Commentaries on the Laws of England (Vol. 1 of 4), Book 1, Chapter 8
HAVING, in the preceding chapter, considered at large those branches of the king’s prerogative, which contribute to his royal dignity, and constitute the executive power of the government, we proceed now to examine the king’s fiscal prerogatives, or such as regard his revenue; which the British constitution has vested in the royal person, in order to support his dignity and maintain his power: being a portion which each subject contributes of his property, in order to secure the remainder.
THIS revenues is either ordinary, or extraordinary. The king’s ordinary revenue is such, as has either subsisted time out of mind in the crown; or else has been granted by parliament, by way of purchase or exchange for such of the king’s inherent hereditary revenues, as were found inconvenient to the subject.
WHEN I say that it has subsisted time out of mind in the crown, I do not mean that the king is at present in the actual possession of the whole of this revenue. Much (nay, the greatest part) of it is at this day in the hands of subjects; to whom it has been granted out from time to time by the kings of England: which has rendered the crown in some measure dependent on the people for its ordinary support and subsistence. So that I must be obliged to recount, as part of the royal revenue, what lords of manors and other subjects frequently look upon to be their own absolute rights, because they are and have been vested in them and their ancestors for ages, though in reality originally derived from the grants of our ancient princes.
I. THE first of the king’s ordinary revenues, which I shall take notice of, is of an ecclesiastical king; (as are also the three succeeding ones) viz. the custody of the temporalties of bishops; by which are meant all the lay revenues, lands, and tenements (in which is included his barony) which belong to an archbishop’s or bishop’s fee. And these upon the vacancy of the bishopric are immediately the right of the king, as a consequence of his prerogative in church matters; whereby he is considered as the founder of all archbishoprics and bishoprics, to whom during the vacancy they revert. And for the same reason, before the dissolution of abbeys, the king had the custody of the temporalties of all such abbeys and priories as were of royal foundation (but not of those founded by subjects) on the death of the abbot or prior.1 Another reason may also be given, why the policy of the law has vested this custody in the king; because, as the successor is not known, the lands and possessions of the fee would be liable to spoil and devastation, if no one had a property therein. Therefore the law has given the king, not the temporalties themselves, but the custody of the temporalties, till such time as a successor is appointed; with power of taking to himself all the intermediate profits, without any account to the successor; and with the right of presenting (which the crown very frequently exercises) to such benefices and other preferments as fall within the time of vacation.2 This revenue is of so high a nature, that it could not be granted out to a subject, before, or even after, it accrued: but now by the statute 14 Edw. III. St. 4. c. 4 & 5. the king may, after the vacancy, lease the temporalties to the dean and chapter; saving to himself all advowsons, escheats, and the like. Our ancient kings, and particularly William Rufus, were not only remarkable for keeping the bishoprics a long time vacant, for the sake of enjoying the temporalties, but also committed horrible waste on the woods and other parts of the estate; and, to crown all, would never, when the fee was filled up, restore to the bishop his temporalties again, unless he purchased them at an exorbitant price. To remedy which, king Henry the first3 granted a charter at the beginning of his reign, promising neither to sell, nor let to farm, nor take anything from, the domains of the church, till the successor was installed. And it was made one of the articles of the great charter,4 that no waste should be committed in the temporalties of bishoprics, neither should the custody of them be sold. The same is ordained by the statute of Westminster the first;5 and the statute 14 Edw. III. St. 4. c. 4. (which permits, as we have seen, a lease to the dean and chapter) is still more explicit in prohibiting the other exactions. It was also a frequent abuse, that the king would for trifling, or no causes, seize the temporalties of bishops, even during their lives, into his own hands: but this is guarded against by statute 1 Edw. III. St. 2. c. 2.
THIS revenue of the king, which was formerly very considerable, is now by a customary indulgence almost reduced to nothing: for, at present, as soon as the new bishop is consecrated and confirmed, he usually receives the restitution of his temporalties quite entire, and untouched, from the king; and then, and not sooner, he has a fee simple in his bishopric, and may maintain an action for the same.6
II. THE king is entitled to a corody, as the law calls it, out of every bishopric: that is, to send one of his chaplains to be maintained by the bishop, or to have a pension allowed him till the bishop promotes him to a benefice.7 This is also in the nature of an acknowledgment to the king, as founder of the see; since he had formerly the same corody or pension from every abbey or priory of royal foundation. It is, I apprehend, now fallen into total disuse; though Sir Matthew Hale says,8 that it is due of common right, and that no prescription will discharge it.
III. THE king also (as was formerly observed9) is entitled to all the tithes arising in extraparochial places:10 though perhaps it may be doubted how far this article, as well as the last, can be properly reckoned a part of the king’s own royal revenue; since a corody supports only his chaplains, and these extraparochial tithes are held under an implied trust, that the king will distribute them for the good of the clergy in general.
IV. THE next branch consists in the first-fruits, and tenths, of all spiritual preferments in the kingdom; both of which I shall consider together.
THESE were originally a part of the papal usurpations over the clergy of this kingdom; first introduced by Pandulph the pope’s legate, during the reigns of king John and Henry the third, in the see of Norwich; and afterwards attempted to be made universal by the popes Clement V and John XXII, about the beginning of the fourteenth century. The first-fruits, primitiae, or annates, were the first year’s whole profits of the spiritual preferment, according to a rate or valor made under the direction of pope Innocent IV by Walter bishop of Norwich in 38 Hen. III, and afterwards advanced in the value by commission from pope Nicholas and third, A. D. 1292, 20 Edw. I;11 which valuation of pope Nicholas is still preserved in the exchequer.12 The tenths, or decimae, were the tenth part of the annual profit of each living by the same valuation; which was also claimed by the holy see, under no better pretense than a strange misapplication of that precept of the Levitical law, which directs,13 “that the Levites should offer the tenth part of their tithe as a heave-offering to the Lord, and give it to Aaron the high priest.” But this claim of the pope met with vigorous resistance from the English parliament; and a variety of acts were passed to prevent and restrain it, particularly the statute 6 Hen. IV. c. 1. which calls in a horrible mischief and damnable custom. But the popish clergy, blindly devoted to the will of a foreign master, still kept it on foot; sometimes more secretly, sometimes more openly and avowedly: so that, in the reign of Henry VIII, it was computed, that in the compass of fifty years 800,000 ducats had been sent to Rome for first-fruits only. And, as the clergy expressed this willingness to contribute so much of their income to the head of the church, it was thought proper (when in the same reign the papal power was abolished, and the king was declared the head of the church of England) to annex this revenue to the crown; which was done by statute 26 Hen. VIII. c. 3. (confirmed by statute 1 Eliz. c. 4.) and a new valor beneficiorum [value of benefices] was then made, by which the clergy are at present rated.
BY these last mentioned statutes all vicarages under ten pounds a year, and all rectories under ten marks, are discharged from the payment of first-fruits: and if, in such livings as continue chargeable with this payment, the incumbent lives but half a year, he shall pay only one quarter of his first-fruits; if but one whole year, then half of them; if a year and half, three quarters; and if two years, then the whole; and not otherwise. Likewise by the statute 27 Hen. VIII. c. 8. no tenths are to be paid for the first year, for then the first-fruits are due: and by other statutes of queen Anne, in the fifth and sixth years of her reign, if a benefice be under fifty pounds per annum clear yearly value, it shall be discharged of the payment of first-fruits and tenths.
THUS the richer clergy, being, by the criminal bigotry of their popish predecessors, subjected at first to a foreign exaction, were afterwards, when that yoke was shaken off, liable to a like misapplication of their revenues, through the rapacious disposition of the then reigning monarch: till at length the piety of queen Anne restored to the church what had been thus indirectly taken from it. This she did, not by remitting the tenths and first-fruits entirely; but, in a spirit of the truest equity, by applying these superfluities of the larger benefices to make up the deficiencies of the smaller. And to this end the granted her royal charter, which was confirmed by the statute 2 Ann. c. 11. whereby all the revenue of first-fruits and tenths is vested in trustees for ever, to form a perpetual fund for the augmentation of poor livings. This is usually called queen Anne’s bounty; which has been still farther regulated by subsequent statutes, too numerous here to recite.
V. THE next branch of the king’s ordinary revenue (which, is well as the subsequent branches, is of a lay or temporal nature) consists in the rents and profits of the demesne lands of the crown. these demesne lands, terrae dominicales regis [the king’s demesne lands], being either the share reserved to the crown at the original distribution of landed property, of such as came to it afterwards by forfeitures or other means, were anciently very large and extensive; comprising diverse manors, honors, and lordships; the tenants of which had very peculiar privileges, as will be shown in the second book of these commentaries, when we speak of the tenure in ancient demesne. At present they are contracted within a very narrow compass, having been almost entirely granted away to private subjects. This has occasioned the parliament frequently to interpose; and, particularly, after king William III had greatly impoverished the crown, an act passed,14 whereby all future grants or leases from the crown for any longer term than thirty-one years or three lives are declared to be void; except with regard to houses, which may be granted for fifty years. And no reversionary lease can be made, so as to exceed, together with the estate in being, the same term of three lives or thirty-one years: that is, where there is a subsisting lease, of which there are twenty years still to come, the king cannot grant a future interest, to commence after the expiration of the former, for any longer term than eleven years. The tenant must also be made liable to be punished for committing waste; and the usual rent must be reserved, or, where there has usually been no rent, one third of the clear yearly value.15 The misfortune is, that this act was made too late, after almost every valuable possession of the crown had been granted away for ever, or else upon very long leases; but may be of benefit to posterity, when those leases come to expire.
