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(A): BUDGETS - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
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11 Downing Street,Whitehall,
My dear Sir John Acton,—
I have read your valuable and remarkable paper.1 Its principles of politics I embrace: its research and wealth of knowledge I admire: and its whole atmosphere, if I may so speak, is that which I desire to breathe. It is a truly English paper.
It does not seem to me to present anything at variance with the opinion that the seat of sovereignty properly so called is in the States severally.—I remain, sincerely yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
My dear Sir John Acton,—
There is a passage in your note of the 3rd on which I should like to say a word for fear of misapprehension. I am strongly for fewness of taxes where they are of a nature to involve interference with the operations of trade, viz. in customs and excise: and ever since the year 1845 I have in co-operation with others laboured strenuously for this end. But where taxes do not interfere of necessity with the operations of trade, where they only impose a payment of money, and where that payment is not of itself such as greatly to restrain and hamper business, then I think that another set of arguments come into play, which tell on behalf of multiplicity.
It occurs to me to mention to you Mr. Laing (if I have not already done so) as one who would probably write, if he undertook it, a very good review of Sir Stafford Northcote’s book.—Believe me, very sincerely yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
I think your doctrine about the shifting of taxes entirely sound: and blunders have been made in that respect; one or more by me.
Hahn’s book on Albania seems to me one of which a good and full account ought to be given in some periodical. Albanesische Studien.
Hawarden,June 6, ’64.
My dear Sir John Acton,—
I write with the double purpose of thanking you for the article in the Home and Foreign Review on my volume of Financial Statements, and of congratulating you, if you are the writer of it, on so able a paper: one so full of thought that looks before and after, as well as of comprehensive knowledge of principles and of practised judgment in a subject which lies rather off the highways and even the byeways of literature.
I need not say that I have nothing to complain of in it, except its terms of eulogy, which pass much beyond the measure, not only of justice, but of usual indulgence. You will then think it strange that I am going to question the most important part of the adverse criticism it contains. I do this, not because I think there is not much to be said in the sense of the reviewer, but because the subject of the Budget of 1860, when viewed as a whole, is one of the few cases in which my fortunes as an individual have been closely associated with matters of a public, and even an historic interest. It is therefore worth discussion.
The greater part, however, of what I have to say I shall not now put on paper. It has never yet been even spoken: but if you are disposed I should like to tell it all out to you on some occasion when we can meet for the purpose. I shall here deal only with what may be called an exoteric view.
When I took my present office in 1859, I had several negative and several positive reasons for accepting it. Of the first, there were these. There had been differences and collisions, but there were no resentments. I felt myself to be mischievous in an isolated position, outside the regular party organisation of Parliament. And I was aware of no differences of opinion or tendency likely to disturb the new Government. Then on the positive side. I felt sure that in finance there was still much useful work to be done. I was desirous to co-operate in settling the question of the franchise and failed to anticipate the disaster that it was to undergo. My friends were enlisted, or I knew would enlist: Sir James Graham indeed declining office, but taking his position in the party. And the overwhelming interest and weight of the Italian question, and of our foreign policy in connection with it, joined to my entire mistrust of the former government in relation to it, led me to decide without one moment’s hesitation.
But I have often thought that, ample as are these grounds, yet if I had had more power of forecasting the early future, I must have either declined office, or somewhat disparaged myself by choosing a province other than that to which Sir Robert Peel had virtually bound me (rather against my will) so far back as in 1841. I should have said, if I had had the benefit of second sight, “No, the work is Titanic: get some Titan to perform it.” Or, there was another alternative: to get a man who would swim with the stream.
It was my misfortune and my fault, that I did not know (I had been out of the country during the previous winter, but this is scarcely a tithe of an excuse) the degree to which the public mind was fevered: its tendency not only to alarm, but to alarmism: the degree in which public men, including one or more of my nearest and dearest friends, were virulently infected with the disease: the readiness, if not eagerness, of the country to make a holocaust of all the old rules of thrift and good husbandry. I was scarcely in the boat, when the proposals of that year (1859) by Mr. Harman respecting Fortifications, and all that took place in connection with their reception, undeceived me.
Before Parliament met in 1860, the “situation” was very greatly tightened and enhanced by three circumstances. First the disaster in China. Secondly, a visit of Mr. Cobden1 to Hawarden, when he proposed to me, in a garden stroll, the French Treaty, and I, for myself and my share, adopted it (nor have I ever for a moment repented or had a doubt) as rapidly as the tender of office two months before. Thirdly, and the gravest of all, the Savoy affair. If, as is supposed, I have Quixotism in my nature, I can assure you that I was at this jucture much more than satiated, and could have wished with Penelope that the whirlwind would take me up, and carry me to the shore of the great stream of Ocean.
And the wish would in this point not have been extravagant, that the whirlwind was there, ready to hand. In and from the midst of it, was born the Budget of 1860.
The Article states very fairly the objections which lie against that Budget. It was exceptional, in many points, from the first. The Cabinet had agreed to adopt the French Treaty, before the Estimates were fixed. I think there is an analogy, which the Article overlooks, between the proceeding of 1860 and that of 1842. But the two were taken in very different states of the public mind, which in 1842 was composed, and in 1860 inflamed: a reason doubtless against tempting it gratuitously.
The Article rightly regards my volume as a challenge. I think the Budget of 1860 is justified by its results. It will not do to say, “why did you not wait till the surplus came, which notwithstanding all drawbacks you got in 1863, and then operate in a quiet way without disturbing anybody?” My answer is, the surplus would not have come at all; i.e. that is my full answer. But the only part of my answer which the book contains or suggests is, that the surplus would not have come because much of it has been created only by our legislation. The principle adopted was this: “We are now (1860) on a high table land of expenditure. This being so, it is not as if we were merely meeting an occasional and momentary charge. We must consider how best to keep ourselves going during a period of high charge. In order to that, we will aggravate momentary deficiency that we may thereby make a great and permanent addition to productive power.” Well, that was done: and I hold that it is a sufficient warrant for the Budget of 1860.
There is another objection that the Article might have taken, founded on the fact that in that year of repealed taxes we (not only anticipated resources but) borrowed money for the Fortifications. I cannot answer that objection; except by saying that the Budget was in February, the final decision to borrow only in July.
The justification, however, which I think the book sufficiently suggests, and which I have here stated, may be sufficient, or may be inadequate. The matter which I have in reserve is quite of a different order. I shall only glance at it in the slightest manner, by the few following words. First, the whole Budget grew out of the French Treaty: not in my mind only, but in the Cabinet: and it requires to be considered, if we had had no Treaty in the winter of ’59-’60, what else we should have had. I think not improbably a war with France. Secondly, the craving for expenditure at that time was such, that it required extraordinary and unusual means to meet it: and I do not repent of their employment, while I think their general use would be highly blameable.—Believe me, always and very sincerely yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
Sir John D. Acton, Bart., M.P.
[1 ] The paper is that on “The Political Causes of the American Revolution,” published in The Rambler, May 1861.
[1 ] On Cobden’s visit to Hawarden, cf. Morley’s Life of Cobden, ii. ch. xi. pp. 359 et seq.