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SPEECH ON THE INCOME TAX, APRIL 8, 1812.
Ir for the sustainment of the honour and the interests of England and income tax were required, I make no doubt that the people of this country would at once submit to it, and follow with promptitude, the example which our gracious Sovereign has spontaneously and magnanimously given; but of this generous exampie, the minister should be slow to take advantage, and should avoid with peculiar care, any exaggeratei description of the perils or of the embarrassments of the country, in order to produce an acquiesence in a tax of all others the most convenient to the minister, but the most harassing and vexatious to the people. Does the condition of England, does the state of her finances, do existing difficulties, do impending perils, make the imposition of a tax so odious, matter of inevitable need? That question will be put ere many months shall have passed, by that portion of the community in which political power is deposited, and upon the answer to that question, the stability of the government will depend, when the merits of the minister shall be tried by some better test than the acclamations of heated partisans, and shall be determined by the results to which his legislation will conduct
The right honourable baronet has little to apprehend, during the passage of his bill through the parliament. lle told us, that he was ready to take the course which he had adopted in 1935. But I cannot help thinking that his magnanimity is misplaced ; his public virtue will 110t be put to a trial so severe. Although it may seem paradoxical to say so, his difficulties will be the result of his success, and his will be one of those victories, which it requires less ability to win than to follow ur. When the income tax shall have been in actual operation—when a theory in the parliament shall have become a burden upon the people when schedule D shall have been made fearfully intelligible--when this tax shall have been charged, to use a plırase familiar in debates on the Irish Registration Bill, upon the “ beneficial interest” which a man has in all his earnings, and no allowance shall have been made as against this impost, for food, for fire, for raiment, for the roof over an English tradesman’s head—when the privacy of so many Englislımen shall have been invaded by the inquisitors, who are to be attached to your new fiscal tribunal—when a scrutiny shall have been instituted into the affairs of every man, whom your commissioners, original, additional, or special, shall conjecture to have gained £150 in a single year-when all the pain and all the humiliation incidental to this tax shall bave been felt, ihen, I feel persuaded that the people of this country will inquire wheiher this tax would not have been avoided, or whether the right honourable baronet did not take advantage of a majority, hot from the struggle of recent election, to inflict a tax, for which neither the present condition, nor the future prospects of England, afforded a justification. I have little doubt, that the people of England will think that the right porozrable baronet was mistaken in his view of the public embarrasse
inents, that he over-rated the exigencies of the hour, and that for the imposition of a tax so unjust, so inquisitorial and so immoral, he should have forfeited the confidence of the country. It is alleged by the right bonourable baronet, that an income tax is indispensable for the purpose of repairing a two-fold deficiency—that which already exists, and that which a great commercial experiment will involve. To create an additional deficiency in order to repair it by an income tax, to inflict a new ground in order to apply a favourite cure, is more than tentative, and if my right honourable friend, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, had made a proposition like this, he would have been regarded as an empiric of the most adventurous kind. But it is the good fortune of the right honourable baronet, that his supporters entertain in his regard that sort of confidence, which Waller has happily described in his celebrated address to a great projector:
“ Still as you rise, the state, exalted too,
Feels no disorder, when 'tis changed by you." I am one of those, however, who do not think that the experiment of the right honourable baronet is of such value, that for the sake of indulging him in it, the country should submit to the calamity of an income tax. The tariff, by which the deficiency of £1,200,000 is to be at once created, is not such a masterpiece, as to induce us to acquiesce in such an imposition as he declares to be necessary for his great undertaking; He begins by sacrificing £600,000 of the timber duties. Why should he abolish the duties on Canadian timber? Sir Henry Parnell, whose authority he quotes, and for whom he entertains great respect, ever since his celebrated motion on the civil-list in 1830, does not suggest that the duties on Canadian