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coach, omnibus, or cabriolet,-in each and all these cases the incidence of the tax is on the consumer or user of the article—no matter how casuists may endeavour to persuade us to the contrary; and of the whole amount of 50,000,0001. direct and indirect taxes, not more than 5,000,0001. are openly and manfully demanded of the people, while 45,000,0001. are secretly paid through circuitous routes into the Exchequer and its functionaries, and upwards of 45,000,0001. are extracted from the consumers as indemnifications for money expended, and irksomeness and interference in private and speculative mercantile pursuits. Thus the whole taxation, by the present system, is upwards of 100,000,0001. annually!
Enormous as is the sum of money levied in taxes, it is trifling in comparison to the evils attendant on the present system. It will be shown that a perfect barometric influence is observable on taxed commodities, or, in other words, as taxation rises, consumption decreases, and vice versâ : it is true, an absurd sophism (now almost exploded) has been put forth, that taxes are like the superabundant moisture of the earth, raised by the sun (state) to descend again in healthy dew and invigorating showers; but, what would a banker, or merchant, say to a housebreaker, who, when detected carrying off his bags of money, would exclaim—“ Don't be alarmed, my good sir, you will be no loser ultimately; the money will return to you in the form of different commodities, and in the way of business, and its diffusion will be a benefit to you.” It is more than doubtful whether such reasoning would satisfy the merchant. He would be apt to think that the purloiner of his cash had forgot the difference between the personal pronouns meum and tuum. There is, however, another sophistry scarcely less flimsy than the preceding, namely, that a government with large civil and military establishments is a benefit to commerce and to the nation at large. Now, should we not be inclined to think a shopkeeper worthy of Bedlam who every morning distributed money among his neighbours' in order that they might purchase his goods during the day and thus extend his trade!
It may be taken as an axiom in financial science, that taxation diminishes consumption and checks commerce in proportion to the amount levied. If the tax first levied be light, and the people prosperous and fond of the article, the check primarily given is transient; but if, as was Mr. Vansittart's plan, the tax be further increased, consumption is sure to decrease, and every access of taxation drives down in an accelerated ratio the use of the article subjected to fiscal rapacity.
To this cause, as will be subsequently seen, we mainly owe the present declining state of England; and Mr. Poulett Thomson, in his published corrected speech on taxation, (26th March, 1830,) indisputably proves that to the same cause was owing the decline of Holland, France, Spain, &c. The right hon. gentleman, in illustration of his argument, cited the case of Holland, which, during last century, was situated like England, emerged from heavy and expensive wars, and burthened with an enormous debt: from the foremost place among the nations and commerce of the world, its industry and trade gradually but steadily declined, and by all writers (says Mr. Thomson) who discussed the subject, the decline was accurately traced to one cause-oppressive taxation! A commission was appointed in the reign of William IV.
(1751) to investigate this important subject, and the following is an extract from the Report cited by Mr. Poulett Thomson:
" The oppressive taxes which have, under various denominations, been imposed on trade must be placed at the head of all the causes that have co-operated to the prejudice and discouragement of our commerce and manufactures, and it may justly be said that it can only be attributed to that, that the trade of this country has been diverted out of its channel, and transferred to our neighbours, and must daily be still more and more alienated unless the progress thereof be stopped by some quick and effectual remedy."
Truly, indeed, may Mr. Thomson say that “ WE MUST SINK IN THE SCALE OF NATIONS,” if we pursue our present fiscal course; and that, if we refuse to remove or reduce the burthens of taxation, we force the capital, the skill, the ingenuity, which we have raised with so much care, to seek another field where they can put forth their powers unmolested and unimpeded, for the history of the world reads us a lesson not to be disdained.
It may be as well, before entering on an examination of the separate items of taxation in our terrific list, to show the progress of our burthens from the time of the Norman conquest to the present period :-
Taxation of England from the Reign of William 1. to William III.
William I. . , 400,000
£. Edward III. . 154,139 Edward VI. . . 400,000 Richard II. . 130,000 | Mary ... 450,000 Henry IV. . 100,000 Elizabeth ... 500,000 Henry V... 76,643 James I. ... 600,000 Henry VI. , 64,976 Charles I. ... 895,819 Edward IV. 7
Commonwealth 1,517,247 Edward V. } 100,000 Charles II. , 1,800,000 Richard III.
James II. . . 2,000,000 Henry VII. , 400,000 William III. . 3,895,205 Henry VIII . 800,000 | Aune .... 5,691,803
It will be seen from the foregoing list how moderately the people of England were taxed for several centuries, and it is worthy of observation that the money thus raised was on property, not on consumption of the necessaries of life: at first the mode of raising money was by escuage, which was levied on land held by knight-service, and by tallage in cities and boroughs. When money was wanted for wars, those who did not attend in person paid a subsidy, or aid, which was assessed by the justices itinerant. By Magna Charta, as renewed by Edward I., the king had a fifteenth of all goods, (quindecim partem omnium bonorum,) and taxers and collectors were appointed by commission under the Great Seal for fixing the assessment on districts. In the reign of Charles I. the greatest subsidy ever yet levied was given in consequence of the petition of rights, and amounted to 4s. in the pound on land, 2s. 8d. in the pound on goods, making three-fifteenths on the land, (or one-fifth of the rent,) and two-fifteenths on goods; stock on land was exempt. With the Commonwealth, however, arose what Dr. Johnson justly termed our “ hateful excise;" and no means were left untried
to exact money from the country, as will be seen by the following abstract of sums raised in England from November 3d, 1640, to November 5th, 1659, a period of 19 years :-Six subsidies, 50,0001. each
180,000 Land-tax and appointments for the army .
