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Our military and naval expenditure, however hard it pressed upon the country in general, from the taxes imposed to procure the necessary supplies; still it enabled us to extend our trade to such an immense amount, as to indemnify a considerable portion of the community by the profits they obtained, even in departments not connected with the war expences. We possessed almost the trade of the world. But peace has broken up our monopoly. America, France, Belgium, Spain, Germany and even Russia prohibit the importation of several of our manufactures, and rival some of them, so as to undersell us in foreign markets.
Can we therefore wonder that since the peace the poor's rate is increased from eight to ten millions? Certainly, we must allow that the peace has brought an increase of two millions. But now a question arises, what increased the amount from two millions to eight, during the progress of the war?
The expences of the war increasing every year, required an increase of revenue to support it. That increase of revenue could only be procured by a proportionable increase of taxes. These taxes were either direct or personal, or indirect upon goods or luxuries. The direct taxes were immediately felt and lessened the disposable income of individuals; the indirect taxes increased their expenses in providing for the objects of taxation, and conse quently lessened their ability to provide those articles which were not immediately taxed, and lessened their comforts, if they did not intrench upon their necessary subsistence. Indirect taxation however has a boundary. Goods may be taxed till the price is beyond the reach of the usual consumer, till they are a luxury to a small number of wealthy purchasers, who still enjoy them; but the public who supported the sale, and consumption, must give them up, or use them sparingly; and the business then suffers, and the revenue produced lessens, instead of being raised. The next resource of the finance is then a poll tax or a tax upon property or upon income.
A poll tax can hardly be fully collected; and if the whole popu lation do not pay it, it is no longer productive. Unless it is very small, it cannot any way be obtained; and if it is low enough to be within the ability of the whole population, it would hardly pay
the expense of collection, and the additional charges for preventing evasion and punishing defaulters. It must therefore be laid on districts and parishes, and collected according to the ability of the sufferers: it becomes an income tax. Here is the summit of financial ingenuity.
At first sight it seems but fair that every person should pay according to his ability to the support of the government of the country.
Many persons of good ability, it was said, escaped the reach of taxation; and had clear incomes from the funds, from mortgages, and from profits in trade, whereas the landed property was subject to the land tax and all indirect assessments; and the tenant to tithe and poor's rate. All that is very true, but it is unavoidable, as long as the unequal division of property continues to exist; and it cannot be prevented. But an equal proportion of a man's income is not an equal taxation of his property according to his ability it increases in severity and oppression in inverse proportion of the person's income. The man who has one hundred thousand or fifty thousand a year, feels no inconvenience by paying a tax of ten or five thousand. He only has so much less to accumulate and increase his capital.
The man who has ten thousand or five thousand a year may bear a tax of one thousand or five hundred by the reduction of a few luxuries: but even he becomes less able to provide hereafter for the education and maintenance of his family-a thousand or five hundred pounds might portion a daughter, purchase a commission for a son, or settle him in a counting house or a respectable office. All this must now be done by retrenchments in the family expenditure: retrenchments in luxuries indeed, but such luxuries as for many years had been enjoyed by his family and men of his station, who were accustomed to establishments of town and country houses, carriages, horses and servants.
As the income lessens, the privation increases: the tax upon a man of two or three thousand a year is equal to the expence of a carriage. If he kept two, he must give up one. If he keeps a carriage he must give up some of his saddle horses. If he has a family to provide for, he must perhaps give up his town or country house. He is lowered a degree in the scale in which he used to move; still he is told he gives up a part to save the remainder, to
protect the country and himself from invasion or ruin.
he gives up but luxuries.
But to the man of a thousand or five hundred a year, a tax of one hundred or fifty begins to be a serious object. Is he frugal or saving he must give up the fruits of his economy, or still lessen his expenditure. Does he spend his income with perhaps a prospect of further increase?
He must retrench in earnest and deprive himself of many comforts, do less for his family, still less for his friends; and view with increasing alarm, the uncertainty of human enjoyments. But so much must be paid to preserve social order; we must all put our shoulder to the wheel; gentlemen must support one another. The struggle is severe, but success will soon cheer us, and then our burthens may be relieved.
But when the burden is laid on men of two or three hundred a year, how much more grievous is a defalcation of twenty or thirty pounds?
And this deficiency is not only felt by them, but by the various tradesmen with whom they dealt, and the manufacturer of the goods they no longer can afford to consume.
From this general view of public affairs, it must evidently appear, that the country suffers great distress, which is progressively increasing, and threatens some danger.
