Friday, May 30, 2008

Blackstone ss34

"Section 34. Part 5 of Chapter 8 of the Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 1. - This is a LibriVox recording. All LibriVox recordings are in the public domain. For more information, or to volunteer, please visit: librivox DOT org" "Recording by [your name]" "Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (pronounced "Blexstun"), book 1. Chapter 8, Part 5"

VIII. The eighth and last branch of the king's extraordinary
perpetual revenue is the duty upon offices and pensions; consisting
in a payment of 1s. in the pound (over and above all other
duties) out of all salaries, fees, and perquisites, of offices and
pensions payable by the crown. This highly popular taxation was
imposed by statute 31 Geo. II. c. 22. and is under the direction
of the commissioners of the land tax.

The clear neat produce of these several branches of the revenue,
after all charges of collecting and management paid,
amounts annually to about seven millions and three quarters sterling;
besides two millions and a quarter raised annually, at an
average, by the land and malt tax. How these immense sums
are appropriated, is next to be considered. And this is, first and
principally, to the payment of the interest of the national debt.

In order to take a clear and comprehensive view of the nature
of this national debt, it must first be premised, that after the revolution,
when our new connections with Europe introduced a
new system of foreign politics, the expenses of the nation, not
only in settling the new establishment, but in maintaining long
wars, as principals, on the continent, for the security of the
Dutch barrier, reducing the French monarchy, settling the
Spanish succession, supporting the house of Austria, maintaining
the liberties of the Germanic body, and other purposes, increased
to an unusual degree: insomuch that it was not thought advisable
to raise all the expenses of any one year by taxes to be levied
within that year, lest the unaccustomed weight of them
should create murmurs among the people. It was therefore the
policy of the times, to anticipate the revenues of their posterity,
by borrowing immense sums for the current service of the state,
and to lay no more taxes upon the subject than would suffice to
pay the annual interest of the sums so borrowed: by this means
converting the principal debt into a new species of property,
transferrable from one man to another at any time and in any
quantity. A system which seems to have had it's original in the
state of Florence, A. D. 1344: which government then owed
about 60000[**typo for 60,000? see spelling of large numbers below][**some numbers have "," some not]l. sterling; and, being unable to pay it, formed the
principal into an aggregate sum, called metaphorically a mount or
bank, the shares whereof were transferrable like our stocks,
with interest at 5 per cent. the prices varying according to the
exigencies of the state[e]. This laid the foundation of what is
called the national debt: for a few long annuities created in the
reign of Charles II will hardly deserve that name. And the example
then set has been so closely followed during the long wars
in the reign of queen Anne, and since, that the capital of the
national debt, (funded and unfunded) amounted in January 1765
to upwards of 145,000,000l. to pay the interest of which, and
the charges for management, amounting annually to about four
millions and three quarters, the revenues just enumerated are in
the first place mortgaged, and made perpetual by parliament.
Perpetual, I say; but still redeemable by the same authority that
imposed them: which, if it at any time can pay off the capital,
will abolish those taxes which are raised to discharge the interest.

By this means the quantity of property in the kingdom is
greatly encreased in idea, compared with former times; yet, if
we coolly consider it, not at all encreased in reality. We may
boast of large fortunes, and quantities of money in the funds.
But where does this money exist? It exists only in name, in paper,
in public faith, in parliamentary security: and that is undoubtedly
sufficient for the creditors of the public to rely on. But then
what is the pledge which the public faith has pawned for the
security of these debts? The land, the trade, and the personal
industry of the subject; from which the money must arise that
supplies the several taxes. In these therefore, and these only, the
property of the public creditors does really and intrinsically exist:
and of course the land, the trade, and the personal industry of
individuals, are diminished in their true value just so much as they
are pledged to answer. If A's income amounts to 100l. per annum;
and he is so far indebted to B, that he pays him 50l. per
for his interest; one half of the value of A's property is
transferred to B the creditor. The creditor's property exists in
the demand which he has upon the debtor, and no where else;
and the debtor is only a trustee to his creditor for one half of the
value of his income. In short, the property of a creditor of the
publick, consists in a certain portion of the national taxes: by
how much therefore he is the richer, by so much the nation,
which pays these taxes, is the poorer.

