Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XV.: hannover.—the army.—revenue.—taxes. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XV.: hannover.—the army.—revenue.—taxes. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 1 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover, (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 1.
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Strength of the army.—How recruited.—Landwehr.—Power of the sovereign over the people.—Military punishments.—Courts-martial composed liberally.—Sources of revenue.—Domanial accounts not submitted to the public.—Taxes.—Debts.—Expenditure.—Manner of levying taxes.—Complaints.
The army of Hannover consists of
The landwehr is estimated at 18,000 men, making the whole army 30,940 men.∗
The regular troops are recruited by voluntary enlistment. The landwehr is embodied by constraining certain classes of the inhabitants to enter into it. The whole country is divided into thirty districts, and each district provides men for one battalion, which bears the name of the district. The number of men to each battalion is 600, but it is the duty of the commander-in-chief, with the advice of the cabinet ministry, to determine what number of men each district shall furnish. Every man between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five, capable of carrying arms, is liable to serve in the landwehr. If the persons between these two ages are not numerous enough to complete the quota required, then the persons who have passed their twenty-fifth year, and have not reached their thirtieth year, are liable to serve, but cannot be called out till the first and second reserves have been both exhausted. These reserves consist of some particular classes of those persons who are between nineteen and twenty-five years old. Postillions, men whose trade requires some considerable time to learn it, and whose place could not be immediately supplied, and many others, form the first reserve; owners of manufactories, farmers keeping a team, the only son of a widow, or of parents who depend on him for support, and several others, form the second reserve. Public officers of all descriptions are entirely free.
The pastor of each parish is obliged to give the magistrates lists of all the males born or confirmed in the parish, who have entered their twentieth year. The magistrates add to them all the persons resident in the parish, thought not born in it, who have reached the same age. These lists are then publicly exposed in some well frequented place during eight days, in order that every person may know if his name be inscribed or not; and if it be not, and he be liable to serve, he must himself inform the magistrates thereof. The magistrates then fix a convenient time and place, to which every person liable to serve must go, or send some person properly qualified to represent him.
At this meeting there are four persons, namely, a landwehr commissioner, a military commissioner, the chief magistrate of the district, and an under magistrate as secretary, who form a sort of commission to examine any claims which the persons whose age renders them liable to serve may have on other grounds to be free from service. A surgeon, the amts assessor, the Vorsteher of the village, and two or three respectable inhabitants, must also be present. The parties are examined publicly. Individuals not content with the decision of these commissioners, may repeat their claims to the magistrate in writing, who communicates them to the landwehr commissioner; this latter must state his opinion to the cabinet ministry, which decides on the claims without further appeal.
After this examination, the landwehr commissioner makes out lists of the persons liable to serve, of those who are to be set in the reserves, of those who, being within the prescribed age, are yet fully free, and of those whose health or other circumstances do not allow them to serve at the moment. These lists are sent to the ministry, and are subjected to its review.
When the persons liable to serve are examined, they draw by lot, each one a number, and it is according to the numbers that the individuals are taken to fill up the vacancies of the battalions, or taken from the reserves when that is necessary. The people are at liberty to change these numbers one with another, and to provide substitutes when they do not themselves like to serve. The period of service is fixed at six years, but in time of war it may be indefinitely extended by the will of the sovereign.
All the persons liable to serve are exercised for four weeks every year, and on a certain number of Sundays after noon. During peace, they are permitted for the other eleven months of the year to follow their ordinary occupations. They must not, however, quit their place of residence without permission. They are only subjected to military discipline during the exercise time, and when engaged in actual service. It is at the same periods only that the landwehr man receives any pay, though the officers are permanently employed and paid. When the Hannoverian army is sent to the field, every regiment is to be composed of one battalion of regular troops, and of two battalions of landwehr. It is intended always to preserve these proportions, so that, with an army of 10,000 regular troops, a force of 30,000 men may be speedily assembled.
