Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/April 1896/Principles of Taxation: In Literature and History VI
By DAVID A. WELLS, LL.D., D. C. L.,
COBKESPONDANT DE L'INSTITUT DE FRANCE, ETC.
II.—THE PLACE OF TAXATION IN LITERATURE AND HISTORY.
TAXATION in the Mediæval Period.—With the termination of the Roman Empire of the West, which is regarded as having taken place a. d. 476, when Odoacer, chief of the Germanic tribe Heruli, captured the city and assumed the title of King of Italy, a new and great element was introduced into European life, through the intermingling of the northern barbarians with the civilized. Christianized, and degraded Romans of the south. The following period, for at least five hundred years, was characterized, to an extent never before surpassed in the world's history, by bloodshed, license, licentiousness, turmoil, robbery, and woe. Franks, Burgundians, Visigoths, Saxons, Slavs, Huns, Danes, and Normans crowded upon and warred with each other. From such a period, when neither the agriculturist nor the artificer could control to any great extent the fruits of his labor, and when the merchant "stole along the hedges, shrank from the eye of the passer, and stepped into rivers cautiously, seeking a ford, lest the man at the bridge should rob him," but little in the way of economic or fiscal principle could be deduced. In short, a new society, the foundation and precursor of what now exists, was in the process of evolution; but in order that evolution might commence, it would seem to have been necessary that all the elements of the old should have been completely dissolved, in order that its atoms might move freely—a condition like that to which the chemist is compelled to bring earthy mineral substances in order to effect their purification and crystallization. 72 2 POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
The period wlien the molecules of society seem to have begun to combine anew, is generally assigned by historians to the eleventh century, when feudalism had become systematized into something analogous to general government, and the power of the Church was especially manifesting itself ; and was recognized to such an extent that it was able to establish throughout nearly all Europe a period known as " God's Truce," when warfare, plunder, and bloodshed were forbidden from sunset on Wednesday to sunrise on Monday ; and " during the Christmas holy days and Lent no new defenses were to be erected, nor old ones repaired. But this was not all. The provisions made for the protection of the laborer and for the produce of labor were far more characteristic of the dawning of a new era. Peasants in hostile territories were not to be injured or confined ; the tools of agriculture, the hay and the grain stacks and the cattle, were all taken under the protection of the Church ; and if seized, it must be for use and not for destruction. He that violated this truce was placed under censure of ecclesiastical power." From this period, therefore, it is only practicable to take up anew the thread of history, and attempt to resume the relation of some of the most instructive incidents that have since characterized the attempts of govern- ments to defray their expenditures by levies upon the persons and property of their subjects or citizens. Preliminary, how- ever, to so doing, the following historical facts may properly find a place.
How THE Druids collected Revenue. An annual payment in the nature of a tax was exacted by the ancient Druids from every family for the benefit of the priests of the temple in the district in which the family lived. The families were obliged, under penalty of an ecclesiastical curse, to extinguish their fires on the last evening of October, and attend at the temple with a prescribed annual payment. This being made, they were entitled to receive, on the first day of November, some of the sacred fire from the altar, to rekindle the fires of their houses; and their neighbors were also forbidden, under a similar penalty, in any way to assist them. The result was, that delinquent taxpayers found themselves not only interdicted from the society of their fellow-men and from justice, the usual sequence of ecclesiastical excommunication, but also from the use of fire during the ap- proaching winter. This expedient for collecting a revenue was referred to by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech in Parliament in 1871, in connection with a proposal to tax matches; and the motto, Ex luce lucellum, was proposed to be inscribed on match boxes in case the tax was enacted.*
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Medieval System of Land Tenure. Among the nations that succeeded to the sovereignty of Rome, the title and owner- ship of land was regarded, as it is to-day in China, and in Eng- land and other European countries, as inhering primarily to the sovereign or chief of the state ; and when partitioned among his nobles or chiefs, was held by them as it was termed on " tenure ; " that is, on condition of performing certain services mainly military, or the payment of a tribute in the nature of rent. These conditions were ratified by oath ; and the chiefs could only sublet, to their serfs or inferiors, on terms consistent with their own tenure.
