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Progress of the Nation page 2

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By the offer of the crown on these terms, and by acceptance of it under them by persons out of the proper course of succession according to the divine-right theory, the whole of those pernicious notions of the deity of kingship, which had led to such monstrous acts under the Tudors, and still more under the Stuarts, which had constantly led the monarchs to oppress and insult the people, and brought the people at length to rebel against and put to death the king, was put an end to. Monarchs could no longer defend their arbitrary- acts by declaring, as James I. did, that, as God was God in heaven, and could kill or save alive, so he was God on earth, and could there do the same rightfully. From that day English kings and queens have known that their right to reign lies in the will of the people; and though they have occasionally attempted to invade popular liberty, the powers confessedly residing in the people have soon recalled them to their senses. Since then, the great violation of popular right, and the wasteful expenditure of the public money, has proceeded rather from the aristocracy than the crown, and to regain the popular influence usurped by the aristocracy in parliament, has continued, and still continues, the great struggle of the public, the great theme of reform.

Unfortunately, the same event which introduced so signal a benefit introduced also evils of gigantic magnitude. As we have just observed, continental monarchs involved us in continental wars, these wars in a rapidly-increasing expenditure, and this expenditure in a hitherto unparalleled accumulation of national debt. In narrating the events of the restoration, we exhibited the fatal fact that the aristocracy at that period, by a bargain with Charles II., freed themselves from the feudal burdens on their land, the condition on which they held them, and threw the support of the crown, which hitherto had been their duty, on the public at large. Having done this, and instead of bearing nearly the whole charge of the royal expenditure, except what accrued from the crown lands, they were no longer averse to the creation of a public debt, which, till then, they always had been. Now they would only have to pay a certain quota of its interest in common with the whole population, and they soon saw that by the emoluments of war, of which, at home and abroad, they would have the management, they would derive infinitely more for themselves and relatives. From this time, therefore, date the greatest wars that we ever waged, the frightfully accumulating weight of taxation, and the creation and growth of the most stupendous debt that the world ever saw. We have just spoken of the real nature of these wars during the period under review, that they were wars for Holland and Germany, not for England. Mr. Spackman, in his Statistical Tables, in 1846, calculated the cost of these foreign wars and their interest to that year as follows. To this let the reader add interest up to the present time, and he will furnish himself with a subject of serious reflection: -

The war of 1688 lasted nine years, and cost at the time 36,000,000
Borrowed to support it, twenty millions, the interest of which, in 152 years, at 3½ per cent, amounts to 186,400,000
The war of the Spanish succession lasted eleven years, and cost 62,500,000
Borrowed to support it, thirty-two and a half millions, the interest of which, in 127 years, amounts to 114,464,500
The Spanish war of 1748 lasted nine years, and cost 54,000,000
Borrowed to support it, twenty-nine millions; the interest in 102 years amounts to 103,530,000
The war of 1756 lasted seven years, and cost 112,000,000
Borrowed to support it, sixty millions; the interest in 77 years amounts to 161,700,000

The national debt at the commencement of Dutch William's reign amounted only to the sum of 1,328,526, which Charles II. had robbed the London merchants of, and which was not formally recognised as a national debt till 1701, the concluding year of William's reign. It is true there were 580,000 of arrears due to the army at the revolution, and 60,000 of arrears to the late king's servants, but for these there was money enough in the exchequer. At the commencement of William's reign the whole of the national debt was 1,328,526; but, according to the above statement, by the end of the reign of George II. it had grown to 141,500,000! The expenditure occasioned by these wars had risen in these seventy-two years from 2,000,000 a year, which it was the last year of James II., to 8,523,540, which it was in the last year of George II., and in several years of that reign it had been as high as thirteen and fifteen millions. The whole cost of these wars, and the interest of them down to 1846, is the astounding sum of 830,592,500! For these wars of seventy-two years of our Dutch and Hanoverian sovereigns, our posterity will owe in part, and will have paid in interest for these wars very soon, One Thousand Millions! And, besides this, it has been calculated that there were slain in these wars of British alone the following numbers: -

In the war ending 1697180,000
In the war begun in 1702 250,000
In the war begun in 1739 240,000
In the war begun in 1756 250,000
Total 920,000!

It would puzzle the boldest advocate of wars and of interference in continental quarrels to trace the smallest advantage that this country received for upwards of eight hundred millions of money and nine hundred thousand lives spent by our Dutch and Hanoverian kings in these seventy-two years!

Of the folly, and, worse, the wickedness, of such wars these figures stand a most awful testimony.

That the revenue of the country during this sanguinary and extravagant period rose from two to eight millions per annum is evidence of the substantial growth, notwithstanding, of the industry, capital, and resources of the country. Yet the government was driven to the imposition of many new and some singular taxes. Though the aristocracy had got rid of their feudal tenures, which amounted to a land-tax, they were soon compelled to submit to a land-tax in its own proper name. This was always granted for only a year at a time, originally of one shilling in the pound, but it rose afterwards to four shillings, was at length fixed not to exceed that on the original valuation of the land in William's time, at which it still remains, except where it has been permanently purchased by the landowner from government. In William's reign was laid a tax on marriages; additional taxes on foreign wines; additional duties on spice, exportation of coals, and on almost all articles of foreign importation; excise on home-made liquors, tanned hides, candles, paper, pasteboard, vellum, silks, calicoes, and numerous other things. Rates of postage were raised; then stamps imposed on all sums paid with clocks and apprentices on deeds of transfer, debentures, policies of insurance, on pamphlets, advertisements, &e. In every reign of this period, these impositions grew heavier and more numerous. At the end of the reign of George II., there were thirty-eight branches of customs, twenty-eight of excise, nineteen of inland duties - in all, eighty-five different kinds of taxes. The creation of the debt had produced a numerous race of stockjobbers, and the frauds which they practised induced the government, in 1697, to pass an act "to restrain the number and ill practices of brokers and stockjobbers." Their number was not to exceed a hundred, and stringent regulations were made to defeat their fraudulent practices in selling and discounting bank- stock, bank-bills, and joint-stock shares, &c., as well as their dishonest stratagems for raising or falling the value of such stocks.

