Page images
PDF
EPUB

only from a misconception of his duties, and a miscalculation of his reasonable expectations.

In the project of supply, the Commons acted with susficient liberality when they allotted to the king 1,200,000 l. a year; it was far short of the monies received by Cromwell, but the people of England, when they desired freedom from the yoke of pretended liberty, aimed at the establishment of a beneficial and conftitutional rule, and not at the exchange of one tyranny for another. The parliaments, however, acted unwisely, as well as unjustly, in not providing effectually for the supply of the fum they had voted; they exhibited a mean jealousy in suffering the fear of the king's independence to step between their promise and its execution, and are intitled to no small share in the blame due to the king's subsequent want of conduct, since by rendering his income inadequate, they justified his incurring debts; and the extent of that pernicious resource no individual or public body can calculate.

To the support of government in this reign were allotted the customs, which were greatly improved; the feudal perogatives were finally and utterly abolished, and in their stead, a permanent cxcise on beer, akc, and other liquors, and the profits of wine licences, were permanently settled on the crown; a tax of two shillings on every hearth in houses paying to the church and poor was imposed, and very much, though perhaps unreasonably, decried. By these means less than 1,100,000l. was obtained as an ordinary revenue.

Occasional grants were made by parliament, the amount of which was raised in different ways; there were three unproductive and justly unpopular poll-taxes; the customs and excise were augmented, but disputes between the king and parliament prevented this augmentation from being permanent. Subsidies were in this reign, for the last time, imposed, and it was evidently become neceflary to supersede a mode of taxation, in which persons whose estates were known to be worth 2000l. or 3000l. a year, did not pay above 161. for four subGdies. Land taxes supplied their place, being collected monthly under the name of affefinents, and for one purpose an imposition was laid on personal property, being fifteen shillings on every hundred pounds belonging to bankers; the same sum on every hundred pounds lent to the king at above fix per cent. intereft ; fix shillings per cent. on all personal estates; two thillings in the pound on the salaries of all

. offices and places, to which was added a shilling in the pound on lands and mines. Stamp duties were also first impofed in this reign, and never afterward entirely superseded, though, for a time, suffered to cxpire. These were the regular means by which the king obtained

supplies ; supplies; he also derived some aids from adventitious, and others from exceptionable sources. He received, besides Tangiers in Africa, and Bombay in India, 250,000 l. in part of 500,000 l. promised as the portion of his confort ; and royal domains were fold to an uncertain amount, probably about 500,000l. In the disgrace of selling Dunkirk to France, the parliament must share with the king, as their jealousy and parsimony obliged him to conclude a bargain, which, for 336,7731., divested him of that dominion; but the infamy of receiving a pension from France, and all the baseness and duplicity to his allies which ensued from it, were peculiarly his own. The sums which he thus obtained amounted to 950,000l., and the share which he retained of the prize-money and other advantages during the Dutch wars amounted to 640,000l. In 1672, by advice of Lord Clifford, he shut up the exchequer, and instead of paying the bankers and others who had advanced money on the credit of parliamentary votes, their principal, he obliged them to receive the interest only, at fix per cent., a fraud which procured him 1,328,5261., at the expence of ruining many of his too confiding subjects, and greatly injuring public credit

. With such an instance in view, it would be difficult to believe that Charles would have been restrained by principle from any illegal extortion, but the constitution was now too well understood to allow much success in such efforts; an arbritary duty was laid on coals, under pretence of providing convoys during the war with Holland; and when the king, in consequence of the imprudence and misconduct of those who demanded the exclusion of his brother from the crown, had obtained a coma plete victory over that formidable party, and, indeed, had become almost master of the liberties of the people, he compelled the different corporations to surrender their charters into his hands, and exacted considerable sums previously to their restitution. By all these means, he gained an annual revenue of 1,800,000l., a sum which, if regularly granted and prudently applied, would have been sufficient to answer all his purposes. With all the faults and vices of this reign, political liberty and finance received many improvements; fome relating to the latter having been mentioned, and two others deserve notice. The clergy were no longer left to tax themselves as a separate body, but being now represented in the House of Commons by voting in the election of county members, were assessed like other subjects of the realm; and the supplies were no longer voted in a general way, but separately appropriated by parliament to the various purposes they were intended to effect.

James II. began his reign as if predetermined to justify those who had fought to exclude him from the throte, and furnifla G2

every

every pollible motive to those who afterward expelled him from it. . Although dissuaded by his council, he issued a proclamation, commanding the payment of the customs and other taxes as usual, without waiting for the aflent of parliament; and in his first speech to that body, he made them understand that they were not to attempt securing frequent meetings by granting small supplies ;“ I must tell you plainly,” he said, “ that * such an expedient would be very improper to employ with “ me; and the best way to engage me to meet you often, is “ always to use ne well.” The parliament however granted this king 2,000,000l. per annum, a larger permanent income than had been allowed to any of his predecessors. Had James been at all master of himself, and fought the establishment of the religion to which he was so bigotted, and the tyranny, of which it is the best fupport, by flow and cautious means, it is much to be feared that success must have crowned his measures. His very virtues were calculated to give effect to such a project; his frugality would have exempted him from making frequent application to parliament, and this circumstance would have secured him the love and confidence of a large portion of the people; luis zeal for the advancement of the navy was evidently wife and patriotic, and calculated to gain popularity; and the Nanding army of 30,000 men which he had established, might, with cautious management, have been made subservient to any purposes. The impatient temper and undisguised tyranny of James haftened the revolution, and rendered its accomplishment easy, by combining against him, in every class, a strong and firm party. The operations of finance in his short reign were not considerable : he received one supply of 400,000l. to Tuppress the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth, and in 1685, one of 700,000l. was voted, but the king, apprehensive that the Cominons would interfere in his pretended prerogative of dispensing with telts, dissolved the parliament before the bill pafled.

