The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 7, 1727-1733. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Petition from New-York, Rhode-Island, Providence, New-Jersey, and South-Carolina against the Sugar-Colony-Bill.
Feb. 9. A Petition from New-York, from Rhode-Island, and the Island of Providence, also of New-Jersey, and of South-Carolina, were presented against the Sugar-ColonyBill, and were severally order'd to lie on the Table till the second Reading of the said Bill, and that the Petitioners might then be heard by their Counsel.
The same Day the House resolved itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider farther of Ways and Means for raising the Supply granted to his Majesty; and the several Papers and Accounts relating to the Salt-Duty having been laid before this Committee, Sir Robert Walpole stood up and spoke as follows:
Sir Robert Walpole's Motion for reviving the Salt-Duty.
'As there is nothing his Majesty has more at Heart than the giving all possible Ease to his Subjects; so whenever he is necessarily obliged to desire Assistance from them for the immediate Support of the Government, he desires that they would choose those Ways and Means for raising the annual Supplies, which are least burthensome to the People, and which make the Load fall equally upon the Subjects in general. When Money is to be raised for the Publick Good, for the Security of all, he thinks that every one ought to contribute his Share, in Proportion to the Benefit that he is thereby to receive. In pursuance of these his Majesty's Inclinations, and in pursuance of what I look upon as the most equitable Rule for raising Contributions, I shall take the Liberty of proposing to this House a Method for raising some Part of the Supply for this present Year, which by falling equally upon all, will be burthensome to none; and by which those who have stood the Brunt of the Day, those who have been oppressed for many Years, may in some Measure be relieved.
This, Sir, is the only View I have in making the Proposal; after it is made, the House may then take it into their Consideration, and each Member certainly will judge of it as he thinks proper. If it is approved of, I shall rejoice in having been the Author of a Measure, which I think will contribute so much to the Good of my Country in general, and to the Relief of those who have for many Years borne too great a Share of the Publick Burthen; and if it happens not to meet with the Approbation of this House, I shall have the Testimony of a good Conscience for my Comfort; for since I have no other View but only a sincere and an honest Intention to give Relief to my Fellow-Subjects, I never can have Occasion to repent, nor do I any way dread those Reproaches, which may be unjustly thrown upon me, or upon the Measure I am to propose; for these are Things which in all publick Transactions every Man must expect: No publick Measure can be proposed, but what may be against the Private Interest and Selfish Views of some particular Men; but I fear not the Enmity, and I despise the Revilings of those, who prefer their own little selfish Views to the general Good and Welfare of their Country.
'I have, Sir, with the deepest Concern observed, how heavy and how unequal a Burthen has been long borne by the Landed Gentlemen of this Kingdom: I have long had it in my View to procure them some Ease as soon as possible, and am pleased to think that an Opportunity now offers itself for doing what I have so long had much at Heart; and I hope I shall have the good Luck to find that my Sentiments are approved of by this House; and the Approbation of such an Assembly I shall always look upon as the greatest Honour done to any Proposal made by me. As to the Manner, Sir, of raising Taxes upon the People, it is a certain Maxim, that that Tax which is the most equal and the most general, is the most just, and the least burthensome: Where every Man contributes a small Share, a great Sum may be raised for the Publick Service, without any Man's being sensible of what he pays; whereas a small Sum, raised upon a few, lies heavy upon each particular Man, and is the more grievous, in that it is unjust; for where the Benefit is mutual, the Expence ought to be in common. Of all the Taxes I ever could think of, there is not one more general, nor one less felt, than that of the Duty upon Salt. The Duty upon Salt is a Tax that every Man in the Nation contributes to according to his Circumstances and Condition in Life; every Subject contributes something; if he be a poor Man, he contributes so small a Trifle, it will hardly bear a Name; if he be rich, he lives more luxuriously, and consequently contributes more; and if he be a Man of a great Estate, he keeps a great Number of Servants, and must therefore contribute a great deal. Upon the other hand, there is no Tax that ever was laid upon the People of this Nation, that is more unjust and unequal than the Land-Tax. The Land-holders bear but a small Proportion to the People of this Nation, or of any Nation; yet no Man contributes any the least Share to this Tax, but he that is possessed of a Land Estate; and yet this Tax has been continued without Intermission for above these 40 Years: It has continued so long, and has lain so heavy, that I may venture to say, many a landed Gentleman in this Kingdom has thereby been utterly ruined and undone.
'This Consideration, Sir, has prompted me to endeavour to procure them some Relief, and for this end I shall venture to make the following Motion. 'That towards raising the Supply granted to his Majesty, the several Duties on homemade Salt, granted to the late King William and Queen Mary, by an Act of the 5th and 6th Years of their Reign, for a Term of Years, and afterwards made perpetual; and also the additional Duties on Salt, granted by an Act of the 9th and 10th Years of his said late Majesty King William, and all the Duties chargeable on home-made Salt in GreatBritain, which by an Act of the 3d Year of his present Majesty's Reign, ceased and determined on the 25th of Day of December 1730, be revived and granted to his Majesty, his Heirs and Successors, for the Term of three Years, from the 25th of March next, 1732.'
'If I have, Sir, the good Luck to succeed so far in my Wishes, as to have this Motion approved of, I shall then beg Leave to move, That the Sum of One Shilling in the Pound, and no more, be raised for this Year upon Land; but if this House does not agree to the Motion I now make, I must in that Case move for a Land-Tax of Two Shillings in the Pound; for so much will be absolutely necessary for the current Service of the Year. This, Sir, is what a sincere and a hearty Desire to do Service to my Country, and Justice to my Fellow-Subjects, has emboldened me to propose. I declare I had no other View, but that of procuring some Ease, some Relief to the Landed-Interest. If this be agreed to, some Means may be fallen upon to relieve them of the whole again next Year; and I shall always look upon it as a great Honour, that after a Continuance of a Land-Tax of four, three, or two Shillings at least in the Pound for 40 Years together, it was at last reduced to One, at a Time when I had a Share in the Administration of the Affairs of this Nation. Before I leave this Subject, I must intreat every one that hears me, to consider how many Landed-Gentlemen of ancient Families there are in Britain, who have but small Estates, how many of them have great Families to support and many Children to provide for, and how many even of those who have large Estates in Land are so charged with Mortgages, Jointures, or Rent-Charges, that it is hardly possible for them to support their Character in the Country where they live, though they were not to pay one Shilling towards a Land-Tax.
'Our Nobility and Gentry were once famous for Hospitality and Generosity; if the unavoidable Necessities of State have obliged them for so many Years to abridge their Expence, and contract their Manner of living, let us do at least what is in our Power to restore them to their former State, by relieving them of a Part of that Burthen, which they, and they only, have for so many Years been charged with.
Mr Walt. Plumer.
This Motion being seconded, Mr Walter Plumer rose up and spoke as follows.
'I agree with the Right Hon. Gentleman who made the Motion, in this, 'That the landed Gentlemen of this Nation have been for many Years subject to very grievous Taxes; the Land-Tax is not the only Tax that has been heavy upon them, but every other Tax falls at last upon them with its greatest Weight: It is indeed high Time that some of the Burthens should be taken off their Shoulders, and it was reasonable for them to have expected from his Majesty's most gracious Speech, that in this Session of Parliament they would have met with some Relief; but how much surprized must they be, when they hear, that all the Relief that has been proposed is, to take off one Tax which lies heavy upon them only, and in the room thereof to lay on another, which will lie equally heavy upon most of them, and at the same Time will be a most insupportable Burthen upon every one of their Fellow-Subjects? The proposing this as a Relief for the Landed Gentlemen appears to me in so odd a Light, that I cannot well comprehend how it can be expected, that any Gentleman in England should be so imposed on. It is so short a Time ago, that we must all remember how this Tax upon Salt came to be taken off. His Majesty, by his most gracious Speech from the Throne, only two Years ago [See p. 52.] shewed, that he was sensible how much the Trade and Manufactures of this Nation suffered, by the many Taxes the poor Tradesmen and Labourers were subject to; he therefore recommended to us the taking off some of those Taxes, which were most burthensome upon the Poor; and at that Time, Sir, it was the Opinion of this very House, that this Tax upon Salt was the most burthensome upon the Poor, and the most pernicious to the Trade of this Kingdom, of all the Taxes we are liable to. This, Sir, was one of the many Reasons for taking it off, and why we should so suddenly alter our Opinion, and resolve to grind the Face of the Poor, in order to relieve a few of the Rich, I can see no Reason; I say, Sir, a few of the Rich, for it may be easily made appear, that the Relief proposed will be no Relief at all to the Landed Gentlemen of small Fortunes, and even to the Rich it will be but a small present Ease, which will be attended with most heavy and most fatal Consequences.
'I had the Honour, Sir, to be one of those who were instrumental in getting this Clog upon our Trade removed; I hope I shall have the Honour to be one of those who shall be instrumental in preventing its being forced upon us again; for if this Duty be revived, I despair of ever seeing it again taken off. It is not always a certain Maxim, that those Taxes which are most general are least burthensome; upon the contrary, it holds true in all Countries, and at all Times, that those Taxes which are laid upon the Luxuries of Mankind are the least burthensome; and I believe in the most luxurious Country upon Earth, I am sure as to this Country, it cannot be said that they are the most general: After a Nation is brought to that woeful Pass, that they must extend their Taxes farther than the Luxuries of their Country, it is certain, that those Taxes which are raised with the least Charge to the Publick, are the most convenient and the easiest to the People; but in all Cases particular Care ought to be taken not to tax those Things which are necessary for the very Subsistance of the Poor; such Taxes always occasion Murmurings and Sedition among the People, and in such a Country as this, which subsists by Trade and Manufacture, such Taxes bring sure and inevitable Destruction; for they enhance the Price of all Necessaries of Life, the Wages of the Tradesman and Manufacturer must consequently rise higher and where the Wages of the Workmen are high, the Manufactures of that Country never can be sold so cheap as the Manufactures of other Countries; this must at last destroy their whole Trade, and I am convinced that no Landed Gentleman in England will chuse to save a Shilling in the Pound as to the Land-Tax, even though he were to pay nothing in Lieu thereof, when by such a Saving he brings Ruin upon the Trade and Manufactures of his native Country.
'I have, Sir, always appeared, and I hope ever shall appear zealous for the Support of the present Royal Family; as a Friend to our most happy Constitution, as a faithful Subject to his Majesty, I must declare against reviving this Tax upon Salt; for granting that the reducing of a Shilling in the Pound upon the Land-Tax, by the Revival of this upon Salt, were a real Relief to the Landed Gentlemen, which is very far from being the Case, yet we must allow that for one, that is eased or obliged by the reducing of the LandTax, there will be 99 disobliged by the Revival of the Tax upon Salt; this must occasion such a general Dissatisfaction, and so much Grumbling amongst the People against his Majesty, that the keeping up a Standing Army will become necessary for supporting him against the Disaffected; and by Experience we know, that where the Disaffection becomes very general, even the Army is not to be depended on, for in such Case most of them would probably join with the Discontented: It would become necessary for the Security of his Majesty's Person and Government, to bring in an Army of Foreign Troops to prey upon the Bowels of our MotherCountry.
'I have, Sir, as much Sympathy and Compassion as any Man for the great Distresses that have been brought upon many of our Landed Gentlemen; and I flattered myself with the pleasing Hope, that they were now to be relieved; now when there is a profound Tranquility established both Abroad and at Home, I could not so much as imagine, that it would be necessary to continue all our Taxes, and I could far less imagine that any Proposal would be made for relieving us of one Tax, by laying on another much more grievous. No Man can expect that the Landed Gentlemen in England have so little Sense as to be cajoled in such a Manner. The Land-Tax, it is true, takes from the Landed Gentleman a Part of his Rent yearly, but the Salt-Tax, being a Charge upon our Trade and Manufactures, will at last disable his Tenants from paying him any Rent; and besides, it makes the Maintaining even of his own Family much more expensive, so that at the End of the Year he will find himself no Gainer upon the Main, and his Tenants being ruined and undone, the Rents and the Value of his Estate will be decreasing yearly. I only desire that every Landed Gentleman, that hears me, would consider what he could make of his Estate if we had no Trade, no Manufactures, nor any Number of populous trading Towns in England. Whoever considers this, must conclude that, in most Parts of England, the Landed Estates would not in that Case bring in yearly to their Landlords near the Rent they do at present, no, nor one Quarter thereof. Who then will be such a Fool as to desire to be relieved of One Shilling in the Pound upon the Land-Tax, when he must pay as much in another Way, for the Salt made use of in his Family, and when at the same Time he diminishes the yearly Value of his Estate much more than one Shilling in the Pound; nay, much more than any Land-Tax ever amounted to in England. The Land-Tax, Sir, is but an annual Diminution of a Gentleman's Estate; he may be free of it, or of a Part of it, the succeeding Year: But if by the Decay of our Trade, and the Charge that is laid upon the poor Farmer, he be obliged to lower the Rents of his Estate, that will be a Diminution which I am afraid will endure for ever.
'Before I have done, I must, Sir, take Notice, that the Salt-Duty, or a considerable Part thereof, was formerly appropriated to the Sinking Fund; yet this Duty was but two Years ago thought so grievous and so prejudicial to our Trade, that we then made no Scruple of encroaching a little even upon that Sacred Fund, in order to ease the People of so pernicious and burthensome a Tax: I am sorry to see the Opinion of any Gentleman, as to this Tax, so much altered in so short a Time: but if we do alter our Opinion, and revive this Tax, it certainly ought to be appropriated again to that useful Fund; if we do revive it without any such Appropriation, we make a most dangerous Precedent; whenever any of these Taxes, that are now appropriated to the Sinking Fund, are wanted for another Use, it is but taking them off for one Year, and laying them on the next for a new Purpose; thus the Sinking Fund may be at last entirely exhausted, and our Debts remain for ever unpaid, without lessening any of our Taxes.
