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law proposes to accomplish by issuing permits to exceptional individuals. In both cases the law is commonly enough per verted from its intention, and the "town liquor agency," or the licensed liquor shop, becomes the source of a great deal of mischief. But none the less the intention of the law is, in either case, an honest and right intention, to protect society from the immense mischiefs incident to the indiscriminate sale of liquors.
Now, there is a very powerful combination of influences at work, in seeming antagonism, but in real and mischievous harmony, to sophisticate the popular, the legal, and even the judi cial mind on the meaning of a license law. The monstrous and multitudinous crew of depraved and guilty wretches who, all over the land, delight to engage in the business of keeping tippling houses for gain, and who make the business profitable just in proportion as they are unprincipled and unscrupulous, strenuously hold that a license law is simply a device for collecting revenue, and that every scoundrel of them has a right to pay his fee and take his license, unless some specific disqualification is proved against him. And the same view of the law is advocated with equal earnestness by a small political party which favors a different device of legislation, and which is not ashamed to cooperate with the rum-selling fraternity in putting their desired interpretation on the license law, in hope that thus good citizens. will be driven to vote the prohibition ticket.
Now, it is of high importance to the clear understanding and well working of a liquor license law, that it should contain no provision whatever for a license fee, whether large or small. The law ought to show on the face of it, not only that it is not solely or mainly for the purpose of revenue, but that revenue is no part of the object of it. This is important, not only to silence
* A curious illustration of the power of a word is found in the "prohibitory" law of one of the western States; Iowa, I believe. It contains (if it is still extant) a provision under which "permits" may be issued to sell liquors for necessary uses. In other words, it is nothing in the world but a license law. But the "prohibitionists" who devised it will be shocked to discover the fact.
+ Friends of temperance in Portland, Maine, have sometimes denounced the town liquor agency as "the worst grogshop in Portland "-a very strong expression, as the Portland grogshops are notoriously very bad.
cavils, but to prevent honest misconceptions in the public mind, which has been so belabored and bewildered these forty years by the pestilent sophistries of the prohibitionists. Cleared of this incumbrance, the law would stand forth unimpeachable as a salutary police measure for the protection of society from the abuses of the liquor traffic.
The license law thus amended would not only commend itself to good citizens when the question was on its adoption; it would have a far better security for good administration. The licensing board would not, as now, be divided in mind between the question of public order and morals and the question of revenue. Its regard for the interests of the treasury would never have a chance, as now, to conflict with its duty to the interests. of society. In every application for license it could render its decision solely with reference to the question, Is the candidate a man of such discretion and fidelity that he is worthy to be trusted, for the public advantage, with a necessary but very dangerous business, from the abuse of which, in unfit hands, enormous mischiefs continually result to society and the state?
But is it, then, proposed that this business, which inflicts upon the state so large a part of its burdens, shall be exempt from paying its share of the public expenses? Not in the least. Let it pay its due and equitable share into the treasury. But let the taxing be kept completely separate from the licensing, so that the public, official and unofficial, may learn by and by that they are not the same thing, but entirely different things; that "a business may be licensed, and yet not taxed; or it may be taxed, and yet not licensed." * Let the license law provide for the issue of licenses on the sole ground of character and fitness. And then let the tax law provide for the collection of taxes from all liquor shops, whether licensed or unlicensed. And be very sure that the tax-collector will be able to discover and levy upon many an illicit tippling house which the prosecuting attorney has been totally unable to find; † and that the prosecuting officer
* See Cooley on
Taxation," 404-407, note, and other references in the FORUM, Vol. II., page 404, note. (No. for December, 1886.)
This used to have a striking illustration in Maine. In Portland and other towns the United States revenue officers used to collect the special tax, from
and the tax-collector will be, if they are honest and faithful officers, mutually helpful in their respective duties. Every illicit trader whom the revenue officer has compelled to pay his tax will at once be called upon to pay his fine and suffer his penalty; and, vice versâ, every one whom the public prosecutor has convicted of illegal selling will be liable to a call from the tax-collector to make good his debt to the revenue. Thus, by a proper and obvious discrimination in the exercise of its functions, the state will keep, not one eye, but both its eyes, wide open to watch a business that can never be watched too sharply and constantly.
