30. Index
Cumberland Gazette, 18 October 1787

Mr. WAIT, Among the many laughable and curious subjects that attract our attention in a news-paper, the sayings of correspondents in different parts of the United States deserve not the least; especially those that recapitulate the various causes of our undoing, and point out the means how we may yet extricate ourselves from those difficulties, and become a wealthy and happy, consequently a great and flourishing nation.

Of this kind is that piece under the Philadelphia head, in your paper of September 20, where the writer with superior sagacity and penetration discovers that “The evils we labour under originated, in the greatest measure, from the people, and by them only can be eventually rectified.—That a long course of frugality, disuse of foreign luxuries, encouragement of industry, attention to home manufactures, and a spirit of union and national sobriety, can alone place us in the respectable rank of great and flourishing nations.”1

This one will serve as a specimen of the tenor of those paragraphs in general, where we see displayed such a fund of philosophy and political knowledge, and such deep wisdom in discovering final causes. Had the writer considered it, but for a moment, he must have seen the error of his conclusions, and the futility of his scheme for rendering the nation great and happy.

In the first place that the original cause of our present grievances was the inexperience and inertness of government, instead of being the fault of the people, will plainly appear from a short review of facts and neglects that happened in our own Commonwealth in times past, since the conclusion of the late war with Great-Britain: and as the case was in Massachusetts, so it has been in almost every State of the Union.

When peace took place in the year 1783, we found ourselves loaded with a great weight of foreign and domestick debts, the consequence of our struggle for independence. The greater parts of several paper currency taxes remained at that time uncollected, as also were three fourths of the specie tax of £.300,000—issued in October 1783, for the various purposes of supporting government. Two other taxes, £.200,000 each, specie, granted to Congress for the support of the continental line of the army, in the year 1782, were then in their infant state, and scarcely assessed in July 1783, when another tax was levied for State purposes amounting to £.224,000.

About that time, money flowed into the publick treasury quite fast, as we may find by the receipts of the continental receiver in Edes’s Boston Gazette; and there is very little doubt but it would have continued to do so, had the legislature been properly active in enforcing the collection of taxes and enacting laws to hinder the too great importation of British manufactures, or to have raised a revenue, by impost on articles of luxury, which have drawn from us the greatest part of our circulating medium.

The several taxes above mentioned were suffered by the administrations of 1782, 1783 and 1784 to remain uncollected to such a degree, that many towns in the Commonwealth had eleven different taxes accumulated without having discharged a farthing of either; and it is a disgraceful fact, that a Representative in the year 1785 drew more cash from the treasury, for one session’s service, than his town had paid in seven years to support government.

The administration of 1785, after mature deliberation on the state of the taxes, resolved to enforce the immediate collection; and for that purpose directed the Treasurer to issue his executions against the delinquent towns. This order of government, together with the energetick measures taken, produced immediately a disaffection in the minds of all those who felt themselves unable to pay, and whose property was forcibly taken and sold for half its worth at publick sale by the Sheriffs. It is pretty evident therefore, that this evil would have been avoided if the collection had been enforced at a time when money was plenty in the country;—as the enforcement was not made, those who neglected to make it were certainly to blame.

In the next place, that national greatness is to be expected from national frugality, and disuse of foreign luxuries, is certainly an error; for it is well known that no nation can be great and flourishing without luxury. But all governments ought to be sure and turn that luxury to their own advantage, and hinder the imports from foreign countries being greater than the exports out of their own.