From James Madison
Philada. May 11. 1794
Col. Monroe wrote you last week, and I refer to his letter for the state of things up to that date. The H. of Reps. has been Since employed chiefly on the new taxes. The Report of the Committee which was the work of a sub committee in understanding with the Fiscal Department, was filled with a variety of items copied as usual from the British Revenue laws. It particularly included, besides stamp-duties, excises on tobacco and sugar manufactured in the U.S. and a tax on carriages as an indirect tax. The aversion to direct taxes which appeared by a vote of seventy odd for rejecting them will saddle us with all these pernicious innovations,1 without ultimately avoiding direct taxes in addition to them. All opposition to the new excises, tho’ enforced by memorials from the manufacturers was vain. And the tax on carriages succeeded in spite of the Constitution by a majority of twenty, the advocates for the principle being reinforced by the adversaries to luxury. Six of the N. Carolina members were in the majority. This is another proof of the facility with which usurpation triumphs where there is a standing corps always on the watch for favorable conjunctures, and directed by the policy of dividing their honest but undiscerning adversaries. It is very possible however that the authors of these precedents may not be the last to lament them. Some of the motives which they decoyed to their support ought to premonish them of the danger. By breaking down the barriers of the constitution and giving sanction to the idea of sumptuary regulations, wealth may find a precarious defence in the sheild of justice. If luxury, as such, is to be taxed, the greatest of all luxuries, says Payne, is a great estate. Even on the present occasion, it has been found prudent to yield to a tax on transfers of stock in the funds, and in the Banks.
The appointment of Jay continues to undergo the animadversions of the Press. You will see that the Democratic Societies are beginning to open their batteries upon it. The measure however has had the effect of impeding all legislative measures for extorting redress from G.B. The non-importation bill which passed the H. of Reps. by a geat majority, was so instantly and peremptorily rejected in the Senate as an interference with the proposed Mission, that no further efforts of the same type have been seriously contemplated. Clarke did indeed move to insert among the new ways and means an additional duty of 10 perCt. on British Manufactures, but the symptoms of desertion soon induced him to withdraw it. A member from N. Carolina afterwards was incautious eno’ to try a discriminating duty on British tonnage and by pushing it to a question with the yeas and nays, placed us in a very feeble minority. Notwithstanding this effect of the Executive measure, there is little serious confidence in its efficacy; and, as involving the appointment of Jay, is the most powerful blow ever suffered by the popularity of the President.
The embargo is Still in force. A member from Connecticut moved a few days ago to abridge its term a few days, as a notification that it would not be continued. A large majority was against taking up the proposition; but how far with a view to adhere to the embargo, I know not. Yesterday a motion was laid on the table by Smith (of S.C.) for continuing the embargo to June 25. The motion from that quarter excited surprize: and must be either a fetch at popularity, an insidious thing, or suggested by an idea that the balance of the effects of the embargo is in favor of G. Britain.
There are no late accounts of moment from Europe. Those from the W. Indies, as well with respect to the treatment of our vessels as the effects of the embargo, are so various and contradictory that it is impossible to make any thing of them. Yrs. Affecy.
Js. Madison Jr
RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 21 May 1794 and so recorded in SJL.
Despite Madison’s objection that the tax on carriages was an unconstitutional direct tax, the House of Representatives approved it on 7 May and confirmed it in another roll-call vote on 29 May, the measure becoming law on 5 June 1794 (Annals, description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends iv, 656–7, 729–30, 1452–4). Thomas Paine described the greatest of all luxuries as a great estate in 1792 in the second part of Rights of Man (Foner, Paine description begins Philip S. Foner, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, New York, 1945, 2 vols. description ends , i, 434). The Democratic Society of Pennsylvania passed resolutions attacking the appointment of Jay on 8 May 1794 (Philip S. Foner, ed., The Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800: A Documentary Sourcebook … [Westport, Conn., 1976], 104–6). Congressman Abraham Clark of New Jersey made and withdrew his motion for an additional duty on British manufactures on 9 May 1794, the same day that a representative from N. Carolina forced a roll-call vote on an increased duty on foreign tonnage that placed the Republicans in a very feeble minority of 25 to 61. Consideration of the motion of Zephaniah Swift of Connecticut to end the embargo was deferred on 8 May 1794, but four days later both parties joined to defeat its continuation to June 25 (Annals, description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends iv, 657–8, 668–71, 675–83).
1. Remainder of sentence interlined.