Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800

By Norman K. Risjord | Go to book overview
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The Politics of Taxes and Treaties, 1794-1795

IN HIS Report on the Public Credit Hamilton had proposed a variety of new taxes to finance the national debt, and he repeated the request when Congress resumed in December 1790. Hamilton considered a tax on distilled liquor particularly appropriate, since hard drink was a luxury and a socially harmful one at that. Madison, who had voiced loud criticism of other features of Hamilton's program, offered no opposition to this one. Some years earlier he had presented the same arguments for a whisky tax in the Virginia assembly. A few southern congressmen grumbled, but the excise slipped through the House with comparative ease. 1

What no one recognized at the time was the peculiar incidence of the tax. The large commercial distilleries of New England simply passed on the levy to their customers. From Pennsylvania southward, distilling was on a small scale. Like feed mills, there was one in every neighborhood. The tax on output could not be easily absorbed, and an additional levy on stills hit directly. As early as the summer of 1792, Benjamin Hawkins reported to the Treasury


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Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800
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