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weight of taxes and the consequent hardness of the times. I answered, that if the taxes were a real weight, and that in proportion to their amount, we must have been ruined long ago : for Mr. Hume, who had proceeded, as on a self-evident axiom, on the hypothesis, that the debt of a nation was the same as the debt of an individual, had declared our ruin arithmetically demonstrable, if the national debt increased beyond a certain sum. Since his time it has more than quintupled that sum, and yet, True, answered my friend, but the principle might be right, though he might have been mistaken in the time. But still, I rejoined, if the principle were right, the nearer we came to that given point, and the greater and the more active the pernicious cause became, the more manifest would its effects be. We might not be absolutely ruined, but our embarrassments would increase in some proportion to their cause. Whereas instead of being poorer and poorer, we are richer and richer. Will any man in his senses contend, that the actual labor and produce of the country has not only been decupled within half a century, but increased so prodigiously beyond that decuple as to make six hundred millions a less weight to us than fifty millions were in the days of our grandfathers? But if it really be so, to what can we attribute this stupendous progression of national improvement, but to that system of credit and paper currency, of which the national debt is both the reservoir and the water-works?
A constant cause should have constant effects; but if you deem that this is some anomaly, some strange exception to the general rule, explain its mode of operation, make it comprehensible, how a cause acting on a whole nation can produce a regular and rapid increase of prosperity to a certain point, and then all at once pass from an angel of light into a dæmon of destruction ! That an individual house may live more and more luxuriously upon borrowed funds, and that when the suspicions of the creditors are awakened, and their patience exhausted, the luxurious spendthrift may all at once exchange his palace for a prison—this I can understand perfectly: for I understand, whence the luxuries could be produced for the consumption of the individual house, and who the creditors might be, and that it might be both their inclination and their interest to demand the debt, and to punish the insolvent debtor. But who are a nation's creditors ? Theanswer is, every man to every man. Whose possible interest
could it be either to demand the principal, or to refuse his share toward the means of paying the interest ? Not the merchant's : -for he would but provoke a crash of bankruptcy, in which his own house would as necessarily be included, as a single card in a house of cards. Not the landholder's ; —for in the general destruction of all credit, how could he obtain payment for the produce of his estates ? Not to mention the improbability that he would remain the undisturbed possessor in so direful a concussion -not to mention that on him must fall the whole weight of the public necessities—not to mention, that from the merchant's credit depends the ever-increasing value of his land and the readiest means of improving it. Neither could it be the laborer's interest ;-—for he must be either thrown out of employ, and lie like the fish in the bed of a river from which the water has been diverted, or have the value of his labor reduced to nothing by the irruption of eager competitors. But least of all could it be the wish of the lovers of liberty which must needs perish or be suspended, either by the horrors of anarchy, or by the absolute power, with which the government must be invested, in order to prevent them. In short, with the exception of men desperate from guilt or debt, or mad with the blackest ambition, there is no class or description of men who can have the least interest in producing or permitting a bankruptcy.
If then, neither experience has acquainted us with any national impoverishment or embarrassment from the increase of national debt, nor theory renders such efforts comprehensible;for the predictions of Hume went on the false assumption, that a part only of the nation was interested in the preservation of the public credit ;—on what authority are we to ground our apprehensions ? Does history record a single nation, in which relatively to taxation there were no privileged or exempted classes, in which there were no compulsory prices of labor, and in which the interests of all the different classes and all the different districts, were mutually dependent and vitally co-organized, as in Great Britain, -has history, I say, recorded a single instance of such a nation being ruined or dissolved by the weight of taxation ? In France there was no public credit, no communion of interests; its unprincipled government and the productive and taxable classes, were as two individuals with separate interests. Its bankruptcy and the consequences of it are sufficiently com
prehensible. Yet the cahiers, or the instructions and complaints sent to the National Assembly, from the towns and provinces of France, an immense mass of documents indeed, but without examination and patient perusal of which, no man is entitled to write a history of the French revolution,—these proved, beyond contradiction, that the amount of the taxes was one only, and that a subordinate cause, of the revolutionary movement. Indeed, if the amount of the taxes could be disjoined from the mode of raising them, it might be fairly denied to have been a cause at all. Holland was taxed as heavily and as equally as ourselves; but was it by taxation that Holland was reduced to its present miseries?
