Before we examine into the consequences of these schemes, and the probability of these savings, let us suppose them all real and all safe, and then see what it is they amount to, and how he reasons on them:—
Deficiency on land and malt, less by L37,000 Foundling Hospital 20,000 American Surveys 1,800 ———- L58,800
This is the amount of the only articles of saving he specifies: and yet he chooses to assert, "that we may venture on the credit of them to reduce the standing expenses of the estimate (from 3,468,161l.) to 3,300,000l."; that is, for a saving of 58,000l. he is not ashamed to take credit for a defalcation from his own ideal establishment in a sum of no less than 168,161l.! Suppose even that we were to take up the estimate of the "Considerations" (which is however abandoned in the "State of the Nation"), and reduce his 75,000l. extraordinaries to the original 35,000l., still all these savings joined together give us but 98,800l.; that is, near 70,000l. short of the credit he calls for, and for which he has neither given any reason, nor furnished any data whatsoever for others to reason upon.
Such are his savings, as operating on his own project of a peace establishment. Let us now consider them as they affect the existing establishment and our actual services. He tells us, the sum allowed in his estimate for the navy is "69,321l. less than the grant for that service in 1767; but in that grant 30,000l. was included for the purchase of hemp, and a saving of about 25,000l. was made in that year." The author has got some secret in arithmetic. These two sums put together amount, in the ordinary way of computing, to 55,000l., and not to 69,321l. On what principle has he chosen to take credit for 14,321l. more? To what this strange inaccuracy is owing, I cannot possibly comprehend; nor is it very material, where the logic is so bad, and the policy so erroneous, whether the arithmetic be just or otherwise. But in a scheme for making this nation "happy at home and respected abroad, formidable in war and flourishing in peace," it is surely a little unfortunate for us, that he has picked out the Navy, as the very first object of his economical experiments. Of all the public services, that of the navy is the one in which tampering may be of the greatest danger, which can worst be supplied upon an emergency, and of which any failure draws after it the longest and heaviest train of consequences. I am far from saying, that this or any service ought not to be conducted with economy. But I will never suffer the sacred name of economy to be bestowed upon arbitrary defalcation of charge. The author tells us himself, "that to suffer the navy to rot in harbor for want of repairs and marines, would be to invite destruction." It would be so. When the author talks therefore of savings on the navy estimate, it is incumbent on him to let us know, not what sums he will cut off, but what branch of that service he deems superfluous. Instead of putting us off with unmeaning generalities, he ought to have stated what naval force, what naval works, and what naval stores, with the lowest estimated expense, are necessary to keep our marine in a condition commensurate to its great ends. And this too not for the contracted and deceitful space of a single year, but for some reasonable term. Everybody knows that many charges cannot be in their nature regular or annual. In the year 1767 a stock of hemp, &c., was to be laid in; that charge intermits, but it does not end. Other charges of other kinds take their place. Great works are now carrying on at Portsmouth, but not of greater magnitude than utility; and they must be provided for. A year's estimate is therefore no just idea at all of a permanent peace establishment. Had the author opened this matter upon these plain principles, a judgment might have been formed, how far he had contrived to reconcile national defence with public economy. Till he has done it, those who had rather depend on any man's reason than the greatest man's authority, will not give him credit on this head, for the saving of a single shilling. As to those savings which are already made, or in course of being made, whether right or wrong, he has nothing at all to do with them; they can be no part of his project, considered as a plan of reformation. I greatly fear that the error has not lately been on the side of profusion.
Another head is the saving on the army and ordnance extraordinaries, particularly in the American branch. What or how much reduction may be made, none of us, I believe, can with any fairness pretend to say; very little, I am convinced. The state of America is extremely unsettled; more troops have been sent thither; new dispositions have been made; and this augmentation of number, and change of disposition, has rarely, I believe, the effect of lessening the bill for extraordinaries, which, if not this year, yet in the next we must certainly feel. Care has not been wanting to introduce economy into that part of the service. The author's great friend has made, I admit, some regulations: his immediate successors have made more and better. This part will be handled more ably and more minutely at another time: but no one can cut down this bill of extraordinaries at his pleasure. The author has given us nothing, but his word, for any certain or considerable reduction; and this we ought to be the more cautious in taking, as he has promised great savings in his "Considerations," which he has not chosen to abide by in his "State of the Nation."
On this head also of the American extraordinaries, he can take credit for nothing. As to his next, the lessening of the deficiency of the land and malt-tax, particularly of the malt-tax, any person the least conversant in that subject cannot avoid a smile. This deficiency arises from charge of collection, from anticipation, and from defective produce. What has the author said on the reduction of any head of this deficiency upon the land-tax? On these points he is absolutely silent. As to the deficiency on the malt-tax, which is chiefly owing to a defective produce, he has and can have nothing to propose. If this deficiency should he lessened by the increase of malting in any years more than in others, (as it is a greatly fluctuating object,) how much of this obligation shall we owe to this author's ministry? will it not be the case under any administration? must it not go to the general service of the year, in some way or other, let the finances be in whose hands they will? But why take credit for so extremely reduced a deficiency at all? I can tell him he has no rational ground for it in the produce of the year 1767; and I suspect will have full as little reason from the produce of the year 1768. That produce may indeed become greater, and the deficiency of course will be less. It may too be far otherwise. A fair and judicious financier will not, as this writer has done, for the sake of making out a specious account, select a favorable year or two, at remote periods, and ground his calculations on those. In 1768 he will not take the deficiencies of 1753 and 1754 for his standard. Sober men have hitherto (and must continue this course, to preserve this character,) taken indifferently the mediums of the years immediately preceding. But a person who has a scheme from which he promises much to the public ought to be still more cautious; he should ground his speculation rather on the lowest mediums because all new schemes are known to be subject to some defect or failure not foreseen; and which therefore every prudent proposer will be ready to allow for, in order to lay his foundation as low and as solid as possible. Quite contrary is the practice of some politicians. They first propose savings, which they well know cannot be made, in order to get a reputation for economy. In due time they assume another, but a different method, by providing for the service they had before cut off or straitened, and which they can then very easily prove to be necessary. In the same spirit they raise magnificent ideas of revenue on funds which they know to be insufficient. Afterwards, who can blame them, if they do not satisfy the public desires? They are great artificers but they cannot work without materials.
These are some of the little arts of great statesmen. To such we leave them, and follow where the author leads us, to his next resource, the Foundling Hospital. Whatever particular virtue there is in the mode of this saving, there seems to be nothing at all new, and indeed nothing wonderfully important in it. The sum annually voted for the support of the Foundling Hospital has been in a former Parliament limited to the establishment of the children then in the hospital. When they are apprenticed, this provision will cease. It will therefore fall in more or less at different times; and will at length cease entirely. But, until it does, we cannot reckon upon it as the saving on the establishment of any given year: nor can any one conceive how the author comes to mention this, any more than some other articles, as a part of a new plan of economy which is to retrieve our affairs. This charge will indeed cease in its own time. But will no other succeed to it? Has he ever known the public free from some contingent charge, either for the just support of royal dignity or for national magnificence, or for public charity, or for public service? does he choose to flatter his readers that no such will ever return? or does he in good earnest declare, that let the reason, or necessity, be what they will, he is resolved not to provide for such services?
Another resource of economy yet remains, for he gleans the field very closely,—1800l. for the American surveys. Why, what signifies a dispute about trifles? he shall have it. But while he is carrying it off, I shall just whisper in his ear, that neither the saving that is allowed, nor that which is doubted of, can at all belong to that future proposed administration, whose touch is to cure all our evils. Both the one and the other belong equally (as indeed all the rest do) to the present administration, to any administration; because they are the gift of time, and not the bounty of the exchequer.
I have now done with all the minor, preparatory parts of the author's scheme, the several articles of saving which he proposes. At length comes the capital operation, his new resources. Three hundred thousand pounds a year from America and Ireland.—Alas! alas! if that too should fail us, what will become of this poor undone nation? The author, in a tone of great humility, hopes they may be induced to pay it. Well, if that be all, we may hope so too: and for any light he is pleased to give us into the ground of this hope, and the ways and means of this inducement, here is a speedy end both of the question and the revenue.
