Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Little masterpieces online

. (page 10 of 11)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayLittle masterpieces → online text (page 10 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

made. The conference was held with all the
antique ceremonial. On one side of the table,
in the Painted Chamber, the managers for the
Lords sat covered and robed in ermine and
gold. The managers for the Commons stood
bareheaded on the other side. The speeches
present an almost ludicrous contrast to the
revolutionary oratory of every other country.
Both the English parties agreed in treating

The Revolution of 1688

with solemn respect the ancient constitutional
traditions of the state. The only question
was in what sense those traditions were to
be understood. The assertors of liberty said
not a word about the natural equality of men
and the inalienable sovereignty of the people,
about Harmodius or Timoleon, Brutus, the
elder or Brutus the younger. When they were
told that, by the English law, the crown, at
the moment of a demise, must descend to the
next heir, they answered that, by the English
law, a livmg man could have no heir. When
they were told that there was no precedent for
declaring the throne vacant, they produced
from among the records in the Tower a roll
of parchment, near thiee hundred years old,
on which, in quaint characters and barbarous
Latin, it was recorded that the Estates of the
Realm had declared vacant the throne of a
perfidious and tyrannical Plantagenet. When
at length the dispute had been accommodated,
the new sovereigns were proclaimed with the
old pageantry. All the fantastic pomp of
heraldry was there, Clarencieux and Norroy,
Portcullis and Rouge Dragon, the trumpets,
the banners, the grotesque coats embroidered
with lions and lilies. The title of King of
France, assumed by the conqueror of Cressy,
was not omitted in the royal style. To us,


The Revolution of 1688

who have lived in the year 1848, it may seem
almost an abuse of terms to call a proceeding,
conducted with so much deliberation, with so
much sobriety, and with such minute atten-
tion to proscriptive etiquette, by the terrible
name of Revolution.

And yet this revolution, of all revolutions
the least violent, has been of all revolutions
the most beneficent. It finally decided the
great question whether the popular element
which had, ever since the age of Fitzwalter
and DeMontfort, been found in the English
polity, should be destroyed by the monarchical
element, or should be suffered to develop it-
self freely, and to become dominant. The
strife between the two principles had been
long, fierce, and doubtful. It had lasted
through four reigns. It had produced sedi-
tions, impeachments, rebellions, battles,
sieges, proscriptions, judicial massacres.
Sometimes liberty, sometimes royalty, had
seemed to be on the point of perishing. Dur-
ing many years one half of the energy of Eng-
land had been employed in counteracting the
other half. The executive power and the leg-
islative power had so effectually impeded
each other that the state had been of no ac-
count in Europe. The King at Arms, who
proclaimed William and Mary before White-


The Revolution of 1688

hall Gate, did in truth announce that this great
struggle was over ; that there was entire
union between the throne and the Parliament ;
that England, long dependent and degraded,
was again a power of the first rank ; that the
ancient laws by which the prerogative was
bounded would thenceforth be held as sacred
as the prerogative itself, and would be fol-
lowed out to all their consequences ; that the
executive administration would be, conducted
in conformity with the sense of the represent-
atives of the nation ; and that no reform, which
the two Houses should, after mature deliber-
ation, propose, would be obstinately withstood
by the sovereign. The Declaration of Right,
though it made nothing law which had not
been law before, contained the germ of the
law which gave religious freedom to the Dis-
senter, of the law which secured the indepen-
dence of the judges, of the law which limited
the duration of Parliaments, of the law which
placed the liberty of the press under the pro-
tection of juries, of the law which prohibited
the slave trade, of the law which abolished
the sacramental test, of the law which relieved
the Roman Catholics from civil disabilities, of
the law which reformed the representative
system, of every good law which has been
passed during more than a century and a half,


The Revolution of 1688

of every good law which may hereafter, in the
course of ages, be found necessary to pro-
mote the public weal, and to satisfy the de-
mands of public opinion.

The highest eulogy which can be pro-
nounced on the revolution of 1688 is this, that
it was our last revolution. Several genera-
tions have now passed away since any wise
and patriotic Englishman has meditated re-
sistance to the established government. In
all honest and reflecting minds there is a con-
viction, daily strengthened by experience, that
the means of effecting every improvement
which the constitution requires may be found
within the constitution itself.