Capt. Vernon spoke next:
'I hope every Gentleman in this House has perused the short Account of the Money, which has been brought into his Majesty's Exchequer, by the Produce of the Salt-Duty from that Part of Great Britain, called Scotland, for the last ten Years; I have looked for that Account but can find but one Article, and that Article is next to nothing. In the Space of ten Years, not one Shilling was ever brought into the Exchequer, from the Salt-Duty in that Country: How then can this Tax be said to be an equal Tax, when such a considerable Part of this Kingdom never paid one Farthing towards it; even by the Proposal now made, they are not to pay near so much as we are to pay in South-Britain; and of that small Proportion that is to be laid upon them, it is probable no Part will ever come to the publick Account: This Tax must therefore be unequal, because we in England are to bear the Whole of the Burden; Scotland is to bear no Part, and yet they are by the Articles of the Union obliged to bear their proportional Part of all new Taxes, more especially those which are raised for the Current Service of the Year. If it be said, that the People in that Country are not able to pay this whole Tax, it is a good Argument against the Tax in general; for no Tax ought to be laid upon the People, but those to which they can all contribute their Share: The People of England ought not to be charged with a Duty, and the People of Scotland left free; such unequal Charges will soon make every Man in England with that the Union had never been made.
''Tis true, Sir, I cannot but applaud the Gentlemen of that Country, for appearing in favour of the Tax upon Salt; it is shewing a laudable Zeal for the proper Interest of their native Country: It is laying a Tax upon us, to which they contribute nothing, in place of a Tax, to which they have always contributed an equal Share. This, Sir, may justify their Conduct as to the Question now in hand, but I hope the Gentlemen of the South Parts of Britain will shew the same Concern for the Interest of their Part of the Island; and I am glad to find that so many of them do shew such a Concern, for it appeared to me Yesterday, that the Question was carried against the South Parts of the Island, by the Votes of those Gentlemen, who come from the North. [Here he was called to Order, after which he went on] Sir, I design no Reflection upon any Man; but the Affair before us is of the utmost Consequence to the Interest and Trade of the whole Kingdom; our Liberties, our Properties, and every Thing that is dear to us is at Stake. This seems to be a Step towards introducing a General Excise, which is inconsistent with the Liberties of a free People; and Sir, when Life, Liberty, or Property is concerned, it will be found that every Man will fight; a Country Clown in Huddon-Gray may perhaps shew as much Courage, and fight as well as a Soldier in Red: What! do we think, because a Fellow is a Beau, and dresses himself up with Powder and Essences, that therefore he has more Courage than another Man? I suspect there are many of those fine Gentlemen, who are afraid of letting the Wind blow upon them, for fear of blowing the Powder out of their Wigs, that could not, perhaps, bear the Smell of Gun-Powder. As the Affair before us is of the utmost Consequence, so it ought to give us the more Concern, that if it passes in this House, there are no Hopes in the other: In the other House, we know, Sir, there is a peculiar Bench, which will [Here he was again called to Order, and was told by Mr Speaker, That no Gentleman was to throw Reflections upon any Body of Men, nor was any Member of that House, in any Thing he said, to take Notice of what was done, or what might be done in the other, then the Captain went on] Sir, It was not possible I could make any Reflection upon any Man, or upon any Sett of Men, for I had drawn no Conclusion. But let us do what we will, let both Houses, if they have a mind, pass this Bill, it is so directly opposite to the Interest of the Nation, and to the Interest of our present happy Establishment, that I am convinced his Majesty will refuse giving it the Sanction of the Royal Assent.
Mr H. Walpole.
Then Mr Horatio Walpole stood up, and said,
'I find some of those Gentlemen, who have spoken upon the Affair in hand, are quite mistaken as to the Motion that has been made. If any new and unheard of Tax had been thereby proposed, they might have some Reason for those Fears, which they have represented to us in so strong a Light; Murmurings and Grumblings among the People might be apprehended; but the Tax proposed is no new Tax, it is only proposed to revive a Tax which was raised upon the People of England for 34 Years together, and was always paid by them, without the least Grumbling or Complaint. By Experience, Sir, we are convinced that it is no way burthensome upon the People; and indeed, it is so little felt by them, that even since it was taken off, there is hardly a Man in the Kingdom that has been sensible of the Ease, or has in any manner expressed his Satisfaction therewith: This shews that it may be revived without any Danger of overcharging any particular Man, or any Sort of Men. Every Man, I believe, that contributes towards the Land-Tax, is fully sensible of the Burthen that is thereby laid upon him; but who is it that ever was sensible of what he paid towards the SaltDuty, or has felt any Ease since it was taken off? It is a Duty that is paid by such a Multitude of People, that no single Man can any way feel what he pays thereto, which is a most evident Demonstration that it is one of the most easy Ways we can chuse, for raising Money for the necessary Supplies of the Government.
'Those Gentlemen, who talk so much of its being destructive to our Trade and Manufactures, ought to come to Particulars; they ought to shew what Trade or Manufacture was lost or injured, during the 34 Years that the Tax continued to be paid by the People of England; they ought to shew what Manufactures have become cheaper, or what Sort of Tradesmen's Wages have been lowered, since the abolishing of this Tax: If any one such Effect could be made appear, I should believe they had some Reason for what they say; but when the contrary Facts appear to be true, I cannot join in Opinion with them. During the whole Time that this Tax continued, there never was any one Manufacture thereby lost, our Trade never slourished more than it did in that Course of Time; and since the Tax was taken off, we all know that no Trade or Manufacture has been thereby improved, nor have the Wages of one Workman in the Kingdom been diminished; the pretended fatal Consequences of this Tax must therefore be all imaginary.
'As this Tax upon Salt is one of the most equal and easy Taxes on the People, so there is not any one Tax can be proposed, that may be raised with less Expence to the Publick; The Method of raising it costs but very little more than the raising of the Land-Tax will cost; and whatever Difference there may be is much more than attoned for, by the Justice and Equality of the Tax upon Salt, and by its being so general, that it becomes altogether insensible; whereas the Land-Tax is one of the most unequal, and one of the most grievous upon those who pay it, of any Tax that ever was raised in this Country. It is a Tax that is wholly charged upon a very few of the Inhabitants of this Island, who have been for many Years obliged to bear the greatest Part of the Publick Charge, and have many of them been ruined and undone for the Benefit and Advantage of others. If we but once seriously consider, what wretched Circumstances many of the Landholders in Britain are at present in, we cannot surely make the least Hesitation in giving them Relief from the Oppressions they have so long groaned under, by laying on another Sort of Tax, which never was, nor ever can be felt by any Man breathing: A Tax which is so just that every Man contributes to it in Proportion to the Benefit he receives, instead of a Tax, by which a few are obliged to contribute the whole of the Charge, though they receive but a hundredth Part of the Benefit.
'We have likewise, Sir, been frightned with the Name of a General Excise, and with the Loss of our Liberties and Properties. As to the last, the Bugbear will vanish, if we but reflect upon the Great Men that were at the Helm of Affairs, when the Salt-Tax was first laid on. It was first laid on in the Reign of the late King William, the glorious Restorer of the Liberties and Properties of the Nation: In his Time it first had its Being, and was contrived and advised by a Sett of Ministers, who will for ever be respected for their great Wisdom, and whose Memories will for ever be sacred, for the great Attachment they always shewed to the Constitution and the Liberties of this Kingdom. As for a General Excise, I never heard of any such Design, I am sure no Man that I know had ever any such Thing in his Thoughts, nor can the Reviving of the Salt-Tax any way contribute to such a Design. I must say, that I think many of our Customs are heavy upon Trade, and very troublesome to our Merchants; and therefore, if some of the most grievous of them were turned into an Excise, it would be of great Advantage to the Nation, and might, I believe, be easily done, without endangering in the least our Constitution, or encroaching upon the Liberty or Property of the Subject: But as there is at present no such Proposal before this House, we have no Occasion to take such a Thing into our immediate Consideration.
Sir W. Wyndham.
Mr Walpole was replied to by Sir William Wyndham, as follows:
'I could not indeed but suspect from the Manner of introducing this Motion, that something very extraordinary was to follow. I find I am not disappointed, for in my Opinion it is one of the most extraordinary Motions; that ever was made in this House. Under the specious Pretence of giving an immediate Ease to the Landed Gentlemen; we are to revive a Tax, which will lie as heavy as the LandTax upon most of them, and which is not only destructive to the Trade, but inconsistent with the Liberties of this Nation. I agree most heartily with the Gentleman who made the Motion, That many of our Landed Gentlemen have been reduced to most miserable Circumstances, by the heavy Burthens they have borne for so many Years: But their Misery is not to be ascribed to the Land-Tax only, every one of our other Taxes contributes its Share, and no Tax contributed more to the general Misery of the whole Nation, as well as of the Landed Gentlemen, than this very Tax, which is now proposed to be revived. It is indeed become necessary to continue the Land-Tax upon the former Footing, or to impose some new Tax in room thereof; but from whence does this Necessity proceed? Why, from maintaining a greater Number of Land-Forces, and putting ourselves to much greater Charges, than we have in my Opinion any Occasion for. It has always been the Case, it always will be the Case, Sir, that one wrong Measure must for ever give Birth to another, that to a Third, and so on till Publick Ruin becomes inevitable, if no Redress be offered in Time; which never can be effectuated, but by altering the former wrong Measures, instead of supporting them by worse.
'I am sorry, Sir; to find that we are reduced to this Extremity, that we must either lay on a Land-Tax; which seems to be agreed by all to be heavier than the Landed Gentlemen of this Nation are able to bear, or otherways we must lay on a Tax, which in the Opinion of, I hope, the Majority of this House, is of much more fatal Consequence. How fatal, Sir, is this Necessity? Our Landed Gentlemen must be ruined, or the whole Nation must be undone! It is certain, Sir, that every Tax is an Evil, and an Evil that ought to be avoided, if possible; the corrupt Nature of Mankind has made some Taxes necessary for the Support of Society; and we find to our Cost, that Taxes, like other Evils, are fruitful in the Begetting of one another: But when we come to make a Choice between two Taxes, of the two Evils we certainly ought to chuse that which is least; and since we have by our former Resolutions made one of the Two, now under Consideration necessary, we ought now to examine strictly which of the two is the least Evil.
'I have, I hope, Sir, as deep as Sense of the Miseries and Sufferings of my Fellow-Countrymen as any Man in this House, and when I speak of charging Land in place of charging Salt, I am certain, and I believe every Man that knows me will think, that I speak against my own private Interest; and therefore I flatter myself, that those who hear me will think I am sincere in what I say. It is very true, Sir, that the Reducing of the Land-Tax would be a great Relief to the Landed Gentlemen, if it could be done without taking as much from them in another Way. The Land-Tax is indeed a heavy Charge upon the Landholders of this Kingdom, but that is the only Evil attending it; I cannot grant that it is so unequal as some Gentlemen have been pleased to represent; every Man ought to pay to the Publick Charge in Proportion to the Benefit he receives therefrom; a poor Man, who has no Property, ought not certainly to be charged for the Defence of Property; he has nothing but his Liberty to contend for, and for the Defence of that only he ought in Justice to be charged; whereas a Man, who has an Estate, has Property as well as Liberty to contend for, and for the Defence of both he ought to be charged. Liberty may be equally dear to every Man, but surely he that has the largest Property, ought to contribute most to the Publick Expence.
'The heavy Weight that lies upon the Landholders, is I say, Sir, the only Evil attending the Land-Tax; but in considering the Evils that necessarily attend a Tax upon Salt, the Land-Tax will upon the Comparison be found to have many Advantages: One of the great Evils of a Salt-Tax, I may say the greatest, because it strikes at our Constitution, is the great Number of Officers which must be employed in collecting that small Branch of the Revenue. These Officers are all named by the Crown, and being spread all over the Country, must have a great Influence in Elections: This, Sir, throws a greater Power into the Hands of the Crown, than is in my Opinion consistent with the Liberties of this Nation. If it ever shall happen to be the Misfortune of this Nation, to have a Set of wicked Ministers in the Administration, and a weak or an ambitious Prince upon the Throne, the great Number of Officers, employed in collecting the Publick Revenue, must be of the most dangerous Consequence to the very Being of our happy Constitution; and therefore we ought not, upon any Pretence whatsoever, to increase the Number of those Slaves of an Administration. As to this Evil, the Land-Tax has by much the Advantage of the Salt-Tax; in the first there are few or no Officers employed; but the last will make an Addition of six or seven Hundred to the Number of Officers we had before. This Tax upon Salt is likewise a dangerous Precedent; it is one Step towards a General Excise; from this, which is really an Excise upon Salt, we may come to have an Excise laid upon every Thing we can either eat or drink. It would be dangerous to begin to raise even the Taxes we now pay, by the method of Excise, both because it would be a bad Precedent, and because of the Uncertainty of the Produce: If the Raising them by Excise should produce less than they now do, they could not answer those Payments for which they are appointed; and if it raised more, it might, considering the present Establishment of the Civil List, throw more Money into the Hands of the Crown, than would be consistent with the Freedom of the People.
'Another Advantage which the Land-Tax has over the Tax now proposed, is, that the Raising of a Shilling in the Pound costs but a meer Trifle, and is subject to no Frauds. The whole, I may say, that is raised from the People, comes to the Use of the Publick, and to the Benefit of the People; but the Case is quite different as to the Tax upon Salt; it is impossible to raise the Salt-Duty without employing a great Number of Officers, they must all have Salaries, besides the Perquisites and Gratuities which always have been, and always will be given to Men in such Offices: The honest Part of Mankind can never get common Justice from them without paying the Perquisite, and the fraudulent Part of the Nation will always purchase their Connivance by large Gratuities; thus a very large Sum will be raised upon the People, and but a small Part thereof will ever come to the Use of the Publick, or to the Benefit of the Nation. This was formerly the Case of this Duty upon Salt; there was always a great Difference betwixt the Gross and Neat Produce thereof, and there never was any Tax in this Country that gave so much Occasion to Frauds and Perjuries; the Tax is so much above the proper Price of the Commodity upon which it is raised, that it always was, and always must be a great Temptation for People to perjure themselves, and cheat the Publick.
