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CHAP. V. - James Mill, The History of British India, vol. 1 
The History of British India in 6 vols. (3rd edition) (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1826). Vol. 1.
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The form of the government is one, the nature ofBOOK II. Chap. 5. the laws for the administration of justice is the other, of the two circumstances by which the condition of the people in all countries is chiefly determined. Of these two primary causes no result to a greater degree ensures the happiness or misery of the people, than the mode of providing for the pecuniary wants of the government, and the extent to which the agents of government, of whatever kind, are enabled to divide among themselves and their creatures, the annual produce of the land and labour of the community.
The matters of detail, which by their number and uncertainty have so exceedingly perplexed the servants of the Company, in the financial operations of the Indian government, cannot here be described. The general outline, and the more important effects, of that system of taxation which is described in the ancient books, are all that falls within the design of an account of the ancient state of the people. 1. “Of grain,” says the ordinance of Menu, “an eighth part, a sixth, or a twelfth may be taken by the king;” to be determined, adds the gloss of the commentator Culluca, “by the difference of the soil, and the labour necessary to cultivate it.”1 2. “He may also take a sixth part of the clear annual increase BOOK II. Chap. 5. of trees, flesh-meat, honey, clarified butter, perfumes, medical substances, liquids, flowers, roots and fruit, of gathered leaves, potherbs, grass, utensils made with leather or cane, earthern pots, and all things made of stone.”1 3. “Of cattle, of gems, of gold and silver, added each year to the capital stock, a fiftieth part may be taken by the king.”2 4. “Having ascertained the rules of purchase and sale,” says the law, “the length of the way, the expenses of food and of condiments, the charges of securing the goods carried, and the neat profits of trade, let the king oblige traders to pay taxes on their saleable commodities; after full consideration, let a king so levy those taxes continually in his dominions, that both he and the merchant may receive a just compensation for their several acts.”3 5. “Let the king order a mere trifle to be paid, in the name of the annual tax, by the meaner inhabitants of his realm who subsist by petty traffic: 6. By low handicraftsmen, artificers, and servile men, who support themselves by labour, the king may cause work to be done for a day in each month.”4 It is added; 7. “A military king, who takes even a fourth part of the crops of his realm at a time of urgent necessity, as of war or invasion, and protects his people to the utmost of his power, commits no sin. 8. The tax on the mercantile class, which in times of prosperity must be only a twelfth part of their crops, and a fiftieth of their personal profits, may be an eighth of their crops in a time of distress, or a sixth, which is the medium, or even a fourth in great public adversity; but a twentieth of their gains on money and other moveables is the highest tax: serving men, artisans, and mechanics, must assist by their labour,BOOK II. Chap. 5. but at no time pay taxes.”1
In these several articles is found an enumeration of all the objects of taxation; and a general expression of the modes and degrees of impost. We perceive taxes on the produce of land, taxes on the produce of labour, a tax on accumulation, a tax on sales, and poll taxes. In article 1., is exhibited a tax on the produce of land; In article 2., a tax both on the produce of land, and on the produce of labour; In article 3., is a tax on accumulation, at least in certain commodities; In article 4., is a tax on purchases and sales; In article 5., is one sort of poll tax; In article 6., is another.
There are two primary qualities desirable in a system of taxation; and in them every thing is included.
The First is, to take from the people the smallest quantity possible of their annual produce.
The Second is, to take from them that which is taken with the smallest possible hurt or uneasiness.
Of the first head and its subdivisions, no illustration is necessary; and a few words will suffice for the second.
Some of these ordinances are modified, or the words rendered a little more precise, in the Gentoo Code translated by Mr. Halhed. The following are examples. If a man purchase goods in his own country, and sell them again there, one tenth of his profit goes to the magistrate. If the purchase took place in a foreign kingdom, and the sale in his own, one twentieth only is the share of the magistrate.1 If a man, having purchased flowers, or roots, as ginger, radishes, and the like, or honey, or grass, or firewood, from another kingdom, sells them in his own, the magistrate is entitled to one sixth of his profits.2 What was the reason of severe exaction in such cases does not appear. Rude times give not reasons. In the days of Menu these taxes appear to have been much more moderate; a fiftieth of mercantile profits being the ordinary, and a twentieth the extraordinary tax.
In this system of taxation, other sources are of small importance; the revenue of the sovereign arises almost wholly from the artificial produce of the land. To understand in what manner the people of Hindustan were affected by taxation, the circumstances of this impost are all that require to be very minutely explored.
BOOK II. Chap. 5.The tenure of land in Hindustan has been the source of violent controversies among the servants of the Company; and between them and other Europeans. They first sprung up amid the disputes between Mr. Hastings and Mr. Francis, respecting the best mode of taxing Bengal. And they have been carried on with great warmth, and sometimes with great acrimony, ever since. Of these controversies the account will be due, at the periods when they occur. At present it will suffice to bring to light the circumstances which appear to ascertain the ancient state of the country, in respect to the distribution of property in the land.
In a state of society resembling our own, in which property is secure, and involves very extensive rights or privileges, the affections which it excites are so strong, and give such a force to the associations, by which the idea of it is compacted and formed, that in minds of little range, whose habits are blind and obstinate, the particulars combined together under the idea of property appear to be connected by nature, and not, without extreme injustice, to be made to exist apart.
