Thomas Jefferson Papers

Bill to Amend an Act for Raising a Supply of Money, [14 October 1778]

Bill to Amend an Act for Raising a Supply of Money

[14 October 1778]

Whereas the Taxes Collected by virtue of the Act intituled “an Act for raising a supply of money for Public Exigencies” are not sufficient to answer the purposes of the said Act1 and Whereas great inequality and injustice have arisen from the various opinions of Assessors in their valuation of Taxable property, and greater evils are still likely to arise if the same mode of Taxation is pursued.2 For Remedy whereof Be it enacted by the General Assembly that in aid of the Taxes imposed by the above Recited act an additional Rate or Tax of Twenty Shillings for every hundred pounds value shall be paid for all Manors Messuages Lands and Tenements Slaves Mulatto Servants to thirty one Years of Age Horses Mules and Plate on the first Day of August One thousand seven hundred and Seventy Nine, and the like additional Tax or Rate shall be paid on the said first day of August in each of the five next Succeeding Years, by the Owner or Proprietor of such Estates respectively, that a Rate or Tax of [thirty shillings]3 including the former Tax upon Money for every hundred pounds shall be paid for all money exceeding five pounds which shall be in the possession of one Person on the [first]3 day of [May]3 That an additional Rate or Tax of [four shillings]3 for every pound of the amount of all Annuities, including the Quitrents payable to the Proprietor of the Northern Neck, except those in lieu of Dower and such as have been or shall be settled by the General Congress or the Assembly or Conventions of this Commonwealth as a provision for Wounded Soldiers or their families be paid by the annuitant Respectively on the said first Day of August in each of the said Six Years. That an additional Tax or duty of [twenty shillings]3 per Wheel upon all Riding Carriages [one shilling]3 per head on all neat Cattle and [ten shillings]3 per Poll upon all Tithables above the Age of twenty one Years (except Soldiers Sailors, Parish Poor and such as Receive an Annual Allowance in consideration of Wounds or injuries Received in the Public Service) except also Slaves and Mulatto Servants to thirty one Years of Age who being property are Rated ad valorem4 as aforesaid shall be paid by the owner or Person enlisting such Carriages and Tithables respectively on the said first Day of August in each of the said Six Years that an additional Tax of [six pounds]3 for every Ordinary licence shall be paid down to the Clerk of the County or Corporation Court at the time of granting such Licence from the time of passing this Act until the first day of December one thousand Seven Hundred and eighty four. That an additional Tax or Rate of [twenty shillings]3 for every hundred pounds of the neat income of all offices of Profit be paid on the said first day of August one thousand Seven hundred and Seventy Nine and each of the five next succeeding Years. That an additional Tax or duty [one shilling]3 per Gallon be paid for all Spiritous Liquors hereafter to be distilled in this Commonwealth to be paid by the distiller or distilled in any other of the United American States and imported into this by Land or Water at any time before the said first Day of December one thousand Seven hundred and Eighty four5 and that every Person who hath not taken the Oath or affirmation of Allegiance to this State required to be taken by an Act intituled “an act to oblige the free Male Inhabitants of this State above a certain age to give assurances of Allegiance to the same and for other purposes” and shall not take the same before the first day of [May]3 next and who shall fail to produce to the Assessors in his hundred a Certificate of his having taken such Oath or affirmation shall pay [treble]3 the several Rates and Taxes imposed by this and the above recited Act for such property and Tithables hereby subject to taxation as he shall be owner of, or shall be in his Family, which several Rates and Taxes hereby imposed shall be assessed, Collected accounted for and applied in the same manner as the Rates and Taxes imposed by the aforesaid recited act is directed.6 And for forming some Rule for the direction of the Commissioners and Assessors. It is further enacted that the several Commissioners in each County shall before the Day to be appointed for the Assessors to enter on their Office, call together at some convenient place within their respective Counties the Several Assessors of the same who shall consult together and form some general mode which they shall pursue in Rating the several articles of Taxation.7 Provided always that there shall not be more than sixteen Assessors appointed in any one County.8 And be it further enacted that where a Recovery shall be had against any Sherif or Collector for failure in the payment of the Monies arising from the Rates or Taxes imposed by this or the above recited act, he shall be accountable in Damages at the Rate of Twenty Percentum Perannum for all Monies which he shall so fail to pay. And Whereas by the above Recited act the Treasurer is restrained from paying the Quota of this Commonwealth required by the general Congress till the Accounts of this State against the United States are settled which may be attended with bad consequences, Be it enacted that