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If there is, nothing can be more certain than that all the efforts and remonstrances of the British Hanno could not prevent a single man or a single guinea being sent for the supply of any Hannibal our ministers might choose. The learned gentleman added, after the defeat of Hannibal, Hanno laughed at the Senate; but he did not tell us what he laughed at. The advice of Hannibal has all the appearance of being a good one:
"Carthaginis monia Romæ munerata."
If they did not follow his advice, they had themselves to blame for it.
The circumstance of a great, exclusive, and victorious republic, breathing nothing but war in the long exercise of its most successful operations, surrounded with triumphs, and panting for fresh laurels, to be compared, much less represented as inferior, to the military power of England, is childish and ridiculous. What similitude is there between us and the great Roman Republic in the height of its fame and glory? Did you, sir, ever hear it stated that the Roman bulwark was a naval force? And, if not, what comparison can there be drawn between their efforts and power? This kind of rhodomontade declamation is finely described in the language of one of the Roman poets:
"I, demens, curre per Alpes, Ut pueris placeas, et DECLAMATIO fias.' -Juvenal, Sat. x. 166.
The proper ground, sir, upon which this bill should be opposed I conceive to be neither the uncertainty of the criterion nor the injustice of the retrospect, though they would be sufficient. The tax itself will be found to defeat its own purposes. The amount which an individual paid to the assessed taxes last year can be no rule for what he shall pay in future. All the articles by which the graduations rose must be laid aside and never resumed again. Circumstanced as the country is, there can be no hope, no chance whatever, that, if the tax succeeds, it ever will be repealed. Each individual, therefore, instead of putting down this article or that, will make a final and general retrenchment, so that the minister cannot get at him in the
same way again by any outward sign which might be used as a criterion of his wealth. These retrenchments cannot fail of depriving thousands of their bread, and it is vain to hold out the delusion of modification or indemnity to the lower orders. Every burthen imposed upon the rich in the articles which give the poor employment affects them not the less for affecting them circuitously. A coachmaker, for instance, would willingly compromise with the minister, to give him a hundred guineas not to lay the tax upon coaches; for though the hundred guineas would be much more than his proportion of the new tax, yet it would be much better for him to pay the larger contribution, than, by the laying down of coaches, be deprived of those orders by which he got his bread. The same is the case with watchmakers, which I had lately an opportunity of witnessing, who, by the tax imposed last year, are reduced to a state of ruin, starvation, and misery; yet, in proposing that tax, the minister alleged that the poor journeymen could not be affected, as the tax would only operate on the gentlemen by whom the watches were worn. It is as much cant, therefore, to say that, by bearing heavily on the rich, we are saving the lower orders, as it is folly to suppose we can come at real income by arbitrary assessment or by symptoms of opulence.
There are three ways of raising large sums of money in a state: First, by voluntary contributions; secondly, by a great addition of new taxes; and, thirdly, by forced contributions, which is the worst of all, and which I aver the present to be. I am at present so partial to the first mode that I recommend the further consideration of this measure to be postponed for a month, in order to make an experiment of what might be effected by it. For this purpose let a bill be brought in authorizing the proper persons to receive voluntary contributions; and I should not care if it were read a third time to-night. I confess, however, that there are many powerful reasons which forbid us to be too sanguine in the success even of this measure. To awaken a spirit in the nation, the example should come from the first authority and the higher departments of the state. It is, indeed, seriously to be lamented that, whatever may be the burdens or distresses of the people, the government has
hitherto never shown a disposition to contribute anything, and this conduct must hold out a poor encouragement to others. Heretofore all the public contributions were made for the benefit and profit of the contributors, in a manner inconceivable to more simple nations. If a native inhabitant of Bengal or China were to be informed that in the west of Europe there was a small island which in the course of one hundred years contributed four hundred and fifty millions to the exigencies of the state, and that every individual, on the making of a demand, vied with his neighbor in alacrity to subscribe, he would immediately exclaim: "Magnanimous nation! you must surely be invincible." But far different would be his sentiments if informed of the tricks and jobs attending these transac tions, where even loyalty was seen cringing for its bonus!