At different times, however, very different rights and advantages are included under the idea of property. At very early periods of society it included very few: originally, nothing more perhaps than use during occupancy, the commodity being liable to be taken by another, the moment it was relinquished by the hand which held it: but one privilege is added to another as society advances: and it is not till a considerable progress has been made in civilization, that the right of property involves all the powers which are ultimately bestowed upon it.
It is hardly necessary to add, that the different combinations of benefits which are included under the idea of property, at different periods of society, areBOOK II. Chap. 5. all equally arbitrary; that they are not the offspring of nature, but the creatures of will; determined, and chosen by the society, as that arrangement with regard to useful objects, which is, or is pretended to be, the best for all.
It is worthy of remark, that property in moveables was established; and that it conveyed most of the powers which are at any time assigned to it; while, as yet, property in land had no existence. So long as men continue to derive their subsistence from hunting; so long, indeed, as they continue to derive it from their flocks and herds, the land is enjoyed in common. Even when they begin to derive it partly from the ground, though the man who has cultivated a field is regarded as possessing in it a property till he has reaped his crop, he has no better title to it than another for the succeeding year.1
In prosecuting the advantages which are found to spring from the newly-invented method of deriving BOOK II. Chap. 5.the means of subsistence from the ground, experience in time discovers, that much obstruction is created by restricting the right of ownership to a single year; and that food would be provided in greater abundance, if, by a greater permanence, men were encouraged to a more careful cultivation. To make, however, that belong to one man, which formerly belonged to all, is a change, to which men do not easily reconcile their minds. In a thing of so much importance as the land, the change is a great revolution. To overcome the popular resistance, that expedient which appears to have been the most generally successful, is, to vest the sovereign, as the representative of the society, with that property in the land which belongs to the society; and the sovereign parcels it out to individuals, with all those powers of ownership, which are regarded as most favourable to the extraction from the land of those benefits which it is calculated to yield. When a sovereign takes possession of a country by conquest, he naturally appropriates to himself all the benefits, which the ideas of his soldiers permit.
In many of the rude parts of Africa, the property of the land is understood to reside in the sovereign; it is in the shape of a donation from him, that individuals are allowed to cultivate; and when the son, as is generally the case, succeeds to the father, it is only by a prolongation of the royal bounty, which, in some places at least, is not obtained without a formal solicitation.1 It is known, that in Egypt the king was the sole proprietor of the land; and one-fifthBOOK II. Chap. 5. of the produce appears to have been yielded to him as revenue or rent.1 Throughout the Ottoman dominions, the Sultan claims to himself the sole property in land.2 The same has undoubtedly been the situation of Persia, both in ancient and modern times.3 “It is established,” says the late intelligent Governor of Java, “from every source of inquiry, that the sovereign in Java is the lord of the soil.”4 And BOOK II. Chap. 5.when the fact is established in regard to Java, it is established with regard to all that part of the eastern islands, which in point of manners and civilization resembled Java. It is not disputed that in China the whole property of the soil is vested in the Emperor.1 By the laws of the Welsh, in the ninth century, all the land of the kingdom was declared to belong to the king;2 and we may safely, says Mr. Turner, believe, that the same law prevailed while the Britons occupied the whole island.3
To those who contemplate the prevalence of this institution, among nations contiguous to the Hindus, and resembling them in the state of civilization, it cannot appear surprising, that among them, too, the sovereign was the lord of the soil. The fact is, indeed, very forcibly implied, in many of the ancient laws and institutions. “Of old hoards,” says one of the ordinances of Menu, “and precious minerals in the earth, the king is entitled to half by reason of his general protection, and because he is the supreme lord of the soil.”4 The king, as proprietor, and as fully entitled to an equitable return for the land which he has let, is empowered to punish the cultivator for badBOOK II. Chap. 5. cultivation. “If land be injured, by the fault of the farmer himself, as if he fails to sow it in due time, he shall be fined ten times as much as the king's share of the crop, that might otherwise have been raised; but only five times as much, if it was the fault of his servants without his knowledge.”1 Among other ancient memorials of Hindu institutions and manners, are certain inscriptions engraved on durable materials. Some of them are records of grants of land, commonly to favourite Brahmens; and they afford strong indication of the proprietary rights of the sovereign. The sovereign gives away villages and lands, not empty, but already occupied by cultivators, and paying rent.2 It appears from an ordinance of Yagyawalcya, one of the most sacred of the law sages, that the kings alienated the lands within their dominions, in the same manner, and by the same title, as they alienated any portion of their revenues.3 On BOOK II. Chap. 5.this point, it is of material importance to remark, that up to the time, when the interests of the Company's servants led them to raise a controversy about the rights of the Zemindars, every European visitor, without one exception that I have found, agrees in the opinion, that the sovereign was the owner of the soil.1
