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[SECT. II.]—: TAXES UPON LAND. * - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 2 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. II. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1856).
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TAXES UPON LAND.*
Taxes upon the Rent of Land.
A tax upon the rent of land may be imposed in two different ways:—i. It may be imposed according to a certain Rule or Canon, which, being once fixed, is understood not to be liable to subsequent alterations; or, ii. It may be proportioned to the actual rent, rising or falling, according to the progressive or declining state of the land in point of cultivation. [Of these in their order.]
[i.]— The Land Tax in England is of the former description. The original of this tax is traced by Sir William Blackstone to the period when military tenures were introduced, when every tenant of a knight’s fee was bound, if called upon, to attend the king, in his array, 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 as an equivalent. This pecuniary satisfaction at last came to be levied by assessments, at so much for every knight’s fee, under the name of scutage, which appears to have been levied for the first time in the 5th year of Henry II., on account of his expedition to Toulouse, and were then, probably, mere arbitrary compositions, as the king and the subject could agree. But this precedent being afterwards abused into a means of oppression, it became a matter of national complaint; and King John was obliged to promise, in his Magna Charta, that no scutage should be imposed without the consent of the Common Council of the realm.
Of the same nature with scutages upon knights’ fees, were the assessments of hydage upon all other lands, and of tallage upon cities or burghs. 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 four shillings in the pound for lands, and two shillings and eightpence for goods, and for those of aliens in a double proportion. But this assessment was also made according to an ancient valuation, in which the computation was so very moderate, and the rental of the kingdom was supposed to be so extremely low, that one subsidy of this sort did not, according to Sir Edward Coke, 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 fifteenths1 at a time; but this rule was broken 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 raised in three years,—a proposal which excited much alarm at the time, although the total amount of the sum to be thus levied, (according to Blackstone’s calculation,) is less than what is now raised in one year by a land-tax of two shillings in the pound.
The 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 assessments 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 of £120,000 a month, sometimes at inferior rates. After the Restoration, the ancient method of granting subsidies, instead of such monthly assessments, was twice, and twice only, renewed, viz., in 1663 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. The idea, therefore, of taxing landed property was by no means a novelty, (as some have supposed,) introduced in the reign of William III.; all that was then done was to extend the principle, by introducing a new plan for levying the tax, agreeably to a new assessment or valuation of estates throughout the kingdom. This valuation was made in 1692, and it is according to that, Parliament at present renews the grant of the land-tax, and orders it to be collected. It is observed by Mr. Christian, in his Notes on Blackstone, that even the plan and arrangements for levying this tax (as specified in the 4th of William and Mary) are, in all the most important particulars, copied from the Act of Charles II., already referred to, (22 and 23 Car. II., passed in 1670,) in which the mode of collecting the land-tax differs totally from the former subsidy assessment, and appears to have been suggested by an Act passed in the time of the Commonwealth, (1656,) for an assessment to raise £60,000 a month.
Before proceeding farther, it is proper for me to remark, that what is called the Land-tax in England, does not affect merely landed property, but all personal estates, except property in the public funds, and stock upon land, supposed necessary for agriculture. With these exceptions, all personal estates are charged in the same proportion as land-rents. In this respect, the land-tax, as it is levied at present, agrees with the subsidies and other taxes already referred to. “Indeed,” as Sir James Steuart observes, “there is no vestige in the History of England of any tax imposed singly on land. The subsidies, monthly assessments, and pound-rates in the different stages of the monarchy, have all been mixed duties, composed of a charge upon the lands, upon the money and personal estates of the subject, and frequently including a poll-tax, where men of different ranks were differently charged.”*
According to the valuation made in 1692, a supply of £500,000 was equal to one shilling in the pound of the value of the estates given in. Since that period it has continued an annual charge on the subject;—in general, at four shillings in the pound, sometimes at three, sometimes at two; twice at one (viz., in the years 1732, 1733,) but without any total intermission. The method of raising it is, by charging a particular sum upon each county, according to the valuation given in, in 1692; and this sum is assessed and raised upon individuals, (their personal estates as well as real, being liable to the tax,) by Commissioners appointed in the Act, being the principal landholders of the county, and their officers.
It is commonly understood that the valuation according to which the different counties and parishes were assessed to the land-tax by the 4th of William and Mary, was very unequal at its first establishment, in consequence of the liberality or fraud of the owners and assessors in their representations of the value, produced by their attachment or aversion to the new government. In this respect, therefore, the English land-tax was even from the beginning reprehensible upon the general principle stated by Mr. Smith, as the first of his fundamental maxims.