Large domains were also set apart for the exclusive use of the sovereign* both in his public and private capacity the state and the sovereign being one and the same ; and from the revenues thus accruing, and various fees and feudal incidents, the monarch, or feudal lord, was expected to defray all the expenses of the state, both public and private. Thus, the annual revenue of William the Conqueror is estimated to have been 400,000 ; which, taking into consideration that the pound at that time contained three times the weight of silver that it now does, and that silver had a comparatively great purchasing power, must have been equivalent to at least four or five millions of present money; and of the public expenditures of these ages it is important to note that there were very few that represented the bulk of the expenditures of modern governments.
Thus, for example, education was mainly confined to the clergy and the Church ; and was efficiently supported by the produce of their own estates, or by tithes levied on the estates of others. There were few roads, and the labor of the serfs or peasants for a few days, before or after harvest, sufficed to keep in passable con- dition such as were needed to meet the demands of a very limited intercourse and commerce between different sections of the coun- try. The administration of justice was held to be the perquisite of the lords or chiefs holding their estates direct from the crown, and, in place of being an expense, became through abuse and cor- ruption a source of emolument. The standing army, which more than any one agency has tended to the impoverishment of modern Europe, could hardly be said to have then existed ; the tenants in chief of the crown supporting the sovereign whenever
vast extent, comprising, according to Domesday Book, no less than fourteen hundred and twenty-two manors or lordships, besides farms and lands. It was divided into (1) forest ; (2) land held by rural tenants ; (8) royal cities, burghs, and towns. The first formed the king's hunting ground, and afforded supplies of venison, etc., for the royal table ; the second supplied the king's table in other respects ; the third was mainly the source of con- tributions for the discharge of the king's debts.
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Le took the field with a body of retainers, armed and maintained in a large degree at their own expense. The necessity of taxes in the ordinary sense was, therefore, by these conditions entirely superseded ; and if at any time there was a deficiency of revenue from the crown estates and fees, other sources of revenue were resorted to in preference to anything that could by any possibility be regarded as taxes.
Numerous old-time writers of authority Montesquieu among the number might be cited in support of what was then regarded as an eminently sound principle, that governments ought to be supported from revenues derived from the public domains, and that taxation should be resorted to as rarely as possible ; because, as one of them expressed it, " one enters into civil society to pro- tect one's property, and not to have it taken away from him." It is also interesting to note in this connection the tendency at the present time to go back to this old doctrine, and for states and municipalities to derive their revenues from other sources than taxation as from the granting of franchises for railways, tele- graphs, telephones, gas supply, lotteries, etc., on condition of par- ticipation in profits on gross receipts. Thus, the present net profit on the German state railways is understood to pay the interest on the public debt of Germany. Nearly all the Continental states of Europe derive a considerable portion of their needed revenues from the profits of their domains and forests Prussia to the ex- tent of about $11,000,000 per annum ; France, $5,500,000 ; Hungary, $3,000,000, and the like. The city of Paris derives about twenty per cent of its revenue from participation in the operation of franchises and income from productive property. In Berlin eighteen per cent, of all the municipal expenses are reported as derived from the public gas supply. In Illinois the State expenses are mainly defrayed from the State's share of the annual profits of the Illinois Central Railroad ; and in Louisiana also, the State for- merly and recently has participated in the profits of an authorized State lottery. If the ideas of Mr. Henry George, of a single tax on land, should prevail, and if such a tax does not diffuse itself, then the entire land of the country would in the course of time become the property of the state exclusively ; and the old prin- ciple that a state should be supported from its own landed re- sources and property would be reasserted and established.
The following were some of the sources of revenue, other than what were assumed to be taxes, that were resorted to in medife- val times to make good any deficiency of income which the crown, as representing the state, derived from its special proper- ties and privileges ; and a reference to which is important, by reason of the flood of light they shed upon the concurrent social condition of the masses, and the utter disregard of their rulers
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of anything akin to justice in their administration of govern- ment. One of the most notable of these sources was the Jews, who during the middle ages had no rights of citizenship in Christianized Europe, and were held, in respect to their persons, goods, wives and children, at the absolute disposal of the chief of the state, to be taxed and despoiled by him at his pleasure. This utilization of the Jews as sources of revenue was far more thoroughly and systematically carried out in England than in any other country. " They were, in fact, the private property of the king ; living instruments of his revenue ; carefully protected by his government, unless in cases where exceptional necessity on his part or obstinacy on theirs made it expedient to bear upon them with unusual weight ; * not serfs bound to the soil, but slaves of the highest value, to whom to allow free action in the acquisition of wealth was the needful condition of reaping the fruit of their labor. There is a writ of Henry III in which, in payment of a debt to his brother Richard of Cornwall, he assigns and makes over to him " all my Jews of England." f
William Rufus (William II of England) actually forbade the conversion of a Jew to the Christian faith. " It was a poor ex- change," he said, " that would rid him of a valuable property and give him only a subject."