The only advantage, that can result to a nation from public
debts, is the encrease of circulation by multiplying the cash of
the kingdom, and creating a new species of money, always ready
to be employed in any beneficial undertaking, by means of it's
transferrable quality; and yet productive of some profit, even
when it lies idle and unemployed. A certain proportion of debt
seems therefore to be highly useful to a trading people; but what
that proportion is, it is not for me to determine. Thus much is
indisputably certain, that the present magnitude of our national
incumbrances very far exceeds all calculations of commercial benefit,
and is productive of the greatest inconveniences. For, first,
the enormous taxes, that are raised upon the necessaries of life for
the payment of the interest of this debt, are a hurt both to trade
and manufactures, by raising the price as well of the artificer's
subsistence, as of the raw material, and of course, in a much
greater proportion, the price of the commodity itself. Secondly,
if part of this debt be owing to foreigners, either they draw out
of the kingdom annually a considerable quantity of specie for the
interest; or else it is made an argument to grant them unreasonable
privileges in order to induce them to reside here. Thirdly,
if the whole be owing to subjects only, it is then charging the
active and industrious subject, who pays his share of the taxes,
to maintain the indolent and idle creditor who receives them.
Lastly, and principally, it weakens the internal strength of a state,
by anticipating those resources which should be reserved to defend
it in case of necessity. The interest we now pay for our debts
would be nearly sufficient to maintain any war, that any national
motives could require. And if our ancestors in king William's
time had annually paid, so long as their exigences lasted, even
a less sum than we now annually raise upon their accounts, they
would in the time of war have borne no greater burdens, than
they have bequeathed to and settled upon their posterity in time
of peace; and might have been eased the instant the exigence
was over.

The produce of the several taxes beforementioned were originally
separate and distinct funds; being securities for the sums
advanced on each several tax, and for them only. But at last it
became necessary, in order to avoid confusion, as they multiplied
yearly, to reduce the number of these separate funds, by uniting
and blending them together; superadding the faith of parliament
for the general security of the whole. So that there are now only
three capital funds of any account, the aggregate fund, and the
general fund, so called from such union and addition; and the south
fund, being the produce of the taxes appropriated to pay the
interest of such part of the national debt as was advanced by that
company and it's annuitants. Whereby the separate funds, which
were thus united, are become mutual securities for each other;
and the whole produce of them, thus aggregated, is liable to pay
such interest or annuities as were formerly charged upon each distinct
fund; the faith of the legislature being moreover engaged
to supply any casual deficiences.

The customs, excises, and other taxes, which are to support
these funds, depending on contingencies, upon exports, imports,
and consumptions, must necessarily be of a very uncertain amount;
but they have always been considerably more than was sufficient
to answer the charge upon them. The surplusses therefore of the
three great national funds, the aggregate, general, and south sea
funds, over and above the interest and annuities charged upon
them, are directed by statute 3 Geo. I. c. 7. to be carried together,
and to attend the disposition of parliament; and are usually
denominated the sinking fund, because originally destined to sink
and lower the national debt. To this have been since added many
other intire duties, granted in subsequent years; and the annual
interest of the sums borrowed on their respective credits is charged
on and payable out of the produce of the sinking fund. However
the neat surplusses and savings, after all deductions paid,
amount annually to a very considerable sum; particularly in the
year ending at Christmas 1764, to about two millions and a quarter.
For, as the interest on the national debt has been at several
times reduced, (by the consent of the proprietors, who had their
option either to lower their interest or be paid their principal)
the savings from the appropriated revenues must needs be extremely
large. This sinking fund is the last resort of the nation;
on which alone depend all the hopes we can entertain of ever
discharging or moderating our incumbrances. And therefore the
prudent application of the large sums, now arising from this fund,
is a point of the utmost importance, and well worthy the serious
attention of parliament; which has thereby been enabled, in this
present year 1765, to reduce above two millions sterling of the
public debt.