Besides this inequality, however, another disproportion in the general assessment has been occasioned by the unequal cultivation of the different counties of England since the close of last century, and such has been the effect of these two causes combined, that while some estates pay four shillings, others pay fourpence, or even less, by the same rule of proportion. A late writer asserts, upon good information, that a gentleman possessing an estate of £5000 a year, in one of the northern counties of England, pays in land-tax, at four shillings in the pound, only £75.1 To an inequality of the same kind, every land-tax must necessarily become liable in process of time, which is imposed according to a certain invariable canon, however equitably that canon may have been adjusted at the time it was established.
This defect, in point of equality is, in the opinion of Mr. Smith, the only one which can be objected to the English land-tax:—“It is perfectly agreeable,” he observes, “to all the other general principles which ought to regulate taxation;” and, more particularly, he adds, “it possesses the recommendation of perfect certainty.”*
In opposition, however, to this unqualified encomium, something may be objected; and, in fact, a very able writer, Sir J. Steuart, has fixed on this very circumstance of certainty as one in which the English land-tax is remarkably defective. “The sums imposed,” says he, “at so many shillings in the pound upon every district in the kingdom, whether cities, towns, universities, or open country, &c., are not distributed according to any rule of proportion upon the property of individuals; but this operation is left to assessors. . . . By the original distribution, indeed, it appears what every city, county, university, &c., is to pay according as the tax is imposed at one, two, three, or four shillings in the pound. Still, however, such a regulation nowise prevents the inconveniences which attend this tax, because the burden of it does not consist in the total amount so much as in the particular distribution upon the inhabitants in every subdivision.
“Suppose, for example, the proportion of the general sum for a particular district to be £10,000 at four shillings in the pound, how is this to be levied as the law stands? Instead of books of valuation, which shew at least the proportion of every man’s property, if not the real value of it, assessors are constantly called in, who examine the rents of all the lands according to the last leases of them. If they have been improved and let at a higher rent than formerly, the proportion of the tax is augmented. If they have not been let, but remain in the possession of him who improved them, the tax is not augmented. If the tax be found to fall too heavy upon the lands and houses, then personal estates are made to contribute, as is the case in London. All questions or disputes about the repartition of the tax, are determined, without appeal to the courts of law, by the commissioners appointed for laying on the tax; as in France, (under the old Government,) they were determined by the Intendant.”* And, indeed, without this regulation (as Sir James Steuart himself acknowledges) all would run into confusion.
In proof of this opinion he observes, that “any proprietor of lands is entitled, from the words of the Statute, to insist that the whole personal estates of those of the district shall enter into computation of the total value upon which the sum imposed is to be assessed. Were such questions,” he continues, “to come before a court of law, where the judges are obliged to determine almost according to the letter of it, no land-tax could possibly be levied in this kingdom. But manners, not laws, govern mankind. The spirit of the English nation is such as to be incompatible with anything that savours of oppression: hence the few complaints against the assessors, or those who judge between parties. And as the Land-tax is levied without any complaints, except as to the total amount, while that remains the case, the fewer innovations that are made on it the better.”†
In other respects, the English land-tax possesses important advantages.—1. The time of payment for the tax being the same as that for the rent, is as convenient as it can be to the landlord, who is plainly, in all cases, the contributor; the tenant only advancing the tax, and being entitled to deduct it in the payment of the rent.—2. This tax is levied by a much smaller number of officers than any other which affords nearly the same revenue.—3. As the tax does not rise in proportion to the rise of the rent, the sovereign does not share in the profits of the landlord’s improvements, and, therefore, does not operate (like a variable land-tax) “as a bounty on bad husbandry, and a penal law against improvement.”1
Notwithstanding, however, these considerations, which so strongly recommend this species of taxation, it is justly remarked by Mr. Smith,* that the advantage which the landlord has derived from the invariable constancy by which the lands are rated to the land-tax, has been principally owing to circumstances altogether extraneous to the nature of the tax, and which, if they had happened accidentally to be different, might have rendered this invariable constancy a source of much inconveniency, either to the contributors or to the commonwealth. 1. Since the time when this valuation was first established, the rents of almost all the estates of Great Britain have been continually rising, and scarce any of them have fallen. The landlords, therefore, have gained the difference between the tax which they would have paid, according to the present rent of their estates, and that which they actually pay. Had rents been gradually falling, the landlords would have lost this difference, and the sovereign would have gained it.—2. Since the establishment of this valuation, the value of silver has been pretty uniform, and there has been no alteration in the standard of the coin. And, therefore, (as it is in money that the valuation of the land is expressed, and also that the tax is payable,) things have remained nearly (at least as far as money is concerned,) in their original estate, both for sovereign and subject. Had silver risen, it would have proved very oppressive to the landlord: had it fallen, it would have reduced the revenue of the sovereign. Had any considerable alteration been made in the standard of the money, it would have hurt the revenue either of the one or of the other. “In the course of ages, however,” adds Mr. Smith, “such circumstances must, at some time or other, happen, and a constitution intended to be permanent, ought to be convenient, not in certain circumstances only, but in all circumstances; or, in other words, ought to be suited, not to those circumstances which are accidental, but to such as are necessary, and, therefore, always the same.”*
In what has been hitherto said on the subject of the land-tax, I have taken no notice of Scotland, as the greater part of the general principles which have been stated are equally applicable to both parts of the island. Some important differences, however, exist both in the proportions and in the mode in which the two kingdoms contribute to this branch of revenue; and of these it may be satisfactory to give some account before concluding the present article.
