Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Wayles Eppes to Thomas Jefferson, 21 July 1813

From John Wayles Eppes

Washington July 21st 1813.

Dear sir,

Your letter of the 24th of June has been received and read with great pleasure—If the war continues and with it the present rate of expenditure nothing but a rigid adherence to principles such as you state can secure us against the evils of a permanent debt—The duration of the Taxes reported to the present Session of Congress has been limited to the war and one year after its conclusion in consequence of the principle having been settled by a vote of the House of Representatives at the last Session—At the next meeting of Congress a new loan must be authorized and we will then endeavour to incorporate with it a new Tax sufficient to meet the interest and to discharge the principal within 15 years—

I am extremely happy to find that this subject has been deemed worthy of your attention—The idea that you may be induced to devote a small portion of your time to developing the resources of our country inspires me with something like confidence & hope—we have already imposed a land Tax to the amount of 3000.000. of dollars. when we consider the large portion of land in the Southern and Western country which must be classed as unproductive capital, perhaps nothing more can be expected from this fund—The other Taxes on Stills Bank notes & negotiable paper, on sugar refined on sales at auction on retailers and on carriages are estimated at 2,750000. including the expences of collection—During the next year we must resort either to a loan or to notes of the description you mention to the amount of at least 22.000:000 of dollars—What shall be the Tax to meet the interest on this new loan and reimburse the principal in 15. years—

The continuance of the Land Tax after the war will be impracticable—Indeed the mode of apportioning every direct Tax within the U.S. according to population without any regard to the ability to pay, appears to interpose an insurmountable barrier to the extension of this species of Tax to any amount corresponding with the wants of the community—Considered merely as an engine to force on a Government oeconomy, the system of direct Taxation is unquestionably the best—In every other point of view it is unquestionably the worst—The ability to pay appears to be the plain and obvious basis of every just system of Taxation—Under our constitution every direct Tax must be apportioned to population without regard to improvement in agriculture commerce or manufactures—Under this rule entirely arbitrary a given population inhabiting an uncultivated Forrest (where all the surplus capital and labour is necessary for improvement) must pay according to numbers the same Tax with portions of country where almost every acre is productive capital and agriculture commerce and manufactures have arrived at their highest state of improvement. The State of Ohio for instance just rising into political existence must pay the same Tax with the State of N. Jersey—Since I have been placed in a situation where it was my duty to think of ways and means I have entertained strong doubts as to some of the principles of political œconomy which I had heretofore considered as sound—Direct Taxes for example I had considered as in principle the best—The rule of apportionment however under the constitution renders them so extremely unequal that I am strongly inclined to acknowledge my error and to view the system of indirect Taxation as the only practicable one without oppression to the people—

In the event of issuing Treasury notes bottomed on a Tax in the way you propose, in what mode would you put them into circulation—To sell them in market would subject us to loss as so large a sum could not be put at once into market but at a discount—To issue them as a medium of commerce or in fact as money to meet the demands on the Govt until it was asscertained how far the public might repose confidence in them would probably be attended with difficulty & bring into operation the prejudices which are still strong against any thing like paper money—on what do you ground the opinion that so large an amount as 200.000.000 may be put into circulation—

I know you are not fond of long letters and I fear I shall tire you—My apology must be the strong desire I feel to obtain information—without experience and having on the subject of political œconomy read only a few of the most common books any thing on this subject which your time will permit will be received as a token of your friendship and employed solely for the benefit of our Country—The outline of a system adequate to meet the exigencies of the country during the continuance of the war is a subject worthy of your attention—Between the present time and the next meeting of Congress ample time will be afforded—By executing such a task you will add one more essential benefit to the long list of important services already registered in the hearts of your countrymen—

The British are still progressing up the river—Their force amounts to 20 vessels of every description—The force on board probably the same that was near Norfolk—viz 2,700—Fort Warburton is well supplied with cannon and men & the militia of the surrounding country together with about 800 regular Troops which were here on their march to the Lakes are at different points on the river ready to oppose them—The alarm has subsided—many doubt whether they will attempt to come up—should such however be the case the preparations to meet them are considered as sufficient not only to secure us from injury but to punish their rashness—

The Senate yesterday rejected the Nomination of Mr Gallatin as minister to Russia—a majority of that body may be considered hostile to the administration—Nothing however need be said of their political feelings when they reject Mr Gallatin & confirm Bayard and Addams—The first one of the most bitter foes of the party and the last a thoroughgoing Federalist—

With Sincere regard I am yours

Jno: W: Eppes

RC (DLC); addressed: “Th. Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 July 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

During the second session of the Twelfth Congress, the United States house of representatives resolved that wartime duties and taxes “shall continue until one year after the conclusion of peace with such foreign nation, and no longer” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 8:206, 230 [26 Feb., 4 Mar. 1812]). A land tax and the other taxes listed by Eppes became law during the first session of the Thirteenth Congress (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:22–34, 35–8, 40–1, 42–4, 44–7, 72–3, 77–81).

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; as peace negotiator search
  • Adams, John Quincy; J. W. Eppes on search
  • alcohol; stills search
  • Bayard, James Ashton; as peace negotiator search
  • Bayard, James Ashton; J. W. Eppes on search
  • Congress, U.S.; mentioned search
  • Congress, U.S.; wartime taxes passed by search
  • Constitution, U.S.; apportionment of taxes under search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); and TJ’s letters on finance search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); letters from search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); on A. Gallatin’s nomination search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); on British threat to Washington search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); on wartime finance search
  • Fort Warburton (later Fort Washington) search
  • Gallatin, Albert; controversy over nomination of search
  • Great Britain; navy of search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and duration of wartime taxation search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; government finance search
  • political economy; J. W. Eppes asks TJ for outline of search
  • Senate, U.S.; and A. Gallatin’s nomination search
  • sugar; refined search
  • taxes; auction sales search
  • taxes; direct search
  • taxes; indirect search
  • taxes; on banknotes and negotiable paper search
  • taxes; on carriages search
  • taxes; on land search
  • taxes; on retailers search
  • taxes; on stills search
  • taxes; on sugar search
  • Treasury Department, U.S.; treasury notes search
  • War of1812; U.S. financing of search
  • Washington (D.C.); threatened by British forces search