'I am surprized, Sir, to hear any Gentleman doubt of this Duty upon Salt being heavy upon Trade, and prejudicial to the Manufactures of the Nation. It is so easy in this Case to come to particular Instances, that I defy any Man to name one Trade or Manufacture that it is not prejudicial to: Can any Man suppose it does not enhance the Price of all Provisions? and by enhancing the Price of them it becomes a Charge upon every Manufacture in particular; but upon our Navigation it is insupportable; Every Ship that sails from this Kingdom must pay dearer for her Salt-Provisions, or must go to some other Place to take them in: Do not we know, Sir, that many of our Merchant-Ships, for these several Years last past, have gone to Ireland to take in the Salt-Provisions necessary for their intended Voyage? If this Tax had been discontinued for any Number of Years, they would probably have returned to victual in our own Ports, as they always did before the laying on of this Tax upon Salt. Even the short Time which it has been discontinued has shewn what a Disadvantage the reviving of it will be to the Improvement of Land. Since the Tax was taken off, several Experiments have been made for the Improvement of Land by the Means of Salt, and they have all answered to Admiration. The Revival of this Tax cannot therefore proceed from any Compassion for the Landed Gentlemen, since we thereby prevent the Improvement of their Lands; and a very small Improvement of the Rent of an Estate is worth a great deal more, than one Year's Land-Tax, at a Shilling in the Pound, will amount to even upon a very large Estate.
'But in the present Case, Sir, we not only prevent the Improvement of Land-Estates, but we really take as much from almost every Landed Gentleman in another way, as he saves by the Diminution of the Land-Tax; and at the same Time we take so much from every one of his Tenants, as to disable them, or some of them at least, from paying the same Rent they formerly paid. In all well-regulated Countries great Care is taken, that the poor Farmer shall not be overcharged. Where is there a more flourishing, or a better cultivated Spot of Ground in the World, than our neighbouring Country Flanders? Yet what Ravages, what Desolations has that poor Country suffered by contending Armies? What is this to be ascribed to? certainly to that wise Policy of the Landlords, established as a Law in that Country, that whenever any Farmer suffered any Loss in his Farm, by the Incampments or Depredations of an Army, he paid no Rent for that Year to his Landlord: By that he was enabled to support the Loss, and to repair the Damages for the Benefit of his Landlord as well as himself. Do we not see the Effects of a contrary Policy in Poland? There, the poor Tenants are racked and oppressed, and for that very reason one Half of that Country, which is naturally one of the most fertile in Europe, lies waste and uncultivated. This will always be the Consequence, when a Landlord charges his Tenant for the Sake of a small Ease to himself.
'We have already, Sir, so many Taxes, so many Impositions; the Price of every Thing is thereby so much enhanced, that none of our Manufactures can be sold in a Foreign Market so cheap as the same Sort of Manufactures are sold by our Neighbours. To this only the great Decay of our Trade is to be imputed; and if it had not been for some na tural Advantages, it would have been before now entirely lost and gone. It would have been happy for this Nation, if they had always raised the Supplies within the Year: We severely feel the Effects of this Error in Politicks committed by the Generation before us; and yet shall we with our Eyes open go on in the same Track, and doubly load our Posterity for a small present Ease to ourselves? We are told that this Tax is to continue but for three Years; but I plainly see that it must be continued longer: By Computation it is allowed, that 500,000 l, may be raised by this Tax in the Space of two Years and a Half, from whence I foresee, that at the End of three Years we shall be told, that there being Half a Year good in Hand, the Continuing it but for two Years longer will raise such another Sum. I do not doubt, but that at the End of this three Years, we shall, be under a much greater Necessity of raising such a Sum by extraordinary Means, than we are at present; at the End of five Years it may be the same, and thus it may for ever continue.
'Even the Landed Gentlemen, if they consider their own Interest, never will desire to be eased as to the Land-Tax, by laying on any other Tax instead thereof. In such a Case the Landed Gentlemen will always find, that what they save by this Ease as to the Land-Tax, is more than exhausted by what they pay out of their own Pockets, towards the Tax laid on in its room; and at the same Time the poor Tenants and Farmers are oppressed, and the Trade of the Country undone. Let us but suppose, that the Sum of five Millions were to be raised, and this I believe is as large a Sum as the nett Produce of all our Taxes will amount to. If this Sum were to be all raised by a Land-Tax, it would amount to ten Shillings in the Pound: This indeed would be a most grievous Tax, but let any Gentleman compute what he now pays, under the present Method of Taxation, towards the LandTax, towards the Malt-Tax, towards the Window-Lights, and to the advanced Price of all the Necessaries and Conveniences of Life, which he either makes use of in his Family or is obliged to call and pay for when he is abroad; and I believe he will find, that in the Year's Time it amounts to more than if he were to pay a Land-Tax of ten Shillings in the Pound, and at least to as much again upon the rest of the People. This, Sir, is the unavoidable Consequence of our present Method of Taxation. The Charge is so great, and the Advantages taken by the Merchant and Retailer are so extravagant, that one Half at least of what is raised upon the People never comes to the Use of the Publick; and it is so far, Sir, from being laid out or expended for the Benefit of the People, that it may some time or another be turned towards the enslaving of them: From whence, Sir, I think it is as demonstrable as any Proposition in Euclid, that if we actually paid a Land-Tax of ten Shillings in the Pound, without paying any other Excises or Duties, our Liberties and our Properties would be much more secure, and every Landed Gentleman might live at least in as much Plenty, and might make a better Provision for his Family, than under our present Method of Taxation.
'I shall conclude, Sir, with observing that as this Tax falls most grievously upon the Poor, and as they are by far the Majority of the People, it must of consequence raise a general Murmuring and Discontent against the Administration: By this the Government, for their own Security, will be obliged to keep up a numerous Standing Army: This will be a new Ground of Complaint among the People; and they will at last begin to think, that their Liberties and their Properties are really in Danger; and I hope the People of this Nation will always have Courage enough to dispute so sacred, so valuable a Prize; but cursed must they be whose Measures shall occasion such a Contest.
Mr Dundass spoke next,
We have heard a great deal of the Inequality of the LandTax, and great Complaints that, notwithslanding its being raised to the Good of all, yet there were but a small Part of the Nation that contributed any Thing thereto: I grant, Sir, that it is so far unequal; but then as no Man contributes but he that has an Estate, it cannot be said that it is insupportable to any Man; and it must be allowed, that the Rest of the Nation are quite free from that Burthen: But this Tax upon Salt is as unequal as the other, for there are a great many Gentlemen in this Nation, the greatest Part of whose Estates consists in Salt-Works, and by this Tax there will be at least one sixth Part, I may say one fourth Part, of these Estates taken from them. The Inequality therefore is as great with respect to this Tax, as with respect to that upon Land; but no Man, no Person in the Nation can be free from this Tax upon Salt, it must be burthensome upon all, and insupportable to a great many. I have the less Reason to be against the reviving of this Tax, because, by the Articles of the Union, that Part of the Country which I come from is to be free therefrom, or at least from the greatest Part thereof: Nor can I think that the taking off of a Tax, for one Year, which Scotland is by the Articles of the Union to be free from, and laying it on the very next Year, will ever afford a Pretence for the charging of the People of Scotland with the Payment of such a Tax; for then it would be easy to subject them to all those Taxes and Duties, which they are declared free from by the Articles of the Union. This, Sir, is my Opinion, but I shall be very sorry ever to see any Thing brought into this House, that may possibly bring any one of the Articles of Union into Question, or so much as raise a Doubt about the Meaning and Intention of any one of them: Explanations in that Affair will always be dangerous, and every Man who wishes well, either to his King or his Country, will endeavour as much as he can to avoid coming to any such. If there were no other Reason, Sir; for my being against this Duty upon Salt, this one is enough to me, that there appear to be several Gentlemen in this House, who are of different Sentiments from me, with respect to the Meaning and Intention of that Article of the Union, by which Scotland is declared free from the Duties then payable upon Salt. I hope all the Gentlemen of my own Country, at least, are in this Point of the same Sentiments with me, and consequently as they have very little to do in the present Question, I hope they will at least withdraw, and not join in laying a Tax upon their Neighbours, which their own Country is not to bear an equal Share in.
'It is well known how many Frauds and Perjuries were committed, during the Time that there was a Duty upon foreign Salt, and Drawbacks allow'd upon the Exportation of Fish cured therewith. How many Ships were sent out with Fish, pretended to be so cured, which never carried any to a Foreign Market? Do not we know, that some Ships have been enter'd, or at least pretended to have been enter'd, and the Drawbacks for the Cargoes of such pretended Ships have been not only allow'd, but paid, and yet it was afterwards discover'd, that no such Ship was ever built? One Gentleman was obliged to fly his Country for such Practices: 'Tis true that he afterwards got a Pardon, and soon after, a Commission in the Customs: How he came to deserve such Favour and such Preferment is more than I can tell; but I am sure no Man ever was, or will be deterred from being guilty of such Crimes, by the Severity of the Punishment he met with. The Multitude of those Frauds committed by the Exporters, or pretended Exporters of Fish cured with foreign Salt, was so great, that the Government was obliged at last to take the Duty entirely off of foreign Salt; and every Man was allowed to import Duty-free, as much as was necessary for curing all the Fish he exported to any foreign Market; and what was the Consequence? why, under this Pretence of curing Fish for a foreign Market, a great deal of foreign Salt was imported publickly, and afterwards privately sold about the Country for all the Uses in Life; and it is well known, the Proprietors of Salt-Works know it to their Cost, that while the Duty continued upon home-made Salt, there was none of it ever made use of in many Parts of this Island. If this Tax be revived, the same Frauds will be renew'd; and Frauds there will be, put it in what Shape you will: If you revive the Duty on foreign Salt, there will then be Frauds as to the Drawbacks; if you revive the Duty on home-made Salt, without laying a Duty on the Importation of foreign Salt, then in several Places of the Country they will fall upon some fraudulent Way or other of getting foreign Salt for all Uses; whereby you will increase the national Expence, and in a little Time destroy most of your own Salt-Works.
'The Independency of this House has of late Years been much talk'd of; I hope it will always be independent: But I must say, Sir, that if a Scheme had been laid down for making this House dependent upon the Crown, a more easy, a more effectual, a more certain Method could not have been contriv'd for the Success of such a wicked Scheme, than this of reviving the Salt-Duty. By this Duty there is so large a Sum yearly raised, and so little brought to the publick Account, that it may really be most properly called a Bribing us with our own Money. I am sure his Majesty never can think of such a Scheme; he has the Interest of the Nation and the Benefit of Mankind too much at Heart, to let any such Schemes ever enter into his Thoughts; but every Man is sensible, that a great Number of Officers, all named by the Crown, and removeable at the Pleasure of the King, or of those in the Administration, may have, if so apply'd, an Influence upon the Elections for Members of Parliament; and considering the Time that this Duty is now laid on, that it is laid on for three Years only, and that within that Time there is to be, as it is hop'd, a new Choice of Representatives, one who does not know his Majesty's good and just Intentions will be apt to suspect, that the laying on of such a Tax at such a critical Juncture, is with Design to influence the approaching Elections. I shall always be against any Measure that may give the meanest of his Majesty's Subjects the least Cause to suspect, that his Majesty ever had a Design of making use of any such Influence. I am convinced, he has no such Design; I firmly believe he never will form any such Design; but as much the greatest Part of the People live remote from Court, and have no Opportunity of knowing his Majesty's real Intentions, they may put wrong Constructions upon Things; and therefore no Man, who is a sincere Lover of the present happy Establishment, ought to agree to any Measure, which is in its own Nature liable to be misapprehended, and apt to raise Jealoufies and Fears among his Majesty's faithful Subjects.'
Sir R. Walpole.
Mr Dundass having done speaking, Sir Robert Walpole spoke again:
'Though I had examin'd this Affair with the utmost Accuracy I was capable of: Though I was convinced that what I was to propose, was for the publick Good, and for the Relief of those who have been long oppressed; yet I expected that the Motion I was to make, would meet with Opposition, either from those who have not so thoroughly consider'd this Matter, or from those whose particular Interest or private Views lead them to be against it. However, this Difficulty and Trouble which I foresaw I was to encounter, did not, nor ever shall deter me from offering to this House what I take to be for the Good of my Country, and for the Relief of those in Distress. All publick Assemblies must for ever be composed of Persons, who have different Ways of Thinking, different Interests, and different Ends. Every Tax that can be proposed will be objected to by some of those who are to pay it; and the most unequal Tax will be approved of, and preferred to the most equal, by those who are to contribute nothing, or a very little thereto. The Journals of this House may afford us many Examples of Petitions presented, and a vigorous Opposition made, against Things that have in their own Nature appeared to be an universal Benefit to Mankind. Those who live by the Necessities of Mankind, will for ever oppose what is proposed for their Relief; from hence it is, that we always see great Opposition made to all Attempts for improving the Navigation of Rivers, or of waste Lands and Commons; we are therefore, Sir, never to conclude against the publick Benefit of any Proposition, because we see it violently opposed.
'Envy and Malice will often prompt Men to oppose what is apparently for their own immediate Benefit, as well as for the Benefit of their Country. Every Man, I believe, even in a private Station of Life, has Enemies; but those who are in any publick Station have always a great many. Those who envy them, will always grudge them the Glory of doing any thing for the publick Good, and will endeavour to defeat, or to give a wrong Turn to whatever they propose for the Benefit of their Country, or for the Ease of the People. I do not believe that any Gentleman in this House opposes what I have moved for from any such Motives. I am persuaded that the Opposition made thereto proceeds entirely from their mistaking the Case before us, and therefore I shall endeavour as much as I can, to remove those Mistakes, and shall think the Pains I am at well bestow'd, if I can thereby convince any one Gentleman of this House of the Error he has been in.
