Speech against the bill for laying a tax on Papists
|Speech against the bill for laying a tax on Papists (1723)
|a speech against the introduction of a tax on Roman Catholics. Given to the House of Commons on 6 May 1723.|
The Gentlemen, who have spoke in favour of this Bill, have urg'd 'That since the happy Revolution the Roman-Catholicks have been more or less concerned in every Conspiracy against the Government; so that if they did not shew themselves in the late Conspiracy, it was out of Prudence, and not for want of Zeal for the Pretender's Cause.' They will not allow, that it is liable to the Objection of not being supported with particular Facts, but say, with great Probability, 'That the Roman-Catholicks have made large Contributions here at Home, to send to the Pretender and his Adherents Abroad: And if they are in a Capacity of supplying the Necessities of their Friends Abroad, it is but very reasonable for them to contribute to the defraying an Expence they have, in a great Measure, occasioned at Home.'
Upon this general Way of Reasoning, this Bill for raising a Hundred Thousand Pounds upon the Roman-Catholicks has been form'd; and a general Charge of this Kind may be a sufficient Ground-work for a Preamble to the Bill; but the enacting Part ought to be supported with particular Facts plainly prov'd, otherwise we may involve innocent Persons in a Punishment only due to the Guilty. And though the Legislature hath sometimes gone upon the Notoriety of the Fact, it is to be hop'd, that this Method may be but seldom taken where the Life or Fortune of any Subject is in Question; nothing being more uncertain than Hearsay, Conjecture and forc'd Constructions; which the Law has wisely provided against by ascertaining fix'd Rules to direct the Judgment of the inferior Courts of Justice.
It is likewise given, as a Political Reason for Passing of this Bill, 'That raising this Hundred Thousand Pounds upon the Roman Catholicks will deter the Jacobites Abroad from entering upon such rash Enterprizes, when they find that their Friends here in England are to suffer for the Disturbance they give us: And it will also shew them, that the Nation can put it self in a State of Security without burthening the Subject; which has been one of the chief Views of the Conspirators to add Fewel to the Discontents of the People.' But if none of these Arguments should prevail; if the Notoriety of the Fact does not convince; nay, if the greatest Probability of the Roman-Catholicks sending Money Abroad can meet with no Credit; the Legislature, say they, is highly justify'd in passing this Law for raising an Hundred Thousand Pounds upon the Roman-Catholicks; 'Since by the Laws now in being, as by the Acts of Queen Elizabeth, the First of King George, &c. the Roman-Catholicks are subject to three Times greater Forfeitures than this Tax will amount to: And that the raising of this Hundred Thousand Pounds is a Mitigation of the Severity of the Law; and so far from being reckon'd a Hardship done them, it ought to be consider'd an Indulgence in the Government.'
I have here thrown together some of the Reasons which have been given for passing this Bill; I think those I have mention'd are what seem'd to me to make the greatest Impression upon the House, when this Matter was first debated. These Reasons were likewise enforc'd by a Gentleman, [Mr R. Walpole] whose Opinion is justly esteem'd in all Parliamentary Considerations. I will now mention the Objections, which occur to Me against the passing of this Bill.
In Answer to the general Surmise of the Roman-Catholicks Disaffection to the Government; I can't help observing, That this general Charge neither can nor ought to affect any particular Person, without Proof of some particular Fact alledg'd against him: And it would be the highest Injustice to make one Man suffer for the Crime of another. The Law supposing it incumbent upon every Man to be accountable for his own Actions, doth not require what is not in any Man's Power, to be answerable for another; and I think I may affirm, with great Certainty, that in no one Instance the Laws have adjudged a Penalty upon one Man for the Crime of another: For though in the Case of High-Treason, the Blood being attainted, a Son does not attain the Honours which would have descended to him, if his Father had not been guilty of Treason; yet in that Case a Man does only forfeit a Fee-simple Estate, and the Income of an Estate vested in him during his natural Life: But the highest Crimes and Misdemeanors can't avoid a Settlement, to the Prejudice of an innocent Person.
I the rather insist upon the Unreasonableness of punishing one Man for the Crime of another, to shew the Absurdity of a Maxim which is laid down for a certain Doctrine, 'That because some of the Roman-Catholicks are suspected to have been concern'd in the late Conspiracy, therefore the whole Body of the Roman-Catholicks must equally bear the 'Burden of a Tax, which some of them only are alledg'd to have made necessary.' I would not be thought to be an Advocate for the Roman-Catholicks, any farther than common Justice requires, but I must appeal to every one who has read the Report of the Committee appointed to examine Layer, Whether it appears there that the Roman-Catholicks in general are concern'd in the Conspiracy? Or, whether any Mention is made in the Report of any one RomanCatholick of Consequence, except a Noble Duke, [the Duke of Norfolk] to whom a Letter is suppos'd to be writ, intimating, as if he knew of the Designs carrying on? How unjust then would it be, if the Suspicion of this great Man's being engag'd in traiterous Practices, at the Hazard of his Life and Fortune, should give Occasion to the inflicting the severest Penalties upon many innocent Families, who neither wish nor can hope to better their Fortune by any Revolution of Affairs.