VI. HITHER might have been referred the advantages which were uses to arise to the king from the profits of his military tenures, to which most lands in the kingdom were subject, till the statute 12 Car. II. c. 24. which is great measure abolished them all: the explication of the nature of which tenures, must be referred to the second book of these commentaries. Hither also might have been referred the profitable prerogative of purveyance and preemption: which was a right enjoyed by the crown of buying up provisions and other necessaries, by the intervention of the king’s purveyors, for the use of his royal household, at an appraised valuation, in preference to all others, and even without consent of the owner; and also of forcibly impressing the carriages and horses of the subject, to do the king’s business on the public roads, in the conveyance of timber, baggage, and the like, however inconvenient to the proprietor, upon paying him a settled price. A prerogative, which prevailed pretty generally throughout Europe, during the scarcity of gold and silver, and the high valuation of money consequential thereupon. In those early times the king’s household (as well as those of inferior lords) were supported by specific renders of corn, and other victuals, from the tenants of the respective demesnes; and there was also a continual market kept at the palace gate to furnish viands for the royal use.16 And this answered all purposes, in those ages of simplicity, so long as the king’s court continued in any certain place. But when it removed from one part of kingdom to another (as was formerly very frequently done) it was found necessary to send purveyors beforehand, to get together a sufficient quantity of provisions and other necessaries for the household: and, lest the unusual demand should raise them to an exorbitant price, the powers beforementioned were vested in these purveyors; who in process of time very greatly abused their authority, and became a great oppression to the subject though of little advantage to the crown; ready money in open market (when the royal residence was more permanent, and specie began to be plenty) being found upon experience to be the best proveditor of any. Wherefore by degrees the powers of purveyance have declined, in foreign countries as well as our own; and particularly were abolished in Sweden by Gustavus Adolphus, towards the beginning of the last century.17 And, with us in England,
having fallen into disuse during the suspension of monarchy, king Charles at his restoration consented, by the same statute, to resign entirely these branches of his revenue and power, for the case and convenience of his subjects: and the parliament, in part of recompense, settled on him, his heirs, and successors, for ever, the hereditary excise of fifteen pence per barrel on all beer and ale sold in the kingdom, and a proportional sum for certain other liquors. So that this hereditary excise, the nature of which shall be farther explained in the subsequent part of this chapter, now forms the sixth branch of his majesty’s ordinary revenue.
VII. A SEVENTH branch might also be computed to have arisen from wine licenses; or the rents payable to the crown by such persons as are licensed to sell wine by retail throughout England, except in a few privileged places. These were first settled on the crown by the statute 12 Car. II. c. 25. and, together with the hereditary excise, made up the equivalent in value for the loss sustained by the prerogative in the abolition of the military tenures, and the right of preemption and purveyance: but this revenue was abolished by the statute 30 Geo. II. c. 19, and an annual sum of upwards £ 7000 per annum, issuing out of the new stamp duties imposed on wine licenses, was settled on the crown in its stead.
VIII. AN eighth branch of the king’s ordinary revenue is usually reckoned to consist in the profits arising from his forests. Forests are waste grounds belonging to the king, replenished with all manner of beasts of chase or venary; which are under the king’s protection, for the sake of his royal recreation and delight: and, to that end, and for preservation of the king’s game, there are particular laws, privileges, courts and officers belonging to the king’s forests; all which will be, in their turns, explained in the subsequent books of these commentaries. What we are now to consider are only the profits arising to the king from hence; which consist principally in amercements or fines levied for offenses against the forest-laws. But as few, if any courts of this king for levying amercements18 have been held since 1632, 8 Car. I. and as, from the accounts given of the proceedings in that court by our histories and law books,19 nobody would now wish to see them again revived, it is needless (at least in this place) to pursue this inquiry any farther.
IX. THE profits arisen from the king’s ordinary courts of justice make a ninth branch of his revenue. And these consist not only in fines imposed upon offenders, forfeitures of recognizances, and amercements levied upon defaulters; but also in certain fees due to the crown in a variety of legal matters, as, for setting the great seal to charters, original writs, and other legal proceedings, and for permitting fines to be levied of lands in order to bar entails, or otherwise to insure their title. As none of these can be done without the immediate intervention of the king, by himself or his officers, the law allows him certain perquisites and profits, as a recompense for the trouble he undertakes for the public. These, in process of time, have been almost all granted out to private persons, or else appropriated to certain particular uses: so that, though our law-proceedings are still loaded with their payment, very little of them is now returned into the king’s exchequer; for a part of whose royal maintenance they were originally intended. All future grants of them however, by the statute 1 Ann. St. 2. c. 7. are to endure for no longer time than the prince’s life who grants them.
X. A TENTH branch of the king’s ordinary revenue, said to be grounded on the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from pirates and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and sturgeon: and these, when either thrown ashore, or caught near the coasts, are the property of the king, on account20 of their superior excellence. Indeed our ancestors seem to have entertained a very high notion of the importance of this right; it being the prerogative of the kings of Denmark and the dukes of Normandy;21 and from one of these it was probably derived to our princes. It is expressly claimed and allowed in the statute de praerogativa regis22 [of the king’s prerogative]: and the most ancient treatises of law now extant make mention if it;23 though they seem to have made distinction between whale and sturgeon, as was incidentally observed in a former chapter.24
XI. ANOTHER maritime revenue, and founded partly upon the same reason, is that of shipwrecks; which are also declared to be the king’s property by the same prerogative statute 17 Edw. II. C. II. and were so, long before, at the common law. It is worthy observation, how greatly the law of wrecks has been altered, and the rigor of it gradually softened, in favor of the distressed proprietors. Wreck, by the ancient common law, was where any ship was lost at sea, and the goods or cargo were thrown upon the land; in which case these goods, so wrecked, were adjudged to belong to the king: for it was held, that, by the loss of the ship, all property was gone out of the original owner.25 But this was undoubtedly adding sorrow to sorrow, and was consonant neither to reason nor humanity. Wherefore it was first ordained by king Henry I, that if any person escaped alive out of the ship it should be no wreck;26 and afterwards king Henry II, by his charter,27 declared, that if on the coasts of either England, Poictou, Oleron, or Gascony, any ship should be distressed, and either man or beast should escape or be found therein alive, the goods should remain to the owners, if they claimed them within three months; but otherwise should be esteemed a wreck, and should belong to the king, or other lord of the franchise. This was again confirmed with improvements by king Richard the first, who, in the second year of his reign,28 not only established these concessions, by ordaining that the owner, if he was shipwrecked and escaped, “omnes res suas liberas et quietas haberet” [“he should retain his property free and undisputed”], but also, that, if he perished, his children, or in default of them his brethren and sisters, should retain the property; and, in default of brother of sister, then the goods should remain to the king.29 And the law, so long after as the reign of Henry III, seems still to have been guided by the same equitable provisions. For then if a dog (for instance) escaped, by which the owner might be discovered, or if any certain mark were set on the goods, by which they might be known again, it was held to be no wreck.30 And this is certainly most agreeable to reason; the rational claim of the king being only founded upon this, that the true owner cannot be ascertained. But afterwards, in the statute of Westminster the first,31 the law is laid down more agreeable to the charter of king Henry the second: and upon that statute has stood the legal doctrine of wrecks to the present time. It enacts, that if any live thing escape (a man, a cat, or a dog; which, as in Bracton, are only put for examples32) in this case, and, as it seems, in this case only, it is clearly not a legal wreck: but the sheriff of the county is bound to keep the goods a year and a day (as in France for one year, agreeably to the maritime laws of Oleron,33 and in Holland for a year and an half) that if any man can prove a property in them, either in his own right or by right of representation,34 they shall be restored to him without delay; but, if no such property be proved within that time, they then shall be the king’s. If the goods are of a perishable nature, the sheriff may sell them, and the money shall be liable in their stead.35 This revenue of wrecks is frequently granted out to lords of manors, as a royal franchise; and if any one be thus entitled to wrecks in his own land, and the king’s goods are wrecked thereon, the king may claim them at any time, even after the year and day.36
IT is to be observed, that in order to constitute a legal wreck, the goods must come to land. If they continue at sea, the law distinguishes them by the barbarous and uncouth appellations of jetsam, flotsam, and ligan. Jetsam is where goods are cast into the sea, and there sink and remain under water: flotsam is where they continue swimming on the surface of the waves: ligan is where they are sunk in the sea, but tied to a cork or buoy, in order to be found again.37 These are also the king’s if no owner appears to claim them; but, if any owner appears, he is entitled to recover the possession. For even if they be cast overboard, without any mark or buoy, in order to lighten the ship, the owner is not by this act of necessity construed to have renounced his property:38 much less can things ligan be supposed to be abandoned, since the owner has done all in his power, to assert and retain his property. These three are therefore accounted so far a distinct thing from the former, that by the king’s grant to a man of wrecks, things jetsam, flotsam, and ligan will not pass.39
WRECKS, in their legal acceptation, are at present not very frequent: it rarely happening that every living creature on board perishes; and if any should survive, it is a very great chance, since the improvement of commerce, navigation, and correspondence, but the owner will be able to assert his property within the year and day limited by law. And in order to preserve this property entire for him, and if possible to prevent wrecks at all, our laws have made many very humane regulations; in a spirit quite opposite to those savage laws, which formerly prevailed in all the northern regions of Europe, and a few years ago were still said to subsist on the coasts of the Baltic sea, permitting the inhabitants to seize on whatever they could get as lawful prize; or, as an author of their own expresses it, “in naufragorum miseria et calamitate tanquam vultures ad praedam currere.”40 [“To run like vultures to their prey, amidst the misery and calamity of shipwrecked sufferers.”] For by the statute 2 Edw. III. c. 13. if any ship be lost on the shore, and the goods come to land (so as it be not legal wreck) they shall be presently delivered to the merchants, they paying only a reasonable reward to those that saved and preserved them, which is entitled salvage. Also by the common law, if any persons (other than the sheriff) take any goods so cast on shore, which are not legal wreck, the owners might have a commission to inquire and find them out, and compel them to make restitution.41 And by statute 12 Ann. St. 2. c. 18. confirmed by 4 Geo. I. c. 12. in order to assist the distressed, and prevent the scandalous illegal practices on some of our sea coasts, (too similar to those on the Baltic) it is enacted, that all head-officers and others of towns near the sea shall, upon application made to them, summon as many hands as are necessary, and send them to the relief of any ship in distress, on forfeiture of 100£ and, in case of assistance given, salvage shall be paid by the owners, to be assessed by three neighboring justices. All persons that secrete any goods shall forfeit their treble value: and if they wilfully do any act whereby the ship is lost or destroyed, by making holes in her, stealing her pumps, or otherwise, they are guilty of felony, without benefit of clergy. Lastly, by the statute 26 Geo. II. c. 19. plundering any vessel either in distress, or wrecked, and whether any living creature be on board or not, (for, whether wreck or otherwise, it is clearly not the property of the populace) such plundering, I say, or preventing the escape of any person that endeavors to save his life, or wounding him with intent to destroy him, or putting out false lights in order to bring any vessel into danger, are all declared to be capital felonies; in like manner as the destroying trees, steeples, or other stated seamarks, is punished by the statute 8 Eliz. c. 13. with a forfeiture of 200£ Moreover, by the statute of George II, pilfering any goods cast ashore is declared to be petty larceny; and many other salutary regulations are made, for the more effectually preserving ships of any nation in distress.42
XII. A TWELFTH branch of the royal revenue, the right to mines, has its original from the king’s prerogative of coinage, in order to supply him with materials: and therefore those mines, which are properly royal, and to which the king is entitled when found, are only those of silver and gold.43 By the old common law, if gold or silver be found in mines of base metal, according to the opinion of some the whole was a royal mine, and belonged to the king; though others held that it only did so, if the quantity of gold or silver was of greater value than the quantity of base metal.44 But now by the statutes I W, & M. St. I. c. 30. and 5 W. & M. c. 6. this difference is made immaterial; it being enacted, that no mines of copper, tin, iron, or lead, shall be looked upon as royal mines, notwithstanding gold or silver may be extracted from them in any quantities: but that the king, or persons claiming royal mines under his authority, may have the ore, (other than tin-ore in the counties of Devon and Cornwall) paying for the same a price stated in the act. This was an extremely reasonable law: for now private owners are not discouraged from working mines, through a fear that they may be claimed as royal ones; neither does the king depart from the just rights of his revenue, since he may have all the precious metal contained in the ore, paying no more for it than the value of the base metal which it is supposed to be; to which base metal the land-owner is by reason and law entitled.