Now, if ever, we ought to be able to ap-
preciate the whole importance of the stand
which was made by our forefathers against
the House of Stuart.* All around us the
world is convulsed by the agonies of great na-
tions. Governments which lately seemed likely
to stand during ages have been on a sudden
shaken and overthrown. The proudest Cap-
itals of Western Europe have streamed with
civil blood. All evil passions, the thirst of
gain and the thirst of vengeance, the anti-
pathy of class to class, the antipathy of race
to race, have broken loose from the control

* This passage was written in November, 1848.
12 177

The Revolution of 1688

of divine and human laws. Fear and anxiety
have clouded the faces and depressec the
hearts of millions. Trade has been suspended
and industry paralyzed. The rich have be-
come poor ; and the poor have become poorer.
Doctrines hostile to all sciences, to all arts,
to all industry, to all domestic charities, doc-
trines which, if carried into effect, would, in
thirty years, undo all that thirty centuries have
done for mankind, and would make the fair-
est provinces of France and Germany as
savage as Congo or Patagonia, have been
avowed from the tribune and defended by the
sword. Europe has been threatened with
subjugation by barbarians, compared with
whom the barbarians who marched under
Attila and Albion were enlightened and hu-
mane. The truest friends of the people have
with deep sorrow owned that interests more
precious than any political privileges were in
jeopardy, and that it might be necessary to
sacrifice even liberty in order to save civiliza-
tion. Meanwhile in our island the regular
course of government has never been for a
day interrupted. The few bad men who
longed for license and plunder have not had
the courage to confront for one moment the
strength of a loyal nation, rallied in firm ar-
ray round a parental throne. And, if it be


The Revolution of 1688

asked what has made us to differ from others,
the answer is that we never lost what others
are wildly and blindly seeking to regain. It
is because we had a preserving revolution in
the seventeenth century that we have not had
a destroying revolution in the nineteenth. It
is because we had freedom in the midst of
servitude that we have order in the midst of
anarchy. For the authority of law, for the
security of property, for the peace of our streets,
for the happiness of our homes, our gratitude
is due, under Him who raises and pulls down
nations at his pleasure, to the Long Parlia-
ment, to the Convention, and to William of


The Origin of the National Debt

From the " History of England," Chapter XIX.

During the interval between the Restora*
tion and the Revolution the riches ot the na-
tion had been rapidly increasing. Thousands
of busy men found every Christmas that, after
the expenses of the year's housekeeping had
been defrayed out of the year's income, a sur-
plus remained ; and how that surplus was to
be employed was a question of some difficulty.
In our time, to invest such a surplus, at some-
thing more than three per cent, on the best
security that has ever been known in the
world, is the work of a few minutes. But, in
the seventeenth century, a lawyer, a physician.
a retired merchant, who had saved some
thousands and who wished to place them
safely and profitably, was often greatly em-
barrassed. Three generations earlier, a man
who had accumulated wealth in a trade or a
profession generally purchased real property
or lent his savings on mortgage. But the
number of acres in the kingdom had remained
the same ; and the value of those acres,


The Origin of the National Debt

though it had greatly increased, had by no
means increased so fast as the quantity of
capital which was seeking for employment.
Many too wished to put their money where
they could find it at an hour's notice, and
looked about for some species of property
which could be more readily transferred than
a house or a field. A capitalist might lend
on bottomry or on personal security : but, it
he did so, he ran a great risk of losing interest
and principal. There were a few joint stock
companies, among which the East India Com-
pany held the foremost place ; but the demand
for the stock of such companies was far greater
than the supply. Indeed the cry for a new
East India Company was chiefly raised by
persons who had found difficulty in placing
their savings at interest on good security.
So great was that difficulty that the practice
of hoarding was common. We are told that
the father of Pope, the poet, who retired from
business in the City about the time of the
Revolution, carried to a retreat in the country
a strong box containing near twenty thousand
pounds, and took out from time to time
what was required for household expenses;
and it is highly probable that this was not a
solitary case. At present the quantity of coin
which is hoarded by private persons is so


The Origin of the National Debt

small that it would, it brought forth, make no
perceptible addition to the circulation. But,
in the earlier part of the reign of William
the Third, all the greatest writers on currency
were of opinion that a very considerable
mass of gold and silver. was hidden in secret
drawers and behind wainscots.