'The Influence to be added to the Power of the Crown, by the Addition of such a Number of Officers, as must be employ'd in the collecting of this Revenue, is, I find, a mighty Objection against the reviving of this Duty upon Salt. I am sorry, Sir, to find that any Gentleman should think so meanly of his Native Country. Our Liberties and our Properties would indeed be in the most imminent Danger, if an Addition of 4 or 500 Officers could add such a terrible Influence to the Power of the Crown. But, Sir, we have the Experience of above 30 Years, to convince us of the Unreasonableness of such Apprehensions; and during a great Part of this Time, the Crown had, besides this Number of Salt-Officers, a much more numerous Army than it has at present; consequently the Power of the Crown must have been much greater than it can be made by what is now proposed, and yet it was never found to be too great; but on the contrary, the Crown was always obliged to sue for, and to submit to the Inclinations of the People. While the Power of the Crown is properly apply'd, and made Use of only to defend the Liberties and Properties of the Subject, the Crown will always have the Inclinations of the Majority of the People in its Favour. This is the natural and just Influence which the Crown ought to have, and I hope it will never have any other in this Kingdom. We know that the Factious and Disaffected have always exclaimed against the Number of Officers, and have alledged that the Disappointments they met with, in their Opposition to the most just and most reasonable Measures proposed by the Court, proceeded from the Influence of such Officers; but it is evident, that the People of this Nation never could be brought by such Influence, to do any thing that was inconsistent with their Liberties and Privileges: And as there is no greater Number of Officers now proposed, than what was before employ'd when this Duty was subfisting, it cannot be presumed, that this Influence will now be greater than it has been in Times past. Do not therefore let imaginary Fears and vain Apprehensions deter us from giving a Relief to the most distressed Part of our Fellow-Subjects.
'Another Bugbear raised against this Duty on Salt is, that it is a Sort of Excise, and may be a Precedent for introducing a General Excise. I am persuaded that no Man ever thought of introducing a General Excise into this Country; I can answer for myself that I never did; but because there is such a Term as a General Excise, because there may be such a Thing in some Countries, shall we therefore admit of no particular Excise, nor any Duty upon any particular Commodity? We may as well say we will pay no Tax, because in some Countries that have the Misfortune to be subject to arbitrary Power, they are oppressed with Taxes. An Excise is only a Word for a Tax raised in a different Manner; and if it be found by Experience, that our present Method of raising our Taxes is more burthensome upon our Trade, and more inconvenient and expensive to the Merchant, than the raising them by way of Excise would be, I see no manner of Reason why we should be frighten'd by these two Words, General Excise, from changing the Method of raising the Taxes we now pay, and choosing that Method which is most convenient for the trading Part of the Nation. The laying of an Excise upon one Commodity, or upon one Sort of Provisions, can no more be a Precedent for a General Excise, than my giving a poor Man half a Crown, can be a Precedent for my giving him my whole Estate. We find that the Method of raising Taxes by way of Excise, is not absolutely inconsistent with Liberty; we find it is the Method by which most of the Taxes are raised in Holland; and their Method is reckon'd much more preferable to ours, by all those who understand any Thing of Trade; yet no Man can say but that the Dutch are a free People, and are as jealous of their Liberties as any People ought in Reason to be.
'There are at present no Thoughts of converting any Duty into an Excise; but if all or most Part of our Customs were converted into Excises, I am persuaded it would be beneficial to our Commerce in general, and there is no great Fear of its adding so much to the Civil List; for notwithstanding the great Clamours that have been raised upon that Head, it appears, that from his Majesty's Accession, to the Year 1731, even including the Sum of 115,000 l. granted by Parliament to make up the Deficiency of the CivilList Revenue, [See p. 48.] the Produce of all those Duties appropriated to the Civil-List, has not in the whole amounted to 800,000 l. per Annum which is the Sum that has been judged by Parliament to be necessary for supporting the Charge of his Majesty's Civil-List; so that if by the Method of Excise these Duties should produce a little more, and it is not to be presumed that they can produce a great deal more, they will only make up that Sum which the Parliament have thought themselves obliged in Justice to make good to his Majesty.
'I must, say, Sir, I am surprized at the Proposal that has been made for laying this whole Tax upon Salt made in Scotland; I am persuaded the Gentlemen are not serious in what they proposed; I reckon it was made only to divert the Principal Question, and to oblige the Gentlemen of that Country to be against it, not because they disapprove of it in the main, but for fear their Country should be, by an After-Resolution, charged with a Duty which, by the Articles of the Union, they are declared free from for ever. The Salt-Duty, now proposed to be revived, was granted at two several Times; one was for but 1s. per Bushel, the other was for 2 s. 4 d. per Bushel. At the Time of making the Union, the Scots Commissioners were willing that their Country should after a certain Term of Years be subject to the 1 s. per Bushel; but they declared that their People could not possibly afford to pay the additional 2 s. and 4 d; and therefore they insisted upon their being free from it for ever, which on our Side was agreed to. The Act of the 9th and 10th of King William had imposed this Duty of 2 s. and 4 d. for ever, and therefore that Article of the Union relating to this Duty upon Salt was drawn up in these Terms: 'That the Scots should be exempted, for seven Years, from all Duties whatever on home-made Salt, after which they were to pay the Duties levied in England, with this Exception, and in these express Words, "That Scotland shall, after the said seven Years, remain exempted from the Duty of 2 s. 4 d. imposed on home-made Salt, by an Act made in England in the 9th and 10th Years of King William III. of England." Can there be any thing more express than this? By the Act therein mentioned, the Duty was expresly to continue to be levied in England for ever. Is it not therefore evident, that by the Article of Union referring to that Act, the Scots are for ever to be free from that Duty? Shall we be so unjust, shall we be so ungenerous, as to make use of a down-right Quirk in Law to subject those People to a Duty, which by the Agreement between us, they are for ever to be free from? This was the express Stipulation between the two Nations at the Time the Union was made. How captious then must it be to say, that the Exemption can only bear a Relation to the Duty imposed by that Act, and cannot be claimed with respect to the same Duty now to be imposed by a new Act? If such a Pretence were to be admitted, if taking off any Duty imposed by former Acts, under which the People of Scotland were intitled to an Exemption, and laying on the same Duty again by a new Act, were admitted of as an Avoidance of their Claim of Exemption, of what Force can any such Article of Agreement be? Have we it not in our Power at this rate to defeat every Exemption, which the Scots are intitled to by the Union? For it is but repealing that Act under which they claim an Exemption, and then in a Year or two afterwards imposing the same Duty by a new Act. Thus the Scots might be at once subjected to those Duties which they are not able, which they ought not to bear. But would it be fair, would it be candid in us to make use of such a Subterfuge, against a Nation that has trusted so much to our Honour?
'This Tax cannot therefore be said to be unequal, because Scotland does not pay as much as is paid in England. The People in that Country are to pay as much as they ought to pay, and as much as we can in Justice or Equity demand; nor does it signify whether the Share they pay be sent up here or not: They have an equal Right to be protected and defended; the protecting and defending the People of that Country is a Part of the Publick Charge: It is a Part of the National Expence, and must be defrayed out of the Publick Revenue; and the applying the Money raised in that Country, towards the publick Expence in that Country, is the same as if it were sent up to the Exchequer here. We ought to be the more careful of that Part of the Island, because we have found by Experience, that there can be no Invasion upon, nor any Commotion among the People in that Country, but what must soon come to affect ourselves. For our own Safety then we are obliged to be at the Charge of defending them, and consequently it can be no Objection against any Tax, that the Produce thereof arising in Scotland is applied to the answering of such a Purpose. Nor is this Tax unequal, because of the Loss that the Proprietors of Salt-Works may sustain, for none of their Estates can be thereby diminished. The Tax is not paid by the Maker, or by the Seller, but by the Consumer; and the Charge comes to such a Trifle upon every particular Man, that it cannot be pretended that any Man will consume less Salt than he did before; if there were no such Tax, no Man would make use of more Salt than he had occasion for, and the Tax makes so small an additional Charge, that it will never oblige any Man to make use of less.
'The great Charge of raising this Tax, has been made use of as a weighty Argument against it; but when we come to make a Comparison between this and the Land-Tax, the Difference will be found to be but inconsiderable. If proper Allowances are made, it will be found that the raising of this Tax upon Salt will not cost the Government above 22,000 l. per Annum. The Land Tax we know costs the Publick, by Parliamentary Allowance and other necessary Charges of Management, at least 13,500 l. per Annum; besides this, there is an Office kept in Commission on purpose for superintending it, which costs above 4000 l. per Annum more; so that the Land-Tax really costs the Publick about 18,000 l. per Annum. Thus the Difference between the Charge of raising the Salt Tax, and that of raising the Land-Tax appears at last to be but 4000 l. per Annum, which is not Half a Farthing in a Year to every Person that is to contribute thereunto. Shall we then for the Sake of saving this 4000 l. a Year to this Nation in general, or this Half-Farthing to every particular Person; shall we, I say, for this Reason continue to oppress the Landed Gentlemen, contrary to all Equity and Justice, and refuse to approve of a Measure by which they are to be relieved, without throwing any sensible Charge upon any one Man in the Nation? If the Difference were much higher than what it is, is it not with respect to the Nation in general amply repaid by this, that in continuing the Land-Tax at Two Shillings in the Pound, the Nation is obliged to raise the whole Sum wanted within one Year? whereas if the Land-Tax is put at One Shilling in the Pound, and the Salt-Tax laid on instead of the other Shilling, the Nation has three Years to raise that Sum, which otherways is to be raised in one. Every Man in common Life, would rather chuse to have three Years for the Payment of a Debt, than to be obliged to pay it in one: Every Man would be glad to pay something for such an Indulgence, and a great deal more in Proportion, than the Difference of the Charge in raising those two Taxes can ever amount to.
'The great Difference, that always appeared between the gross and nett Produce of this Duty, has been made use of as an Argument to shew the great Charge of collecting this Revenue, and to convince us that there was always a great deal more raised from the People, than ever came to the Benefit of the Publick; but this Argument will quite vanish when the Matter is set in a clear Light; it will then appear, that those Gentlemen are in a very great Mistake: They have always called that the gross Produce, which never was any thing but the gross Charge; these are two Things of a very different Nature, and therefore they never ought to be confounded by those, who have a mind to form a right Judgment about any Branch of the Revenue. We know that while this Duty was subsisting, the gross Charge was generally reckoned, Communibus Annis, at about 470,000 l. per Annum, but then there were a great many Articles charged to this Branch, which never were really produced or paid to it, and consequently they never can be reckoned any Part of its gross Produce. I shall take Notice of the most considerable of those Articles, which were charged and brought to the general Account of this Branch, without ever being produced or paid by any one Person, and therefore it is certain that they never could be looked on as a Charge or Burthen upon the Subjects of this Nation.
'In former Times, while this Duty was subsisting, we know that all Salt was charged with Duties when sold and delivered from the Works, and consequently from that Instant it became an Article of the gross Charge of this Revenue; but then whatever Salt was bought by any Person who had a mind to export the same, he paid no Money for the Duties then charged upon the Salt he had bought, but entered into a Bond to pay the Duty, which Bond was cancelled upon a Debenture made out, certifying the Salt to have been exported. From hence it appears, that for all the Salt that ever was exported, there never was One Farthing of Money actually paid by the Subject; and by the Books it appears, that this one Article alone at a Medium, amounted to 120,000 l. per Annum. As no Part of this Sum was ever produced or paid by any Person, therefore it cannot be reckoned as a Part of the gross Produce, though it was always reckoned as a Part of the gross Charge.
'Another considerable Article arose from what was allowed for the Fishery; for Curers of Fish paid no Duty, neither did they give Bonds for what Salt they used in curing of Fish; but the Quantities, which they took up for that purpose, were all entered in the Accounts of the Office, as a Part of the gross Charge of this Duty, and were all discharged upon due Proof given, that the Salt had been used in curing of Fish; and this Article amounted at a Medium to 51,000 l. per Annum, which is likewise to be deducted from the gross Charge.
'Rock-Salt was charged with the Duty at the Pits, and a great deal of this Rock-Salt was afterwards melted down, and made into White Salt, which was also charged with the Duty, and both these Duties were charged in the Accounts of the Office; but the Refiner or Maker had an Allowance for so many Bushels of Rock-Salt, for which the Duty had been charged, as he had melted down and made use of in making White Salt. This Article generally amounted to about 36,000 l. per Annum, and is to be deducted from the gross Charge.
'It is well known that the whole Sums, payable for Duties, were always charged in the Books of the Office; and yet there was always a Discount for Prompt-Payment allowed, which amounted to about 20,000 l. yearly; and besides this, there was another Allowance for Waste on Salt carried Coastwise, which one Year with another came to 11,000 l. per Annum. There was likewise an Allowance for Salt lost at Sea, and an Allowance or a Drawback upon Salt-Beef and Pork exported, both which amounted to 1650 l. per Annum. All these Sums added together amounted to 239,650 l. and as they never were raised upon the Subject, or if raised were always returned, therefore they must all be deducted from the Gross Charge, and the remaining Sum only, being 230,350 l. is to be reckoned the Gross Produce. From which if we deduct the Charges of Management, viz. 25,000 l. there remains 205,350 l. which is the Nett Produce. And if from this we deduct the Bounties paid annually to the Exporters of Fish, and which must be paid whether we revive this Tax or not, these Bounties amounting yearly to the Sum of 19,000 l. the remaining Sum will then be the Nett Sum to be paid into the Exchequer, viz. 186,350 l. on the Credit of which 500,000 l. is now proposed to be raised.
'By this short Abstract of the Account, it will, I think, Sir, most evidently appear, that there is nothing in that Argument so much insisted on, that there is a great deal more raised upon the People than ever can come to the Benefit of the Publick. There is no evading of Facts, and upon the most exact Examination of them it appears, that every Shilling that is actually raised from the People, comes to the Use of the Publick, except this Sum of 25,000 l. per Annum, allowed for the Management of this Revenue. And even this 25,000 l. is all to be given to our own People; many Families may be thereby maintained who would otherwise be a Burthen upon their Country; and thus the greatest Part even of that Sum will come to be useful to the Nation in general, and may therefore be properly said to come to the Benefit of the Publick.
