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Financial History of England.



ART. II.Doubleday's Financial History of England.

UNDER this title we have a series of letters, or pamphlets, describing the origin and growth of our public debt-our condition under its burdens—and the prospect in store for our creditors. Although the work is dignified with the title of a “ History,” Mr. Doubleday's claim to be considered an historian is yet to be established ;—for, acknowledging the clearness of his language, the originality of some of his views, and the industry with which he has illustrated the period embraced in his short account, it is to be regretted that his observations should have been character: ized by unseemly and unjust vituperations on the greater part of the public men who have borne sway in this country since the Revolution, and by the attempt to propagate mischievous errors-views in slıort, which, if adopted by his pupils and their contemporaries, the rising youth of England (for whose instruction he tells us that they are intended), would surely destroy the commercial honour, and, through it, the existence of Great Britain.

There has been from the commencement something untoward in the conduct of our financial operations. The most serious demands upon our energies—the struggles in which it was incumbent upon us to put forth the greatest efforts of strength in money, in arms by sea or by land—have been at those periods in which credit was lowest, money in fewer hands, and its holders therefore in a condition to dictate to Parliament the most onerous terms.

The greater part of the four hundred millions with which the war of the French Revolution may be debited, was borrowed in a depreciated currency; while receiving £60 or £70 in paper, we bound ourselves to pay £100, without stipulating that the lender should be reimbursed either in the same worthless material, or upon any equitable system of equivalents. The return to cash payments consequent upon Mr. Peel's Act of 1819, gave to the then holder of public securities an undue advantage, at the expense of nearly every other class in the country.

The account of the transactions under which our national debt has grown upon us, dates mainly from the Revolution of 1688. The new and insecure Government of the Prince of Orange, and the strength of the Tory party, rendered it impossible to maintain the new order of things without a heavier outlay, and corresponding taxation ; and, in spite of the Land-Tax of 1692, (equal to and which was in fact an Income and Property Tax of 20 per cent.) it was requisite to liave recourse to a loan. Mr. VOL. VII. NO, XIV,



Doubleday's prejudices and feelings in reference to this period, have been so far" allowed to warp his judgment as to hurry him into the unworthy assertion (whilst he sneers at the patriotism of the Russells and the Cavendishes,) that a main cause of the Revolution was the sordid desire, on the part of some of our greatest English nobles, to secure their ecclesiastical possessions from resumption by a Catholic Government and Priesthood, had James continued to reign in this country. Of such a design on the part of James II. there is no evidence; still less of any apprehension on the part of the holders of that property, that the king, had he been ever so desirous, could have caused them any disturbance in their enjoyment of it. More than a hundred and thirty years before that, his predecessor, Mary, had wished to restore to the Monasteries, and other ecclesiastical foundations, the estates of which they had been deprived. Although it was but eighteen years after Henry VIII.'s first Act, and though many of the original beneficiaries were then alive, and exciting sympathy by their misfortunes and faith in what was believed to be the superiority of their creed, the Queen was unable to carry her point. She restored, indeed, to the Catholic Church what remained in the hands of the Crown ungranted to private individuals; but with this she was forced to be content. Yet we are to be told that a hundred and thirty years after this project had been given up as hopeless by a most bigoted princess, and in an almost Catholic country, such a monarch as James II. could have alarmed his nobles into a deposition of him, from a suspicion that he may have had similar intentions. The period of the Revolution is not one which displays the best picture of the public virtue of the country; but the writer should have reflected, that it was by the relations, the friends, and the allies of that Sydney and that Russell, who sealed with their blood their devotion to our liberties, that arbitrary power was finally banished from England by the Revolution of 1688.

But this arbitrary period of the Stuarts finds strange favour in his eyes. Under the two last princes of that House, England, he says, though not honoured, was comfortable and prosperous. Their government, he contends, though oppressive towards the nobles, did not press with harshness on the great bulk of the people. In support of this view, the reader is told of the moderate amount of taxation under Charles II. and James II. While the Long Parliament averaged an income of from £4,385,000 to £4,860,000, Charles II. received only £1,800,000, and James, in the year he abdicated, a trifle over £2,000,000. He then sums up the instances of the prosperous state of the country

“ The interest of money was six or even eight per cent. in ordinary cases, the profits of trade werecommensurate with this high rate of interest



Period of the Stuarts.

339 for money.

No one, therefore, who saw tradesmen making these great returns, which all traffic then afforded, would give a heavy rental for land. Lands consequently were let low, and on long leases, the competition for farms being moderate.”

Some of Mr. Doubleday's readers will probably doubt the extreme prosperity of a country where interest is at six and eight per cent., and the profits (and, perhaps, we should interpolate for him, the risks) of trade in proportion. They may opine that for the few fortunate owners of capital, and for the tradesmen exempt from all competition, there may have been great and undue gains, at the expense and to the detriment of the mass of the inhabitants.

Another source of satisfactory contemplation is the state of the poor. “Rates," continues he, “ distributed liberally, if not profusely, came to £160,000, only oth of the revenue." possibly, with no debt, little naval or military force, whatever we spent on the poor might wear a totally different aspect, when compared with the revenue and expenditure of the present day. To judge correctly, however, of the relative burden of pauperism at any period, it should be ascertained with what proportion of food the population of a country has to tax itself, for the support of those of its members who cannot maintain themselves at either period.

During the four years of King James's reign, wheat, on an average, cost 31s. 7d. per quarter. £160,000, therefore, expended in poor rates, were equal to 101,320 quarters, or 810,560 bushels ; and assuming the population at that period at from 4,500,000 to 5,000,000, the amount of relief to the indigent required a contribution from every individual in the State of from {th to įth of a bushel.