If the first example were given from the highest authority there would at least be some hopes of its being followed by other great men who received large revenues from the government. I would instance particularly the Teller of the Exchequer, and another person of high rank, who receive from their offices £13,000 a year more in war than they do in peace. The last noble lord (Lord Grenville) had openly declared for perpetual war, and could not bring his mind to think of anything like a peace with the French. Without meaning any personal disrespect, it was the nature of the human mind to receive a bias from such circumstances. So much was this acknowledged in the rules of this House that any person receiving a pension or high employment from his Majesty thereby vacated his seat. It was not, therefore, unreasonable to expect that the noble lord would contribute his proportion, and that a considerable one, to carry on the war, in order to show the world his freedom from such a bias. In respect to a near relative of that noble lord, I mean the noble marquis (Marquis of Buckingham), there could be no doubt of his coming forward liberally.
I remember when I was Secretary to the Treasury the noble marquis sent a letter there requesting that his office might, in point of fees and emoluments, be put under the same economical regulations as the others. The reason he assigned for it was, "the emoluments were so much greater in time of war than peace that his conscience would be
hurt by feeling that he received them from the distresses of his country. No retrenchment, however, took place in that office. If, therefore, the marquis thought proper to bring the arrears since that time also from his conscience, the public would be at least £40,000 the better for it. By a calculation I have made, which I believe, cannot be controverted, it appears, from the vast increase of our burdens during the war, that if peace were to be concluded tomorrow we should have to provide taxes annually to the amount of £28,000,000. To this is further to be added the expense of that system by which Ireland is not governed, but ground, insulted, and oppressed. To find a remedy for all these incumbrances, the first thing to be done is to restore the credit of the bank, which has failed, as well in credit as in honor. Let it no longer, in the minister's hands, remain the slave of political circumstances. It must continue insolvent till the connection is broken off. I remember, in consequence of expressions made use of in this House upon former discussions, when it was thought the minister would relinquish that unnatural and ruinous alliance, the newspapers sported a good deal with the idea that the House of Commons had forbid the bans between him and the old lady.1 Her friends had interfered, it was said, to prevent the union, as it was well known that it was her dower he sought, and not her person nor the charms of her society.
It is, sir, highly offensive to the decency and sense of a commercial people to observe the juggle between the minister and the bank. The latter vauntingly boasted itself ready and able to pay, but that the minister kindly prevented, and put a lock and key upon it. There is a liberality in the British nation which always makes allowance for inability of payment. Commerce requires enterprise, and enterprise is subject to losses. But I believe no indulgence was ever shown to a creditor saying, "I can, but will not pay you." Such was the real condition of the bank, together with its accounts, when they were laid before the House of Commons, and the chairman 2 reported from the committee, stating its prosperity and the great
1" Old lady of Threadneedle Street "is in England a common expression for the Bank of England.
2 Mr. Bragge was chairman of the committee, and this gave Sheridan the hint for his punning allusion.
increase of its cash and bullion. The minister, however, took care to vary the old saying, "Brag is a good dog, but Holdfast is better." "Ah!" said he, "my worthy chairman, this is excellent news, but I will take care to secure it." He kept his word, took the money, gave the Exchequer bills for it, which were no security, and there was then an end to all our public credit. It is singular enough, sir, that the report upon this bill stated that it was meant to secure our public credit from the avowed intentions of the French to make war upon it. This was done most effectually. Let the French come when they please; they cannot touch our public credit at least. The minister has wisely provided against it; for he has previously destroyed it. The only consolation besides that remains to us is his assurance that all will return again to its former state at the conclusion of the war. Thus we are to hope that, though the bank now presents a meager specter, as soon as peace is restored the golden bust will make its reappearance. This, however, is far from being the way to inspirit the nation or intimidate the enemy. Ministers have long taught the people of the inferior order that they can expect nothing from them but by coercion, and nothing from the great but by corruption. The highest encouragement to the French will be to observe the public supineness. Can they have an aprehension of nationl energy or spirit in a people whose minister is eternally oppressing them?
Though, sir, I have opposed the present tax, I am still conscious that our existing situation requires great sacrifices to be made, and that a foreign enemy must at all events be resisted. I behold in the measures of the minister nothing except the most glaring incapacity and the most determined hostility to our liberties; but we must be content, if necessary for preserving our independence from foreign attack, to strip to the skin. "It is an established maxim," we are told, that men must give up a part for the preservation of the remainder. I do not dispute the justice of the maxim. But this is the constant language of the gentleman opposite to me. We have already given up part after part, nearly till the whole is swallowed up. If I had a pound, and a person asked me for a shilling to preserve the rest, I should willingly comply, and think my