Wherever the Hindus have remained under theBOOK II. Chap. 5. influence of their ancient customs and laws, the facts correspond with the inference which would be drawn from these laws. Under the direction of the Governor-General of Bengal, a journey was undertaken, in the year 1766, by Mr. Motte, to the diamond mines in the province of Orissa. In a narrative of his journey, he gives an account of the distribution of the land at Sumbhulpoor, which till that time had remained under the native government. Each village being rated to the government at a certain quantity BOOK II. Chap. 5.of rice, which is paid in kind, the land is thus divided among the inhabitants: To every man, as soon as he arrives at the proper age, is granted such a quantity of arable land as is estimated to produce 242 1/8 measures of rice, of which he must pay 60 3/8 measures, or about one-fourth to the rajah or king. Mr. Motte adds; “The reserved rent of three or four villages, being one-fourth the produce of the land, is applied to the use of the rajah's household. The reserved rent of the rest is given to his relations or principal servants, who by these means have all the inhabitants dependent on them.”1 Dr. Buchanan gives a particular account of the manner in which the crop, in those parts of India which are most purely Hindu, is divided between the inhabitants and the government. In Bengal it is not allowed to be cut down till the rent or tax is first paid: but in those countries to which his journey principally relates, it is the custom, after the grain has been thrashed out in the field, to collect it into heaps, and then to divide it. A heap generally consists of about 110 Winchester bushels, of which he presents the following distribution as a specimen of the partition which is usually made. For the gods, that is, for the priests at their temples, are deducted five seers, containing about one-third of a Winchester gallon each; for charity, or for the mendicant Brahmens, an equal quantity; for the astrologer and the Brahmen of the village, one seer each; for the barber, the potmaker, the washerman, and the Vasaradava, who is both carpenter and blacksmith, two seers each; for the measurer, four seers; for the Aduca, a kind of beadle, seven seers; for the village chief, eight seers, out of which he has to furnish the village sacrifices; and for the accomptant, ten seers. All these perquisites are the same, whatever be theBOOK II. Chap. 5. size of the heap beyond a measure of about twenty-five Winchester bushels. When these allowances are withdrawn the heap is measured; and for every candaca which it contains, a measure equal to 5 1/20 Winchester bushels, there is again deducted half a seer to the village watchmen, two and a half seers to the accomptant, as much to the chief of the village; and the bottom of the heap, about an inch thick, mixed with the cow-dung which in order to purify it had been spread on the ground, is given to the Nirgunty, or conductor of water. These several deductions, on a heap of twenty candacas, or 110 Winchester bushels, amount to about 5 1/4 per cent. on the gross produce. Of the remainder, 10 per cent. is paid to the collectors of the revenue, as their wages or hire; and the heap is last of all divided into halves between the king and the cultivator.1
From these facts only one conclusion can be drawn, that the property of the soil resided in the sovereign; for if it did not reside in him, it will be impossible to show to whom it belonged. The cultivators were left a bare compensation, often not so much as a bare compensation, for the labour and cost of cultivation: they got the benefit of their labour: all the benefit of the land went to the king.2
BOOK II. Chap. 5.Upon the state of facts, in those places where the present practices of the Hindus have not been forced into a disconformity with their ancient institutions, the fullest light has been thrown, by those servants of the Company, who made the inquiries requisite for the introduction of a regular system of finance, into the extensive regions in the south of India added to the British dominions during the administrations of the Marquisses Cornwallis and Wellesley. Place, Munro, Thackeray, Hodgson, were happily men of talents; sufficiently enlightened to see the things which were before them with their naked eyes; and not through the mist of English anticipations. From the reports of these meritorious gentlemen, presented to their superiors, the Committee of the House of Commons, which inquired into East India affairs in 1810, have drawn the following as a general picture: “A village, geographically considered, is a tract of country, comprising some hundreds, or thousands, of acres of arable and waste land. Politically viewed, it resembles a corporation, or township. Its proper establishment of officers and servants consists of the following descriptions: TheBOOK II. Chap. 5.Potail, or head inhabitant, who has the general superintendance of the affairs of the village, settles the disputes of the inhabitants, attends to the police, and performs the duty of collecting the revenues within his village: The Curnum, who keeps the accounts of cultivation, and registers every thing connected with it: The Tallier and Totie; the duty of the former appearing to consist in a wider and more enlarged sphere of action, in gaining information of crimes and offences, and in escorting and protecting persons travelling from one village to another; the province of the latter appearing to be more immediately confined to the village, consisting, among other duties, in guarding the crops, and assisting in measuring them: The Boundaryman, who preserves the limits of the village or gives evidence respecting them in cases of dispute: The Superintendant of water courses and tanks, who distributes the water for the purposes of agriculture: The Brahmen, who performs the village worship: The Schoolmaster, who is seen teaching the children in the villages to read and write in the sand: The Calendar Brahmen, or astrologer, who proclaims the lucky, or unpropitious periods for sowing and thrashing: The Smith, and Carpenter, who manufacture the implements of agriculture, and build the dwelling of the ryot: The Potman or potter: The Washerman: The Barber: The Cow-keeper, who looks after the cattle: The Doctor: The Dancing Girl, who attends at rejoicings; The Musician, and the Poet.
