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may, perhaps, forget their own cares, while hearing of the vigorous acts of Louis le Desire; but, still the rent-roll will, at last, be uppermost; and your Noble Colleague will have to apply himself, in conjunction with you and the rest of the Ministers, to the arts of quieting.
While wheat remains at the present price, the whole of the produce of the land will hardly pay the taxes on it, direct and indirect. For the last year not more, probably, than half the rents will be paid ; and, for the next year, I verily believe, not a quarter part of them. At any rate, a tremendous defalcation will take place; and, it is now time to begin to think of the means of meeting the consequences of this defal. cation.
There is wonderful speculation as to what will be done. I mean amongst the landlords and farmers; for, as to the fundholders, they say, that all is now going on right. They say, that, in lending their money to the Government to carry on the war, they, in fact, lent it to the landlords, who, if they had been just towards their country, would have paid all the expenses within the year; that, not choosing to do this, they, by Acts of Parliament, authorising loans, did, in fact, borrow the money of them, the fund holders, and that it would be little better than swindling for them now to attempt to shuffle off, by saying, that it was the ministers who borrowed the money, seeing that the ministers never could have got a penny without the security of an Act of Parliament; that is to say, without the express authority of the Lords and Gentlemen. Thus, say the sundholders, the landlords are become indebted to us. We have a full and clear right to as much of their incomes as shall be found neces. sary io pay us our interest at full; and if, unhappily for them, they should have little or nothing left for themselves, all that we can say is, that the war was not our concern ; that they freely chose to go to war and to carry it on; that it was their titles and dignities that were in danger, and not ours ; that we lent them our money at their own request and at as moderate a rate as we could afford ; that we even went out of our way, sometimes, purely to oblige them ; and, that, if we are obliged now to have their estates sold in order to obtain the payment of our interest ; though we shall feel great pain in reducing high-blooded persons to such a state ; though we shall be grieved to the heart to be compelled to have their studs and their kennels and their venerable mansions brought to the hammer, we really demand no more than our just due, and shall always be able to sleep with quiet consciences.
The landlords, on the contrary, say, that all is now wrong; that all is now out of joint; that the fundholder is receiving a much larger amount of interest than he oughi in conscience to receive. They say, that, though they did authorize the raising of money, they did not do it for their own sakes alone; that the property of the fundholder was protected by the war as well as their titles and dignities ; that they passed loan-bills as representatives of the nation, duly elected, and deriving their authority from sources of unquestionable purity; that they never meant that their estates should be subject to seizure, or distraint, on ac. count of these loans; that those who lent their money to the ministers, lent it on the proceeds of the taxes, and not upon their landed estates,
Agreed !” says the fundholder ; and, all I demand is, that those tares continue to be collected! But, if they cannot be collected without first driving your tenants to jail, and next, bringing out Exchequer Writs against the premises, it is clear, that your estates must, al last, be sold in order to pay those taxes.
Of the argument the fundholder certainly has the best side ; but, then, the Debtors are the Law-makers. Still it is a puzzling matter ; and I much question whether your Noble Colleague, notwithstanding all his great experience, aided with the science of many high-dutch Doctors, will be able to know what to do with it. It is not a case where vigour alone is required ; nor is it one of those cases, where, like that of the Union, weighty arguments are sufficient. It is not a case of rebellion or mutiny. It is not, in short, like any case that has hitherto presented itself. It is quite a new case, and I shall be greatly disappointed if the treating of it does not form an epoch in the bistory of political medicine.
But before, long before, we come to the Grand Remedy in full of all demands, there are many parts, or branches, to be spoken of. I men. tioned one of these in my last Letter ; and I have learnt, that the Yeo. manry Cavalry relish exceedingly the proposition of lowering the salaries, pay, and allowances of the Judges, the soldiers, the Police-Justices, the Royal Family, the Ministers, &c., &c., to the standard of the price of corr. There is, however, another source, not a little copious, and which, perhaps, Lord Buckingham might have in view. I mean the Sinecures, not only for the future, but for the past. The Noble Marquis's Father received, for 20 years, or more, about 30,0001. a-year, I believe. Now, this makes a sum of 600,0001., besides the interest ; a sum of great magnitude, even in a national point of view. There are many other sinecures of very large amount, and which have existed for a great number of years. I am not going to propose any thing like legal force as to these ; but I will not think it impossible, nor even improbable, that the sums, thus received from the public may be returned to it, in this time of general distress, by way of voluntary offering. One sinecure would not be much; but, if the Ardens, the Garniers, the Seymours, the Wellesleys, the Bathursts, the Pratts, the Knoxes, the Thurlows, the Fitzroys, the Beresfords, the Kenyons, the Hutchinsons, the Laws, the Lenoxes, the Dundases, and many, many other noble personages, were to come into this scheme, it would, altogether, I assure you, make a thundering sum. I know, that I shall be told, that these noble families have richly merited all they have received, in this way as well as in all other ways and shapes. Of this fact, you will understand me, I mean to raise not the smallest doubt. But, you will excuse me, Sir, if I am of opinion, that, when the necessities of the country shall pinch very hard, the probability is, that they will, in this way, conie to its aid.
