Monday, April 12, 2010

The Confederate Constitution: "No bounties shall be granted"

I was looking at some of the less sexy changes that were made in the Confederate Constitution to differentiate it from the original United States Constitution and ran across one that the commentary at this site (which I like a lot) seems to have misunderstood.

The change in question is to the provision that sets forth the power of Congress to lay taxes, which appears at the beginning of Section 8 of Article I. The original (1787) version provides:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
The Confederate Constitution changed this somewhat as follows. Additions are bolded; deletions are bracketed:
The Congress shall have power

(1)To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises for revenue, necessary to pay the debts, [and] provide for the common defense [and general Welfare of the United States], and carry on the Government of the Confederate States; but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry; and all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the [United] Confederate States.

The particular change in which I am interested is the addition of a clause relating to “bounties”: “but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury”. The commentary at the site linked above assumes that the bounties referred to are soldiers' enlistment bonuses:
The CSA also makes a point that their government will not pay bounties (unlike the US government, which often paid bounties to soldiers, especially during the Civil War).
I do not have my books with me, but I am virtually positive that the reference to “bounties” has nothing to do with soldiers or enlistment bonuses. The clause almost certainly refers to specialized tax breaks granted by Congress to particular industries.

The most famous (or infamous) of these bounties dated back to 1789, when the First Congress passed the first bill establishing tariffs on imported goods, including a tariff on imported salt (six cents per bushel). Section 4 of the Act in effect subsidized the New England codfish industry by giving it an offsetting payment if the salt was used to dry or pickle fish for export:
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That there shall be allowed and paid on every quintal of dried, and on every barrel of pickled fish, of the fisheries of the United States, and on every barrel of salted provision of the United States, exported to any country without the limits thereof, in lieu of a drawback of the duties imposed on the importation of the salt employed and expended thereon, viz::

On every quintal of dried fish, five cents.

On every barrel of pickled fish, five cents.

On every barrel of salted provision, five cents.

This arrangement became known as a “bounty”, and it caused quite a row at the time, with opponents of the Madisonian-Jeffersonian persuasion arguing that it amounted to an improper subsidy of a particular industry.

This May 20, 1858 New York Times article indicates that the codfish industry "bounties" continued to exist (presumably in modified form) as of that date, and that some southerners continued to resent them and regard them as improper.

So understood, it makes perfect sense that the opening taxation section of Article I, Section 8 of the Confederate Constitution referred to and prohibited “bounties”. Bounties were in effect the flip side of the protective tariffs condemned by the South. One abused the taxing power to tax for an allegedly improper purpose - protection of industry, not revenue. The other made a payment to (or in effect remitted a particular tax affecting) a particular industry for the same improper purpose - protecting that industry.

The illustration is courtesy of

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