XIII. To the same original may in part be referred the revenue of treasure-trove (derived from the French word, trover, to find) called in Latin thesaurus inventus, which is where any money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion, is found hidden in the earth, or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion, is found hidden in the earth, or other private place, the owner thereof being unknown; in which case the treasure belongs to the king: but if he that hid it be known, or afterwards found out, the owner and not the king is entitled to it.45 Also if it be found in the sea, or upon the earth, it does not belong to the king, but the finder, if no owner appears.46 So that it seems it is the biding, not the abandoning of it, that gives the king a property: Bracton47 defining it, in the words of the civilians, to be “vetus depositio pecuniae” [“prior concealment of money”]. This difference clearly arises from the different intentions, which the law implies in the owner. A man, that hides his treasure in a secret place, evidently does not mean to relinquish his property; but reserves a right of claiming it again, when he sees occasion; and, if he dies and the secret also dies with him, the law gives it the king, in part of his royal revenue. But a man that scatters his treasure into the sea, or upon the public surface of the earth, is construed to have absolutely abandoned his property, and returned it into the common stock, without any intention of reclaiming it; and therefore it belongs, as in a state of nature, to the first occupant, or finder; unless the owner appear and assert his right, which then proves that the loss was by accident, and not with an intent to renounce his property.
FORMERLY all treasure-trove belonged to the finder;48 as was also the rule of the civil law.49 Afterwards it was judged expedient for the purposes of the state, and particularly for the coinage, to allow part of what was so found to the king; which part was assigned to be all hidden treasure; such as is casually lost and unclaimed, and also such as is designedly abandoned, still remaining the right of the fortunate finder. And that the prince shall be entitled to this hidden treasure is now grown to be, according to Grotius,50 “jus commune, et quasi gentium” [“the common law, and as it were the law of nations”]: for it is not only observed, he adds, in England, but in Germany, France, Spain, and Denmark. The finding of deposited treasure was much more frequent, and the treasures themselves more considerable, in the infancy of our constitution than at present. When the Romans, and other inhabitants of the respective countries which composed their empire, were driven out by the northern nations, they concealed their money under-ground; with a view of resorting to it again when the heat of the irruption should be over, and the invaders driven back to their deserts. But as this never happened, the treasures were never claimed; and on the death of the owners the secret also died along with them. The conquering generals, being aware of the value of these hidden mines, made it highly penal to secrete them from the public service. In England therefore, as among the feudists,51 the punishment of such as concealed from the king the finding of hidden treasure was formerly no less than death; but now it is only fine and imprisonment.52
XIV. WAIFS, bona waviata [unclaimed goods], are goods stolen, and waived or thrown away by the thief in his flight, for fear of being apprehended. These are given to the king by the law, as a punishment upon the owner, for not himself pursuing the felon, and taking away his goods from him.53 And therefore if the party robbed do his diligence immediately to follow and apprehend the thief (which is called making fresh suit) or do convict him afterwards, or procure evidence to convict him, he shall have his goods again.54 Waived goods do also not belong to the king, till seized by somebody for his use; for if the party robbed can seize them first, though at the distance of twenty years, the king shall never have them.55 If the goods are hid by the thief, or last any where by him, so that he had them not about him when he fled, and therefore did not throw them away in his flight; these also are not bona waviata, but the owner may have them again when he pleases.56 The goods of a foreign merchant, though stolen and thrown away in flight, shall never be waifs:57 the reason whereof may be, not only for the encouragement of trade, but also because there is no wilful default in the foreign merchant’s not pursuing the thief, he being generally a stranger to our laws, our usages, and our language.
XV. ESTRAYS are such valuable animals as are found wandering in any manor or lordship, and no man knows the owner of them; in which case the law gives them to the king as the general owner and lord paramount of the soil, in recompense for the damage which they may have done therein; and they now most commonly belong to the lord of the manor, by special grant from the crown. But in order to vest an absolute property in the king or his grantees, they must be proclaimed in the church and two market towns next adjoining to the place where they are found; and then, if no man claims them, after proclamation and a year and a day passed, they belong to the king or his substitute without redemption;58 even though the owner were a minor, or under any other legal incapacity.59 A provision similar to which obtained in the old Gothic constitution, with regard to all things that were found, which were to be thrice proclaimed, primum coram comitibus et viatoribus obviis, deinde in proxima villa vel pago, postremo coram ecclesia vel judicio [first before the inhabitants of the place and passing travelers, then in the next town or village, lastly before the church, or judgment-court.]: and the space of a year was allowed for the owner to reclaim his property.60 If the owner claims them within the year and day, he must pay the charges of finding, keeping, and proclaiming them.61 The king or lord has no property till the year and day passed: for if a lord keeps an estray three quarters of a year, and within the year it strays again, and another lord gets it, the first lord cannot take it again.62 Any beast may be an estray, that is by nature tame or reclaimable, and in which there is a valuable property, as sheep, oxen, swine, and horses, which we in general call cattle; and so Fleta63 defines it, pecus vagans, quod nullus petit, sequitur vel advocat [wandering cattle, which no one seeks, follows, or calls to]. For animals upon which the law sets no value, as a dog or cat, and animals ferae naturae [wild by nature], as a bear or wolf, cannot be considered as estrays. So swans may be estrays, but not any other fowl;64
whence they are said to be royal fowl. The reason of which distinction seems to be, that, cattle and swans being of a reclaimed nature, the owner’s property in them is not lost merely by their temporary escape; and they also, from their intrinsic value, are a sufficient pledge for the expense of the lord of the franchise in keeping them the year and day. For he that takes an estray is bound, so long as he keeps it, to find it in provisions and keep it from damage;65 and may not use it by way of labor, but is liable to an action for so doing.66 Yet he may milk a cow, or the like, for that tends to the preservation, and is for the benefit, of the animal.67
BESIDES the particular reasons before given why the king should have the several revenues of royal fish, shipwrecks, treasure-trove, waifs, and estrays, there is also one general reason which holds for them all; and that is, because they are bona vacantia, or goods in which no one else can claim a property. And therefore by the law of nature they belonged to the first occupant or finder; and so continued under the imperial law. But, in settling the modern constitutions of most of the governments in Europe, it was thought proper (to prevent that strife and contention, which the mere title of occupancy is apt to create and continue, and to provide for the support of public authority in a manner the least burdensome to individuals) that these rights should be annexed to the supreme power by the positive laws of the state. And so it came to pass that, as Bracton expresses it,68 haec quae nullius in bonis sunt, et olim fuerunt inventoris de jure naturali jam efficiuntur principis de jure gentium. [Those things which are no man’s property and formerly belonged to the finder as by natural right, become now the property of the king by the law of nations.]
XVI. THE next branch of the king’s ordinary revenue consists in forfeitures of lands and goods for offenses; bona confiscata [confiscated goods], as they are called by the civilians, because they belonged to the fiscus or imperial treasury; or, as our lawyers term them, forisfacta, that is, such whereof the property is gone away or departed from the owner. The true reason and only substantial ground of any forfeiture for crimes consist in this; that all property is derived from society, being one of those civil rights which are conferred upon individuals, in exchange for that degree of natural freedom, which every man must sacrifice when he enters into social communities. If therefore a member of any national community violates the fundamental contract of his association, by transgressing the municipal law, he forfeits his right to such privileges as he claims by that contract; and the state may very justly resume that portion of property, or any part of it, which the laws have before assigned him. Hence, in every offense of an atrocious kind, the laws of England have exacted a total confiscation of the movables or personal estate; and in many cases a perpetual, in others only a temporary, loss of the offender’s immovables or landed property; and have vested them both in the king, who is the person supposed to be offended, being the one visible magistrate in whom the majesty of the public resides. The particulars of these forfeitures will be more properly recited when we treat of crimes and misdemeanors. I therefore only mention them here, for the sake of regularity, as a part of the census regalis [royal revenue]; and shall postpone for the present the farther consideration of all forfeitures, excepting one species only, which arises from the misfortune rather than the crime of the owner, and is called a deodand.
BY this is meant whatever personal chattel is the immediate occasion of the death of any reasonable creature; which is forfeited to the king, to be applied to pious uses, and distributed in alms by his high almoner;69 though formerly destined to more superstitious purpose. It seems to have been originally designed, in the blind days of popery, as an expiation for the souls of such as were snatched away by sudden death; and for that purpose ought properly to have been given to holy church;70 in the same manner, as the apparel of a stranger who was found dead was applied to purchase masses for the good of his soul. And this may account for that rule of law, that no deodand is due where an infant under the years of discretion is killed by a fall from a cart, or horse, or the like, not being in motion;71 whereas, if an adult person falls from thence and is killed, the thing is certainly forfeited. For the reason given by Sir Matthew Hale seems to be very inadequate, viz. because an infant is not able to take care of himself: for why should the owner save his forfeiture, on account of the imbecility of the child, which ought rather to have made him more cautious to prevent any accident of mischief? The true ground if this rule seems rather to be, that the child, by reason of its want of discretion, is presumed incapable of actual sin, and therefore needed no deodand to purchase propitiatory masses: but every adult, who dies in actual sin, stood in need of such atonement, according to the humane superstition of the founders of the English law.
