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Is it possible that any can really understand some of the chief circumstances and bearings of the National Debt, as they have generally been represented ?
If any talk of a composition with the public creditor, nearly all are on the alert to defend his cause with arguments of reason and sophistry; of imagined honour and actual injustice; of pity for the poor fundholder, who is very generally rich; and little mercy to the rich debtor, who is very generally poor: for who is the public debtor? Is he to be found in the person of the King ? or the two branches of the legislature ? or the confidential advisers of majesty ? or the various subordinate functionaries who manage the details of the machine ? it cannot be, for it is well known that all these put together contribute not, AS SUCH, one shilling a-year towards the millions of pounds that are collected.
No; the public debtor is not to be sought prospectively in any individuals; the identity of the debtor to the English fundholder is circumstantial rather than personal. Thus, whoever uses any taxed article, whether in the occupancy
of a house or the purchase of a pound of tea, constitutes himself one of the public debtors to the amount of the tax levied on the article, and for that period; generally clearing off his debt as he incurs it with the purchase, and running a score with the occupancy. Who then is the public debtor ? generally speaking all the people of England for the time being, except those who actually incurred the debt; and if they constitute a part of the debtors as to the liability, they
hardly can as to the practice, because though they pay to the revenue they receive from it very much more; yet, with respect to the great public functionaries of government, is it not clear that men with half their talents, and perhaps not more assiduity, derive as great an income from trade as they do from their offices, therefore they are not overpaid ; the same, with few exceptions, may be said of almost all the other functionaries, and perhaps particularly the junior clerks. Yet what shall be said in extenuation for those sinecurists who never did any service to their country?
But let us revert to the identity of this imaginary debtor, who is supposed able to bear almost any burthens.
Every poor widow who buys an ounce of tea for herself and her orphans is one of these public debtors, who, collectively, are represented with resources almost unbounded; but from a variety of management the unbounded resource-men contribute, in proportion to their means, very little, compared to the poor widow; what with the landholder getting that portion of his patrimony without
probate or legacy-duty to start with ; getting his mansion rated as a farm-house ; brewing his own beer; franking his letters, or getting them franked, and ruling the corporation and the parish ; with the various profits and privileges of a variety of offices connected with parliamentary and various other influences ; and the fundholder continuing to receive the interest of usury, after having already got back a large portion of the principal, yet holding the nation for the whole NOMINAL original amount of the debt. But the middle classes, and poor, and parents of large families, divide the debt pretty much between them, and very heavy they find it; for is it not clear that the weight of taxation is felt, not in proportion to what is paid, but according to the proportion that those payments bear to the residue of income, from indispensable expenses? And is it not clear that the creditor is in his own person, or by inheritance, or purchase, a party to the faults of the national debt? inasmuch as he either has bought himself a share of the concern, or has inherited a beneficial interest from a
self-constituted proprietor; but the real tangible debtor is no party to it by his own conduct, nor amenable in justice to its errors : thus then the creditor, who is constituted such by his own acts, gets the advantage of the unjust portion of the transaction; and the debtor, who is constituted such by the acts of others, bears the burthen of such unjust portion.
Now for the creditor; although there are many poor widows, whose little all, except their furniture and apparel, is vested in the funds; and although savings-banks and friendly societies of the working classes hold several millions, yet the bulk of the amount is held by the rich reinvesting capitalist; and were it not that they have to drop off, one after another, that country from whose bourne no traveller returns," their successors in wealth would be sadly perplexed as to “ how to bestow their fruits and their goods.” Then would come to pass
what a friend said to me in an argument about the consistency of those who profess a principle against war, buying stock which was borrowed for and spent in cutting Frenchmen's