It is the constant custom of this author, in all his writings, to take it for granted, that he has given you a revenue, whenever he can point out to you where you may have money, if you can contrive how to get at it; and this seems to be the masterpiece of his financial ability. I think, however, in his way of proceeding, he has behaved rather like a harsh step-dame, than a kind nursing-mother to his country. Why stop at 300,000l. If his state of things be at all founded, America and Ireland are much better able to pay 600,000l. than we are to satisfy ourselves with half that sum. However, let us forgive him this one instance of tenderness towards Ireland and the colonies.
He spends a vast deal of time in an endeavor to prove that Ireland is able to bear greater impositions. He is of opinion, that the poverty of the lower class of people there is, in a great measure, owing to a want of judicious taxes; that a land-tax will enrich her tenants; that taxes are paid in England which are not paid there; that the colony trade is increased above 100,000l. since the peace; that she ought to have further indulgence in that trade; and ought to have further privileges in the woollen manufacture. From these premises, of what she has, what she has not, and what she ought to have, he infers that Ireland will contribute 100,000l. towards the extraordinaries of the American establishment.
I shall make no objections whatsoever, logical or financial, to this reasoning: many occur; but they would lead me from my purpose, from which I do not intend to be diverted, because it seems to me of no small importance. It will be just enough to hint, what I dare say many readers have before observed, that when any man proposes new taxes in a country with which he is not personally conversant by residence or office, he ought to lay open its situation much more minutely and critically than this author has done, or than perhaps he is able to do. He ought not to content himself with saying that a single article of her trade is increased 100,000l. a year; he ought, if he argues from the increase of trade to the increase of taxes, to state the whole trade, and not one branch of trade only; he ought to enter fully into the state of its remittances, and the course of its exchange; he ought likewise to examine whether all its establishments are increased or diminished; and whether it incurs or discharges debts annually. But I pass over all this; and am content to ask a few plain questions.
Does the author then seriously mean to propose in Parliament a land-tax, or any tax for 100,000l. a year upon Ireland? If he does, and if fatally, by his temerity and our weakness, he should succeed; then I say he will throw the whole empire from one end of it to the other into mortal convulsions. What is it that can satisfy the furious and perturbed mind of this man? is it not enough for him that such projects have alienated our colonies from the mother-country, and not to propose violently to tear our sister kingdom also from our side, and to convince every dependent part of the empire, that, when a little money is to be raised, we have no sort of regard to their ancient customs, their opinions, their circumstances, or their affections? He has however a douceur for Ireland in his pocket; benefits in trade, by opening the woollen manufacture to that nation. A very right idea in my opinion; but not more strong in reason, than likely to be opposed by the most powerful and most violent of all local prejudices and popular passions. First, a fire is already kindled by his schemes of taxation in America; he then proposes one which will set all Ireland in a blaze; and his way of quenching both is by a plan which may kindle perhaps ten times a greater flame in Britain.
Will the author pledge himself, previously to his proposal of such a tax, to carry this enlargement of the Irish trade? If he does not, then the tax will be certain; the benefit will be less than problematical. In this view, his compensation to Ireland vanishes into smoke; the tax, to their prejudices, will appear stark naked in the light of an act of arbitrary power and oppression. But, if he should propose the benefit and tax together, then the people of Ireland, a very high and spirited people, would think it the worst bargain in the world. They would look upon the one as wholly vitiated and poisoned by the other; and, if they could not be separated, would infallibly resist them both together. Here would be taxes, indeed, amounting to a handsome sum; 100,000l. very effectually voted, and passed through the best and most authentic forms; but how to be collected?—This is his perpetual manner. One of his projects depends for success upon another project, and this upon a third, all of them equally visionary. His finance is like the Indian philosophy; his earth is poised on the horns of a bull, his bull stands upon an elephant, his elephant is supported by a tortoise; and so on forever.
As to his American 200,000l. a year, he is satisfied to repeat gravely, as he has done an hundred times before, that the Americans are able to pay it. Well, and what then? does he lay open any part of his plan how they may be compelled to pay it, without plunging ourselves into calamities that outweigh tenfold the proposed benefit? or does he show how they may be induced to submit to it quietly? or does he give any satisfaction concerning the mode of levying it; in commercial colonies, one of the most important and difficult of all considerations? Nothing like it. To the Stamp Act, whatever its excellences may be, I think he will not in reality recur, or even choose to assert that he means to do so, in case his minister should come again into power. If he does, I will predict that some of the fastest friends of that minister will desert him upon this point. As to port duties he has damned them all in the lump, by declaring them "contrary to the first principles of colonization, and not less prejudicial to the interests of Great Britain than to those of the colonies." Surely this single observation of his ought to have taught him a little caution; he ought to have begun to doubt, whether there is not something in the nature of commercial colonies, which renders them an unfit object of taxation; when port duties, so large a fund of revenue in all countries, are by himself found, in this case, not only improper, but destructive. However, he has here pretty well narrowed the field of taxation. Stamp Act, hardly to be resumed. Port duties, mischievous. Excises, I believe, he will scarcely think worth the collection (if any revenue should be so) in America. Land-tax (notwithstanding his opinion of its immense use to agriculture) he will not directly propose, before he has thought again and again on the subject. Indeed he very readily recommends it for Ireland, and seems to think it not improper for America; because, he observes, they already raise most of their taxes internally, including this tax. A most curious reason, truly! because their lands are already heavily burdened, he thinks it right to burden them still further. But he will recollect, for surely he cannot be ignorant of it, that the lands of America are not, as in England, let at a rent certain in money, and therefore cannot, as here, be taxed at a certain pound rate. They value them in gross among themselves; and none but themselves in their several districts can value them. Without their hearty concurrence and co-operation, it is evident, we cannot advance a step in the assessing or collecting any land-tax. As to the taxes which in some places the Americans pay by the acre, they are merely duties of regulation; they are small; and to increase them, notwithstanding the secret virtues of a land-tax, would be the most effectual means of preventing that cultivation they are intended to promote. Besides, the whole country is heavily in arrear already for land-taxes and quit-rents. They have different methods of taxation in the different provinces, agreeable to their several local circumstances. In New England by far the greatest part of their revenue is raised by faculty-taxes and capitations. Such is the method in many others. It is obvious that Parliament, unassisted by the colonies themselves, cannot take so much as a single step in this mode of taxation. Then what tax is it he will impose? Why, after all the boasting speeches and writings of his faction for these four years, after all the vain expectations which they have held out to a deluded public, this their great advocate, after twisting the subject every way, after writhing himself in every posture, after knocking at every door, is obliged fairly to abandon every mode of taxation whatsoever in America. He thinks it the best method for Parliament to impose the sum, and reserve the account to itself, leaving the mode of taxation to the colonies. But how and in what proportion? what does the author say? O, not a single syllable on this the most material part of the whole question! Will he, in Parliament, undertake to settle the proportions of such payments from Nova Scotia to Nevis, in no fewer than six-and-twenty different countries, varying in almost every possible circumstance one from another? If he does, I tell him, he adjourns his revenue to a very long day. If he leaves it to themselves to settle these proportions, he adjourns it to doomsday.
Then what does he get by this method on the side of acquiescence? will the people of America relish this course, of giving and granting and applying their money, the better because their assemblies are made commissioners of the taxes? This is far worse than all his former projects; for here, if the assemblies shall refuse, or delay, or be negligent, or fraudulent, in this new-imposed duty, we are wholly without remedy; and neither our custom-house officers, nor our troops, nor our armed ships can be of the least use in the collection. No idea can be more contemptible (I will not call it an oppressive one, the harshness is lost in the folly) than that of proposing to get any revenue from the Americans but by their freest and most cheerful consent. Most moneyed men know their own interest right well; and are as able as any financier, in the valuation of risks. Yet I think this financier will scarcely find that adventurer hardy enough, at any premium, to advance a shilling upon a vote of such taxes. Let him name the man, or set of men, that would do it. This is the only proof of the value of revenues; what would an interested man rate them at? His subscription would be at ninety-nine per cent discount the very first day of its opening. Here is our only national security from ruin; a security upon which no man in his senses would venture a shilling of his fortune. Yet he puts down those articles as gravely in his supply for the peace establishment, as if the money had been all fairly lodged in the exchequer.
