« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
kind with that which the farmer establishes, might at least save this profit, which is almost always exorbitant. To farm any considerable branch of the public revenue, requires either a great capital or a great credit-circumstances which would alone restrain the competition for such an undertaking to a very small number of people. Of the few who have this capital or credit, a still smaller number have the necessary knowledge or experience, another circumstance which restrains the competition still farther. The very few who are in condition to become competitors, find it more for their interests to combine together-to become co-partners instead of competitors; and when the farm is set up to auction, to offer no rent but what is much below the real value. In countries where the public revenues are in farm, the farmers are generally the most opulent people. Their wealth would alone excite the public indignation; and the vanity which almost always accompanies such upstart fortunes, the foolish ostentation with which they commonly display that wealth, excites that indignation still more.
"The farmers of the public revenue never find the laws too severe, which punish any attempt to evade the payment of a tax. They have no bowels for the contributors, who are not their subjects, and whose universal bankruptcy, if it should happen the day after their farm is expired, would not much affect their interest. In the greatest exigen. cies of the state, when the anxiety of the sovereign for the exact payment of his revenue is necessarily the greatest, they seldom fail to complain, that without laws more rigorous than those which actually took place, it will be impossible for them to pay even the usual rent. In those moments of public distress, their commands cannot be disputed. The revenue laws, therefore, become gradually more and more severe. most sanguinary are always to be found in countries where the greater part of the public revenue is in farm; the mildest, in countries where it is levied under the immediate inspection of the sovereign. Even a bad sovereign feels more compassion for his people than can ever be expected from the farmers of his re
To these observations we have nothing to add. There is no reason to apprehend that any considerable portion of the public revenue will ever be set to farm in this kingdom, not merely on account of the mischief and unpopularity of the system, but also on account of the loss of the patronage and
influence which the ministry would sustain by its introduction. The offices connected with the collection of the revenue form no inconsiderable portion of the government patronage.
In the early stages of society in every country it has been thought expedient to levy a tax, to be paid, not in money, but in the performance of particular services. By such a tax, the state receives a contribution from those who, having nothing but their labour to support them, may be supposed incapable of making any other contribution; and it is certain that a labourer will more readily give six days' labour than six days' wages to the public service. This contribution of compulsory labour was demanded for the repairs of roads, bridges, and other public works; but experience has demonstrated, that it is better to raise by taxes the funds required to pay the labourers employed in effecting the necessary improvements or repairs. Labour, not paid for, is worth very little, while it distracts the person giving it from his ordinary and more useful employments. If one thousand men in any district were compelled to contribute ten days' labour each to some public work, it is probable that not as much progress would be made in it, as if half the number were employed and paid, and certainly not so much as if one hundred men were paid for working at it fifty days. The instant any thing like a division of labour is introduced, men see the folly and injustice of compelling a man whose labour in his own trade is worth three or four shillings, to leave it to work on a road or bridge where his labour is not worth six pence. At the same time, the labourer by indirect taxation, by taxes imposed upon the articles which he consumes, is found able to contribute to the expenses of the state a sum far exceeding the value of the labour which was formerly extorted from him.
One species of personal service is still required from the subject in many
"We allude to the obligation imposed in most states on all individuals, or on those belonging to certain classes, to serve for some fixed period in the army or navy, or both. This system, which has been partially acted upon for a lengthened period, has been vastly extended since the introduction of the con
scription into France; and the armies of that kingdom, with those of Prussia, Austria, Russia, and other continental states, are now recruited by draughts of recruits taken by lot from certain classes of the population. Napoleon said, in reference to the conscription, that it was le mode de recruitement le plus juste, le plus doux, le plus avantageux au peuple;' and authorities have not been wanting, who have recommended its introduction into this country, or, at least, an extension to the army of the principle on which the militia is recruited. But the plan of recruiting by voluntary enlistment is, notwithstanding the deference due to those who maintain the contrary, the only one consistent with justice, or with any regard to the rights of individuals, at the same time that it is in other respects decidedly the best. We do not mean to deny that the conscription, provided it be really equal and impartial, has some advantages on its side; but they are certainly very much overbalanced by the oppression and other disadvantages inseparable from it. Among the individuals subject to a conscription, there is the greatest discrepancy of tastes and tempers, some preferring the military profession to every one else, while others hold it in abhorrence. The system of voluntary enlistment avails itself of these differences: far from offering violence to any one, it gratifies all, by enabling those who prefer a military life, and those who prefer other pursuits, to indulge their tastes without let or hin drance. The conscription, on the other hand, introduces a species of fatalism, where there should be choice and discrimination: the chances being equal that the lot will fall upon individuals most disinclined to enter the army. Who would think of forcing people to become miners, shoemakers, or weavers? And why should the state attempt to enforce a system productive of still greater hardship and injustice?