'Great Complaints have been made, and a great Clamour raised, that this Tax will always give great Occasion to Frauds and Perjuries. I am persuaded, Sir, that no Excise whatever is attended with fewer Frauds in the Management than this Tax now under our Consideration. What is generally presumed to give Occasion to Frauds and Perjuries in all Methods of Taxation, is, when great Sums of Money are to be paid by the Subject, and returned to them again upon certain Events. Let any Man but examine the Articles of the Gross Charge of this Revenue, he will find, that there is no Money paid and returned. In all those Articles by which the Gross Amount is made to exceed the Gross Produce, the Accounts of the Office are carried on by way of Debtor and Creditor; there is hardly ever any Money paid by the Subject, that is to be returned either to him or to any other upon any Event whatsoever; we must therefore conclude, that in the Method by which this Tax was formerly, and is now again proposed to be raised, there can be nothing to tempt the Avarice, or to encourage the Frauds of Knavish Dealers.
'I shall now, Sir, examine some of those particular Objections that have been made to this Tax. The only one that I think has any Appearance of Reason in it, is, That with respect to the Navigation of Great Britain, it is pretended that it will be a great Burthen upon the victualling of our Ships: But unluckily it happens, that the Navigation of Great Britain never flourished more than it did under the Payment of this Tax. In a Course of Five and Thirty Years that this Tax continued, it cannot be said, that ever our Shipping or our Navigation suffered in the least; on the contrary, there is not, I believe, any such Term in all our History, in which the Number of our Seamen, and the Number and Tonnage of our Ships encreased so much as it did in that Time. This is of itself a clear Proof that this Tax can be no Discouragement to our Navigation. But in Fact it is plain, that the additional Expence occasioned by this Duty is such a meer Trifle, that it never can be any Burthen; by Accounts from the Victualling-Office it appears, that the Charge for 10,000 Men in the Service of his Majesty's Navy, was at a Medium but 2,600 l. per Annum extraordinary Expence, occasioned by the Duty on Salt, which is no more than five Shillings per Man; so that if we reckon 30,000 Men employed in the Navigation carried on by the Merchants of Great Britain, the Duty on the whole Consumption of Salt in that Service will not exceed 7,800 l. per Annum, and surely no Man will imagine this to be a grievous and an insupportable Load upon the whole Navigation of Great Britain. But those that know any Thing of the Merchant Service can testify, that Salt-Provisions are not the only Victualling made use of in that Service. Their Ships are often in some Port or another, and then the Sailors live mostly upon fresh Provisions; even when they are at Sea, it is well known that the greatest Part of their Food consists of dried Fish, fresh Fish catched at Sea, Flower, Rice, and other such Provisions. Aboard of Merchant Ships they never consume near so much Salt-Provisions, in proportion to the Number of their Hands, as they do aboard any of his Majesty's Ships of War. And our Merchant-Ships which trade to Ireland or to the Plantations, generally take in their Salt-Provisions in one of those two Places, because of the Cheapness of Meat in those Countries; so that the Expence brought upon our Navigation by this Tax, especially in the Merchant Service, will at last be reduced to such a Trifle, that it will become altogether insensible. And as to the Exportation of Salt-Provisions this Duty can never be any Discouragement to such a Trade, because the Exporters are allowed a Drawback in Lieu of the Duty they have paid.
'If Salt be of so great a Benefit as has been represented in the Manuring of Lands, it is certain that foul Salt may do as well for that Purpose as any other Salt whatever, and any Quantity of such Salt may be had gratis for carrying it off from the Pits: no Duty was ever paid or charged for such Salt; the Person who took it away to manure his Land, having an Officer with him, was always intitled to use it Duty free; if the Tax be revived it will still be the same, and consequently the Duty can never be a Hindrance to the Improvement of our Lands, since the only Salt that is proper for that Purpose is always to be had Duty-free. And as to the Farmers and Graziers of Great Britain, this Duty can never be any great Charge upon them; whatever Salt they use in making up any Goods for the Market, is paid for at the Market by the Buyer, and so comes at last to fall where all Duties ought to fall, upon the Consumer. In their own Families there is but very little Salt consumed, and therefore the Duty cannot fall heavily upon them. If upon Computation it be found, that the Duty costs but Five Shillings a Head at Sea, it cannot cost above half that Sum at Land, even if we were to suppose that there are as much Salt-Provisions made Use of at Land as at Sea; because we know that there is not half the Quantity of Salt made use of in curing Provisions for the Land, as in curing Provisions for the Sea-Service: But we know that for more than half the Year, the Country People live entirely upon the Produce of the Dairy and the Garden, and even for the other Half of the Year, they live more upon Cabbage, Roots, and such Things, than upon Salt Meat, consequently we cannot reckon that this Duty will stand the Farmer in above one Shilling a Head for those Persons that live in his Family. It is indeed impossible that it can cost so much; we may modestly reckon that the whole People of England amount to at least Eight Millions of Persons; every one of whom contributes his Share to this Duty; if then, Sir, the Sum raised which is 230,350 l. be distributed among Eight Millions of Persons, it will not amount to 7 d. a Man; and if from thence we deduct the 19,000 l. which the People of England are obliged to pay, whether this Tax be revived or not, we must conclude that no Person in England contributes more than 6 d. thereto, for his own personal Consumption. He that keeps a great many Persons in his Family, must indeed pay for each of them, but whoever does so must either have a good Estate or a good Trade, and consequently may very well afford to pay; and this, Sir, is the Excellency of the Salt-Tax, that every Man is thereby obliged to contribute to the Publick Charge, according to his Condition in Life. For I think no Man will say but that he who has a good Trade, or a great deal of Money out at Interest, ought to contribute as much to the Defence of Property, as he that has a LandEstate that brings in no greater Yearly Revenue.
'I hope, Sir, I have now made it appear to the Conviction of every Man that hears me, that the Salt-Duty is no Burthen upon the People of England, or upon any Part of them; that it can be no Hindrance to the Improvement of our Land Estates, nor any Prejudice to our Trade or Navigation; and it is, I may say, self-evident, that it is a more just, a more equal, and a better proportioned Tax, than any that is raised, or can be contrived to be raised upon the People of this Nation. The Land-Tax upon the other hand is the most unequal, the most grievous, and the most oppresfive Tax that ever was raised in this Country; it is a Tax which never ought to be raised but in Times of the most extreme Necessity. The best Judges, the truest Patriots in all Countries, have been of Opinion, that of all Taxes, that upon immoveable Goods, that upon Lands and Houses ought to be the last Resource. In such a Case there are but few of the People that contribute to the Publick Expence, and even among those few there will always be a great Partiality as to the Value that is put upon Men Estates. This we are very sensible of in England; there are some Landed Gentlemen that pay a Land-Tax equal to the full Value of their Estates, while others do not pay equal to a third Part of the real Value; and generally those Gentlemen, who suffer most by this Partiality, are those whose Ancestors were a Sort of Knight-Errants for the Revolution. They gloried in that happy Event, they thought themselves, in Honour and Justice, obliged to pay their equal Share for the Support of so glorious a Cause, in proportion to the real Value of the Estates they possessed; and therefore they gave them in at the full Value. This was Justice, this was a laudable Zeal for the Happiness of the Nation, and for the Liberties and Privileges of the People; but their Posterity suffer'd severely for it; and as they always will be the greatest Sufferers by every Land-Tax, ought not the Merit and the honest Zeal of their Forefathers to plead strongly for their Relief, at least with all those who are Friends to our present happy Establishment?
'To pretend, Sir, that the taking off a Shilling in the Pound of the Land-Tax, and raising the Salt-Tax in the room thereof, will be no Ease to most, or to any of the Landed Gentlemen in England, appears to me to be realy a Sort of Paradox. I believe there are few Landed Gentlemen in England, whose Estates do not amount to 100 l. per Annum; I am sure that the Landed Gentlemen of such Estates, or of any Land Estate from 100 l. to 1000 l. per Annum, are the greatest Objects of Compassion, and deserve most the Consideration of this House; because those, who have less than 100 l. a Year in Land, are generally either Farmers or Grasiers, or have some other Business as a Help for the Support of their Families. A Gentleman then of 100 l. a Year in Land, if his Estate be rated at the full Value, saves 5 l. a Year by the Abatement of 1 s. in the Land-Tax: Let us see if it be possible that this can again be drawn from him by the Salt-Duty. I believe it will easily be granted me, that no Man, of 100 l. a Year and no more, Land-Estate, without any other Business keeps Sixteen in Family; but supposing he does, yet at 6 d. a Head the Salt-Duty cannot amount to more in the whole three Years than 24 s. How then is it possible to pretend that this is not a Relief to such a Gentleman? To pay but 24 s. in three Years, and at a thousand, I may say, different Payments, is surely better, and much less grievous, than to be obliged to pay 5 l. in one Year, and at most at two Payments. But suppose that such a Man's Estate is rated at the lowest Value, that any Lands in England are presumed to be rated at; suppose such an Estate to be rated but at one third of the full Value, yet still by an Abatement of 1 s. in the Pound Land-Tax, he saves above 33 s. and therefore such an Abatement must be a Relief even to such a Man, of at least 9 s. besides the Advantage he has of having a much longer Time to pay a less Sum. Thus we see that what is now proposed must be a very great Relief to those, who are oppressed with Mortgages and RentCharges, and must be some Relief to every Landed Gentleman in the Kingdom, who has nothing but the Rents of his Estate to depend upon, for the Support of his Family, and providing for his Children.
'If there were any Danger, Sir, that the reviving of this Tax would occasion Murmurings among the People, I should be as much against it as any Man in this House; but the Tax is in its own Nature so equal, and paid by such a vast Multitude of People, and at so many different Payments, that it becomes quite insensible to every particular Man. We know by Experience, that during the long Time it was paid by the People, it never occasioned the least Uneasiness, and we find that the Remission of it gave no Ease; it occasioned no Joy among the People, nor were there any good Effects of it felt, either as to the lowering the Price of Goods or Provisions at Market, as to the raising the Value of Lands, or as to the reducing the Wages commonly given to Journeymen and Day-Labourers. Those therefore who have a Regard to the Interest of his Majesty, or to the Ease and Quiet of the Kingdom, cannot make the least Scruple in preferring a Tax that is felt by no Man, to a Tax that is insupportable to a great many of those that are obliged to contribute thereto. Such a Measure can breed no new Enemies to our present happy Establishment, but must convert a great many of the old, and insure the Affections of the most considerable Part of his Majesty's Subjects.
'In this, Sir, as well as in all the other Motions, which I have ever had the Honour to make to this House, I have always acted according to my own Judgment for the Good of my Country, and therefore, Sir, I have no Reason to be afraid of the Curses and Imprecations of any Man. I do not think it altogether Parliamentary to use any such Expressions in this House; every Man ought in common Charity to be presumed to act according to what he thinks best, and most conducive to the Interest and Happiness of his Country. I have always done so, and while I continue to do so, I shall despite any Outcries that may be groundlesly raised against me, or against any Measure I propose.
'To conclude, Sir, the only Thing I had in View was, to propose what I thought the most easy and the most convenient Method of relieving the Landed-Gentlemen, in Part at least of that Tax which has so long lain heavy upon them, and upon them only; I am convinced that every Gentleman in this House will agree with me in this, that a Land-Tax, even of two Shillings in the Pound is a most grievous Tax upon all the Landed-Gentlemen in the Kingdom, more especially upon those, whose Estates are charged with heavy Mortgages or large Annuities; and I think I have clearly shewn, that the Duty upon Salt is no way inconsistent with our Constitution, is no way burthensome either upon our Navigation or our Trade, and I am sure it cannot with any Appearance of Reason be said to be grievous upon any particular Man, or upon any Set of Men within the Dominions of Great-Britain. Let us then, for God's Sake, Gentlemen, have some Consideration for the Freeholders, who have suffered so much for many Years; let us have some Compassion for those Gentlemen, whose Estates are deeply charged with Mortgages and Annuities, occasioned by the heavy Land-Taxes which their Forefathers have been obliged to pay. It is but reasonable that the Creditor should contribute to the publick Expence as well as his Debtor; and the most proper Method for effectuating so just a Design is, in my Opinion, the reviving the Duty upon Salt. If any Gentleman can propose a better, I shall most heartily join with him, and whoever thinks he cannot, will, I hope, agree to what I have proposed.'
Mr W. Pulteney.
Then Mr Pulteney replied as follows:
'From what his Majesty was graciously pleased to tell us from the Throne at the Beginning of this Session, I did indeed expect, I believe the whole People of England with me did expect, that we were to receive some Ease as to our Taxes; some real, some effectual Ease was expected, and was with Reason expected. How are these Expectations of the poor People to be answer'd? By the Proposition now made, a Part, by much the greatest Part of them, are to be subjected to a new Tax, and the remaining Part are to be indeed free of a Part of an old Tax, but instead thereof they are to pay a new Tax, which will be equally grievous to most of them, at the same Time that it is grievous to every other Person in the Nation. This, Sir, is the Relief that the People of England are, by the Proposition now made, to meet with from the Establishment of a profound Tranquility both Abroad and at Home.
'Every Gentleman in this House must remember, how this Tax upon Salt came to be taken off. Only two Years ago his Majesty was pleased to open the Session with a most gracious Speech, in which he expressed a compassionate Concern for the Hardships of the poor Artificers and Manufacturers; from whence we must conclude, that his Majesty's Opinion then was, that that Sort of People laboured under the greatest Hardships, and were the first who ought to be relieved. The Circumstances of the Nation are not much altered since that Time; the Landed Gentlemen are not, I hope, grown very much poorer, or less able to bear Burthens; the poor Artificers and Manufacturers, are not, I am sure, grown richer; and therefore I must think, that his Majesty has not alter'd his Opinion, whatever some Gentlemen in this House may have done: It is certain some of them have, because at that Time there was not so much as one Man in this House, that differed in Opinion from his Majesty. Every Man agreed that the poor Artificers and Manufacturers were the first, who ought to meet with Relief from the happy Situation of our Affairs; the only Difference was as to the Manner of giving them Relief, and even that did not bear a Question; this Tax upon Salt was then thought so grievous upon the Trade, the Manufactures, and the Poor of this Nation, that it was given up even by the Right Honourable Gentleman who has now made the Motion for reviving it. I wish he had given us some Reason for his being now of a different Opinion, from what he was of at that Time; for it must proceed from some Fact, or from some Circumstance that has either happened since that Time, or is soon to happen. If he foresees any extraordinary Event, I wish he had been so good as to communicate it; for my own part, I can see none that can possibly induce me to change my Opinion; but on the contrary, I foresee many for confirming me in the same Sentiments I was then of; and which I think ought to confirm every Man who considers the Consequences of Things, and has a stronger Regard for the Liberties of his Country, and the Happiness of Fosterity, than he has for his own immediate Interest.