American revenue L200,000 Ireland 100,000
Very handsome indeed! But if supply is to be got in such a manner, farewell the lucrative mystery of finance! If you are to be credited for savings, without showing how, why, or with what safety, they are to be made; and for revenues, without specifying on what articles, or by what means, or at what expense, they are to be collected; there is not a clerk in a public office who may not outbid this author, or his friend, for the department of chancellor of the exchequer; not an apprentice in the city, that will not strike out, with the same advantages, the same, or a much larger plan of supply.
Here is the whole of what belongs to the author's scheme for saving us from impending destruction. Take it even in its most favorable point of view, as a thing within possibility; and imagine what must be the wisdom of this gentleman, or his opinion of ours, who could first think of representing this nation in such a state, as no friend can look upon but with horror, and scarcely an enemy without compassion, and afterwards of diverting himself with such inadequate, impracticable, puerile methods for our relief! If these had been the dreams of some unknown, unnamed, and nameless writer, they would excite no alarm; their weakness had been an antidote to their malignity. But as they are universally believed to be written by the hand, or, what amounts to the same thing, under the immediate direction, of a person who has been in the management of the highest affairs, and may soon be in the same situation, I think it is not to be reckoned amongst our greatest consolations, that the yet remaining power of this kingdom is to be employed in an attempt to realize notions that are at once so frivolous, and so full of danger. That consideration will justify me in dwelling a little longer on the difficulties of the nation, and the solutions of our author.
I am then persuaded that he cannot be in the least alarmed about our situation, let his outcry be what he pleases. I will give him a reason for my opinion, which, I think, he cannot dispute. All that he bestows upon the nation, which it does not possess without him, and supposing it all sure money, amounts to no more than a sum of 300,000l. a year. This, he thinks, will do the business completely, and render us flourishing at home, and respectable abroad. If the option between glory and shame, if our salvation or destruction, depended on this sum, it is impossible that he should have been active, and made a merit of that activity, in taking off a shilling in the pound of the land-tax, which came up to his grand desideratum, and upwards of 100,000l. more. By this manoeuvre, he left our trade, navigation, and manufactures, on the verge of destruction, our finances in ruin, our credit expiring, Ireland on the point of being ceded to France, the colonies of being torn to pieces, the succession of the crown at the mercy of our great rival, and the kingdom itself on the very point of becoming tributary to that haughty power. All this for want of 300,000l.; for I defy the reader to point out any other revenue, or any other precise and defined scheme of politics, which he assigns for our redemption.
I know that two things may be said in his defence, as bad reasons are always at hand in an indifferent cause; that he was not sure the money would be applied as he thinks it ought to be, by the present ministers. I think as ill of them as he does to the full. They have done very near as much mischief as they can do, to a constitution so robust as this is. Nothing can make them more dangerous, but that, as they are already in general composed of his disciples and instruments, they may add to the public calamity of their own measures, the adoption of his projects. But be the ministers what they may, the author knows that they could not avoid applying this 450,000l. to the service of the establishment, as faithfully as he, or any other minister, could do. I say they could not avoid it, and have no merit at all for the application. But supposing that they should greatly mismanage this revenue. Here is a good deal of room for mistake and prodigality before you come to the edge of ruin. The difference between the amount of that real and his imaginary revenue is, 150,000l. a year at least; a tolerable sum for them to play with: this might compensate the difference between the author's economy and their profusion; and still, notwithstanding their vices and ignorance, the nation might he saved. The author ought also to recollect, that a good man would hardly deny, even to the worst of ministers, the means of doing their duty; especially in a crisis when our being depended on supplying them with some means or other. In such a case their penury of mind, in discovering resources, would make it rather the more necessary, not to strip such poor providers of the little stock they had in hand.
Besides, here is another subject of distress, and a very serious one, which puts us again to a stand. The author may possibly not come into power (I only state the possibility): he may not always continue in it: and if the contrary to all this should fortunately for us happen, what insurance on his life can be made for a sum adequate to his loss? Then we are thus unluckily situated, that the chance of an American and Irish revenue of 300,000l. to be managed by him, is to save us from ruin two or three years hence at best, to make us happy at home and glorious abroad; and the actual possession of 400,000l. English taxes cannot so much as protract our ruin without him. So we are staked on four chances; his power, its permanence, the success of his projects, and the duration of his life. Any one of these failing, we are gone. Propria haec si dona fuissent! This is no unfair representation; ultimately all hangs on his life, because, in his account of every set of men that have held or supported administration, he finds neither virtue nor ability in any but himself. Indeed he pays (through their measures) some compliments to Lord Bute and Lord Despenser. But to the latter, this is, I suppose, but a civility to old acquaintance: to the former, a little stroke of politics. We may therefore fairly say, that our only hope is his life; and he has, to make it the more so, taken care to cut off any resource which we possessed independently of him.
In the next place it may be said, to excuse any appearance of inconsistency between the author's actions and his declarations, that he thought it right to relieve the landed interest, and lay the burden where it ought to lie, on the colonies. What! to take off a revenue so necessary to our being, before anything whatsoever was acquired in the place of it? In prudence, he ought to have waited at least for the first quarter's receipt of the new anonymous American revenue, and Irish land-tax. Is there something so specific for our disorders in American, and something so poisonous in English money, that one is to heal, the other to destroy us? To say that the landed interest could not continue to pay it for a year or two longer, is more than the author will attempt to prove. To say that they would pay it no longer, is to treat the landed interest, in my opinion, very scurvily. To suppose that the gentry, clergy, and freeholders of England do not rate the commerce, the credit, the religion, the liberty, the independency of their country, and the succession of their crown, at a shilling in the pound land-tax! They never gave him reason to think so meanly of them. And, if I am rightly informed, when that measure was debated in Parliament, a very different reason was assigned by the author's great friend, as well as by others, for that reduction: one very different from the critical and almost desperate state of our finances. Some people then endeavored to prove, that the reduction might be made without detriment to the national credit, or the due support of a proper peace establishment; otherwise it is obvious that the reduction could not be defended in argument. So that this author cannot despair so much of the commonwealth, without this American and Irish revenue, as he pretends to do. If he does, the reader sees how handsomely he has provided for us, by voting away one revenue, and by giving us a pamphlet on the other.
I do not mean to blame the relief which was then given by Parliament to the land. It was grounded on very weighty reasons. The administration contended only for its continuance for a year, in order to have the merit of taking off the shilling in the pound immediately before the elections; and thus to bribe the freeholders of England with their own money.
It is true, the author, in his estimate of ways and means, takes credit for 400,000l. a year, Indian Revenue. But he will not very positively insist, that we should put this revenue to the account of his plans or his power; and for a very plain reason: we are already near two years in possession of it. By what means we came to that possession, is a pretty long story; however, I shall give nothing more than a short abstract of the proceeding, in order to see whether the author will take to himself any part in that measure.
The fact is this; the East India Company had for a good while solicited the ministry for a negotiation, by which they proposed to pay largely for some advantages in their trade, and for the renewal of their charter. This had been the former method of transacting with that body. Government having only leased the monopoly for short terms, the Company has been obliged to resort to it frequently for renewals. These two parties had always negotiated (on the true principle of credit) not as government and subject, but as equal dealers, on the footing of mutual advantage. The public had derived great benefit from such dealing. But at that time new ideas prevailed. The ministry, instead of listening to the proposals of that Company, chose to set up a claim of the crown to their possessions. The original plan seems to have been, to get the House of Commons to compliment the crown with a sort of juridical declaration of a title to the Company's acquisitions in India; which the crown on its part, with the best air in the world, was to bestow upon the public. Then it would come to the turn of the House of Commons again to be liberal and grateful to the crown. The civil list debts were to be paid off; with perhaps a pretty augmentation of income. All this was to be done on the most public-spirited principles, and with a politeness and mutual interchange of good offices, that could not but have charmed. But what was best of all, these civilities were to be without a farthing of charge to either of the kind and obliging parties. The East India Company was to be covered with infamy and disgrace, and at the same time was to pay the whole bill.
