It is obvious that under such circumstances it must be difficult or impossible to induce the masses of the people to intelligently interest themselves in the subject of taxation, and that in countries like the United States, where under free and universal suffrage the same people elect the legislators who shall determine the policy of their Government, laws will be enacted for the collection of revenue for the support of the state that will be neither productive or effective, and do not promote, but rather impair the industrial and commercial interests of the country.
The question, then, next suggests itself, How can a different state of things be brought about? How can the people in general be induced, in the sense of persuasion and not of compulsion, to interest themselves in this subject? The idea of the writer is that such a change can best be effected by showing that the subject is not necessarily dry and uninteresting; that it really constitutes more than almost any other element the essence of history; and that the record of the results that have followed the attempts to establish almost every form of taxation that human ingenuity can devise, has even in a very high degree the attraction of romance. Its study from such a point of view constitutes a better basis for casting a horoscope of the future of nations and governments than aught else within the ken of the historical student.
In the foregoing chapters the writer has attempted to carry out this idea. That it has been in at least a degree successful is demonstrated by the great number of commendatory letters that have come to him from different countries—even China—and from people of most varied interests, situations, and occupations.
In the chapters that are to follow, where a search for the underlying principles of taxation is to be prosecuted, a resort to more or less abstract reasoning is a necessity. But even here the presentation of abstract principles, to which assent will be asked or expected, will be avoided as far as possible, with the expectation that the reader will, from a consideration of the facts and deductions presented, be able himself to frame and determine the principles that should govern a correct system of taxation by a process of self-evident induction.