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will not be inadequate; but if it were found to be below the unexampled greatness of the cause, I am sure that the utmost alacrity would be shown to submit to still greater sacrifices, and to display more vigorous efforts. We have the satisfaction of knowing that, however heavy these burdens might be, if permanent, yet as temporary sacrifices they are light in the scale when weighed against this mighty crisis and extremity of defence, when compared with the horrors we have to shun, and the value of the blessings we have to preserve. If I am not deceived in the enquiries I have made, the greatest contribution will not exceed a tenth of the income of the highest class of those by whom it is paid. No man surely will think such a sacrifice too great for such a cause; he cannot think advantages too dearly purchased, if the effect of our preparation be to discourage the extravagant pretensions of the enemy, to dissipate the vain hopes they have built on our supposed financial embarrassments, to animate confidence at home, to confirm the solidity of our power, and to maintain the sources of our prosperity.
Having thus explained the general nature of the plan proposed, I must not omit to suggest the precautions which will be necessary to prevent the contribution from being eluded on the one hand by a subsequent diminution of establishment, and on the other to make provision that a real change of circumstances may not expose individuals to an oppressive exaction. It is evident, however, that in order to make the tax productive, it must proceed on a past, not on a future assessment. For, Sir, every gentleman must feel, that if for the period this contribution is to be levied upon the people, the share each individual is to contribute, were to be regulated by future assessments, a great part of the benefit there is now reason to expect we shall derive from it, would be frittered away by concealment and evasion. It is, therefore, my purpose to propose, that not future but past assessments shall be made the basis of the new contribution ; because prima facie, the most impartial evidence that can be obtained of the ability of each individual to contribute to the exigencies of the state, is the amount of his expenditure of income before he
has any temptation to lower it, in order to elude taxation. On the other hand, Sir, as cases may exist of some, who by accidental causes are rendered unable to support their present establishment; of others, who, having improvidently engaged in them, repent of their imprudence, and desire to return to a situation better adapted to their real circumstances; and of others who, though able to pay their present assessments, can show themselves, by the proportion they bear to their income, to be unable to bear the additional weight of the new contributions, it is my intention, when the whole shall come in detail before the House, to propose regulations for the relief of such persons, to be digested and modified in the best manner which so complicated a subject will admit. But while provisions of this kind are to be made in favour of those upon whom the assessment would be too severely felt, the House will foresee that it will be impossible, with any regard to the great and important object in view, to suffer the tax to be evaded by those who, not deficient in ability, but wanting in inclination, to contribute to the necessities of their country, would abandon the establishments to which they have been accustomed, and diminish their expenditure, in order to avoid the tax. But if it be found that, in point of fact, they shall have resigned their establishments from inability to maintain them; and if they follow up that resignation with a declaration to be prescribed for the purpose, that the increased assessments would amount to more than a certain proportion, to be regulated on a future day, of their whole income, then they shall be entitled to relief. Sir, I am aware, that, though the House and the nation will, with few exceptions, concur with me in this, there will not be wanting those who will cavil at this mitigating provision, and allege that it will amount in its effects to a compulsory disclosure of property ; but the House will immediately see that it falls short of that, and will view it in its true aspect, that is to say, as a provision intended to qualify, to mitigate, or to prevent any severity or injury that may arise to individuals from the difficulty, or rather the utter impracticability of drawing a precise line of demarkation between those who,
on account of the property they possess are bound, and those who, from inferior circumstances, are unable to contribute to a supply for the exigencies of the state: no man can say that such a provision, coming with the effects of relief, is a hardship, and I am sure no man can say that the tax would be efficient without it. These, Sir, are the outlines of the plan which I mean to offer to the consideration of the House in more minute detail upon a future day. If, when the whole has been examined, it shall meet the concurrence of, and be adopted by, the House, it will be found disengaged from many difficulties, embarrassments, and expenses, that lie in the way of other modes of taxation; for, Sir, the execution of it will entirely depend upon laws now existing, laws long in force, laws familiar to those who will be the objects of its provisions. To enforce it, no new power will be delegated, no new office created, no new expenses incurred.