In consequence of this scheme, the terrors of a parliamentary inquiry were hung over them. A judicature was asserted in Parliament to try this question. But lest this judicial character should chance to inspire certain stubborn ideas of law and right, it was argued, that the judicature was arbitrary, and ought not to determine by the rules of law, but by their opinion of policy and expediency. Nothing exceeded the violence of some of the managers, except their impotence. They were bewildered by their passions, and by their want of knowledge or want of consideration of the subject. The more they advanced, the further they found themselves from their object.—All things ran into confusion. The ministers quarrelled among themselves. They disclaimed one another. They suspended violence, and shrunk from treaty. The inquiry was almost at its last gasp; when some active persons of the Company were given to understand that this hostile proceeding was only set up in terrorem; that government was far from an intention of seizing upon the possessions of the Company. Administration, they said, was sensible, that the idea was in every light full of absurdity; and that such a seizure was not more out of their power, than remote from their wishes; and therefore, if the Company would come in a liberal manner to the House, they certainly could not fail of putting a speedy end to this disagreeable business, and of opening a way to an advantageous treaty.
On this hint the Company acted: they came at once to a resolution of getting rid of the difficulties which arose from the complication of their trade with their revenue; a step which despoiled them of their best defensive armor, and put them at once into the power of administration. They threw their whole stock of every kind, the revenue, the trade, and even their debt from government, into one fund, which they computed on the surest grounds would amount to 800,000l., with a large probable surplus for the payment of debt. Then they agreed to divide this sum in equal portions between themselves and the public, 400,000l. to each. This gave to the proprietors of that fund an annual augmentation of no more than 80,000l. dividend. They ought to receive from government 120,000l. for the loan of their capital. So that, in fact, the whole, which on this plan they reserved to themselves, from their vast revenues, from their extensive trade, and in consideration of the great risks and mighty expenses which purchased these advantages, amounted to no more than 280,000l., whilst government was to receive, as I said, 400,000l.
This proposal was thought by themselves liberal indeed; and they expected the highest applauses for it. However, their reception was very different from their expectations. When they brought up their plan to the House of Commons, the offer, as it was natural, of 400,000l. was very well relished. But nothing could be more disgustful than the 80,000l. which the Company had divided amongst themselves. A violent tempest of public indignation and fury rose against them. The heads of people turned. The Company was held well able to pay 400,000l. a year to government; but bankrupts, if they attempted to divide the fifth part of it among themselves. An ex post facto law was brought in with great precipitation, for annulling this dividend. In the bill was inserted a clause, which suspended for about a year the right, which, under the public faith, the Company enjoyed, of making their own dividends. Such was the disposition and temper of the House, that although the plain face of facts, reason, arithmetic, all the authority, parts, and eloquence in the kingdom, were against this bill; though all the Chancellors of the Exchequer, who had held that office from the beginning of this reign, opposed it; yet a few placemen of the subordinate departments sprung out of their ranks, took the lead, and, by an opinion of some sort of secret support, carried the bill with a high hand, leaving the then Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a very moderate minority. In this distracted situation, the managers of the bill, notwithstanding their triumph, did not venture to propose the payment of the civil list debt. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not in good humor enough, after his late defeat by his own troops, to co-operate in such a design; so they made an act, to lock up the money in the exchequer until they should have time to look about them, and settle among themselves what they were to do with it.
Thus ended this unparalleled transaction. The author, I believe, will not claim any part of the glory of it: he will leave it whole and entire to the authors of the measure. The money was the voluntary, free gift of the Company; the rescinding bill was the act of legislature, to which they and we owe submission: the author has nothing to do with the one or with the other. However, he cannot avoid rubbing himself against this subject merely for the pleasure of stirring controversies, and gratifying a certain pruriency of taxation that seems to infect his blood. It is merely to indulge himself in speculations of taxing, that he chooses to harangue on this subject. For he takes credit for no greater sum than the public is already in possession of. He does not hint that the Company means, or has ever shown any disposition, if managed with common prudence, to pay less in future; and he cannot doubt that the present ministry are as well inclined to drive them by their mock inquiries, and real rescinding bills, as he can possibly be with his taxes. Besides, it is obvious, that as great a sum might have been drawn from that Company, without affecting property, or shaking the constitution, or endangering the principle of public credit, or running into his golden dreams of cockets on the Ganges, or visions of stamp-duties on Perwannas, Dusticks, Kistbundees, and Husbulhookums. For once, I will disappoint him in this part of the dispute; and only in a very few words recommend to his consideration, how he is to get off the dangerous idea of taxing a public fund, if he levies those duties in England; and if he is to levy them in India, what provision he has made for a revenue establishment there; supposing that he undertakes this new scheme of finance independently of the Company, and against its inclinations.
So much for these revenues; which are nothing but his visions, or already the national possessions without any act of his. It is easy to parade with a high talk of Parliamentary rights, of the universality of legislative powers, and of uniform taxation. Men of sense, when new projects come before them, always think a discourse proving the mere right or mere power of acting in the manner proposed, to be no more than a very unpleasant way of misspending time. They must see the object to be of proper magnitude to engage them; they must see the means of compassing it to be next to certain; the mischiefs not to counterbalance the profit; they will examine how a proposed imposition or regulation agrees with the opinion of those who are likely to be affected by it; they will not despise the consideration even of their habitudes and prejudices. They wish to know how it accords or disagrees with the true spirit of prior establishments, whether of government or of finance; because they well know, that in the complicated economy of great kingdoms, and immense revenues, which in a length of time, and by a variety of accidents have coalesced into a sort of body, an attempt towards a compulsory equality in all circumstances, and an exact practical definition of the supreme rights in every case, is the most dangerous and chimerical of all enterprises. The old building stands well enough, though part Gothic, part Grecian, and part Chinese, until an attempt is made to square it into uniformity. Then it may come down upon our heads altogether, in much uniformity of ruin; and great will be the fall thereof. Some people, instead of inclining to debate the matter, only feel a sort of nausea, when they are told, that "protection calls for supply," and that "all the parts ought to contribute to the support of the whole." Strange argument for great and grave deliberation! As if the same end may not, and must not, be compassed, according to its circumstances, by a great diversity of ways. Thus, in Great Britain, some of our establishments are apt for the support of credit. They stand therefore upon a principle of their own, distinct from, and in some respects contrary to, the relation between prince and subject. It is a new species of contract superinduced upon the old contract of the state. The idea of power must as much as possible be banished from it; for power and credit are things adverse, incompatible; Non bene conveniunt, nec in una sede morantur. Such establishments are our great moneyed companies. To tax them would be critical and dangerous, and contradictory to the very purpose of their institution; which is credit, and cannot therefore be taxation. But the nation, when it gave up that power, did not give up the advantage; but supposed, and with reason, that government was overpaid in credit, for what it seemed to lose in authority. In such a case to talk of the rights of sovereignty is quite idle. Other establishments supply other modes of public contribution. Our trading companies, as well as individual importers, are a fit subject of revenue by customs. Some establishments pay us by a monopoly of their consumption and their produce. This, nominally no tax, in reality comprehends all taxes. Such establishments are our colonies. To tax them would be as erroneous in policy, as rigorous in equity. Ireland supplies us by furnishing troops in war; and by bearing part of our foreign establishment in peace. She aids us at all times by the money that her absentees spend amongst us; which is no small part of the rental of that kingdom. Thus Ireland contributes her part. Some objects bear port-duties. Some are fitter for an inland excise. The mode varies, the object is the same. To strain these from their old and inveterate leanings, might impair the old benefit, and not answer the end of the new project. Among all the great men of antiquity, Procrustes shall never be my hero of legislation; with his iron bed, the allegory of his government, and the type of some modern policy, by which the long limb was to be cut short, and the short tortured into length. Such was the state-bed of uniformity! He would, I conceive, be a very indifferent farmer, who complained that his sheep did not plough, or his horses yield him wool, though it would be an idea full of equality. They may think this right in rustic economy, who think it available in the politic:
Qui Bavium non odit, amet tua carimna, Maevi! Atque idem jungat vulpes, et mulgeat hircos.
As the author has stated this Indian taxation for no visible purpose relative to his plan of supply, so he has stated many other projects with as little, if any distinct end; unless perhaps to show you how full he is of projects for the public good; and what vast expectations may be formed of him or his friends, if they should be translated into administration. It is also from some opinion that these speculations may one day become our public measures, that I think it worth while to trouble the reader at all about them.