In the history of England, there is no vestige, since Doomsday Book, of any regular valuation being made of all the lands of the kingdom. But in Scotland, this operation has been carried into execution (with what accuracy it is not possible now to determine) in various instances, partly for regulating the proportion of public subsidies, and partly for ascertaining the amount of non-entry and relief-duties payable to the superior.
The first general valuation is commonly supposed to have taken place towards the end of the 13th century, in the time of Alexander III.; but it has been rendered extremely probable by Lord Hailes and by Dr. Gilbert Stuart, that long before this time similar attempts had been made and accomplished.1 Our lawyers, however, always refer to this period as the farthest limit to which our inquiries on this point can be carried with any certainty, distinguishing the valuation which was then made, by the title of the Old Extent.
A revaluation of lands, it is conjectured, was made when a tax was to be imposed for the ransom of David II.; and there is indisputable evidence of a valuation in the times of James I.1 In consequence, however, of the progress of agriculture, and perhaps also of the heightening of the nominal value of our money, these valuations were considered as too low a standard for the superior’s casualties; and, accordingly, in the reign of James III., it was ordained, that in all Services of Heirs, the jury should express in their inquiry or retour, not only the old extent of the lands of a deceased proprietor, but their exact value at the period of the investiture of the heir; (quantum nunc valent.) This transaction was deemed equivalent to a valuation; and it obtained the appellation of the New Extent.
Whilst, however, the New Extent became the measure of assessment in adjusting the feudal casualties due by vassals to their superiors, the Old Extent continued the rule for levying public subsidies, till the usurpation of Cromwell. By two Acts of his Parliament, held at Westminster in 1656, imposing taxations on Scotland, the rates laid upon the counties are precisely fixed; and by the Act of the Convention of Estates 1667, the subsidy then granted was levied on the several counties, nearly in the same proportions that were fixed by Cromwell in 1656; the sums to which each county was subjected being subdivided among the individual landholders in that county, according to the valuations already settled, or that should be settled by the commissioners appointed to carry that Act into execution. For a few years after the Restoration, the land-tax had been levied according to the Old Extent; but since 1667, when Cromwell’s valuations were adopted, they have continued to furnish the rules according to which the land-tax, and most of the other public burdens, have been levied.2 The rent fixed by these valuations is commonly called the valued rent, and is always stated in Scotch money.
In adjusting the proportional burdens of the two kingdoms at the time of the Union, the relative rates at which they were to contribute to the land-tax, were for ever ascertained as a fundamental article, in the following terms:—
Art. ix.—“That whenever the sum of one million, nine hundred, ninety-seven thousand, seven hundred and sixty pounds, eight shillings and fourpence halfpenny,”—a sum which we may state, in round numbers, at two millions,—“shall be enacted by the Parliament of Great Britain to be raised in that part of the United Kingdom called England, on land and other things usually charged in Acts of Parliament there, for granting an aid to the Crown by a land-tax, that part of the United Kingdom now called Scotland, shall be charged by the same Act with a sum of forty-eight thousand pounds, free of all charges, as the quota of Scotland to such a tax, and so proportionably for any greater or lesser sum raised in England by any tax on land, and other things usually charged together with the land: And that such quota for Scotland, in the cases aforesaid, be raised and collected in the same manner as the Cess now is in Scotland; but subject to such regulations, in the manner of collecting, as shall be made by the Parliament of Great Britain.”*
So much with respect to land-taxes, imposed like that of Great Britain, according to an invariable canon.
[ii.]—I now proceed to the consideration of land-taxes which vary with the variations of the rent,—that is, which rise and fall according to the improvement or decline of cultivation. The example of such a tax occurs in the Venetian territory, where all the arable lands which are let upon lease to farmers are taxed at a tenth of the rent. The leases are recorded in a public register, which is kept by the officers of revenue in each province or district. When the proprietor cultivates his own lands, they are valued according to an equitable estimation, and he is allowed a deduction of one-fifth of the tax; so that, for such lands he pays only eight instead of ten per cent. of the supposed rents.