This, therefore, I regard as another branch of a real remedy. It would be so many millions brought in diminution of taxes. Perhaps it might serve to do away the tax on soap and candles. This would be real relief to the country. The miserable expedient of lowering rents can answer no good purpose. What the tenant does not pay, the landlord cannot have. Of course his means are diminished ; so that what is gained on the one hand is lost on the other. And yet, the tenants cannot pay their present rents. At any rate, the present taxes cannot be paid.
The yeomanry cavalry, with great numbers of whom I have the happiness to be acquainted, entertain a notion, not that the funds must be swept away, but, that the interest of the Debt must be louered. But,
the fungholders say no. No, no! If 'Squire Clip-acre cannot hold his estate and pay his debts and taxes, let him sell it
, like an honest man, and get clear of all his plagues by the Insolvent Act. We'll warrant you, that some of us will buy it, and carry it on in his stead. "The transfer," say they, "of forty millions' worth of landed property would be wonderfully beneficial to the nation.” Really, Sir, they appear to be wholly destitute of the bowels of compassion. To hear them talk, one's heart bleeds for the ancient and venerable families whom they now threaten to send to the parish. And, yet, as you well know, the fundholders really have furnished the means of carrying on this war to its present glorious end. I do not know what is to be said in answer to them. Some years ago, when I proposed the application of a sponge, the yeomanry cavalry were ready to knock me on the head. Then they wanied to borrow more money.
Then their wheat was 20s. a bushel. But, now, when the war is over, they begin to talk of a sponge, especially as their wheat is worth only 6 or 7 shillings a bushel.
In concluding this long and desultory Letter, I will just mention to you, that I have received an humble petition from Farmers Gripeum, Graspall, Cheatum, and others, with a request that I would forward it to the Old Lady in Threadneedle-street. I shall not comply with their request; but, I will, at a convenient season, forward it to you.— I remain, in the meanwhile, your most humble and most obedient servant,
CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER.
(Political Register, December, 1815.)
REDUCTION OF PROPERTY-TAX.
Botley, Dec. 6, 1815. Sir,
That something must be done" is a point, on which we are all agreed. But, in my last Letter, I ventured to assure you that no little peddling measure, such as the taking off the tenant's Property-tax, or his Assessed Taxes, or both, would answer any purpose. What was my surprise, then, when I saw in the Courier of yesterday, a paragraph purporting, that the assessments of the Property-tax for the present year are to be reduced, as a relief to the farmers ! But, if you have no objection, I will, before I proceed any further, insert this paragraph in my Letter. It runs thus :
The Lords Commissioners of the Treasury have directed printed in“ structions to be issued from the principal office for the affairs of taxes, " to the district commissioners for the general purposes of the Property“ tax Act, authorizing them under certain conditions, to reduce the as
“ sessments under schedules A and B, in proportion to the reductions “ bona fide made in the rents of the current year, in consequence of the “ depreciation in the value of agricultural produce. Special meetings " of the said Commissioners will be generally held in their respective “ districts, for the purpose of carrying this measure into effect, and due “notice will be given on the church-doors of the days and places of such “ meetings, as is usual respecting appeals in the affairs of taxes."
This appears to me to be a very extraordinary paragraph. In the first place, I am puzzled to know how the Lords of the Treasury came by the authority to reduce the amount of any man's taxes. I have looked into the Act of Parliament, and I can find no clause that gives them any such power. If they can reduce one man's taxes, they can, I should think, reduce another man's taxes; and if they can reduce, why should they not augment ? If they can do all this, why should the Parliament meet at all ? For, if taxes can be levied, or taken off, by the Lords of the Treasury, the Houses really appear to meet for very little purpose. However, this is, now-a-days, to be considered of little consequence, when compared with the sort of reduction that this paragraph tells us is about to take place.