the said Treasurer is hereby empowered and required to pay the said full quota when it shall be demanded, any thing in the said Act to the Contrary notwithstanding. And be it further enacted that the Court of each county shall at their Court to be held in the Month of April or May one thousand Seven hundred and Seventy Nine and in each of the five following Years take Bond with Sufficient security of the Sherif or Collector in a Penalty equal at least to what may be the whole amount of the Taxes imposed by this and the above recited Act in the Judgment of the Court of the County using the best means in their Power to inform themselves of such amount. And be it further enacted that no Person hereafter elected a Commissioner being a Member of either House of Assembly shall be subject to the Penalty imposed on those who refuse to act but the acceptance of the Office of a Commissioner shall vacate the Seat of any Person so accepting in either house of Assembly: [And Whereas by the said act intituled “an act for raising a supply of money for Public exigencies” it was enacted that the Commissioners for the several Counties after examining adjusting and certifying the Accounts of the Collection with their respective Sherifs and making the proper deductions for allowances to themselves the Clerks and the Assessors should enter the same in their Book and Transmit to the Treasurer a Copy of such entry and it may be necessary for the future information of the general Assembly that the said entries and copies thereof transmitted be made in a more special and distinct form that so the amount of the Assessment on the several species of Taxable property may be separately and distinctly known and also the amount of the additional Taxes paid by Nonjurors. Be it further enacted that the said entry and Copy transmitted shall in future during the continuance of the said Act be formed into Seven different Columns in one of which shall be stated the amount of the Assessment on landed property, in another that on Slaves, in another that on plate, in another that on Coin, in another that on Paper currency exclusive of loan office Certificates, in another that on Stocks, and in another that on the residuum of taxable Articles which sums Stated in the said Columns shall include a single Taxation only on Nonjurors, and that separate and a part from this shall be stated in like manner the amount of the additional Taxes paid by such Nonjurors; and at the foot of the whole shall be stated in separate articles also, the deductions for allowances to themselves, to the Clerks, and to the whole Assessors which Copy so made out they shall transmit immediately to the board of Auditors instead of that by the said act directed to be transmitted to the Treasurer for enabling them to call upon the Sherif for the ballance due and to state to the succeeding Assembly a General account in like distinct manner of the amount of the Assessment on the said Taxable Articles respectively in the several Counties.]9 Whereas by the Treaty of Commerce entered into between his most Christian Majesty the King of France and the United States of America it is amongst other things stipulated that every commodity to be exported from any of the said States to the French West Indies Islands shall be free from any duty or impost. And Whereas by the before recited act a Tax or duty of Ten Shillings is laid on every hogshead of Tobacco to be exported from this Commonwealth Be it therefore enacted that all Tobacco cleared out at any of the naval offices of this Commonwealth to be exported to any of the West India Islands belonging to his Most Christian Majesty shall be and they are hereby exempted from any duty or Tax imposed thereon by the said Act any thing therein contained to the contrary thereof notwithstanding. And Whereas many good People of this Commonwealth who are well affected to the Cause of their Country were prevented taking the Oath of Allegiance by the Negligence of the Magistrates whereby they have been subjected to the Penalty of a double Tax as prescribed by an Act requiring all the Free Male Inhabitants of this State to give assurance of Fidelity and Allegiance to the same, Be it therefore enacted that all and every Person or Persons who hath or have been so subjected to the payment of a Double Rate or Tax as aforesaid by means aforesaid and shall make it appear to the Commissioners of their respective Counties that they have since taken the Oath Prescribed by Law, and that they now are and always have been true and faithful friends to the cause of liberty, and their Country shall be Reimbursed all such sums of Money by them paid over and above their just Tax and the same shall be deducted out of their Taxes for the Succeeding Year by the Collectors of their Respective Counties upon Certificate being had from the Commissioners of their said Counties for that purpose. And the said Commissioners are hereby directed to hold a Court or Courts for the purposes above mentioned and shall give notice of the same within their said Counties as often as they shall think fit and necessary so that the said Court or Courts are held between the time of Passing this Act and the first Day of [July next].3 And it is further enacted that so much of the aforesaid Recited act as comes within the purview and meaning of this Act be, and the same is hereby repealed.