The funded debt underwent various modifications during this period. In the early part of queen Anne's reign the Bank of England and the East India Company advanced large sums, which were converted into stock, along with stock created by successive lotteries, till this stock amounted to nearly twelve millions, bearing six per cent. Then the arrears in the war and naval departments were converted into another stock of upwards of nine millions, and the holders were formed into a company called the South Sea Company, with the exclusive privilege of trading to the west coasts of America. In George I.'s reign all the different stocks were rearranged into three - namely, the South Sea Fund, established in 1711; the Aggregate Fund, in 1714; and the General Fund, in 1716. In this same year the Sinking Fund was inaugurated by Sir Robert Walpole, though planned by lord Stanhope. This fund was to consist of the surpluses of the three other funds, and to be employed in paying off gradually the debt. For some time it worked well, but the necessities of the state soon induced Sir Robert Walpole to invade its sanctity, and it speedily became a mere name. In 1720 appeared the memorable scheme by which the South Sea Company engaged to pay off the whole national debt, which, as we have related, ended in a terrible explosion, and wide ruin to speculators. The result to the nation, instead of the discharge of the debt, was its augmentation by upwards of three millions. The South Sea Company still continued to hold a considerable portion of it in 1750. The interest, however, in 1727, was reduced to four and to three per cent. At this time the debt was resolved into the three per cent, reduced annuities and the three per cent, consolidated annuities, since better known by the abridged name of consols, now constituting the much larger part of the debt. The mode of forestalling the receipt of the taxes by the issue of exchequer bills, was introduced in 1696 by Charles Montague, afterwards earl of Halifax, then chancellor of the exchequer. These bills, now only issued at a hundred pounds each, were then, many of them, sold only for sums of five pounds and ten pounds.

Whilst parliament during this period was very liberal in granting the people's money, it was at the same time extremely tenacious of its own privileges. At no time has it appeared more so, or inclined to carry that privilege to such absurd lengths. Privilege of parliament is equivalent to prerogative of royalty, and evidently springs from the same source - the assertion of the superiority of the person or body in which it resides to the ordinary dominion of law. As kings formerly deemed themselves above and independent of parliaments, the grand source of law, and therefore arrogated to themselves peculiar rights and privileges called prerogatives, and not within reach of the ordinary courts of law, so parliament, when it came to exercise its legitimate influence, as one of the great organs of legislation, likewise asserted similar defensive and dignifying privileges. These privileges it was the more inclined to insist upon, because it came later into the exercise of them, and had to resist through them the power of the crown. But, like many new functions, there was a tendency to extend them beyond their proper bounds, and this was now particularly conspicuous. In the great conflict betwixt the crown and the parliament, which ended in the destruction of the monarchy, the whole of the privileges of parliament were fought out, but then the privileges of the body were considered rather than those of the individual members; now, those of the individual seemed to assume the most conspicuous form. Both the collective and the individual privilege had been asserted and defended, and the violators of either, though commissioned by the highest courts of law, punished. The collective privilege was held to cover everything concerning the honour and free functions of the houses of parliament. Not even a pardon under the great seal was to defeat any impeachment by the commons. Both houses claimed the right to punish political offences, and others which did not expressly concern themselves. Such were the cases of the Kentish Petition in 1701, and that of Ashby v. White in 1704; and in the following year, when the commons imprisoned five burgesses of Aylesbury for carrying the case of a contested election into a court of law, but, in the last instance, without establishing their authority. So also Floyd, for merely speaking disrespectfully of the elector-palatine and his wife in conversation, was severely punished by the lords in the reign of James I. But in the reign of George I. an equal stretch of parliamentary power was exercised by the commons, by committing Mist, the publisher of "Mist's Journal," for a libel which in no wise concerned them.

The power of punishing their own members, which has been established as a genuine privilege, and also that of determining everything relating to their own elections, was now settled. A great case, regarding jurisdiction over their own members, which became a precedent, was that of Mr. Arthur Hall, who, in 1580, published a book or pamphlet reflecting on some of the members, and which was also considered to be derogatory to the general power and dignity of the house of commons, for which he was expelled, fined, and imprisoned. But in queen Anne's time, the commons grossly exceeded their jurisdiction by expelling Sir Richard Steele for publishing a pamphlet called the "Crisis," which did not reflect at all on the house, but only on the ministry. In some other cases parliament endeavoured to stretch its power to still more preposterous lengths, by declaring parties incapable of sitting in parliament for such extraneous offences.

The intention of individual privileges of members was to protect them from arrest on civil actions during the sittings of parliament, and to give them exemption from prosecution for the freedom of speech and in debate within their respective houses. But this was soon extended not only to members at all times, but as the king claimed privilege for his servants, parliament claimed the like for the servants, and even tenants, of members; nay, they extended the same privilege to the property of members. At various times during the reign of George II. it was voted a breach of parliamentary privilege to trespass on the lands of members, to interfere with their footmen, to have killed some of lord Galway's rabbits, caught some of Mr. Jolliffe's fish, cut down some of Mr. Hungerford's trees, dug some of the coals of Mr. Ward, and the lead of Sir Robert Grosvenor. It was held that even an execution could not be levied on a member's goods for debt. The act of 12 William III., c. 3, restrained the privilege of members from arrest to the time of the actual session of parliament, but all these other overstrained personal exemptions remained till the 10th of George III.

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