Page images

be better to lay a general tax upon property. Undoubtedly, if they could find the means of taxing property equally, without compelling improper disclosure, it would be a most desirable object; but as that could not be done without being open to stronger objections than the present plan, it became necessary that some visible criterion should be found. If that were the case, could any criterion be found more general in its nature than the assessed taxes? The persons immediately affected by this tax amounted to 800,000, and through them extended to about 4,000,000 of persons. By this plan a great number of poor persons would be wholly excluded, and above half of the number before-mentioned would contribute very little.

The committee upon this bill might, and he had no doubt would, make many amendments in favour of shop-keepers; but all this would be consistent with the principle of the bill. The committee might, if they thought proper, make an alteration in the scale proposed, without any dereliction of the principle of the bill. Many mitigations were undoubtedly necessary; but if the utmost inference that could be drawn from this was, that the exemptions should be carried farther than was proposed in the committee of ways and means, how did that affect the general principle of the measure, when they had the means of obviating in the committee the only objections that had been made against it? Without going now into those details, which he wished to reserve for a futurc period, he should only say, that if it was admitted that great exertions ought to be made, and that a large part of the supplies ought to be raised within the year, and if the only objection to this criterion was, that it would bear hard upon the lower orders of retail dealers, and it appeared to be within their power to obviate this objection; then, upon what ground eould they hesitate, unless they had changed their opinions ; unless, instead of making preparations for war, they were determined to begin by begging for peace from a haughty and insulting enemy? If they were not determined to give up every means of exertion, had they any option but to go into a committee upon this bill, to remedy the inconveniences that might result from it, if passed in its present shape? What was the conduct which the gentlemen on the other side wished the House to adopt? It was to reject this measure at once, and thereby to declare that they would make no efforts to raise the supplies within the year. It the House adopted this advice, it would be proclaiming to France and to the world, their repentance for having dared to stand up in defence of their laws, their religion, and of every thing that was valuable to them as Englismen. It would be humbling themselves before a haughty adversary; and, when they had no means of defence, imploring mercy and forgiveness from an enemy from whom we had to expect neither.

Upon these grounds, he hoped the House would read the bill a second time, and let it go into a committee.

The motion was agreed to,

Ayes......... 175

Noes......... 50 and the bill was ordered to be committed.

January 4. 1798.

On a motion for the third reading of the bill for increasing the As. sessed Taxes,

MR. Pitt, at the close of the debate, (which had been adjourned from the preceding day) rose and expressed himself as follows: –..

After the great length of time that has been consumed in the debate, the House, I am sure, will not be surprised if I should desire to avoid, as much as possible, the vast mass of extraneous matter that has been brought forward on the present occasion, and select from the numerous topics that present themselves to my view, such as bear directly on the subject under our immediate consideration. With this view I shall endeavour to guide the attention of the House through the various irrelevant and contradictory arguments that have been used, and fix it more exclusively on those leading and practical points, which alone can determine the question we are now called upon to decide. I


should have thought it, Sir, unnecessary to enter at any length into this argument, after the admission made by the several gentlemen who most vehemently opposed this measure, if I did not find that the principle they conceded in name is afterwards recalled in substance, and treated as a matter foreign to their consideration, and wholly inapplicable to the case now before them. The principle I allude to is this, whether, in the present circumstances of this country, there is, or is not an occasion to make a great and unexampled exertion to defeat the projects of the enemy, and secure our own national independence and honour. The affirmative of this proposition has been uniformly admitted and openly avowed : unless, therefore, the House, influenced by what has been advanced in the course of this night's debate, should think proper expressly to retract that opinion, I have a right to take it as the fundamental point that will govern their determination. This is not an opinion hastily adopted, and lightly considered. It is the language which, after full deliberation and enquiry, the House, at the commencement of the session, presented at the foot of the throne. Such, at that time, was their opinion, and the facts on which it was founded have, in the interval which has elapsed, been neither weakened nor denied. So far from any thing having been advanced contrary to this position, in the course of this debate, the right honourable gentleman himself has unequivocally admitted, that great military and financial exertion is indispensable in the present situation of the country.