“Under this simple form of municipal government, the inhabitants of the country have lived, from time immemorial. The boundaries of the villages have been seldom altered: and though the villages themselves have been sometimes injured, and even desolated, by war, famine, and disease, the same name, the same limits, the same interests, and even the same families, have continued for ages. The inhabitants give themselves no trouble about the BOOK II. Chap. 5.breaking up and division of kingdoms; while the village remains entire, they care not to what power it is transferred, or to what sovereign it devolves; its internal economy remains unchanged; the Potail is still the head inhabitant, and still acts as the petty judge and magistrate, and collector or renter of the village.”1
These villages appear to have been not only a sort of small republic, but to have enjoyed to a great degree the community of goods. Mr. Place, the collector in the jaghire district at Madras, informs us, that “Every village considers itself a distinct society; and its general concerns the sole object of the inhabitants at large: a practice,” he adds, “which surely redounds as much to the public good as to theirs; each having, in some way or other, the assistance of the rest; the labours of all yield the rent; they enjoy the profit, proportionate to their original interest, and the loss falls light. It consists exactly with the principles upon which the advantages are derived from the division of labour; one man goes to market, whilst the rest attend to the cultivation and the harvest; each has his particular occupation assignedBOOK II. Chap. 5. to him, and insensibly labours for all. Another practice very frequently prevails, of each proprietor changing his lands every year. It is found in some of the richest villages; and intended, I imagine, to obviate that inequality to which a fixed distribution would be liable.”1
The state of taxation is described by the same committee, in the following terms: “By the custom of the Hindu government, the cultivators were entitled to one half of the paddy produce (that is, grain in the husk) depending on the periodical rains. Of the crops from the dry grain lands, watered by artificial means, the share of the cultivator was about two thirds. Before the harvest commenced, the quantity of the crop was ascertained, in the presence of the inhabitants and village servants, by the survey of persons, unconnected with the village, who, from habit, were particularly skilful and expert, in judging of the amount of the produce, and who, in the adjustment of this business, were materially aided by a reference to the produce of former years, as recorded by the accountants of the villages. The quantity which belonged to the government being thus ascertained, it was received in kind, or in money.” Of garden produce, of which the culture was more difficult, a smaller portion was taken; because, if field culture was taxed as much as it could bear, it seems to have been supposed that garden culture, at an equal rate of taxation, could not have been carried on.
“Such,” continue the committee, “were the rights of the ryots, according to the ancient usage of the country. In consequence, however, of the changes BOOK II. Chap. 5.introduced by the Mahomedan conquest, and the many abuses which later times had established, the share really enjoyed by the ryots was often reduced to a sixth, and but seldom exceeded a fifth. The assessments had no bounds but those which limited the supposed ability of the husbandman. The effects of this unjust system were considerably augmented by the custom, which had become common with the Zemindars, of sub-renting their lands to farmers, whom they armed with unrestricted powers of collection, and who were thus enabled to disregard, whenever it suited their purpose, the engagements they entered into with the ryots; besides practising every species of oppression, which an unfeeling motive of self-interest could suggest. If they agreed with the cultivators at the commencement of the year, for a rent in money, and the season proved an abundant one, they then insisted on receiving their dues in kind. When they did take their rents in specie, they hardly ever failed to collect a part of them before the harvest time had arrived and the crops were cut; which reduced the ryots to the necessity of borrowing from money lenders, at a heavy interest of 3, 4, and 5 per cent. per month, the sums requisite to make good the anticipated payments that were demanded of them. If, from calamity or other cause, the ryots were the least remiss in the discharge of their rents, the officers of the renters were instantly quartered upon them; and these officers they were obliged to maintain, until they might be recalled on the demand being satisfied. It was also a frequent practice with the renters to remove the inhabitants from fertile lands, in order to bestow them on their friends and favourites; and to oblige the ryots to assist them, where they happened to be farmers, in the tilling of their lands; and to furnish them gratuitouslyBOOK II. Chap. 5. with labourers, bullocks, carts, and straw.”1
The two terms, Ryot and Zemindar, introduced into this passage, are of frequent recurrence in the history of India, and require to be explained. By ryots, are always denoted the husbandmen; the immediate cultivators of the ground. The Persian term Zemindar, introduced by the Mahomedan conquerors, was in Bengal, and certain other parts of India, the name of a certain sort of middleman, between the cultivator who raised the crop, and the king who received the greater part of the net produce. Into the controversy respecting the nature of the interest which the Zemindar possessed in the land with respect to which he performed his function of middle-man, I shall not at present enter. Another occasion will present itself for the examination of that subject. It is here sufficient to say, that in districts, sometimes of greater, sometimes of less extent, a person, under the title of Zemindar, received the share of the produce, which was exacted from the ryot; either by himself, or the persons to whom he farmed the receipts; and paid it over to the sovereign, reserving a prescribed portion to himself. The Zemindar was thus, whatever else he might be, the collector of the revenue, for the district to which he belonged. As the receipt of revenue, in a rude state of government, is a business most dear to the governors, the Zemindar, in order the better to secure this favourite end, was vested with a great share of the powers of government. He was allowed the use of a military force; the police of the district was placed in his hands; and he was vested with the civil branch of judicature. When his district was BOOK II. Chap. 5.large, he was a sort of a petty prince. In various places of India, however, the collection of the revenue had never become fixed and hereditary, in the hands of an individual, and the business was transacted between the immediate cultivators, and a man who possessed none but the characteristics of an immediate officer of government.
The committee say, that a rate of taxation much more severe than that which existed under the Hindu governments was introduced by the Mohamedan rulers, and amid the abuses of modern times. For this opinion they have no authority whatsoever. It is, therefore, a mere prejudice. The rate which they mention goes far beyond the scale of the ancient ordinances: And what reason is there to believe that the ancient Hindu governments did not, as the Mohamedan, levy assessments to the utmost limits of the supposed ability of the ryots? In those parts of India which Europeans have found still remaining under Hindu governments, the state of the people is worse, if there is any difference, than where they have been subject to the Mohamedan sway.
