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THE CONDUCT OF THE ALLIES
IT is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffeehouse for the voice of the kingdom. The city coffeehouses have been for some years filled with people whose fortunes depend upon the Bank, East India, or some other stock. Every new fund to these is like a new mortgage to a usurer, whose compassion for a young heir is exactly the same with that of a stock-jobber to the landed gentry. At the court end of the town, the like places of resort are frequented either by men out of place, and consequently enemies to the present ministry, or by officers of the army no wonder, then, if the general cry in all such meetings be against any peace, either with Spain or without, which in other words is no more than this, that discontented men desire another change of ministry; that soldiers would be glad to keep their commissions; and that the creditors have money still, and would have the debtors borrow on at the old extorting rate while they have any security to give.
Now, to give the most ignorant reader some idea of our present circumstances, without troubling him or myself with computations in form: everybody knows that our land and malt tax amount annually to about two millions and a half. All other branches of the revenue are mortgaged to pay interest for what we have already borrowed. The yearly charge of the
war is usually about six millions, to make up which sum we are forced to take up on the credit of new funds about three millions and a half. This last year
the computed charge of the war came to above a million more than all the funds the parliament could contrive were sufficient to pay interest for, and so we have been forced to divide a deficiency of twelve hundred thousand pounds among the several branches of our expense. This is a demonstration that, if the war be to last another campaign, it will be impossible to find funds for supplying it without mortgaging the malt tax, or by some other method equally desperate.
If the peace be made this winter, we are then to consider what circumstances we shall be in toward paying a debt of about fifty millions, which is a fourth part of the purchase of the whole island if it were to be sold.
Towards clearing ourselves of this monstrous incumbrance, some of these annuities will expire or pay off the principal in thirty, forty, or a hundred years; the bulk of the debt must be lessened gradually by the best management we can, out of what will remain of the land and malt taxes, after paying guards and garrisons, and maintaining and supplying our fleet in the time of peace. I have not skill enough to compute what will be left, after these necessary charges, toward annually clearing so vast a debt, but believe it must be very little; however, it is plain that both these taxes must be continued, as well for supporting the government, as because we have no other means for paying off the principal. And so likewise must all the other funds remain for paying the interest. How long a time this must require, how steady an
administration, and how undisturbed a state of affairs both at home and abroad, let others determine.
However, some people think all this very reasonable, and that, since the struggle has been for peace and safety, posterity, which is to partake of the benefit, ought to share in the expense; as if at the breaking out of this war there had been such a conjuncture of affairs as never happened before, nor would ever happen again. It is wonderful that our ancestors, in all their wars, should never fall under such a necessity; that we meet no examples of it in Greece and Rome; that no other nation in Europe ever knew anything like it, except Spain, about a hundred and twenty years ago, when they drew it upon themselves by their own folly and have suffered for it ever since; no doubt we shall teach posterity wisdom, but they will be apt to think the purchase too dear, and I wish they may stand to the bargain we have made in their names.
It is easy to entail debts on succeeding ages, and to hope they will be able and willing to pay them; but how to ensure peace for any term of years is difficulty enough to apprehend. Will human nature ever cease to have the same passions, princes to entertain designs of interest or ambition, and occasions of quarrel to arise? May not we ourselves, by the variety of events and incidents which happen in the world, be under a necessity of recovering towns out of the very hands of those for whom we are now ruining our country to take them? Neither can it be said that those states with whom we may probably differ will be in as bad a condition as ourselves; for by the circumstances of our situation, and the impositions of our allies, we are more exhausted than either they or the enemy: and by
the nature of our government, the corruption of our manners, and the opposition of factions, we shall be more slow in recovering.
It will no doubt be a mighty comfort to our grandchildren, when they see a few rags hung up in Westminster Hall, which cost a hundred millions, whereof they are paying the arrears, to boast as beggars do that their grandfathers were rich and great.
I have often reflected on that mistaken notion of credit so boasted of by the advocates of the late ministry was not all that credit built upon funds raised by the landed men whom they now so much hate and despise? Is not the greatest part of those funds raised from the growth and product of land? Must not the whole debt be entirely paid, and our fleets and garrisons be maintained, by the land and malt tax after a peace? If they call it credit to run ten millions in debt without parliamentary security, by which the public is defrauded of almost half, I must think such credit to be dangerous, illegal, and perhaps treasonable. Neither has anything gone farther to ruin the nation than their boasted credit. For my
own part, when I saw this false credit sink upon the change of the ministry, I was singular enough to conceive it a good omen. It seemed as if the young extravagant heir had got a new steward, and was resolved to look into his estate before things grew desperate, which made the usurers forbear feeding him with money as they used to do.
Since the moneyed men are so fond of war, I should be glad they would furnish out one campaign at their own charge: it is not above six or seven millions; and I dare engage to make it out that when
they have done this, instead of contributing equal to the landed men, they will have their full principal and interest at six per cent. remaining of all the money they ever lent to the government.
Without this resource, or some other equally miraculous, it is impossible for us to continue the war upon the same foot. I have already observed that the last funds of interest fell short above a million, although the persons most conversant in ways and means employed their utmost invention; so that of necessity we must be still more defective next campaign. perhaps our allies will make up this deficiency on our side by great efforts on their own? Quite the contrary: both the emperor and Holland failed this year in several articles, and signified to us some time ago that they cannot keep up to the same proportions in the We have gained a noble barrier for the latter, and they have nothing more to demand or desire. The emperor, however sanguine he may now affect to appear, will I suppose be satisfied with Naples, Sicily, Milan, and his other acquisitions, rather than engage in a long, hopeless war for the recovery of Spain, to which his allies the Dutch will neither give their assistance nor consent. So that, since we have done their business, since they have no farther service for our arms, and we have no more money to give them, and lastly, since we neither desire any recompense nor expect any thanks, we ought in pity to be dismissed and have leave to shift for ourselves. They are ripe for a peace to enjoy and cultivate what we have conquered for them; and so are we to recover, if possible, the effects of their hardships upon us. The first overtures from France are made to England upon