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A concise view of the constitution of England online

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elusive ; yet the taxes cannot be gathered till they
lue sanctioned by a specific act of the whole l^s-
Jature. These supplies are granted by the subject;

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to liable the government to secure them in the
enjoyment of their property, liberties, and lives/

The extraordinary revenue includes the taxes
both annual and permanent. The usiial annusd
taxes are those upon land and malt.

The land taxj as it now stands, was adopted in
lieu of all former tenths, fifteenths, subsidies on
lands, hydros, scutages, or talliages; and the
method of raising it is by charging a particular
sum upon each county, according to the valuation
given in A. D. 1692. This sum is assessed upon
individuals by commissioners appointed in the
act, being the principal landholders in the county,
and by their officers.

The nudt tax is also an annual tax, and is under
the management of the commissioners of excise.
Xt has existed ever since 1697, but has been fre-
quently altered by additional imposts^ down to
the present time.

The permanent taxes include the customs; by
*vrhich are meant the duties, toll, or tribute pay-
able on merchandise exported and imported. The
importing or exporting of goods without paying
the customs, is called smuggling; which is punish-
able with confiscation of the commodity. This
method of defrauding the public revenue, is a
manifest breach of the divine law ; which com-
mands us, to " render unto Caesar the things that
** are Caesar's ;" and to give unto all their dues ;
** tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom
•* custom." Indcfed, knowingly to purchaise smug-^

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gUd goods, is as bad as the buying of goods
knowing them to be stolen: for wherein, in a
moral view, does tlie difference consist ? If one
jcnan give 85. for that which is worth 12^. and
which he knows to have been stolen, and another
give the same sum for the like value, which he
knows to have been smuggled, the only difference
between them seems to be this; that the one in ef-
fect steals As. out of\i\^ neighbour's house, whilst the
other prevents the same sum from going into the
public treasury. Not that smuggling is exclusively
a defrauding of the public revenue ; the wilful
evasion of the payment of any tax, legally im-
posed, is equally a transgression of the law of
God. However, therefore, this evil practice may
be contended for firom worldly motives, it cannot
be defended upon christian principles.

The excise duty is another branch of permanent
taxes : this is an inland impost paid either upon
the consumption of the commodity, or upon the
retail sale of it The excise laws were first estab^
lished in 1643; from which time they have gradually
been extended and increased to the present day.

The excise laws have always been rendered
exceedingly objectionable to Englishmen, because
of their infringement of British liberty ; by giving
officers power to enter th^ dwelling houses of
those who deal in exc^seable articles, at any hour
of the day ajid night ; and by the smnmary pro-
ceedings, to inflict the l^al penalties before two
conlmissioners or justices of peace, tp the uttef

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exclusion of a trial by jury. This rigorous lavi
was first introduced and adopted by the republican
parliament, whose career commenced with the
cry of liberty and refonnation. These reformers
not only began this mode of entering into private
houses; but when the nation had been a little
while accustomed to it, they openly and boldly
declared " the impost of excise to be the most
" easy and indifferent levy that could be laid upon
" the people ;'" and accordingly continned it during
the whole of the usurpation.

If we expect a removal of onr grievances, real
or imaginary, either from a change in the form of
the^vamment, or of the persons who administer
it, we shall often be disappointed. The source ot
all our evils lies too deeply to be eradicated by the
wisdom and power of man; for men of jail parties
and Opinions alike partake of a fallen and corrupt
nature. ** Hac omms morbi causa" This is the
real spring from which all our public and private
calamities flow. Wboever, therefore, is in office,
or whatever be the form of the government, some
excess of expenditure ; some misapplication of the
public money ; some preferring of private interest
to the public good ; and some anxiety to provide
for relatives and connexions, may naturally be
expected, though they cannot be defended.* To

* The Author takes this opportunity of acknowledging, once
for all, his <)hligations to the writings of the Rev. and learned
Mr. Scott, author of the " Family Bible,'' &c. ^c.