There can be no doubt that a land-tax of this kind is more equal than the land-tax of England; and if it should be somewhat inferior to it in point of certainty, and in the cheapness of levying it, these disadvantages might, in a great measure, be obviated by a proper system of administration. Frauds against the revenue might be easily prevented, by obliging the landlord and tenant jointly to record their lease in a public register, and by enacting proper penalties against concealment or misrepresentations. The principal objection seems to be, that such regulations might have the effect of preventing leases, and thereby diminishing that independence of the cultivators on which the improvement of agriculture chiefly depends.1
In establishing such a system of administration, it has been apprehended farther, that various regulations might be devised which would serve to introduce into the common management of land, a policy calculated to advance the general improvement of the country, and to correct the injudicious practices which individuals are apt to adopt, from mistaken views with respect to their own interest or that of the public.
Some landlords, (for example,) particularly such as are of a spendthrift disposition, instead of raising the rent, take a fine for the renewal of the lease,—“a practice,” as Mr. Smith remarks, “in most cases hurtful to the landlord, frequently hurtful to the tenant, and always hurtful to the community.”* By rendering the tax upon such fines a good deal heavier than upon the ordinary rent, this pernicious practice might be discouraged, to the advantage of all the various parties concerned. Various other regulations of a similar tendency are suggested by Mr. Smith, as easy to be grafted upon such a scheme of taxation, and as affording of consequence so many additional arguments in its favour. Into this detail it is unnecessary for me to enter.
The great objection to a variable land-tax of this kind, is the discouragement which it might give to agricultural improvements. The landlord would certainly be less disposed to improve, when the sovereign, who contributed nothing to the expense, was to share in the profit of his exertions. “There is no man,” says Mr. Young, “who has been attentive to the progress of husbandry in this kingdom, but what must be sensible that, if our present land-tax of a nominal four shillings in the pound was a variable one depending on the rent, our agriculture would suffer considerably. The grand encouragement it meets with now, is the stability of the land-tax. If a landlord takes or buys a farm worth only fifty pounds a year, and by improvement makes it worth five hundred pounds a year, he has no increase of tax; will any person of common sense affirm, that a contrary system, a system which divides his profits with him the moment he makes them, which bears on him in direct proportion to his spirit and his merit, will they assert that such a system is beneficial to husbandry?”
Mr. Smith, while he acknowledges the force of this objection, suggests a method by which he apprehends that it might be obviated. For this purpose, he proposes that “the landlord should be allowed, before he began his improvement, to ascertain in conjunction with the officers of revenue, the actual value of his lands, according to the equitable arbitration of a certain number of landlords and farmers in the neighbourhood equally chosen by both parties; and that he should be rated according to this valuation for such a number of years as might be fully sufficient for his complete indemnification.”*
On the other hand, he remarks, as a very weighty argument in favour of the tax, that “in all the variations of the state of the society, in the improvement and in the declension of agriculture; in all the variations in the value of silver, and in all those of the standard of the coin, a tax of this kind would, of its own accord, and without any attention of Government, readily suit itself to the actual situation of things, and would be equally just and equitable in all those different changes. It would, therefore, be much more proper to be established as a perpetual and unalterable rule, than any tax which was always to be levied according to a particular valuation.”†
These and some other apprehended advantages connected with such a species of land-tax as has been now under consideration, added to a very ingenious metaphysical speculation concerning the funds from which all taxes are ultimately paid, have led a celebrated sect of philosophers in France, (commonly known by the title of the Economists,) to propose it as a substitute for all the other taxes which have been devised by the financiers of modern Europe. As the produce of the earth is the only real source of wealth, so (according to these writers) it ought to be the only subject of taxation. This opinion they support by attempting to shew, that whether taxes are imposed on commodities, or on the profits of the industrious, they must ultimately fall on the proprietors of land; and, of consequence, that they would be less burdensome if imposed directly, than when they come to be thus circuitously paid. (Lauderdale.) Excises, for example, and other taxes on consumption, are blended by every artisan and tradesman with the price of his work, which prices, accumulating as they advance, render everything dearer except to people in trade who draw back the accumulation, so that the landed interest not being in trade, receives the weight at last with the progressive profits of the whole train.1
This scheme of supplanting all other public burdens by means of a territorial tax, is illustrated and defended with great ingenuity by Quesnai, by the Marquis of Mirabeau, by Dupont, and others, and was sanctioned by the approbation of one of the most enlightened statesmen of modern times, M. Turgot. On the other hand, it has been combated with great zeal by Necker and other writers in France, by Mr. Pinto, and by a long list of very eminent politicians in this country, particularly by Mr. Hume, Sir James Steuart, and Mr. Smith. Mr. Arthur Young, too, has treated it with peculiar severity on various occasions, and has examined the arguments in its favour at some length, but in a very loose and superficial manner, in his Treatise entitled Political Arithmetic.
