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John Taylor on how a republic can “fleece its citizens” just as well as a monarchy (1822)

John Taylor (1753-1824) argues that the American Revolution would have been in vain if the Americans replicated the British system of government privilege and favors to special economic interests:

A policy for transferring property by exclusive privileges, pensions, bounties, monopolies and extravagance, constitutes the essence of the British monopoly, and is sustained by a conspiracy between the government and those who are enriched by it, for fleecing the people. This policy is the most efficacious system of tyranny, practicable over civilized nations. It is able to subject the rights of man, if men have any rights, to ambition and avarice. It can as easily deprive nations of the right of self-government as it can rob individuals of their property. It can make revolutions reorganizers of the very abuses they overturn, and merely a wheel for turning up or down combinations equally oppressive. What is the difference between recommending the form or the substance of the European monarchies? Would it not be better, like the Lacedemonians, to adopt the form of monarchy without its substance, than to adopt its substance without its form?

Suppose the Committee had recommended monarchy, but protested at the same time, that they had no predilection for this foreign opinion. Would the protestation have rendered monarchy not only harmless but nutritious to our republican principles? A policy for transferring property by exclusive privileges, pensions, bounties, monopolies and extravagance, constitutes the essence of the British monopoly, and is sustained by a conspiracy between the government and those who are enriched by it, for fleecing the people. This policy is the most efficacious system of tyranny, practicable over civilized nations. It is able to subject the rights of man, if men have any rights, to ambition and avarice. It can as easily deprive nations of the right of self-government as it can rob individuals of their property. It can make revolutions reorganizers of the very abuses they overturn, and merely a wheel for turning up or down combinations equally oppressive. What is the difference between recommending the form or the substance of the European monarchies? Would it not be better, like the Lacedemonians, to adopt the form of monarchy without its substance, than to adopt its substance without its form? It is said by the holy alliance, that both the form and substance of all monarchies, however corrupt or oppressive, ought to be maintained, because they are established. By an alliance, not less holy, between our abuses, it is contended that these also ought to be maintained, because they are established. In both cases reformation is forbidden upon the same ground. England conceals the crimes of her policy by an impartial execution of her laws, but when the judicial ermine is stripped from her legislation, though it proceeds from a government called representative, the strict execution of her partial laws, are visibly an extension of the oppressions and frauds they are calculated to perpetuate. The execution of laws contrived for transferring property, only brings men to suffer the torture of a legal rack.

The British parliament, some years past, resolved, “that the influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished.” Is it not at least as true here, that the influence of exclusive privileges and extravagance in our governments, has increased, is increasing, and ought also to be diminished? Which is most oppressive, the influence of one man, or the influence of a combination between several thousand men, to rule and plunder a nation? Which can be most easily overturned, a single-headed or a many-headed tyrant? In England, the instrumentality of royal influence in extending the policy of transferring property, was the evil which the parliament believed required diminution: but such was the force of this influence, that the parliamentary conviction has never been able to check it. Here the instrumentality of capitalist influence, has been able hitherto to suppress the national conviction that it ought to be diminished. Does its strength and success prove the wisdom of making it stronger, that it may become, like royal influence, irresistible even by the legislature? In England, the nature of the government requires some regal influence, and therefore the parliament only resolved, that it ought to be diminished: here, the principles of the government forbid any fictitious capitalist influence, and therefore it ought to be abolished. In England the abolition of regal influence would be a revolution; here the establishment of a privileged influence, would also be a revolution. I blush to behold a love for the principles of limited monarchy, inducing a British parliament to speak truth; and look with sorrowful disappointment for a similar proof of affection for our constitutional principles from republican legislatures. Instead of resolving that the several modes for creating a moneyed aristocracy, have increased, are increasing, and ought to be abolished, or even diminished; and not content with a tacit approbation of this revolutionizing policy, they have laboured actively for its introduction. The Committee protest that they have no predilection for it. They only propose to drive it, not away, but towards its oppressive English completion.

About this Quotation:

Taylor was a Jeffersonian Republican and Anti-Federalist who objected to a powerful central government which could impose economic privileges for some, such as tariffs and state subsidised “internal improvements”, on the entire nation. In his book Tyranny Unmasked (1822) he attacked a Congressional Committee established in 1821 which recommended these very things. He extended these specific criticisms into a general treatise on political and economic theory which repays careful reading today. In it he argues that a core feature of the British imperial and monarchical system from which the Americans had seceded was the “policy for transferring property by exclusive privileges, pensions, bounties, monopolies and extravagance” which was “sustained by a conspiracy between the government and those who are enriched by it” in order to “fleec(e) the people”. He saw no difference in this policy of fleecing the people if were done by an aristocratic elite with the assistance of the Crown, or a “capitalist” elite with the assistance of Congress. Given the direction the American Congress was moving in 1822 Taylor believed that a new American “moneyed aristocracy” was well on the way to overturning the gains of the American Revolution and returning to an “oppressive English” system of privilege.

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