The poor rate now may be taken at £5,000,000, and with wheat at 60s., will amount to about one bushel per head, or six or seven times as much per head, on our present population, (in spite of Mr. Doubleday's “ atrocious Poor Law,") as the “ liberal if not profuse administration” in the Stuart period.

It is difficult to believe that this gentleman has properly examined the social condition of the lower classes of this country before making such loose statements. From 1660 to 1720, says Malthus, the average price of corn enabled a labourer to purchase two-thirds of a peck of wheat per diem with his daily wagesfrom 1720 to 1750 they were equal to a peck a day. Arthur Young considers that for the whole of the 17th century, wheat averaged 38s. 2d., and that from 1700 to 1766 it was 32s. 1d.; that is, it declined 16 per cent., while labour, which on the average had been 10 d. per diem through the 17th century, was for the 66 first years of the 18th-1s., or a rise of 16 per cent.,—to which we will add the general testimony of Mr.

Hallam, that "the reign of Geo. II. was on the whole the most prosperous period that England had ever experienced.” In 1668 (i. e. in Mr. D.'s happy times), Gregory King computed the ordinary revenue of labourers and out-servants at £15 per annum for a family of 3) persons, their weekly expenditure at 20d. per head-here is an income of £15 to meet an expenditure then of £17, 15s. Chief Justice Hale seems to have reckoned the expense of a labourer's family, consisting of a father, mother,

a and four children, of whom two could work a little, and the other two not at all, at 10s. per week, or £26 per annum. If we assume 8s. per week as their income from earnings, we have but £20, 16s. From 1655 to 1680, the period with which the Chief Justice was familiar, the average price of wheat was from two guineas to 45s. the quarter.

It will be clear, from these authorities, that Mr. D., in his anxiety to render yet more an object of envy to his fellow debtors of this century, the golden age of prerogative and plague, has assumed for it a degree of comfort and prosperity wholly at variance with historical facts. There is also an infatuation similar to that which characterized his theory of population, in asserting that this island was far more numerously peopled in former times than under the Tudors and the Stuarts. They seem to have lived, in his view, mostly on animal food; the Reformation farming was in fact grazing.” If so, these graziers and their herdsmen must have been, we grieve to think, but indifferent Catholics, not quite worthy of the advantages that surrounded them :

:-we own we should have thought the effect of the Reformation, involving the abolition of Lenten days, would have inverted the relative consumption, and have caused less corn and more meat to be consumed than before.

These praises, however, enable him with better grace to denounce the present order of things. Our condition is become so intolerable, that he gravely proposes the disregard of obligations contracted and imposed by the Legislature, to pass a sponge over the whole national debt, as Cobbett, of whom he is an admirer, did a quarter of a century back. Whether we will or not, this proceeding, we are told, is inevitable; only for convenience sake it might, he thinks, be hastened. He cannot forgive Sir Robert Peel for the share he had in the Act of 1819. The hardship and injustice which it inflicted fell, as he states, in the first instance, and with the greatest severity, upon mortgagers and incumbrancers, but all other classes of our tax-paying countrymen were in effect mulcted, by the undesigned or unforeseen operation of this Act, of £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 annually. By it they were decreed to pay in gold the interest of all that part of the debt borrowed in the war time in a


up to

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depreciated currency, and which interest, nominally above £12,000,000, was really worth only eight or nine millions until the Act of 1819 added to all obligations of this sort a burden of 20 to 25 per cent., by converting a paper promise into a golden liability.

“ The distress, ruin, and bankruptcy which now took place were universal, affecting both the great interests of land and trade; but among the landlords whose estates were burdened with mortgages, fortunes, settlements, legacies, &c., the effects were most marked and out of the ordinary course. In hundreds of cases, from the tremendous reduction in the price of land which now took place, the estates barely sold for as much as would pay off their mortgages, and hence the owners were stripped of all, and made beggars."

In one case given, a gentleman purchases an estate for £80,000, about 1812 or 1813--one moiety of the purchase being borrowed on mortgage of the land so bought.

“ In 1823 he was compelled to part with the estate, in order to pay off his mortgage and some arrears of interest, and when this was done, he was left without a shilling—the estate bringing only half its cost in 1812.” In another

case, about 1812, a father and son had invested in an estate in a midland county the sum of £72,000; shortly after they agreed to lay out an equal sum on another estate in the same quarter. In the interval between the contract for the purchase (1812) and the execution of the conveyance (in 1819), the parties, who were in trade, and who had experienced heavy losses, could not complete the purchase, which, with some arrears of unpaid interest, amounted to £71,957 ; they therefore gave the vender (in addition to £18,555 which he had already received in part payment) a mortgage deed for £65,000 secured on both of the estates. In 1821 the purchasers became bankrupts these two estates were then put up for sale, but would not together bring the sum for which they were mortgaged, and the vender of the second, now become the mortgagee of both, gave notice to foreclose. And this sad tale was that of many, whatever may have been the mismanagement or indiscretion of the parties thus speculating in land and trade also ; yet the depreciation of the land in each case to half its value in less than a dozen years, is undeniable. It resulted from the lottery in which the nation had been engaged—not from any particular criminality on the part of the Government. An excess of speculation had pervaded all orders of men in the country. We had been the sole traders, the sole carriers and manufacturers; and it was not surprising that speculations in land should have partaken of the general artificial rise, and should afterwards have reached their natural level by a rapid and ruinous descent.

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