Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Report of the Committee of Finance to the United States Senate on the Memorial of the Trustees of Transylvania University, 8 January 1822


Report of the Committee of Finance to the United States Senate on the Memorial of the Trustees of Transylvania University


january 8, 1822.


The Committee of Finance, to whom was referred the memorial of the Trustees of the Transylvania University, praying for a repeal of the duties on books imported into the United States—


That the act of Congress of the 27th April, 1816, establishing the existing tariff, has included books among the unenumerated articles, at an ad valorem of 15 per cent.

The second section of that act exempts from duty “all articles for the use of the United States, philosophical apparatus, instruments, books, maps, statues, busts, casts, paintings, drawings, engravings, specimens of sculpture, cabinets of coins, gems, medals, and all other collections of antiquities, statuary, modelling, painting, drawing, etching, or engraving, specially imported by order and for the use of any society incorporated for philosophical or literary purposes, or for the encouragement of the fine arts, or by order and for the use of any seminary of learning.”

To justify an encroachment upon this tariff, by the exemption of particular articles, we should consider its effects, and understand its bearing, upon the general system. It is possible that the exemption required would be chiefly felt in the price of the article exempted, and the manufacture of paper and printing types; and that its influence would be imperceptible or trifling upon the other branches of enterprise and industry. It may then be considered in its operations upon the manufactures, the revenue, and the consumption.

The constitution of the United States has placed authors under the protection of Congress. Essential to this protection is the encouragement of printing. Could foreigners maintain a successful competition with the American publisher, the American author would experience embarrassment and disappointment: foreign books would inundate the literary market, and even his own productions from a foreign press might be made to impair, if not defeat, his exclusive right.

The art of printing in the United States is rapidly advancing to its highest perfection. Samples have already been produced, which will scarcely suffer by comparison with the best specimens of other nations. Still the art has to encounter embarrassments. Comparatively, our capital is small, labor high, and our skill not perfect. Such is our enterprise, that American competition has already done much to diminish profit and impede success. Remove this protecting duty, and foreigners, particularly the British, who speak the same language, whose labor is cheap, and skill matured, may overwhelm our market, and become the exclusive book-makers for the United States.

Connected with this, is the duty on paper. The manufacturer of this principal article of the printer’s consumption is protected by an ad valorem of thirty per cent. So long as this operates as a protection to the paper maker, it is a tax on the book maker. By this partial interference, therefore, you leave the burden, while you remove the equivalent.

The manufacture of printing types in the United States, is of recent origin: such, however, has been its progress, that, in 1816, Congress determined that the manufacturer required, and the consumer could sustain, an impost of twenty-five per cent. But, inasmuch as this art may be considered as still in its infancy, the competition at home will not, for a long time, create a depression of the price, and this duty will, consequently, remain a tax on American printing.

In this view of the subject, it is apprehended that it would be unequal, impolitic, and unjust, to single out this important branch of industry, strip it of all protection, and leave it to struggle with powerful competitors, to its serious embarrassment, and probable destruction.

But the protection of the manufacturer, and the burden upon the consumer, are not our only objects of consideration in establishing a tariff on importations. It is our principal, and, ordinarily, our only source of revenue. Flourishing as our revenues are said to be, it seems to be agreed that we have no money to spare. “Loans which consume the future,” have become necessary, and rigorous economy and retrenchment must be enjoined and practised to prevent a recurrence to this pernicious expedient.

The exemption required would probably diminish the revenue beyond the amount of the duty repealed. Should American printing diminish, it would cause a corresponding diminution of the materials of consumption; and the impost on paper and types would probably vanish almost cotemporaneously with that on books. It ought, moreover, to be noticed, that in England there is a bounty or drawback on the exportation of British books of three pence sterling on the pound weight. Now, inasmuch as our duty is ad valorem, and their bounty is specific, not according to the value, but the weight of the book; their cheap editions may be imported into the United States at a premium which will about balance our duty of fifteen per cent.—Their more expensive editions, and all books in foreign languages, are chiefly wanted for our literary institutions, and for these, they are already free. The inquiry then is, what portion of the community requires this repeal? Every college, academy, and other seminary; and every corporation for literary purposes is now exempt. All members and students of these institutions are consequently exonerated of the burden of this tax. The question recurs who is to experience the benefit of the exemption? Surely not the instructors nor students in the higher branches of literature, for they are already relieved; certainly not the members of our common schools, for ordinary British editions are compensated by a bounty; American school books are plenty and cheap, and those in foreign languages1 are not required for general use. And it is equally certain that our manufactories forbid it, and our treasury can scarcely afford it. None then but the professional gentleman who can afford to extend his library beyond the resources of American publishers, or the scholar of wealth and leisure, who would indulge his taste in selecting the most elegant and expensive editions of foreign authors, can be interested in its favor. And is it expedient, at this time, to interpose this relief?