As I propose afterwards to consider, with some attention, this question concerning a Territorial Tax, (a question which forms a very conspicuous article in the agricultural system of Political Economy,) I shall not at present attempt any statement of the reasonings which have been offered for, or against it. I shall only remark, that the first idea of it was borrowed from this country, where it has been repeatedly suggested by authors of reputation, although it had been almost forgotten as an exploded chimera, when it was revived by the Economists of France.
The following passage from Mr. Locke’s [First] Considerations of the Lowering of Interest, and Raising the Value of Money, is so exactly conformable to the principles of Quesnai, that there can be little doubt it suggested the first notion of that part of the Economical system which relates to taxation.
“Taxes, however contrived, and out of whose hand soever immediately taken, do, in a country where their great fund is in land, for the most part, terminate upon land. Whatsoever the people is chiefly maintained by, that the Government supports itself on: nay, perhaps it will be found, that those taxes which seem least to affect land, will most surely of all others, fall the rents. This would deserve to be well considered in the raising of taxes, lest the neglect of it bring upon the country gentleman an evil which he will be sure quickly to feel, but not be able very quickly to remedy; for rents once fallen, are not easily raised again. A tax raised on the land seems hard to the landholder, because it is so much money going visibly out of his pocket, and therefore, as an ease to himself, the landholder is always forward to lay it on commodities. But if he will thoroughly consider it, and examine the effects, he will find he buys this seeming ease at a very dear rate: and though he pays not this tax immediately out of his own purse, yet his purse will find it by a greater want of money there at the end of the year than that comes to, with the lessening of his rents to boot, which is a settled and lasting evil, that will stick upon him beyond the present payment. . . .
“It is in vain in a country, whose great fund is land, to hope to lay the charge of the Government on anything else; there at last it will terminate. The merchant, do what you can, will not bear it; the labourer cannot; and therefore the landholder must. And whether he were best do it, by laying it directly where it will at last settle, or by letting it come to him by the sinking of his rents, which when they are once fallen, every one knows are not easily raised again, let him consider.”
The same opinions are held by Jacob Vanderlint, in his Essay to make Money Plentiful;1 and by Mr. Asgill in his Assertions Proved, in order to Create another Species of Money than Gold or Silver. Of this last writer, who seems to have been a man of very eccentric genius, some account is given in the Biographia Britannica. He wrote about the end of the last, and beginning of the present century.
Before I conclude this article, I shall take notice very briefly of some of those valuations or surveys which different states have attempted of their territories, with the view of carrying land-taxes into execution in the most accurate and equitable manner. The object, indeed, which they aimed at, might have been accomplished much more simply and effectually by an expedient formerly suggested, (a Register of Leases, [supra, p. 235.]) But the labour cannot in all cases be considered as lost; inasmuch as it has furnished some important documents with respect to various objects of statistical research, concerning which historians are in general silent.
Of Doomsday-Book, in particular, (which Mr. Smith considers as the result of a very accurate survey of this kind,* ) Mr. Hume has observed, that “it may be justly regarded as the most valuable monument of antiquity possessed by any nation.”† This book contains an account of all the lands in England, (except the four northern counties, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Durham, and part of Lancashire, which Mr. Hume supposes to have been omitted in this survey, “because of their wild uncultivated state;”)‡ their extent in each district; their proprietors, tenures, value; the quantity of meadow, pasture, wood, and arable land which they contained; and in some counties the number of tenants, cottagers, and slaves of all denominations who lived upon them. William the Conqueror, in whose reign the survey was made, appointed commissioners to carry it into execution. They entered every particular in their register by the verdict of juries; and, after a labour of six years, brought him an exact account of all the landed property of his kingdom. The motive for the undertaking, as assigned by several ancient records and histories, was that every man should be satisfied with his own right, and not usurp with impunity what belonged to another; but (as I have already hinted) other views probably conspired to suggest the idea; for in the latter end of the very year when the survey was finished, the king was attended by all his nobility at Sarum, where all the principal landholders submitted their lands to the yoke of military tenure, became the king’s vassals, and did homage and fealty to his person. And although this idea, that the king is the universal lord and original proprietor of all the lands in the kingdom, is, as Blackstone remarks, “a mere fiction, yet the Norman interpreters gave a very different construction to this proceeding, and thereupon took a handle to introduce not only the rigorous doctrines which prevailed in the Duchy of Normandy, but also such fruits and dependencies, such hardships and services, as were never known to other nations.”1 King Alfred, about the year 900, composed a book of like nature, of which this was in some measure a copy.2
