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

John Taylor

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?

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.