THUS stands the law, if a person be killed by a fall from a thing standing still. But if a horse, or ox, or other animal, of is own motion, kill as well an infant as an adult, or if a cart run over him, they shall in either case be forfeited as deodands;72 which is grounded upon this additional reason, that such misfortunes are in part owning to negligence of the owner, and therefore he is properly punished by such forfeiture. A like punishment is in like cases inflicted by the Mosaic law:73 “if an ox gore a man that he die, the ox shall be stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten.” And among the Athenians,74 whatever was the cause of a man’s death, by falling upon him, was exterminated or cast out of the dominions of the republic. Where a thing, not in motion, is the occasion of a man’s death, that part only which is the immediate cause is forfeited; as if a man be climbing up a wheel, and is killed by falling from it, the wheel alone is a deodand:75 but, wherever the thing is in motion, not only that part which immediately gives the wound, (as the wheel, which runs over his body) but all things which move with it and help to make the wound more dangerous (as the cart and loading, which increase the pressure of the wheel) are forfeited.76 It matters not whether the owner were concerned in the killing or not; for if a man kills another with my sword, the sword is forfeited77 as an accursed thing.78 And therefore, in all indictments for homicide, the instrument of death and the value are presented and found by the grand jury (as, that the stroke was given with a certain penknife, value sixpence) that the king or his grantee may claim the deodand: for it is no deodand, unless it be presented as such by a jury of twelve men.79 No deodands are due for accidents happening upon the high sea, that being out of the jurisdiction of the common law: but if a man falls from a boat or ship in fresh water, and is drowned, the vessel and cargo are in strictness a deodand.80 But juries have of late very frequently taken upon themselves to mitigate these forfeitures, by finding only some trifling thing, or part of an entire thing, to have been the occasion of the death. And in such cases, although the finding of the jury be hardly warrantable by law, the court of king’s bench has generally refused to interfere on behalf of the lord of the franchise, to assist so odious a claim.81
DEODANDS, and forfeitures in general, as well as wrecks, treasure trove, royal fish, mines, waifs, and estrays, may be granted by the king to particular subjects, as a royal franchise: and indeed they are for the most part granted out to the lords of manors, or other liberties; to the perversion of their original design.
XVII. ANOTHER branch of the king’s ordinary revenue arises from escheats of lands, which happen upon the defect of heirs to succeed to the inheritance; whereupon they in general revert to and vest in the king, who is esteemed, in the eye of the law, the original proprietor of all the lands in the kingdom. But the discussion of this topic more properly belongs to the second book of these commentaries, wherein we shall particularly consider the manner in which lands may be acquired or lost by escheat.
XVIII. I PROCEED therefore to the eighteenth and last branch of the king’s ordinary revenue; which consists in the custody of idiots, from whence we shall be naturally led to consider also the custody of lunatics.
AN idiot, or natural fool, is one that has had no understanding from his nativity; and therefore is by law presumed never likely to attain any. For which reason the custody of him and of his lands was formerly vested in the lord of the fee;82 (and therefore still, by special custom, in some manors the lord shall have the ordering of idiot and lunatic copyholders83) but, by reason of the manifold abuses of this power by subjects, it was at last provided by common consent, that it should be given to the king, as the general conservator of his people, in order to prevent the idiot from wasting his estate, and reducing himself and his heirs to poverty and distress:84 This fiscal prerogative of the king is declared in parliament by statute 17 Edw. II. c. 9. which directs (in affirmance of the common law,85) that the king shall have ward of the lands of natural fools, taking the profits without waste or destruction, and shall find them necessaries; and after the death of such idiots he shall render the estate to the heirs; in order to prevent such idiots from alienating their lands, and their heirs from being disinherited.
BY the old common law there is a writ de idiota inquirendo, to inquire whether a man be an idiot or not:86 which must be tried by a jury of twelve men; and if they find him purus idiota [an absolute idiot], the profits of his lands, and the custody of his person may be granted by the king to some subject, who has interest enough to obtain them.87 This branch of the revenue has been long considered as a hardship upon private families; and so long ago as in the 8 Jac. I. it was under the consideration of parliament, to vest this custody in the relations of the party, and to settle an equivalent on the crown in lieu of it; it being then proposed to share the same fate with the slavery of the feudal tenures, which has been since abolished.88 Yet few instances can be given of the oppressive exertion of it, since it seldom happens that a jury finds a man an idiot a nativitate [from birth], but only non compos mentis [of unsound mind] from some particular time; which has an operation very different in point of law.
A MAN is not an idiot,89 if he has any glimmering of reason, so that he can tell his parents, his age, or the like common matters. But a man who is born deaf, dumb, and blind, is looked upon by the law as in the same state with an idiot;90 he being supposed incapable of understanding, as wanting those senses which furnish the human mind with ideas.
A LUNATIC, or non compos mentis, is one who has had understanding, but by disease, grief, or other accident has lost the use of his reason. A lunatic is indeed properly one that has lucid intervals; sometimes enjoying his senses, and sometimes not, and that frequently depending upon the change of the moon. But under the general name of non compos mentis (which Sir Edward Coke says is the most legal name91) are comprised not only lunatics, but persons under frenzies; or who lose their intellects by disease; those that grow deaf, dumb, and blind, not being born so; or such, in short, as are by any means rendered incapable of conducting their own affairs. To these also, as well as idiots, the king is guardian, but to a very different purpose. For the law always imagines, that these accidental misfortunes may be removed; and therefore only constitutes the crown a trustee for the unfortunate persons, to protect their property, and to account to them for all profits received, if they recover, or after their decease to their representatives. And therefore it is declared by the statute 17 Edw. II. c. 10. that the king shall provide for the custody and sustentation of lunatics, and preserve their lands and the profits of them, for their use, when they come to their right mind: and the king shall take nothing to his own use; and if the parties die in such estate, the residue shall be distributed for their souls by the advice of the ordinary, and of course (by the subsequent amendments of the law of administrations) shall now go to their executors or administrators.
THE method of proving a person non compos is very similar to that of proving him an idiot. The lord chancellor, to whom, by special authority from the king, the custody of idiots and lunatics is entrusted,92 upon petition or information, grants a commission in nature of the writ de idiota inquirendo [inquiry of idiocy], to inquire into the party’s state of mind; and if he be found non compos, he usually commits the care of his person, with a suitable allowance for his maintenance, to some friend, who is then called his committee. However, to prevent sinister practices, the next heir is never permitted to be this committee of the person; because it is his interest that the party should die. But, it has been said, there lies not the same objection against his next of kin, provided he be not his heir, for it is his interest to preserve the lunatic’s life, in order to increase the personal estate by savings, which he or his family may hereafter be entitled to enjoy.93 The heir is generally made the manager or committee of the estate, it being clearly his interest by good management to keep it in condition; accountable however to the court of chancery, and to the non compos himself, if he recovers; or otherwise, to his administrators.
IN this care of idiots and lunatics the civil law agrees with ours; by assigning them tutors to protect their persons, and curators to manage their estates. But in another instance the Roman law goes much beyond the English. For, if a man by notorious prodigality was in danger of wasting his estate, he was looked upon as non compos and committed to the care of curators or tutors by the praetor.94 And by the laws of Solon such prodigals were branded with perpetual infamy.95 But with us, when a man on an inquest of idiocy has been returned an unthrift and not an idiot,96 no farther proceedings have been had. And the propriety of the practice itself seems to be very questionable. It was doubtless an excellent method of benefitting the individual and of preserving estates in families; but it hardly seems calculated for the genius of a free nation, who claim and exercise the liberty of using their own property as they please. “Sic utere tuo, ut alienum non laedas” [“Use your property so as to not injure another”], is the only restriction our laws have given with regard to economical prudence. And the frequent circulation and transfer of lands and other property, which cannot be effected without extravagance somewhere, are perhaps not a little conducive towards keeping our mixed constitution in its due health and vigor.
THIS may suffice for a short view of the king’s ordinary revenue, or the proper patrimony of the crown; which was very large formerly, and capable of being increased to a magnitude truly formidable: for there are very few estates in the kingdom, that have not, at some period or other since the Norman conquest, been vested in the hands of the king by forfeiture, escheat, or otherwise. But, fortunately for the liberty of the subject, this hereditary landed revenue, by a series of improvident management, is sunk almost to nothing; and the casual profits, arising from the other branches of the census regalis, are likewise almost all of them alienated from the crown. In order to supply the deficiencies of which, we are now obliged to have recourse to new methods of raising money, unknown to our early ancestors; which methods constitute the king’s extraordinary revenue. For, the public patrimony being got into the hands of private subjects, it is but reasonable that private contributions should supply the public service. Which, though it may perhaps fall harder upon some individuals, whose ancestors have had no share in the general plunder, than upon others, yet, taking the nation throughout, it amounts to nearly the same; provided the gain by the extraordinary, should appear to be no greater than the loss by the ordinary, revenue. And perhaps, if every gentleman in the kingdom was to be stripped of such of his lands as were formerly the property of the crown; was to be again subject to the inconveniences of purveyance and preemption, the oppression of forest laws, and the slavery of feudal tenures; and was to resign into the king’s hands all his royal franchises of waifs, wrecks, estrays, treasure-trove, mines, deodands, forfeitures, and the like; he would find himself a greater loser, than by paying his quota to such taxes, as are necessary to the support of government. The thing therefore to be wished and aimed at in a land of liberty, is by no means the total abolition of taxes, which would draw after it very pernicious consequences, and the very supposition of which is the height of political absurdity. For as the true idea of government and magistracy will be found to consist in this, that some few men are deputed by many others to preside over public affairs, so that individuals may the better be enabled to attend to their private concerns; it is necessary that those individuals should be bound to contribute a portion of their private gains, in order to support that government, and reward that magistracy, which protects them in the enjoyment of their respective properties. But the things to be aimed at are wisdom and moderation, not only in granting, but also in the method of raising, the necessary supplies; by contriving to do both in such a manner as may be most conducive to the national welfare and at the same time most consistent with economy and the liberty of the subject; who, when properly taxed, economy and the liberty of the subject; who, when properly taxed, contributes only, as was before observed,97 some part of his property, in order to enjoy the rest.
THESE extraordinary grants are usually called by the synonymous names of aids, subsidies, and supplies; and are granted, we have formerly seen,98 by the commons of Great Britain, in parliament assembled: who, when they have voted a supply to his majesty, and settled the quantum of that supply, usually resolve themselves into what is called a committee of ways and means, to consider of the ways and means of raising the supply so voted. And in this committee every member (though it is looked upon as the peculiar province of the chancellor of the exchequer) may propose such scheme of taxation as he thinks will be least detrimental to the public. The resolutions of this committee (when approved by a vote of the house) are in general esteemed to be (as it were) final and conclusive. For, through the supply cannot be actually raised upon the subject till directed by an act of the whole parliament, yet no monied man will scruple to advance to the government any quantity of ready cash, on the credit of a bare vote of the house of commons, though no law be yet passed to establish it.