The natural effect of this state of things
was that a crowd of projectors, ingenious
and absurd, honest and knavish, employed
themselves in devising new schemes for the
employment of redundant capital. It was
about the year 1688, that the word stock-
jobber was first heard in London. In the
short space of four years a crowd of com-
panies, every one of which confidently held
out to subscribers the hope of immense gains,
sprang into existence; the Insurance Company,
the Paper Company, the Lutestring Company,
the Pearl Fishery Company, the Glass Bottle
Company, the Alum Company, the Blythe
Coal Company, the Swordblade Company.
There was a Tapestry Company, which would
soon furnish pretty hangings for all the
parlors of the middle class and for all the bed-
chambers of the higher. There was a Copper
Company, which proposed to explore the
mines of England, and held out a hope that
they would prove not less valuable than those


The Origin of the National Debt

ot Potosi. There was a Diving Company,
which undertook to bring up precious effects
from shipwrecked vessels, and which an-
nounced that it had laid in a stock of wonder-
ful machines resembling complete suits ot
armor. In front of the helmet was a huge
glass eye like that of Polyphemus ; and out
of the crest went a pipe through which the
air was to be admitted. The whole process
was exhibited on the Thames. Fine gentle-
men and fine ladies were invited to the show,
were hospitably regaled, and were delighted
by seeing the divers in their panoply descend
into the river, and return laden with old iron
and ship's tackle. There was a Greenland
Fishing Company, which could not fail to
drive the Dutch whalers and herring busses
out of the Northern Ocean. There was a
Tanning Company, which promised to furnish
leather superior to the best that was brought
from Turkey or Russia. There was a society
which undertook the office of giving gentle-
men a liberal education on low terms, and
which assumed the sounding name of the
Royal Academies Company. In a pompous
advertisement it was announced that the
directors of the Royal Academies Company
had engaged the best masters in every branch
of knowledge, and were about to issue twenty


The Origin ot the National Debt

thousand tickets at twenty shillings each.
There was to be a lottery : two thousand
prizes were to be drawn : and the fortunate
holders of the prizes were to be taught, at the
charge of the Company, Latin, Greek, Hebrew,
French, Spanish, conic sections, trigonometry,
heraldry, japanning, fortification, book-keep-
ing, and the art of playing the theorbo. Some
of these companies took large mansions and
printed their advertisements in gilded letters.
Others, less ostentatious, were content with
ink, and met at coffee-houses in the neighbor-
hood of the Royal Exchange. Jonathan's
and Garraway's were in a constant ferment
with brokers, buyers, sellers, meetings ot
directors, meetings of proprietors. Time
bargains soon came into fashion. Extensive
combinations were formed, and monstrous
fables were circulated, for the purpose of
raising or depressing the price of shares.
Our country witnessed for the first time those
phenomena with which a long experience has
made us familiar. A mania of which the
symptoms were essentially the same with
those of the mania of 1720, of the mania of
1825, of the mania of 1845, seized the public
mind. An impatience to be rich, a contempt
for those slow but sure gains which are the
proper reward of industry, patience, and


The Origin of the National Debt

thrift, spread through society. The spirit oi
the cogging dicers of Whitefriars took pos-
session of the grave Senators of the City,
Wardens of Trades, Deputies, Aldermen. It
was much easier and much more lucrative to
put forth a lying prospectus announcing a
new stock, to persuade ignorant people that
the dividends could not fall short of twenty
per cent, and to part with five thousand
pounds of this imaginary wealth for ten thou-
sand solid guineas, than to load a ship with
a well chosen cargo for Virginia or the Lev-
ant. Every day some new bub])le was puffed
into existence, rose buoyant, shone bright,
burst, and was forgotten.*

The new form which covetousness had
taken furnished the comic poets and satirists

