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(caption title) Memorial to the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the Congress of the Confederate States of America.
John P. King, William Johnston and Thos. C. Perrin.
Call Number 2988.1 Conf. (Rare Book Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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At a Railroad Convention held at Columbia, S. C., 13th April, '64, the following resolution was adopted:
Resolved, That the chair appoint a committee of three to memoralize Congress on the subject of taxation imposed on railroad companies, asking, at their hands, that the railroad interests be placed on equal footing with other leading interests of the country.
Under the resolution the chair appointed as the committee, Hon. John P. King, William Johnston and Thos. C. Perrin.
To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the Congress of the Confederate States of America:
As a Committee, appointed by a general convention of Railroad delegates, we respectfully memoralize your honorable body for relief to that interest. We ask relief from the unjust bearing and oppressive operation of the "Tax Act" of February last.
It is not our purpose to discuss the proper interpretation of the law. Various interpretations have been given to it, and upon its true construction a general concurrence of opinion is hardly to be expected. But whatever interpretation may be given to the act upon disputed points, it contains one uncontroverted feature, very oppressive to the interest we represent, and against which we most earnestly, but most respectfully, remonstrate. The objectionable feature is that of inequality. We respectfully submit that the eye of the statesman should view the nation as one great family, with equal rights and equal duties, and equally entitled to protection under the law.
We will not encumber this memorial with extracts from the tax law of the 17th of February. Your honorable body is referred to it, and will have it before you. Suffice it to say, that by a difference in the currency and as the basis of valuation; a discrimination is made against shareholders in associate capital, very unjust and oppressive, and not warranted by any sound principle of legislation, or justified upon any principle national justice. Under the provisions the law as construed by official authority, your memorialists, as shareholders in railroad operations, are subjected to a tax from five to ten times greater than the mass of their fellow-citizens, who have suffered less heretofore and certainly have no stronger claims to the favor and protection of a common government.
Why this class legislation? Is there anything in the character or con duct of that class designated shareholders, that justified this ruinous oppression? Have they superior ability to bear heavy pecuniary impositions, or have they incurred the penalties of outlawry by any demerit of their own? On the contrary, as a class, they are the weakest and most helpless in the community! They are largely made up women and children, trusts, estates of deceased persons; literary, religious and charitable institutions. In short, largely of that class who invest for convenience of management--not being able to attend to the business of management themselves. They have no surplus, their incomes being fixed, they are impoverished by the depreciation of the currency, and being non-producers they cannot levy the depreciation on others. We respectfully submit to your honorable body, that there is no class less able to bear oppressive discrimination, and perhaps no class that so little deserve it from just and paternal government. Such is the present status of shareholders in railroads as a class, extending it is believed to a majority both in number and capital.
Is there anything in the character and object of railroad enterprises to justify any oppressive discrimination against railroad property, without regard to the present conditions of the shareholders?
Shareholder in railroads have no dangerous powers or odious privileges. Original shareholders have been rather noted for sacrifices to public spirit, than for the spirit of speculation; and many of them have been summoned to the grave before receiving any return from an unprofitable investment. Capital is associated only for the convenience of management, and to gain the power, by combination, to accomplish enterprizes which are beyond the resources of individuals. It is obvious, therefore, that the rights of the shareholder are in no way changed, or his claims to equal protection at all lessoned by having his property associated with others. Associated, too, to accomplish enterprizes of paramount importance
the country and indispensable to the government. We will not dwell upon these obvious truths. Our object is rather to remind Congress of facts and principles, than to instruct it in the performance of a public duty. We ask only that shareholders in railroad companies shall be placed upon the same footing with the rest of their fellow-citizens of equal ability to contribute to the common wants of a common government.
In making this claim, not to favors but simple justice, we respectfully bring to the notice of your honorable body the following facts and considerations:
1st. That no interest except banking Corporations, has done so much to aid the finances and sustain the credit of the Government.
2nd. That on the first organization of the Government, the Railroads readily gave up the mail contracts with the old Government, and substituted contracts with the new, at an average reduction of more than 30 per cent.!
3rd. That they agreed to transport troops and munitions, and all other property of Government, for half the usual rates to individuals, which did not repay the cost of the work, and by which the Government has saved millions!
4th. That the Government has claimed, and the Companies have conceded, a preference, and after the exclusive use of their roads, greatly encroaching upon and curtailing a more profitable private business.
5th. That Government by seizing and appropriating their iron has ruined some works and inflicted lasting injury on others!
6th. That Government by monopolizing rolling mills, iron works, and other sources of supply, have deprived them of the materials necessary for raising and repairing their roads or advance the slender stock within their reach to most fabulous prices.
7th. By a system of seizures and impressments, their railing stock has been carried to distant parts and either wholly lost, or returned in a ruined and dilapidated condition!
By these relations with the Government partly voluntary, partly forced, their roads are worn out, their machinery ran down, their rolling stock lost or broken up, and both rail and rolling stock have become unsafe, subjecting the roads to incessant and heavy claims for damages! Other interests more favored in taxation and more profitable at present are preserved uninjured with full productive power in the future. Not so with Railroad property. If dividends have been made, it has been only because the labor and materials could not be commanded to keep road and machinery in repair. Railroads have in reality made no nett profits for the last three years, and are making nothing now! It would require much more than the dividend paid, to place the property in the same condition it was in at the beginning of the war! Having thus suffered in the past, their prospects are still worse for the future. It will require much more nett earnings of years, after the restoration of peace, to restore their property to a condition of safety, usefulness and profit!
Under these views and conditions, it is sincerely hoped and confidently believed, that your honorable body will not consider that shareholders in Railroad enterprises, are proper objects of oppressive class legislation. We respectfully pray that each citizen may be made to contribute to the wants of the Treasury, according to his fortune. We ask for nothing more, and justice requires that we shall have nothing less.
We pray your honorable body to so change or amend the law of the 17th of February, as to impose one uniform ad valorem tax upon all values, constituting the wealth of the country. And we further pray that the taxes of valuation shall be upon the prices of 1860, or some other period, when we had a uniform standard of value. Or if it shall be deemed advisable to adopt a different mode of valuation for associated capital to that applied to other values, we pray that a tax be laid upon the cost or par value of the stock, compensating for any difference in value, by a discriminating tax upon incomes, or that such other relief may be granted as to your honorable body may seem meet.
JOHN P. KING,
THOS. C. PERRIN,