THE taxes, which are raised upon the subject, are either annual or perpetual. The usual annual taxes are those upon land and malt.
I. THE land tax, in its modern shape, has superseded all the former methods of rating either property, or persons in respect of their property, whether by tenths or fifteenths, subsidies on land, hydages, scutages, or talliages; a short explication of which will greatly assist us in understanding our ancient laws and history.
TENTHS, and fifteenths,99 were temporary aids issuing out of personal property, and granted to the king by parliament. They were formerly the real tenth or fifteenth part of all the movables belonging to the subject; when such movables, or personal estates, were a very different and a much less considerable thing than what they usually are at this day. Tenths are said to have been first granted under Henry the second, who took advantage of the fashionable zeal for crusades to introduce this new taxation, in order to defray the expense of a pious expedition to Palestine, which he really or seemingly had projected against Saladine emperor of the Saracens; whence it was originally denominated the Saladine tenth.100 But afterwards fifteenths were more usually granted than tenths. Originally the amount of these taxes was uncertain, being levied by assessments new made at every fresh grant of the commons, a commission for which is preserved by Matthew paris:101 but it was at length reduced to a certainty in the eighth of Edw. III. when, by virtue of the king’s commission, new taxations were made of every township, borough, and city in the kingdom, and recorded in the exchequer; which rate was, at the time, the fifteenth part of the value of every township, the whole amounting to about 29000£ and therefore it still kept up the name of a fifteenth, when, by the alteration of the value of money and the increase of personal property, things came to be in a very different situation. So that when, of later years, the commons granted the king a fifteenth, every parish in England immediately knew their proportion of it; that is, the same identical sum that was assessed by the same aid in the eighth of Edw. III; and then raised it by a rate among themselves, and returned it into the royal exchequer.
THE other ancient levies were in the nature of a modern land tax; for we may trace up the original of that charge as high as to the introduction of our military tenures;102 when every tenant of a knight’s fee was bound, if called upon, to attend the king in his army for forty days in every year. But this personal attendance growing troublesome in many respects, the tenants found means of compounding for it, by first sending others in their stead, and in process of time by making a pecuniary satisfaction to the crown in lieu of it. This pecuniary satisfaction at last came to be levied by assessments, at so much for every knight’s fee, under the name of scutages; which appear to have been levied for the first time in the fifth year of Henry the second, on account of his expedition to Toulouse, and were then (I apprehend) mere arbitrary compositions, as the king and the subject could agree. But this precedent being afterwards abused into a means of oppression, (by levying scutages on the landholders by the royal authority only, whenever our kings went to war, in order to hire mercenary troops and pay their contingent expenses) it became thereupon a matter of national complaint; and king John was obliged to promise in his magna carta,103 that no scutage should be imposed without the consent of the common council of the realm. This clause was indeed omitted in the charters of Henry III, where104 we only find it stipulated, that scutages should be taken as they were used to be in the time of king Henry the second. Yet afterwards, by a variety of statutes under Edward I and his grandson,105 it was provided, that the king shall not take any aids or tasks, any talliage or tax, but by the common assent of the great men and commons in parliament.
OF the same nature with scutages upon knights-fees were the assessments of hydage upon all other lands, and of talliage upon cities and burghs.106 But they all gradually fell into disuse, upon the introduction of subsidies, about the time of king Richard II and king Henry IV. These were a tax, not immediately imposed upon property, but upon persons in respect of their reputed estates, after the nominal rate of 4 s. in the pound for lands, and 2s. 6d. for goods; and for those of aliens in a double proportion. But this assessment was also made according to an ancient valuation; wherein the computation was so very moderate, and the rental of the kingdom was supposed to be so exceeding low, that one subsidy of this sort did not, according to Sir Edward coke,107 amount to more than 70,000£ whereas a modern land tax at the same rate produces two millions. It was anciently the rule never to grant more than one subsidy, and two fifteenths at a time; but this rule was broke through for the first time on a very pressing occasion, the Spanish invasion in 1588; when the parliament gave queen Elizabeth two subsidies and four fifteenths. Afterwards, as money sunk in value, more subsidies were given; and we have an instance in the first parliament of 1640, of the king’s desiring twelve subsidies of the commons, to be levied in three years; which was looked upon as a startling proposal: though lord Clarendon tells us,108 that the speaker, sergeant Glanvile, made it manifest to the house, how very inconsiderable a sum twelve subsidies amounted to, by telling them he had computed what he was to pay for them; and, when he named the sum, he being known to be possessed of a great estate, it seemed not worth any farther deliberation. And indeed, upon calculation, we shall find that the total amount of these twelve subsidies, to be raised in three years, is less than what is now raised in one year, by a land tax of two shillings in the pound.
THE grant of scutages, talliages, or subsidies by the commons did not extend to spiritual preferments; those being usually taxed at the same time by the clergy themselves in convocation; which grants of the clergy were confirmed in parliament, otherwise they were illegal, and not binding; as the same noble writer observes of the subsidies granted by the convocation, who continued sitting after the dissolution of the first parliament in 1640. A subsidy granted by the clergy was after the rate of 4s. in the pound according to the valuation of their livings in the king’s books; and amounted, Sir Edward Coke tells us,109 to about 20,000£ While this custom continued, convocations were wont to sit as frequently as parliaments: but the last subsidies, thus given by the clergy, were those confirmed by statute 15 Car. II. cap. 10. since which another method of taxation has generally prevailed, which takes in the clergy as well as the laity; in recompense for which the beneficed clergy have from that period been allowed to vote at the elections of knights of the shire;110 and thenceforward also the practice of giving ecclesiastical subsidies has fallen into total disuse.
THE lay subsidy was usually raised by commissioners appointed by the crown, or the great officers of state: and therefore in the beginning of the civil wars between Charles I and his parliament, the latter, having no other sufficient revenue to support themselves and their measures, introduced the practice of laying weekly and monthly assessments111 of a specific sum upon the several counties of the kingdom; to be levied by a pound rate on lands and personal estates: which were occasionally continued during the whole usurpation, sometimes at the rate 120,000£ a month; sometimes at inferior rates.112 After the restoration the ancient method of granting subsidies, instead of such monthly assessments, was twice, and twice only, renewed; viz. in 1663, when four subsidies were granted by the temporalty, and four by the clergy; and in 1670, when 800,000£ was raised by way of subsidy, which was the last time of raising supplies in that manner. For, the monthly assessments being now established by custom, being raised by commissioners named by parliament, and producing a more certain revenue; from that time forwards we hear no more of subsidies; but occasional assessments were granted as the national emergencies required. These periodical assessments, the subsidies which preceded them, and the more ancient scutage, hydage, and talliage, were to all intents and purposes a land tax; and the assessments were sometimes expressly called so.113 Yet a popular opinion has prevailed, that the land tax was first introduced in the reign of king William III; because in the year 1692 a new assessment or valuation of estates was made throughout the kingdom; which, though by no means a perfect one, had this effect, that a supply of 500,000£ was equal to 1 s. in the pound of the value of the estates given in. And, according to this enhanced valuation, from the year 1693 to the present, a period of above seventy years, the land tax has continued an annual charge upon the subject; above half the time at 4 s. in the pound, sometimes at 3 s, sometimes at 2 s, twice114 at 1 s, but without any total intermission. The medium has been 3 s. 3 d. in the pound, being equivalent to twenty-three ancient subsidies, and amounting annually to more than a million and an half of money. The method of raising it is by charging a particular sum upon each county, according to the valuation given in, A. D. 1692: and this sum is assessed and raised upon individuals (their personal estates, as well as real, being liable thereto) by commissioners appointed in the act, being the principal landholders of the county, and their officers.
II. THE other annual tax is the malt tax; which is a sum of 750,000£, raised every year by parliament, ever since 1697, by a duty of 6d. in the bushel on malt, and a proportional sum on certain liquors, such as cider and perry, which might otherwise prevent the consumption of malt. This is under the management of the commissioners of the excise; and is indeed itself no other than an annual excise, the nature of which species of taxation I shall presently explain: only premising at present, that in the year 1760 an additional perpetual excise of 3 d. per bushel was laid upon malt; and in 1763 a proportional excise was laid upon cider and perry.
THE perpetual taxes are,
I. THE customs; or the duties, toll, tribute, or tariff, payable upon merchandise exported and imported. The considerations upon which this revenue (or the more ancient part of it, which arose only from exports) was invested in the king, were said to be two;115 I. Because he gave the subject leave to depart the kingdom, and to carry his goods along with him. 2. Because the king was bound of common right to maintain and keep up the ports and havens, and to protect the merchant from pirates. Some have imagined they are called with us customs, because they were the inheritance of the king by immemorial usage and the common law, and not granted him by any statute:116 but Sir Edward Coke has clearly shown,117 that the king’s first claim to them was by grant of parliament 3 Edw. I. though the record thereof is not now extant. And indeed this is in express words confessed by statute 25 Edw. I. c. 7. wherein the king promises to take no customs from merchants, without the common assent of the realm, “saving to us and our heirs, the customs on wools, skins, and leather, formerly granted to us by the commonalty aforesaid.” These were formerly called the hereditary customs of the crown; and were due on the exportation only of the said three commodities, and of none other: which were styled the staple commodities of the kingdom, because they were obliged to be brought to those ports where the king’s staple was established, in order to be there first rated, and then exported.118 They were denominated in the barbarous Latin of our ancient records, custuma119 [customs] not consuetudines [customs], which is the language of our law whenever it means merely usages. The duties on wool, sheep-skins, or woolsells, and leather, exported, were called custuma antiqua sive magna [ancient or great customs]; and were payable by every merchant, as well native as stranger; with this difference, that merchant-strangers paid an additional toll, viz. half as much again as was paid by natives. The custuma parva et nova [new and small customs] were an impost of 3d. in the pound due from merchant-strangers only, for all commodities as well imported as exported; which was usually called the
alien’s duty, and was first granted in 31 Edw. I.120 But these ancient hereditary customs, especially those on wool and woolsells, came to be of little account when the nation became sensible of the advantages of a home manufacture, and prohibited the exportation of wool by statute II Edw. III. c. I.