Whenever the conscription is resorted to, the population is necessarily exposed to a two-fold grievance, that of being liable to be compelled to engage in a service to which they may entertain an unconquerable objection, and of being underpaid when so engaged."
A conscription is not only an oppressive, but a most unequal tax. The rich man may send a substitute. To prevent him from doing so would be an unnecessary act of cruelty. If the substitute is competent, the state is equally well served; no other person is concerned except the conscript and
his substitute; and why should they be prevented from making a bargain agreeable to both parties, and injurious to nobody? Suppose, then, the price of procuring a substitute be one hun dred pounds, the conscription becomes a capitation tax, by which men, without any regard to their means, are selected by lot to pay a certain sum of money, or to go into slavery in case of their inability. The conscription presses with peculiar hardship on the middle classes, who cannot afford to pay for a substitute, but to whom the life of a common soldier is misery and degradation.
In this country, the system of impressment bears a strong similitude to the conscription, inasmuch as by it men are compelled to fight in the service of the state, and to forsake their other pursuits for that of war; but it is free from many of the oppressions which are inseparable from the conscription, and has a greater show of necessity to justify it. In the first place, the condition and habits of a sailor are not materially altered by being removed from a merchant vessel into a man-of-war. This is very different from the case of a young man educated for the profession of law or medicine, or some commercial or agricultural pursuit, who is torn from his family, and compelled to undergo the fatigues and perils of a common soldier. In the next place, at the commencement of a war there is an immediate and pressing necessity for a number of sai lors to man the fleet. For this purpose none will suffice but those who have been inured to the sea, and practised in the duties of a seaman. those who are thus qualified are scattered all over the world. There is no time nor competition to enable the government to make a bargain with those who are near at home, and to procure a sudden supply of seamen it appears necessary, at the commencement of a war, to have recourse to impressment. Every sailor, therefore, may be said to enter his profession under the implied condition that when his country wants his services, he will give them upon reasonable terms. If a sailor is disposed to complain that he is pressed on his return from a long voyage, he may reflect that but for the system of impressment, he would probably not be either at home or in the merchant
service, but a prisoner in the power of the enemy.
Still no injustice ought to be done to any class of men, and least of all to our gallant tars; and it is an injustice, if by impressment he is forced to give his services for less than he might obtain for them by fair competition. When this is the case, as we fear it was during the last war, the injury appears even greater than it really is, and excites a proportional degree of indignation. The sailor who is impressed, and, therefore, all others in the public service, ought to receive the same wages at least as are at the same time given in the merchant service; and this liberality, or rather justice, on the part of the nation, will cost less than a careless observer might at first suppose. Thus, if the rate of wages in a merchant ship during a war be seventy shillings per month, and that in a ship of war only thirty shillings, it might be argued (supposing the advantages and comforts of the two services to be in other respects the same) that, to procure a supply of sailors by voluntary enlistment, it would be necessary to add at least forty shillings a month to their wages, and that even this might not suffice, since merchants, who must procure sailors or abandon their trade, would increase their rate of wages in order to prevent men from leaving their service to enter into the queen's.
Even if this were the case, it would not alter our opinion—it would merely prove the greater injustice of the system of impressment, but could not furnish an argument in favour of its continuance. We have as much dislike to robbery on a large scale as on a small scale, and it seems a poor argument, to infer that a man ought to be compelled to serve the government for thirty shillings a month, because his labour is really worth seventy shillings.