During the time the Hannoverian troops were in France, eighty men of each battalion were kept in constant service, and the sovereign may employ as many as he pleases. There is no limit to his power on this point; no specified occasion on which he may order the landwehr into actual service. He alone is the judge of the time proper to order the landwehr out, and of the number he will employ. His power is on this point only limited by his revenues. The ministry also decides, in the last resort, on questions of liability to serve, so that the whole young population of Hannover are entirely at the mercy of the sovereign, and may be subjected by him to military discipline whenever he pleases. It is commonly said that every man is bound to defend his country, but this can only mean that every man is bound to defend himself, and he defends his country because its laws and customs are valuable to him. In our time, however, politicians and military despots call themselves and their own petty ambition, interests, and passions, the country, and they are in the habit of commanding men to murder one another for their own despicable purposes. On this ground, such a power in the hands of any sovereign as this over the Landwehr is most pernicious. It allows him to compel his subjects, under the delusive words of fighting for their country, to engage in wars of aggression and violence. Such has been the use made of conscriptions in all ages.
The Hannoverian army, in its appearance and discipline, resembles our own. Punishments are still severe, and running the gauntlet is yet a common practice. A permanent military court takes cognizance of military offences. Courts-martial, when they are necessary, are composed of some members taken from the class to which the offender belongs. It was once proposed to introduce such a regulation into the British navy, and, at the same time, to interdict all arbitrary punishments. And it was supposed this would have the effect of rescuing our sailors from that severity of flogging which has long ago made our men of war the objects of every sailor’s detestation. Though it is reduced to practice in Hannover, it was laughed at in England as visionary.
The officers of the Hannoverian army receive their first commission from the bounty of the sovereign, but they are afterwards promoted according to their seniority. Every one must, however, first study for three years at the military school. They have the reputation of being plain, sensible, well-behaved men.
The revenues of the government of Hannover are derived from the domains and from taxes. The former are regarded as the private property of the sovereign, of which he may dispose in what manner he pleases. In former times, it appears that there was no other mode known in Europe of paying public functionaries than that of giving them the produce of certain portions of land. The nobles of Europe, some of whom have become modern sovereigns, were originally officers for the administration of justice, or of the army. Many of those of the north of Germany were appointed by Charlemagne, when he conquered the country, and were paid with a portion of land. Many of them, again, were originally elected by the people, who also gave them certain lands as their reward. The inhabitants of the north of Germany were originally free allodial possessors; their name of Saxons, or Sassen, is said to be derived from this circumstance. They are said to have frequently resigned their lands into the hands of certain chiefs, on condition of these chiefs protecting them. The lands were given back as feuds, and held on the mutual conditions of services and protection. Some of these lands have since escheated to the feudal lords, by the family of the vassal becoming extinct. But they were originally given to them that they might protect the vassal.
The property which formerly belonged to the church was begged, and claimed, and possessed, by its members, on condition of performing certain services for the people, such as teaching them, praying for them, buying them out of purgatory with holy words, and ensuring to them eternal happiness. At the Reformation, those persons who took the property of the church took with it, or ought to have taken with it, the duties which possessing that property imposed. It was from sources such as these that the nobles and sovereigns of Europe originally derived all the land cultivated by other people, which they acquired justly, that is, without robbery, conquest, and fraud. This property they are bound to administer for the service of the people, or at least to perform the duties which possessing it imposes on them, without further reward. The altered circumstances of the world, however, leave many of them no duties to perform, though they now claim the property as their hereditary right.
It is found from experience to be necessary that subjects should make their rulers submit to them the accounts of the receipts and disbursements of public money. The people of Hannover have, in some measure, the accounts of the taxes submitted to them through their representatives. In former times, the whole expences of the sovereign and of government were defrayed out of the domains. The extra supplies given by the states were always granted for specific purposes, and for short and stated periods. The sovereign only appealed to them when, from particular circumstances, such as war or his improvidence, the produce of the domains was insufficient for the public service. And from the domanial possessions of the sovereign having been originally given for the public service, the Hannoverians have an equal right to see the accounts of them with the accounts of the taxes. They would be justified should they demand that the produce of the domains, and the manner in which it is expended, be submitted to them. They, however, acquiesce in the sovereign using this produce as his private property, and, therefore, nothing is ever known concerning it but by conjecture.
Prior to the French occupation, the domanial income was supposed to amount to 1,875,000 Cassen-Thalers, or L. 312,500 Sterling. At present it is estimated at 3,000,000 Cassen-Thalers, or somewhat more than L. 500,000 Sterling.