Now, the objections to selling liquor licenses at any price are à fortiori objections to selling them at a high price. Fix the license fee at a thousand dollars, and you do more to countenance the mischievous and demoralizing pretense of rumsellers and prohibitionists, that a license law is simply a device for extracting blood money from criminals for the public treasury, than you can do by any other method, unless it is by fixing the fee at two thousand. The wise and stable enactment, and the righteous execution, of license laws depend on resolutely, persistently, refusing to tolerate this falsehood.*
It does not require argument to show that the higher the license fee, the more liable is the licensing board to be affected, in the issuing of licenses, by the money consideration, which ought not to enter into the case as it lies before them, but which ordinarily does enter into it, and always to the detriment of the public interests. In States in which the immensely important
year to year, from scores of professional dealers in liquors whom the prosecuting officer never dreamed of suspecting, although their names were recorded, with street and number of their places of business, in the United States Revenue Office, and printed in the " Liquor Dealers' Trade-list." And all the time that happy old optimist, General Neal Dow, was assuring us that the liquor trade was hiding away in undiscoverable holes and corners.
* How ingrained this notion is in some men's minds is illustrated by the language of the new Pennsylvania "Wholesale Dealers' License Act," which prescribes that "all wholesale dealers . . shall pay
nual license, in cities of the first, second, and third classes, of five hundred dollars." Paying a license! The absurd phrase is heard often enough in the loose talk of inexact people, and has grown up from the fact that the form of licensing is sometimes used merely as a convenient way of collecting a tax. But here we have the phrase inserted in a statute.
and difficult business of conferring liquor licenses is intrusted to functionaries of a low grade, without judicial experience or capacity, representing the treasury which is to be benefited by the license revenue, and depending for their own pay, not on the licenses they refuse, but on the licenses they grant, it is easy to see that their office will soon be nothing better than an open shop where the most important and dangerous trusts in the gift of the state are shamelessly bought and sold at a fixed price, especially if it is a high price. It does not help the matter much that the commissioners charged with this business are "good men," very good men, indeed, in the conventional sense of the word. There is no creature alive so dangerous to society, when there is grave work like this to be done, as your average "good man." This would be a very good world to live and fight in, if it were not for the "good men" in it. The most scoundrelly deeds I have ever known in the administration of a license law were done by "good men," with that semblance of an artless, unsuspecting ignorance of men's wicked ways which is characteristic of the rural diaconate when it gets into politics.
But does not the principle of high license prove itself to be practically useful in reducing the number of saloons, and, to begin with, in reducing the number of applications for license? Look at Philadelphia, where the new law has at once thinned out one-half of the customary number of applicants, leaving the remaining number to be still further thinned by the examination of the license court. And look at other experiments that have resulted in a large diminution in the number of saloons, with no loss, but a substantial gain to the public revenue.
I gladly acknowledge whatever good has been thus accomplished, and freely concede that this sort of test is the right sort of test to apply. The law that we want is the law that, in the long run, does the most good. But we must remember, first, that these experiments have not yet had a long run; and, secondly, that to have done more good than a very bad and badly administered law that went before, does not prove that the highlicense law is the best law, but only that it is not the worst. It will not do to be too confident of the public advantage gained by thinning out the saloons by the high-license expedient.
does not seem the best kind of reduction. It keeps in the business the men whom it is most desirable to exclude from it, the men who can best afford to pay a high price for a license; that is, the men who can make the most money out of their trade; that is, the men who can most effectively push the sale of liquor. These are the very men we do not want. The public has no use whatever for their talents in this direction. We do not want the liquor business pushed at all. It will go of itself quite fast enough and far enough. But these men, distinguished in their business by superior ability in persuading many people to drink, and to drink a great deal, are the men whom, under the high-license law, we shall select to be rewarded and splendidly enriched by a monopoly of this very lucrative trade. By an exorbitant tax at the outset, we signify to them that they are expected to do a big business and make a great deal of money. In fact, we require them, from the start, to undertake the business in this way; and we need have little doubt but that they will "better the instruction."
When I go on, now, to name some of the points which a good license law, and a good administration of it, ought to include, I beg not to be understood as claiming originality for the suggestions. I am merely going back to the proper conception of a license law, as it has been exemplified through many generations of salutary English and American jurisprudence, down to the time, within our memory, when somebody in the State of Maine made the sudden discovery that all license laws are essentially sinful.
1. The filing of an application for license ought to be accompanied by the payment of a fee sufficient to pay, with a good margin, all the expenses of the license court, or licensing board. Certainly, if any candidates are to be exempted from the costs of the necessary inquiry, it should not be the worthless criminals who take up the time of the board by trying to prevent the board from finding out that they never ought to have made application at all. A good round ten-dollar or twenty-dollar fee, paid with the filing of the application, would be quite as effective as the requirement of a high-license fee in thinning out the inconvenient crowd of applicants.