Page:History of England (Macaulay) Vol 4.djvu/391

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

made in 1692 has remained unaltered down to our own time. According to that valuation, one shilling in the pound on the rental of the kingdom amounted, in round numbers, to half a million. During a hundred and six years, a land tax bill was annually presented to Parliament, and was annually passed, though not always without murmurs from the country gentlemen. The rate was, in time of war, four shillings in the pound. In time of peace, before the reign of George the Third, only two or three shillings were usually granted; and, during a short part of the prudent and gentle administration of Walpole, the government asked for only one shilling. But, after the disastrous year in which England drew the sword against her American colonies, the rate was never less than four shillings. At length, in the year 1798, the Parliament relieved itself from the trouble of passing a new Act every spring. The land tax, at four shillings in the pound, was made permanent; and those who were subject to it were permitted to redeem it. A great part has been redeemed; and at present little more than a fiftieth of the ordinary revenue required in time of peace is raised by that impost which was once regarded as the most productive of all the resources of the State.[365]

The land tax was fixed, for the year 1693, at four shillings in the pound, and consequently brought about two millions into the Treasury. That sum, small as it may seem to a generation which has expended a hundred and twenty millions in twelve months, was such as had never before been raised here in one year by direct taxation. It seemed immense both to Englishmen and to foreigners. Lewis, who found it almost impossible to wring by cruel exactions from the beggared peasantry of France the means of supporting the greatest army and the most gorgeous court that had existed in Europe since the downfall of the Roman empire, broke out, it is said, into an exclamation of angry surprise when he learned that the Commons of England had, from dread and hatred of his power, unanimously determined to lay on themselves, in a year of scarcity and of