STATE OF FINANCE AT THE REVOLUTION. From this period, it is not intended to notice the financial operations of each reign; for the system of funding, which took place soon after the revolution, totally changed the manner and purpose of supplies. It may, however, be proper to remark' from the foregoing statement, that before the funding system had begun, the origin of almost every species of taxation was laid, and its great principle developed. The customs, excise, land-tax, subsidy or income-tax, poft-office, stamps, licences, house-tax, and afterments on fome particular luxuries, had all been brought into use. Modern improvement has done little more than extend their application to new objects, facilitate the collection, and prevent frauds in those who pay, and those who collect. Taxation is now wound about every object, and every act of life; and many are apt to consider the situation of the country as far worse than in ancient times, when sums nominaily small formed the whole mass of annual expenditure; but without entering into the wide field, to which the difcuflion of this topic would lead, it may be proper to mention, in the first place, the advantage which has been acquired in the establishment of the great constitutional doctrine, thac the subject inall not be afseffed, but with the consent of his representatives; in the next; to repeat that the modes of taxation now in use, were for the most part discovered before debts were incurred; and lastly, to mention, for it will be too long to describe, some of the most degrading, burthenfome, and tyrannical modes of acquiring property from the people, which have vanithed before the improved system of modern times. First, was the property vested in the sovereign, which in the days of Edward the Confessor amounted to 1422 marors, besides other lands and quit-rents, but was afterward greatly augmented; the royal forests, which although not productive of immediate rents, were by the forest laws rendered snares and engines of oppreflion to the people residing near them; the king possessed at one time fixty-eight forests, thirteen chases, and feven hundred and eighty-one parks, in different parts of England; he had also the right to mines, including the entire property of all the metals, if they contained the lealt portion of gold or lilver. Next were the feudal prerogatives, many of which did not vest in the king alone, but extended to others, who were lords of fiefs. The chief of these were included in the right 'of feignory, which supposed the king proprietor of all the land in the realm; and from this right branched out the profits of escuage, quit-rents, aids, reliefs, wardship, or the property in the income of an heir's estate till he attained the age of twenty-one, marriage, or the right of selling a ward in wedlock, fines of alienation, and efcheats. Besides these were the bona vacantia, as treasure-trove, waifs, and various other minuter objects. All the other prerogatives of the crown will be seen in the preceding pages to have been at different times sources of undisputed profit; the military prerogative, in plunder, tribute, and the redemption of persons and places captured; the judicial, in fees both legal and extorted, from suitors in courts; the political, in the sale of offices, charters, and titles; the inquifitorial, in the odious right of purveyance and pre-emption, which was founded on the supposition, that the king was making a progress through some part of his dominions, to inquire into its condition; and the commercial, in the fees for the establish

prevent

ment

G 3

ment of marts, the profit of coining, and the granting of patents and monopolies. The king's right to the service of his subjects was converted into an engine of oppression, by employing those who would not supply compulsory loans oil ruinous services; and his ecclefiaftical prerogatives gave him a strong hold on the property of the church, by corodies, extra parochial tythes, and the profits of bishoprics during vacancy. From the oppreflive ele&t of all these, the kingdom is now happily relieved; if any are nominally retained, they are in fact of so little importance as to be rarely felt, and generally unknown. Still more effectually are abolished those royal cxtortions, of which occasional mention has been made; of them not the slightest veilige remains. Among these were the oblations, or fines, without which no man could claim freedom in his most ordinary actions, or profccute with success his most undoubted rights; amercements, which were arbitarily imposed on individuals, or communities, for flight offences, or even acts in themselves indifferent; talliages levied at pleasure on the tenants of royal denesnes, in which all the great towns were ordinarily included; and the farming of counties, by which all the people of the kingdom were subject to rapacious exactions. To these should be added the extortions of popery; and a notion may be formed of the load of oppression from which the nation was gradually relieved. Even the modes of taxation have undergone such a reformation in principle, as makes a considerable deduction from the pressure occasioned by its present extenlive amount. Voluntary contribution being no longer recurred to, neither the rage of government, nor the torture of public opinion, can be used in forcing a supply. Before gold and Gilver were plenty, taxes were frequently levied in kind, an operation peculiarly injurious, as the commodities were sold raw to foreignery, and the people were thus deprived of the very elements of industry. Among the most odious taxes, to which government in its leis perfect state had recourle, were the poll tax and hearth money; the objection against the latter was, that it subjected the interior of a person's dwelling to the visitation of revenue officers; the objection was perhaps overstrained, but as it was generally received, the new government, after the revolution, acted wisely in abolishing the impoft. Popular opinion is not, however, á safe criterion in matter of revenue, for many taxes which are both juit and productive have been atlailed by violent public clamour, while one of the most popular ever imposed was that which lay for so many years on the Jews, subjecting them to the extortion of a separate exchequer, and finally driving them from the realm. Before the revolution, every mode which can be generally de

« PreviousContinue »