But, before any part of the aggregate fund (the surplusses
whereof are one of the chief ingredients that form the sinking
fund) can be applied to diminish the principal of the public debt,
it stands mortgaged by parliament to raise an annual sum for the
maintenance of the king's houshold and the civil list. For this
purpose, in the late reigns, the produce of certain branches of
the excise and customs, the post-office, the duty on wine licences,
the revenues of the remaining crown lands, the profits arising
from courts of justice, (which articles include all the hereditary
revenues of the crown) and also a clear annuity of 120000l.
in money, were settled on the king for life, for the support
of his majesty's houshold, and the honour and dignity of the
crown. And, as the amount of these several branches was uncertain,
(though in the last reign they were generally computed
to raise almost a million) if they did not arise annually to
800,000l. the parliament engaged to make up the deficiency.
But his present majesty having, soon after his accession, spontaneously
signified his consent, that his own hereditary revenues might
be so disposed of as might best conduce to the utility and satisfaction
of the public, and having graciously accepted the limited
sum of 800000l. per annum for the support of his civil list (and
that also charged with three life annuities, to the princess of Wales,
the duke of Cumberland, and the princess Amalie, to the amount
of 77000l.) the said hereditary and other revenues are now carried
into and made a part of the aggregate fund, and the aggregate
fund is charged with the payment of the whole annuity to
the crown of 800000l. per annum[f]. Hereby the revenues themselves,
being put under the same care and management as the other
branches of the public patrimony, will produce more and be better
collected than heretofore; and the public is a gainer of upwards
of 100000l. per annum by this disinterested bounty of his
majesty. The civil list, thus liquidated, together with the four
millions and three quarters, interest of the national debt, and the
two millions and a quarter produced from the sinking fund, make
up the seven millions and three quarters per annum, neat money,
which were before stated to be the annual produce of our perpetual
taxes; besides the immense, though uncertain, sums arising
from the annual taxes on land and malt, but which, at an average,
may be calculated at more than two millions and a quarter;
and, added to the preceding sum, make the clear produce of the
taxes, exclusive of the charge of collecting, which are raised yearly
on the people of this country, and returned into the king's exchequer,
amount to upwards of ten millions sterling.

The expences defrayed by the civil list are those that in any
shape relate to civil government; as, the expenses of the houshold;
all salaries to officers of state, to the judges, and every of the
king's servants; the appointments to foreign embassadors; the
maintenance of the royal family; the king's private expenses, or
privy purse; and other very numerous outgoings, as secret service
money, pensions, and other bounties: which sometimes have
so far exceeded the revenues appointed for that purpose, that application
has been made to parliament to discharge the debts contracted
on the civil list; as particularly in 1724, when one million
was granted for that purpose by the statute 11 Geo. I. c. 17.

The civil list is indeed properly the whole of the king's revenue
in his own distinct capacity; the rest being rather the revenue
of the public, or it's creditors, though collected, and distributed
again, in the name and by the officers of the crown:
it now standing in the same place, as the hereditary income did
formerly; and, as that has gradually diminished, the parliamentary
appointments have encreased. The whole revenue of queen
Elizabeth did not amount to more than 600000l. a year[g]: that
of king Charles I was[h] 800000l. and the revenue voted for
king Charles II was[i] 1200000l. though it never in fact amounted
to quite so much[k]. But it must be observed, that under these
sums were included all manner of public expenses, among which
lord Clarendon in his speech to the parliament computed that the
charge of the navy and land forces amounted annually to 800000l.
which was ten times more than before the former troubles[l].
The same revenue, subject to the same charges, was settled on
on king James II[m]: but by the encrease of trade, and more frugal
management, it amounted on an average to a million and half per
, (besides other additional customs, granted by parliament[n],
which produced an annual revenue of 400000l.) out of which
his fleet and army were maintained at the yearly expense of[o]
1100000l. After the revolution, when the parliament took into
it's own hands the annual support of the forces, both maritime
and military, a civil list revenue was settled on the new king and
queen, amounting, with the hereditary duties, to 700000l. per
[p]; and the same was continued to queen Anne and king
George I[q]. That of king George II, we have seen, was nominally
augmented to[r] 800000l. and in fact was considerably more.
But that of his present majesty is expressly limited to that sum;
and, by reason of the charges upon it, amounts at present to
little more than 700000l. And upon the whole it is doubtless
much better for the crown, and also for the people, to have the
revenue settled upon the modern footing rather than the antient.
For the crown; because it is more certain, and collected with
greater ease: for the people; because they are now delivered from
the feodal hardships, and other odious branches of the prerogative.
And though complaints have sometimes been made of the
encrease of the civil list, yet if we consider the sums that have
been formerly granted, the limited extent under which it is now
established, the revenues and prerogatives given up in lieu of it
by the crown, and (above all) the diminution of the value of
money compared with what it was worth in the last century, we
must acknowlege these complaints to be void of any rational
foundation; and that it is impossible to support that dignity,
which a king of Great Britain should maintain, with an income
in any degree less than what is now established by parliament.