MS (Vi); three pages in clerk’s hand. This MS is virtually the same as the Act as adopted, the text of which is in Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 547–52, the chief difference in the two (aside from that indicated in note 8, below) being that blank spaces were left in MS as indicated in notes below and were filled by amendment in the House. These amendments are listed on ten pages endorsed “Amendments to the Supply Bill”; some of these amendments are in a clerk’s hand, others in Edmund Randolph’s hand, and two, as indicated below in notes 7 and 9, are in TJ’s hand. Another MS (Vi), consisting of three pages and representing the text as originally introduced, is endorsed in the hand of Edmund Pendleton: “A Bill To amend an Act intituled ‘an Act for raising a Supply of Money for public exigencies’” and docketed by Randolph: “Novr. 4. 1778. read first time. Nov. 5. read 2d. time & comd. to whole on Thursday.” Accompanying this MS are seven pages of amendments endorsed: “Rough amendmts. to Supply Bill.” The principal variations between these two MS states of the text of the Bill are indicated in the textual notes.

This Bill, whose principal aim was just the reverse of the unwarranted optimism expressed in the preamble to the Supply Bill passed at the preceding session (q.v. under 20 May 1778; see also Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, p. 66–112), was, like its predecessors, subject to considerable debate, especially over the perennial question of a fair and equitable mode of assessment of value. TJ was not in the House when the Bill was ordered to be brought in on 14 Oct. 1778 or when it was introduced on 4 Nov. by Tyler and committed to the committee of the whole. He took his seat on 30 Nov., and on 2 Dec. the Bill was taken up, being debated and amended during the next two weeks. In this debate TJ took part, as the amendments offered by him indicate (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1778, 1827 edn., p. 11, 42, 45, 95, 111, 112). Ordinary licence: i.e., a license permitting the operation of an ordinary, or tavern.

1See Bill Providing a Supply, &c., under date of 20 May 1778, where the belief had been expressed that taxes raised by the supply bill of Jan. 1778 (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 349–68) would be “more than sufficient to answer the purposes expressed in the said act.”

2The words “and greater evils … is pursued” are in both MSS but were deleted by amendment and are not in the Act as adopted.

3A blank occurs in MS at this point; square brackets are supplied, and word or words inserted are drawn from text of Act as adopted.

4In May 1778 TJ had endeavored to substitute a poll tax for the ad valorem levy on slaves, but his amendment had been defeated (see Bill under date of 20 May 1778). The MS of Bill as introduced by Tyler on 4 Nov. included the following: “And be it further enacted that a Poll Tax of for all Slaves above the age of seven & under the age of sixty years and Mulatto Servants shall be paid by the Owners or proprietors thereof …” but this was struck out and the previously adopted ad valorem system retained.

5The following additional words are in the Act at this point: “to be paid by the importer.”

6The MS of Bill as originally introduced provided only the following taxes as compared with the list in the amended Bill and in the Act: (1) an unspecified rate on every £100 valuation on “All Manors Messuages Lands and Tenements”; (2) a similar rate on horses and mules; (3) an unspecified rate on every wheel on all riding carriages, on every ordinary and every marriage license, and on money. The increase in the amount of levies and the number of objects taxed reflects the rapidly growing disparity between the amounts of paper money issued and the funds raised by taxation for its redemption. The report of the committee of the whole of 13 Dec. 1777 had recommended an even longer list of taxable objects; but the House declined to permit taxation of dogs (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1777, 1827 edn., p. 77–8).

7The Bill as introduced attempted to bring about both uniformity and fairness in procedures by which property in lands was assessed. The method proposed in that MS was to divide “all Lands to the Eastward of the Allegheny Mountains except Lotts or Tenements in Cities or Towns … in three different classes”: (1) “Rich Lands”; (2) “Lands of a middling value”; and (3) “the meaner or inferior Lands.” Lands in each of these categories were in turn to be classified in one of three groups—lands “of first second and third Quality.” In each of these nine subdivisions, the Bill would have provided a stated maximum valuation per acre excluding “any extraordinary Buildings or improvements thereon.” Lands “on the west side of the Allegheney Mountains except Lots in Towns” were to be similarly classified and maximum evaluations established, but varying from the eastern evaluations. Although the Bill as amended and the Act as adopted restated the substance of the purpose of this section of the Bill as introduced—“for establishing some general Rule for the direction of the Assessors”—their final terms did not provide any such uniform policy, but merely directed the commissioners of the tax in each county to “form some general mode”—general mode, that is, within the limits of each county.