The rate established in the ancient ordinances has been regarded as evidence of mild taxation, that is, of good government. It only proves that agriculture was in its earliest, and most unproductive state; and though it paid little, could not afford to pay any more.1 We may assume it as a principle, in which there is no room for mistake, that a government constituted and circumstanced as that of the Hindus had only one limit to its exactions, the nonexistenceBOOK II. Chap. 5. of any thing further to take. Another thing is certain, that under any state of cultivation, but the very worst, if the whole except a sixth of the produce of a soil, so rich as that of Hindustan, had been left with the cultivator, he must have had the means of acquiring wealth, and of attaining rank and consequence; but these it is well ascertained that the ryots in India never enjoyed.1
Notwithstanding these proofs that the ownership in the land was reserved to the king, this conclusion has been disputed, in favour, 1st, of the Zemindars, and 2dly, of the Ryots. The question with regard to the Zemindars may be reserved till that period of the history, when it was agitated for the sake of practical proceedings on the part of the government. The question with regard to the Ryots belongs peculiarly to this part of the work.
The circumstances, which appear to have misled the intelligent Europeans who have misinterpreted this part of the Hindu institutions, are two; first, the tenure of the ryot or husbandman; and secondly, the humane and honourable anxiety, lest the interests and the happiness of the most numerous class of the population should be sacrificed, if the sovereign were acknowledged as owner of the soil.
But, if this acknowledgment were ever so complete, it is inconsistent neither with the tenure which is claimed in favour of the ryots, nor with the means of their prosperity and happiness. And it it were, the acknowledgment of its previous existence would be no bar to a preferable arrangement; since the sovereign BOOK II. Chap. 5.can have a right to nothing which is injurious to his people.
In a situation in which the revenue of the sovereign was increased in proportion to the number of cultivators, and in which a great proportion of the land continued void of cultivators, there would be a competition, not of cultivators for the land, but of the land for cultivators. If a ryot cultivated a piece of ground, and punctually paid his assessment, the sovereign would be far from any wish to remove him, because it would be difficult to supply his place. If the ryot sold the ground to another ryot, or left it to a successor, that is, put another in his place who would fulfil the wishes of the sovereign, he, whose source of fear was the want of a cultivator, had still cause for satisfaction; and seldom, if ever, interfered.
By custom, the possession of the ryot became, in this manner, a permanent possession; whence he was not removed except when he failed to pay his assessment or rent; a possession which he could sell during his life; or leave by inheritance when he died. As far as rights can be established by prescription, these rights were established in India in favour of the ryots. And no violation of property is more flagrant than that by which the tenure of the ryot is annulled.
But, according even to European ideas, a right to cultivate the land under these, and still greater advantages, is not understood to transfer the ownership of the land. The great estates in Ireland, for example, let under leases perpetually renewable, are vendible and inheritable by the leaseholders, without affecting the ownership of their lords; subject, moreover, to a very important restriction, from which the sovereigns in India were free;1 the lords of such estates cannot raise their rents at pleasure; the sovereignsBOOK II. Chap. 5. in India enjoyed this privilege, and abused it to excess. The sovereigns in India had not only the ownership, but all the benefit of the land; the ryots had merely the privilege of employing their labour always upon the same soil, and of transferring that privilege to some other person; the sovereign claimed a right to as much of the produce as he pleased, and seldom left to the ryots more than a very scanty reward for their labour.
That ownership in the land justified this extent of exaction, or implies a valid title to any power at variance with the interests of the ryots, is an erroneous inference. Without violating its obligations to the people, a government cannot spend any sum, beyond what is strictly necessary for the performance of the services, which it is destined to render: and it is justified in taking even this sum exclusively from the cultivators of the land, only if that is the mode in which all the qualities desirable in a financial system are the most completely realized.
Those who contend for the privileges of the ryots would no doubt observe, that in this mode of interpretation, we reduce the ownership of the sovereign to an empty name; and that to the admission of it, thus understood, they see nothing to object. The controversy is then at a close. The ownership of the sovereign in the soil, wherever it exists, is, by the principles which constitute the very foundation of government, reduced to the limits above described. And it is no less certain, that all which is valuable in the soil, after the deduction of what is due to the BOOK II. Chap. 5.sovereign, belongs of incontestable right to the Indian husbandman.1
The Hindu mode of raising the revenue of theBOOK II. Chap. 5. state, wholly, or almost wholly, by taking as much as necessary of the rent of the land, while it is the obvious expedient which first presents itself to the BOOK II. Chap. 5.rudest minds, has no inconsiderable recommendation from science itself. Previous to allotment, the productive powers of the soil are the joint property of the community; and hence are a fund peculiarly adapted to the joint or common purposes and demands. If the whole of what is strictly rent were taken away, the application of labour and capital to the land would resemble the application of labour and capital to wood or iron; and the same principles, in both cases, would determine their reward.
But as the expense required for the services of government exceeds not a very small portion of the rent of the land, unless where the quantity is very minute, the greatest possible benefit is derived from the productive powers of the soil, when it is the property of individuals. The benefits of the soil have, accordingly, over the greater part of the globe, been employed, first, to supply in whole, or for the greater part, the necessities of government, next to enrich the individual occupant. The most remarkable exception to this rule is in modern Europe. After the conquests of the Gothic nations, the land was thrown in great portions into the hands of the leading men; and they had power to make the taxes fall where they chose; they took care accordingly that they should fall any where rather than upon the land; that is, upon any body rather than themselves. Further, as their influence over the sovereign made him glad to share with them what he derived from the taxes, they not only threw the burden off their own shoulders, but taxed, as they have continued to do, and sometimes in a progressive ratio, to the present hour, the rest of the community for their benefit.