To tax foreign luxuries is a dictate of the soundest policy. Expensive and highly finished editions are as much a luxury as any other extravagant expenditure. A moderate duty on such books, to be limited almost exclusively to gentlemen of wealth, could never subject us to the imputation of an indifference to education. Few nations, perhaps, have done more for the diffusion of knowledge.—In the endowments and support of primary schools we are second to none. Great Britain exacts an impost on all imported books, and allows a bounty on the exportation of her own. France exacts a specific duty of one hundred franks per hundred killogrammes on books in the French language. To those reprinted from French editions is added fifty per cent, and pirated editions are entirely prohibited. There is, however, a deduction of fifty per cent for scientific memoirs, and of ninety per cent for books in the dead or foreign languages. Spain admits free of duty books, maps, and charts, on the subject of navigation, when introduced for purposes of instruction. But we have surpassed them, and have not improbably exceeded the limits of a sound and enlightened policy.

With few exceptions, the English is our native and ordinary language. It is spoken as universally and purely as in England itself. But lately, we were a part of the British empire; from thence we have derived many of our habits, customs, and laws. We still esteem Great Britain eminent in arts, sciences, policy, and power. Our principal and subordinate seminaries of learning are chiefly furnished with British books, and our youth are taught by British authors, wedded to their own institutions, and exultingly proud of their country, constitution, and laws. These means of a foreign influence have long been perceived, and have excited the jealousy of grave and intelligent politicians. Our government is peculiar to ourselves, and our books of instruction should be adapted to the nature of the government, and the genius of the people. In the best of foreign books, we are liable to meet with criticisms and comparisons not very flattering to the American people. In American editions of these, the offensive or illiberal parts are expunged or explained, and the work is adapted to the exigencies and taste of an American reader.2 But withdraw the protection which our tariff affords, our channels of instruction will be foreign, our youth will imbibe sentiments, form attachments, and acquire habits of thinking adverse to our prosperity, unfriendly to our government, and dangerous to our liberties. Your committee, therefore, recommend the following resolution:

Resolved, That it is, at this time, inexpedient to repeal the duty on the importation of books.

Printed text (DLC: TJ Papers, 221:39505–6); with bracketed “8” at head of each page. Also printed in 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. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the Library of Congress Digital Collections website and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers.) description ends , 17th Cong., 1st sess., 60–2, and ASP, Finance, 3:694–5, both of which indicate that the report was presented to the Senate by John Holmes, of Maine; and Niles’ Weekly Register 23 [1822–23]: supplement to vol. 22, pp. 39–40, 79–80.

The memorial of the trustees of Transylvania University, dated 27 Nov. 1821, was signed by James Morrison and Horace Holley as chairman of the Board of Trustees and president of the university, respectively, and was read by the Committee of Finance on 27 Dec. 1821 (DNA: RG 46, PMS, 17th Cong., 1st sess.). The act of congress of the 27th april, 1816, was “An Act to regulate the duties on imports and tonnage” (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 , 3:310–4). Article 1, section 8, of the constitution of the united states grants Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

1Printed text: “lauguages.”

2Bracket with pointing fist drawn in right margin around remainder of text, presumably by author of covering letter.

Index Entries

  • An Act to regulate the duties on imports and tonnage (1816) search
  • books; as luxury goods search
  • books; competition with foreign search
  • books; influence of foreign search
  • books; tariffs on search
  • Congress, U.S.; acts of published search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and copyright protection search
  • copyright; and U.S. Constitution search
  • education; British influence over U.S. search
  • France; excise taxes and duties in search
  • Great Britain; excise taxes and duties in search
  • Great Britain; influence on U.S. education search
  • manufacturing; paper search
  • manufacturing; printing search
  • paper; for printing search
  • printing; in U.S. search
  • Report of the Committee of Finance to the United States Senate on the Memorial of the Trustees of Transylvania University search
  • schools and colleges; and tariffs on books search
  • schools and colleges; British influence over U.S. search
  • Senate, U.S.; Committee of Finance search
  • Senate, U.S.; reports to search
  • Spain; and tariffs on books search
  • taxes; as revenue search
  • taxes; on books search
  • taxes; on paper search
  • Transylvania University (Lexington, Ky.); and tariffs on books search
  • United States; printing in search