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Special Message

February 04, 1840

To the Honorable the House of Representatives:

I lay before you a report from the Secretary of the Treasury, with several documents annexed, by which it will be seen that judicial constructions have been given to the existing laws for the collection of imposts, affecting extensively and injuriously the accruing revenue.

They embrace, with many others, the important articles of linens, woolens, and cottons, the last two of which are often treated as silks, because that material constitutes a component part of them, and thus exempted them from duty altogether. Assessments of duties which have prevailed for years, and in some cases since the passage of the laws themselves, are in this manner altered, and uncertainty and litigation introduced in regard to the future.

The effects which these proceedings have already produced in diminishing the amount of the revenue, and which are likely to increase hereafter, deserve your early consideration.

I have therefore deemed it necessary to bring the matter to your notice, with a view to such legislative action as the exigencies of the case may in your judgment require. It is not believed that any law which can now be passed upon the subject can affect the revenue favorably for several months to come, and could not, therefore, be safely regarded as a substitute for the early provision of certain and adequate means to enable the Treasury to guard the public credit and meet promptly and faithfully any deficiencies that may occur in the revenue, from whatever cause they may arise.

The reasons in favor of the propriety of adopting at an early period proper measures for that purpose were explained by the Secretary of the Treasury in his annual report and recommended to your attention by myself. The experience of the last two months, and especially the recent decisions of the courts, with the continued suspension of specie payments by the banks over large sections of the United States, operating unfavorably upon the revenue, have greatly strengthened the views then taken of the subject.


Martin van Buren, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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