The objections to the Hindu system of providing for the expenses of government, arise rather from the mode, than the essence.
By aiming at the receipt of a prescribed portionBOOK II. Chap. 5. of the crop of each year; and with a very imperfect distinction of the lands of different powers, the Hindus incurred most of the evils which a bad method of raising a tax is liable to produce. They rendered the amount of the tax always uncertain, and its pressure very unequal; they rendered necessary a perfect host of tax-gatherers; and opened a boundless inlet to partiality and oppression on the one hand; to fraud and mendacity on the other. A tax, consisting of any portion of the gross produce of the soil, raises the price of that produce; because the tax raised from the poorest of the cultivated land must be returned, along with the expense of cultivation, in the exchangeable value of its produce. In this manner a tax is levied upon the consumers of corn, which surpasses the sum paid to the government, and enriches the owners of the best land at the expense of the community.1
An expensive mode of raising the taxes is a natural effect of a rude state of society. We are informed by Sully, that the receipt into the French exchequer, in the year 1598, was only thirteen millions of French money; while the sum, dragged out of the pockets of the people, was 150 millions. “The thing appeared incredible,” says the statesman: “but by the due degree of labour, I made the truth of it certain.”2 The proportion was doubtless greater in Hindustan.
Receiving the taxes in kind was a practice which ensured a prodigious expense, and a waste, by which nobody gained. Scarcely any other mode seems to have been known to the Hindus in the time of their ancient institutions; and to a great degree it continued down to the latest period of their history.1 How rude and inconvenient soever this practice must be regarded; we find several nations, who make a considerable figure in the history of the world, who have not in this respect advanced beyond the Hindus. It may not surprise any one, that taxes were raised in kind in the ancient empire of Mexico.2 The greater part, though not the whole, were raised in the same manner, in Persia, even in the time of Darius Hystaspes;3 and the mixture, at least, whatever the proportion, continues to the present day.4 The whole revenue of China, with the exception of some trifling articles, is paid in kind.1Chap. 5.
Laws of Menu, ch. vii. 130.
Laws of Menu, ch. vii. 131, 132.
Ib. 127, 128.
Ib. 137, 138.
Laws of Menu, ch. x. 118, 120.
Ayeen Akbery, p. 347.
An ancient Sanscrit poem of the dramatic form, translated by Sir William Jones: See the beginning of the fifth act.
The political economists of Hindustan, and those of the mercantile theory in modern Europe, proceeded on different views.
Halhed's Gentoo Code, ch. xxi. sect. 4. On sales of very small amount, or on those of young heifers, (the cow was a sacred animal) no tax was levied.
Suevorum gens est longe maxima et bellicosissima Germanorum omnium. Ii centum pagos habere dicuntur. ∗ ∗ ∗ Privati et separati agri apud eos nihil est; neque longius anno remanere uno in loco, incolendi causa licet: neque multum frumento, sed maximam partem lacte atque pecore vivunt, multumque sunt in venationibus. Cæsar. De Bell. Gal. lib. iv. cap. 1. Among some tribes of negroes on the coast of Africa, each individual must obtain the consent of the chief before he has liberty to cultivate a field, and is only protected in its possession till he has reaped the crop for which he has toiled. Histoire Generale des Voyages, tom. v. ch. vii. sect. 5. “Neque quisquam agri modum certum, aut fines proprios habet: sed magistratus ac principes, in annos singulos, gentibus cognationibusque hominum qui una coierunt quantum et quo loco visum est agri attribuunt; atque anno post, alio transire cogunt.” Cæsar. De Bello Gallico, lib. vi. cap. 20.
Histoire Generale des Voyages, tom. iv. ch. xiii. p. 203. Modern Universal History, vol. xvii. p. 322. I am induced to transcribe the following passage from Mr. Park; “Concerning property in the soil; it appeared to me that the lands and native woods were considered as belonging to the king, or (where the government was not monarchical) to the state. When any individual of free condition had the means of cultivating more land than he actually possessed, he applied to the chief man of the district, who allowed him an extension of territory, on condition of forfeiture, if the lands were not brought into cultivation by a given period. The condition being fulfilled, the soil become vested in the possessor; and, for aught that appeared to me, descended to his heirs.” Travels in Africa, p. 260, 261.
Herodot. lib. ii cap. cix. says, that Sesostris, as he was told by the priests, divided all the land of Egypt among the people, and thence raised his revenues, imposing an annual tribute on each portion; και απο ττ τας προσοδς ποιησασϑαι, επιταξαντα αποφορην επιτελειν κατ’ δνιαυτον. See too, Strabo, lib. xvii. p. 1135. Diod. Sic. lib. i. sect. 2. cap. xxiv.
Volney's Travels in Syria and Egypt, vol. ii. p. 402, et passim. De l’Egypte, par le General Reynier, p. 66. 51.
For information on this point, see Herodot. lib. iii.; lib. iv. cap. xlii.; Sir William Ousely's Translation of Ebn Haukal, an Arabian geographer, who lived in the tenth century, p. 137; Institutes of Timur; Ayeen Akberry; Chardin's Travels.