That false returns were made by the commissioners in some instances, in spite of all the precautions taken by the Conqueror, is now universally admitted. Notwithstanding, however, this circumstance, the authority of Doomsday-Book, in point of tenure, has never been permitted to be called in question; for instance, when it has been necessary to distinguish whether lands held in ancient Demesne, or in what other manner, recourse has always been had to Doomsday-Book exclusively, to determine the doubt. “The tallages,” says Madox, “formerly assessed upon the king’s tenants in ancient demesne, were usually greater than the tallages upon persons in the counties at large; and, therefore, when persons were wrongfully tallaged with those in ancient demesne, it was usual for them to petition the Crown to be tallaged with the community of the county at large. Upon this, the King’s writ, issued to the Barons of the Exchequer, to acquit the party aggrieved of such tallage, in case, upon search of Doomsday-Book, the Barons found the lands were not in ancient demesne.”1 I mention this fact, because, according to our best antiquaries, it was the definitive authority of this book that suggested its name,—its decisions, like those at the Day of Judgment, [of Doom,] admitting of no appeal. Stowe, indeed, gives a different account of its appellation, deriving it from a corruption of Domus Dei-Book,—a title which he supposes it to have acquired from its being formerly deposited in the king’s treasury, in a place of the church of Westminster called Domus Dei. The former etymology, however, is generally considered as the more probable of the two.
This great national record was kept, till a few years ago, under three different locks and keys,—one in the custody of the treasurer, and the others of the two chamberlains of the Exchequer. It is now deposited in the Chapter-House at Westminster, where it may be consulted, on paying a trifling fee to the proper officers.2
It is not easily conceivable for what reason the Economists of France should have added to the other strong objections to which their project is liable, the difficulty of periodical surveys similar to that which has been now described, when, it would appear, that the same purpose might be answered, in all essential respects, by a registration of leases. In general, they seem to consider a Cadastre of the whole kingdom as a step essentially necessary for an equitable imposition of their territorial-tax; and, accordingly, it is demanded of the States-General in many of the Cahiers at the commencement of the late Revolution. The enormous expense of such an operation has not been always sufficiently attended to, although we are in possession of some authentic documents to assist us in forming an estimate. The Cadastre of Limousin (we are assured) cost £113,355, at which rate it is computed that a similar one for the whole kingdom would amount to £3,628,800. A very intelligent writer (M. Meunier1 ) asserts, that it would furnish employment to upwards of 3000 engineers during eighteen years; and yet M. le Trosne, in explaining the Economical system, proposes that this operation should be repeated every nine years.2 “There is no country,” says he, “where it is not necessary to make an inventory of all the territory in the most complete detail,—to register every portion of land,—to be acquainted with the changes it undergoes,—to value the revenue it yields, and where (if it is proposed to establish, for perpetuity, an equal and proportional tax) it is not indispensable, to ascertain, from time to time, the fluctuations to which this revenue is liable.”3 He afterwards explains himself more precisely, by asserting the absolute necessity of having a new valuation every nine years; and finds fault with the King of Sardinia’s Cadastre, because the valuation has never been renewed.
The survey and valuation of Bohemia, which was perfected soon after the peace 1748, is said to have been the work of more than a hundred years. The survey of the Duchy of Milan, which was begun in the time of Charles VI., was not perfected till after 1760. It is esteemed one of the most accurate that has ever been made.
A continual and painful attention, on the part of Government, to all the variations in the state and produce of every different farm in a large territory, is (as Mr. Smith observes)* a thing so unsuitable to the nature of government, that it is not likely to be of long continuance in any country; and if it were continued, it would probably, in the long run, occasion much more trouble and vexation than it can possibly bring relief to the contributors. An attention of this kind, however, is actually exerted by the Government of Prussia, of Bohemia, of Sardinia, and of the Duchy of Milan.
Taxes which are proportioned, not to the Rent, but to the Produce of Land.
The land-taxes, which have been hitherto under consideration, though very different in their nature, and proceeding on very different principles, yet agree in one important particular, that they are understood to bear a certain fixed proportion, either to what now is, or to what was at some former period, the actual rent of the land. On the latter supposition, they are liable to no variation, but continue for ever to be levied according to an established rule. On the former supposition, variations in the tax must necessarily arise from the changes which may take place from time to time in the cultivation of the country; but as these variations are confined to the periods when the leases are renewed, the occasions of irritation will occur but seldom, and will not present a source of constant or of habitual grievance to the body of the people.
