Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/856

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

into and reporting "on the subject of raising by taxation such revenue as may be necessary in order to supply the wants of the Government, having regard to and including the sources from which such revenue should be drawn, and the best and most effectual mode of raising the same." Of this commission, Mr. Wells was appointed chairman by the then Secretary of the Treasury, Hon. Hugh McCulloch; and its report in 1866, which was mainly the work of Mr. Wells, presented for the first time a full and exact statement of the curious and complex system of internal and customs revenue which had grown up during the war, when the necessities for raising immense sums of money with the utmost promptness and regularity were so great as to transcend all ordinary considerations, and justify the maxim, "Whenever you find an article, a product, a trade, a profession, or a source of income, tax it." How wonderfully successful this system of taxation proved, is shown by the circumstance, that for the last year of its full operation—1865-'66—it yielded from internal-revenue sources alone 6310,000,000, and from internal revenue, customs, and other sources, the aggregate sum of 8559,000,000, drawn from a tax-paying population not much in excess of twenty-two millions. In addition to this feature of the Revenue Commission Report in 1806, it also contained elaborate reports on sugars, tea, coffee, cotton, spices, proprietary articles—patent medicines and the like—petroleum, fermented liquors, and distilled spirits as sources of revenue, with estimates as to the amount of revenue which the Treasury might expect if taxation on them, at various rates, was to be continued; the whole being really the first practical attempt in the United States to gather and use national statistics for great national purposes.

On the termination of the Revenue Commission in January, 1866, by limitation of service. Congress was so well satisfied with the work that Mr. Wells had performed, that he was immediately appointed, for a terra of four years, to an office created for him, under the title of "Special Commissioner of the Revenue," the duties of which were thus defined by the enacting statute: "He shall from time to time report, through the Secretary of the Treasury, to Congress, either in the form of bill, or otherwise, such modifications of the rates of taxation, or of the methods of collecting the revenues, and such other facts pertaining to the trade, industry, commerce, or taxation of the country as he may find by actual observation of the operation of the law to be conducive to the public interest."

In this office, and invested with large powers, Mr. Wells entered with ardor upon the work of reconstructing and repealing the complex system of internal taxation, which had become terribly oppressive, and the longer continuance of which had become unnecessary; and, under his initiation and supervision were originated nearly all the reforms of importance in our national-revenue system—internal and customs—that were adopted by Congress between the close of the war in