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a disr^rd of the true source of public abuseB, k
owing that exclusive pretension to patriotism,
which usually distinguishes the oppositionist from
the minister of state ; and to the same cause we
may attribute the disappointment which is gene-
rally felt upon every change of the ministry, at
finding that the candidate for office promised
more than he wUl or can perform when he is in
power. *^ He that fancies he should benefit the
^^ public more in a great station than the man that
*^ fills it> will in time imagine it an act of virtue to
'' supplant him ; and, as opposition readily kindles
'^ into hatred, his eagerness to do that good to
•* which he is not called, will betray him to crimes,
*^ which in his original scheme were never pur-*
posed^"* Real patriotism, then, does not consist
$0 much in a systematic opposition to men* in
office, as in a conscientious discharge of the
duties of our several stations.

The salt too:, though not commonly called an
excise, because under the management of different
commissioners, yet it is subject to the same regu-
lations as excise duties, and makes part of the
extraordinary revenue.

The most popular of the permanent taxes,
perhaps, of any; .is the postage of letters. For
whilst the government derives from it a very con-
siderable sum, the people dispatch their business
^ith far greater ease and cheapness by its means,

• Sec the Rambler, No. 8.

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flian they could do in any other way. This tax
originated in the parliament of 1643, and the rate
of postage has been increased at diffetrent times

Postmasters in the country are bound to deliver
the letters to the inhabitants ; atad any chai*ge for
so doing is iHegal.

By statute 42 Geo. III. ch. 81, it is enacted;
that persons sending letters and packets which
ought to be sent by the post, by any stage coach,
carts, wagons, or any other conveyances what*
ever, are liable to forfeit the sum of «£.5, to be
recovered with full costs of suit, by any persoa
who shall inform and sue for the same. But this
prohibition does not extend to letters sent with
and concerning goods conveyed by any known
carrier of goods, nor to letters sent by any private
friend in his journey, or by any messenger sent on

There is another branch of the permanent taxes
which is very beneficial both to government and
the people ; and that is, the stamp duiy^ upon
various kinds of paper and parchments. The
benefit which the subject derives fi-om this taxi
arises from the difficulty to forge any kind of
deeds of any standing, being hereby increased.
For the commissioners of stamps are often varying
their marks, which are imperceptible to all bul

The home and window tax, a part of the extras
ordinary revenue, was first established by parlia-

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mcnt in the reign of Charles 11. by an hnpogt
called the hearth money. This was abolished by
statute 1 W. and M. ch. 10. but in six years
afterwards was virtually revived by a tax of 3^. p^
house, and also upon all windows exceeding nine;
which rate has been gradp^ly increasing to its
present amount The surveyors, commonly called
vrmdovr peepers, are allowed by law to survey the
outside of windows ; and twice a year to pass
tlirough any house, into any court or yard to
inspect the windows there ; but have no right or
power to examine the number of windows by going
about the inside of the house.

The duty arising from licences to hackn^ coaches
^nd chairs in and about London, is another part of
the public revenue. In 1654, two hundred hack-
ney coaches were allowed within London and six
miles round, under the direction of the court of
aldermen. In the reign of Charles II. they were
increased to four hundred. These were augmented
to seven hundred by statute 5 W. and M. ch. 22.
and the duties vested in the crown. Since which
time, the number has been raised to upwards of
one thousand coaches and four hundred chairs*
The regulation of which is under a jurisdiction,
whereby a very refractory set of men is kept in
tolerable order, and the public greatly accommo-
dated at a small expense.

Besides the imposts already mentioned, there
tre taxes also upon plosions and offices under the
^fown, upon hdrses, carriages, servants, hair

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powder, dogs, IiceDces for shooting, armoriifl
bearings, &c. &c. all of which come under the
general denomination of the king's taxes ; and form
a part of the permanent duties.

.There are likewise the property tax, and some
oth^ duties which go under the name of '' war
** taxes ;" and these altogeth^ produce yearly an
immense sum. The principal part of which is
applied to the payment of the interest of the na-
tional debt.

By the national debt are meant the public funds^
which was an evil consequent on the revolution in
1688. After this great event, which delivered uk
from popery and slavery, the expenses occasioned
by our continental wars became so great, that it
was thought unadviseable, and at length found
impracticable, to raise the supplies within th^
year. Large sums, therefore, were borrowed by
government, and permanent taxes raised to pay
the annual interest to the public creditors ; who
have a nominal capital in the funds, which may
be transferred from one proprietor to another.

