Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/219

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PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.

and the substitution of other agencies (to be hereafter noticed) for the collection of revenue.

A fact of historical interest which ought not to be overlooked in this connection is that whenever a system of infinitesimal taxation (or a general property tax) has been projected, its authors have been led, as it were, by instinct to the conclusion that its execution, with any degree of effectiveness, must depend upon the employment of extraordinary and arbitrary measures. Thus, the old Romans, who first notably established the taxation of personal property at the period of the decadence of the empire, and who were not troubled with any restrictions of a constitutional character, or any very nice notions about personal liberty or general morality, clearly perceived this, and accordingly invested their tax officials with the power of administering torture as a means of compelling information (answering questions) and enforcing payment; and that the tax officials were not backward in using the power with which they were invested is proved by a variety of evidence.

Thus, Zosimus, who wrote in the fifth century a. d., states that the period of the tax collection upon general industry "was announced by the tears and terrors of the citizens, who were often compelled by the impending scourge" to meet their obligations; and Gibbon, in treating of this feature of Roman history, in a measure justifies the proceeding in the following language: "The secret wealth of commerce and the precarious profits of art and labor are susceptible only of a discretionary valuation; and as the person of the trader supplies the want of a visible and permanent security, the payment of the imposition, which, in the case of a land tax, may be obtained by the seizure of property, can rarely be extorted by any other means than those of corporal punishment."

And it is also especially worthy to note that in every instance in which attempts have been made of late in the United States to remedy the recognized imperfections and inequalities of existing systems of local taxation, the persons intrusted with the duty, possibly without knowing, and probably without caring, what were the experience and custom of the old Romans, have been led by their instincts and intuitions to go as far in the torture direction for the obtaining of taxes on personal property as the conditions of our modern civilization and the state of public opinion would allow.

The most curious and confirmatory evidence of this is to be found in a method of procedure adopted in the city of Boston, Massachusetts—a method which has no parallel except in the records of the middle ages and of the Inquisition, and constitutes in itself a satire upon any claim to the enjoyment of a wholly free and enlightened government. For failing to obtain satisfactory information