This finishes our enquiries into the fiscal prerogatives of
the king; or his revenue, both ordinary and extraordinary.
We have therefore now chalked out all the principal outlines
of this vast title of the law, the supreme executive magistrate, or
the king's majesty, considered in his several capacities and points
of view. But, before we intirely dismiss this subject, it may not
be improper to take a short comparative review of the power of
the executive magistrate, or prerogative of the crown, as it stood
in former days, and as it stands at present. And we cannot but
observe, that most of the laws for ascertaining, limiting, and restraining
this prerogative have been made within the compass of
little more than a century past; from the petition of right in
3 Car. I. to the present time. So that the powers of the crown
are now to all appearance greatly curtailed and diminished since
the reign of king James the first: particularly, by the abolition
of the star chamber and high commission courts in the reign of
Charles the first, and by the disclaiming of martial law, and the
power of levying taxes on the subject, by the same prince: by
the disuse of forest laws for a century past: and by the many excellent
provisions enacted under Charles the second; especially,
the abolition of military tenures, purveyance, and preemption;
the habeas corpus act; and the act to prevent the discontinuance
of parliaments for above three years: and, since the revolution,
by the strong and emphatical words in which our liberties are asserted
in the bill of rights, and act of settlement; by the act for
triennial, since turned into septennial, elections; by the exclusion
of certain officers from the house of commons; by rendering the
seats of the judges permanent, and their salaries independent; and
by restraining the king's pardon from operating on parliamentary
impeachments. Besides all this, if we consider how the crown
is impoverished and stripped of all it's antient revenues, so that
it greatly depends on the liberality of parliament for it's necessary
support and maintenance, we may perhaps be led to think, that
the ballance is enclined pretty strongly to the popular scale, and
that the executive magistrate has neither independence nor power
enough left, to form that check upon the lords and commons,
which the founders of our constitution intended.

