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AN ESSAY

ON THE

COMMUTATION OF TITHES:

TO WHICH WAS ADJUDGED

THE BEDFORDEAN GOLD MEDAL.

BY THE

BATH AND WEST OF ENGLAND SOCIETY,

FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF AGRICULTURE, ARTS, MANUFACTURES, AND COMMERCE.

AT THEIR ANNUAL MEETING, DECEMBER 13th, 1814.

BY

JOHN BENETT, ESQ.

OF PYT HOUSE, WILTS.

AN ESSAY

ON THE

COMMUTATION OF TITHES.

THE Bath and West of England Society, for the Encouragement of Agriculture, &c., having offered its most honorable reward for the best Treatise on a Commutation for Tithe, I hereby send it, the result of long reflection on that subject, though it has been very hastily written down. I have not been urged hereto so much by a desire to obtain that reward, as by a wish to promote the Society's most laudable endeavours; feeling as I do, in common with it, that a commutation of tithe for some unobjectionable property would produce the greatest possible benefit to the agricultural interest of this country; and would, at the same time, strengthen the interests of its Church.

The late Mr. Pitt had it certainly in his contemplation to effect a commutation of tithe; his successors have been so much occupied with war measures, that all great national improvements and ameliorations have naturally been obstructed thereby.

The long-wished-for time of peace is arrived, and has brought with it the expected good to all classes of the community, excepting to the agriculturist; to him it has brought evil.

The agriculture of this country is now on the decline; the present, therefore, is the time to remove one of the greatest checks to agricultural industry and improvement, which probably ever did exist in this or any other country, by a commutation of tithe.

In treating of tithe, I desire it to be understood, that I do not, by any means, wish to invade the property of the church, or to doubt the perfect right and right and title which the clergy have to their portion of that property, as long as they perform the duties of the church. I speak of tithe as a property, (not considering in whose possession it is,) which in its nature is so injurious to the interest of the whole state, that it ought to be, and eventually I believe must be, commuted for some other of equal value to the owners, but which will not produce the same evil consequences to the public.

The oppressive action of the tithe system has not yet been generally and perfectly understood. When tithe was first established, (and its advocates speak of it as of very great antiquity,) probably it was not worth more than one tenth of the net produce of the land. The earth, we must suppose, in those days produced its fruits almost spontaneously, or with very little culture; but in the same proportion as the expense of cultivation has increased, so has the value of tithe increased beyond the tenth; for the tithe-owner takes one tenth of the gross produce, without paying any part of the expense of cultivation. For this reason the proportional value of tithe to rent, in this country, has rapidly increased during the late war, or within

these twenty years past. The expense of cultivation has been greatly increased by taxes, and various other causes; the increase of the expense of cultivation must either sink the rents, or raise the price of corn, for the farmer must have his fair profit. Now, if the rent should be sunk to repay the farmer's increased expense of cultivation, the tythe will not be sunk thereby, for it is taken from the gross produce; consequently, the rent and tithe will come nearer in value to each other. The same will be the case, if the corn should be risen in price to repay the increased expense of cultivation, for the rent will not be risen thereby, though the tithe will. The consequence must always be, that all taxes or other expenses which may fall on the farmer, and which must tend either to depress, or to prevent the rents from rising, (though the price of corn should rise,) will also tend to increase the value of the tithe; and though on account of the increase of our population, and the difficulties which have attended the importation of provisions, the rents have of late years risen very considerably, yet the value of the tithe has risen in a much greater proportion. The case must be the same with respect to all money expended in the improvement of land. I will suppose a farmer should expend five pounds per acre in lime, or any other artificial manure; the rent cannot therefore be raised; but the tithe must be worth, at the least, twelve shillings more; as six pounds worth more of corn must be grown in consequence of that manure, for the purpose of repay ing to the farmer the original five pounds expended, the tithe amounting to twelve shillings, and interest of the money five shillings, leaving to the farmer the profit of three shillings per acre for his exertions. The case is still stronger with respect to the cultivation of waste land, and almost amounts to a prohibition,

I will now consider tithe as it affects the Church alone, and the established religion of the country. It is an essential point for the support of religion, that the people should love and respect its ministers; that they should look up to them in all times of difficulty, as their advisers, their fathers, and friends. Under such circumstances, the clergyman's power of doing good would be infinite; and that is the species of power which he ought at all times, and probably often does, seek after. But he looks for it in vain : for the tithe system casts a bone of contention between the minister and his parishioners, which, in many cases, not only destroys all the respect which they ought to feel for their pastor, but also establishes in them a most inveterate hatred towards him. This unfortunate enmity often originates on a clergyman's taking possession of his living. His first step is generally, and naturally, to bring a surveyor into his parish; who must, if possible, raise the amount of the tythes, without considering how and when they were last valued. This frequently creates a suspicion amongst his parishioners, that he attends more to his individual interest, than to the duties of his church: the parishioners, who are acquainted and connected with each other, often unite in their opposition to the increased demand: an inveterate enmity immediately succeeds; the clergyman throws the blame on the illiberality of the farmers, and they in return blame their pastor. The whole blame ought probably to be attributed to the tythe system, which gives one man a power over, and an interference in, the property of many; and it is that species of power and interference, which must produce ill-will and enmity towards the person possessing it, as long as human minds, hearts, and feelings, continue to be formed as they have hitherto been.

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