Two of them stand out in high relievo beyond the rest. The first is a change in the internal representation of this country, by enlarging our number of constituents. The second is an addition to our representatives, by new American members of Parliament. I pass over here all considerations how far such a system will be an improvement of our constitution according to any sound theory. Not that I mean to condemn such speculative inquiries concerning this great object of the national attention. They may tend to clear doubtful points, and possibly may lead, as they have often done, to real improvements. What I object to, is their introduction into a discourse relating to the immediate state of our affairs, and recommending plans of practical government. In this view, I see nothing in them but what is usual with the author; an attempt to raise discontent in the people of England, to balance those discontents which the measures of his friends had already raised in America. What other reason can he have for suggesting, that we are not happy enough to enjoy a sufficient number of voters in England? I believe that most sober thinkers on this subject are rather of opinion, that our fault is on the other side; and that it would be more in the spirit of our constitution, and more agreeable to the pattern of our best laws, by lessening the number, to add to the weight and independency of our voters. And truly, considering the immense and dangerous charge of elections; the prostitute and daring venality, the corruption of manners, the idleness and profligacy of the lower sort of voters, no prudent man would propose to increase such an evil, if it be, as I fear it is, out of our power to administer to it any remedy. The author proposes nothing further. If he has any improvements that may balance or may lessen this inconvenience, he has thought proper to keep them as usual in his own breast. Since he has been so reserved, I should have wished he had been as cautious with regard to the project itself. First, because he observes justly, that his scheme, however it might improve the platform, can add nothing to the authority of the legislature; much I fear, it will have a contrary operation; for, authority depending on opinion at least as much as on duty, an idea circulated among the people that our constitution is not so perfect as it ought to be, before you are sure of mending it, is a certain method of lessening it in the public opinion. Of this irreverent opinion of Parliament, the author himself complains in one part of his book; and he endeavors to increase it in the other.
Has he well considered what an immense operation any change in our constitution is? how many discussions, parties, and passions, it will necessarily excite; and when you open it to inquiry in one part, where the inquiry will stop? Experience shows us, that no time can be fit for such changes but a time of general confusion; when good men, finding everything already broken up, think it right to take advantage of the opportunity of such derangement in favor of an useful alteration. Perhaps a time of the greatest security and tranquillity both at home and abroad may likewise be fit; but will the author affirm this to be just such a time? Transferring an idea of military to civil prudence, he ought to know how dangerous it is to make an alteration of your disposition in the face of an enemy.
Now comes his American representation. Here too, as usual, he takes no notice of any difficulty, nor says anything to obviate those objections that must naturally arise in the minds of his readers. He throws you his politics as he does his revenue; do you make something of them if you can. Is not the reader a little astonished at the proposal of an American representation from that quarter? It is proposed merely as a project of speculative improvement; not from the necessity in the case, not to add anything to the authority of Parliament, but that we may afford a greater attention to the concerns of the Americans, and give them a better opportunity of stating their grievances, and of obtaining redress. I am glad to find the author has at length discovered that we have not given a sufficient attention to their concerns, or a proper redress to their grievances. His great friend would once have been exceedingly displeased with any person, who should tell him, that he did not attend sufficiently to those concerns. He thought he did so, when he regulated the colonies over and over again: he thought he did so when he formed two general systems of revenue; one of port-duties, and the other of internal taxation. These systems supposed, or ought to suppose, the greatest attention to and the most detailed information of, all their affairs. However, by contending for the American representation, he seems at last driven virtually to admit, that great caution ought to be used in the exercise of all our legislative rights over an object so remote from our eye, and so little connected with our immediate feelings; that in prudence we ought not to be quite so ready with our taxes, until we can secure the desired representation in Parliament. Perhaps it may be some time before this hopeful scheme can be brought to perfect maturity, although the author seems to be in no wise aware of any obstructions that lie in the way of it. He talks of his union, just as he does of his taxes and his savings, with as much sang froid and ease as if his wish and the enjoyment were exactly the same thing. He appears not to have troubled his head with the infinite difficulty of settling that representation on a fair balance of wealth and numbers throughout the several provinces of America and the West Indies, under such an infinite variety of circumstances. It costs him nothing to fight with nature, and to conquer the order of Providence, which manifestly opposes itself to the possibility of such a Parliamentary union.
But let us, to indulge his passion for projects and power, suppose the happy time arrived, when the author comes into the ministry, and is to realize his speculations. The writs are issued for electing members for America and the West Indies. Some provinces receive them in six weeks, some in ten, some in twenty. A vessel may be lost, and then some provinces may not receive them at all. But let it be, that they all receive them at once, and in the shortest time. A proper space must be given for proclamation and for the election; some weeks at least. But the members are chosen; and if ships are ready to sail, in about six more they arrive in London. In the mean time the Parliament has sat and business far advanced without American representatives. Nay, by this time, it may happen that the Parliament is dissolved; and then the members ship themselves again, to be again elected. The writs may arrive in America, before the poor members of a Parliament in which they never sat, can arrive at their several provinces. A new interest is formed, and they find other members are chosen whilst they are on the high seas. But, if the writs and members arrive together, here is at best a new trial of skill amongst the candidates, after one set of them have well aired themselves with their two voyages of 6000 miles.
However, in order to facilitate everything to the author, we will suppose them all once more elected, and steering again to Old England, with a good heart, and a fair westerly wind in their stern. On their arrival, they find all in a hurry and bustle; in and out; condolence and congratulation; the crown is demised. Another Parliament is to be called. Away back to America again on a fourth voyage, and to a third election. Does the author mean to make our kings as immortal in their personal as in their politic character? or whilst he bountifully adds to their life, will he take from them their prerogative of dissolving Parliaments, in favor of the American union? or are the American representatives to be perpetual, and to feel neither demises of the crown, nor dissolutions of Parliament?
But these things may be granted to him, without bringing him much nearer to his point. What does he think of re-election? is the American member the only one who is not to take a place, or the only one to be exempted from the ceremony of re-election? How will this great politician preserve the rights of electors, the fairness of returns, and the privilege of the House of Commons, as the sole judge of such contests? It would undoubtedly be a glorious sight to have eight or ten petitions, or double returns, from Boston and Barbadoes, from Philadelphia and Jamaica, the members returned, and the petitioners, with all their train of attorneys, solicitors, mayors, selectmen, provost-marshals, and above five hundred or a thousand witnesses, come to the bar of the House of Commons. Possibly we might be interrupted in the enjoyment of this pleasing spectacle, if a war should break out, and our constitutional fleet, loaded with members of Parliament, returning-officers, petitions, and witnesses, the electors and elected, should become a prize to the French or Spaniards, and be conveyed to Carthagena, or to La Vera Cruz, and from thence perhaps to Mexico or Lima, there to remain until a cartel for members of Parliament can be settled, or until the war is ended.
In truth the author has little studied this business; or he might have known, that some of the most considerable provinces of America, such, for instance, as Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay, have not in each of them two men who can afford, at a distance from their estates, to spend a thousand pounds a year. How can these provinces be represented at Westminster? If their province pays them, they are American agents, with salaries, and not independent members of Parliament. It is true, that formerly in England members had salaries from their constituents; but they all had salaries, and were all, in this way, upon a par. If these American representatives have no salaries, then they must add to the list of our pensioners and dependents at court, or they must starve. There is no alternative.
Enough of this visionary union; in which much extravagance appears without any fancy, and the judgment is shocked without anything to refresh the imagination. It looks as if the author had dropped down from the moon, without any knowledge of the general nature of this globe, of the general nature of its inhabitants, without the least acquaintance with the affairs of this country. Governor Pownall has handled the same subject. To do him justice, he treats it upon far more rational principles of speculation; and much more like a man of business. He thinks (erroneously, I conceive; but he does think) that our legislative rights are incomplete without such a representation. It is no wonder, therefore, that he endeavors by every means to obtain it. Not like our author, who is always on velvet, he is aware of some difficulties; and he proposes some solutions. But nature is too hard for both these authors; and America is, and ever will be, without actual representation in the House of Commons; nor will any minister be wild enough even to propose such a representation in Parliament; however he may choose to throw out that project, together with others equally far from his real opinions, and remote from his designs, merely to fall in with the different views, and captivate the affections, of different sorts of men.