There are seven taxes in Hannover, namely, 1st, A land-tax; 2d, A tax on things consumed in towns, called slaughter or licence-tax; 3d, A tax on brewing and distilling; 4th, A tax on salt; 5th, Stamp duties; 6th, Tax on imported articles; 7th, A tax on income and on persons. The exact amount of each, and of all these taxes, is not known. The official accounts had been long promised, but were never ready to be submitted to the states. The following is supposed to be an approximation to the truth: Land-tax, L. 170,000; tax on consumption of towns, L. 20,000; on brewing and distilling, L. 67,000; on salt, L. 5000; stamps, L. 15,000; customs, L. 33,000; income and persons, L. 92,000. There is reason to believe that this statement is rather low, and that the whole produce of the taxes may be taken at L. 3,000,000 Thalers, or about L. 500,000, making, with the domanial revenues, a sum of L. 1,000,000 per year, as the whole revenue of Hannover. The complicated Hannoverian government, compared with the value of the concern administered, reminds one of the machine described by Smollet, which required several horses to put it in motion, and which was invented for the mighty purpose of cutting cabbages scientifically from the stalk.
The known and certain debts of the old provinces of Hannover, including Osnabrück, amounted in 1813 to 10,677,461 Thalers. The new provinces have also some debts; and some have been contracted since 1813, the amount of which is unknown. They are roughly estimated as making, together with the old debts, the sum of 20,000,000 Thalers, or about L.3,330,000. They bear interest at 4 per cent.
The following are some of the items to which the produce of the taxes is devoted, though the whole expenditure is not accurately known:—Interest of the debts, 800,000 Thalers. Military, 1,400,000. Administration of justice, 128,000. Education, and such good purposes, 65,000. States, 50,000; making together 2,443,000 Thalers, or about L.407,000 Sterling. How the remainder is disposed of is unknown. As the ministry and the greater part of all the servants of government are paid out of the L.500,000 arising from the domains; as part of the expences of the army are also paid out of these; and as a full court-establishment has always, till lately, been kept up in Hannover, it is not possible, as is supposed by some people, that our royal family have drawn a great deal of wealth from that country. Some it possibly may have drawn; but all that can be saved from such a revenue, with so complicated a system of administration, can certainly never have exceeded the income of an English gentleman.∗
The manner of levying these taxes is, of course, different, according to the tax. The land has at various times been measured and valued; and, according to these valuations, the occupier or owner was obliged to pay the proportion fixed. When the owner was either the monarch or a noble, the land he kept in his own hands paid no land-tax; but that which he let to tenants was paid for by them. But if the owner of the property was not noble, he paid the tax on the land he occupied.
At the gates of the towns which pay the slaughter tax, a man usually called a gate secretary, Thor Schreiber, collects the tax on all articles subject to it, as they enter the town. It seems to have been supposed, that the land-tax falling heavier on the inhabitants of the country than on the inhabitants of the towns, made this additional tax on the towns people necessary to equalize the burdens. The tax on meal, however, is yet levied on the inhabitants of the country. There are every where yet found what are called zwang Mühle, or mills, to which the inhabitants of certain districts must send their corn to be ground, and where a tax is levied on it. It was from the land-tax, and from the slaughter-tax, and from the zwang Mühle, and from the domanial tolls, that the nobility were formerly entirely free; to some of the other taxes they could not be subjected, except as consumers, as they never distilled or brewed, and the others they paid. According to a late regulation, they are now to pay their proportion of all these taxes. As landholder, the monarch is now to pay the land-tax from his domains.
When a person wants to brew, he is obliged to give notice to the proper officer of the quantity and nature of the grain from which he intends to brew, the day and hour when the malt is to be mashed, and the day and hour when the vats will be filled; and the tax is levied in certain proportions, according to the quantity of malt employed, and the quantity of beer obtained. If a small quantity of the latter is made, the quantity of malt employed is paid for in the proportion of 1s. per bushel for wheat malt, 8d. for barley, and 6d. for oats. If a large quantity of beer be obtained, it is paid for at so much per gallon.
