Adams Papers
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From John Adams to the President of Congress, 29 March 1781

To the President of Congress


Leyden March 29th. 1781


It is of Importance to the People of America to observe how much lighter their own Burthens are than those of their Enemies, and for this Reason, I have every Year since I have been in Europe taken Notice of the new Taxes laid annually in Perpetuity upon the People of Great Britain by Parliament, in Support of Tyranny, in addition to all former Debts and Taxes.1 One sixth Part of the new Taxes of this Year, would be more than sufficient to pay the Interest of the whole Sum which America will this Year expend in Support of Liberty.

The new Taxes consist in an additional duty of five per Cent upon all Articles subject to the duty of Excise, except Malt, Soap and Candles and green Leather, valued at 150,000 £ Sterlg.
Seven per Cent upon the Drawbacks at the Custom house. 167,000
role="text"an additional Duty of one Penny three farthings upon each Pound of Tobacco 61,000
a Duty of an half penny upon each Pound of Sugar 326,000
The Interest of the new Loan is said to amount only to 660,000
which leaves a Surplus of 44,000

There cannot be a more striking Contrast than that between the Conduct of Lord [North] and Mr. Neckar. The abilities of the former as a Financier consist wholly in laying on new Taxes without End: those of the other lie in finding Resources for vast Expences without laying any new Burthens on the People. Mr. Neckar is laying a foundation for a Credit in France as solid as that of Great Britain, by stating to the Public, the Expences and Revenues. This is the only solid Foundation of public Credit. America will never obtain a Credit of any Consequence in Europe, until She has a Credit at Home. It is demonstrable that the People of America are able to lend to Congress every Year, more than Money enough to carry on the War and pay all Expences. What is the Reason they do not? The Reasons are plain: first, they have not known that the public Money was expended by any fixed Rule, so that they could judge how much it amounted to: secondly, they did not see any certain Prospect of the punctual Payment of Interest or Principal at a fixed Value. All the Art of financieering in America lies in ascertaining with precision, by a fixed Standard, how much our Expences are: next ascertaining what our Income is: thirdly, how much must be borrowed: fourthly, how to assure the Payment of Interest and Principal.

If Taxes could be laid by Congress upon Exports and Imports, and upon the Consumption of Articles of Luxury, Convenience and Necessity as they are in Europe, America would be able to raise more every Year in Taxes, than She has ever Spent in one Year. Nay We might oblige Foreigners to pay all the Expences of the War, and establish a Credit much more solid than that of Great Britain, because We have not such a debt to begin with. But without recurring to this System, which might injure our Commerce as well as our Liberties, it is unquestionably owing entirely to Regulations of Prices, Embargoes, and stamping an arbitrary Value upon what had no Value, that has hitherto ruined our Credit. But when all these Systems shall be totally abolished in the several States, and Measures shall be taken to lay annual Taxes of a certain Value, and those Taxes mortgaged for the Payment of Interest, there is not a doubt but every State may obtain Credit enough for the Necessities of its Inhabitants.

I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant

John Adams

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 123–126); endorsed: “Letter 29 March 1781 John Adams Read 19 Novr.”

1For previous reports by JA on the British budget and the loans and taxes necessary to support it, see his letters to the president of Congress of 1 March 1779 (vol. 8:1–2) and 27 March 1780 (calendared, vol. 9:86–87). The new taxes described in this letter are those Lord North presented to Parliament on 14 March in support of his budget. The figures are in the form in which they appeared in the various London newspapers, such as the London Chronicle of 13–15 March.

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