32,172,321 Excise for sixteen years
8,000,000 Tonnage and poundage
7,600,000 Duty on coals .
850,000 Ditto on currants
51,000 Postage of letters
304,000 Weekly meal for six years
608,400 Court of wards and feudal prerogatives
1,400,000 Wine licences ..
312,000 Vintners' delinquency
1,600,000 Sale of church-lands .
1,000,000 Sale of estates of English ditto
2,245,000 Ditto of Irish lands
1,322,500 Ransom of captives
102,000 New River Water Company
£83,333,678 Besides raising these immense sums Cromwell left debts to be paid by his successor amounting to 2,474,2901.
We now approach the reign of William III., when our financial system underwent a great change. At the period of the revolution in 1688, . the taxes then subsisting and their annual produce were— Ist,-A subsidy on tonnage and poundage
500,000 2d,—Temporary and hereditary excise ..
Total . . . . 2,061,856* * There was also a local duty of Is. 6d. a chaldron on coals, for the purpose of finishing St. Paul's.
With this revenue James II. supported a standing army of 30,000 well-equipped troops, and an excellent fleet, consisting of nine first rates, eleven second ditto, thirty-nine third ditto, fourteen fourth ditto, two fifth, six sixth, three bombs, twenty-six fire ditto, six buoys, eight hulls, three ketches, twenty-eight smacks, and fourteen yachts, the whole numbering 173 sail, carrying 42,003 sailors, and 6930 guns, furnished with every maritime store, of which the dockyards and arsenals contained the greatest abundance. His civil list also was large, and the total expense to the nation of king, government, army, and navy was but 1,699,3631., leaving an annual surplus of upwards of a quarter of a million for emergencies, while the people remained unburthened by any national debt.*
On the accession of William III., the condition of this slightly-taxed country was soon altered : every scheme which fiscal ingenuity had tried in Holland for the raising of money was practised in England ;-taxes were laid on land (at the rate of 3s. in the pound), on houses, on windows, on malt, on hops, on glass, on paper, soap, leather, candles, starch, bills and receipts, hackney-coaches, sweets and mead, salt, hawkers and pedlars, &c. &c. &c.; the branches of taxation previously existing were doubled, trebled, and quadrupled within a few years;—to two branches of excise, eight more were added,—to eight custom duties, eleven were added,
—and to two branches of inland revenue, six more added; the excise duties were pawned for three years for 500,0001, (thus was commenced the national debt;) and, in fine, almost every tax which has bowed down this nation to the earth was first levied by William III. and his succes
* Taxes, National Debt, Parochial Assessments, Price of Wheat, fic.
in Great Britain.
sor; so that at the expiration of the first twelve years of the revolution the amount of public revenue, taxes, and loans, exacted by King William was 65,987,5661. 175. 8d. sterling; and by the close of Queen Anne's' reign, making in the whole twenty-six years, upwards of 150,000,0001. had been raised in taxes, besides the national debt left for posterity to liquidate! The mode in which our taxation has since progressed' will be best seen by the preceding table, which demonstrates that in the course of the last century we had our taxes increased from 2,000,0001. to 50,000,0001., and our debt from 0 to 800,000,0001. sterling! The necessary result of such conduct is seen in the augmentation of England's poor-rates from 500,0001. to 8,000,000l.; and in raising the price of wheat from 22s. to 64s. per quarter. So long as war lasted, and we had a monopoly of the trade of Europe, the effect of our enormous and unjust taxation was felt but in a slight degree ; moreover, 17,000,0001. a-year was raised on property; and the Exchequer loans may also be considered in the light of a property contribution. With the war those property loans and property taxes ceased, and the whole burthens of the state were thrown on the industry of the country and the consumption of the people. A little foresight might have foreseen the inevitable consequences of such policy among a population subsisting, for the greater part, from hand to mouth, on the profits of bodily labour; while that very population were becoming every day more keenly sensible of their physical wants, by reason of increased mental knowledge. t. The melancholy effects of the system have been most apparent in England, as will be seen by the taxes levied on England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland separately, according to a recent return, thus :- ****** a . Area in Sq. Miles. Population.
Taxation. ' Per bead.*** Englandi í 50,520 ... 13,486,675 . . £40,310,280 , 60s.' Wales . . . 7,409 . .
803,000 . . 428,763 ... 108.) Scotland , 29,605 . 2,365,930 . 5,216,946 . . 438. Ireland . . 28,750 . i 7,839,469 . . 4,592,357 ... 12s..
i Total No. 116,274 No. 24,495,074 £50,548,346 in " Hence it will be observed, that on an area of 116,274 square miles; with a population of 24,495,074, and a taxation of 50,548,3461., England, with half the area, and scarcely a moiety of the inhabitants, pays four-fifths of the government taxes, independent of 8,000,0001. poorrates, 5,000,0001. a-year tithes, &c. &c.!
In the table herewith annexed, Ireland is excluded from the taxation, and Scotland from the parochial assessments. The ratio of the value of labour is from the Greenwich Hospital returns; and the commitments for crime, it may be observed, are merely the assize commitments, which are rapidly increasing.
The reader is requested to ponder well on the foregoing astounding facts until next month, when the consequences to the British empire, attendant on the present baneful system of finance, will be amply developed for his investigation.