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Fifthly, The greatest part of public stock being always in the hands of idle people, who live on their revenue, our funds give great encouragement to an useless and inactive life'
After this, he observes, that though the injury, arising to commerce and industry from our public funds, is very considerable ; yet it is but trivial, in comparison of the prejudice, that results to the state, considered as a body politic, which must support itself in the society of nations and have various transactions with other states, in wars and negotiations. i I must confess, says he, that there is a strange supineness, from long custom, crept into all ranks of men, with regard to public debts ; not unlike what divines so vehemently complain of with regard to their religious doctrines. We all own, that the moft fanguine imagination cannot hope, either that this, or any future ministry will be posseft of such rigid and steady frugality, as to make any considerable progress in the payment of our debts, or that the situation of foreign affairs will, for any long time, afford them leisure and tranquillity, fufficient for such an undertaking. What then is to become of us ? Were we ever so good christians, and ever fo resigned to providence ; this, methinks, were a curious question, even considered as a speculative one, and what it might not be altogether impossible to form some conjectural folution of. The events here will depend little upon the contingencies of battles, negotiations, intrigues, and factions. There seems to be a natural progress of things, which may guide our reasoning. As it would have required but a moderate share of prudence, when we first began this practice of mortgaging, to have foretold, from the nature of men and of ministers, that things would necelfarily be carried to the length we see ; fo now that they have at last happily reached it, it may not be difficult to guess at the consequence. It must, indeed, be one of these two events ; either the nation must destroy public credit, or public credit will destroy the nation. 'Tis impossible they can both fubfift, after the manner they have been hitherto managed, in this, as well as in some other nations.
« There was, indeed, a scheme for the payment of our debts, which was proposed by an excellent citizen, Mr. Hutchixson, above thirty years ago, and which was much approved of by some men of sense, but never was likely to take effect. He afferted, that there was a fallacy in
imagining, that the public owed this debt; for that really every individual owed a proportionable share of it, and paid in his taxes a proportional share of the interest, beside the expence of levying these taxes.
Had we not better, then, says he, make a proportional distribution of the debt amongst us, and each of us contribute a fum fuitable to his property, and by that means discharge at once all our funds and public mortgages ? He seems not to have considered, that the laborious poor pay a considerable part of the taxes by their annual consumptions, though they could not advance, at once, a proportional part of the sum required. Not to mention, that property in money and stock in trade, might easily be concealed or disguised; and that visible property in lands and houses would really at last answer for the whole : an inequality and oppreffion, which never would be submitted to. But though this project is never likely to take place ; it is not altogether improbable, that when the people become heartily fick of their debts, and are cruelly opprest by them, some daring, projector may arise, with visionary schemes for their discharge. And as public credit will begin, by that time, to be a little frail, the least touch will destroy it, as hap, pened in France; and in this manner it will dye of the Doctor,
• But 'tis more probable, that the breach of national faith will be the necessary effect of wars, defeats, misfortunes, and public calamities, or even perhaps of victories and conquests. I must confess, when I see princes and states fighting and quarrelling, amidst their debts, funds, and public mortgages, it always brings to my mind a match of cudgel-playing fought in a china-lop.' How can it be expect, ed, that sovereigns will spare a species of property, which is pernicious to themselves and to the public, when they have so little compassion on lives and properties which are useful to both ? Let the time come (and surely it will come) when the new funds created for the exigencies of the year, are not subscribed to, and raise not the money projected. Suppose, either that the calh of the nation is exhausted, or that our faith, which has been hitherto .fo ample, begins to fail us. Suppose, that, in this distress, the nation is threatned with an invafion, a rebellion is suspected or broke out at home, a squadron cannot be equipt for want of pay, victuals, or repairs ; or even a foreign subsidy cannot be advanced. What must a prince or minister do in such an emergency? The right of selfpreservation is unalienable in every individual, much more
in every community. And the folly of our statesmen must then be greater than the folly of those who first contracted the debt, or what is more, than that of those who trusted, or continue to trust this security, if these statesmen have the means of safety in their hands, and do not employ it. The funds, created and mortgaged, will, by that time, bring in a large yearly revenue, fufficient for the defence and security of the nation : money is perhaps lying in the exchequer, ready for the discharge of the quarterly intereft ; necessity calls, fear urges, reason exhorts, compassion alone exclaims : the money will immediately be seized for the current fervice, under the most folemn protestations, perhaps, of being immediately replaced.
more is requisite. The whole fabric, already tottering, falls to the ground, and buries thousands in its ruins. And this, I think, may be called the natural death of public credit : for to this period it tends as naturally as an animal body to its dissolution and destruction.