Under Edward I of England the Jews were plundered and amerced to such an extent that it is estimated that they paid over one tenth of the entire revenue of the crown.
An explanation of the apparently anomalous circumstance that the Jews, although deprived of all civil rights and debarred from following most occupations, were able to be plundered to such an extent, is found in the fact that they were the " royal usurers," and under the king's protection spoliated through extreme usuri- ous interest the Norman barons, who were always in want of money, and were not the men to readily tolerate " benevolences," or any other form of direct taxation for supplying the king with money necessary for the support of the government. So that when the king plundered the Jewish money lenders, he in reality obtained indirectly the money he needed from his barons, with far less odium and more profit than if he had proceeded against them directly.
Very curiously, this mediaeval idea of regarding the Jews as a
��* Such a case of urgent necessity or inexcusable obstinacy must have been assumed as existing by King .Tohn, of whom it is related, that on one occasion he demanded the sura of ten thousand marks (thirty thousand dollars) of a Jew at Bristol, and on his refusal to pay, ordered one of his teeth to be drawn every day until he should comply. The Jew, it is chronicled, lost seven teeth and then paid the sum required of him.
f Oxford Essays. By J. Bridges, Fellow of Oriel.
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permanent, legitimate, and desirable source of revenue for the state, continued to find favor in England as recently as the reign of William and Mary, or in 1689 ; when, money being needed to prosecute the war with France, it was seriously proposed to ex- act, under the semblance of taxation, a hundred thousand pounds from the Jews, and the proposition was at first favorably received by the House of Commons. " The Jews, however, presented a petition to Parliament in which they declared that they could not afford to pay such a sum, and that they would rather leave the kingdom than stay there and be ruined ; and after some discussion the Jew tax was abandoned." For, as Macaulay expresses it, " Enlightened politicians could not but perceive that special tax- ation, laid on a small class which happens to be rich, unpopular, and defenseless, is really confiscation, and must ultimately im- poverish rather than enrich the state." *
It is hardly necessary to point out that ill treatment of the Jews has not been confined to English rulers and people. In every country or state of Christendom they have been subjected to arbitrary, unequal, and unjust exactions, deprived of ordinary political privileges, and driven as homeless wanderers from cities which their presence and their purses had enriched. And that this race antagonism continues to be perpetuated to the present day, is demonstrated by their recent and virtual expulsion from Russia ; and even in the United States (where it might least be expected) by a vulgar and brutal denunciation by a member of the Federal Senate of the chief executive officials of the country, for the assumed reason that they had entered into a fiscal cor- respondence with an Englishman of Jewish descent, whom Eng- land had admitted to a seat in her Parliament, and whose whole life had been characterized by strict integrity, courtesy to all, and large benevolence.
Another extraordinary source of revenue to the crown in feu- dal times, was the forfeiture of lands and estates for offenses ; and of the immense sums thus obtained, some idea may be formed from the circumstance, that up to the time of Elizabeth it has been estimated that nearly all the land in England had at some time fallen to the crown under the law of forfeitures. Other devices for the raising of revenue which were very produc- tive, were fines for the alienation (legal conveyance) of land, which were exacted oftentimes to the extent of one third of their yearly value, whenever the tenant found it necessary to make over his land to another ; and from the sale of titles, which even as late as 1G26, under Charles I, afforded considerable revenues. The right of marriage was subject (at least in the case of nobles
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and gentry) to the consent of the crown; and in some instances large sums were paid for the privilege ; Simon de Montfort pay- ing Henry III a sum, equivalent to five hundred thousand dol- lars at present, for permission to control the marriage of the heir of Gilbert d'Unfrankville. Mr. Dowell, in his History of Tax- ation in England, quotes the following as among one of the "fiscal curiosities" to be found on the Rolls of the Exchequer during the early Norman period : " Ralph Bardolph fines in five marks for leave to rise from his infirmity. The Bishop of Win- chester owes a tonnell of good wine for not reminding the king (John) about a girdle for the Countess of Abunarle ; and Robert de Vaux fines in five of the best palfreys that the same king would hold his tongue about the wife of Henry Pinel."