Sir, I am aware that in contemplating a system of finance which professes to make property the basis of its assessments, and to be as diffusively, as generally, and as equally, levied as circumstances will admit, an idea will naturally suggest itself to every one, as it has to myself — I mean that assessed taxes, however differently apportioned to the circumstances of different persons, and however certainly they may attach on persons of opposite descriptions, are often eluded by a particular description of men of large property; you will see I mean those men who possess large capitals, and who, by denying themselves many of the enjoyments of life, hoard up money, and exclude themselves from assessment. How much this applies to the subject in consideration I will not now discuss, since it certainly applies no more to this than to a former mode of taxation; for I know no act to make property the subject of taxation, while it is not rendered conducive to the pleasure or convenience, or rendered visible by the optional expenditure of the person who possesses it. If this objection has never stood in the way of taxation before, I am at a loss to suppose how it can be made an objection to this, and shall be extremely obliged to any gentleman who will point VOL. II.
out a mode by which property so held in hand can be subjected to taxation or assessment. The proportion this class of individuals bears to the mass of the taxable part of the nation, is not sufficiently great to add any weight to the objection if it were made; and I submit it to the feelings and wisdom of the committee. whether, in a case of urgency and importance like the present, nine-tenths of the community shall refuse to contribute to the support, the preservation, the existence, of the state, because no means can be found to compel the remaining tenth to contribute also. Undoubtedly if it be now necessary to make great contributions instead of incurring a large mass of new debt, and if that be the best mode of carrying on the war, it would be greatly advantageous to be able to get at some mode of assessing all property in all individuals ; and so far it is to be lamented that the description of people of which I speak cannot be made subject to an assessment. But if, on the other hand, we can datter ourselves, as I own I do, with the hopes of being relieved sometime from that necessity, then, even though the hoards of the penurious elude our search, it by no means follows that the nation will receive no profit from them; for, on a general plan, though utterly inactive in the expenditure of the possessors, they become active in some other shape, or in other hands, and always find their level in the course of successive ages: so that though the scrutiny to pry into wealth may for a time be baffled, the effects of that scrutiny never fail to be produced by time. If, however, I saw the means, or could suppose that means might be devised, by which such capitals could be made productive and useful to the state in way of revenue, I do assure the committee I should consider it an object too important at this time to be neglected; though I still consider them as making a part of the strength of the country upon the average principles of general resources. Yet, Sir, we might flatter ourselves that, independent of that compulsory power which the condition of such property denies us, a due proportion of it would, at least in some cases, be forthcoming at the solicitation of self-interest and selfdefence ; for if this is a time, as I contend it is, when the people
of this country are called upon not to contemplate their wealth only for its enjoyment, not to indulge in prejudices, or opinions, or in doubtful speculations, but to take measures for the preservation of their existence now, and their security in future, and that for this purpose we are calling for money, not to be raised by loan with interest, to remain a heavy burden on those who are to follow us, but by demand on capital, then ought the hoards of the penurious to be opened; then should those who, devoted to accumulation by ignorance of enjoyment, and early habits of frugality, have arisen from the lower rank and meanest employments, by rigid frugality and indefatigable industry, protected, fostered, and encouraged, by that happy system of government, and those equal laws, which enabled them and permits any man to emerge from the bottom to the top of society, and who, in contemplating their possessions, can scarcely have a hope but that of transmitting to their posterity those blessings and comforts they deny themselves — then ought they, I say, for the recollection of the benefits they have received, and for the sake of those to which they look forward, to consider themselves above all men bound to come forward, in defence of that system which afforded encouragement to their labours, nurture to their industry, vigour to their pursuits, and protection to their per. sons, their property, and their acquisitions ; then ought such men to reflect, if they have the means, that this is the occasion on which they should come forward; then ought they, who have an interest so great in the country, to see that though it is impracticable to compel them, it is at least necessary for them to contribute, and that the necessity of the times is the most urgent, as well as the best of all compulsions; and come forward, not only uncompelled, but unsolicited, to offer their contribution. That some will have this feeling, and act upon it, I will not doubt - that all will do so, I am not so sanguine as to expect ; but though they should neither come forward voluntarily, nor be subject to coercion, that can hardly be stated as an objection to the plan, unless something more unexceptionable can be pre. sented in its place.
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