I think, Sir, I have fully answer'd what has been said for passing the Bill, upon the general Head of Disaffection; but one Thing more I will add, That if you impose this Tax upon the Roman-Catholicks, upon a general Allegation, 'That their Religion maintains Principles inconsistent with the Welfare of the Government;' you punish them for the Cause of their Religion. And for my own Part, I look upon Persecution to be a Doctrine odious in it self, highly reflecting upon the Honour of Parliament, and greatly infringing upon the Freedom of the Subject. Nor would I have his Majesty's mild and gracious Reign blemish'd with such a merciless Act of the Legislature, which must necessarily confirm the obstinate in their Errors, and entirely alienate the Affections of the well-dispos'd Roman-Catholicks.
We are likewise told, 'That the raising this Hundred Thousand Pounds upon the Roman-Catholicks is done out of a Political Reason, to deter the Jacobites Abroad from entering upon such rash Enterprizes, by making their Friends here in England pay the Expence which the Nation finds necessary for its own Security.' As this is a Matter meerly of Speculation, and as there is no certain Rule to go by to know what will be the Consequence of raising such a Tax, I will venture to give my Conjectures upon this Head. I do imagine, that as the Pretender's Scheme is unjust in itself, it can be form'd upon no better Hopes than the Discontents of the People; and the more Room there is for Complaint, the better Prospect he has of Success: And if it does happen that these Complaints are well-grounded, as were the Losses the People suffer'd in the South-Sea, then in such like Case, how much Industry is us'd by the Jacobites to aggravate the National Grievances; and to impute every Mischance to the ill Conduct of the Government. I am afraid, if the RomanCatholicks should be thus heavily tax'd; if their peaceable and quiet Behaviour does not intitle them to the common Protection of the Government; nay, if they are more hardly us'd by not having been concern'd than when they were actually engag'd in Rebellion; I say, I am afraid they will embrace any Opportunity to free themselves from such intolerable Burdens, thinking under no Form of Government they can receive worse Treatment.
I shall next consider the Groundwork of this whole Bill, viz. 'The raising one Hundred Thousand Pounds upon the Roman-Catholicks, in lieu of certain Forfeitures they have incurr'd by several Acts of Parliament now in being.' And by stating the Balance betwixt the Roman-Catholicks and the Government, it is pretended, 'That the Sum now demanded of the Roman Catholicks falls far short of what is due to the Government, if all their Forfeitures were rigorously exacted.' I am very ready to grant, that the RomanCatholicks have incurr'd several Forfeitures: But I think the Question at present is, Whether it is necessary at this Time, for the Security of the Government, to take Advantage of those Forfeitures? For if there is not some particular Reason shewn, why you ought to exact them more at this Time than another, you may with equal Justice raise one Hundred Thousand Pounds the next Year upon the Roman-Catholicks; and so on, whenever the Government shall stand in need of such a Fund. But surely 'tis not sufficient to say, because the Roman-Catholicks have incurr'd several Forfeiture, that therefore you will take Advantage of them: For the plain Answer to that is, Why do you do it now? And, Why have you not done it before? It is here necessary to observe, That when the Legislature pass'd this Law, to subject the Roman-Catholicks to the Forfeiture of two Thirds of their Estates, this Law was rather made intentionally to keep the Roman Catholicks in Subjection to the Government, than with any Design of having it put in Execution. For otherwise I dare say, so many Administrations, who are the executive Part of the Law, could never have thus long dispens'd with their Duty.
'If we look back as far as the Reformation, we shall find, that the Roman-Catholicks were never more numerous, never more powerful, than at the Revolution, just upon King James's Abdication. Then all Means had been us'd to propagate Popery; Men of that Persuasion were put into Places of Profit and Trust; the Army was fill'd with Roman-Catholicks, and it was generally thought that the Nation was ripe to take upon them the Drudgery of the Roman Yoke. When King William came to the Crown, he was warmly told of the Dangers of Popery; that as there were severe Laws against the Roman-Catholicks, they ought to be put in Execution: That the Roman-Catholicks held Correspondence, and were carrying on Plots and Contrivances with King James, then in France, who, as he had an undoubted Title to the Crown, was supported by one of the most powerful Princes in Europe. Then the Competition for the Crown was greatly different from the wild and extravagant Pretensions of a Popish Fugitive, fled to Rome for Sanctuary, after having been turn'd out of most of the Courts of Europe. But King William, who was a wise and just Prince, and knew that no Free State could long subsist, but in doing equal and impartial Justice, would not consent to the putting those Laws in Execution against the Roman-Catholicks, which he knew amounted to no less than a Persecution. However, the King, to gratify the Fears of those about him, who were continually possessing him with the Dangers of Popery, order'd an exact Account to be taken of the Conformists, Non-Conformists, and Papists in England, to see what Proportion there was betwixt the Papists and Protestants; and upon an exact Scrutiny, the Account was found to stand thus: One Hundred and Seventy Nine Conformists, viz. those of the Establish'd Church, to one Papist; besides Presbyterians, Quakers, Independents, and all other Protestant Dissenters.