I now proceed to make a few remarks on land-taxes of a different description,—taxes which are not understood to bear any fixed proportion to the rent, but which vary from year to year according to the accidental produce. The Church Tithe, as it is levied in England and in the other parts of Europe where the hierarchy exists, affords an example of this mode of taxation.
It is perfectly evident with respect to all taxes upon the fruits of the earth, that, although they may be paid, in the first instance, by the farmer, they are finally paid by the landlord; the farmer always computing the average value of all the taxes before he agrees with the landlord for the rent. They are, therefore, in fact, taxes upon rent, but falling upon it (as will immediately appear) in a very irregular and arbitrary manner.
As the qualities of lands are, in all countries, extremely different in different situations, it follows manifestly, that the produce alone can never furnish a standard for estimating equitably the rent which the cultivator is able to pay,—inasmuch as the produce bears no determinate proportion to the expense of raising it. Some lands are proper for bearing rich crops of grain; others are comparatively sterile; some produce pasture, others forest; the revenue of some consists in wine, in mines, and in various other productions, which cost, some more, some less expense, to cultivate. One field of corn cannot pay the proprietor above one-fourth of the grain it produces; another cannot pay above one-fifth; a third may pay with ease one-third; the fields about Padua (according to Sir James Steuart)* pay one-half; grass fields pay still more; and rich hay fields will pay in some places two-thirds, and even three-fourths. How, then, is it possible there should be any equality in a tax which carries off, indiscriminately, a certain portion of the fruits? Yet such is the operation of the tithe, which takes, without distinction, a tenth of the produce, in which is comprehended the tithe of all the industry and expense bestowed in bringing it forward.
The tithe is also a great discouragement both to the improvements of the landlord, and to the cultivation of the farmer; neither of whom can be supposed to possess that spirit of enterprise which would naturally be inspired by the prospect of enjoying, undiminished, the ameliorations resulting from their advances and their industry. The idea of sharing these profits with the Church which advances nothing, contributes to render this tax more peculiarly vexatious.
In stating these general principles, I would by no means be understood to join in the illiberal abuse which has been so often bestowed on the clergy, all over Europe, for their supposed rapacity, in exacting what the laws of their respective countries have destined for the support of the ecclesiastical establishment. To an unfortunate class, in particular, of this order, (I mean the late clergy of France,) it is but justice to acknowledge the moderation and liberality they, in general, displayed in collecting their revenues. “Though the ecclesiastical tenth,” says Arthur Young, “was levied in France more severely than usual in Italy, yet was it never exacted with such greediness as is at present the disgrace of England. When taken in kind, no such thing was known, in any part of France where I made inquiries, as a tenth; it was always a twelfth, or a thirteenth, or even a twentieth of the produce. And in no part of the kingdom did a new article of culture pay anything: thus, turnips, cabbages, clover, chicorée, potatoes, &c. &c., paid nothing. In many parts meadows were exempted; silk-worms everywhere. Olives in some places paid; in more they did not. On cows and on wool nothing was levied. On lambs, from the twelfth to the twenty-first. Such mildness,” he adds, “in the levy of the odious tax, is absolutely unknown in England.”1 Even in this last country, however, the charge against the clergy has been carried much too far. A very candid and well-informed writer (Mr. Baron Maseres) assures us, that “lay impropriators are generally much more inclined to exact high rents for the tithes that are due to them, than the parochial clergy, notwithstamding the obloquy too often thrown upon the latter, on account of the avaricious conduct of a very small number of them. The person,” continues the same author, “who, a year or two ago, insisted upon receiving his full tithe from a piece of ground near Farnham in Surrey, that had been converted into a hop-ground, at great expense, (in consequence of which a Bill was brought into the House of Commons, but not carried,) was not a clergyman, but a lay-impropriator, and a very rich man, who had made a large fortune in the East Indies.”2
In reprobating the tithe, therefore, as a pernicious mode of taxation, I rest nothing on the defects which some have ascribed to the ecclesiastical character, but entirely on those consequences which are inseparable from such a burden, by whatever description of persons we may suppose it to be levied.
It is remarkable, that notwithstanding these consequences of which Europe has so long had experience, and which are too obvious to require particular illustration, advocates have been found for this very plan of taxing the produce of land, as the most expedient system according to which land-taxes can be imposed. A proposal of this sort was made to the French Government in 1699, by the celebrated Maréchal de Vauban, who wished to abolish the Taille, (as it was paid under the old establishment,) together with the capitation, industrie, and all the other taxes committed to the management of the intendants; and to establish, in their stead, what he called a royal tenth, (dîme royale;) meaning by this term, a proportion of all the fruits of the earth, similar to what is established in favour of the clergy. This he proposed to lay on, according to the exigencies of the State, from one-twentieth part to one-tenth, upon every article of the gross produce of the land over all France. The circumstances which suggested this project, (the greater part of which arose from the peculiar system of taxation in his own country,) and also the insurmountable obstacles to its execution, are fully stated by Sir James Steuart.*
In many parts of Asia, the state is principally supported by a land-tax proportioned to the produce. In China, it consists in a tenth part, but this tenth is so very moderately estimated in many provinces, as not to exceed a thirtieth. The land-tax which used to be paid to the Mahometan Government of Bengal, before that country fell into the hands of the English East-India Company, is said to have amounted to about a fifth part of the produce; and the same proportion is mentioned in the accounts given of the land-tax in Ancient Egypt.