But this is really not the just view of the matter. The apparent injury done to the sailor who is pressed into the service is forty shillings, in the case that has been supposed; and on this estimate will be his indignation at the violence which has been done to him; but the expense at which the state can really procure his services on honest terms will be considerably less. If the fair rate of a sailor, as compared with men in other employments, be forty shillings a month, the liability to
be forced to serve for thirty shillings will be an additional disadvantage attached to nautical labour, which will diminish the number and increase the wages of those who betake themselves to the sea as a profession. If the chance or the dread of impressment were such as it would be if three men out of every four who entered the merchant service were actually to be pressed, then the calculation would stand thus:-out of four sailors, three will be pressed into ships of war, and only receive thirty shillings each, that is, in all ninety shillings for a month's wages; the fourth, the lucky man who escapes, ought to receive seventy shillings, to make up the eight pounds which the four ought to receive among them. A person about to enter the service ought to act as if he had three chances of getting only thirty shillings, and only one chance of getting seventy shillings; and although a merchant has to pay seventy shillings, he holds out only the same inducement to his sailors as if he paid only forty shillings; the remainder of the high wages goes to compensate his men for the dread and disadvantages of impressment. Thus what the nation gains by the system of impressment, is lost by the merchant service, and has the same effect as if a tax was levied upon every British merchant of thirty shillings a month for every sailor in his employment; and yet this would be deemed to be a very injudicious tax by the very men most inclined to defend the system of impressment. The difference is, that the impressment levies the same tax under the disguise of a lottery among the sailors, in which there are three blanks to one prize, and which is so managed, that the sailor who gets a blank (i. e. who is actually impressed) feels the greatest indignation at his loss, which he supposes to be four times as great as it really is, (i. e. that he is reduced to thirty shillings from seventy shillings, instead of from forty shillings,) while the lucky one who gets the prize, (i. e. who escapes impressment,) feels no gratitude, as he feels conscious that the press-gang would have caught him if they could.
The effect of the high wages caused by the system of impressment and under-pay, being to reduce the number of men whom the merchants are able or willing to employ, let us examine
what the effect would be if the wages of sailors in our navy were raised from thirty shillings to forty-two shillings that is, to two shillings a month more than the wages of other men in similar employments. This could not raise the general rate of seamen's wages. If there are one hundred and twenty thousand sailors, of whom the queen employs ninety thousand, and the merchant service thirty thousand, the latter will get its men on the same terms as long as there are thirty thousand men who cannot find other employment. The wages of men in the merchant service would remain unaltered as long as the same number of men embraced the profession of the sea. But this would not be the case; a number of young men, having an inclination for the profession, and partly qualified for it, who had deserted to other nations, or were engaged in other pursuits, earning between thirty shillings and forty shillings a month, but afraid to offer themselves to a merchant ship, lest they should be pressed to serve in a ship of war for only thirty shillings a month, would readily offer themselves when they knew that even if they were pressed, their situation would be better than it was on shore. The increase of numbers and competition would quickly reduce the rate of wages in the merchant service to their natural level, i. e. to forty shillings a month, or even below it, as many would enter a merchant ship at even less wages, in order to acquire such skill and character as might get them a situation on board of a queen's ship. The navy board would be besieged with applications for the office of sailor. Instead of ninety thousand in the queen's service, and thirty thousand in the merchant service, each service would maintain about ninety thousand, and there would be as little occasion to send a press-gang to procure sailors to man a ship of war, as there is at present to press men into the public service as gaugers or custom-house officers.
Our readers will perceive that we only partially agree with Mr. M'Culloch, who condemns the system of impressment altogether. We condemn it only when it is abused to compel men to work without being adequately paid. We maintain the natural right of the sovereign to compel every indi
vidual to take the part for which he is suited in the defence of the country; but justice requires that they should be adequately paid, otherwise an injury is done to those who are employed in the service of the public, for the benefit of those who work for themselves alone. The system of impressment may be necessary at the commencement of a war, but this will be productive of very little hardship, if the men who are pressed, and all others in the same service, are paid a little more than they could earn in a merchant vessel.
