« AnteriorContinua »
than that after the exertion of much talents in the investigation of its principle and detail, nothing fo efficient, in fact, nothing at all, had been offered in the way of fubstitute. This must be so much felt by the Houfe, that he should forbear urging the argument farther. If, indeed, the arguments of the honourable gentleman amounted to any thing, the objection comprised in them was in its nature to all taxation. Would the honourable gentleman say that taxation was a grievance? He could alfo fay it was a grievance, and wished as cordially as any man that no neceffity existed for continuing to tax any defcription of people. But in the present ftate of the world and of fociety, these were vain wifhes; and as taxes must be levied and impofed, his folicitude must be rather to regulate justly all plans of taxation, than seek in the abstractions of men of fcience for arguments against taxes in general. He was certain there was not a Member of that House or the community, who more than himself felt for the claffes most likely to be affected by any tax; and no gentleman could think there was any thing fo amiable, pretty, or gentle in taxation, that it was a delightful duty to attend to its progress and detail. But while the people would not expect that taxation was to cease, while Government could only be fupported by means of taxation, they had a right to expect that the law fhould lay taxes equally and impartially, and more than this no community could expect. The honourable gentleman had not contented himself to object to the prefent tax in particular, but thought proper to go into a laborious inquiry concerning the origin and effect of every kind of tax, beginning with the excise, poll tax, &c. He had thought it his duty alfo to confider the nature of taxes in general, and had no hesitation to fay, that there was no tax without great objections on all fides. This could not, however, afford any argument against taxation; it merely fhewed, that it was in the nature of all human institutions, of human laws, and haman actions, to be every where imperfect, and that the Legislature and Government would fufficiently discharge their united duties, if in framing laws, the one calmly and difpaffionately confidered the nature of man and his habits, making laws that embraced their neceffitics, and did not overlook their wants-while the other, in enforcing thofe laws, proceeded with tempered firmness, with benevolent and ardent difinterestedness. The bill then under confideration was not oppreffive in any degree that could poffibly be avoided, and the tax it fought to impofe had for its object what was a favourite measure with the House-to raise a great part of the fupplies within the year. It was clear that the prefent was the only tax adequate to this great purpose: it was the best that he ever heard of, and in the present state
of the country, in the ftate of our finances and public debt, much better than any optional tax, because no tax of this fort could go fo far or fo effectually to afford that general stability to our credit, and infufe that vigour into our operations, which the crifis eminently required. The honourable Baronet talked of an optional tax being fairer in its principle than one direct in its character. Now what was this doctrine of optional taxes? What the advantages to the public from the laws by which they are imposed? Why, truly, that on one fide there is searce any option at all. The articles of confumption are for the most part of the first neceffity, or luxuries which men cannot disuse; and thus no alternative is, in most cases, left. No tax could be mentioned to which this remark could not more or less apply. It was true of wine, and true of almost every other taxable article mentioned by the honourable Baronet. So that if from optional taxes men might fometimes derive fome convenience, it alfo fubjected individuals to feverities. The trader would have his tax paid him in profit, and the confumer would pay the tax, indeed he could not help it, by paying the insurance or profit of the dealer. He thought it fearce neceffary here to take notice of the argument which had been founded on a comparifon of contingent with certain income. This was a subject which he had confidered long before the prefent bill was ever heard of. The honourable Baronet and the honourable gentleman on the same side of the House, complained of what they confidered the partiality and injuftice of the tax in this respect. Now he thought it would be found, that the advantage is, under all poffible changes of fortune to a country, in favour of the man of increafing income. Such were the trader and the profeffional man for inftance; fuch, in short, every class of the community almoft, except the landed men, or the person whose income is permanently fixed. The man of the latter defcription, who must always with to make an appearance fuited to his rank and character, will be obliged to retrench, while yet his income is not at all subject to progreffive increase; whilst the man of profeffional resources may be daily increafing his income, and can therefore afford always to keep his ufual establishment. It might not be improper to remark, that here the argument of the honourable gentleman had changed a little; for on a former evening one argument was the hardship to perfons having certain incomes; that evening it was that perfons not having permanent incomes will fuffer most by the tax. An honourable gentleman had on that evening, and once before, quoted Mr. Adam Smith in feveral inftances to illuftrate his argument, that property should not be exposed by any tax. But what was property? and who were
the rich? Property was the command of the luxuries and neceffaries of life; and the rich were the diftributors. From this it followed, that whatever tax it might be that affected the poor, muft neceffarily affect the rich. Hence would he recur to what he formerly faid, but what could not be too frequently repeated, that the duty of that House was not to reject all measures of taxation, but to render them as little capricious and unequal as poffible. What would be the effect of the prefent bill? It would lay a tax generally on all with lefs convulfion in all the claffes of fociety than would be occafioned by any other practicable tax. He had heard much of Jacobins and their fyftem of levelling all claffes to one vulgar standard. The present tax had, indeed, been objected to on the prefumed ground that its effect would be to level diftinctions, but he was far from entertaining this opinion; on the contrary, he believed the tax would extensively afford the means of preserving that order and juft diftinction of claffes which God and Nature every where wifely established and maintained. An honourable gentleman had faid, that to afford any relief to perfons likely to be more affected by the tax than others, was to forget the principle of the bill. In his opinion this remark was both weak and futile. It was the duty of the Houfe to confider the fituation of every clafs of people, and to endeavour to make every new tax bear upon them with as little weight as poffible. It was his with and that of those whom he had the honour of fupporting, that the tax might fall equally, and, as was faid on a former evening, not cruelly nor unjuftly on one clafs, whilft others enjoyed undisturbed the poffeffion of their ample fortunes. Once for all, he would imprefs it on the House, that the with nearest his heart was to preferve the orders of fociety, adminiftering to each an equal measure of juftice, watching over the character, the lives, and the liberties of all, and by making a general allowance to poor and rich, freeing the present measure from every feverity of character, and giving it as a precedent to all future time, that it is eminently the defire of the Members of the British Senate to give to every fcheme of finance the emphatical character of a fair, an impartial, and equal measure; that it seeks to impofe a fair, an impartial, and equal tax. Upon those general grounds the motion would receive his hearty fupport.