Is the progress rapid? Is the danger great? Can the one be stemmed, the other averted? Are there any resources left? Is the constitution safe? Can the government stand the crisis? In the present circumstances such questions will arise, and force themselves on our consideration, however long we may have endeavoured to drive them from our thoughts, to pursue uninterrupted our usual enjoyments, exult over momentary success, and dream of future greatness, power, and dominion.
What, is every thing lost? are we totally ruined? I think not; I am neither an alarmist, nor a jacobin. I am neither afraid of being killed and robbed by a mob of rebels, nor do I think an unlawful expulsion of ministers when they take wrong measures, would make their successors wiser or the constitution more secure.
No doubt much mischief has been done, but we are not without a remedy. The resources of the country have been extremely intrenched upon; but they are inexhaustible, and like the Phoenix,
rising out of its own ashes, astonish the world, and overwhelm with confusion those who are already exulting in their destruction..
When the plan was adopted by which the national debt is gradually purchased, some alarmists, though filled with dreadful fears, that such a powerful engine should be brought forward, indicating the most urgent danger, comforted themselves with the idea that if, after all, the ministers were distressed and their persons in danger, the government, as they called them, might sell what stock was in the hands of the commissioners, and apply it in what manner they chose to relieve their necessities. Perhaps the same idea occurred to them, as to the Portuguese government. If Europe was no longer safe for them, they might remove with all their wealth and power, not to the Brazils, but to Bengal or to Ceylon, and make the east the seat of empire.
.. There peers might be Rajas, commoners, Zemindars; a numerous and obedient population would rejoice at the happiness of a regular well established government; and Great Britain might shift for itself, divide itself again into heptarchies, clans or tribes, or become a province of France or of Russia.
No. I am no alarmist. This is no plan of mine. I will remain in my country, and support and preserve its constitution.
Well, but, says another alarmist, what is to be done? must we come to a general bankruptcy, spunge off the national debt, and save at least, the landed interest? No. That is not my plan: I will be faithful to the national creditor, and protect the widows and orphans in the enjoyment of their annuities and the free transfer of their stock.
When I speak of alarmists I am not presenting fictitious chaz racters. It has been the fashion of late years to call the whigs, the opposition, Mr. Fox and his friends, alarmists, as if they had groundless fears for the safety of the constitution. But alarm ists are of a much older date. The tories a hundred years ago and Lord Bolingbroke at their head, were most violent declaimers against the national debt, and a standing army to support it. In the year 1752, Mr. Hume, who had been under secretary of state, and secretary to the English ambassador at Paris, who must have been in the secrets of government and could not be suspected of disaffection, already anticipated the possibility of government
being obliged to seize for the public service, the money lying at the exchequer, ready for the discharge of the quarterly interest. The consequence of which would be as he thought, notwithstanding the most solemn protestations of its being immediately replaced, the whole fabric, already tottering, would fall to the ground, and bury thousands in its ruins. So he thought: And I in truth think he was really an alarmist. I have no doubt that when Mr. Pitt was in the plenitude of his power, possessing, or appearing to possess the confidence of the nation, when the 3 per cent fell to 47; if in March he had come to Parliament and said that the exigency of the times required that the money ready to pay the April dividend should be applied to purposes essentially necessary to the safety of the empire; the stockholders would have been satisfied with promissory bills or debentures payable the Oct. following without interest; that these debentures would have been received as ready money, in payment of all rents, mortgages, debts, &c. and that for more pressing occasions, the bank would have discounted them, at the rate of 51. per cent per annum, this I have no doubt of and more than that, if these debentures had been redeemed before the Oct, dividend became due, the same operation of finance might be repeated, if the exigency, returned. This however is no plan of mine. I am only supposing what Mr. Pitt might have done.
A bold measure occurred to me some time since to relieve the country from the pressure of the national debt. But I do not recommend it now. I will only mention it as an instance of what exertions may be suggested. It was to wave the magic rod of power over the national debt, and by a mighty fiat, declare that the several stocks of which it consisted, were changed into annuit ties of 20 years' duration; and at the expiration of that periód cease and determine. Upon such a declaration, the price of stocks would have a sudden fall, from which however they would soon in a great measure recover; and the value would bear some pro portion to the time the annuities had to run. The annuitants would continue to receive their usual income, the operation of the sinking fund would be most wonderfully accelerated, but still would regulate and moderate the fall: and various provisions and modifications might be suggested, to relieve classes or individuals NO. XVII.