Original Document
Original Document
Petition against the Excise Tax By Inhabitants of Western Pennsylvania [Penned by Albert Gallatin], 1792

"That your Petitioners have been greatly alarmed by law of Congress which imposes a duty on spirituous liquors distilled from produce of the United States. To us that act appears unequal in its operation and immoral in its effects. Unequal in its operation, as a duty laid on the common drink of a nation, instead of taxing the citizens in proportion to their property, falls as heavy on the poorest class as on the rich; immoral in its effect, because the amount of the duty chiefly resting on the oath of the payer, offers, at the expense of the honest part of the community, a premium to perjury and fraud.

"Your Petitioners also consider this law as dangerous to liberty; because the powers necessarily vested in the officers for the collection of so odious a revenue are not only unusual, but incompatible with the free enjoyment of domestic peace and private property; because these powers, to prevent evasion of the duty, must pursue the endless subtleties of the human mind, and be almost infinitely increased; and because we are apprehensive that this excise will by degrees be extended to other articles of consumption until everything we eat, drink, or wear be, as in England and other European countries, subjected to heavy duties and the obnoxious inspection of an host of officers.

"Destitute of information of the real deficiencies of the revenues of the United States, of the proportion which the probable proceeds of the excise bear to them, and doubtful whether those deficiencies could not have been supplied by other resources sufficiently productive and less obnoxious and oppressive, we want those motives which alone can reconcile us to the collection of a duty so odious in its nature and dangerous in its tendency.

"Our peculiar situation renders this duty still more unequal and oppressive to us. Distant from a permanent market, and separate from the eastern coast by mountains which render the. communication difficult and almost impracticable, we have no means of bringing the produce of our lands to sale either in grain or in meal. We are therefore distillers through necessity, not choice, that we may comprehend the greatest value in the smallest size and weight.

"The inhabitants of the eastern side of the mountains can dispose of their grain without the additional labor of distillation at a higher price than we can, after we have bestowed that labor upon it. Yet with this additional labor we must also pay a high duty from which they are exempted, because we have no means of selling our surplus produce but in a distilled state.

"Another circumstance which renders this duty ruinous to us is our scarcity of cash. Our commerce is not, as on the eastern coast, carried on so much by absolute sale as by barter, and we believe it to be a fact that there is not among us a quantity of circulating cash sufficient for the payment of this duty alone.

"We are not accustomed to complain without reason; we have punctually and cheerfully paid former taxes on our estates and possessions, because they were proportioned to our real wealth. We believe this to be founded on no such equitable principles, and are persuaded that your Honorable House will find on investigation that its amount of duty collected, will be four times as large as any tax which we have hitherto paid on the whole of our lands and other property.

"Submitting these considerations to your honourable body, we respectfully apply for a total repeal of the law, or for such modifications thereof as would render its principles more congenial to the nature of a free government, and its operation upon us less unequal and oppressive. And as in duty bound shall forever pray, andc."

Credit: Henry Adams, The Writings of Albert Gallatin (Philadelphia, 1879), I , 2-4.
Back to Top