Sir FRANCIS BARING had no objection to pay one tenth of his income, and every mercantile man with whom he had converfed appeared equally willing to pay in a fimilar proportion towards the exigencies of the State, and to enable the Government of the Country to maintain themfelves with firmnefs and dignity in the prefent conteft. But while, in common with others, he was thus
perfectly free to contribute his share, what he objected to was, and this was the objection of commercial men in general, that the prefeat tax would fubject men to a difclofure of their property. The wealthy and the poor had equally to dread the effect of fuch a tax in its operations; and as far as this objection went, no man at all converfant with mercantile affairs could hefitate to oppofe it. He could not help regretting, that the meafure was introduced in fuch hafte, without going farther in the experience of the affeffed taxes. If these were evaded, why did not the right honourable gentleman take them as far as they would go, and propofe fome tax lefs objectionable than the prefent, to make up the deficiency. However, he would not oppose the report being received and fent to a Committee, if he could but affure himself that better means would be found to prevent the difclofure of property, and of the most facred affairs of men.
Sir JAMES PULTENEY wifhed that the fame precaution to prevent the disclosure of property had been adopted with respect to the man of landed property, as in the cafe of the commercial man. The latter was naturally jealous of any measure that tended to lay his concerns open to the infpection of perfons unconnected with hist trade, and, perhaps, uninterested in his fortune; the former muft equally dread a furvey that is to inform ftrangers of his most private and most delicate transactions. This was one of the objections he had to the measure in its prefent ftate. In the next place he thought it would be proper to extend the scale beyond 200l. per year, as he was certain that perfons of this income, and confiderably beyond it, were very little able to bear fuch a burden in addition to the many they at prefent muft fuftain. And when he confidered the prefent flourishing state of the country, its extended commerce, and invincible fleets, he muft fay, he thought a more palatable tax might be impofed; at any rate, it could not be too much to render it lefs irksome by rendering it lefs burdenfome. He wished to fet a right honourable gentleman (Mr. Ryder) right respecting what had fallen from an honourable friend of his (Sir William Pulteney) on the subject of direct taxation. It appeared to him, that what the honourable Baronet faid was, that a direct tax was liable among others to one great objection, namely, that it would give a greater power to Minifters than an optional tax, because the latter could be evaded, but the former could not; and as every man would be obliged to put his hands in his pockets at the call of the Minister to pay a direct tax, the grievance would be, that men would continually have their hands in their pockets to fupply his wants, under whatever circumstances they may have arisen. Still there was no VOL. VII. 3 N
doubt that direct taxes were the cheapest in the collection and the most productive, and therefore, in confidering this fubject, due care must be fhewn to the balance of advantages and disadvantages mutually arifing on the one fide and on the other.
Mr. BURDON was a friend to the measure, but wished that it might be carried into effect with as little inconvenience to the public as poffible. He thought the affeffed taxes were not more optional than the prefent tax; and every tax was liable to be objected to if it was a ground of objection that no tax is wholly optional. Gentlemen had talked much of the liberty of the fubject. Undoubtedly it was important to watch around and guard the liberty of the subject; but there was another defcription of liberty which he should think it his duty more vigilantly to watch and more vigorously to defend it was national liberty; which could not, perhaps, be better supported than by preventing frauds in the payment of national taxes. Naturally he was unfriendly to every species of fraud, and thought the man who could defraud the revenue, if he had a fair opportunity, would defraud his neighbour. The object of the prefent tax was to affert the independence, and maintain the liberties of the country; and he took it upon himself to pledge his conftituents to pay any tax that might tend to support our national liberty nevertheless, he wifhed as much as any man that taxes could be abstained from, and would be happy if he lived to be a Member of that honourable Houfe when all taxation ceased. One additional reafon he had for approving of the prefent was, that it is fairer than the affeffed taxes, because it will affect persons who are certainly interested in the profperity and fafety of their country, and as well include capitalifts as lay an equal burden on every species of income. Under thefe circumftances he fhould confider it his duty to fupport the motion.
Mr. HENRY THORNTON obferved, that he would only trespass a few moments on the Houfe. In confidering the bill, undoubtedly many difficulties would appear to characterize parts of its detail; but the principle entirely met his approbation; and while he wifhed it were poffible to make it entirely palatable, by removing every difficulty and obviating every objection; yet when he looked to the object of the tax, he must be permitted to confider even those difficulties as being comparatively unimportant. The object of the tax was to enable us to carry on with vigour, and effect a war the most interesting in its general character, to whose iffue we must look for independence and for glory, carried on against one whofe ambition disturbed and difordered the world. Every reflecting man who had delivered his fentiments on the meafure, approved of the prin