From the yearly taxes, the maintenance of the
king's household and the civil list are supplied.
A great variety of items is included in the pay-
ments of the civil list ; in fact, all those which in
any shape relate to the civil government. Such
as salaries to the officers of state, to the judges,
and to the king's servants ; the expenses of foreign
ambassadors ; the maintenance of the queen and
royal femily ; the kitig's private expenditure, or

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ftivj purse ; secret service money ; various l>ou»-
ties» pensions, and the like.

Pensions and sinecures bestowed personally or
relatively for services to the state, cannot be ob-
jected to whoi they are granted with discretion;
but they are greatly abused when given without
any r^ard to real merit A free government
is endangered whenever the loyalty of its subjects
is purchased; and probably i^o state has ever
recovered, that has been once generally infected
with the fotal distemper of bribery. It is, how-
ever, in a moral view, that the evil with us is
chiefly to be dreaded. The specious patriot may
indeed inflame the popular feelings by an outcry
about an increase of taxes for pensioners and
placemen ; but it is probable, that were all pen-
sions and sinecures at once abolished, the burdens
of the state would be no more lightened by such a
measure, than a first-rate shi^ distressed in a storm
would be, by the officers throwing overboard thdr
pocket money and trinkets : as it appears evident
from the calculations of an experienced financier
of high character, that by the total extinction of
pensions and sinecures, a person t>aying taxes to
the amount of JO.25 a year, would i^ave only
about 2^.*

If, indeed, there were a kingdom or society of
men perfectly virtuous, the direction of public

* See '^ Observationt respecting tke public Expenditure, &c.^
I9 the Right Hon. George Rose, pages 6d, 64, third ^t^on.

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affairs would be cheerfully committed to the most
able ; and the rest, so far from envying their exalted
station and emoluments, would think themselves
happy in living under their guidance and protec-
tion* AH corruption would vanish, and every one
would in some way contribute to the public pros-
perity. But so long as human nature remains
what it is, a perfect government, ho^ ever hoped
for, can never be expected.*

There can, iowever, be no doubt, that much
prejudice and mistake prevail amongst even up-
right and sensible men with regard to the extent of
what it is the fashion to call the corruption of the
government and public characters. Every promo-
tion to office is apt to be considered by some as the
effect of corrupt motives, either in the minister who
bestows, or in the person who accepts it ; whilst
wisdom, virtue, integrity, and independence are
confidently asserted to be the main spring of every
opposition to the ministry of the day. But impar-
tial and temperate men will reflect that the wisest
and best politicians of all parties, whilst they have
equally, the good of their country at heart, may
differ as to the means of promoting it. They will,
therefore, judge charitably of all public persons ;
and be careful not to influence and delude the
ignorant populace by unwarrantable conclusions
respecting the motives of their conduct

* See Btttlex't Analogy, part 1. ch. 3.

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It has already been seen, that the king, in virtue
of his prerogative, is the sole distributor of justice
to his people. But as it is impossible for him per-
sonally to administer the law, hedel^ates or com-
missions others to act for him in the character of
magistrates. A subordinate magistracy is marked
with the highest antiquity and authority, as it
seems to have been first adopted by Moses at the
su^estionof Jethro, his father-in-law, whose pru-
dent advice was evidently sanctioned by the divine
approbation.* The experience of all succeeding
ages has borne testimony to the wisdom of Jethro's
counsel. The wisest even of the heathen were
convinced that a magistracy is essential to the very
existence of civilized society ;f although it admits
of being variously modified according to the local
circumstances of different nations.

The proper qualifications of magistrates, accord-
ing to their original institution, are, that they be

♦ Exodus, ch. xviii. vcr. 13 — 27.

t Magistratibus igitur opus est: sine qnonun pradentia ae

** diligentia esse civitas non potest.^'

Cic. de Lrgib. lib. 3.

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^^ able men, sncK as fear God, men of truth, hatii^
covetousness." The people hare great reason to
rejoice when such are in authority, on account of
the many blessings attendant on a consci^itious
discharge of the duties of their office.

