties is exactly analogous to that of one executed for lottery tickets; the purchaser only buys a chance for a prize, and not the prize itself. And the purchaser of a ticket could, with just as much propriety, go to the agent of those who have made a lottery, and ask for his money back after he had drawn a blank, as the importer can come to us, sir, as the agents of the people, to whom all duties belong, and ask us to forgive him his bond, or to extend him a credit averaging four years; for it will be borne in mind that those who have advocated this bill have avowed an intention of sustaining another bill to release the duties on all goods that were destroyed in the hands of the importer; and no small proportion of their arguments have borne on this question. But further to elucidate my understanding of the practical operations of the chancing bargain of the importer--suppose those sufferers by the fire in New York had, since the fire, imported French goods to the value of 20,000,000 dollars, and a war with France, or a total exclusion of all French goods from our ports, had been determined upon by Congress; would not those importers have felt themselves entitled to all the advantages accruing to them in such a contingency? would they not, as sensible men, have improved their fortuitous position to make a much greater profit on these importations than they anticipated when they engaged in the enterprise? And who would ever think of their dividing their profits, thus greatly increased, with the Government, by whose immediate action those profits were enlarged? The gentleman from Massachusetts says, although it is the intention of the law that the consumer should pay the duty, and not the importer, yet the situation of the importer is altogether different from the merchant in Cincinnati, who may have purchased from the importer; the importer, being a kind of agent of the Government, has a right to demand his duties back of the Government if the goods imported be consumed before sale; but if the Cincinnati merchant buy the whole cargo, and it is consumed by fire, whilst his, thoughE.". the Government ought not to interfere, because one is a sort of agent of the Government, and pays the duty, and the other does not. Is this not rather a distinction without a difference? In neither case has the article reached the hands of the consumer. ... And if the gentleman's argument be good, that it is the intention of the law that the consumer should pay the duty, would it not as much defeat that intention in the case of the Cincinnati merchant as in that of the New York importer; and as much in the case of the yo, WWo is perhaps the third owner, as in either instance
will be found that there is no essential or material difference. I hold that a merchant enters upon the pursuit of his chosen avocation, with a knowledge of the laws by which the wisdom of the nation has regulated it. He knows that when his ship arrives in port he has to execute his bond, with approved security, for the duties on his cargo, before he can land or enter it in the custom-house. With a full knowledge of all this, he, as a free agent, laboring under no legal compulsion or restraint, voluntarily enters upon the business of an importer, it is to be presumed with a knowledge of, and a willingness to comply with, the laws regulating the imposition and collection of duties. Hence, with great deference to the opinion of the honorable gentleman, I cannot admit the validity of his position, that the contract between the importer and his Government is not entirely voluntary, and that it differs essentially from one between a private creditor and debtor. Every pursuit has its peculiar advantages and disadvantages. We find the rewards of labor in the thousand various pursuits of life, from the humble day laborer up to the most enterprising and hazardous merchant, are generally small in proportion to their certainty, and enlarge as they grow more uncertain. Hence, he who is content with the meager supply of the absolute neces. sities of an humble life will adopt the pursuit of a day laborer, because the reward of his labor is immediate and certain; he draws each night the wages of the past day, and retires to his humble dwelling to rest from his labor, free from all the cares and perplexities to which others of large possessions or multifarious engagements are subject. He, however, who is not content with his condition, will perhaps adopt the business of a tiller of the earth, the rewards of whose labor, though more uncertain, and not so immediate, are yet larger in proportion to their greater uncertainty. An early frost, or an unusual storm, may occasionally sweep from him the fruits of months of labor; yet, as such occurrences are rare, and the inducements in the way of profit are great, we see the great mass of our fellow-citizens engaged in agriculture. But when the early frosts come, and cut short the crops of the farmer, he is conscious that it is nothing but what, from the nature of his business, he had reason occasionally to anticipate, and never thinks of asking the Government to supply his loss. So, again, he who is ambitious of great wealth, who has no relish for mediocrity, and who, from the peculiarity of his organization, is happiest when most excited, which is when his prospects of gain and hope of profit are greatest, adopts the pursuit of an importer, who, whilst he shares undividedly the immense profits attending prosperity in his pursuit, should not, as a just man, when adversity comes, desire his fellow-citizens, which is but another name for his Government, to remunerate him for his losses. I cannot perceive that his claim for relief has any more foundation in principle and justice than that of the farmer whose crop has been cut short by the frosts or an unfavorable season. Upon the subject of the warehousing system of England, about which the honorable gentleman has exhibited much learning, I will barely remark, that the only material practical difference between it and our system is, that there the risk of the importer is less than in this country, and he lays a less profit to cover that less risk.
Sufferers by Fire in New York.
[Frn. 17, 1836.
Our merchants, enlightened and intelligent, as the gentleman has just said they are, lay a profit upon their business that bears a proper proportion to their risk: as evidence of which, take the importers of goods to this country for the last twenty years; look at the amount of capital invested by them in their business, and then see whether, under all the supposed hardships of our system, the same amount of capital has been employed by the same number of men, with anything approaching the same profit. It cannot be the policy of this Government, by partial and individual legislation, to contribute to the amassment of overgrown wealth in the hands of any particular class of its citizens. The people in every community are most happy when there is least inequality in their wealth; and as the happiness of the people is the prime object of this Government, we should be slow to indulge in a course of partial legislation, calculated to defeat that great object. Our Government has a just and natural right to demand of its importers duties upon their importations, in return for the millions of dollars it annually expends in protecting and affording facilities to their commerce, among the most conspicuous items of which stand the expenses of our navy and our diplomatic corps. It is unjust that the Government, which is but another name for the whole people, should lay out and expend millions annually for the protection of a portion of its citizens, in a particular pursuit, and get nothing in turn for it to the common Treasury. The honorable gentleman further insists on the propriety of this measure, because of the immense amount which the port of New York has yielded to the Treasury, exceeding, as we are informed, $260,000,000, and now annually equalling one half of all the duties of the Government. And it is urged with great zeal and earnestness upon the Government, thatmerchants who have done this much have a right to claim its special protection. Now mark, Mr. Chairman, that the friends of this bill have contended that the spirit and meaning of the laws imposing duties on imports are, that the consumer shall pay them; and all admit that, in general, the practi. cal operation of these laws is, that the consumer pays the first costs, the carriage, the profits of all the intermediate owners, and the duty of the Government, on every thing that is imported. If, then, this be correct, can it be said that New York is entitled to the credit of paying the taxes and supporting the Government? It is the products of the tillers of the earth, sir, that go abroad and return in the shape of foreign commodities through the port of New York, that fill your coffers; and New York collects and pays over to the Government the duties, and then turns round and says she is the supporter of the Government. Does she, sir, do this service without compensation, that she should claim so much merit for it? Let us look into this matter. She keeps for her trouble ten per cent, on the amount collected, and this is the lowest estimate that is placed on the expense of collection; so that, in truth, we perceive that she has charged us at least $26,000,000, for the services rendered us in collecting and paying our own money! And yet we are asked to pass this measure for her benefit, which is, in effect, a donation of upwards of $318,000. I, for one, am opposed to this extension of the credit on these bonds, upon principle, and because I think the precedent will involve the country in immense troubles and difficulties; but if it be extended, l insist, in justice to the balance of the citizens of this Government, that the obligorsbe required to pay interest upon their bonds. We have heard much said, Mr. Chairman, in commendation of the city of New York; she has been justly called the London of America. We are truly told that she belongs alike to all the citizens of our wide-spread republic, and that every one has cause to be proud of her. Her representatives tell us that she is so complete.