No. 624.

Mr. Winchester to Mr. Bayard.

No. 23.]

Sir: The Federal Assembly, at its session of June, 1885, resolved to revise articles 31 and 32 of the constitution, concerning freedom of trade and the right of the cantons to levy import duties on wine and spirituous liquors.

This resolution was submitted to the popular vote on the 25th instant, and was carried by a majority of 72,584, the vote standing, yeas, 229,619; nays, 157,035. It will be the duty of the Federal Council to prepare and submit to the Federal Assembly for its consideration and adoption suitable and efficient laws for the execution of the proposed revision.

This amendment of the constitution presents two prominent features. It is a surrender, or rather a return, to the cantons of a right transferred to the federal Government by the constitution adopted in 1874, as to the regulation and taxation of public houses and retail of spirituous [Page 813] liquors in such manner as may be necessary for the public welfare. It is also the result of a movement to resist and correct the evil influences attending the free distillation of what are known as potato spirits, the use of which, has become very alarming, both as to quantity and its ruinous consequences. The statistics of the penitentiaries, lunatic asylums, and houses of reform, all unite in reporting the use of this peculiar distillation, which is said to possess a very large per cent, of fusil oil, as very rapidly increasing the number of alcoholic patients and criminals. The report for 1883 shows that 40 per cent, of the male and 23 per cent, of the female convicts were intemperate, and of children placed in houses of correction, 45 per cent, of the boys and 50 per cent, of the girls were attributed to the same cause. It is estimated that 1,440,000 liters (a liter approximates a quart) were distilled last year, consuming 72,000 sacks of potatoes, of 200 pounds each. The object of the revision is mainly to restrict by taxation the distillation of this brandy, as it is known in Switzerland.

Under the existing law many of the cantons were allowed to retain their import duty on wines and spirituous liquors until 1890, but by the proposed revision, the right will terminate, except in so far as to legislate against the introduction of adulterated or impure compounds. The net receipt from the license of public houses and retail sales of quantities less than 2 liters, is to go to the cantons from which realized. The net receipt from the tax on distillation and additional import duty on spirituous liquors is to be distributed between the cantons in proportion to population, with the proviso that at least 10 per cent, of this amount must be devoted by the cantons to temperance propaganda. The cantons are in this way indemnified for the loss they suffer in being deprived of their geld on cantonal duty, which to the canton of Berne is equal to a million of francs per annum. It is doubtful if the needed legislation for the carrying out of this important revision of the constitution, can be obtained sooner than the spring session of the Federal Assembly.

I am, &c.,