Whether these projects arise from the author's real political principles, or are only brought out in subservience to his political views, they compose the whole of anything that is like precise and definite, which the author has given us to expect from that administration which is so much the subject of his praises and prayers. As to his general propositions, that "there is a deal of difference between impossibilities and great difficulties"; that "a great scheme cannot be carried unless made the business of successive administrations"; that "virtuous and able men are the fittest to serve their country"; all this I look on as no more than so much rubble to fill up the spaces between the regular masonry. Pretty much in the same light I cannot forbear considering his detached observations on commerce; such as, that "the system for colony regulations would be very simple, and mutually beneficial to Great Britain and her colonies, if the old navigation laws were adhered to." That "the transportation should be in all cases in ships belonging to British subjects." That "even British ships should not be generally received into the colonies from any part of Europe, except the dominions of Great Britain." That "it is unreasonable that corn and such like products should be restrained to come first to a British port." What do all these fine observations signify? Some of them condemn, as ill practices, things that were never practised at all. Some recommend to be done, things that always have been done. Others indeed convey, though obliquely and loosely, some insinuations highly dangerous to our commerce. If I could prevail on myself to think the author meant to ground any practice upon these general propositions, I should think it very necessary to ask a few questions about some of them. For instance, what does he mean by talking of an adherence to the old navigation laws? Does he mean, that the particular law, 12 Car. II. c. 19, commonly called "The Act of Navigation," is to be adhered to, and that the several subsequent additions, amendments, and exceptions, ought to be all repealed? If so, he will make a strange havoc in the whole system of our trade laws, which have been universally acknowledged to be full as well founded in the alterations and exceptions, as the act of Charles the Second in the original provisions; and to pursue full as wisely the great end of that very politic law, the increase of the British navigation. I fancy the writer could hardly propose anything more alarming to those immediately interested in that navigation than such a repeal. If he does not mean this, he has got no farther than a nugatory proposition, which nobody can contradict, and for which no man is the wiser.
That "the regulations for the colony trade would be few and simple if the old navigation laws were adhered to," I utterly deny as a fact. That they ought to be so, sounds well enough; but this proposition is of the same nugatory nature with some of the former. The regulations for the colony trade ought not to be more nor fewer, nor more nor less complex, than the occasion requires. And, as that trade is in a great measure a system of art and restriction, they can neither be few nor simple. It is true, that the very principle may be destroyed, by multiplying to excess the means of securing it. Never did a minister depart more from the author's ideas of simplicity, or more embarrass the trade of America with the multiplicity and intricacy of regulations and ordinances, than his boasted minister of 1764. That minister seemed to be possessed with something, hardly short of a rage, for regulation and restriction. He had so multiplied bonds, certificates, affidavits, warrants, sufferances, and cockets; had supported them with such severe penalties, and extended them without the least consideration of circumstances to so many objects, that, had they all continued in their original force, commerce must speedily have expired under them. Some of them, the ministry which gave them birth was obliged to destroy: with their own hand they signed the condemnation of their own regulations; confessing in so many words, in the preamble of their act of the 5th Geo. III., that some of these regulations had laid an unnecessary restraint on the trade and correspondence of his Majesty's American subjects. This, in that ministry, was a candid confession of a mistake; but every alteration made in those regulations by their successors is to be the effect of envy, and American misrepresentation. So much for the author's simplicity in regulation.
I have now gone through all which I think immediately essential in the author's idea of war, of peace, of the comparative states of England and France, of our actual situation; in his projects of economy, of finance, of commerce, and of constitutional improvement. There remains nothing now to be considered, except his heavy censures upon the administration which was formed in 1765; which is commonly known by the name of the Marquis of Rockingham's administration, as the administration which preceded it is by that of Mr. Grenville. These censures relate chiefly to three heads:—1. To the repeal of the American Stamp Act. 2. To the commercial regulations then made. 3. To the course of foreign negotiations during that short period.
A person who knew nothing of public affairs but from the writings of this author, would be led to conclude, that, at the time of the change in June, 1765, some well-digested system of administration, founded in national strength, and in the affections of the people, proceeding in all points with the most reverential and tender regard to the laws, and pursuing with equal wisdom and success everything which could tend to the internal prosperity, and to the external honor and dignity of this country, had been all at once subverted, by an irruption of a sort of wild, licentious, unprincipled invaders, who wantonly, and with a barbarous rage, had defaced a thousand fair monuments of the constitutional and political skill of their predecessors. It is natural indeed that this author should have some dislike to the administration which was formed in 1765. Its views, in most things, were different from those of his friends; in some, altogether opposite to them. It is impossible that both of these administrations should be the objects of public esteem. Their different principles compose some of the strongest political lines which discriminate the parties even now subsisting amongst us. The ministers of 1764 are not indeed followed by very many in their opposition; yet a large part of the people now in office entertain, or pretend to entertain, sentiments entirely conformable to theirs; whilst some of the former colleagues of the ministry which was formed in 1765, however they may have abandoned the connection, and contradicted by their conduct the principles of their former friends, pretend, on their parts, still to adhere to the same maxims. All the lesser divisions, which are indeed rather names of personal attachment than of party distinction, fall in with the one or the other of these leading parties.
I intend to state, as shortly as I am able, the general condition of public affairs, and the disposition of the minds of men, at the time of the remarkable change of system in 1765. The reader will have thereby a more distinct view of the comparative merits of these several plans, and will receive more satisfaction concerning the ground and reason of the measures which were then pursued, than, I believe, can be derived from the perusal of those partial representations contained in the "State of the Nation," and the other writings of those who have continued, for now nearly three years, in the undisturbed possession of the press. This will, I hope, be some apology for my dwelling a little on this part of the subject.
On the resignation of the Earl of Bute, in 1763, our affairs had been delivered into the hands of three ministers of his recommendation: Mr. Grenville, the Earl of Egremont, and the Earl of Halifax. This arrangement, notwithstanding the retirement of Lord Bute, announced to the public a continuance of the same measures; nor was there more reason to expect a change from the death of the Earl of Egremont. The Earl of Sandwich supplied his place. The Duke of Bedford, and the gentlemen who act in that connection, and whose general character and politics were sufficiently understood, added to the strength of the ministry, without making any alteration in their plan of conduct. Such was the constitution of the ministry which was changed in 1765.
As to their politics, the principles of the peace of Paris governed in foreign affairs. In domestic, the same scheme prevailed, of contradicting the opinions, and disgracing most of the persons, who had been countenanced and employed in the late reign. The inclinations of the people were little attended to; and a disposition to the use of forcible methods ran through the whole tenor of administration. The nation in general was uneasy and dissatisfied. Sober men saw causes for it, in the constitution of the ministry and the conduct of the ministers. The ministers, who have usually a short method on such occasions, attributed their unpopularity wholly to the efforts of faction. However this might be, the licentiousness and tumults of the common people, and the contempt of government, of which our author so often and so bitterly complains, as owing to the mismanagement of the subsequent administrations, had at no time risen to a greater or more dangerous height. The measures taken to suppress that spirit were as violent and licentious as the spirit itself; injudicious, precipitate, and some of them illegal. Instead of allaying, they tended infinitely to inflame the distemper; and whoever will be at the least pains to examine, will find those measures not only the causes of the tumults which then prevailed, but the real sources of almost all the disorders which have arisen since that time. More intent on making a victim to party than an example of justice, they blundered in the method of pursuing their vengeance. By this means a discovery was made of many practices, common indeed in the office of Secretary of State, but wholly repugnant to our laws, and to the genius of the English constitution. One of the worst of these was, the wanton and indiscriminate seizure of papers, even in cases where the safety of the state was not pretended in justification of so harsh a proceeding. The temper of the ministry had excited a jealousy, which made the people more than commonly vigilant concerning every power which was exercised by government. The abuse, however sanctioned by custom, was evident; but the ministry, instead of resting in a prudent inactivity, or (what would have been still more prudent) taking the lead, in quieting the minds of the people, and ascertaining the law upon those delicate points, made use of the whole influence of government to prevent a Parliamentary resolution against these practices of office. And lest the colorable reasons, offered in argument against this Parliamentary procedure, should be mistaken for the real motives of their conduct, all the advantage of privilege, all the arts and finesses of pleading, and great sums of public money were lavished, to prevent any decision upon those practices in the courts of justice. In the mean time, in order to weaken, since they could not immediately destroy, the liberty of the press, the privilege of Parliament was voted away in all accusations for a seditious libel. The freedom of debate in Parliament itself was no less menaced. Officers of the army, of long and meritorious service, and of small fortunes, were chosen as victims for a single vote, by an exertion of ministerial power, which had been very rarely used, and which is extremely unjust, as depriving men not only of a place, but a profession, and is indeed of the most pernicious example both in a civil and a military light.