The mode in which taxes are supposed to act on the marketableness of our manufactures in foreign marts, I shall examine on some future occasion, when I shall endeavor to explain in a more satisfactory way than has been hitherto done, to my apprehension at least, the real mode in which taxes act, and how and why, and to what extent, they affect the wealth, and what is of more consequence, the well-being of a nation. But in the present exigency, when the safety of the nation depends, on the one hand, on the sense which the people at large have of the comparative excellences of the laws and government, and on the firmness and wisdom of the legislators and enlightened classes in detecting, exposing, and removing its many particular abuses and corruptions on the other, right views on this subject of taxation are of such especial importance; and I have besides in my inmost nature such a loathing of factious falsehoods and mobsycophancy, that is, the flattering of the multitude by informing against their betters ;-that I can not but revert to that point of the subject from which I began, namely, that the weight of taxes is to be calculated not by what is paid, but by what is left. What matters it to a man, that he pays six times more taxes than his father did, if, notwithstanding, he with the same portion of exertion enjoys twice the comforts which his father did ? Now this I affirm to be the case in general, throughout England, according to all the facts which I have collected during an examination of years, wherever I have travelled, and wherever I have been resident. I do not speak of Ireland, or the Lowlands of Scotland : and if I may trust to what I myself saw and heard there, I must even except the Highlands. In the conversation
which I have spoken of as taking place in the south-west of England, by the assistance of one or other of the company, we went through every family in the town and neighborhood, and my assertion was found completely accurate, though the place had no one advantage over others, and many disadvantages, that heavy one in particular, the non-residence and frequent change of its rectors,—the living being always given to one of the canons of Windsor, and resigned on the acceptance of better preferment. It was even asserted, and not only asserted but proved, by my friend,* who has from his earliest youth devoted a strong original understanding, and a heart warm and benevolent even to enthusiasm, to the service of the poor and the laboring class, that every sober laborer, in that part of England at least, who should not marry till thirty, might, without any hardship or extreme self-denial, commence housekeeping at that age, with from a hundred to a hundred and twenty pounds belonging to him. I have no doubt, that on seeing this essay, my friend will communicate to me the proof in detail. But the price of labor in the south-west of England is full one third less than in the greater number, if not all, of the northern counties. What then is wanting ? Not the repeal of taxes, but the increased activity both of the gentry and clergy of the land, in securing the instruction of the lower classes. A system of education is wanting, such a system as that discovered, and to the blessings of thousands realized, by Dr. Bell, which I never am, or can be, weary of praising, while my heart retains any spark of regard for human nature, or of reverence for human virtue ;-a system, by which in the very act of receiving knowledge, the best virtues and most useful qualities of the moral character are awakened, developed, and formed into habits. Were there a Bishop of Durham-no matter whether a temporal or a spiritual lord in every county or half-county, and a clergyman enlightened with the views, and animated with the spirit, of Dr. Bell, in every parish, we might bid defiance to the present weight of taxes, and boldly challenge the whole world to show a peasantry as well fed and clothed as the English, or with equal chances of improving their situation, and of securing an old age of repose and comfort to a life of cheerful industry. I will add one other anecdote, as it demonstrates incontrover
* Thomas Poole.-Ed. VOL. II.
tibly the error of the vulgar opinion, that taxes make things really dear, taking in the whole of a man's expenditure. A friend of mine, who has passed some years in America, was questioned by an American tradesman, in one of their cities of the second class, concerning the names and number of our taxes and rates. The answer seemed perfectly to astound him : and he exclaimed, " How is it possible that men can live in such a country ? In this land of liberty we never see the face of a tax-gatherer, nor hear of a duty, except in our sea-ports.” My friend, who was perfect master of the question, made semblance of turning off the conversation to another subject : and then, without any apparent reference to the former topic, asked the American, for what sum he thought a man could live in such and such a style, with so many servants, in a house of such dimensions and such a situation (still keeping in his mind the situation of a thriving and respectable shopkeeper and householder in different parts of England), first supposing him to reside in Philadelphia or New York, and then in some town of secondary importance. Having received a detailed answer to these questions, he proceeded to convince the American, that notwithstanding all our taxes, a man might live in the same style, but with incomparably greater comforts, on the same income in London as in New York, and on a considerably less income in Exeter or Bristol, than in any American provincial town of the same relative importance. It would be insulting my readers to discuss on how much less a person may vegetate or brutalize in the back settlements of the republic, than he could live as a man, as a rational and social being, in an English village ; and it would be wasting time to inform him, that where men are comparatively few, and unoccupied land is in inexhaustible abundance, the laborer and common mechanic must needs receive-not only nominally, but really -higher wages than in a populous and fully occupied country. But that the American laborer is therefore happier, or even in possession of more comforts and conveniences of life than a sober or industrious English laborer or mechanic, remains to be proved. In conducting the comparison, we must not however exclude the operation of moral causes, when these causes are not accidental, but arise out of the nature of the country, and the constitution of the government and society. This being the case, take away from the American's wages all the taxes which his insolence,