William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform, a Biography

By Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview
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Reform at High Tide [1894]

WILSON had come at last to the passing of the Rubicon of tariff reform. On December 19, 1893, he reported his tariff bill to the House and two days later announced that he would move its consideration on the first day of the session following the holiday recess. He then boarded a train for Charles Town, only to return to Washington during the holiday period for consultations on the unreported internal revenue bill from which the administration expected to recover a large part of the sixty to seventy-five millions said to be remitted as taxes by the tariff bill. In his December message Cleveland had recommended a tax on corporate incomes but had remained cool toward the personal income tax, and late in December Secretary Carlisle offered a tax scheme proposing among other things an increased impost on whiskey, a higher excise on cigars and cigarettes, a tax on legacies and successions, and finally a corporation income tax as suggested by the President.

In population and money centers opposition to the personal income tax was even more vocal than opposition to tariff reform, and its opponents unlimbered every weapon in their arsenal. The tax was unconstitutional, inquisitorial, even monarchial; it was class legislation of the very sort which the Democrats professed to abhor and were committed to destroy; it was a war tax, a tax on thrift, and, as James Mill had said, "a tax on conscience." It would "fine honest men and pay a premium on perjury." Collis P. Huntington was quoted as saying with a touch of humor that it would interfere "with men's economies," while Bourke Cockran declared that the tax was undemocratic because so few would be privileged to pay it. 1 The tariff-reforming economist Edward Atkinson warned that it would be opposed "without respect to party, by the great body of men who can, if they choose, exercise the greatest political

Washington Post, December 29, 1893; New York World, January 1, 4, 1894.


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