'I am very ready to believe, that every Man acts from the justest Motive, and from a sincere and hearty Regard for the Interest of his Country, and for the Happiness of his Fellow-Subjects; but as the true Motives of a Man's acting or speaking cannot be with any Certainty discovered by another, therefore we are to regard only what he does or says. A Man may act honestly, may argue justly from very bad Motives; and on the other Hand we know, that many wrong Actions and foolish Arguments have proceeded from Motives, that were in themselves generous and good. Let us then in Charity believe, that whoever differs from us is in a Mistake, and that whoever agrees with us, acts from the same good Motives we do ourselves; then we shall examine each other's Arguments with Candour; then is Truth most likely to prevail.
'Let us not confound the Matter in Hand, and believe that the Question now before us, is, whether or no a Relief ought to be granted to the Landed-Interest: That is no way at present the Question in Debate. By the Resolutions of this House upon the Supply, there is 500,000 l. to be raised for the Current Service of the Year; the raising of this Sum we have already made necessary; our Resolution is not to be recalled. We are now in a Committee of Ways and Means, and the only Question before us, is, whether we are to raise this Sum of 500,000 l. by laying a Shilling upon Land, or by reviving the Duty upon Salt. Neither of them can be a Relief to the Landed Gentlemen; upon the contrary both must be burthensome to them. But the one or the other we have made necessary, and therefore the only Question now before us is, by which of these Ways we shall raise this 500,000 l.
'This being then the true State of the Question, we are to consider which of these Methods will be most convenient for the Nation in general, and that we are to choose without any Respect to who is, or who is not to contribute thereto; for we are never to do any Injury to our Country for the sake of any private Man, or of any particular Set of Men. The Thoughts of raising a General Excise, I find, have been disclaimed by every Gentleman, who has spoke in this Debate; I hope this Nation will never be in such slavish Circumstances, as that any Man dare openly avow such a Design; but I wish that every Gentleman that has talked upon this Subject, had explained to us what he meant by a General Excise; for if any Gentleman thereby means, that the People are to pay Excises upon every Thing they use either for Food or Raiment, he will find that there is no such General Excise in the most arbitrary, the most slavish Country upon Earth. I believe there is no Country under the Sun, where the People pay an Excise for the Water they drink, and yet in some Countries it will be allowed that there are such Things as General Excises. I therefore take it, that the proper Meaning of a General Excise relates not to the Things upon which it is raised, but to the Persons from whom; and every Excise is a General Excise, if the whole Body of the People, the Poor, the Needy, the most Wretched, are obliged to contribute thereto. If this be the Meaning of a General Excise, the Excise now proposed to be raised upon the People of this Nation, is as General as any one that can be, or ever was invented under the most absolute Tyranny. And if this be granted, and tamely submitted to by the People, it may be an Encouragement to ambitious and wicked Ministers in future Times, to proceed a Step farther, and lay another Excise upon some other Commodity used by the Generality of the People; that again will give Encouragement to a third Attempt, and so on, till at last the People of this Country be subjected, as well as some of our Neighbours, to a General Excise in the most extensive Sense; that is, an Excise upon every Person, and upon almost every Thing, that can be converted to the Use of Man.
'Such a General Excise was never establish'd at once in any Country, it has every where been introduced by Degrees; and in all the Countries where such an Excise has been established, we may generally observe, that the first Step made towards it was, the introducing this very Excise now proposed to be laid upon the People of this Nation. When we were involved in a heavy and expensive War, when we were fighting for every Thing that was near and dear to us, when our Land Tax was at four Shillings in the Pound, when every Thing we could think of was loaded with Duties and Customs, it was then a Sort of Necessity upon us to submit to such an Excise; but if we agree to it now, during a Time of profound Peace, and when no Necessity calls for our Submission, will it not then be a Precedent for every Excise that in future Times may or can be invented? And a few more Exçises would, I fear, render our Liberties precarious, and entirely dependent upon the Good-Will and Pleasure of those, who shall happen to be intrusted with the chief Power of collecting the Publick Revenue. The giving a Man half a Crown is indeed no Precedent for my giving him my whole Estate; but if I repeat my Generosity too often, and continue it too long, I may happen to put it in his Power to take the Residue from me, whether I will or no, and in such Case, I am afraid, it would be too late to alledge, that the one is no Precedent for the other; for if by my Simplicity I reduce myself to such Circumstances, I must submit to whatever he may be pleased to call a good Precedent. I hope no Project will ever be set on Foot, for converting any of our present Taxes or Customs into Excises; but if ever such a Project be set on Foot, I shall then, I believe, be able to shew, that no Dutch Custom can in that Respect be a good Rule for us. The Nature of their Government, the Situation and Condition of their Country, and the Nature of the Commerce carry'd on by them, is so vastly different from ours, that what may be safe and easy in one Country, may be grievous to the People, and inconsistent with the Liberties of the other.
'I am very far from thinking, that four or five hundred Officers at the Disposal of the Crown, can at any Time be of dangerous Consequence to the Freedom of Elections, or to the Liberties of the People; but I cannot be persuaded, that I think meanly of my Country, when I declare that I am jealous of such a Number as seven or eight hundred, added to a vast Multitude of Tax-Gatherers we had before among us. When the Balance of Power comes near to its just Equilibrium, a small Weight thrown into either Scale oversets the Ballance, and the Equilibrium can never be reestablished without a great deal of Danger and Trouble. It is certain, that a Multitude of Officers at the Beck of an Administration, and spread over all the Counties, Cities, and Boroughs of the Kingdom, may have a vast Influence at all Elections; and if ever they should happen to receive Orders for that Purpose, we may judge what Use they will make of the Influence they may have: I believe it will be generally agreed, that if ever we should have an Administration wicked enough to make Use of such an Influence, it will not be converted towards the Preservation of the Liberties of the People. The Character of those great Patriots, who first contrived this Duty, was no Argument for the Continuance of it, much less is it an Argument for the Reviving it. They did not out of Wantonness contrive such a Duty; they were constrain'd by a fatal Necessity, to lay it upon the Nation at that Time. They made no bad Use of it, but we are not from thence to infer, that no bad Use will ever be made of it: From our own History we may be inform'd, that a very bad Use has been made of several Things, which for many Years after the first Institution had never been converted to any unlawful Purposes. Wherever there is any such Danger to be fear'd, we ought not willingly, we ought not presumptuously to expose ourselves thereunto. Such Evils may be easily avoided, but are not easily removed. One of the chief Reasons urged for the abolishing of this Duty, was, the Number of Officers employ'd in the collecting thereof, such a Number of Officers was then said to be inconsistent with the Liberties of a free People. This Argument was then made use of, and was then admitted to be a good Argument; how it comes now to be such a trifling one, I cannot apprehend. But if it is not now admitted as a sufficient Argument against the reviving of this Duty for three Years, I much suspect, that at the End of this Term of three Years, neither this Argument, nor any other, will have Weight enough to prevent the continuing of it for a much longer Term.
'I must say, Sir, that I am astonish'd to hear any Man who has ever read the Articles of Union, or is in the least acquainted with the Transactions of those Times, pretend that the People of Scotland are any way intitled to an Exemption from the Salt-Duty, or from any Part of it, when it is to be laid on for the current Service of the Year. It is very well known, that it was laid down by the Commissioners of both Kingdoms, as the Basis and Foundation of the Union, 'That there shall be an Equality of Excises, Customs, and all other Taxes throughout the united Kingdoms.' There was at that Time no Thought of establishing any Proportion to be raised in Scotland, with Respect to any Tax or Excise then raised, or thereafter to be raised in England, except only as to the Land-Tax. There was before the Union a Land-Tax raised in Scotland as well as in England; but in the two Kingdoms it was raised in a different Manner. In Scotland it was laid on, and levy'd by way of so many Months Assessments: In England it was laid on and levy'd by way of so many Shillings in the Pound; and therefore it became necessary to consider the Proportion between a Month's Assessment in Scotland, and a Shilling in the Pound in England; and the Proportion was establish'd at the Rate of two Months Assessment in Scotland, for every Shilling in the Pound, that was thereafter to be raised in England. Thus the Settling a Proportion as to this Tax was necessary; but as to the other Taxes, especially the Tax upon Salt, there was no such Necessity, and therefore it was never so much as thought of.
'But, Sir, many of the Taxes then levied in England, being mortgaged for the Payment of Debts contracted by England, before the Union; it was therefore agreed, that the Scots should either be free from the Payment of such Taxes, or should have an Equivalent for that Part of the Debts of England, which they were to pay, by their being made subject to any Taxes so pre-engaged: And this Tax of 2 s. 4 d. on home-made Salt, was one of those Taxes that was mortgaged for the Payment of a Part of the Debts of England, therefore the Scots were to be free from it, or to have an Equivalent for it: And the Scots Commissioners at that Time most reasonably judged this Tax to be so grievous upon the People, that they chose rather that their Country should be free from it, than to take an Equivalent and be liable to it. Even by the Commissioners for both Kingdoms, this Tax was then thought to be such a grievous Tax, that it was presumed the Parliament of Great Britain would certainly take it off, and substitute some more reasonable Tax in its Room; in which Case, Scotland was to be subject to such Tax so to be substituted; but it was stipulated and agreed, that in such Case, they should have an Equivalent proportion'd to this new Tax, to which they were to become subject; from all which it evidently appears, that the only Reason for their having been declared free from the Payment of this 2 s. 4 d. upon Salt was, because it had been mortgaged for the Payment of a Debt contracted in England before the Union, and not comprehended in the Account of those Debts which Scotland was to pay a Part of, so that they received no Equivalent for it: But tho' this Duty had never been abolished, yet in case the Debt for which it was mortgaged had been paid by us, or otherwise provided for by a new Tax, and this Tax of 2 s. 4 d. upon Salt continu'd, and converted either to the current Service of the Year, or to the Payment of a Debt contracted since the Union, Scotland could not surely pretend to an Exemption, either from the new Tax, or from the Payment of this 2 s. 4 d. upon Salt, after its being so converted; the most that they could in such Case have pretended to, would have been an Equivalent for the new Tax they had thereby become subject to.
'Tis true, Sir, that Act of the 9th and 10th of King William, by which this Duty of 2 s. 4 d. upon Salt was established, has that terrible Word For ever in the Body of it. It is indeed a terrible Word, when it is annexed to such a grievous Tax. It is a Word that I am sorry my Country has so much reason to be acquainted with: But that dreadful Word, even by the Act itself, is confined; it is confined to the Payment of that Debt, for which this Tax was then appointed; and since that Debt is now otherwise provided for, it is, with respect to this Duty, to be looked on as paid, and the conditional Perpetuity in that Act, meant by the Word For ever, is now at an End. It is impossible therefore to presume, that if the Scots Commissioners had ever meant, that their Country should have an absolute Perpetuity, with respect to the Exemption from this Salt-Duty, they would have referred to this Act, by which a conditional Perpetuity was only established. But the Transaction was honest and fair, and the Words are plain to every Man, that has a mind to comprehend them: The Scots Commissioners had a mind that their Country should be free from the Payment of any Part of that Debt for which this Duty was appointed; and therefore it was agreed, that while this Duty remained appropriated to the Payment of that Debt, their Country should be for ever free from it: But it was never so much as intended by either Party, that their Country should be free therefrom, in case it should, after the Payment of this old Debt of England, be converted to the Use and Benefit of the two United Kingdoms in general.
'It being thus evident, Sir, that the People of Scotland have now no Title, by the Articles of Union, to an Exemption from the Payment of this 2 s. and 4 d. upon Salt, the only Question then is, whether we ought out of Compassion to indulge them with such an Exemption, because the poor People of that Country are not able to pay it: I really think, Sir, we ought to have so much Compassion for the People of that Country; but then I hope it will be allowed me, that we ought to have an equal Compassion for the poor People of England: Journeymen and Day-Labourers, who have no Stock, no Property, are equally poor in all Countries; they have nothing but what they work for from Day to Day; and if it be said, that the poor People in England are able to pay this Duty, because they have high Wages, it is an unanswerable Argument against the Tax in general. It is now an universal Complaint in this Country, that the high Wages given to Workmen is the chief Cause of the Decay of our Trade and Manufactures; our Business then is, to take all the Measures we can think of, to enable our Workmen to work for less Wages than they do at present; and therefore it must be contrary to good Policy, to lay on a Tax, which it is granted would be insupportable to the Poor, if it were not for the high Wages they have; for the laying on of such a Tax must make the Continuance of such high Wages absolutely necessary, and the Continuance of them will certainly bring the Nation to Poverty and Distress.
'I must say, Sir, that the Reasoning of some Gentlemen upon the Subject in hand appears to me a little inconsistent: This Salt-Duty, say they, with respect to England, is a Tax altogether insensible; with respect to Scotland, it is a Tax that is altogether insupportable: In England, the Tax is raised upon such a great Multitude of People, and at so many different Payments, that no Man can feel what he pays: In Scotland, though it be raised upon the same Multitude of People, and at the same different Payments, yet if the whole were laid upon the People of that Country, every poor Man would not only feel what he paid, but would be utterly incapable to comply with the Payments required: In England, it can raise no Grumblings, no Murmurings, nor any Complaint among the People: In Scotland, it would raise such terrible Discontents, as might disturb the Peace and Quiet of the Kingdom and endanger the Constitution. How inconsistent is this Way of Arguing? What an Insult is this upon the People, who quietly submit to the Loads that are laid upon them?
