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A few illustrations of the manner in which the revenue laws may be utilized for selfish ends by corrupt politicians are in evidence in the office of the Taxpayers' Defense League, and a few may here be given. A poor printer on Fifth Avenue, with personal property of not to exceed $300 in actual value, did not heed the invitation to "see" the assessor. His taxes are over $500, or on a basis of $60,000, but he is informed by the collector's agent that for $25 his tax will be returned "delinquent." He says the difficulty with him is that he has not even the $25. A poor tailor on Monroe Street, with personal property valued at not to exceed $100, is taxed on a basis of $6,000, or over $50, and is ready to testify that the collector's chief Iclerk told him that if he would make a suit of clothes for him he would return his tax "delinquent." That "delinquent" list is the mantle that, like charity, is made to cover a multitude of sins. The collector, too, has his turn with the assessor. The same man that assisted the WestSide assessor and demanded a bribe from a well-known business man, is in the collector's office; the same men that hung around the South-Town assessor's office now aid the collector. The gang is one, and in their depredations have practically been upheld by all the servants and officers of the state, from the lowest to the highest.
The new statutes in Illinois are some better; but if practical politics fills all the offices, and the same men, or their kind, are selected to fill the positions of deputy assessors, assessors, and review board, then some business men of Chicago must do one of three things,-bribe the assessor or his deputy; go out of business; or join the Hemp Club, and elect a few men honorary members. This club will yet be a necessity in Chicago, if courts turn deaf ears to the pleas of outraged taxpayers.
An amusing incident occurred. The writer published a statement that a certain livery-stable keeper had fixed the
taxes of a large corporation, and had paid off the mortgage on his stable with the proceeds. The next day a liverystable keeper in another town, of whom the writer knew nothing, called and in great confidence explained that the bank in question was "fixed" with the assessor by a man in his office, but not by himself. It did not occur to him that more than one livery-stable keeper had "fixed" assessments for reputable men.
A leading legal authority of Chicago, in conversing with the writer, waxed wroth that Ex-President Harrison had made such sweeping statements in his Union League address on the "Obligations of Wealth." But he became ominously silent, when the writer informed him that he himself was a member of a certain honorable committee, some of whose members had dodged their taxes in the year 1897 for a sum aggregating $150,000. No more need be said of the practical working of the old law which remains in force in 1898. The excitement caused by the publication of the statistics given out by the Taxpayers' Defense League, in coöperation with the newspapers, led to the calling of the special session of the Legislature and to arousing public opinion on the subject. Chicago finds indictments for its honorable citizens who were simply careless (its civil service board), but it is honoring to-day with high praise men who are the enemies of the state because they buy their taxes on the bargain counter, and then are willing to see the banks who refused to do the same thing raided and robbed under the guise of law-and in the name of legality. "A state cannot exist half-taxed and half-free," said Ex-President Harrison in his late Chicago address, and the truth was never more simply or plainly stated. Any system of raising revenue, no matter how perfect, must meet with these obstacles:
1. The difficulty of finding men in the walks of politics who are efficient and honest and will accept the position of assessor.
2. The difficulty of discovering intangible assets for purposes of taxation. This is simply impossible in a city like Chicago.
3. The difficulty in estimating cash values of such assets as are discovered. Coal, iron, beef, flour, lumber, and such commodities as are usually called necessaries of life, are close to cash; but the luxuries of life, such as jewelry, works of art, etc., have not so well-defined a market value. Hence they are remote from cash.
4. The impossibility of doing the work of the assessor in the time allotted, even with unlimited assistance.
The new law overcomes in a measure the defects in the old one, but there is no law that can make assessors honest; and, if dishonest men are chosen to fill such high positions of trust, the evils that now afflict the people must continue to exist. When to the difficulties of discovering intangible assets and of valuing tangible property properly and equitably, there is added that of unwillingness to know the truth, because the assessor is selfish and dishonest, and is using his position for personal ends, then the problem becomes too complicated for solution. Party politics and lines must be ignored in municipal affairs and civic reform must be the watchword of the day. Popular government will reveal its weakest point in matters of revenue, for revolutions have usually sprung from over-taxation, but there is no appeal from the majority in a democracy except in revolution. When all the machinery of the government is wedded to injustice and the humble taxpayer has no redress because the cost of securing justice is greater than the wrong inflicted, the seeds of anarchy are sown by the very forces that should have the respect and affection of the people. When a whole community is imbued with a contempt for court, it is time for judges to listen with respect. Along with the accomplishments, therefore, which have made Chicago so distinguished as a
center of commercial activity and the home of great libraries, must now be added that of legalized robbery of banks. Everett congratulated Boston, that, though in a commercial decline, she was in the intellectual ascendency. Chicago may now be congratulated that an ideal political science can be so combined with practical politics that, in the midst of her commercial and intellectual ascendency, a crowd of hoodlums and ward toughs, headed by a man called a "collector," with a paper in his hand termed a "warrant," can enter in broad daylight the oldest and most honorable banking institutions in Chicago and, under the pretense of legal procedure and by threat of closing their doors, proceed to demand and take by force thousands of dollars that did not belong to him, nor to the city, county, or state which he misrepresented. Bank robbery in triumphant democracy has thus, in Chicago at least, come to be a fine art, and, inasmuch as it reveals the wide gulf that is fixed between ideal and practical politics, it is worthy of recording as a tribute to Aristotle's definition of mobocracy.
The old and vulgar way of robbing a bank was to enter it stealthily at midnight, blow open its vaults and pick the locks. Like the Machiavellian code of ethics in political science that Spain yet adheres to, this method of procedure is highly dishonorable in a civilized community. It is out of date. It has few sympathizers in a city as modern, ingenious, and enterprising as Chicago.
A more popular plan of robbing a bank had its run for a season. It was unique and high-toned. It was simply to become the President or Cashier, invite the confidence of stockholders, directors, and depositors; then have a little side-issue like a wire into the stock exchange or a pretty stenographer with extravagant notions of dress, jewels, and apartments. When all the aforesaid people of simplicity and credulity were lulled into repose and confi
dence, then it was an easy task to carry off the bank in broad daylight, and congratulate the stockholders that the building and fixtures were left intact where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. This is precisely the plan adopted by a distinguished gentleman who has quite recently changed his place of residence from Chicago to the state penitentiary. It was practiced largely in Indiana a few years ago. With the activity of grand juries and courts of justice this plan is becoming unpopular. Judges are educated to look with disfavor on this plan for raising revenue.
The honor belongs to Chicago of discovering the latest and most approved method of robbing a bank; one that will excite the admiration of all old convicts, and bring tears of humiliation and the blush of shame to their cheeks for their stupidity in not discovering the way to become suddenly wealthy and keep out of the penitentiary. The plan is simple, and founded on a few propositions so axiomatic that none but a dullard could dispute them. The first proposition is, that the supreme fact in the existence of the state is its right to tax. It is not necessary to quote Plato, Aristotle, Pericles, Cæsar, Cicero, and even Machiavelli in this fundamental assumption.
This conception belongs to all forms of government, paternal or democratic, and the modern student of political science must admit it as a self-evident truth. Here then is the starting-point. The practical politician has this for a firm foundation under his feet. He feels the solid rock beneath him. The state must exist, or anarchism will reign; in order to exist the state must have funds for its legislative, its executive, and judicial branches. From time immemorial the plan of raising revenue has been in some form of tax. It has never been supposed that the state could exist by passing the hat! After a few thousand years, the children of men ought to have arrived at