Another branch of the ancient revenues of the English crown worthy of special notice from its singular recognition within a comparatively recent period, was the right to " royal fish," meaning thereby the whale and the sturgeon, when the same were either cast ashore or caught near the coast ; and which were originally acquired by the crown on the assumption that the sovereign guarded and protected the seas from pirates and robbers. This perquisite had so long been in abeyance that its sanction by law was hardly recognized in 1S50, when the Duke of Wel- lington, as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, claimed and ex- acted the price fifty pounds of the carcass of a whale brought ashore and sold by certain boatmen on the coast of Kent. A point of contention was made by the boatmen, that since the law was enacted, natural science had proved that the whale was not a fish ; but the duke insisted upon his right under the letter of the law of compact with his ofiice of warden i. e., to protect the seas as representative of the sovereign, and maintained it. He, however, subsequently practically admitted the lack of any moral foundation for his claim by dividing the price, after it had been formally paid him, with the boatmen.
Taxation in England. Previous to the reign of Henry II of England (1154), the "tenure" or holding of lands from the crown required the personal attendance, at his own expense, of every tenant knight or baron with a certain number of re- tainers, upon the king in arms, for a period of forty days in each year ; and failure to attend, or render the quota of men required by the tenure, would have involved a forfeiture of the tenant's lands for nonperformance of duty. Such a military system, however sufficient for home protection or border warfare, proved ill adapted to foreign wars, which in the case of France were for a long period almost continuous ; inasmuch as in those days of slow traveling a forty days' service upon a distant expedition would have been of little account. For what could be more incon-
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venient for the leader of an army than to he under the necessity, on the expiration of the forty days, either to cnt short the cam- paign, or purchase, by payments or promises, the continued ser- vice of his best soldiers? To overcome this difficulty a new system was arranged, it is said, by Thomas a Becket, which marked an important era in English taxation ; whereby the king, in lieu of personal service by his barons and their retainers, agreed to sub- stitute a tax called " scutage," or shield tax ; which, as levied at the rate of ten marks (1 6s. 8d) on every estate held by tenure, of the annual value of twenty pounds, was a land tax, payable in money, which before that period had not been definitely recog- nized. And thus it was that the king practically disarmed the feudal power by accepting money from the knights in place of armed service ; and at the same time greatly strengthened his own power. As with the money thus raised he created a per- manent and subservient army of mercenaries a process which Michelet, the French historian, has characterized as a provision by the nobles of a bit and bridle for their own restraint.*
Historians can find no evidence that the right of the English kings to levy taxes was in any case made contingent on any for- mal grant of any national council until toward the close of the reign of Richard II (1190) ; f and we have a statement from the historian Hallam that, previous to that time, the system of extor- tion practiced by the Norman kings upon their English subjects was " what we should expect to find among Eastern slaves.^'
Progressive civilization and the necessity for larger revenues
��* The reign of this English king Henry II is also signalized by an organization of the royal (state) revenue system which in some of its features has continued to the present time. Under it the management and general superintendance of the royal revenues were intrusted to certain ofiBcers of the king's household, who constituted the " Court of the Exchequer," so called from the checkered cloth laid upon the table upon which the tax collectors or treasurers told out the king's money ; and the chief financial officer of the British Government at the present time is designated by the title of " Chancellor of the Exchequer." The payments when made were entered into an account book, and from this transferred to a strip of parchment ; which last was sent through a pipelike opening into a room specially provided, and called a " tally count," where a "tally" was made of it. This tally was a piece of dry wood on which "the cutter of the tallies" had to cut notches cor- responding to the sum paid, while the " writer of the tally " wrote the sum down on both sides of the wood in figures. According to the length of the incision, one notch denoted 1,000; another 100; 20; 20s.; Is.; and so on. The chamberlain then split the notched stick down the middle in such a manner that each half contained the written sums and the incised notches. The two matching parts thus split asunder were called " tally " and " counter tally," or " tally " and " foil " (folium). The one was retained by the cham- berlain, the other was kept by the payer as a receipt and proof to be produced to the ac- count department of the exchequer. This curious system of receipts was maintained in force un-tii 1783 ; and it was through the burning, with a view to getting rid of an accumu- lation of these tally sticks, that the old House of Parliament in London was burned in 1834. \ Constitutional History of England, Stubbs, vol. i, p. 577.
