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For SEPTEMBER, 1790.
ART. I. The Hiftory of the Public Revenue of the British Empire. Part Third. By Sir John Sinclair, Baronet. 4to. pp. 410. 15s. Boards. Cadell. 1790.
ISTORY, till of late, was chiefly employed in the recital of warlike tranfactions. Victories, defeats, revolutions of kingdoms, occafioned by conquefts, fuccefsful ufurpations by daring individuals, and fimilar events, were too long deemed the only objects worthy to be recorded in the hiftoric page. The people were not known; the circumftances that affected their domeftic profperity and happinefs were entirely overlooked; and the records of many ages might have been perused without obtaining the leaft information concerning any fact that led to a knowlege of the internal economy of the ftate, or the private fituation of individuals.
Thanks, however, to the more enlightened fpirit of modern times, things are much altered in this refpect. Readers now expect to find, not only the warlike exploits, but the civil tranfactions, of princes, recorded in the hiftoric volume. The people claim their fhare of attention; the progrefs of arts is confidered as an object of importance; induftry, agriculture, manufactures, commerce, manners, population, and perfonal fecurity, are now viewed as objects that deferve a particular degree of inveftigation. Finance is become a fcience, and begins to be ftudied as an object of primary importance, by thofe who afpire to dignified offices in the ftate. At prefent, indeed, this fcience is only in its infancy, and its firft principles are little understood; the hiftory of paft financial operations is, therefore, a chaos of abfurdities; and the financial operations of prefent times, in general, form only a series of blundering fchemes, calculated to attain the objects, in view, by means of every little deception, that the minifter of the day can invent for impofing on the judgment of those whofe
whofe aid is neceffary to carry his plans into execution. The profperity of the people is, therefore, with fuch men, no ferious object of confideration;. and the enlightened few who have made fome advances in this fcience, behold, with aftonishment and indignation, that, in almost every cafe, the industry of the people is checked, and their profperity infinitely retarded, by these puny financial projects. Their contempt, however, for the talents of thefe oppreffors, keeps pace with their regret:-they fee, with fome degree of fatisfaction, that when the time arrives when minifters fhall become fo enlightened as to be able rightly to understand their own interefts, they will be convinced that the revenue of the prince muft ever be in proportion to the welfare of the people; and that whatever shall retard the profperity of the latter, muft diminish, in a much higher ratio, the income of the former. They fee that good policy and humanity are the fame; they anticipate the time when this æra fhall arrive, when this momentous truth fhall be univerfally admitted; and they contemplate, with wonder, the amazing extent of revenue that may then be afforded by the fame people, when compared with that pittance which can be, with difficulty, acquired from them under the prefent faulty adminiftration of affairs.
The reader will eafily perceive that thefe reflections are general, and apply univerfally to the financial operations at prefent in vogue, in every part of Europe; and that they are by no means intended as a reflection on any one individual, or fet of men, in any part of the world. In fome nations, the welfare of the people is more adverted to than in others; and there a greater revenue can be more eafily obtained from them, than elsewhere. Unfortunate it is, that princes fhould, in general, be fo blind to their own intereft, as not to perceive that this is univerfally the cafe, and ever must be so!
The work before us fuggefted the foregoing obfervations. Our readers are already acquainted with the purport of this performance, from the account given in our review of the two former parts of it. The ingenious and indefatigable author has purfued his refearches, in regard to the revenue of Great Britain, with the moft unceafing affiduity; and he has collected together, from a variety of fources unattainable by most men, a great many facts concerning the object of his difquifition, that will be deemed of high importance by every perfon who, in future times, fhall think of engaging in these interesting fpeculations. Still, however, Sir Joan Sinclair complains of the difficulties which he has encountered in the profecution of his
* See Review, Vols. lxxiv. p. 94. and lxxx. p. 22.
inquiries, and regrets the imperfections that they have occafioned.
It is (fays he, in the advertisement) with infinite regret, that the author publishes a performance in many respects fo defective. But he trufts the reader will confider it merely as the outlines of a work, which cannot be completed without much additional labour and application; and which, indeed, cannot be brought to minute perfection, without the affiftance of thofe to whom the charge of our public revenues may be entrusted. Such affiftance, however, is not to be looked for until the nation is bleffed with a real patriotic minifter, who has judgement to foresee the advantages to be derived both to himself and to the public, from fuch investigations, and generofity enough of fpirit to contribute every aid in his power, and every information from the offices under his direction, to elucidate the political fituation and circumftances of the country, and to explain every particular regarding either the paft, or the prefent itate of its finances.'