But, on the other hand, it is to be considered, that every
prince, in the first parliament after his accession, has by long usage
a truly royal addition to his hereditary revenue settled upon him
for his life; and has never any occasion to apply to parliament
for supplies, but upon some public necessity of the whole realm.
This restores to him that constitutional independence, which at
his first accession seems, it must be owned, to be wanting. And
then, with regard to power, we may find perhaps that the hands
of government are at least sufficiently strengthened; and that an
English monarch is now in no danger of being overborne by either
the nobility or the people. The instruments of power are not
perhaps so open and avowed as they formerly were, and therefore
are the less liable to jealous and invidious reflections; but they
are not the weaker upon that account. In short, our national
debt and taxes (besides the inconveniences before-mentioned) have
also in their natural consequences thrown such a weight of power
into the executive scale of government, as we cannot think was
intended by our patriot ancestors; who gloriously struggled for
the abolition of the then formidable parts of the prerogative; and
by an unaccountable want of foresight established this system in
their stead. The entire collection and management of so vast a
revenue, being placed in the hands of the crown, have given rise
to such a multitude of new officers, created by and removeable
at the royal pleasure, that they have extended the influence of
government to every corner of the nation. Witness the commissioners,
and the multitude of dependents on the customs, in every
port of the kingdom; the commissioners of excise, and their
numerous subalterns, in every inland district; the postmasters, and
their servants, planted in every town, and upon every public road;
the commissioners of the stamps, and their distributors, which
are full as scattered and full as numerous; the officers of the salt
duty, which, though a species of excise and conducted in the same
manner, are yet made a distinct corps from the ordinary managers
of that revenue; the surveyors of houses and windows; the receivers
of the land tax; the managers of lotteries; and the commissioners
of hackney coaches; all which are either mediately or
immediately appointed by the crown, and removeable at pleasure
without any reason assigned: these, it requires but little penetration
to see, must give that power, on which they depend for subsistence,
an influence most amazingly extensive. To this may be
added the frequent opportunities of conferring particular obligations,
by preference in loans, subscriptions, tickets, remittances,
and other money-transactions, which will greatly encrease this
influence; and that over those persons whose attachment, on
account of their wealth, is frequently the most desirable. All this
is the natural, though perhaps the unforeseen, consequence of
erecting our funds of credit, and to support them establishing our
present perpetual taxes: the whole of which is entirely new since
the restoration in 1660; and by far the greatest part since the
revolution in 1688. And the same may be said with regard to the
officers in our numerous army, and the places which the army
has created. All which put together gives the executive power
so persuasive an energy with respect to the persons themselves,
and so prevailing an interest with their friends and families, as
will amply make amends for the loss of external prerogative.

But, though this profusion of offices should have no effect on
individuals, there is still another newly acquired branch of power;
and that is, not the influence only, but the force of a disciplined
army: paid indeed ultimately by the people, but immediately by
the crown; raised by the crown, officered by the crown, commanded
by the crown. They are kept on foot it is true only from
year to year, and that by the power of parliament: but during
that year they must, by the nature of our constitution, if raised
at all, be at the absolute disposal of the crown. And there need
but few words to demonstrate how great a trust is thereby reposed
in the prince by his people. A trust, that is more than equivalent
to a thousand little troublesome prerogatives.

Add to all this, that, besides the civil list, the immense revenue
of seven millions sterling, which is annually paid to the
creditors of the publick, or carried to the sinking fund, is first
deposited in the royal exchequer, and thence issued out to the
respective offices of payment. This revenue the people can never
refuse to raise, because it is made perpetual by act of parliament:
which also, when well considered, will appear to be a trust of
great delicacy and high importance.

Upon the whole therefore I think it is clear, that, whatever
may have become of the nominal, the real power of the crown
has not been too far weakened by any transactions in the last cen-
tury. Much is indeed given up; but much is also acquired. The
stern commands of prerogative have yielded to the milder voice
of influence; the slavish and exploded doctrine of non-resistance
has given way to a military establishment by law; and to the
disuse of parliaments has succeeded a parliamentary trust of an
immense perpetual revenue. When, indeed, by the free operation
of the sinking fund, our national debts shall be lessened;
when the posture of foreign affairs, and the universal introduction
of a well planned and national militia, will suffer our formidable
army to be thinned and regulated; and when (in consequence
of all) our taxes shall be gradually reduced; this adventitious
power of the crown will slowly and imperceptibly diminish,
as it slowly and imperceptibly rose. But, till that shall
happen, it will be our especial duty, as good subjects and good
Englishmen, to reverence the crown, and yet guard against corrupt
and servile influence from those who are intrusted with it's
authority; to be loyal, yet free; obedient, and yet independent:
and, above every thing, to hope that we may long, very long,
continue to be governed by a sovereign, who, in all those public
acts that have personally proceeded from himself, hath manifested
the highest veneration for the free constitution of Britain;
hath already in more than one instance remarkably strengthened
it's outworks; and will therefore never harbour a thought, or
adopt a persuasion, in any the remotest degree detrimental to
public liberty.

End of section 34