Gov. Raffles Minute on Java, p. 6; also, p. 79, 108. The distribution of the land among the Peruvians was as follows: One-third part of it was dedicated to, and cultivated for, the gods; that is, the priests. Another third part the Inca reserved for himself, for the maintenance of his court and of his armies. The remaining third he distributed to the people, assigning an established portion to each family. “But no particular man,” (says Acosta, Nat. and Mor. Hist. of the Indies, book VI. ch. xv.) “possessed any thing proper to himself of this third portion, neither did the Indians ever possess any, if it were not by special grace from the Inca.” Garcilasso de la Vega tells us, (part I. book V. ch. i.) that it was only when there was more land than sufficed for the people, that the Inca and the Sun received their full thirds; when that was not the case, these portions were diminished to augment to the proper proportion that of the people. See too Carh, Lettres sur l'Amerique, let. xv. For great services land was given in full property; Acosta, book VI. ch. xviii: and this is another remarkable coincidence with what existed in Hindustan.
Abbe Grosier Descr. de la Chine; but Mr. Barrow's testimony is the most direct and satisfactory. “The emperor,” says he, “is considered as the sole proprietary of the soil, but the tenant is never turned out of possession as long as he continues to pay his rent, which is calculated at about one-tenth of what his farm is supposed capable of yielding; and though the holder of lands can only be considered as a tenant at will, yet it is his own fault if he should be dispossessed.” Barrow's China, p. 397.
Leges Wallicæ, Hoel, cap. 337.
Turner's History of the Anglo-saxons, vol ii. ch. iii.
Laws of Menu, ch. viii. 39. I have here substituted the word supreme for the word paramount, used by Sir William Jones, which has no meaning but as it relates to the feudal institutions of Europe, and is calculated to convey an erroneous idea.
Laws of Menu, ch. viii. 243.
See a royal grant of land, engraved on a copper plate, bearing date twenty-three years before Christ; and discovered among the ruins at Monguir, translated by Mr. Wilkins, Asiat. Researches, i. 123. “Be it known,” says the inscription, (p. 126) “that I have given the abovementioned town of Meseeka, whose limits include the fields where the cattle graze, above and below the surface, with all the lands belonging to it, together with all the Mango and Modhoo trees; all its waters, and all their banks and verdure; all its rents, all its tolls and times for crime and rewards for catching thieves. In it there shall be no molestation, no passage for troops,” &c. It is here remarkable that the sovereign, as well as the proprietary, rights are given away; so indissolubly were these united in the minds and institutions of the Hindus. In the same manner in another grant of land found at Tanna, and bearing date An. Christi, 1018, the land is given away “with its herbage, wood, and water, and with power of punishing for the ten crimes.” Asiat. Researches, i. 364.
“Let a king, having given land, or assigned revenue, cause his gift to be written for the information of good princes, who will succeed him, either on prepared cloth, or on a plate of copper, sealed above with his signet; having described his ancestors and himself, the dimensions or quantity of the gift, with its metes and bounds, if it be land, and set his own hand to it, and specified the time, let him render his donation firm.” See the original, and the translation of Sir William Jones, Asiat. Res. iii. 50.
It is proper to adduce the more remarkable instances. The ancient Greeks who visited India expressly inform us, that the kings were the sole proprietors of the soil, and that a fourth part of the produce was usually paid them in kind as the rent or tribute. Strabo, lib. xv. p. 1030. Diod. Sic. lib. ii. p. 53.
A Narrative of a Journey to the Diamond Mines of Sumbhulpoor, in the province of Orissa, by Thomas Motte, Esq. Asiat. Annual Register, i., Miscellaneous Tracts, p. 75. Mr. Motte further informs us that every man at Sumbhulpoor is enrolled as a soldier, and is allowed half a measure of rice in the day for his subsistence, while his wife cultivates the farm. He seems to say that this subsistence is given to him by the wife from the produce of the farm.
Buchanan's Journey through the Mysore, &c. i. 2, 3, 130, 194, 265. “This simple mode of rating lands for half their yearly produce is derived from the remotest antiquity in different parts of Hindostan, and still invariably prevails in such countries as were left unsubdued by the Mahomedans, like Tanjore, where the ancient Indian forms of administration are, for the most part, preserved entire.” British India Analysed, i. 195.
The Missionary Dubois, with his singular opportunities of correct information, says peremptorily; “Creditors can have no hold on the real estate of their debtors, because the Hindus have no property in the soil. The lands which they cultivate are the domain of the prince, who is the sole proprietor. He can resume them at his pleasure, and give them to another to cultivate. Even the huts in which they live, built of mud and covered with thatch, are not their own. All belongs to the prince; and if a man, for any reason whatever, quits his habitation in the village, he can by no means dispose of it to another, although it were constructed by his own hands. The only property they possess is their few cows and buffaloes; and upon these no creditor is allowed to lay his hands: because, if deprived of his cattle, he would be unable to cultivate the land; whence an injury would accrue to the prince.” Description, &c. of the People of India, by the Abbé Dubois, p. 496.
Fifth Report, Commit. 1810, p. 85. See, in “Considerations on the State of India,” by A. Fraser Tytler, i. 113, a description of a village in Bengal, which shows that the Indian continent was pervaded by this institution.
Fifth Report, ut supra, p. 723.
Fifth Report, ut supra, p. 81, 82.
By the same rule, the Turkish government would be ranked as excellent. It takes little: but the reason is, there is nothing more which it can take. The ancient assessment on the cultivator in Persia was one-tenth; but in the days of the Indian Emperor Akbar, he was by one means or other made to pay more than a half. Ayeen Akberry, Ed. in 4to. p. 348.
