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The Excise

THE EXCISE.

§ 265. Even as late as the Prussian tariff of 1818 we find a distinction drawn between Duty and Excise. The latter term has been used since the Middle Ages as the customary designa tion for what we today call taxes on consumption. It answers to the earlier term' Ungelt (indebitum), which was chiefly used during the earlier centuries. But in a document dating from 1340 the word Zyse is used as synonymous with " From the fifteenth century Accise (or more frequently the more con venient form Zise) gradually comes into general use. Just as was the case with the term Ungelt, so also this term is applied in the case of those articles of consumption which are taxed on being imported into the tax territory, as well as in the case of articles produced at home and therefore taxed at home.

But as this form of taxation came to be transferred from the mediaeval towns to the territorial states, it became the usage, especially in Brandenburg-Prussia, by preference to apply the term Excise [Accise] in the case of such articles as were most usually subjected to a consumption tax in the territorial domains of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—that is to say, domestic products for everyday consumption. . In explanation of this it is to be noted that, for one thing, the consumption of foreign products in those times was not sufficiently extensive, and for another, and more especially, that the political boundaries were so ill-adapted to the purpose that an effective supervision of the boundary for the levying of taxes on imports seemed to be impossible.' The levying of imports on articles of consump tion was confined to the towns, which were, for this reason, shut off from the country by barriers. The open country, however, was obliged to pay this class of taxes by the fact that the rural population purchased its supplies of town-made and foreign prod ucts in the towns. Then came the further development of the tariff boundary of the country, the increase of international trade and consequently of the consumption of foreign products, together with a growing sentiment that the taxable consumption of foreign products should equitably be made to bear a heavier taxation as compared with the consumption of domestic products. This devel opment first drew the line (1821) between the concept of an excise and that of an import duty as an independent and important form of consumption-tax, and led to the creation of import duties in addi tion to the consumption-tax (excise) levied within the country.

§ 266. In like manner as the personal tax, the excise also proceeds by gradations from the loose and indefinite forms of the extraordinary grant, through those of the voluntary contribu tion and the occasional extra tax, to that of a fixed and perma nent constituent of the finances. In the one case as in the other, there is a gradual development of the bony framework out of the primordial gelatinous mass.

The term Ungelt (indebitum) implies a contribution which is not paid on the basis of a legal claim. And while this impost very early developed in the mediwval towns into a permanent element of the public revenue, it continued, in the territorial finances, to be for centuries, just as was the Contribution, a tax granted by the estates from time to time for a few years.' On account of the general consumption of beer, the beer excise was a favorite subject of grants made by the estates. The estates of Brandenburg granted the Elector in the year 1467 an excise on beer for a period of six years. During the sixteenth century this excise gradually comes to recur constantly in the deliberations of the estates.' The estates were not at the out set inclined to regard it as a burden assumed permanently ; on the other hand they explicitly declared in Silesia (1546) that the grant was, at the expiration of the four years, "to be entirely null and void." But the actual result proved to be different. The tax was not only not discontinued, but it increased fast and considerably (1546-1585 from one to six groschen per barrel). In Brandenburg-Prussia the excise acquired a definite and per manent form only in the latter part of the reign of the Great Elector (sec. 62), after having, through the fifteenth and six teenth and the greater part of the seventeenth centuries been the object of constantly recurring negotiations between the Elector and the estates. For the town population it was the

correlate of the Contribution, for the population as a whole it became a supplement to the latter.

§ 267. Lotze, in a passage in his Microcosmus where he speaks of the rise and decline and reappearance of philosophical systems, says that systems of thought which have long ago been in vogue and have then disappeared before a prevailing senti ment of disapprobation, will come forward again after the lapse of a few years and appear as new to the short memory of men, just as a garment that has been hung away in a closet is brought out again after a few months with a semblance of renewed youth.

It is not only philosophical systems that run this course. The like happens in all other fields of human thought and activ ity. It recurs in the constitutional development of States as well as in special branches of the administration. The republican form of political organization had fallen into disrepute in the eighteenth century, on account of the abuses prevalent in the existing republics of Europe. It was the independence of the United States and the new ideas of liberty which came in with the revolutionary era that rescued this form of national organ ization from general contempt and set it up as an object of gen eral enthusiasm.

In the matter of taxation, much the same has happened. The chief forms of taxation have alternately been approved and disapproved with the shifting of sentiment ; for centuries past the one class has been taken up with a one-sided enthusiasm, while the other has been treated with undeserved contempt. In this, as in other matters, maturity of thought will show itself in avoiding the exaggerated notions of the past and holding to a reasonable balance between praise and blame.

The dogma of the single tax has been in favor ever since the days of the Physiocrats. During our own century this dogma has gradually assumed the form of the single income tax whith is to replace all other forms of taxation ; and as a matter of fact, we find that this dogma, under favorable circumstances, exerts a great influence on constitutional and legislative development. In the seventeenth century it was the Excise that was in a similar manner made the object of a prevalent enthusiasm whose relics have come down to us in the shape of a voluminous literature ; an enthusiasm that seemed to be in complete ignorance of the fact that the Excise had been in existence for a long time in the cities, under one name or another, dating far back into the Middle Ages.

Now this form of taxation was to be more extensively applied, and altered to suit the larger needs of the developing national organization. It was to comprise not only isolated articles, such as beer, corn and the like, but the aggregate of all articles of consumption ; a universal excise was to be introduced. In this matter, as is so often the case, the impulse was given by the example of foreign countries which took the lead of our own country in wealth and in public institutions. These examples held out the hope of deliverance from the unspeakable annoy ances and hardships of the personal tax.

From the point of view of the state as a whole it was con sidered as an effective means of establishing equality of taxa tion, of abolishing the tax exemption of the privileged classes. Even in the mediaeval towns the Ungelt had come into great favor with the municipal administration as being a means for nullify ing the tax exemption of the clergy. Later the princes used it in their struggle against the exemption of the nobility.

Here we meet with another example of the changes wrought by altered circumstances. A form of taxation which was in its time employed as a means of equalizing the tax burden, inso much as it served, at least in some slight degree, to defeat abso lute tax exemption,—this same form of taxation, in a later age, after legal tax exemption has been abolished and has left only

tax, consumption, taxation, estates and articles