Whilst all things were managed at home with such a spirit of disorderly despotism, abroad there was a proportionable abatement of all spirit. Some of our most just and valuable claims were in a manner abandoned. This indeed seemed not very inconsistent conduct in the ministers who had made the treaty of Paris. With regard to our domestic affairs, there was no want of industry; but there was a great deficiency of temper and judgment, and manly comprehension of the public interest. The nation certainly wanted relief, and government attempted to administer it. Two ways were principally chosen for this great purpose. The first by regulations; the second by new funds of revenue. Agreeably to this plan, a new naval establishment was formed at a good deal of expense, and to little effect, to aid in the collection of the customs. Regulation was added to regulation; and the strictest and most unreserved orders were given, for a prevention of all contraband trade here, and in every part of America. A teasing custom-house, and a multiplicity of perplexing regulations, ever have, and ever will appear, the masterpiece of finance to people of narrow views; as a paper against smuggling, and the importation of French finery, never fails of furnishing a very popular column in a newspaper.
The greatest part of these regulations were made for America; and they fell so indiscriminately on all sorts of contraband, or supposed contraband, that some of the most valuable branches of trade were driven violently from our ports; which caused an universal consternation throughout the colonies. Every part of the trade was infinitely distressed by them. Men-of-war now for the first time, armed with regular commissions of custom-house officers, invested the coasts, and gave to the collection of revenue the air of hostile contribution. About the same time that these regulations seemed to threaten the destruction of the only trade from whence the plantations derived any specie, an act was made, putting a stop to the future emission of paper currency, which used to supply its place among them. Hand in hand with this went another act, for obliging the colonies to provide quarters for soldiers. Instantly followed another law, for levying throughout all America new port duties, upon a vast variety of commodities of their consumption, and some of which lay heavy upon objects necessary for their trade and fishery. Immediately upon the heels of these, and amidst the uneasiness and confusion produced by a crowd of new impositions and regulations, some good, some evil, some doubtful, all crude and ill-considered, came another act, for imposing an universal stamp-duty on the colonies; and this was declared to be little more than an experiment, and a foundation of future revenue. To render these proceedings the more irritating to the colonies, the principal argument used in favor of their ability to pay such duties was the liberality of the grants of their assemblies during the late war. Never could any argument be more insulting and mortifying to a people habituated to the granting of their own money.
Taxes for the purpose of raising revenue had hitherto been sparingly attempted in America. Without ever doubting the extent of its lawful power, Parliament always doubted the propriety of such impositions. And the Americans on their part never thought of contesting a right by which they were so little affected. Their assemblies in the main answered all the purposes necessary to the internal economy of a free people, and provided for all the exigencies of government which arose amongst themselves. In the midst of that happy enjoyment, they never thought of critically settling the exact limits of a power, which was necessary to their union, their safety, their equality, and even their liberty. Thus the two very difficult points, superiority in the presiding state, and freedom in the subordinate, were on the whole sufficiently, that is, practically, reconciled; without agitating those vexatious questions, which in truth rather belong to metaphysics than politics, and which can never be moved without shaking the foundations of the best governments that have ever been constituted by human wisdom. By this measure was let loose that dangerous spirit of disquisition, not in the coolness of philosophical inquiry, but inflamed with all the passions of a haughty, resentful people, who thought themselves deeply injured, and that they were contending for everything that was valuable in the world.
In England, our ministers went on without the least attention to these alarming dispositions; just as if they were doing the most common things in the most usual way, and among a people not only passive, but pleased. They took no one step to divert the dangerous spirit which began even then to appear in the colonies, to compromise with it, to mollify it, or to subdue it. No new arrangements were made in civil government; no new powers or instructions were given to governors; no augmentation was made, or new disposition, of forces. Never was so critical a measure pursued with so little provision against its necessary consequences. As if all common prudence had abandoned the ministers, and as if they meant to plunge themselves and us headlong into that gulf which stood gaping before them; by giving a year's notice of the project of their Stamp Act, they allowed time for all the discontents of that country to fester and come to a head, and for all the arrangements which factious men could make towards an opposition to the law. At the same time they carefully concealed from the eye of Parliament those remonstrances which they had actually received; and which in the strongest manner indicated the discontent of some of the colonies, and the consequences which might be expected; they concealed them even in defiance of an order of council, that they should be laid before Parliament. Thus, by concealing the true state of the case, they rendered the wisdom of the nation as improvident as their own temerity, either in preventing or guarding against the mischief. It has indeed, from the beginning to this hour, been the uniform policy of this set of men, in order at any hazard to obtain a present credit, to propose whatever might be pleasing, as attended with no difficulty; and afterwards to throw all the disappointment of the wild expectations they had raised, upon those who have the hard task of freeing the public from the consequences of their pernicious projects.
Whilst the commerce and tranquillity of the whole empire were shaken in this manner, our affairs grew still more distracted by the internal dissensions of our ministers. Treachery and ingratitude were charged from one side; despotism and tyranny from the other; the vertigo of the regency bill; the awkward reception of the silk bill in the House of Commons, and the inconsiderate and abrupt rejection of it in the House of Lords; the strange and violent tumults which arose in consequence, and which were rendered more serious by being charged by the ministers upon one another; the report of a gross and brutal treatment of the ——, by a minister at the same time odious to the people; all conspired to leave the public, at the close of the session of 1765, in as critical and perilous a situation, as ever the nation was, or could be, in a time when she was not immediately threatened by her neighbors.
It was at this time, and in these circumstances, that a new administration was formed. Professing even industriously, in this public matter, to avoid anecdotes; I say nothing of those famous reconciliations and quarrels, which weakened the body that should have been the natural support of this administration. I run no risk in affirming, that, surrounded as they were with difficulties of every species, nothing but the strongest and most uncorrupt sense of their duty to the public could have prevailed upon some of the persons who composed it to undertake the king's business at such a time. Their preceding character, their measures while in power, and the subsequent conduct of many of them, I think, leave no room to charge this assertion to flattery. Having undertaken the commonwealth, what remained for them to do? to piece their conduct upon the broken chain of former measures? If they had been so inclined, the ruinous nature of those measures, which began instantly to appear, would not have permitted it. Scarcely had they entered into office, when letters arrived from all parts of America, making loud complaints, backed by strong reasons, against several of the principal regulations of the late ministry, as threatening destruction to many valuable branches of commerce. These were attended with representations from many merchants and capital manufacturers at home, who had all their interests involved in the support of lawful trade, and in the suppression of every sort of contraband. Whilst these things were under consideration, that conflagration blazed out at once in North America; an universal disobedience, and open resistance to the Stamp Act; and, in consequence, an universal stop to the course of justice, and to trade and navigation, throughout that great important country; an interval during which the trading interest of England lay under the most dreadful anxiety which it ever felt.
The repeal of that act was proposed. It was much too serious a measure, and attended with too many difficulties upon every side, for the then ministry to have undertaken it, as some paltry writers have asserted, from envy and dislike to their predecessors in office. As little could it be owing to personal cowardice, and dread of consequences to themselves. Ministers, timorous from their attachment to place and power, will fear more from the consequences of one court intrigue, than from a thousand difficulties to the commerce and credit of their country by disturbances at three thousand miles distance. From which of these the ministers had most to apprehend at that time, is known, I presume, universally. Nor did they take that resolution from a want of the fullest sense of the inconveniences which must necessarily attend a measure of concession from the sovereign to the subject. That it must increase the insolence of the mutinous spirits in America, was but too obvious. No great measure indeed, at a very difficult crisis, can be pursued, which is not attended with some mischief; none but conceited pretenders in public business will hold any other language: and none but weak and unexperienced men will believe them, if they should. If we were found in such a crisis, let those, whose bold designs, and whose defective arrangements, brought us into it, answer for the consequences. The business of the then ministry evidently was, to take such steps, not as the wishes of our author, or as their own wishes dictated, but as the bad situation in which their predecessors had left them, absolutely required.
