Front Page Titles (by Subject) FREE TRADE, TAXES, AND SUBSIDIES - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
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FREE TRADE, TAXES, AND SUBSIDIES - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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FREE TRADE, TAXES, AND SUBSIDIES
February 11, 1837.
Title added. Text abridged and extract deleted.
The New Yorker has no warrant for saying that, according to the opinions expressed by this journal, a reduction of the tariff to such an ad valorem duty as would merely supply the means of defraying the current expenses of the government “would be just no free trade at all.” It would certainly not place trade in a state of absolute freedom; but it would be such an enlargement of its bounds, such a relaxation of its fetters, as might well deserve to be spoken of as comparative freedom. We are in favour of absolute freedom of trade in banking; yet we consider the limited repeal of the Restraining Law, although it does not restore to the community their natural rights, in their fullest integrity, a great triumph of free principles, nevertheless. We rejoice at every successive victory obtained, because it carries us nearer to the goal. In war, every advantage over your enemy is, to some extent, a triumph of the principles you maintain, though there may be other battles yet to fight, and other victories to achieve, before the whole object embraced in the ground of quarrel can be accomplished. In religion, every convert whom you bring to kneel at your altar is a triumph of your creed; though its perfect success is not established till the whole world acknowledges its truth. The same remark holds good in relation to science, to art, and to every variety of subject. The gradations of legislative interference with trade are innumerable. Any law which creates an intermediary condition between absolute freedom and absolute restriction is a fetter upon trade. But these fetters may be as light as the pinions on the heels of the feathered Mercury, or they may be as heavy as the chains which bound Prometheus to his rock.
It is a mistake to say that theoretick free trade consists in the equality of duties. It consists in levying no duties at all. It consists in leaving the parties to trade—the buyer and seller—perfectly unrestrained by the conditions of a third party. The amount of revenue necessary for the purposes of government should be derived through a system of taxation that would rest with equal proportional burden upon all, and not merely upon the consumers of foreign merchandize. The man who is clad in deerskins, whom the forest and lake supply with animal food, and whose own field yields him whatever else the necessities of nature demand, should no more be exempt from proportional taxation, than he who flaunts in silks, whose blood is warmed with the spices of the east and the wines of the south, and whose table groans beneath the weight of imported luxuries. Taxes, to the extent of the necessary expenses of government, laid by a rule of universal equality, are no infringement of the principles of free trade; because trade cannot exist without organized government, and organized government cannot be supported without taxation. But the moment government says to the citizens, you who are engaged in one branch of trade, or you who consume one description of commodity, shall pay taxes; and you who deal in another branch of traffick, or consume articles of a different description, shall not be taxed; it obviously violates the proper freedom of trade, as well as the great democratick principle of equal rights.
The New Yorker has very imperfectly acquainted itself with our views, if it is not aware that a system of bounties is as much opposed to them, as a system of prohibitory or protective duties. Would it be free trade if the government should say to the Postmaster, you may carry the New Yorker, and the other weekly newspapers, free of postage; but you must allow the Plaindealer one cent for every number which passes through your hands? Would this not be a direct interference on the part of the government with the weekly newspaper trade? Would it not be saying to those concerned in it, you shall not be left free to make your own terms with your subscribers, but shall be compelled to make such a charge as will enable you to meet an onerous and unjust tax, imposed on the whole community, for the special benefit of one exclusively privileged newspaper? When the government allows a bounty, it devotes, for the benefit of an individual or a class, money derived from the whole community, under the pretence that it was to be expended for the benefit of the whole. Such legislation is objectionable on precisely the same grounds of political justice and economy that may be urged against discriminating duties.
We do not “hesitate or turn recreant” in regard to any subject. We are for applying the principles of political economy to every possible subject which they embrace in their widest latitude of correct interpretation. But it is one thing to condemn political regulation, when, in a matter of trade, the government, as a third party, interferes between the other two, the buyer and seller; and another to withhold condemnation, when those political regulations are merely the rules which one of the two parties, the seller, sets down for his own guidance.1
[1 ]Leggett here refers to the question of the federal government selling western land only to settlers. See “Sale of Publick Lands” and “The Meaning of Free Trade” above, p. 350 and p. 355.—Ed.