If the Roman-Catholicks were, at the beginning of the Revolution, but a handful of People; if all the Encouragement given to them by King James could not enable them to maintain a King of their own Religion upon the Throne, what have we now to apprehend from them? Since many of them have follow'd the Fate of King James, and several of them have conform'd to the Church of England: So that we may reasonably conclude, that the Number of Roman Catholicks is one Third less than they were when King William came to the Crown. And I beg Leave here to observe a Notion, which has long prevail'd, 'That the Liberties of England can never be in Danger, but by the Roman-Catholicks.' Indeed, one would have imagin'd that Experience would have exploded this Opinion, since there is nothing more certain than if all the Protestants were united, no Power upon Earth could hurt us. The Contest does not lye betwixt the Protestant and Roman-Catholick Religion: Our Divisions are not occasion'd by the Increase of Popery, but it is obvious to every Man unconcern'd in the Dispute, how the Leaders of each Party promote their own mercenary Ends, by possessing their Followers with unnecessary Fears and groundless Jealousies.
I must own, besides the Injustice of passing such a Law, I am mov'd with Compassion to my Fellow-Subjects, whose Condition must be very deplorable, if this Bill should pass into a Law. I would instance in the Case of a Gentleman of a Thousand Pounds per Annum, who pays Five Hundred Pounds per Annum Rent Charge: He must pay double Taxes, which, at present amounting to Four Shillings in the Pound, comes to Two Hundred Pounds a Year, out of his Thousand Pounds a Year: He must likewise pay his Proportion of this Hundred Thousand Pounds, which, at a moderate Computation, will be Five Shillings in the Pound, which is Two Hundred and Fifty Pounds more to be added to the Deduction out of his Estate; What then will a Gentleman of a Thousand Pounds per Annum have to live upon? It is said in Answer to this, That the Roman-Catholicks do not pay more Taxes, in several Places, than the Protestants. But suppose it were true, that they now pay no more than Two Shillings in the Pound, the Case of this Gentleman will be still very much to be lamented; and instead of paying Nine Hundred and Fifty Pounds, he will pay Eight Hundred and Fifty Pounds out of his Estate. I have mention'd this particular Case, to shew the unreasonable Severity of this Tax; but I dare say, many more Instances might be given of the like Nature.
I can't help being a little surpriz'd, that those Gentlemen who are so well acquainted with the Circumstances of our Affairs Abroad, did not consider, before they brought in this Bill upon the Roman-Catholicks, that his Majesty's Allies would certainly interpose in their Behalf: And if upon a Refusal to act the friendly Part, our Protestant Brethren Abroad should be more severely dealt with, we should in vain complain of the Breach of Treaties and of the Laws of the Empire, when we have broke through the common Ties of Humanity.
I know no better Rule of Government, than to punish the Guilty, and protect the innocent; neither the one can complain of hard Usage, tho' he may be pitied, nor will the other wish for a Change of that Government, which defends him from the Oppression of wicked and ill-designing Men. But to punish a Body of People, whom before the Report was made, you suspected to be criminally concern'd in the Conspiracy; and whom, upon Enquiry, you find to be innocent in every particular Suggestion alledg'd against them, I do not take to be the Means of convincing the World of the Impartiality of our Proceedings.
I find great Stress laid upon the Roman-Catholicks sending Money to the Pretender, and his Adherents Abroad; a Fact so confidently affirm'd, that one would expect some better Proof of it than a general Assertion; and yet I have never heard one single Instance given to convince me of the Truth of this Assertion. Considering the great Vigilance of the Ministry, who have been able to discover the most subtle Contrivances in carrying on this Conspiracy, it appears to me very unlikely, if the Roman-Catholicks had made any considerable Remittances Abroad, that they should have escap'd the Notice of the Government. I would fain know how comes this Notion of the Roman-Catholicks sending Money Abroad; and why they are more zealous for the Pretender's Cause, than the rest of the Jacobites? If it is an equal Contribution among the Jacobites, it ought to be an equal Tax upon the Nonjurors and every Man who has paid his Quota, as well as upon the Roman-Catholicks. But to single out one Set of Men from the Herd of the Jacobites; and upon mere Supposition, to inflict the severest Penalties upon them, is an Act no ways agreeable to the just and equitable Proceedings of Parliament. For which Reasons I am against this Bill.
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.