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than the domains and perquisites of the crown could supply to meet the expenditures of continued wars and the maintenance of standing armies, gradually, however, broke down (as has been be- fore pointed out) the feudal system for defraying the expenses of the government ; and the sovereigns were compelled to petition their tenants in chief, or the representatives of the great estates of their realms, to meet in assembly and co-operate with the crown in raising revenue by a more or less general system of forced contributions upon the persons and property of the people. And in this necessity is to be found the origin of the modern parliaments or states general ; and also the inception of the mod- ern system of taxation throiTgh the representatives of the people. And the manner in which the great principle that representation should accompany taxation began to find a place in English legal or economic experience, through what was clearly a process of evolution, was undoubtedly as follows :
Under the Saxon and, for a lengthened period, also under the Norman kings, the revenues of the crown (as before shown) were mainly derived from taxes on land, which were paid in kind (produce), and what, as the holders of land were regarded as tenants of the crown, were in the nature of rents.* But when, in order to enlarge the basis of revenue, personal property, in the form of movables or income, was brought under contribution, the situation became different ; inasmuch as the titles of all such property not being primarily derived from the king, the consent of its owners to an official inquisition, necessary for proper valu- ation and assessment, was implied, and naturally was not will- ingly granted. And the great religious houses and orders, who in the main were the principal owners at this time of such prop- erty and were all-powerful, especially insisted that this consent should be recognized as a prerequisite to assessment ; and, in at least one instance, re-enforced their position by an interdict from the Pope.
The successive steps, also, by which this great principle be- came recognized and incorporated into general practice have also been clearly worked out by historians. Thus, in 1181, under the reign of Henry II, each freeman was required to equip himself (for war) according to his means ; and to determine what his means were, or his liability for taxation in respect to other than landed property namely, chattels and income four or six lawful
tainly down to the reign of Henry I. Indeed, by reason of the scarcity of money, there was practically no other method of payment. But at the same time the collectors of the king's revenue, in the settlements of their accounts, were accustomed to reckon the value of prod- uce in money at an established ratio : as, an ox at 1 s. ; a sheep at 4:d. ; so many measures of corn at so much, and the like.
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men of his parish were chosen to determine and declare under oath the extent of his personal liability. In the next reign, that of Richard I, this new principle of jury assessment was applied in a general way to the assessment of lands as well as chattels ; and from thence the representative principle in taxation begins to ascend through successive stages, until it becomes established and recognized as the highest function of the British and all other essentially free governments.*
The abandonment, furthermore, of the right on the part of the sovereign to make arbitrary exactions in respect to personal prop- erty, and the assumption by a class of privileged subordinates i. e., legislators of the right to vote or deny supplies to the king or state, and for the attainment of which results the English clergy of the thirteenth century led the way, marks also the dawn of constitutional or free government. All authorities are agreed, that on the clause in the Magna Charta of 1215 respecting the taxing power, is based all that has since been achieved in re- spect to English liberty. By it the king (John) was allowed to reserve for himself but three feudal aids, or rights, for extraordi- nary money allowances from the state, which very curiously have never been alienated from the English crown by any subsequent legislative enactment. Namely, to ransom the king in the case of his capture by an enemy; to defray the expenses of the knight- hood of his eldest son ; and third, on account of expenses incident to the marriage of his eldest daughter. In all other respects the charter provides that "no scutage" by which is understood a land tax in commutation for personal military service "or aid shall be imposed in our realm, save by the Common Council of our realm " ; and this provision of the Great Charter was more
��* It is, however, worthy of note that the only time when this subject appears to have prominently attracted the attention of the British Parliament and occasioned debate, was in connection with the imposition of taxes, without representation, on the British colonies in North America, and which assumption of right on the part of the crown to thus act, subse- quently led to the American Revolution. The question at issue before Parliament was, had the state the right of taxing the colonies under existing circumstances, in default of repre- sentation of the taxpayers ? The colonists did not deny the right of Great Britain to tax them ; but they did hold that for the people of Great Britain to appropriate any part of the property without their consent was neither reasonable nor consistent with the British Consti- tution. And in the great debate in Parliament on this subject, in 1764, Mr. Pitt sustained the position of the colonists ; and Lord Camden, who followed, said that " taxation and rep- resentation wei-e inseparable," and that a blade of grass growing in the most obscure part of the kingdom could not rightfully be taxed without the consent of its proprietor.