The law orders every man who has a still to give notice of it to the collector of taxes. This still is measured, and the alembic or cover deposited with the collector; and each distiller is charged so much in proportion to the size of his still, every time he takes the alembic away. He may not take it for less than twenty-four hours, but for so much longer a period as he pleases; and he pays, in proportion to the time he has it, so much per day. Strict regulations expose any person to punishment who possesses, makes, buys, or repairs a still without giving notice of it to the tax-gatherer. The tax on salt is paid by the manufacturers before it is allowed to leave the place where it is made;—it is 5d. per bushel. Stamp duties are collected as in our country. All law papers which are laid before the chanceries or other courts are subject to a stamp-duty each of 3d.; consequently all law proceedings are taxed. There are also a variety of contracts and bargains which are subjected to a greater stamp-duty.
The tax on imported articles, or customs, is levied by officers on the borders, or at the ports where they are introduced; and they are at present levied according to a strange principle.—Each hundred weight of goods, be they what they may, pays 2s. on entry. Liquids, of course, pay by the measure; and to the general rule there are some exceptions; as tobacco, which is subject to a greater duty; but a hundred weight of fine cottons, or cambrics, and a hundred weight of iron, are subjected to the same importation duty. This regulation saves a great deal of trouble. The effects of levying taxes on particular articles appears yet so imperfectly known, that this plan may be as useful as any other.
The people are obliged to make returns to the collectors of the number of persons in their families. The whole are divided into classes, and the individuals pay according to the number of heads, and according to the extent of their income, as they belong to one or other of the six classes. The sum paid is, in the first class, 2s. in the sixth class, 1½d. by each person per month. Children are paid for when above sixteen years old. The income-tax is levied in the same way; the people paying a greater or less tax, as they are in the first or sixth class.
The collection of the taxes is under the direction of a committee, or commission, of eleven members of the states, as before mentioned, the individuals of which are partly appointed by the crown, partly by the states. One portion of them are treasurers, the other superintend the levying. There are six principal directors immediately subordinate to this commission, each of which has the superintendence over certain districts. These districts are again divided into circles, and there is one or more collectors to each circle. Under these, again, are placed the gate secretaries, and other subaltern officers of the district.
The pressure of governments on subjects is at present so exclusively felt through taxes, that these latter are always sure to be complained of. At present, also, men complain more than before. The pressure they labour under is augmented, while the hope they had formed of its being decreased has been disappointed. The ex-emperor had so long been the object of reproach, he had done so many unusual and very often oppressive things, and men are so ready to attribute every evil they suffer to every thing but their own deeds and opinions, that it was only natural all Europe should believe he was the cause of every calamity and suffering. People consequently hoped when he was destroyed that golden days of enjoyment would be their lot. He is destroyed, and the only difference discovered is, that the evils suffered are still as great, but they are more systematically, regularly, and, according to opinion, legitimately inflicted.
It is in some measure because the hopes which the Hannoverians had formed to themselves have been disappointed, that they now complain very much of the weight of taxation. It does not appear to be absolutely so great as during the French usurpation, but it is very little short, and greater beyond all comparison than before that period. The restored government appears to have made it only a secondary consideration whether the people could support all its multiplied servants: its first care was to make them. It had a noble opportunity for benefiting all its subjects, and for acquiring their love. It has done nothing more than make a much greater number of dependants. Amongst these dependants are to be found nearly all the men of education in the country, and not a single person, therefore, appears to have thought of simplifying that immense machine whose complexity is the great cause of all the poverty, distress, and discontent, though the latter is not great, which are found in the country.∗
Some of the particular complaints which are made are directed against the inequality of the taxes. That, for example, on persons, by which a man who has 400 Thalers per year pays half as much as he who has 6000. Other complaints are directed against the impolicy of a tax, that, for example, on distillation, which allows smuggling from the neighbouring countries in which such a tax is not levied. On the subject of taxation, however, it will always be impossible to reconcile the wants of governments with the wants of the people. Taxes will always be unpopular, because he who pays never can discover the good he receives in exchange for his money.
[∗]It has been recently stated in the public journals, that this number is reduced to 20,000, but the proportions were not stated.
[∗]Various sources have been consulted on the subject of the revenues and debts. The principal printed authority is Neueste Länder und Völkerkunde, 19th Band, Weimar, 1818. Lüden, and Ueber die gleiche Besteuerung, etc. von Georg. Sartorius, professor at Göttingen.
[∗]It has been stated since I left Hannover, that the expences of the government of Hannover had exceeded the revenue for 1818.