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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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913. BOOKS, Duty on.—[further continued]
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913. BOOKS, Duty on.—[further continued]

The government of the
United States, at a very early period, when
establishing its tariff on foreign importations,
were very much guided in their selection of
objects by a desire to encourage manufactures
within ourselves. Among other articles
then selected were books, on the importation
of which a duty of fifteen per cent.
was imposed, which, by ordinary custom
house charges, amounts to about eighteen per
cent., and adding the importing booksellers'
profit on this, becomes about twenty-seven
per cent. This was useful at first, perhaps,
towards exciting our printers to make a beginning
in that business here. But it is found
in experience that the home demand is not
sufficient to justify the reprinting any but the
most popular English works, and cheap
editions of a few of the classics for schools.
For the editions of value, enriched by notes,
commentaries, &c., and for books in foreign
living languages, the demand here is too small
and sparse to re-imburse the expense of reprinting
them. None of these, therefore, are
printed here, and the duty on them becomes
consequently not a protecting, but really a
prohibitory one. It makes a very serious addition
to the price of the book and falls
chiefly on a description of persons little able
to meet it. Students who are destined for
professional callings, as most of our scholars
are, are barely able for the most part to
meet the expenses of tuition. The addition
of eighteen or twenty-seven per cent. on the books necessary for their instruction, amounts
often to a prohibition as to them. For want
of these aids, which are open to the students
of all other nations but our own, they enter
on their course on a very unqual footing
with those of the same professions in foreign
countries, and our citizens at large, too, who
employ them, do not derive from that employment
all the benefit which higher qualifications
would give them. It is true that no
duty is required on books imported for seminaries
of learning, but these, locked up in libraries,
can be of no avail to the practical
man when he wishes a recurrence to them for
the uses of life. Of many important books of
reference there is not perhaps a single copy
in the United States; of others but a few,
and these too distant often to be accessible
to scholars generally. It is believed, therefore,
that if the attention of Congress could
be drawn to this article, they would, in their
wisdom, see its impolicy. Science is more
important in a republican than in any other
government. And in an infant country like
ours, we must much depend for improvement
on the science of other countries, longer established,
possessing better means, and more
advanced than we are. To prohibit us from
the benefit of foreign light, is to consign us to
long darkness. The northern seminaries following
with parental solicitude the interest of
their elevès in the course for which they have
prepared them, propose to petition Congress
on this subject, and wish for the cooperation
of those of the south and west, and I have
been requested, as more convenient in position
than they are, to solicit that cooperation.
Having no personal acquaintance with those
who are charged with the direction of the
college of——, I do not know how more
effectually to communicate these views to
them, than by availing myself of the knowledge
I have of your zeal for the happiness and
improvement of our country. I take the liberty,
therefore, of requesting you to place the
subject before the proper authorities of that
institution, and if they approve the measure,
to solicit a concurreat proceeding on their
part to carry it into effect. Besides petitioning
Congress, I would propose that they address,
in their corporate capacity, a letter to
their delegates and senators in Congress, soliciting
their best endeavors to obtain the
repeal of the duty on imported books. I
cannot but suppose that such an application
will be respected by them, and will engage
their votes and endeavors to effect an object
so reasonable. A conviction that science is
important to the preservation of our republican
government, and that it is also essential
to its protection against foreign power, induces
me, on this occasion, to step beyond the
limits of that retirement to which age and
inclination equally dispose me.-
To——. Washington ed. vii, 220.
(M. 1821)