The American colonies, as might be expected from the practices of the Mother country, made a wide use of fees. Most of the Colonial officials were remunerated for their services by the fees which they collected. The use of money was developed to only a limited extent, consequently most payments were made in products. Much fraud was practiced by the officials in order to increase the payments, Simple transactions were often divided into a number of parts, and a fee was charged for each part. Few fees for granting licenses were found, since comparatively little regulation was needed. It would have been surprising, since fees played such an important place in the colonies, had they not been used extensively by the Federal and state governments when they were formed. From the beginning fees have held an important place for various purposes in these governmental units.
One of the first instances of the use of fees by the Federal government was in connection with the granting of patents. The salaries of the Patent Office officials were to consist of the fees collected. They were so small, however, and the number of patents secured in the early years were so few, that it became necessary to increase the fees. Later the fees were paid directly into the treasury, and the officials were placed on a fixed salary basis. Practically the same has been true of the copyright fees.
All sorts of fees have been used in connection with shipping, such as for handling imports, and for licensing vessels, and the numerous maritime officials. At first these fees constituted the remuneration of the officials, but changes were gradually made to a salary basis. The same has been true of the fees connected with the consular and diplomatic service and courts. A large part of the fees of the states and local governmental units are for the granting of some privilege, or for performing some inspection. A large number of court fees are also found. In most cases the payment goes into the treasury and the official is paid a fixed salary.
Payment by Salary. - One tendency stands out prominently in this development of the use of fees - to give them up as a basis of payment to officials. In a progressive and changing country it is impossible to frame a schedule which will work justice to all officials. Economic conditions may change quickly, so that the operations requiring a fee payment may increase many fold in a few months or may totally disappear. The payment of officials by fees, who were disposing of the public lands, illustrates the difficulty. Some did " a land office business " and were more than satisfied, while others received so little as to make it unprofitable to maintain the office. These difficulties, together with the temptation to fraudulent acts to create more fees, has been responsible for the wide adoption of the fixed salary as a basis of payment. Numerous examples may be found, however, especially in the local political units, where the fee is retained by the official as a part or all of his salary.