timber should be given up. Mr. M Gregor, the Secretary to the Board of Trade, a man of great talent, knowledge, and experience, whose evidence was so important before the Import Duty Committee; who resided a considerable time in Canada, and who has written a valuable work on the subject, does not recommend that the duty on Canadian timber should be wholly relinquished, but that it should be reduced from 10s. to 7s. 6d. It is known to everybody that there is a species of Canadian timber, which we cannot dispense with, yellow pine for exampie, which is employed for a variety of purposes, to which Baltic timber is not applicable. It must come into this country, and to relinquish the revenue that would be derived from it, is a most imprudent proceeding. The course adopted with regard to the sugar duties is most censurable. When the enormous sum of £20,000,000 was given to the West-India planters, there was no stipulation that their monopoly should be preserved, and accordingly the duties on East-India and West-India sugar were soon after equalized. The duties on EastIndia and West-India rum were recently placed on a level. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the champion of the West-India interest, expostulated in vain. His eloquence appears to be more influential ini the cabinet, than it was last year in the House of Commons. As long as there existed an inequality of duty in East-India and West-Indis produce, the East and West-Indians were strong antagonists; but the duties having been equalized, they formed a junction i;i trey:slr nf mono
poly; the government here entired into their view), and hara consulieri their interests at the expense of the whole British community. The Import Duties Committee entered into a very minute and most impor. tant consideration of the effects that would follow from a reduction of the duties on foreign sugar. Those duties are enormous; they amount 1o the sum of 638. per cwt., while
the duty on colonial sugar is only 24.. It was proved before the Import Duty Committee, by witnesses, whose judgment is unimpeachable, that as the reduction of the duty on coffee produced a great increase of consumption and of revenue, the reduction of the duty on sugar would have the same effect ; that to cheapen ono of the necessaries of life would be of essential utility to the humbler classes ; that sugar would be employed in variu us ways in which ou account of its cost, it is not now used ; that our commercial relation with the Brazils would be most advantageously extended and confirmed; and that the demand for our manufactures would be considerably increased, and that an impulse would be given to the operative industry of the country. . Mr. M'Gregor stated, that the revenue might be increased by so large a sum as £3,000,000, by a judicious alteration of the sugar duties. To that alteration the right honourable baronet prefers an income tax; and, among other objections to a change in the sugar duties, informs us that he does not desire to give an impulse to slave abour. Yet, by a strange contradiction, he reduces the duty on foreign coffee, the produce of slave labour, and he permits Brazilian and Cuba sugar to be retined in England, and to be exported for consumption is those very colonies in which slavery has been suppressed. His tariff is in these particulars most essentially imperfect. In the case of such a tariff, the evils of an income tax ought not to be inflicted, and if any substantial argument can be adduced in favour of so odious a measure, t is in the existing deficiency that we must endeavour to discover it. That a deficiency exists must be admitted and deplored, but those who are disposed to pronounce an unmeasured censure upon the Whig government, as the occasion of that deficiency, ought to bear in mind, that from 1830 to 1836, the Whigs reduced taxes to the amount of £6,000,000), and that notwithstanding that great reduction, there was a surplus of revenue in that time of upwards of £6,000,000, so that no actual augmentation of the national debt has taken place under the Whig ministry. It was imagined, that the Tories had reduced the taxes to such, an extent, before the accession of the Whigs, that no opportunity would be afforded to their successors of diminishing the public burdens. I am very far from denying that the Tories deserve great praise for having, independently of the income tax, abolished seventeen or eighteen mil. lions of other taxes, but it seems extraordinary that when his predeces sors began by repealing the income tax, and then proceeded to remit other taxes to a vast amount, the right honourable baronet should invert the order of proceeding, and as if the income tax were of all taxes tho lesst onerous, the most popular and the most just, he should make it tha object of predilection, and select it as the basis of liis whole system cf Tunce. What is the history of this income tax, which the right honour. tible baronet prefers to every other impost? It wils proposed by Mr.