The obligation of subjects to obey subordinate
magistrates, and render them all due honour, is
equally binding as the obedience which they owe
to the supreme civil ruler. " Submit yourselves,**
says St. Peter, " to every ordinance of man, for
** the Lord's sake ; whether it be to the king, as
** supreme ; or unto governors, as unto them that
•• are sent by him :* for so is the will of God," And
St. Paul exhorts, that prayers and thanksgivings,
be made for '' kings, and for all in authority.''
Hence, our excellent liturgy prays for the magis-
trates, that they may have '^ grace to execute jus-
•• tice^. and to maintain truth."

Throughout the British dominion, there are
several denominations of subordinate magistrates
who have jurisdiction and authority : they are,
principally, the high sheriffs, coroners, justices of
the peace, constables, surveyors of highways, and
ovetseers of the poor.

The high sheriff is an officer of very high anti*
quity ; his name being derived from two Saxon
words, that signify the reeve, or officer of the shire
or county. The sheriffs were formerly elected by
the people of the county. But to avoid tumults,
that custom has been abolished by statute; and
they are now appointed in the foUowmg manner: .

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Thfe Idrd chanoellor, the chancellor of the exche*
quer, the judges, and several of the privy council,
assemble together in the exchequer chamber, on
th^ morrow of St. Martin, yearly, and then and
there take an oath^ that they will nopiinateno one
from any improper motive ; this done, it is agreed
upon who shall be sheriff for the present year.

The earl of Thanet, however, is hereditary she-
riff of Westraweland. Which office may descend
to, and be executed by, a female ; for " Ann,
•* countess of Pembroke, had the office, and exer-
'^ cised it in person ; and sat at the assizes at
•' Appleby, with the judges on*the bench."

The election of the shrievalty of Middlesex was
granted to the ^ city of London for ever, in very
ancient times, upon condition of its paying «£.300
a year to the king's exchequer. In consequence
6f which grant, it always elects two sherifis, though
these constitute but one officer*

The powers and duties of the h^h sheriff are
n^aoy and great. In his judicial capacity, he is to
hear and determine all causes of 40^. value and
under, in his county court. He is also to deter-
mine the election of knights of the shire, (who may,
however, appeal to the house of commoas), of
coroners also, and to judge of the qualifications of
voters. As the keeper of the king's peace, he is
the first man in the county ; and, during his office,
superior in rank to any nobleman. The high she-
riff may commit all persons to prison who disturb
the peace of the county, and bind any person in a

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recognisance to keep it. He is bound to pursue
all traitors, murderers, and felons, and commit <
them to jail for safe custody ; and to defend the
county against any of the king's enemies^ when
they come into the laqd. For which purpose^^
he may call to his assistance the posse comitatus^
or power of the county, by commanding by his
summons every person above fifteen years old,
except peers, to attend him, on pain of fine and
imprisonment for disobedience.

In his ministerial character, he is bound to ex^
ecute all process issuing from the king's court of
justice. In civil cases he is to serve the writ,
to arrest, and take bail; and when the cause
comes to trial, he is to summon the jury ; when it
is determined, he must see the judgment executed*
In criminal matters also he does the same^ and
has the custody of the delinquent, and must ex-
ecute the sentence of the court, even to death
itself. He is the king's bailiff to levy all fines and
forfeitures within the county. He has, likewise,
officers under him; such as the under sheriff,
bailiff^ and gaolers; who must neither buy, sell,
, nor farm their offices, on forfeiture otjC500.

The under sheriff^ usuMy performs all the duties
of the office of sheriff, except in a few cases, where
the personal presence of the high sheriff is neces-
sary ; but he cannot lawfully practice as an attor-
ney during his office, which continues, like the
high sheriff^s, but one year.


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The bailiffs^ are sheriffs officers appelated ia
every hundred, to collect fines, and execute writs,
&c. within their districts. A bound-h^^xS is a
special bailiff appointed by the sheriff on account
of his adroitness in executing writs, who is usually
bound in an obligation for the due discharge of his
duty, and is therefore termed a hound-hdjXiS^ or as
the common people call him, a ^m-bailiff«

Gaolers^ are servants of the sheriff, who must
be answerable for their conduct. Their duty is to
keep safely all such persons as are committed to
their custody by lawful warrant; and if they suffer
a prisoner to escape, the sheriff must answer for it
to the king in criminal matters ; and to the party
injured in civil cases.

