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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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9130. WHISKY, Tax on.—
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9130. WHISKY, Tax on.—

I shall be
glad if an additional tax of one-fourth of a
dollar a gallon on whisky shall enable us to
meet all our engagements with punctuality.
Viewing that tax as an article in a system of
excise, I was once glad to see it fall with the
rest of the system, which I considered as prematurely
and unnecessarily introduced. It was
evident that our existing taxes were then equal
to our existing debts. It was clearly foreseen,
also, that the surplus from excise would only become
aliment for useless offices, and would be
swallowed in idleness by those whom it would
withdraw from useful industry. Considering
it only as a fiscal measure, this was right. But
the prostration of body and mind which the
cheapness of this liquor is spreading through
the mass of our citizens, now calls the attention
of the legislator on a very different principle.
One of his important duties is as guardian of
those who, from causes susceptible of precise
definition, cannot take care of themselves.
Such are infants, maniacs, gamblers, drunkards.
The last, as much as the maniac, requires restrictive
measures to save him from the fatal
infatuation under which he is destroying his
health, his morals, his family, and his usefulness
to society. One powerful obstacle to his
ruinous self-indulgence would be a price beyond
his competence. As a sanitary measure,
therefore, it becomes one of duty in the public
guardians. Yet I do not think it follows necessarily
that imported spirits should be subjected
to similar enhancement, until they become as
cheap as those made at home. A tax on whisky
is to discourage its consumption; a tax on
foreign spirits encourages whisky by removing
its rival from competition. The price and present
duty throw foreign spirits already out of
competition with whisky, and accordingly they
are used but to a salutary extent. You see no
persons besotting themselves with imported
spirits, wines, liquors, cordials, &c. Whisky
claims to itself alone the exclusive office of sotmaking.
Foreign spirits, wines, teas, coffee,
cigars, salt, are articles of as innocent consumption
as broadcloths and silks; and ought,
like them, to pay but the average ad valorem duty of other imported comforts. All of them
are ingredients in our happiness, and the government
which steps out of the ranks of the
ordinary articles of consumption to select and
lay under disproportionate burdens a particular
one, because it is a comfort, pleasing to the
taste, or necessary to health, and will therefore,
be bought, is, in that particular, a tyranny.—
To Samuel Smith. Washington ed. vii, 284. Ford ed., x, 251.
(M. 1823)