Pitt, in whose gigantic footsteps the right honourable baronet, so far as taxation is concerned, seems disposed to tread, in the midst of a great emergency. The rights, liberties, institutions of England—the existence, the life of England, were at stake. But Mr. Pitt did not, in enforcing the necessity of having recourse to an income tax, deliver a speech so elaborate as the right honourable gentleman to the patriotism ci Englishmen, he did not address any enthusiastic adjunction No wonder the funds at fifty-two, the mutiny at the Nore, a rebellion in Ireland, disaster abroad, treason at home, the armies of the French republic everywhere victorious—these topics did not require any eloquence to set them off. Accordingly the income tax was adopted in 1798 without a dissentient voice, but four years after, as soon as the peace of Amiens had been concluded, Mr. Addington went down to the House of Commons, and declared that, as the income tax was a war tax, and ought to be reserved for the greatest emergencies, it gave him the utmost satisfaction to be able to announce that it should be forthwith repealed. But Sir Francis Burdett was not contented with this intimition, for on the 12th April in the same year, he said, that he was not satisfied that that tax should merely be repealed, but that some declara:ion should be placed on the records of parliament with respect to it, that should ever afterwards stigmatise it as an infamous nieasure. The honourable baronet added,
6. The income tax has created an inquisitorial power of the most partial, offensive, and cruel nature. The whole transactions of a life may be inquired into, family affairs laid open, and an Englishman, like : culprit, summoned to attend commissioners, compelled to wait like i lacquey in their anti-chamber from day to day until they are reac; institute their inquisition into his property ; put to his oath, after aii perhaps disbelieved, surcharged, and sigmatised is pe jured, without any redress from, or appeal to a jury of his country. And it is worth remarking, too, that a little before the introduction of this unprincipled scheme of plunder, the law of perjury was altered, and the punishment made transportation to Botany Bay. Sir, the repeal of this tax is not 8 sufficient remedy for its infamy; its principle must be stigmatised and branded.”
I do not quote this language because I attach any particular value to the opinions of the honourable baronet, but because this language is expressive of the public sentiment in 1802, of which at that time the honourable baronet was a vindicator. Hostilities having been recommenced, it becaine necessary to resort again to this calamitous impost. Disaster followed upon disaster, and in 1806, when in the battle of Austerlitz, Austria had been struck down, when Prussia and Russia had been humbled to the dust, when to the progress of the great conqueror no obstacle seemed to be interposed.— let the condition of England in 1806 and in 1842 be compared—it became necessary to exact the income tax with still greater rigour, and what machinery was framed which the right honourable baronet has selected as his model. The right honour. abie baronet has adverted to some of the provisions in the bili iutroduced
lvy Lord IIenry Petty, but he omitted any reference to the concluding, and, in my mind, conclusive clause :-
“And be it further enacted, that this act shall commence and take effect from and after the 5th day of April, 1806, and together with the duties therein contained, shall continue in force during the present war, and until the 6th day of April next after the ratification of a definitive treaty of peace, and no longer.”
During ten years England had ample experience of the fearful evils of this most obnoxious impost-of those evils the right honourable baronet spoke somewhat lightly ; and such language was employed in reference to this tax, that it seems sufliciently clear that if once the blister is applied it will become perpetual, and the more it draws the more closely it will adhere. We have been told that there is no tax, indeed which is not attended with inconvenience ; that no fair man can reasonabiy object to a disclosure of his circumstances, and that the people o. this country are too moral to yield to the pernicious influences with which it is supposed that an income tax will be attended. With such showy plausibilities is the medicament, the bitter medicament, gilded by the adroit experimentalist by whom it is compounded. The impressions connected with the income tax are not so vivid as they were twentysix years ago ; but there remains on record, and set forth in the history of parliament, sufficient evidence to prove with what feelings of deep loathing the income tax was regarded by the great mass of the English people. Is it mere imagination to suggest that this tax is unjust, inquisitorial, and immoral? Did it not, while in operation, teem with evil? Was it not fertile of falsehood and of fraud ? Was not the scrutiny which is inseparable from it an object of execration, and through the length and breadth of the land was not a cry raised for its repeal, as if it were one of the greatest calamities which could be inflicted on the country? Are the statements set forth in the remarkable petition of the bankers, merchants, and traders of London, in 1816, against this tax, mere invention ? That petition was presented by Sir William Curtis, a man devoted to the Tory party, but who denounced the income tax, and said that it was a monstrous breach of faith to continue it after the war had ceased. Sir James Shaw stated that he had attended the meeting, at which 22,000 of the citizens of London had assembled, and that the income tax had been unanimously reprobated. Mr. Baring, the greatest merchant in the greatest mercantile country in the world (you have lately given evidence of your reliance on his judgment and his sagacity), concurred in the unqualified condemnation of the income
Mr. Wilberforce, who had the morals of England so much at heart, pronounced a strong censure on this baneful impost. But in reading the speeches delivered in 1816, against the income tax, I was not struck by any one of them more than by that of a man well acquainte! with the interests of all classes of Englishmen, and to whom the right nonourable baronet must look back with a feeling of affectionate veneration-I allude to the late Sir Robert Peel. He said that it was uiteriy bsurd to imagine that the income tax, which pressed upon the middle