Sec.7. The power to lay duties is very properly qualified by the provision that “all duties shall be uniform throughout the United States.” This was intended to prevent the giving of unjust preference to any one or more states over others. Without this restriction upon the exercise of this power, the representatives of a part of the states might combine, and by laying higher duties upon goods imported into other states, than upon those imported into their own, might turn the trade chiefly into the latter. Or they might in laying duties on exports, impose high duties upon the productions of other states, and low duties, or none at all, upon the products of their own.
Sec.8. Although Congress has power to lay direct taxes, it has seldom been exercised. The duties on foreign goods and on the vessels in which they were imported, have been found sufficient for the payment of the public debt, and for other government purposes. The national debt in 1791 was about $75,000,000, and, in 1804, had risen to $86,000,000; yet chiefly by duties was this debt reduced nearly one-half by the year 1812. By the war which commenced that year, the debt was again increased, being in 1816, $127,000,000. In 1835, this large debt had been, in the manner stated, entirely extinguished.
Sec.9. The next power mentioned is the “power to borrow money on the credit of the United States.” Although Congress may, under the power to lay taxes and duties, raise money to any extent, a large amount may sometimes be wanted before it can be raised from the regular income or revenue of the nation, or even before it could be raised by a direct tax, which would be burdensome to the people. Hence the utility of the power to borrow money until it can be reimbursed from the national revenues.
Power of Congress to Regulate Commerce. Commerce with Foreign Nations.
Sec.1. Next in the list of powers is “the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” The need of no power under the confederation was more deeply felt than the power to regulate foreign trade. It was the want of this power, as we have seen, which was the more immediate cause of calling the convention that framed the constitution. (Chap. XXVII: Sec.7-11.) The necessity of this power arose mainly from the policy of Great Britain, by which she had secured to herself undue advantages in her foreign commerce, especially in her trade with this country.
Sec.2. During the war of the revolution, the direct trade with Great Britain was interrupted. But when peace was restored, our markets were again open to British goods and vessels, while upon American produce and American vessels entering British ports, heavy duties were levied. To enable some young readers more clearly to understand the objects and the unequal operation of the policy of the British government, the subject may need some further illustration.