The assessments are made for this year. We have all had notice of what we have to pay, or, rather, of the amount of what will be demanded; for, as to paying, that, in many cases, is wholly out of the question. The charge being made, and the bills sent in, we expected either to pay in full, or, to pay poundage, like other bankrupts. But now, it seems, some of us are to have our bills shortened, “ in consequence of the depreciation in the value of agricultural produce.” I say, some of us; for, it seems, that it is only some of us, who are to be thus favoured ; and that, 100, that part of us, who have the least reason to receive that favour. For, it is only in cases where rents have been reduced this year, that the taxes are to be reduced. Can anything be more unreasonable, more unjust, than such a principle of reduction ?
Let us suppose a case : Farmer Gripeum has a landlord, whose kindness exceeds his understanding, and who reduces Gripeum's rent from 200!. a year to 1001. a year. Farmer Polecat’s landlord sees the matter in a different light, and though his farm is of precisely the same value as that of Gripeum, and the rent is exactly the same, he has had to pay the full 2001, in rent. Now, pray, Sir, upon what principle of equity is it, that Gripeum's tax is to be reduced one-half, and that poor Polecat is to ex. perience no reduction at all ? If the tax were to be reduced in cases where the rent has not been diminished, there would appear to be some ground for the distinction ; but, as the intention is represented in this paragraph, it is absurd as well as unjust. But, where is this thing, if once attempted ; if once entered on ;
if once begun; where is it to end? How many cases of appeal and conplaint must be made! How various are the cases ! What a turmoil throughout the country! What confusion ! Take care, Sir: you are now touching the very spinal marrow, if it be really true, that such instructions have been issued. Suppose a farmer to hold a farm upon an old and low lease ; but that the Taxers have made him pay the same as if liis lease was of late date and high, and have made him pay the landlord's also upon this additional value, it being impossible to make the landlord pay for more than the real rent? Will you not reduce this farmer's tax ? You cannot, according to the rule laid down in the above paragraph; but, would not this be monstrously unjust? Then again, in case of the man who occupies his own land. His rent cannot have been reduced, because he has no rent to pay; but has not the value of his produce sunk as well as that of the produce of the renters ? And will you compel him to pay plump up to the old mark, though the ground of the reduction applies to him as well as to any other man ? The cases are of infinite variety; and, who is to decide upon them? What a scene is now approaching us! Decisions necessarily at discretion, with all the prejudices and all the pas. sions of men mixing themselves, and necessarily mixing themselves, in every discussior and deliberation !
Besides, if the reduction is to be confined to the tax on lands, the rents of wbich have been reduced, what is to be done in the case of lands where the tenants have paid no rents, and have been unable to pay any ? Are these tenants, who are no longer in their farms, and have no money to pay the landlord, to pay the tax in full; or is the landlord, who has received no rent, or whose farm has been quitted from want of means in the tenant, to pay the full tax for both ? Again, many farms have been without tenants the whole or the half the year, and, of course, there has been no reduction of rent. Is the landlord, who has since been in possession, to pay, in these cases, the tax in full, according to the last assessment? Is he, because he has been able to obtain no tenant, to pay the full amount of the tax, while those who have had tenants at a reduced rent are to pay only a part of the tax ? Verily, if this be true, the end is, in good earnest, fast approaching.
But, why reduce the Property-tax on the land only ? Since the assessments were made for this year, have not the people in trade suffered ? Are they not to be considered ? And Debts and Mortgages, are they not to be reduced ? Are they to retain their nominal amount; and are placemen and pensioners and all expenses to continue at their present rate ? If you begin, Sir, you cannot stop. You must go on straightforward, or all will inevitably tumble to pieces. You have now got hold of a thing that you do not know how to handle. As long as there was nothing to do but io make and issue paper, the concern throve exceedingly. Croakers talked about the ruinous Debt ; but the farmers and landlords found that they had plenty of money, and they left the debt for posterity to pay, as they thought. They never imagined, that an attempt would be made to make them pay it, or any part of it. They never imagined that, while the taxes were 70 millions a year, their wheat would sell at six shillings a bushel.
The reduction of the Property-Tax, supposing it to extend to all lanıls, is nothing. It will not save one single farmer one single day from jail. It has been stated in all reports of the evidence, taken before the Houses of Parliament, that the farmer, with the present taxes, cannot live, if wheat be less than 80s. a quarter, barley than 40s., oats than 30s. Wheat is now at 55s., barley at 28s., oats at 24$. A quarter of each put together at the former price make 150s., and at the present price, 107s. Now, suppose a farmer to grow 100 quarters of each, he sells for 2151. less than a LIVING price. What, then, signifies your taking 101. or !51, off in the article of Property-tax ? It is like throwing out a bundle of hammocks to lighten a sinking ship.
In the country, it is thought pretty generally, that the taxes will be paid this year; but, that this year will be the last. This is a wrong no. tion. The taxes will fail by degrees. Pretty fast, I allow; but all branches