THERE is also another ancient hereditary duty belonging to the crown, called the prisage or butlerage of wines, which is considerably older than the customs, being taken notice of in the great roll of the exchequer, 8 Ric. I. still extant.121 Prisage was a right of taking two tons of wine from every ship importing into England twenty tons or more; which by Edward I was exchanged into a duty of 2 s. for every ton imported by merchant-strangers; which is called butlerage, because paid to the king’s butler.122
OTHER customs payable upon exports and imports are distinguished into subsidies, tonnage, poundage, and other imposts. Subsidies are such as were imposed by parliament upon any of the staple commodities before mentioned, over and above the custuma antiqua et magna: tonnage was a duty upon all wines imported, over and above the prisage and butlerage aforesaid: poundage was a duty imposed ad valorem, at the rate of 12d. in the pound, on all other merchandise whatsoever: and the other imposts were such as were occasionally laid on by parliament, as circumstances and times required.123 These distinctions are now in a manner forgotten, except by the officers immediately concerned in this department; their produce being in effect all blended together, under the one denomination of the customs.
BY these we understand, at present, a duty or subsidy paid by the merchant, at the quay, upon all imported as well as exported commodities, by authority of parliament; unless where, for particular national reasons, certain rewards, bounties, or drawbacks, are allowed for particular exports or imports. Those of tonnage and poundage, in particular, were at first granted, as the old statutes, and particularly I Eliz. c. 19. express it, for the defense of the realm, and the keeping and safeguard of the seas, and for the intercourse of merchandise safely to come into and pass out of the same. They were at first usually granted only for a stated term of years, as, for two years in 5 Ric. II;124 but in Henry the fifth’s time, they were granted him for life by a statute in the third year of his reign; and again to Edward IV for the term of his life also: since which time they were regularly granted to all his successors, for life, sometimes at their first, sometimes at other subsequent parliaments, till the reign of Charles the first; when, as had before happened in the reign of Henry VIII125 and other princes, they were neglected to be asked. And yet they were imprudently and unconstitutionally levied and taken without consent of parliament, (though more than one had been assembled) for fifteen years together; which was one of the causes of those unhappy discontents, justifiable at first in too many instances, but which degenerated at last into causeless rebellion and murder. For, as in every other, so in this particular case, the king (previous to the commencement of hostilities) gave the nation ample satisfaction for the errors of his former conduct, by passing an act,126 whereby he renounced all power in the crown of levying the duty of tonnage and poundage, without the express consent of parliament; and also all power of imposition upon any merchandises whatever. Upon the restoration this duty was granted to king Charles the second for life, and so it was to his two immediate successors; but now by three several statutes, 9 Ann. c. 6. I Geo. I. c. 12. and 3 Geo. I. c. 7. it is made perpetual and mortgaged for the debt of the public. The customs, thus imposed by parliament, are chiefly contained in two books of rates, set forth by parliamentary authority;127 one signed by Sir Harbottle Grimston, speaker of the house of commons in Charles the second’s time; and the other an additional one signed by Sir Spenser Compton, speaker in the reign of George the first; to which also subsequent additions have been made. Aliens pay a larger proportion than natural subjects, which is what is now generally understood by the aliens’ duty; to be exempted from which is one principal cause of the frequent applications to parliament for acts of naturalization.
THESE customs are then, we see, a tax immediately paid by the merchant, although ultimately by the consumer. And yet these are the duties felt least by the people; and, if prudently managed, the people hardly consider that they pay them at all. For the merchant is easy, being sensible he does not pay them for himself; and the consumer, who really pays them, confounds them with the price of the commodity: in the same manner as Tacitus observes, that the emperor Nero gained the reputation of abolishing the tax on the sale of slaves, though he only transferred it from the buyer to the seller; so that it was, as he expresses it, “remissum magis specie, quam vi: quia, cum venditor pendere jubereter, in partem pretii emptoribus accrescebat.”128 [“Remitted rather in appearance than reality,. for when the seller was ordered to pay it, he raised the price to buyers accordingly.”] But this inconvenience attends it on the other hand, that these imposts, if too heavy, are a check and cramp upon trade; and especially when the value of the commodity bears little or no proportion to the quantity of the duty imposed. This in consequence gives rise also to smuggling, which then becomes a very lucrative employment: and its natural and most reasonable punishment, viz. confiscation of the commodity, is in such cases quite ineffectual; the intrinsic value of the goods, which is all that the smuggler has paid, and therefore all that he can lose, being very inconsiderable when compared with his prospect of advantage in evading the duty. Recourse must therefore be had to extraordinary punishments to prevent it; perhaps even to capital ones: which destroys all proportion of punishment,129 and puts murderers upon an equal footing with such as are really guilty of no natural, but merely a positive offense.
THERE is also another ill consequence attending high imposts on merchandise, not frequently considered, but indisputably certain; that the earlier any tax is laid on a commodity, the heavier it falls upon the consumer in the end: for every trader, through whose hands it passes, must have a profit, not only upon the raw material and his own labor and time in preparing it, but also upon the very tax itself, which he advances to the government; otherwise he loses the use and interest of the money which he so advances. To instance in the article of foreign paper. The merchant pays a duty upon importation, which he does not receive again till he sells the commodity, perhaps at the end of three months. He is therefore equally entitled to a profit upon that duty which he pays at the customhouse, as to a profit upon the original price which he pays to the manufacturer abroad; and considers it accordingly in the price he demands of the stationer. When the stationer sells it again, he requires a profit of the printer or bookseller upon the whole sum advanced by him to the merchant: and the bookseller does not forget to charge the full proportion to the student or ultimate consumer; who therefore does not only pay the original duty, but the profits of these three intermediate traders, who have successively advanced it for him. This might be carried much farther in any mechanical, or more complicated, branch of trade.
II. DIRECTLY opposite in its nature to this is the excise duty; which is an inland imposition, paid sometimes upon the consumption of the commodity, or frequently upon the retail sale, which is the last stage before the consumption. This is doubtless, impartially speaking, the most economical way of taxing the subject: the charges of levying, collecting, and managing the excise duties being considerably less in proportion, than in any other branch of the revenue. It also renders the commodity cheaper to the consumer, than charging it with customs to the same amount would do; for the reason just now given, because generally paid in a much later stage of it. But, at the same time, the rigor and arbitrary proceedings of excise-laws seem hardly compatible with the temper of a free nation. For the frauds that might be committed in this branch of the revenue, unless a strict watch is kept, make it necessary, wherever it is established, to give the officers a power of entering and searching the houses of such as deal in excisable commodities, at any hour of the day, and, in many cases, of the night likewise. And the proceedings in case of transgressions are so summary and sudden, that a man may be convicted in two days time in the penalty of many thousand pounds by two commissioners or justices of the peace; to the total exclusion of the trial by jury, and disregard of the common law. For which reason, though lord Clarendon tells us,130 that to his knowledge the earl of Bedford (who was made lord treasurer by king Charles the first, to oblige his parliament) intended to have set up the excise in England, yet it never made a part of that unfortunate prince’s revenue; being first introduced, on the model of the Dutch prototype, by the parliament itself after its rupture with the crown. Yet such was the opinion of its general unpopularity, that when in 1642 “aspersions were cast by malignant persons upon the house of commons, that they intended to introduce excises, the house for its vindication therein did declare, that these rumors were false and scandalous; and that their authors should be apprehended and brought to condign punishment.”131 its original establishment was in 1643, and its progress was gradual;132 being at first laid upon those persons and commodities, where it was supposed the hardship would be least perceivable, viz. the makers and vendors of beer, ale, cider, and perry;133 and the royalists at Oxford soon followed the example of their brethren at Westminster by imposing a similar duty; both sides protesting that it should be continued no longer than to the end of the war, and then be utterly abolished.134 But the parliament at Westminster soon after imposed it on flesh, wine, tobacco, sugar, and such a multitude of other commodities that it might fairly be denominated general; in pursuance of the plan laid down by Mr. Pymme (who seems to have been the father of the excise) in his letter to Sir John Hotham,135 signifying, “that they had proceeded in the excise to many particulars, and intended to go on farther; but that it would be necessary to use the people to it by little and little.” And afterwards, when the people had been accustomed to it for a series of years, the succeeding champions of liberty boldly and openly declared, “the impost of excise to be the most easy and indifferent levy that could be laid upon the people:”136 and accordingly continued it during the whole usurpation. Upon king Charles’s return, it having then been long established and it 3 produce well known, some part of it was given to the crown, in the 12 Car. II, by way of purchase (as was before observed) for the feudal tenures and other oppressive parts of the hereditary revenue. But, from its first original to the present time, its very name has been odious to the people of England. It has nevertheless been imposed on abundance of other commodities in the reigns of king William III, and every succeeding prince, to support the enormous expenses occasioned by our wars on the continent. Thus brandies and other spirits are now excised at the distillery; printed silks and linens, at the printers; starch and hair powder, at the maker’s; gold and silver wire, at the wiredrawer’s; all plate whatsoever, first in the hands of the vendor, who pays yearly for a license to sell it, and afterwards in the hands of the occupier, who also pays an annual duty for having it in his custody; and coaches and other wheel carriages, for which the occupier is excised; though not with the same circumstances of arbitrary strictness with regard to plate and coaches, as in the other instances. To these we may add coffee and tea, chocolate, and cocoa paste, for which the duty is paid by the retailer; all artificial wines, commonly called sweets; paper and pasteboard, first when made, and again if stained or printed; malt as beforementioned; vinegars; and the manufacture of glass; for all which the duty is paid by the manufacturer; hops, for which the person that gathers them is answerable; candles and soap, which are paid for at the maker’s; malt liquors brewed for sale, which are excised at the brewery; cider and perry, at the mill; and leather and skins, at the tanner’s. A list, which no friend to his country would wish to see farther increased.
III. I PROCEED therefore to a third duty, namely that upon salt; which is another distinct branch of his majesty’s extraordinary revenue, and consists in an excise of 3s. 4d. per bushel imposed upon all salt, by several statutes of king William and other subsequent reigns. This is not generally called an excise, because under the management of different commissioners: but the commissioners of the salt duties have by statute I Ann. c. 21. the same powers, and must observe the same regulations, as those of other excises. This tax had usually been only temporary; but by statute 26 Geo. II. c. 3. was made perpetual.
