Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William H. Crawford, 10 November 1818

To William H. Crawford

Monticello Nov. 10. 18.

Dear Sir

Totally withdrawn from all attention to public affairs, & void of all anxiety about them, as reposing entire confidence in those who administer them, I am led to some remarks on a particular subject by having heretofore taken some concern in it. and I should not do it even now but for information that you had turned your attention to it at the last session of Congress, and meant to do it again at the ensuing one.

When mr Dallas’s Tariff first appeared in the public papers, I observed that among his reforms, none was proposed on the most exceptionable article in mr Hamilton’s original Tariff, I mean that of wines. I think it a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines, as a tax on luxury. on the contrary it is a tax on the health of our citizens. it is a legislative declaration that none but the richest of them shall be permitted to drink wine, and in effect a condemnation of all the midling & lower conditions of society to the poison of whisky, which is destroying them by wholesale, and ruining their families. whereas, were the duties on the cheap wines proportioned to their first cost the whole midling class of this country could have the gratification of that milder stimulus, and a great proportion of them would go into it’s use and banish the baneful whisky. surely it is not from the necessities of our treasury that we thus undertake to debar the mass of our citizens the use of not only an innocent gratification, but a healthy substitute instead of a bewitching poison. this aggression on the public taste and comfort has been ever deemed among the most arbitrary & oppressive abuses of the English government. it is one which I hope we shall never copy. but the truth is that the treasury would gain in the long run by the vast extension of the use of the article. I should therefore be for encoraging the use of wine by placing it among the articles of lightest duty. but, be this as it may, take what rate of duty is thought proper, but carry it evenly thro’ the cheap as well as the high priced wines. if we take the duty on Madeira as the standard, it will be of about 25. per cent on the first cost, and I am sensible it lessens frauds to enumerate the wines known and used here, and to lay a specific duty on them, according to their known cost; but then the unknown and non-enumerated should be admitted at the same per cent on their first cost. there are abundance of wines in Europe some weak, some strong, & of good flavor, which do not cost there more than 2. cents a quart, and which are dutied here at 15. cents. I have my self imported wines which cost but 4. cents the quart and paid 15. cents duty. but an extraordinary inconsistence is in the following provisions of the Tariff.

Claret & other wines not enumerated imported in bottles, per gallon 70. cents
when imported otherwise than in bottles 25. cents
black bottles, glass, quart, per gross 144. cents’

if a cask of wine then is imported, and the bottles brought empty to put it into the wine pays 6¼ cents the quart, & the bottle 1. cent, making 7¼ cents the bottle. but if the same wine is put into the same bottles there it pays 15. cents the quart, which is a tax of 7¾ cents (more than doubling the duty) for the act of putting it into the bottle there, where it is so much more skilfully done, and contributes so much to the preservation of the wine on it’s passage. for many of the cheap wines will not bear transportation in the cask which stand it well enough in the bottle. this is a further proscription of the light wines, and giving the monopoly of our tables to the strong & Alcoholic, such as are all but equivalent in their effects to whisky. it would certainly be much more for the health & temperance of society to encorage the use of the weak, rather than of the strong wines. 2. cents a quart first cost, & ½ a cent duty would give us wine at 2½ cents the bottle with the addition of freight & other small charges, which is but half the price of grog.   These, dear Sir, are the thoughts1 which have long dwelt on my mind, and have given me the more concern as I have the more seen of the loathsome and fatal effects of whisky, destroying the fortunes, the bodies, the minds & morals of our citizens. I suggest them only to you, who can turn them to account if just; without meaning to add the trouble of an answer to the overwhelming labors of your office. in all cases accept the assurance of my sincere esteem & high consideration.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Raab Collection, Ardmore, Pa., 2015); damaged at crease and signature clipped, with missing text supplied from PoC. PoC (DLC); on reused address covers of James H. McCulloch to TJ, 30 June 1818, and Horatio G. Spafford to TJ, 29 May 1818; mutilated at seal, with one word rewritten by TJ; at foot of first page: “Mr Crawford”; endorsed twice by TJ.

In its last session, the United States House of Representatives had ordered Crawford to report on “what further improvement it may be practicable to make in the tariff of duties upon imported goods, wares, and merchandise.” On 8 Feb. 1819 he submitted to the House a list of articles on which tariffs could be reduced. While he did not mention wine, the duties on that beverage were among those lowered during the session (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 11:496 [20 Apr. 1818]; ASP, Finance, 3:415–9; note to William A. Burwell to TJ, 28 Nov. 1818).

For TJ’s response to Alexander J. dallas’s tariff following its publication in the public papers, see TJ to Dallas, 26 Feb. 1816, and note. Alexander hamilton’s original tariff was passed on 4 July 1789 as “An Act for laying a Duty on Goods, Wares, and Merchandises imported into the United States.” It set a duty of eighteen cents per gallon of Madeira and ten cents a gallon on all other wines (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 , 1:24–5).

1Manuscript: “thought.”

Index Entries

  • alcohol; whiskey search
  • An Act for laying a Duty on Goods, Wares, and Merchandises imported into the United States (1789) search
  • claret (wine) search
  • Crawford, William Harris; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Crawford, William Harris; letters to search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Hamilton, Alexander (1757–1804); and tariffs search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and taxes search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; taxes search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; wine search
  • Madeira (wine) search
  • taxes; on wine search
  • taxes; TJ on search
  • whiskey; negative effects of search
  • wine; claret search
  • wine; Madeira search
  • wine; tariff on search