The population in India, through so many ages, must have been kept down by excess of exaction. Even in the richest parts of India one half of the soil has never been under cultivation.
It is remarkable that the king's tenants in ancient demesne were, in England, perpetual, on the same condition as the ryots in India. A gleba amoveri non poterint, quamdiu solvere possunt debitas pensiones. Bracton, lib. i. cap. ii.
The following quotations will show how completely these deductions accord with the facts which the late perfect investigation has elicited. Mr. Thackeray, in his general report, remarks, “All this peninsula, except, perhaps, only Canara, Malabar, and a few other provinces, has exhibited, from time immemorial, but one system of land revenue. The land has been considered the property of the Circar [government], and of the ryots. The interest in the soil has been divided between these two; but the ryots have possessed little more interest than that of being hereditary tenants. If any persons have a claim to participate with government in the property of the soil, it is the ryots.” (Fifth Report, ut supra, p. 992.) These ideas, and even the very words, have been adopted, in the Report of the Board of Revenue, Ib. p. 898. “Lands,” says Mr. Place, “cannot be alienated without a written instrument; because both the sovereign and the subject have a mutual property in them. Each, however, may alienate his own, and the other is not affected. The sovereign may part with his interest in them: but the usufructuary right remains with the subject. And all that the latter can sell, mortgage, or give away, is the enjoyment of the profit, after paying what is due to the sovereign.” (Ibid. p. 713.) Mr. Harris, in his report on Tanjore, informs us, “A meerassadar (ryot) disposes of his station in any manner he pleases. He disposes of it, too, and quits, without being bound to give, to any one, notice of his transfer and departure. Like him, his successor superintends its cultivation, and pays its revenue. Government know nothing of his relinquishment; and if they knew of it, they would not care about it here, as in Europe. The proprietorship of the land belongs to government or the landlord; and he who is entrusted with the duty of making it productive, lives upon it and cultivates it, so long as he pays its revenue, and no longer. But this occupation of it, while the superior is satisfied, has been converted by the meerassadar into a right. They have made the right a property; and they retain, sell, lend, give, or mortgage, according to their inclination, the whole or any part of it.” (Ibid. 829.) Even Mr. Hodgson, who is an advocate for raising the revenue through the instrumentality of Zemindars, affirms the rights of the cultivators to be incontestable. “I make,” says he, “the following inductions: 1st. that the cultivators have a right, every where, to pay a fixed tax for the land they occupy; 2dly. that they have the right, universally, to occupy this land, so long as they pay the standard rent; 3dly. that they have the right to sell or transfer, by deed, gift, or otherwise, the land they occupy, subject always to the condition of paying the standard rent; 4thly. that they exercise the right, stated in the third position, wherever the standard rent has not been increased, so as to absorb all the profit on cultivation, or arable land is sufficiently scarce to be of value in the acquisition.” (Ib. 979.)
See a Dissertation on the Principles of Taxation, the most profound, by far, which has yet been given to the world, by David Ricardo, Esq. in his work “On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.”
Mem. du Sully, liv. xx.
Among the Mexicans, says Dr. Robertson, “Taxes were laid upon land, upon the acquisitions of industry, and upon commodities of every kind exposed to sale in the public markets. These duties were considerable, but not arbitrary or unequal. They were imposed according to established rules, and each knew what share of the common burden he had to bear.” History of America, iii. 295, 229. The political descriptions of this admired historian are, commonly, by far too general, and thence vague. We cannot suppose that the Mexicans were more skilled in the policy of taxation than the Hindus.
“As the use of money was unknown,” says Robertson, (Ibid. p. 296,) “all the taxes were paid in kind, and thus not only the natural productions of all the different provinces in the empire, but every species of manufacture, and every work of ingenuity and art, were collected in the public storehouses.” It is worthy of remark that the same mode of taxing handicrafts and labourers was adopted in Mexico as in Hindustan; “People of inferior condition (Ibid.), neither possessing land nor engaged in commerce, were bound to the performances of various services. By their stated labour the crown lands were cultivated, public works were carried on, and the various houses which belonged to the emperor were built and kept in repair.
It is remarkable that, in Persia, the use even of coined money was unknown till the time of Darius Hystaspes. The portion of tribute that was paid in gold and silver was received by weight. Herodot. lib. iv. cap. clxvi. Major Rennel, not aware that this was only a portion, and a small portion, of the Persian taxes, is exceedingly puzzled to account for the diminutive amount of the Persian revenues, and at last concludes that “the value of money was incredibly greater at that time than at present.” Rennel's Geography of Herodotus, p. 316.
Ebn Haukal, translated by Sir William Ousely, p. 136. Chardin's Travels in Persia.
Abbé Grosier, p. 76; Barrow's China, p. 499. Mr. Barrow informs us that a vast number of the vessels on the canals and rivers are employed in conveying the taxes to the capital. Ib. p. 508. In those countries on the Euxine Sea which early attained so high a state of civilization as to have a large export trade in grain, even the custom house duties, or the taxes on export and import, were levied in kind. We are informed by Demosthenes, Orat. adv. Leptinem, that Lencon king of Bosphorus, from which Athens derived her principal supplies, levied a duty of one thirtieth in kind upon all the corn shipped in his ports.