The question is one that has vexed legislators long before and since the debates on the Virginia supply bills of 1778, but TJ, as might have been expected, tried to solve the problem by innovation. He introduced, but failed to gain acceptance of, the following amendment for that purpose:

“Whereas many doubts have arisen among the Commissioners and assessors of the tax on the construction of the act of General assembly passed in the year 1777 intituled ‘an act for raising a supply of money for publick exigencies’ and also on one other act passed in the year 1778. intituled ‘an act to amend an act intituled an act for raising a supply of money for publick exigencies’ some apprehending that they should value lands at the rates at which they would sell in gold and silver, and not at what they would sell in paper bills of credit of this Commonwealth or of Congress; others that they should value them as they would sell were all or a great part of the lands within the commonwealth, or within a county to be offered to sale at one time, and not at the sum at which they would sell if exposed to sale in moderate quantities as happens in the ordinary course of things; and others that, as the legislature had by the latter act only trebled the tax laid in the former, they intended thereby that no more than three times as much money should be raised, and of course that the valuation of the present year should be the same as it was the last without any regard to the rise in the price of property since that time; all which constructions are contrary to the intention of the said acts: and in consequence of such differences of construction very great inequalities have arisen in the rates at which property of equal value has been assessed in different counties during the present year:

“Be it therefore enacted by the General assembly that forthwith on the receipt of this act the Commissioners of the tax for the several counties and corporations shall call together their respective assessors to meet at their court house at as short a day as may be in the present year, and in the subsequent years during the continuance of this act at such time as by the said first mentioned act is directed; and being there assembled, the said assessors shall take an oath or make affirmation as follows ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I will when called on by the commissioners of the tax for my county, truly, candidly, and without reserve declare the worth of the several kinds of lands within my county or corporation, as they would sell according to my own opinion if exposed to sale for ready money in paper bills of credit of this Commonwealth or of Congress, so help me god.’ which oath or affirmation may be administered by any one of the Commissioners. The said Commissioners shall then proceed to describe the lands of their county in so many general classes not exceeding six as their different natures or kinds may require, and shall call on each assessor singly to declare under the obligation of his oath or affirmation what he thinks each several kind of the said lands would sell for by the acre if exposed to sale in moderate quantities according to the usual course of things, for ready money in paper bills of credit of this commonwealth or of Congress; which several opinions, together with their own they shall state in writing for each kind of land separately, and shall add together the several sums at which the same kind of land is rated by the different commissioners and assessors, and then divide the aggregate sum by the number of persons whose opinions were stated, and shall take the quotient or result, or such sum nearthereto as to avoid the difficulty of fractions may be approved by a majority of the said commissioners and assessors, as the average price of such kind of land; and so shall proceed to deduce an average price for every other kind into which they shall have classed the lands of their county, as before directed. But lots of land in towns and ferry landings and mines of coal or metal, shall not be included within any of the said general classes, but shall, as well as mills and other extraordinary buildings be valued by the assessors within whose bounds they are as they would sell if exposed to sale for ready money in paper bills of credit of this commonwealth or of Congress. The said assessors shall then instead of the oath or affirmation appointed to be taken by the first mentioned act, take the following oath or affirmation to be administered by any one of the Commissioners ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I will to the best of my skill and judgment, in the several parcels of land within the bounds of my assessment estimate the quantity of each kind thereof as classed or described by the commissioners of the tax for my county, that I will assess the same at the legal pound rate according to the average value of the same kind of lands settled by the commissioners and assessors of my county: that I will faithfully justly and impartially assess the pound rate imposed by law on all other property liable thereto within my hundred, according to the plain meaning of the several acts of assembly under which I act as they appear to my judgment; that I will spare none for favour or affection and none aggrieve for hatred malice or illwill, but in all things do my duty of an assessor honestly, impartially and to the best of my abilities: so help me god.’ And if any assessor were not present at the said meeting, the said oath last stated shall be afterwards administered to him by some one of the Commissioners or any Justice of the peace of the county or corporation and before he shall proceed to make his assessments. The said Assessors shall then proceed to the assessment of their hundred; in the course of which if they shall differ in opinion as to the value of any parcel of land or of other property the medium between their two opinions shall be taken as the true value.

“And the same inequalities having arisen in the assessment of slaves in the several counties, and it being supposed that the assessment on this kind of property may be rendered much more equal by way of poll tax so settled as to bear the proportion of one and a half per cent to their average value.”

This was a more ingenious and less artificial plan to obtain uniformity and fairness in evaluations of property than that proposed in the Bill as introduced, but it, too, failed to convince the legislators and the varying interpretations on the part of different county commissioners of the tax no doubt continued.

8The following paragraph, not in either MS of the Bill, is found in the Act as adopted: “And whereas, by the restraint of the number of assessors in this act, their business may be greatly increased, and the provision made by the before recited act for their trouble be inadequate to their services, Be it enacted, That it may and shall be lawful for the commissioners in each county to settle what satisfaction shall be made to each assessor for his extraordinary trouble, so as such allowance shall not be more than five pounds above what is allowed by the said recited act.”

9All of the passage enclosed in brackets (supplied) was written by TJ on one of the pages of amendments; this amendment offered by him was adopted without change.

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