Recent historical investigations have, however, shown (as before pointed out, chapter ii) that the grievance alleged and complained of by the American colonists was not peculiar to them, but was shared by the people of the mother country to such an extent that at the time of the colonial revolt not one tenth of them were allowed to participate by vote in the election of members of Parliament.
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explicitly reaffirmed and embodied in the form of law by a Parlia- ment in 1297, which enacted that no tax should be levied by the king without the consent of the knights, burgesses, and citizens in Parliament assembled.
Again, in the earlier periods of English history, and probably also in the history of the other states of Europe, when the reve- nues from the property, fees, and perquisites of the crown, supple- mented as they were from time to time by special parliamentary grants, benevolences, and subsidies, and the plunder of special classes as the Jews were found inconvenient and unreliable, and were replaced by more regular systems of contribution, the idea of taxation was, as centuries before in Rome, simply to ob- tain the necessary revenue, without much regard to the incidence of the tax or the interest of the producer, consumer, or trader. The end was alone considered, and not the means ; and this policy, pervading all schemes and experiences of taxation, was then, as it ever has been, the most fertile source of bad taxes. The objects from which contributions at the period under consideration could be obtained were almost exclusively tangible and readily visible, as lands, hearths (representing houses), cattle, slaves or serfs, and the crudest of agricultural products. But as trade, or the business of exchanging, increased, it soon came to be looked upon as a proper subject for exaction. Customs, or taxes upon trade, were accordingly very early established, and at first were prob- ably confined to domestic or internal trade. But with the rise and growth of foreign commerce the practice very naturally ex- tended to foreign trade, and the terms " customs " and " duties," which had an antecedent origin and meaning, eventually became restricted in their application to " taxes " or " exactions " on ex- ports and imports. But yet so slowly did the customs in this sense become an important source of English revenue, that the entire amount collected in 1603 was but 127,000, or but little in excess of $000,000. Such taxes at the outset were furthermore held to be the king's private or personal dues, to be levied by him independently of any statute, according to his discretion, or, rather, according to his necessities; and it was not until the reign of Edward I that Parliament undertook to interfere with what had been considered an hereditary right of the crown, by providing in 1275, that for the purpose of correcting irregular seizures and exactions, a limitation should be established on the amount of duty that the king might take on the exports of wool and leather; and the duties thus regulated by statute on these two articles are regarded as the first legal foundation of the Eng- lish customs revenue. But before the close of the reign of Edward III, or in 1353, the exclusive right of Parliament to au- thorize or control every form of indirect taxation was fully estab-
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lished, and for the time fully exercised ; and the right thus achieved by the representatives of the people of participating in the levy of indirect or customs taxation, also necessarily drew with it the right to participate in general legislation, or upon all subjects which Parliament might deem proper.
It is also interesting to recall in connection with this subject, that when the old English kings began to levy tolls on ships entering into harbors, in common with tolls on transportation by roads and navigable streams, the tax was on the ship directly, and not specifically upon its contents. And in early charters instances occur of grants to individuals or monasteries of an exemption from toll for one ship of burden ; and in the event of the destruction of the particular ship, the privilege was extended to another ship. But with such tolls or taxes once established, the idea soon developed that like forms of exaction might be made to serve a commercial purpose as well as produce revenue ; and, as might have been expected, they therefore early became instrumentalities for fiscal oppression ; and, with a view of ad- vancing the interests of English merchants, or of protecting native industries, they were especially directed against the com- merce of foreigners. And while the crown, as early as 1275, was deprived of much of its arbitrary power of levying customs for revenue, its prerogative of restraining trade and imposing oner- ous burdens on exchanges with foreigners remained not only un- disturbed but undisputed. Foreign merchants, or trading com- panies, frequently purchased immunity from such exactions ; but yet, according to Mr. Hall, in his History of the English " Cus- toms," " to the ' custos ' of the ports, to the riverside baron, to the wayside outlaw and the town apprentice, the Lombard or Flemish peddler or merchant appeared as fair game for violence and extortion of every kind." And in the earlier records of Eng- land's customs experience, their oppressive features are of higher interest than their revenue or fiscal characteristics. English pro- ducers and traders, furthermore, having secured immunity from arbitrary taxation themselves, were quite willing to see this in- strument of restraint and oppression turned against their foreign competitors ; and, accordingly, during the whole of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the whole commercial policy of England was based on the theory of the so-called " mercantile system " ; the fundamental principle of which was that commerce could benefit one country only to the extent that it injured another; and that it was the part of wisdom always to secure a favorable balance of trade by selling as much and buying as little as possible, and receiving pay for what was sold, not in other useful products, but in gold.