Such an enlightened minifter, we are afraid, is not to be expected in the prefent times: but we think it augurs well for the future, when we find a man of that rank and station in life, which the author of the performance before us now holds, fo fully fenfible of its utility.
The period of our political history inveftigated in the prefent volume, is that which intervenes between the Revolution and the prefent day, and includes precifely one century. It is preceded by the following general view of the public revenue of England fince the Conqueft:
William the Conqueror, William Rufus,
L. 400,000 O
150,000 100,000 154,139 17 130,000
It deferves, however, to be remarked, that the above view does not exhibit a fair ftate of the revenue of each prince refpectively, on two accounts: 1ft, Because the pound fterling, at different times, contained different quantities of filver ;and, 2d, that the fame quantity of filver bore a different value, when compared with other property at different periods. Thus, in the time of William the Conqueror, the pound contained 5328 grains of filver, and was equal in weight to 31. 2s. of our prefent money. In the time of Henry IV. it weighed only 2841.6 grains, and was equal to 11. 135. 3d. of our prefent money. At the end of Henry VIIIth's reign, it weighed only 800 grains, and was worth no more than 9. 3d.; and at one time in Edward Vlth's reign, it weighed only 400 grains, which was equal to 4s. 7 d. of our prefent money. The value of the fame weight of filver at thefe different times, would be more difficult to afcertain: but both fhould be taken into the account in forming a true estimate of the value of the revenue at each of the periods mentioned.
The firft chapter of this work treats Of the progress of the National Income fince the Union.' This chapter is introduced by the following reflections:
Among the various political problems which it would be not a little defirable to have fatisfactorily explained, there is none more curious in itfelf, or more truly interelling to this country, than a ftatement of the means which have enabled it to bear its progreffive weight of taxes, but more particularly the heavy burthen to which it is now fubject. A century has fcarcely elapfed, fince a revenue of about two millions was fuppofed to be fully equal to its utmost ability; nor fince D'Avenant, the most intelligent writer of his time on public queftions, openly afferted, "that the commerce and manufactures of England would fink under a heavier load *.” Whereas now, England alone fupplies the Treafury with above fifteen millions; and any popular clamour that is heard, is more owing to the manner in which our taxes are laid on, than to the quantum which is levied.'
*D'Avenant's Works, vol. ii. p. 283.
Sir John does not attempt to folve this problem, in the prefent work; he only proceeds to ftate, in a concife manner, the amount of the revenue at different periods, with the fources from which it was derived, interfperfed with judicious remarks, that tend to open the eyes of our legiflators in regard to circumftances of importance, which muft, from the nature of things, too often escape their notice, and tend to retard the profperity of the nation. Such are the following obfervations concerning
Among the various advantages which Ireland enjoys, from the manner in which the two countrics are at prefent connected, there is none of fo fingular a nature as the right which it poffeffes, of having rock falt exported from England duty free; whill (with a few exceptions) if carried from one port to another in this country, it is liable to a confiderable tax. But as fo peculiar a privilege was owing to neglect, and not defign, it is to be hoped it will not be perpetuated. By an act paffed anno 1710*, a duty of nine hillings per ton was impofed on all rock falt exported to Ireland for thirty-two years, from the 11th of June 1711. Why it was not renewed when it came to expire, is not at prefent known; but justice to the people of Great Britain requires the revival of fo equitable a regulation, or the extenfion of the fame privilege to the reft of the kingdom.'
In enumerating the various taxes that have been adopted or abolished, the author offers fome arguments to fhew the expedi ency, or to point out the pernicious tendency, of these measures. On the falt tax, in particular, as being an object of great national importance, he has occafion to animadvert. In the year 1729, it was, for a time, wholly abolifhed; on which occafion, he obferves:
The abolition of a tax is fo uncommon a circumstance in the modern financial hiftory of this country, that it merits particular attention whenever it has occurred. The duty upon falt had been long complained of as burdenfome to the poor, injurious to many of our manufactures, and fatal to the progrefs of the British fisheries, fo effential to our naval ftrength; and fuch, it was imagined, was the flourishing ftate of the revenue at the commencement of this reign (Geo. I.), that this duty might be fafely difpenfed with. Accordingly, by an act paled anno 1729†, both the customs and excife upon falt were abolished from Christmas 1730. But before the measure could operate beneficially to the nation, the abolished duties were revived; at firit only for three years, though fince they have been rendered perpetual. Sir Robert Walpole, who was then chancellor of the exchequer, and who had moved the repeal, was not ashamed of acting the inconfiftent part of propofing the revival. His object was, to ingratiate himself, by that means, with † 3d Geo. II. cap. xx,
9th Anne, cap. xxiii. § 44. 5th Geo. II. cap. vi.