* For tliis account of the origin of stockjobbing in the City of
London I am chiefly indebted to a most curious periodical
paper, entitled, " Collection for the Improvement of Husban-
dry and Trade, by J. Houghton, F. R. S." It is in fact a
weekly history of the commerical speculations of that time. I
have looked through the files of several years. In No. 33,
March 17, 1692-3, Houghton says, " The buying and selling of
Actions is one of the great trades now on foot. I find a great
many do not understand the affair." On June 13, and June
22, 1694, he traces the whole progress of stockjobbing. On
July 13, of the same year he makes the first mention of time
bargains. Whoever is desirous to know more about the com-
panies mentioned in the text may consult Houghton's Collec-
tion, and a pamphlet entitled Angliae Tutamen, published in


The Origin of the National Debt

with an excellent subject ; nor was that sub-
ject the less welcome to them because some
of the most unscrupulous and most successful
of the new race of gamesters were men in
sad colored clothes and lank hair, men who
called cards the Devil's books, men who
thought it a sin and a scandal to win or lose
twopence over a backgammon board. It
was in the last drama of Shadwell that the
hypocrisy and knavery of these speculators
was, for the first time, exposed to public ridi-
cule. He died in November, 1692, just before
his Stockjobbers came on the stage ; and the
epilogue was spoken by an actor dressed in
deep mourning. The best scene is that in
which four or five stern Nonconformists, clad
in the full Puritan costume, after discussing
the prospects ot the Mousetrap Company and
the Fleakilling Company, examine the ques-
tion whether the Godly may lawfully hold
stock in a Company for bringing over Chinese
ropedancers. " Considerable men have
shares," says one austere person in cropped
hair and bands ; " but verily I question
whether it be lawful or not." These doubts
are removed by a stout old Roundhead colonel
who had fought at Marston Moor, and who
reminds his weaker brother that the saints
need not themselves see the ropedancing, and


The Origin of the National Debt

that, in all probability, there will be no rope-
dancing to see. "The thing," he says, "is
like to take. The shares will sell well ; and
then we shall not care whether the dancers
come over or no." It is important to observe
that this scene was exhibited and applauded
before one farthing of the national debt had
been contracted. So ill informed were the
numerous writers who, at a later period, as-
cribed to the national debt the existence of
stockjobbing and ot all the immoralities con-
nected with stockjobbing. The truth is that
society had, in the natural course of its growth,
reached a point at which it was inevitable
that there should be stockjobbing whether
there were a national debt or not, and inevi.
table also that, if there were a long and
costly war, there should be a national debt.

How indeed was it possible that a debt
should not have been contracted, when one
party was impelled by the strongest motives
to borrow, and another was impelled by
equally strong motives to lend ? A moment
had arrived at which the government found
it impossible, without exciting the most for-
midable discontents, to raise by taxation the
supplies necessary to defend the liberty and
independence of the nation ; and at that very
moment, numerous capitalists were looking


The Origin of the National Debt

round them in vain for some good mode of
investing their savings, and for want of such
a mode, were keeping their wealth locked
up, or were lavishing it on absurd projects.
Riches sufficient to equip a navy which
would sweep the German Ocean and the
. Atlantic of French privateers, riches sufficient
to maintain an army which might retake
Namur and avenge the disaster of Steinkirk,
were lying idle, or were passing away from the
owners into the hands of sharpers. A states-
man might well think that some part of the
wealth which was daily buried or squandered
might, with advantage to the proprietor, to
the taxpayer, and to the State, be attracted
into the Treasury. Why meet the extraor-
dinary charge of a year of war by seizing
the chairs, the tables, the beds of hardwork-
ing families, by compelling one country
gentleman to cut down his trees before they
were ready for the axe, another to let the
cottages on his land fall to ruin, a third to
take away his hopeful son from the University,
when Change Alley was swarming with people
who did not know what to do with their
money and who were pressing everybody to
borrow it ?