Now having advanced so much, it was natural to expect he would disclose the nature of those exertions, the necessity of which he did not deny; and if he disapproved of the present mode of raising so considerable a part of the supplies within the year that he would point out how that end might be obtained, by means less objectionable. The question, as now argued by the right honourable gentleman, is, whether, after a delay of six weeks since the first agitation of this subject, and two months since the issue of the negotiation, from which period the necessity of the

# Mr. Fox.

[blocks in formation]

exertions he admits must be dated; whether, after such a delay, all exertion should not be suspended on the part of the country, till the House should obtain the dismission of His Majesty's present ministers, a radical parliamentary reform, and a total change of system. Such is the ground, if I followed the right honourable gentleman, and understood him right, on which he wishes the present question to be determined. In his opinion the guilt of the present administration is so enormous, their general and particular misconduct so manifest and great, that all the facul. ties of government should be suspended till they are removed. Their removal alone, however, will not do, and he has no hopes of security without a radical reform in parliament, and a total change system; and, unless these latter parts are conceded, he professes that he will not take any share in any new administration that may be formed. With a view of persuading the House to pursue these objects, much time and much eloquence have been consumed, to convince them that they had a regular constitutional right to withhold the supplies, till the grievances, of which they might think proper to complain, were redressed. But time and eloquence appear to me to be wholly misemployed. No one that I know of ever doubted of the validity of that doc. trine. The true question now is, according to the right honourable gentleman's mode of reasoning, not whether they have a right under the constitution of withholding supplies till grievances were redressed, but whether the House and country look upon those things as grievances which the right honourable gentleman does; and whether they will make such an exercise of power in the present situation of the country, to obtain a radical parliamentary reform and total change of system, according to his acceptation of those expressions ? It becomes, therefore, of great consequence to ascertain what that acceptation is : and if any ambiguity or uncertainty exists from loose and indefinite ex. pressions, the true meaning will be found to arise no less from the colour and complexion of circumstances which accompany, precede, and follow his professions, than logical distinctions and the context of words. Now I wish to put it seriously to the House, whether, notwithstanding the explanations for the first time given this night by the right honourable gentleman of the extent of his meaning in this respect, a very considerable portion of uncertainty, as to their extent, does not yet remain, and whether all the exertion he himself admits as necessary for the salvation of the country, is to be suspended till objects so general, loose, and indefinite, are obtained ? For such is the partial result of all he has now advanced.

But to descend to the few particulars he has mentioned. — A change of ministers, he says, is absolutely necessary before any peace, consistent with the welfare and security of the country, can be expected. Yet how was this attempted to be proved. I do not consider myself much indebted to the right honourable gentleman's candour in admitting, that at least ministers were sincere in the last negotiation for peace. No men, in or out of the House, could venture to entertain a doubt of a fact so plain and manifest. The internal evidences of the treaty itself, and every circumstance by which it was attended, sets every suspicion on that subject at defiance. The purity and zeal of ministers throughout the whole of their conduct on that occasion, is established beyond the possibility of doubt. It is not now for me to enter into the discussion how far, in 1794 and 1795, France was capable of preserving the relations of peace and amity. Every thing that the right honourable gentleman could urge on this subject, was advanced when the facts of that question were recent, and regularly before the House, which, after full enquiry and deliberation, gave an opinion contrary to that which he maintained. Every step that ministers have taken, relative to peace, has been submitted to parliamentary discussion, and is fully before the public: and I can assert with confidence, that no man can reflect upon their conduct in that respect, or deny that they have done every thing to obtain peace, short of sacrificing the honour and welfare of the country. According to the right honourable gentleman's own view of the subject, it is a singular mode of reasoning, to threaten ministers with. Wismission, that peace might be obtained, because they had not done

« PreviousContinue »