The disobedience to this act was universal throughout America; nothing, it was evident, but the sending a very strong military, backed by a very strong naval force, would reduce the seditious to obedience. To send it to one town, would not be sufficient; every province of America must be traversed, and must be subdued. I do not entertain the least doubt but this could be done. We might, I think, without much difficulty, have destroyed our colonies. This destruction might be effected, probably in a year, or in two at the utmost. If the question was upon a foreign nation, where every successful stroke adds to your own power, and takes from that of a rival, a just war with such a certain superiority would be undoubtedly an advisable measure. But four million of debt due to our merchants, the total cessation of a trade annually worth four millionmore, a large foreign traffic, much home manufacture, a very capital immediate revenue arising from colony imports, indeed the produce of every one of our revenues greatly depending on this trade, all these were very weighty accumulated considerations, at least well to be weighed, before that sword was drawn, which even by its victories must produce all the evil effects of the greatest national defeat. How public credit must have suffered, I need not say. If the condition of the nation, at the close of our foreign war, was what this author represents it, such a civil war would have been a bad couch, on which to repose our wearied virtue. Far from being able to have entered into new plans of economy, we must have launched into a new sea, I fear a boundless sea, of expense. Such an addition of debt, with such a diminution of revenue and trade, would have left us in no want of a "State of the Nation" to aggravate the picture of our distresses.
Our trade felt this to its vitals; and our then ministers were not ashamed to say, that they sympathized with the feelings of our merchants. The universal alarm of the whole trading body of England, will never be laughed at by them as an ill-grounded or a pretended panic. The universal desire of that body will always have great weight with them in every consideration connected with commerce: neither ought the opinion of that body to be slighted (notwithstanding the contemptuous and indecent language of this author and his associates) in any consideration whatsoever of revenue. Nothing amongst us is more quickly or deeply affected by taxes of any kind than trade; and if an American tax was a real relief to England, no part of the community would be sooner or more materially relieved by it than our merchants. But they well know that the trade of England must be more burdened by one penny raised in America, than by three in England; and if that penny be raised with the uneasiness, the discontent, and the confusion of America, more than by ten.
If the opinion and wish of the landed interest is a motive, and it is a fair and just one, for taking away a real and large revenue, the desire of the trading interest of England ought to be a just ground for taking away a tax of little better than speculation, which was to be collected by a war, which was to be kept up with the perpetual discontent of those who were to be affected by it, and the value of whose produce even after the ordinary charges of collection, was very uncertain; after the extraordinary, the dearest purchased revenue that ever was made by any nation.
These were some of the motives drawn from principles of convenience for that repeal. When the object came to be more narrowly inspected, every motive concurred. These colonies were evidently founded in subservience to the commerce of Great Britain. From this principle, the whole system of our laws concerning them became a system of restriction. A double monopoly was established on the part of the parent country; 1. A monopoly of their whole import, which is to be altogether from Great Britain; 2. A monopoly of all their export, which is to be nowhere but to Great Britain, as far as it can serve any purpose here. On the same idea it was contrived that they should send all their products to us raw, and in their first state; and that they should take everything from us in the last stage of manufacture.
Were ever a people under such circumstances, that is, a people who were to export raw, and to receive manufactured, and this, not a few luxurious articles, but all articles, even to those of the grossest, most vulgar, and necessary consumption, a people who were in the hands of a general monopolist, were ever such a people suspected of a possibility of becoming a just object of revenue? All the ends of their foundation must be supposed utterly contradicted before they could become such an object. Every trade law we have made must have been eluded, and become useless, before they could be in such a condition.
The partisans of the new system, who, on most occasions, take credit for full as much knowledge as they possess, think proper on this occasion to counterfeit an extraordinary degree of ignorance, and in consequence of it to assert, "that the balance (between the colonies and Great Britain) is unknown, and that no important conclusion can be drawn from premises so very uncertain." Now to what can this ignorance be owing? were the navigation laws made, that this balance should be unknown? is it from the course of exchange that it is unknown, which all the world knows to be greatly and perpetually against the colonies? is it from the doubtful nature of the trade we carry on with the colonies? are not these schemists well apprised that the colonists, particularly those of the northern provinces, import more from Great Britain, ten times more, than they send in return to us? that a great part of their foreign balance is and must be remitted to London? I shall be ready to admit that the colonies ought to be taxed to the revenues of this country, when I know that they are out of debt to its commerce. This author will furnish some ground to his theories, and communicate a discovery to the public, if he can show this by any medium. But he tells us that "their seas are covered with ships, and their rivers floating with commerce." This is true. But it is with our ships that these seas are covered; and their rivers float with British commerce. The American merchants are our factors; all in reality, most even in name. The Americans trade, navigate, cultivate, with English capitals; to their own advantage, to be sure; for without these capitals their ploughs would be stopped, and their ships wind-bound. But he who furnishes the capital must, on the whole, be the person principally benefited; the person who works upon it profits on his part too; but he profits in a subordinate way, as our colonies do; that is, as the servant of a wise and indulgent master, and no otherwise. We have all, except the peculium; without which even slaves will not labor.
If the author's principles, which are the common notions, be right, that the price of our manufactures is so greatly enhanced by our taxes; then the Americans already pay in that way a share of our impositions. He is not ashamed to assert, that "France and China may be said, on the same principle, to bear a part of our charges, for they consume our commodities." Was ever such a method of reasoning heard of? Do not the laws absolutely confine the colonies to buy from us, whether foreign nations sell cheaper or not? On what other idea are all our prohibitions, regulations, guards, penalties, and forfeitures, framed? To secure to us, not a commercial preference, which stands in need of no penalties to enforce it; it finds its own way; but to secure to us a trade, which is a creature of law and institution. What has this to do with the principles of a foreign trade, which is under no monopoly, and in which we cannot raise the price of our goods, without hazarding the demand for them? None but the authors of such measures could ever think of making use of such arguments.
Whoever goes about to reason on any part of the policy of this country with regard to America, upon the mere abstract principles of government, or even upon those of our own ancient constitution, will be often misled. Those who resort for arguments to the most respectable authorities, ancient or modern, or rest upon the clearest maxims, drawn from the experience of other states and empires, will be liable to the greatest errors imaginable. The object is wholly new in the world. It is singular; it is grown up to this magnitude and importance within the memory of man; nothing in history is parallel to it. All the reasonings about it, that are likely to be at all solid, must be drawn from its actual circumstances. In this new system a principle of commerce, of artificial commerce, must predominate. This commerce must be secured by a multitude of restraints very alien from the spirit of liberty; and a powerful authority must reside in the principal state, in order to enforce them. But the people who are to be the subjects of these restraints are descendants of Englishmen; and of a high and free spirit. To hold over them a government made up of nothing but restraints and penalties, and taxes in the granting of which they can have no share, will neither be wise nor long practicable. People must be governed in a manner agreeable to their temper and disposition; and men of free character and spirit must be ruled with, at least, some condescension to this spirit and this character. The British, colonist must see something which will distinguish him from the colonists of other nations.
Those seasonings, which infer from the many restraints under which we have already laid America, to our right to lay it under still more, and indeed under all manner of restraints, are conclusive; conclusive as to right; but the very reverse as to policy and practice. We ought rather to infer from our having laid the colonies under many restraints, that it is reasonable to compensate them by every indulgence that can by any means be reconciled to our interest. We have a great empire to rule, composed of a vast mass of heterogeneous governments, all more or less free and popular in their forms, all to be kept in peace, and kept out of conspiracy, with one another, all to be held in subordination to this country; while the spirit of an extensive and intricate and trading interest pervades the whole, always qualifying, and often controlling, every general idea of constitution and government. It is a great and difficult object; and I wish we may possess wisdom and temper enough to manage it as we ought. Its importance is infinite. I believe the reader will be struck, as I have been, with one singular fact. In the year 1704, but sixty-five years ago, the whole trade with our plantations was but a few thousand pounds more in the export article, and a third less in the import, than that which we now carry on with the single island of Jamaica:—