In consequence of this system of taxation, it is pretended, that in Asia, the Sovereign is interested in the improvement and cultivation of land, and it is not impossible that it may have this effect in some degree, by leading him to extend the market as far as he can, by means of roads and navigable canals. But the tithe of the Church is divided into such small portions, that no one of the proprietors can have any interest analogous to this, and therefore its necessary inconveniences are not redeemed by any such indirect advantage.
Taxes upon the produce of land may be levied either in kind, or, according to a certain valuation, in money. The former mode may be advantageous to the parson of a parish who can oversee, with his own eyes, the collection of what is due to him; but would be necessarily attended with loss to a Sovereign, from the depredations of his tax-gatherers.
A tax upon the produce of land which is levied in money, may be levied according to a valuation which varies with the market price; or, according to some fixed valuation, (a bushel of wheat, for example, being always valued at one and the same money price, whatever the state of the market may be.) The produce of a tax levied in the former way, will vary only according to the variations of the real produce of the land. That levied in the latter way, will vary, not only according to the variations in the produce, but according to the value of the precious metals, and the standard of the coin.
When a certain sum of money is to be paid in full compensation for all tax on produce, the tax becomes, like the land-tax of England. Such is the modus taken in lieu of tithes in many parishes; and which, as it neither rises nor falls with the rent of land, has no tendency either to encourage or discourage improvement.1
[* ] [It has been found requisite to modify the distribution of Mr. Smith and Mr. Stewart, stated in the last preceding page. The word “Land” is here substituted for the word “Rent.”]
[1 ] Tenths and fifteenths 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. Tenths are said to have been first granted under Henry II.; 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; but it was at length reduced to a certainty in the 8th year of Edward 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 £29,000. 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 8th of Edward III., and then raised it by a rate among themselves, and returned it into the Royal Exchequer.—Blackstone, Commentaries, Vol. I. p. 308.
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi., footnote; Works, Vol. IV. p. 280.]
[1 ] Gray’s Pamphlet. Becket, 1797, p. 104.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 260, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV. pp. 279-282.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 282.]
[1 ] Eden’s Letters, p. 102.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 261, seq., tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 262.]
[1 ] Hailes’ Annals of Scotland, Vol. I. p. 184.—Stuart’s Public Law, &c., pp. 67, 202.—(Consult on this subject Boyd’s Justice of Peace.)
[1 ] G. Stuart, [Observations concerning the Public Law of Scotland, &c.,] p. 68.
[2 ] Stuart, [l. c.]—Erskine, pp. 155, 156; [Institutes, Book II. Title v. sect. 35.]
[* ] [Treaty of Union, &c., 1706, Scots Acts.]
[1 ] Young’s France, p. 522.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 264, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 268.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 269, seq.]
[1 ] Young’s Political Arithmetic, p. 211.
[1 ] Published in 1734.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 270, tenth edition.]
[† ] [History of England, Chap. IV., William the Conqueror.]
[‡ ] [Ibid.]
[1 ]Comm. Vol. II. p. 51.
[2 ] Gross’s Antiquities, Vol. I. Preface, p. 78.
[1 ] Quoted by Grose, [ut supra,] p. 81.
[2 ] Grose, [Ibid.] p. 82. For some details with respect to other valuations in different countries of modern Europe, see Smith, Vol. III. p. 222; [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 270, seq., tenth edition.]
[1 ]Essai d’un Méthode Générale à étendre les Connaissances des Voyageurs.
[2 ] Young’s France, p. 522.
[3 ] Le Trosne, Ad. Prov. Tom. I. pref. p. xiv. (quoted by Young, [ut supra,] p. 530.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 272, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV., p. 285, seq.]
[1 ]Travels in France, p. 537.
[2 ] See a Pamphlet, entitled The Moderate Reformer, by a Friend to the Church of England, (White, 1794)
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV. pp. 283-298.]
[1 ] See what Smith says of the tithes in Bengal,—[Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. i.; Vol. II. p. 279, tenth edition,]—and Francis’s observation quoted in Boyd’s Justice of Peace.