IV. ANOTHER very considerable branch of the revenue is levied with greater cheerfulness, as, instead of being a burden, it is a manifest advantage to the public. I mean the post-office, or duty for the carriage of letters. As we have traced the original of the excise to the parliament of 1643, so it is but justice to observe that this useful invention owes its birth to the same assembly. It is true, there existed postmasters in much earlier times: but I apprehend their business was confined to the furnishing of posthorses to who were desirous to travel expeditiously, and to the dispatching extraordinary packets upon special occasions. The outline of the present plan seems to have been originally conceived by Mr. Edmond Prideful, who was appointed attorney general to the commonwealth after the murder of king Charles. He was a chairman of a committee in 1642 for considering what rates should be set upon inland letters;137 and afterwards appointed postmaster by an ordinance of both the houses,138 in the execution of which office he first established a weekly conveyance of letters into all parts of the nation:139 thereby saving to the public the charge of maintaining postmasters, to the amount of 7000£ per annum. And, his own emoluments being probably considerable, the common council of London endeavored to erect another post-office in opposition to his, till checked by a resolution of the commons,140 declaring, that the office of postmaster is and ought to be in the sole power and disposal of the parliament. This office was afterwards farmed by one Manley in 1654.141 But, in 1657, a regular post-office was erected by the authority of the protector and his parliament, upon nearly the same model as has been ever since adopted, with the same rates of postage as were continued till the reign of queen Anne.142 After the restoration a similar office, with some improvements, was established by statute 12 Car. II. c. 35. but the rates of letters were altered, and some farther regulations added, by the statutes 9 Ann. c. 10. 6 Geo. I. c. 21. 26 Geo. II. c. 12. and 5 Geo. III. c. 25. and penalties were enacted, in order to confine the carriage of letters to the public office only, except in some few cases: a provision, which is absolutely necessary; for nothing but an exclusive right can support an office of this sort: many rival independent offices would only serve to ruin one another. The privilege of letters coming free of postage, to and from members of parliament, was claimed by the house of commons in 1660, when the first legal settlement of the present post-office was made;143 but afterwards dropped144 upon a private assurance from the crown, that this privilege should be allowed the members.145 And accordingly a warrant was constantly issued to the postmaster-general,146 directing the allowance thereof, to the extent of two ounces in weight: till at length it was expressly confirmed by statute 4 Geo. III. c. 24; which adds many new regulations, rendered necessary by the great abuses crept into the practice of franking; whereby the annual amount of franked letters had gradually increased, from 23600£ in the year 1715, to 170700£ in the year 1763.147 There cannot be devised a more eligible method, than this, of raising money upon the subject: for therein both the government and the people find a mutual benefit. The government acquires a large revenue; and the people do their business with greater ease, expedition, and cheapness, than they would be able to do is no such tax (and of course no such office) existed,
V. A FIFTH branch of the perpetual revenue consists in the stamp duties, which are a tax imposed upon all parchment and paper whereon any legal proceedings, or private instruments of almost any nature whatsoever, are written; and also upon licenses for retailing wines, of all denominations; upon all almanacs, newspapers, advertisements, cards, dice, and pamphlets containing less than six sheets of paper. These imposts are very various, according to the nature of the thing stamped, rising gradually from a penny to ten pounds. This is also a tax, which though in some instances it may be heavily felt, by greatly increasing the expense of all mercantile as well as legal proceedings, yet (if moderately imposed) is of service to the public in general, by authenticating instruments, and rendering it much more difficult than formerly to forge deeds of any standing; since, as the officers of this branch of the revenue vary their stamps frequently, by marks perceptible to none but themselves, a man that would forge a deed of king William’s time, must know and be able to counterfeit the stamp of that date also. In France and some other countries the duty is laid on the contract itself, not on the instrument in which it is contained: but this draws the subject into a thousand nice disquisitions and disputes concerning the nature of his contract, and whether taxable or not; in which the farmers of the revenue are sure to have the advantage. Our method answers the purposes of the state as well, and consults the ease of the subject much better. The first institution of the stamp duties was by statute 5 & 6 W. & M. c. 21. and they have since in many instances been increased to five times their original amount.
VI. A SIXTH branch is the duty upon houses and windows. As early as the conquest mention is made in domesday book of fumage or fuage, vulgarly called smoke farthings; which were paid by custom to the king for every chimney in the house. And we read that Edward the black prince (soon after his successes in France) in imitation of the English custom, imposed a tax of a florin upon every hearth in his French dominions.148 But the first parliamentary establishment of it in England was by statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 10. whereby an hereditary revenue of 2s. for every hearth, in all houses paying to church and poor, was granted to the king for ever. And, by subsequent statutes, for the more regular assessment of this tax, the constable and two other substantial inhabitants of the parish, to be appointed yearly, were, once in every year, empowered to view the inside of every house in the parish. But, upon the revolution, by statute I W. & M. St. I. c. 10. hearth-money was declared to be “not only a great oppression to the poorer sort, but a badge of slavery upon the whole people, exposing every man’s house to be entered into, and searched at pleasure, by persons unknown to him; and therefore, to erect a lasting monument of their majesties’ goodness in every house in the kingdom, the duty of hearth-money was taken away and abolished.” This monument of goodness remains among us to this day: but the prospect of it was somewhat darkened when, in six years afterwards, by statute 7W. III. c. 18. a tax was laid upon all houses (except cottages) of 2s. now advanced to 3s. per house, and a tax also upon all windows, if they exceed nine, in such house. Which rates have been from time to time varied, (particularly by statutes 20 Geo. II. c. 3. and 31 Geo. II. c. 22.) and power is given to surveyors, appointed by the crown, to inspect the outside of houses, and also to pass through any house two days in the year, into any court or yard to inspect the windows there.
VII. THE seventh branch of the extraordinary perpetual revenue is the duty arising from licenses to hackney coaches and chairs in London, and the parts adjacent. In 1654 two hundred hackney coaches were allowed within London, Westminster, and six miles round, under the direction of the court of aldermen.149 By statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 2. four hundred were licensed; and the money arising thereby was applied to repairing the streets.150 This number was increased to seven hundred by statute 5 W. & M. c. 22. and the duties vested in the crown: and by the statute 9 Ann. c. 23. and other subsequent statutes,151 there are now eight hundred licensed coaches and four hundred chairs. This revenue is governed by commissioners of its own, and is, in truth, a benefit to the subject; as the expense of it is felt by no individual, and its necessary regulations have established a competent jurisdiction, whereby a very refractory race of men may be kept in some tolerable order.
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 I s. 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 collection 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 its original in the state of Florence, A. D. 1344: which government then owed about 60,000£ 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.152 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 145,000,000£ to pay the interest of which, and the charges for management, amounting 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 increased in idea, compared with former times; yet, if we coolly consider it, not at all increased 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 100£ per annum; and he is so far indebted to B, that he pays him 50£ per annum 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 public, 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 increase 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 its 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 encumbrances 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 exigencies 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 sea 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 its 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 deficiencies.
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 surpluses 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 entire 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 surpluses 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 of 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 encumbrances. 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 surpluses 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 household 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 licenses, 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 120,000£ in money, were settled on the king for life, for the support of his majesty’s household, and the honor 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 800,000£ 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 800,000£ 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 77000£) 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 800,000£ per annum.153 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 100,000£ 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 expenses defrayed by the civil list are those that in any shape relate to civil government; as, the expenses of the household; all salaries to officers of state, to the judges, and every of the king’s servants; the appointments to foreign ambassadors; 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 II 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 its 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 increased. The whole revenue of queen Elizabeth did not amount to more than 600,000£ a year:154 that of king Charles II was155 800,000£ and the revenue voted for king Charles II was156 1,200,000£ though complaints were made (in the first years at least) that it did not amount to so much.157 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 800,000£ which was ten times more than before the former troubles.158 The same revenue, subject to the same charges, was settled in on king James II:159 but by the increase of trade, and more frugal management, it amounted on an average to a million and half per annum, (besides other additional customs, granted by parliament,160 which produced an annual revenue of 400,000£) out of which his fleet and army were maintained at the yearly expense of1611,100,000£ 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 700,000£ per annum;162 and the same was continued to queen Anne and king George I.163 That of king George II, we have seen, was nominally augmented to164 800,000£ 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 700,000£ 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 ancient. For the crown; because it is more certain, and collected with greater ease: for the people; because they are now delivered from the feudal hardships, and other odious branches of the prerogative. And though complaints have sometimes been made of the increase 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 acknowledge 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 inquiries 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 entirely 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 emphatic 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 being pleaded to parliamentary impeachments. Besides all this, if we consider how the crown is impoverished and stripped of all its ancient revenues, so that it greatly depends on the liberality of parliament for its necessary support and maintenance, we may perhaps be led to think, that the balance is inclined pretty strongly to the popular scale, and that the executive magistrate has neither independence nor power enough left, to from 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 mobility 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 removable at the royal pleasure, that they have extended the influence of government to every corner of the nation. Witness the commissioners, and 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 removable 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 increase 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 public, 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 century. 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 entrusted with its authority; to be loyal, yet free; obedient, and yet independent: and, above everything, 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, has manifested the highest veneration for the free constitution of Britain; has already in more than one instance remarkably strengthened its outworks; and will therefore never harbor a thought, or adopt a persuasion, in any the remotest degree detrimental to public liberty.
1. 2 Inst. 15.
2. Stat. 17 Edw. II. c. 14. F. N. B. 32.
3. Matth. Paris.
4. 9 Hen. III. c. 5.
5. 3 Edw. I. c. 21.
6. Co. Litt. 67. 341.
7. F. N. B. 230.
8. Notes on F. N. B. above cited.
9. page 110.
10. 2 Inst. 647.
11. F. N. B. 176.
12. 3 Inst. 154.
13. Numb. 18. 26.
14. 1 Ann. St. 1. c. 7.
15. In like manner, by the civil law, the inheritances or fundi patrimoniales [lands of inheritance] of the imperial crown could not be alienated, but only let to farm. Cod. l. 11. t. 61.
16. 4 Inst. 273.
17. Mod. Un. hist. xxxiii. 220.
18. Roger North, in his life of lord keeper North, (43. 44) mentions an eyre, or iter, to have been held south of Trent soon after the restoration: but I have met with no report of its proceedings.
19. 1 Jones. 267 298.
20. Plowd. 315.
21. Stiernh. de jure Sueonum. L. 2. c. 8. Gr. Coustum. cap. 17.
22. 17 Edw. II. c. II.
23. Bracton, L. 3. c. 3. Britton. c. 17. Fleta. L. I. c. 45 & 46.
24. ch. 4. pag. 216.
25. Dr. & St. d. 2. c. 51.
26. Spelm. Cod. apud Wilkins. 305.
27. 26 May, A. D. 1174. I Rym. Foed. 36.
