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PASSAGES FROM THE GREAT FRENCH REvOLUTION.
ARISTOCRATIC POWER CRUSHED THE PEOPLE—CURTAILED THEIR SUBSISTENCE AND DROVE THEM INTO FURY—INFATUATION IS APT TO SEIZE UPON ARISTOCRATIC BODIES—ANALOGIES BETWEEN THE OLD FRENCH AND THE PRESENT BRITISH ARISTOCRACIES.
It is affirmed that the control of the subsistence of a people, constitutes power, in the hands of a governing party, whether a monarch or an aristocracy. As there is an analogy between the ancient Roman character and history, and the British of modern ages, a good deal of detail has been given, in illustration of the circumstances of the two nations. Coming down within the memory of the present generation, we have the example of the French nation for the use and instruction of the British people. But from the freshness of the dates and the evidence of the incidents, it will not be necessary to do more than allude to a few striking parallels.
It is a matter of historical notoriety, that excessive taxation, the unequal pressure of the load, the insolence of the privileged classes of society, the consequent derangement of the finances, and the vacillation and irresolution of the government, led to those excesses and outbreaks of the French population, that ended in one of the most terrible revolutions, involving every nation of Europe in its vortex, which ever convulsed the world. In tracing the origin of that great convulsion, much has been attributed to the writings and intrigues of Voltaire, D'Alembert, Diderot, and the other authors of the Encyclopedic But it is impossible to conceive that any men, however able, and however persevering in the exercise of the most powerful talents over the minds of other men, could have produced such results as those witnessed in France at the end of the 18th century, unless there had been existent in society, cruelty and injustice in the governing power, distress and discontentment among the masses of the people, and, above all, worldly pride, immorality, and hypocrisy in the ministers of the public religion. A venal church with its host of monks, friars, and debauched priests, was held up to the ridicule and contempt of mankind; and Christianity itself was assailed, and for a time publicly abolished, in consequence of the abuse of it by a proud and corrupt hierarchy.
As long as the people of a country have the Bible in their own hands, there need be no apprehension of the fall of this church, or the rise of that one, because every man is supposed to be able to exercise his own judgment, under God, on the course to be followed in the establishment of a public form of religion. In this respect there is no similarity in the present case of Great Britain and of France, previous to the revolution of 1789. But, in the state of the fiscal affairs of the two countries at that period and at present, there is enough to excite an anxious interest in the government and people of Great Britain.
Necker, in his celebrated expose on the administration of the finances of France, published several years before the Revolution, had, for his great object, the lightening of the burdens of taxation on the lower classes of the people, by a more equal assessment of the taxes, and by a system of economy both in the collection and in the expenditure of the public money.
Had he accomplished his object of establishing the principles of fair play and justice in the distribution of the public burdens, had he lightened the load of the labouring classes, and transferred to the rich their proper share of the load, all the sophistries of Voltaire, and the intrigues of his associates, would have passed in empty air; and Europe, in all probability, would have been spared the disgrace of being conquered by Napoleon, and saved the trouble afterwards of chaining that extraordinary man to the rock of St. Helena.
Necker wrote like a wise statesman, when he said, "The alterations that may happen in the circumstances of the rich are indifferent to the state, and it is sufficient to subject these variations to the rules of justice and to the empire of the laws; but the diminutions that the moderate incomes of the poor may experience, are so nearly allied to the very sources of their existence, that they interest every one, and demand more especially the attention of the sovereign. . . . The man who by his labour gets no more than what is necessary for the subsistence of himself and his family, is continually exposed to troubles and anxieties; the least diminution of his earnings, or the smallest augmentation of his expenses, affects him in a very sensible manner, and every unfortunate incident that he cannot foresee must lessen those scanty savings that proceed from his labours, and which were intended to supply his wants in the hours of sickness or repose. A minister cannot impress these truths too deeply on his mind."* * Necker's Administration of the Finances of France, vol. i. Introduction. p. Ixxxiv. English Translation, by Thos. Mortimer, 1784.
Those remarks were written at a time, when the relative circumstances of taxation in Great Britain and France were very different It is absolutely necessary for the inhabitants of this country to look matters sternly in the face, when they are informed, that our system of taxation is now the same in principle, and as intolerable to the bulk of the people, as that which existed in France previous to the great Revolution. Necker says: "The burden of the taxes is more especially aggravating, when too great a share of them falls on the poorest classes of the subjects; for a proper direction in the assignment of the taxes, modifies their essence; and we see that, in Great Britain, that part of the taxes to which the poorer sort is liable, is infinitely less considerable than in France." * How altered is the state of the case in the present year, 1842, from what it was in 1782! but there is an addition of £600,000,000 to the national debt since that period, the interest of which is paid from taxes on Food; by which means the veriest beggar is made to contribute his share. It must be impressed on the minds of the individuals in this country, born since 1815, that the war entered into with the French nation, at the beginning of its Revolution, was one of dynasty,—that is to say, the British government fought to replace the Bourbon family on the throne, and to uphold the French aristocracy.
It must however be stated, that the war, after the truce of Amiens in the year 1802, became, on the part of Great Britain, a defensive one, as the Emperor Napoleon avowed his object to be to reduce or ruin the power and influence of this country. But, taking the grand result of the war, we find the original object carried into full effect, by the restoration of the Bourbon heir to the throne of France in • p. 53. Vol. I.
1814; and by the forcible replacement of him by the armies of Great Britain and her allies, after the decisive victory of Waterloo in the following year. The French people, however, recovered their liberty, and, in one week, neutralized all our efforts during a war of a quarter of a century, by dethroning in 1830, the family that has cost the labouring classes of this country so much misery.
The total amount of taxes in France some years previous to the Revolution was in sterling money, £24,375,000.
The expense of collection between 10 and 11 per cent
The number of persons of all kinds employed in the collection was about 250,000.
The total amount of taxes of England and Scotland in 1784, including the cost of collection, poor-rates, and turnpikes, was about £17,800,000.
The total amount of taxes, including the cost of collection, poor-rates, and turnpikes in 1842, was about. £60,000,000.
So much for wars to force a royal family on a foreign nation!
In proportion to the population, the expenditure of France before the Revolution, was at the rate of about £1 sterling a head. In Great Britain, it is now at the rate of about £2 sterling a head. But in France, it was not so much the amount of the gross taxation, as the unequal pressure, and the injustice of the principle, that caused the evil. The fabric of British taxation is so constructed as to rest on the mass of the population, and press them down with a physical and moral weight:—the physical load, is the actual tax that curtails the subsistence of the labouring classes; and the moral weight, is the injustice of charging them with the expense of protecting the property of the