• These two events, supposed above, are calamitous, but not the most calamitous. Thousands are thereby facrificed to the safety of millions. But we are not without danger, that the contrary event may take place, and that millions may be facrificed, for ever, to the temporary fafety of thoufands. Our popular government, perhaps, will" render it difficult or dangerous for a minister to venture on so desperate an expedient, as that of a voluntary bankruptcy. And tho' the house of lords be altogether composed of the proprietors of lands, and the house of commons chiefly; and consequently neither of them can be supposed to have great property in the funds : yet the connections of the members may be so great with the proprietors, as to render them more tenacious of public faith, than prudence, policy, or even justice, strictly speaking, requires. And perhaps too, our foreign enemies, or rather enemy (for we have but one to dread) may be so politic as to discover, that our safety lies in despair, and may not, therefore, thew the danger, open and barefaced, till it be inevitable. The balance of power in Europe, our grandfathers, our fathers, and we, have all justly esteemed too unequal to be preserved without our attention and affistance. But our children, weary with the struggle, and fetter'd with incumbrances, may sit down fecure, and see their neighbours opprest and conquer'd; till at last they themselves and their creditors lie both at the mercy of the conqueror. And this may properly enough be denominated the violent death of our public credit.
. These seem to be the events which are not very remote, and which reason foresees as clearly almost as she can do any thing that lies in the womb of time. And tho' the antients maintained, that, in order to reach the gift of pophecy, a certain divine fury or madness was requisite ; one may safely affirm, that, in order to deliver fuch prophecies as these, no more is necessary, than merely to be in one's senses, free from the influence of popular madness and delusion.'
In our author's ninth discourse, he tikes notice of three remarkable customs in three celebrated governments, and concludes from them, that all general maxims in politics ought to be established with great reseive, and that irregular and extraordinary appearances are frequently discovered, in the moral, as well as in the physical world.
1. One would think it effential, says he, to every supreme council or assembly, which debates, that entire liberty of speech should be granted to every member, and that all motions or reasonings should be received, which can any way tend to illustrate the point under deliberation. One would conclude, with ftill greater assurance, that, after a motion was made, which was voted and approved by that assembly, in which the legislature is lodged, the member who made the motion, must, for ever, be exempted from farther trial and enquiry. But no political maxim can, at first sight, appear more indisputable, than that he muft, at least, be secur'd from all inferior jurisdiction : and that nothing less, than the same supreme legilative assembly, in their subsequent meetings, could render him accountable for those motions and harangues, which they had before approved of. But these axioms, however irrefragable they may appear, have all failed in the Athenian government, from causes and principles too, which appear almost inevitable.
* By the spaeon wapavojuar or indictment of illegality, (tho' it has not been remarked by antiquaries or commentators) any man was try'd and punished, in a common court of judicature, for any law, which had passed upon his motion, in the assembly of the people, if that law appeared to the court unjuft or prejudicial to the people. Thus Demofthenes, finding that ship-money was levied irregularly, and that the poor bore the same burden as the rich, in equipping the gallies, corrected this inequality by a very useful law, which proportioned the expence to the revenue and income of each individual. He moved for this law in the affembly :
he proved its advantages; he convinced the people, the only legislature in Athens ; the law patled ; and was carried into execution : and yet he was tried in a criminal court for that law, upon the complaint of the rich, who sesented the alteration he had introduced into the finances. He was, indeed, acquitted, upon proving anew the usefulness of his law.
62. A wheel within a wheel, such as we observe in the German empire, is considered by lord Shaftsbury, as an ab. furdity in politics : but what must we say to two equaļ wheels, which govern the fame political machine, without any mutual check or controul, or subordination ; and yet preserve the greatest harmony and concord ? To establish two distinct legislatures; each of which poffeffes full and ab, folute authority within itself, and stands in no need of the other's afsistance, in order to give validity to its acts.; this may appear, before hand, altogether impracticable, as long as men are actuated by the passions of ambition, emulation, and avarice, which have been hitherto their chief governing principles. And should I affert, that the state I have in my eye was divided by two distinct factions, each of which predominated in a distinct legislature, and yet produced no clalhing of these independent powers ; the fupposition may appear almost incredible. And if, to augment the paradox, I should affirm, that this disjointed, irregular government was the most active, triumphant, and illustrious commonwealth, that ever yet appeared on the ftage of the world; I should certainly be told that such a political chimera was as abfurd as any vision of the poets. But there is no need for searching long, in order to prove the reality of the foregoing suppositions : for this was actually the case with the Roman republic.
The legislative power was there lodged both in the Comitia centuriata and Comitia tributa. In the former, it is well known, the people voted according to their cenfus ; so that when the first class was unanimous, (as commonly happened) tho' it contained not, perhaps the hundredth part of the commonwealth, it determined the whole ; and with the authority of the fenate, established a law. In the latter, every vote was alike ; and as the authority of the senate was not there requifite, the lower people entirely prevailed, and gave law to the whole ftate. In all party divifions, at first betwixt the Patricians and Plebeians, afterwards betwixt the nobles and the people, the interest of the aristocracy'was predominant in the firit legiflature; that of