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But notwitlistanding the early restrictions imposed by Parlia- ment on the power of the crown to appropriate the property of the people for its support, arbitrary exactions in the name of taxation continued to characterize the rule of all the English monarch s down to the time of Charles I, when the claim of the king to a divine right to take taxes from subjects, with or with- out their consent, was settled by the dethronement and execution of the monarch and the establishment of the Commonwealth : and ever since then the grants of an annual Parliament have been a prerequisite to any lawful expenditure for the maintenance of the English state.
To the necessities of the Long Parliament, during its contest with the crown, and when the receipts of revenue from former sources were interrupted, we owe the permanent incorporation of the so-called excise taxes into the tax system of England. An- other most novel contrivance of this period for the raising of revenue was the so-called weekly impost of a single meal ; every citizen being required to retrench one meal per week and pay an amount representing the saving, in the form of money, into the public treasury ; a tax that yielded in six years 608,400, or more than $3,000,000 ; an aggregate that represented a far larger purchasing power than the same amount would at present.
During the nineteen years that elapsed from the beginning of the English Revolution to the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, the average annual expenditures of the Com- monwealth were about seven times greater than those of the preceding royal Government ; and as unlawful taxation was the prime cause of the establishment of the Commonwealth, so ex- cessive taxation furnished the prime cause of popular rejoicing when the Commonwealth was got rid of.
A circumstance of no little importance, but which historians generally have overlooked, is, that the revolt of the American colonies and their separation from Great Britain, were in the first instance due to an effort on the part of the landholders of Great Britain to transfer from themselves to the people an ever-increas- ing portion of the expenses of the Government. But such was the fact. In 1767 the British Parliament, which was mainly com- posed of landholders, reduced the previously existing land tax to the extent of about half a million pounds per annum ; and it was for the purpose of making up a resulting deficiency of receipts to the British treasury, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of George III resorted to the taxation of tea, glass, and other articles imported into the American colonies, as well as the re- quirement for the use of stamps on the paper instrumentalities used by the Americans, and the payment for which the colonists resisted.
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Finally, a feature of special importance in connection with the history of English tax experiences, one often overlooked in his- torical essays and discussions, but which ought to command the attention of all interested in the origin of the structure and diver- sities of governments, is the demonstration it affords of the close connection between taxation and popular liberty. Take up the history of any people, state, or nation that has fought its way, like England, out of despotism into liberty, and what are the transactions that most significantly mark and constitute its progress ? The story is substantially the same in every case. First, a government of might supported by arbitrary exactions from persons and property tribute, taille, scutage, gahelle, corvee, escheats, octroi, vingtieme, customs duties, subsidies, benevolences, and the like levied at the will or caprice of an absolute and de- spotic chief or monarch, and without any consultation with or assent of the governed. Then, in some hour of royal adversity or need, the monarch appeals for aid to the more powerful of his subjects lords and nobles who, in turn, taking advantage of the situation, vote or grant it, in consideration of the concession of some " Magna Charta," limiting in a measure the sphere of ex- actions on the part of the monarch, or at least securing to a few of his privileged subordinates a voice in regulating and legalizing the same. Later comes the struggle between the privileged few and the unprivileged many, and sooner or later, by peaceful po- litical progress, or by violence and revolution, the privileged class ceases to be a separate potential element of the state, and thence passes to the people the sole right to determine, through their chosen representatives, what grants of supplies shall be made for the support of the state, and how the burden of taxation which they entail shall be distributed. And then, if further progress is to be achieved, to the end that in exercising the great power of appropriating private property for defraying the expenses of government, no more be taken than is necessary; that none shall be assessed unequally ; that the greatest freedom may be secured for production and distribution, and the greatest re- strictions placed on monopolies, there must be, through study and investigation, such an improvement and remodeling of all existing systems of taxation as will completely eliminate from them all practices that rest upon no better basis than old preju- dices and narrow, selfish interests, and make them conformable to principles and conditions which, when presented abstractly, will command almost universal assent.
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