Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VII.: Of Poll-money. - The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAP. VII.: Of Poll-money. - Sir William Petty, The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1 
The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, together with The Observations upon Bills of Mortality, more probably by Captain John Graunt, ed. Charles Henry Hull (Cambridge University Press, 1899), 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
POll-money is a Tax upon the Persons of men, either upon all simply and indifferently, or else according to some known Title or mark of distinction upon each; and that either of bare honour, or else of some Office sought or imposed, ‖ or of some Faculty and Calling without respect to Riches or Poverty, Incomes or Expence, Gain or Loss accrewing by the said Title, Office or Faculty.
2. The Poll-moneys which have been leavied of late have been wonderfully confused; as taxing some rich single persons at the lowest rate; some Knights, though wanting necessaries, at twenty pounds, encouraging some vain fellows to pay as Esquires, on purpose to have themselves written Esquires in the Receipts; making some pay ten pounds as Doctours of Physick or Law, who get nothing by the Faculty, nor minde the practice; making some poor Tradesmen forced to be of the Liveries of their Companies to pay beyond their strength; and lastly, some to pay according to their Estates, the same to be valued by those that know them not; thereby also giving opportunity to some Bankrupts to make the world credit them as men of such Estates, at which the Assessors did rate them by Collusion1 .
3. So as by this Confusion, Arbitraries, Irregularities, and hotch-pot of Qualifications, no estimate could be made of the fitness of this Plaister to the Sore, nor no Checque or way to examine whether the respective Receipts were duly accompted for, &c.
4. Wherefore wholly rejecting the said complicated way of Tax, I shall speak of Poll-money more distinctly, and first of the simple Poll-money upon every head of all mankinde alike; the Parish paying for those that receive alms, Parents for their Children under age, and Masters for their Apprentices, and others who receive no wages.
5. The evil of this way is, that it is very unequal; men of unequal abilities, all paying alike, and those who have greatest charges of Children paying most; that is, that by how much the poorer they are, by so much the harder are they taxed.
6. The Conveniencies are; first, that it may be suddenly collected, and with small charge: Secondly, that the number of the people being alwayes known, it may be sufficiently computed what the same will amount unto. Thirdly, It seems to be a spur unto all men, to set their Children to some ‖ profitable employment upon their very first capacity, out of the proceed whereof, to pay each childe his own Poll-money.
7. The next Poll-money is upon every head, but distinguished by Titles of meer Honour, without any kinde of Office or Faculty; as, Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts. Barons, Baronets, Knights, and Esquires, viz, the eldest Sons of Knights in perpetuum, and Gentlemen if they write themselves so. This way is much more equal then the other; forasmuch as those who are Titled, are for the most part rich proportionably; or if they were not, yet men so dignified shall command a preheminence and place, even although they do not or cannot buy it of the vulgar by their Expence: my meaning hereby is, that a Title may possibly save a man as much as his Poll-money may exceed the Plebeian Level by reason of such title.
8. Moreover, good and multiform Accompts being kept of the People, this Tax may be also easily speedily and inexpensively collected; and also being capable of being computed aforehand, may be fitted and seized according to the needs of the Prince.
9. As for Offices, they are indeed Dignities for the most part, but paid for by the trouble of administring them; as for example, to be an Alderman suppose of London, is indeed an honour, yet many pay five hundred pounds to be excused from receiving it.
Nevertheless it may not be improper to tax Offices sought, or such as are accepted, although they might be refused: And on the other side no Titulado1 should be forced to pay Poll-money according to his Title1 , if he be contented to lay it down, and never resume it more.
10. The Titles of Faculties and Callings ought to be no Qualification in a Poll-money, because they do not necessarily nor probably inferr ability to pay, but carry with them vaste inequalities. But therefore if a man by his Licence to practise get much, it may be presumed he will spend accordingly; in which net the way of Excize will certainly take him, as it will the Officers aforementioned. ‖
11. Harth-money seems to be a Poll-money, but is not, being rather a way of Accumulative Excize; of which hereafter.
A poll tax according to a complicated scale such as Petty complains of was imposed by 12 Charles II., c. 9, in September, 1660. It was payable within twelve days and was expected to produce £400,000 for the speedy disbanding of the army. By the 24th November it had produced but £252,167. 1s. 4d., H. C. Jour., VIII. 196. Two supplementary bills for remedying the defects of the tax were introduced in the same year, but they appear to have failed of passage on account of the dissolution of Parliament, 29 December. The Parliamentary career of these bills was complicated. See H. C. Jour., VIII. 38 to 234 passim, and, for an instance of evasion, Pepys’ Diary, 10 December, 1660, vol. 1., p. 283.
In the Irish census of 1659 “in addition to mere numbers, the returns supply the names of the principal or distinguished occupiers of townlands and streets under the Anglo-Spanish compound designation of Tituladoes.” Hardinge, Earliest known MS. Census Returns of the People of Ireland, in Trans. R. I. Academy, vol. XXIV., Antiquities, p. 319. See also Gilbert, Calendar of the ancient Records of Dublin, vol. IV., p. xiii.
1679, “this title.”