'The Distinction that has been made between the Gross Charge and the Gross Produce of this Duty, seems to be something new. There is certainly as much Reason for this Distinction almost in every Branch of the Customs or Excise, as there is for it in the present Case; and yet I never heard it made use of by any of the Officers of the Revenue. But supposing this Distinction to be reasonable, yet if we examine the Particulars of the Account that has been given us, we shall find that several Articles have been put to the Gross Charge, which really ought to be put to the Gross Produce, because they are actually raised upon the People, though they come not to the Use of the Publick, but to the Use of the Merchants and Dealers in Salt. I am surprized to hear it pretended, that the Allowance for prompt Payment ought not to be reckoned as a Part of the Gross Produce, or that the Sum allowed for that Discount is not raised upon the People. Does any Man suppose that the wealthy Dealer pays his ready Money for the Benefit of his Customers, or that the Consumer pays the less for his Salt, because the Merchant from whom he purchases paid the Duties in ready Money? Does not every Man know, that these prompt Payments are made by the rich Dealers, only for their own Account; and that notwithstanding their being allowed a Discount of 10 per Cent, yet they sell as dear as if they had paid the full Duties? The Article then of 20,000 l. for prompt Payment, is not to be deducted, but is to be looked on as a Part of the Gross Produce.
'The 11,000 l. allowed for Waste on Salt carried Coastwise is likewise an Advantage only to the Dealer: It is no Advantage to the People, for every Farthing of that Sum is raised upon and paid by them. The Allowance arose from a Presumption that there was a Waste on Salt carried Coastwise; and therefore Three Pence per Bushel on all white Salt, and Three Halfpence per Bushel on all Rock-Salt carried Coastwise, was allowed to the Dealer in Salt. But it is certain, that in such Case there can be no Waste, there is always rather an Increase, because of its being very dry when put on Board, and afterwards made to swell and become more weighty by the Moisture of the Air, to which it is exposed in the Removing of it from Place to Place: Since there can be no Waste, we must presume, that the Whole is bought and consumed by the People; and we know that they always paid for it the same Price as if the full Duty had been paid by the Dealer. This Allowance did not even so much as induce the Dealer to sell cheaper, for the Consumer always paid for the Carriage, as well as for the Duty and first Cost, and the longer the Carriage was, the Consumer always paid the higher Price. This 11,000 l. is therefore to be considered, as a Part of the Gross Produce.
'The Allowance for Rock-Salt melted, is of the same Nature. This arose from a Supposition, that in the Melting of Rock-Salt, and refining it into white Salt, there was a great Wafte, and therefore ten Pound Weight in Sixty-five was allowed Duty free. But I have been informed, and the Fact appears reasonable, that Rock-Salt dissolved in fresh Water, will produce its own Weight in white Salt, and when dissolved in Sea-Water it will produce one fourth Part more. If we only suppose that there is no Wafte, we must presume that the whole is bought and consumed by the People; and we know that they always paid as much for white Salt made out of Rock-Salt, as they did for any other Sort of white Salt; therefore we must conclude, that though this Allowance of ten Pound Weight out of Sixty-five, be a Deduction from the Revenue, yet the Duty upon every Grain of it is raised upon the People; and consequently this Article which is 36,000 l. per Annum, must likewise be added to the Gross Produce. These three Sums therefore of 20,000 l, 11,000 l. and 36,000 l. being added to the Gross Produce, as stated by the Gentleman who was pleased to enter particularly into this Account, will make it amount to 297,350 l. which is the lowest Computation we can make of the Sum, that is to be yearly raised upon the People of England only, by the Revival of this Tax.
'But, Sir, if we consider the many Frauds, that have always been committed as to Salt pretended to have been exported, and as to Salt pretended to have been used in the curing of Fish, we must presume, that a great deal more Salt is every Year used by the People, than what pays Duty to the Publick; and as the Consumer always pays the full Price, as if the Duty had been regularly paid upon the whole, though these Frauds occasion a Deduction from the Revenue, yet the Duty upon the whole is paid by the People; and therefore we must presume, that a much larger Sum than what I have mentioned must be yearly raised upon the People. This Presumption is brought almost to a Demonstration, by the Number of the People in this Nation, even as computed by those who have spoke in Favour of this Duty: According to their own Account, the Number of the Inhabitants in England, amounts to 8,000,000; if then we suppose that every one of them uses, one with another, but a Peck of Salt in a Year, we must reckon that a Shilling at least is raised upon every Person by the means of this Duty, because the laying on of this Duty makes the Salt at least a Shilling a Peck dearer, than it would otherwise be; and therefore we must compute that by the reviving of this Duty, there will be at least 8,000,000 of Shillings, or 400,000 l. raised Yearly upon the People of England only; and this Sum I really take to be the lowest Computation that can justly be made.
'Let us now, Sir, consider what we are about: We are to raise 500,000 l. for the current Service of the Year; this we certainly ought to raise in that Method, which will be least burthensome to the Nation in general; and if we chuse to raise this Sum by reviving the Salt-Duty for three Years, we make the People realy pay 1,200,000 l. out of which there is but 500,000 l. brought clear into the Publick Revenue. If this be Publick OEconomy; If this be common Prudence; If this be a Relief or an Ease to the People of England, I leave the World to judge. I think that I can now averr, that when I argue against the Salt-Duty, I plead the Cause of my Country; I plead the Cause of the whole Body of the People of England: I do not indeed plead for a Relief to them, I find there is no Relief to be given; but I plead against laying a new, a heavy, an intolerable Burthen upon them. We have by our former Resolutions made the raising of 500,000 l. necessary, but do not let us charge the People with the Payment of 1,200,000 l. in order to raise this 500,000 l.
'From what I have said, Sir, it plainly appears how much more expensive it will be to the Nation, to raise 500,000 l. by reviving the Salt-Duty, than to raise it by a Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax; and yet it has been pretended, that there will be but a small Difference as to the Expence: This realy surprizes me, for Figures can neither be mistaken or misconstrued. In order to bring this Difference as low as possible, it has been pretended that the raising of the SaltDuty will cost but 22,000 l. per Annum; but I always reckoned, that it cost full 25,000 l. and I must still reckon so, till I see it contradicted by the Commissioners Accounts; for the raising or paying the 19,000 l. annually for Bounties was never any additional Expence to the Publick. It has likewise been pretended, that the raising of a Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax, costs near 18,000 l. per Annum, by reason of the Office kept in Commission for that Purpose; but these Gentlemen forget, that this Office is kept up, and costs as much, when there is but one Shilling in the Pound, as when there is 4 s. in the Pound Land-Tax, and therefore I still insist upon it, that the raising of 500,000 l. by 1 s. in the Pound additional Land-Tax, will realy cost the Nation but 13,500 l. per Annum, extraordinary Expence, and consequently the Difference as to this Article in England only, is at least 11,500 l. per Annum. But must not we add to this, the 2600 l. extraordinary Charge in the Victualling Office, occasioned by this Duty? since this is certainly a Charge brought upon the Nation by reviving this Duty, which we should not be liable to, if we should raise what Money we want, by a Land-Tax. Must not we likewise add the 20,000 l. per Annum allowed for prompt Payment? for as this is no Benefit to the Consumer, it is a real Expence to the People, as much as the 25,000 l. is, which is paid for Management. These three Sums added together make the real Difference of the Yearly Expence, between the SaltTax and a Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax, amount Yearly to 34,100 l. This, I say, Sir, is the Yearly Difference; but I hope no Man that considers it will pretend, that this, or even three Times this Sum, is the whole Difference of the Expence the Nation is to be at, in raising 500,000 l. by a Salt-Duty in three Years, instead of raising 500,000 l. by a Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax in one Year; for the Difference will then be a great deal more than three Times this Sum. We must then reckon the whole Expence of the SaltDuty for three Years, and from that deduct the Expence of raising 1 s. in the Pound Land-Tax for one Year only: The Salt-Tax will then cost us three Times 25,000 l. or 75,000 l. for Management; three Times 2600 l. or 7800 l. for extraordinary Expence in the Navy; and three Times 20,000 l. or 60,000 l. for prompt Payment; which three Sums added together amount to 142,800 l. And from this we are only to deduct 13,500 l. viz. one Year's Expence of raising a Shilling in the Pound upon Land, the remaining Sum will then be 129,300 l. This is the real Difference of the Expence which the Nation is to pay for the raising of this 500,000 l. in three Years by a Salt-Duty, instead of raising it in one Year by a Land-Tax. This is near Six and Twenty per Cent. and if we add the additional Expence in Scotland, and the Interest which the Publick must pay upon borrowing this 500,000 l. for the Current Service of the Year, it will, I am sure, amount to above 30 per Cent. which, I must say, is a pretty considerable Premium for three Years Forbearance of Payment, even if the Nation were not to pay a Shilling of the Money till the full End of the Term. How consistent it may be with the publick Good of this Nation, to pay so high a Premium for Forbearance, I shall not determine; but I am sure it will be inconsistent with the private Good of any honest Man in the Kingdom to pay such a Premium. This, Sir, is the most favourable Light that the Affair before us can with any tolerable Reason be put in, even by those who appear most sanguine for the Revival of this Duty; but if we consider it in the Light I have before put it in, and suppose that 400,000 l. is to be raised Yearly upon the People, by the means of this Duty, it will then appear much more odious; for upon that Supposition, which, I am afraid, will prove too true, the Nation is to pay 700,000 l. for three Years Forbearance of the Payment of Five, which is a Premium of very near 150 per Cent. for Forbearance.
'To pretend, Sir, that this Duty cannot give Occasion to any great Frauds or Perjuries, because there is little or no Money advanced by the Subject, and repaid by the Government upon any Event, is to me a little odd. It is not the Repayment of Money by the Government that is the Cause of Frauds and Perjuries; it is the great Advantage that a private Dealer may make, and the little Risk he runs by such Frauds and Perjuries, that tempts him to the committing of such. He does not consider from whom, but how much Money he may make by such a Fraud; and therefore in all Manner of Taxes, where the Tax or Duty amounts to much more than the Prime Cost, there have always been, and always will be great Frauds; if the Dealer can by any Fraud avoid paying the Duty, he makes his Advantage by selling at a high Price. Considering then that this Duty to be laid upon Salt is no less than ten Times the Price it may be bought for at the Pits, what a fruitful Fund do we establish for Frauds and Perjuries? It may not perhaps be easy to smuggle Salt away from the Pits without paying the Duty; but how easy will it be for the Dealer, after he has given Bond to pay the Duty, and taken the Salt away from the Pits, to put it aboard of a Ship, and re-land it again at some Bye Creek or Corner, or by some other Way to get a Certificate of its having been exported; by this Fraud he gets up the Bond which he gave for the Duty, and though he gains no Money back from the Government, yet when he sells to the Consumer Salt for Four or Five Shillings a Bushel, which cost him but a Groat a Bushel, does he not make a delicious, a tempting Profit? And the more tempting it must be, because of the little Risk he runs; for he risks only the Loss of a Groat, for the Venture of making Four Shillings clear Profit. If he can but cheat the Publick, he drives the Trade, I may say, of an Apothecary, and makes a Shilling of every Penny he lays out. Again, as to the Salt delivered Duty-free for the Fishery, there is still a greater Temptation, since it depends entirely upon the Honesty of the Curers themselves; none but themselves can tell what Quantities they have made use of: If they can but sell their Salt privately to Dealers or Consumers, they may get free of the Duty by swearing that the whole was employed in curing of Fish; and considering what little Regard is had to what is now, by way of Proverb, called a Custom-House Oath, I am afraid this Sort of Perjury will be by much too frequent: Nor is the Loss sustained by the Revenue the only Disadvantage; these Baits and Temptaons that are thrown in the People's Way for perjuring themselves, may really at last destroy all sort of Morality and common Honesty among them; and may so much diminish that Regard which every Man ought to have for an Oath, that no Man's Life or Property can be secure, against the Plots and Perjuries of his Neighbours.
'As to our Manufacturers and poor Labourers, this Tax certainly will be a Charge upon every one of them in general, It will be a Shilling at least to every single Man or Woman that is fit for Labour; and if we suppose a poor Man to have a Wife and three small Children, we can hardly suppose him to make use of less than a Bushel of Salt a Year for his Family; to such a Man this Tax will amount to at least 4 s. 6 d per Annum. Such a Thing as a Shilling, or a Crown, may be looked upon as a Trifle by a Gentleman of a large Estate and easy Circumstances, but a poor Man feels sometimes severely the want of a Shilling; many a poor Man has for want of a Shilling, been obliged to pawn the only whole Coat he had to his Back, and has never been able to redeem it again. Even a Farthing to a poor Man is a considerable Sum; what Shifts do the Frugal among them make, to save even a Farthing? Let us but imagine ourselves in the Condition of a poor Labourer, with a Wife and three Children, almost the whole of the Wife's Time taken up in looking after the Children, and the Husband working for a Shilling a Day, and we shall easily see how hard it is to make such a poor Man pay a Tax of Four or Five Shillings a Year, for the Salt he must make use of for the scanty Support of himself and Family.
'This Tax must therefore be a Charge upon all our Manufactures in general, I shall suppose it as small as any Gentleman pleases, yet it must be some; for if it be a Charge upon the Manufacturers, they must lay it upon the Manufactures they deal in; and if we consider how narrowly the Merchant, especially the Foreign Merchant, goes to work in the Bargains he makes, we must see what a Disadvantage this Tax may be to our Export of Manufactures. If any of our Neighbours can sell but one tenth Part of a Farthing in a Yard cheaper than we can do, they will at last turn us entirely out of the Business. This holds as to all our Manufactures in general, but as to some particular Manufactures, such as Glass, Leather, Earthen-Ware, &c. it is still more grievous, because Salt is one of the Materials made use of in their very Composition, and therefore I hope if this Duty be revived, there will be an Exception as to them.