From what has been said, it will be seen that the conscription adds to the military power of the state solely by its influence upon the finances. The soldiers must still be drafted from such of the population as are of military age, and of ability to serve; and the general expenses of the war must still be defrayed by the remaining portion of the people. But the conscription lessens the apparent expenses of the war, by enabling the state to procure its soldiers at an inadequate pay. is in effect an unjust capitation tax, levied upon the entire population of the country, in addition to all other taxes. Its injustice does not impair its immediate efficiency. If England on the breaking out of war were to confiscate the national debt, the war might be carried on with few additional taxes; but this would not justify such a measure. It would add nothing to the real strength of the country. It would be merely an atrocious act of injustice to one set of its citizens, in order that the remainder may contribute less than their fair share to the expenses of the war. Of the same nature, and of the like injustice, is the conscription. It is exempt, indeed, from one disadvantage of impressment, that it does not tend to defeat itself. The latter is a tax upon British sailors, and has a tendency to prevent men from entering the service, or to induce them to desert to the service of other countries; whereas conscription is a tax upon mere healthy existence, and cannot be so easily evaded..
It may indeed be questioned whether the conscription adds in reality to the financial resources of the state which practises it. The war is carried on at less apparent expenses, but the productive industry of the state must be considerably impaired by a system
which prevents any young man from knowing his destination until he has passed the age of conscription. The education and the qualities which would render a man a useful citizen, may add nothing to his efficiency, or to the probability of his success as a common soldier.
The habits of every young man in early life are unsettled by the conscription. The joy felt by himself or his parents at all those trivial triumphs which presage future success in life, must be considerably damped by the reflection that, after all, it is probable that he may be obliged to enlist as a common soldier; and that annoyance at defeat, which often stimulates to successful exertion, is turned into contempt for all success which is not connected with a life of military adventure. A great advantage of the division of trades is lost, by making every young man almost half a soldier. No parent is encouraged by the youthful abilities of his son, to make a sacrifice to educate him for a station above that to which he seems born, unless he can also afford a sum sufficient to redeem him from the slavery of the conscription. Perhaps, when all things are considered, the most that can be said of the conscription is, that it disguises from the people the expenses of the war-no small advantage this to the military tyrant, but in a corresponding degree a misfortune to the country which suffers under his rule.
On the whole, then, we agree with Mr. M'Culloch, that such services as the nation wants for military or civil purposes, it ought to procure by tendering a fair remuneration to those who yield them. For this, a large revenue will be necessary, especially in time of war, which must be raised by taxation, ultimately falling, with a few exceptions, upon rent, profits, or wages -these being the chief sources of all private, and therefore of all public wealth. A tax upon rent may be first considered, as it certainly is the first that would occur to any person considering on which of the sources of wealth a tax ought to be imposed. Rent appears to be an income enjoyed by landlords who contribute nothing for what they receive, but who enjoy in luxurious idleness the wealth which others create by unceasing toil. Land is a peculiarly fit subject for a tax, as
it is the gratuitous gift of nature to the country, not to any particular individuals, and it cannot be concealed, or destroyed, or removed. But when we approach the subject more closely, we meet with unexpected difficulties, which are forcibly stated, but not without some exaggeration, by our author :—
"The sum which the occupier of an improved farm pays to the landlord, is uniformly derived from two distinct sources, and is consequently divisible into two portions, whereof one is a compensation for the use of the natural and inherent powers of the soil, and the other a compensation or return for the use of the buildings, roads, drains, fences, and other improvements made on the farm. Rent, properly so called, consists of the first only of these portions; the second, though usually included under the term, being obviously the return to, or the profit derived from the capital expended upon the land.
In a practical point of view, taxes on the rent of land are extremely objectionable. It is quite impossible to separate rent into its elements, or to say 'how much is paid for the soil, and how much for improvements. No two agriculturists ever arrive, in any given case of this kind, unless by accident, at the same conclusion; and the best judges affirm, that, generally speaking, the distinction is impracticable. When, therefore, a tax is laid on rent, it is necessarily proportioned to its gross amount, or to the total sum paid to the landlords, without regard to the sources whence it is derived. It has always been, and always will be, a formidable barrier to agricultural improvements; for the return paid to the landlord for capital expended on the soil, being included in rent, a tax on it discourages, or, it may be, wholly prevents fresh outlays of capital on the land, and consequently depresses the most important branch of national industry."
Our author thinks, with good reason, that it would not be politic, even for new countries, like the United States, which have large tracts of fertile and unappropriated land, to retain the property in such lands, and to set it on lease as any other landlord might. During the existence of the lease, the state would derive less profit from the land than if it had sold it, or leased it in perpetuity; and from this cause alone it would, before the expiration of the lease, lose the full value of its reversionary interest. No one