At the assizes, the law allows the sheriff suitable
attendants. He may not have more than forty
men in livery ; yet, for the sake of decorum and
safety, not fewer than twenty in England, and
twelve in Wales, upon forfeiture of £iOO.

The office of coroner is also very ancient. The
coroner is so called, because he has principally to
do with pleas of the crown. The lord chief justice
of the king's bench is the principal coroner in thA
kingdom; and may, if he please, exercise the juris*
diction of that office in any part of it.-

In every county there are usually four cwoners,
and sometimes six.

The coroner is chosen by the freeholders of the
county; a writ at common law being issued to the
sheriff, to make election of a proper person. He

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is chosen for life ; but ipay be, removed by tlie
king^s writ, for a cause to be therein specified ;
such as living at an inconvenient distance, extor-*
tion, corruption, n^lect, or misbehaviour.

TTie duty of a coroner is to enquire, when any
one dies by violence, suddenly, or in prison, into
the manner of his death; and this must be on view
of the body; for if the body be not found, no inquest
can be held. Every inquest must be held at the
very place where the death happened; and the
inquiry is to be made by a jury, from four, five, or
six of the adjoining towns^ over whom the coronei'
is to preside.

If any one be found guilty of murder of man-
slaughter, by his inquest, he is to commit the of-
fender for forther trial ; and also to enquire con-
cerning his goods and chattels, which are thereby
forfeited. He is likewise to ascertain whether any
deodandMls to the king or lord of the manor by the
death of the deceased ; and must certify the whole
proceedings to the court of king's bench, or to
tiie next assizes.

Incases where the high sheriff may bejsuspected
of partiality, arising from his interest in the suit,
or from his being a kin to the plaintiff or defendant,
exception may be taken to him ; and the process
must th^i be awarded to the coroner, in his stead,
Ibr execution of the king's writs.

The next denomination of subordinate magis-
trates to be mentioned, ^lk justices of the peace ;


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the principal of whom is tiie custos ratnlormn^ or
keeper of the records of , the county. The lord
chancellor, the lord treasurer, the justices of the
court of king's bench, are likewise by their office;
and the master of the rolls, by prescription, conser-
vators of the peace throughout the kingdom. ITie
othar judges being so only in their own courts.
But the sheriff and coroner also are keepers of the
peace in their own county ; and constables and
tithing-men within their own jurisdiction, may ap-
prehend and commit the disturbers of the peace,
till they find sureties for keeping it.

Conservators of public liberties were chosen in
England from the barons, to circumscribe^'theking's
power, in 1215. But the first institution of justices
of the peace, was not till about the year 1344.

The privil^e of electing their magistrates was
taken from the people by statute 1 Edward III.
ch. 16w which enaqts, '' that for the better main-
" taitting and keeping the peace in every county,
^ good men and lawful should be assigned to keep
** tlie peace." But the appellation o( Justices was
firsft given to the maintainers of public order, by
statute 34 Edward III. ch. 1. which empowers
them to try felonies.

The justices are appointed by the king's special
commission, under the great seal. This appoints
them jointly and severally to keep the peace, and
any two or more of them to enquire of and deter-
mine felonies and other misdemeanors. In this
coiftmission, some particular justices, or one of

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them, are directed to be always included, without
whose presence, no business is to be done : the
words of the commission running thus, " Quorum
" aliquem vestrumj A. B. C. D. Sfc. unum esse vo-
** lumus;^^ i. e. " of whom we will that A. B. &c,
" be one of you ;'* whence the persons so named
are usually termed justices of the Qtion^m. But
alth^ngh a justice be put in the commission, he can-
not act until he sue out a writ of " dedimus potes-
" tateaC^ from the clerk of the crown, empowering
certain persons to administer the usual oaths to
him ; which done, he is at liberty to act in the
capacity of a magistrate.

The 18 Greo 11. ch. 20. is the last statute which
prescribes the quaiifications of justices of the
peace. By which every justice is required to have

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Online LibraryGeorge CustanceA concise view of the constitution of England → online text (page 11 of 27)