'I find it is granted by all, that the making use of Salt is an Improvement to Land; but it is said, that this Tax cannot injure such Improvements, because every Man may have as much foul Salt Duty-free at the Pits as he pleases, provided he has an Officer along with him. But does not every Man see, that this can only be of Advantage to those, whose Lands lie near the Salt-Pits? even as to them, this Duty will be an additional Charge, for they cannot get an Officer to attend for nothing; we all know that when a Man is once got into an Office, he has many Ways of squeezing a Perquisite from those who are obliged to apply to him, and him only. And as to all Lands that lie at a Distance from SaltPits, it must be allowed, that the reviving of this Tax will be a full Bar to any future Improvements of them by Salt, which is an Improvement that has been successfully made use of, through all Parts of England, ever since the Duty was taken off.
'It has, I think, in this Debate been admitted by all, that the Duty upon the Salt made use of in curing the Salt-Provisions necessary for a Ship of 150 Tons, for a Six Month's Voyage, will amount to Forty Shillings; and yet it has been asserted by some, that the reviving of this Duty will be no Burthen upon the Navigation of Great Britain. Those who reason in this Manner, do not surely consider the Frugality and Sparingness that must be observed in Trade. I am sure there is not a Merchant in Europe, that has Occasion to freight a Ship, but will think Forty Shillings a very great Difference in the Freight between two Ships of 150 Tons each, if they be of equal Goodness in every other Respect; and he will always employ that Ship which he can have Forty Shillings cheaper than the other. This must put a full Stop to the employing of any English Ship, or to the Victualling of any Ship in England, where another Ship can be made use of, or when a Ship can be victualled in any other Part of the World; and therefore it must be not only a Burthen upon our Navigation, but we must consider, that it would soon be the entire Destruction of our Navigation, and consequently of our Navy, if it were not for the Navigation-Act, and some natural Advantages which we have over the rest of the World. I do not know how some Gentlemen may get, or how they may spend their Estates; but in an Affair which chiefly regards the Trade, and the Tradesmen of this Nation, I am surprized to hear Shillings and Crowns, nay even Pounds Sterling, talked of in so light and trivial a Manner: The poor Tradesman may be properly said to earn his Living by the Sweat of his Brow; and if he does not consider every Farthing that he is to lay out, he will soon come not to have a Farthing to pay for a Bit of Bread: To such a Man, even the Half-Farthing, which is now so contemptuously talked of, would be of mighty Consequence.
'I come now, Sir, to consider this Tax with respect to that honest, industrious and frugal Sett of People, the Farmers of England. I hope there are but few of them as yet obliged to live in the Manner as hath been represented. I hope no Farmer in England is as yet obliged to make his Family dine upon Bread and Cheese, or upon boiled Cabbage, without a Bit of pickled Pork, Salt-Beef, or Bacon, to give them a Savour. I do not know indeed what they may be brought to, if we begin to multiply Excises upon them; but I must now consider them in their present Way of Living: In that Way I must look upon them and their Servants, as making use of some Salt-Provisions almost every Day in the Week, for the whole Year round: In such a View, I am sure, a Family of Sixteen working Persons will consume in Salt a deal more than a Shilling's worth a Head, according as it must sell after this Duty is laid on; I believe they will consume above two Shillings worth a piece; and it has been computed by Men who understood thoroughly the OEconomy of their Family, that a Family of ten Persons would for all Uses generally cost the Master at least Six-pence a Week for Salt, according to the Price it sold at formerly, when this Duty was subsisting. At this Rate there is scarcely a Farmer in England, but must pay above twenty Shillings a Year towards this Tax, and if he pays a rack'd Rent, I do not know where he is to get this twenty Shillings, unless he runs in Arrear to his Landlord, in order to answer what he must pay the Tax-Gatherer: In such a Case, I believe, our Landed-Gentlemen will not get much by the Relief that is now pretended to be given them. But besides this additional Family-Expence upon the Farmers, we know that they make use of a great deal of Salt for several Uses in Husbandry: The Advantages made thereby they must now give up, or otherwise they must pay dear for the preserving of them.
'I hope, Sir, I am as sensibly touched as any Man with the Difficulties, that many of the Landed-Gentlemen in England labour under; and I shall always be as ready as any Man to approve of any Measures for giving them a real Relief: But I shall never pretend to amuse them, or to impose upon their good Sense, by calling that a Relief, which is only taking a Burthen off one of their Shoulders, and putting it upon the other; and that this is the only Relief now proposed for them, I can, I think, demonstrate as clearly, as ever any Thing was demonstrated by Numbers. I believe no Man will pretend that any Gentleman of a free Estate of 500 l. a Year in Land, or upwards, is in the present Case an Object of Compassion, or that the Relieving of such Men from the Payment of a Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax, can have any Weight in the present Debate; and as for those Gentlemen who have large Estates in Land, but heavily charged with Mortgages, if they will, for the Sake of Grandeur and the Name of a great Estate, continue to pay the Land-Tax and the Interest upon the Mortgages, it is certainly their own Fault, and therefore they do not deserve the Consideration of this House. The Landed-Gentlemen then, whose Estates are under 500 l. a Year, are the only Persons whose Condition and Circumstances can in the present Case be of any Consequence; and as to such, let us examine whether what is now proposed will prove to be of any Relief to them. It is well known, that there are many Landed-Gentlemen in England, whose Estates are valued so low, that they do not pay above a Groat of the Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax; it is certain, that there are few or no Landed-Gentlemen who pay the whole Shilling; there is not, I believe, one Estate in England that is rated at the full Value, with respect to the Land-Tax; it may therefore be reasonable to suppose, that all the Land-Estates in England are, one with another, rated for the Land-Tax at one Half of the real Value. It has been admitted, that a Farmer of 100 l. a Year, has generally sixteen Persons in Family; I think we may then reasonably suppose, that the Landed-Gentlemen in England of 400 l. a Year, keep one with another twenty Persons in Family; and upon these Suppositions let us see what Relief the Gentleman of 400 l. a Year is to receive from the fine Scheme now before us. Such a Man's Estate is supposed to be valued at 200 l. a Year as to the Land-Tax, consequently at 1 s. in the Pound he saves only 10 l. in the whole, by taking off this Shilling. Now let us consider what he must pay to the Duty on Salt consumed in his Family: A common Farmer with ten Persons in his Family, is supposed to pay 6 d. a Week for the Salt consumed in his Family, and therefore a common Farmer with twenty Persons in his Family, must be supposed to pay 1 s. a Week, one with another, for the Salt consumed in his Family; and if we consider the great Waste that is made of that Commodity about a Gentleman's Family, and the many Visitors and their Servants, and the poor necessitous Neighbours, that will always be hanging in or about a Gentleman's Family who has an Estate of 400 l. a Year, we cannot allow less than eighteen Pennyworth of Salt consumed weekly about such a Gentleman's Family; we must therefore suppose, that every Gentleman of such an Estate, pays yearly for Salt consumed in his Family 3 l. 18 s. and since, by the laying on this Duty, we raise Salt to above ten Times the Price it formerly sold at; therefore we must conclude, that nine Tenths of 3 l. 18 s. that is, about 3 l. 10 s. is Yearly drawn from every Gentleman of 400 l. a Year, by means of this Duty on Salt; and as he is to pay this Sum Yearly for three Years instead of the 10 l. Land-Tax, which he is by this Means, to be made free of, is it not plain and evident, that he pays ten Guineas in three Years, for the Sake of getting free of the Payment of 10 l. in one Year? The utmost then, that can be pretended, is, that he saves by this fine Scheme about Half a Year's Interest upon 10 l. Is this the Relief so mightily bragg'd of ? Will any Gentleman of common Sense choose to have his Farmers, his Cottagers, his Labourers, and the Manufacturers that consume the Produce of his Lands, heavily taxed, in order to save 4 or 5 s. Interest upon the 10 l. that he was to have paid to the Land-Tax.
'This is the Case, Sir, as to Landed-Gentlemen of 400 l. a Year, but as to all the Landed-Gentlemen of smaller Fortunes, they will be Losers by this Measure that is proposed for their Relief. Their Families cannot be a great deal less numerous than the others; their Servants will be as wasteful, and they must entertain their Visitors as well as the other; therefore we cannot suppose that any Gentleman's Family in the Country will cost him much less than 1 s. a Week for Salt; at this Rate he must pay Yearly towards the Duty now to be laid on, about 2 l. 7 s. this amounts in three Years to 7 l. so that a Gentleman of 200 l. a Year, will be 2 l. out of Pocket, and a Gentleman of 100 l. a Year, will be 4 l. 10 s. out of Pocket, by reviving the Salt-Duty for three Years, instead of 1 s. in the Pound Land-Tax for one Year; and whether those Gentlemen that have great Families to maintain, many Children to provide for, and but one, two, or three Hundred a Year Land-Rent, to answer all their Occasions, are not the greatest Objects of Compassion, nay, are not the only Objects of Compassion among the LandedGentlemen in England, I leave the World to judge. Every Gentleman that ever kept an Account of the Expences of his Family, must be a Judge, whether the Suppositions I have made are just: If they are just, I am sure the Figures cannot be controverted; and therefore, I hope, we shall hear no more of the great Relief that is to be given to the LandedGentlemen of England.
'Having thus shewed to what Sort of People this SaltDuty will be a Disadvantage, I think it would not be just in me, not to take some Notice of those to whom it will be an immediate Advantage. As to all the Gentlemen in England of very large Land-Estates, it will be an immediate Advantage; it will, indeed, save a Trifle to them. With respect to them, I hope, I may be allow'd to make use of the Word Trifle; a Sum of Money may be call'd a Trifle when applied to the Rich, but to the Poor no Sum of Money can be properly said to be a Trisle, But this immediate Advantage accruing to the rich Landed-Men, will be soon overbalanced by the Ruin that it will bring upon their Country, and upon their own particular Estates; and I am glad to find, that most of the rich Landed-Gentlemen in England are upon the same Side of the Question with me. It shews a generous Contempt of private Advantage, when opposed to the publick Good; but those who will reap the greatest Advantage from the Measure now proposed, are those who are in good Posts and Places, and have handsome Salaries coming in. It is very true, that their Salaries are rated at the full Value of the Land-Tax: The taking off 1 s. in the Pound Land-Tax, is really putting 5 per Cent. into their Pockets, which cannot be drawn out again by the Salt-Duty, because they either keep no Families, or they keep their Families in Town, where most of their Servants are at BoardWages. To such Gentlemen the Measure now proposed will certainly be advantageous, and to such only that Compassion which we have heard so much of, is properly to be applied. But one would not think that a Man who has 100 l. a Year from the Publick, should grudge to pay 5 l. a Year out of it to the publick Expence; or that the Saving 5 l. a Year in such a Man's Pocket, should be such a mighty Concern to every Man who has the Good of his Country at Heart. I am persuaded that every Gentleman who has the good Fortune to be in any such Place or Employment, will shew as generous a Contempt of Self-Interest, and as honourable a Regard for the publick Good, as is or can be shewn by the Gentlemen of great Land-Estates, who with them are the only Persons in the Nation that can reap any Benefit from the Measure now proposed.
'Since then it appears plain, that what is now proposed can be no Manner of Relief, but will certainly be an additional Charge upon the Landed-Gentlemen of small Estates; and since they are the only Landed-Gentlemen in England, who stand in need of, and deserve the Compassion of this House, I think all the Arguments that can be drawn from Pity and Compassion, come full against our agreeing to the Revival of this Duty upon Salt; and therefore I may now in my Turn plead with all those who hear me, to have Pity and Compassion upon the poor Landed-Gentlemen in England. How hard will it be to make a poor Landed-Gentleman of a Hundred a Year pay 7 l.s instead of fifty Shillings Why should the poor Landed-Gentlemen be so much overcharged for the Sake of a small Ease to those who have plentiful Estates in Land, or considerable Salaries coming in from a Post or Place that gives them little or no Trouble? This is really, if I may be allow'd to make use of the Words, Giving to the Rich, and sending the Poor empty away. But in the present Case, our Compassion pleads not only for the poor Landed-Gentlemen, but for all the Poor of the Nation. Let us but consider how many poor Families are maintain'd upon 8 d. or 1 s. a Day, which the Father earns by hard Labour and Toil: A Bushel of Salt is the least that can be consumed in a Year by a poor Man, his Wife, and three or four small Children: How cruel is it to take four or five Shillings a Year away from the Support of such a poor Family, more especially when one half of that Money, at least, is to be made a Compliment of to wealthy or fraudulent Dealers, or to idle and prodigate Tax-Gatherers? I hope every Man that hears me, will allow his Pity and Compassion to exert itself to its utmost Height. I hope every Man will consider upon which Side of the present Question are the Cries of the Poor and the Wretched, and the Blessings of those that are yet unborn. The Happiness or Misery of Posterity, the Flourishing or Decay of our Trade and Commerce, the Preservation or Loss of our Liberties, in my Opinion, depend in a great Measure upon the Question now before us; and therefore I am persuaded that every Gentleman will consider it thoroughly, before he determines what he is to do.'
Sir R. Walpole's Motion for Reviving the Salt-Duty agreed to, and a Bill order'd to be brought in pursuant thereto.
Then the Question being put upon Sir Robert Walpole's Motion, it passed in the Affirmative, by 225 against 187.
Feb. 10. Upon the Report of the Resolutions of the Committee, and the Motion made for agreeing to them, the Question being put, it was carried in the Affirmative, by 205 against 176, and a Bill was order'd to be brought in pursuant to those Resolutions.
The Papers, &c. relating to the Sale of the Earl of Derwentwater's Estate, laid before the House.
The same Day Mr Turbill presented to the House Copies of Proceedings, Papers, and other Instruments, &c. relating to the Sale of the late Earl of Derwentwater's Estate, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 2d Instant.
The Pension-Bill read a third Time, and sent to the Lords.
Upon the Motion of Mr Sandys, the Pension-Bill was read a third Time, without any one Speech being made against it; and Mr Sandys was ordered to carry the Bill to the House of Lords, and desire their Concurrence.