It was often asserted at a later period by
Tories, who hated the national debt most of


The Origin of the National Debt

all things, and who hated Burnet most of all
men, that Burnet was the person who first
advised the government to contract a na-
tional debt. But this assertion is proved by
no trustworthy evidence, and seems to be
disproved by the Bishop's silence. Of all
men he was the least likely to conceal the
fact that an important fiscal revolution had
been his work. Nor was the Board of Treas-
ury at that time one which much needed, or
was likely much to regard, the counsels of
a divine. At that Board sate Godolphin, the
most prudent and experienced, and Mon-
tague, the most daring and inventive of fi-
nanciers. Neither of these eminent men could
be ignorant that it had long been the practise
of the neighboring states to spread over many
years of peace the excessive taxation which
was made necessary by one year of war. In
Italy this practise had existed through several
generations. France had, during the war
which began in 1672 and ended in 1679, bor-
rowed not less than thirty millions of our
money. Sir William Temple, in his interest-
ing work on the Batavian federation, had told
his countrymen that, when he was ambas-
sador at the Hague, the single province ot
Holland, then ruled by the frugal and prudent
De Witt, owed about five millions sterling, for


The Origin of the National Debt

which interest at four per cent was always
ready to the day, and that, when any part of
the principal was paid off, the public creditor
received his money with tears, well knowing
that he could find no other investment equally
secure. The wonder is not that England
should have at length imitated the example
both of her enemies and of her allies, but
that the fourth year of her arduous and ex-
hausting struggle against Lewis should have
been drawing to a close before she resorted
to an expedient so obvious.

On the fifteenth of December, 1692, the
House of Commons resolved itself into a Com-
mittee of Ways and Means. Somers took
the chair. Montague proposed to raise a
million by way of loan : the proposition was
approved ; and it was ordered that a bill should
be brought in. The details of the scheme
were much discussed and modified ; but the
principle appears to have been popular with
all parties. The moneyed men were glad to
have a good opportunity of investing what
they had hoarded. The landed men, hard
pressed by the load of taxation, were ready
to consent to anything for the sake of present
ease. No member ventured to divide the
House. On the twentieth of January the bill
was read a third time, carried up to the Lgrdg


The Origin of the National DeL;

by Somers, and passed by them without any

By this memorable law new duties were
imposed on beer and other liquors. These
duties were to be kept in the Exchequer sepa-
rate from all other receipts, and were to form
a fund on the credit of which a million was
to be raised by life annuities. As the annui-
tants dropped off, their annuities were to be
divided among the survivors, till the number
of survivors reduced to seven. After
that time, whatever fell in was to go to the
public. It was therefore certain that the
eighteenth century would be far advanced
before the debt would be finally extinguished ;
and, in fact, long after King George the Third
was on the throne, a few aged men were re-
ceiving large incomes from the State, in re-
turn for a little money which had been ad-
vanced to King William on their account
when they were children, f The rate of inter-
est was to be ten per cent till the year 1700,

вЩ¶Commons' Journals; Stat. 4 W.& M. c. 3.

t William Duncombe, whose name is well known to curious
Students of literary history, and who, in conjunction with his
son John, translated Horace's works, died in 1769, having been
seventy-seven years an annuitant under the Act of i6g2. A
hundred pounds had been subscribed in William Duncombe's
name when he was three j'ears old ; and, for this small sum, he
received thousands upon thousands. Literary Anecdotes o|
ihe Eighteenth Century, viii. 265.


The Origin of the National Debt

and after that year seven per cent. The
advantages offered to the public creditor by
this scheme may seem great, but were not
more than sufficient to compensate him for
the risk w^hich he ran. It was not impossible
that there might be a counter-revolution ; and
it was certain that if there were a counter-
revolution, those who had lent money to
William would lose both interest and prin-

Such was the origin of that debt which has
since become the greatest prodigy that ever
perplexed the sagacity and confounded the
pride of statesmen and philosophers. At every
stage in the growth of that debt the nation
has set up the same cry of anguish and de-
spair. At every stage in the growth of that
debt it has been seriously asserted by wise
men that bankruptcy and ruin were at hand.
Yet still the debt went on growing ; and still
bankruptcy and ruin were as remote as ever.
When the great contest with Lewis the Four-
teenth was finally terminated by the Peace of
Utrecht the nation owed about fifty millions ;

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayLittle masterpieces → online text (page 10 of 11)