28. Rog. Hoved. in Ric. I.
29. In like manner Constantine the great, finding that by the imperial law the revenue of wrecks was give to the prince’s treasury or fiscus, restrained it by an edict (Cod. II. 5. I.) and ordercd, them to remain to the owners; adding this humane expostulation, “Quod enim jus habet fiscus in aliena calamitate ut re tam luctuosa compendium sectetur?” [“For what right has the exchequer in other men’s misfortunes, that it should seek gain from so lamentable a source?.”] 30. Bract. l. 3. c. 3.
31. 3 Edw. I. c. 4.
32. Flet. I. c. 44. 2 Inst. 167.
33. §. 28.
34. 2 Inst. 168.
35. Plowd. 166.
36. 2 Inst. 168. Bro. Abr. tit. Wreck.
37. 5 Rep. 106.
38. Quae enim res in tempestate, levandae navis causa, ejiciuntur, hae dominorum permanent. Quia palam est, eas non eo animo ejici, quod quis habere noluit. [Those things which are cast overboard for the sake of lightening the ship still belong to the owners. For it is clear that they were not thrown away as relinquished on any other account.] Inst. 2. I. §. 48.
39. 5 Rep. 108.
40. Stiernh. de jure Sueon. l. 3. c. 5.
41. F. N. B. 112.
42. By the civil law, to destroy persons shipwrecked, or prevent their saving the ship, is capital. And to steal even a plank from a vessel in distress, or wrecked, makes the party liable to answer for the whole ship and cargo.(St. 47. 9. 3.) The laws also of the Visigoths, and the most early Neapolitan constitutions, punished with the utmost severity all those who neglected to assist any ship in distress, or plundered any goods cast on shore. (Lindenbrog. Cod. LL. antiq. 146. 715.)
43. 2 Inst. 577.
44. Plowd. 366.
45. 3 Inst. 132. Dalt. Shatiffs. c. 16.
46. Britt. c. 17. Finch. L. 177.
47. l. 3. c. 3. §. 4.
48. Bracton. l. 3.c. 3. . Inst. 133.
49. Ff. 41. I. 31.
50. de jur. b. & p. l. 2. c. 8. §. 7.
51. Glanv. l. I. c. 2. Crag. I. 16. 40.
52. 3 Inst. 133.
53. Cro. Eliz. 694.
54. Finch. L. 212.
56. 5 Rep. 109.
57. Fitzh. Abr. tit. Estray. I. 3 Bulstr. 19.
58. Mirr. c. 3. §. 19.
59. 5 Rep. 108. Bro. Abr. tit. Estray. Cro. Eliz. 716.
60. Stiernh. de jur. Gotbor. l. 3. c. 5.
61. Dalt. Sh. 79.
62. Finch. L. 177.
63. l. I. c. 43.
64. 7 Rep 17.
65. I Roll. Abr. 889.
66. Cro. Jac. 147.
67. Cro. Jac. 148. Noy. 119.
68. l. I. c. 12.
69. I Hal. P. C. 419. Fleta. l. I. c. 25.
70. Fitzh. Abr. tit. Enditement. Pl. 27. Stannr. P. C. 20, 21.
71. 3 Inst. 57. I Hal. P. C. 422.
72. Omnia, quae movent ad mortem, sunt Deo danda. [What moves to death we understand.] Bracton. l. 3. c. 5.
73. Exed. 21. 28.
74. Aeschin. contr. Ctrfiph.
75. I Hal. P. C. 422.
76. I Hawk. P. C. c. 26.
77. A similar rule obtained among the ancient Goths. Si quis, me nesciente, quocunque meo telovel instrumento in perniciem suam abutatur; vel ex aedibus meis cadat, vel incidat in puteum meum, quantumvis tectum vel munitum, vel in cataractum,et sub molendino meo confrigatur, ipse aliqua mulcta plectar; ut in parte infelicitatis meae numeratur habuisse vel aedificasse aliquod quo homo periret. [If any one, without my knowledge, use any weapon or instrument of mine for his own destruction; or fall from my house, or into my well, however securely coveed or fenced, or into my mill-stream, or be crushed in my mill, let me suffer by some fine; as the misfortune may be reckoned in part mine, to have built or possessed anything by which a man should perish.] Stiernhook de jure Goth. l. 3. c. 4.
78. Dr. & St. d. 2. c. 51.
79. 3 Inst. 57.
80. 3 Inst. 58. I Hal. P. C. 423. Molloy de jur. maritim. 2. 225.
81. Foster of homicide, 266.
82. Flet. l. I. c. II. §. 10.
83. Dyer. 302. Hutt. 17. Noy 27.
84. F. N. B. 232.
85. 4 Rep. 126.
86. F. N. B. 232.
87. This power, though of late very rarely exerted, is still alluded to in common speech, by that usual expression of begging a man for a fool.
88. 4 Inst. 203. Com. Journ. 1610.
89. F. N. B. 233.
90. Co. Litt. 42. Fleta. l. 6. c. 40.
91. Inst. 246.
92. 3 p. Wms. 108.
93. 2 p. Wms. 638.
94. Solent praetores, si talem hominem invenerent, qui neque tempus neque finem expensarum habet, sed bono sua dilacerando et dissipando profundit, curatorem ei dare, exemplo furiosi: et tamdiu erunt ambo in curatione, quamdiu vel furiosus sanitatem, vel ille bonos mores, receperit. [The praetors are accustomed, when they find a man who sets no bounds to his expenses, but lavishes his fortune in acts of dissipation, to appoint him a guardian as though he were a madman; and as the madman so the spendthrift shall be in wardship until the one be restored unto a sanity of mind and the other to reformed manners.] Ff. 27. 10. I.
95. potter. Antiqu. b. I. c. 26.
96. Bro. Abr. tit. idiot. 4.
97. pag. 271.
98. pag. 163.
99. 2 Inst. 77. 4 Inst. 34.
100. Hoved. A. D. 1188. Carte. I. 719. Hume. I. 329.
101. A. D. 1232.
102. See the second book of these commentaries.
103. cap. 14.
104. 9 Hen. III. c. 37.
105. 25 Edw. I. c. 5. & 6. 34 Edw. I. St. 4. c. I. 14 Edw. III. St. 2. c. I.
106. Madox. hist, exch. 480.
107. 4 Inst. 33.
108. hist. b. 2.
109. 4 Inst 33.
110. Dalt. of sheriffs, 418. Gilb. hist. of exch. c. 4.
111. 29 Nov. 4 Mar. 1642.
112. One of these bills of assessment, in 1656, is preserved in Scobell’s collection, 400.
113. Com. Journ. 26 Jun. 9 Dec. 1678.
114. in the years 1732 and 1733.
115. Dyer. 165.
116. Dyer. 43. pl. 24.
117. 2 Inst. 58, 59
118. Dav. 9.
119. This appellation seems to be derived from the French word coustum, or coutum which signifies toll or tribute, and owes its own etymology to the word coust, which signifies price, charge, or, as we have adopted it in English, cost.
120. 4 Inst. 29.
121. Madox hist exch. 526, 532.
122. Dav. 8. b. 2 Bulstr. 254.
123. Dav. II, 12.
124. Dav. 12.
125. Stat. 6 Hen. VIII. c. 14.
126. 16 Car. I. c. 8.
127. Stat. 12 Car. II. c. 4. II Geo. I. c. 7.
128. hist. I. 13.
129. Montesqu. Sp.£ b. 13. c. 8.
130. hist. b. 3.
131. Com. Journ. 8 Oct. 1642.
132. The translator and continuator of Petavius’s chronological history (Lond. 1659.) informs us, that it was first moved for, 28 Mar. 1643, by Mr. Prynne. And it appears from the journals of the commons that on that day the house resolved itself into a committee to consider of raising money, in consequence of which the excise was afterwards voted. But Mr. Prynne was not a member of parliament till 7 Nov. 1648; and published in 1654 “A protestation against the illegal, detestable, and oft condemned tax and extortion of excise in general.” It is probably therefore a mistake of the printer for Mr. Pymme, who was intended for chancellor of the exchequer under the earl of Bedford. (Lord Clar. b. 7.)
133. Com. Journ. 17 May 1643.
134. Lord Clar. b. 7.
135. 30 May 1643. Dugdale of the troubles 120.
136. Ord. 14 Aug. 1649. c. 50. Scobell. 72. Stat. 1656. c. 19. Scobell. 453.
137. Com. Journ. 28 Mar. 1642.
138. Ibid. 7. Sept. 1644.
139. Ibid. 21 Mar. 1649.
141. Scobell. 358.
142. Com. Journ. 9 Jun. 1657. Scobell. 511.
143. Com. Journ. 17 Dec. 1660.
144. Ibid. 22 Dec. 1660.
145. Ibid. 16 Apr. 1735.
146. Ibid. 26 Feb. 1734.
147. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1764.
148. Mod. Un. hist. xxiii. 463. Spelm. Gloss. tit. Fuage.
149. Scobell. 313.
150. Com. Journ. 14 Feb. 1661.
151. 10 Ann. c. 19. §. 158. 12 Geo. I. c. 15. 33 Geo. II. c. 25.
152. Pro tempore, pro spe, pro commodo, minuitur eorum pretium atque augescit. [Their price was lessened and increased according to time, expectation, or advantage.] Aretin. See Mod. Un. hist. xxxvi. 116.
153. Stat. I. Geo. III. c. I.
154. Lord Clar. continuation. 163.
155. Com. Journ. 4 Sept. 1660.
157. Ibid. 4 Jun. 1663. Lord Clar. ibid.
158. Ibid. 165.
159. Stat. I Jac. II. c. I.
160. Stat. I Jac. II. c. 3 & 4.
161. Com. Journ. I Mar. 20 Mar. 1688.
162. Ibid. 14 Mar. 1701.
163. Ibid. 17 Mar. 1701. II Aug. 1714.
164. Stat. I Geo. II. c. I.
Based on the first edition, together with the most material corrections and additions in the second edition. Translation of Greek, Latin, Italian and French quotations (with some modifications) by J. W. Jones, Esq. (1823). Footnotes have been converted to chapter end notes. Spelling has been modernized. Copyright of text is in the Public Domain.
Founders Corner Library is researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional notes and commentary) by Steve Farrell, Editor In Chief of Self-Educated American. As uniquely edited and or formatted by Mr. Farrell, Copyright © 2015 Steve Farrell and Self-Educated American.