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INTRODUCTORY.

THE question of Taxation has been ably and amply dealt with in elaborate treatises on political economy, and in numberless pamphlets of a technical charac

ter.

The Author is not aware of any work in which the subject is discussed in an an elementary manner, and he has therefore less hesitation than he otherwise would have in publishing, for popular reading, that which was spoken to popular gatherings. Whenever figures or statistics are quoted, they are the latest that could be obtained up to the time of going to press, and the speeches have been slightly remodelled so as to give them somewhat of a consecutive character. With these two exceptions, they are precisely as they were delivered in the largest towns in England, when they were spoken in support of the adoption of the following Petition to the House of Commons:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled.
The Petition of Inhabitants, adopted at a Public Meeting,
and signed by the Chairman, on their behalf,

HUMBLY SHEWETH,—

That in the opinion of your Petitioners an expenditure of upwards of seventy millions annually is greatly in excess of the real requirements of the State, and

might be most materially reduced without impairing the efficiency of any branch of the public service.

That the great bulk of the revenue to meet this extravagant expenditure is most improvidently raised, by means of duties of Customs and Excise on the necessaries and comforts of life, the effects of which are to extract from the people very much more than the State receives, to check consumption, restrict home and foreign trade, diminish employment, and impoverish the people.

That the fiscal and commercial reforms inaugurated by the late Sir Robert Peel, and since extended, have proved so eminently beneficial, as to warrant further progress in that direction, not stopping short ultimately of the entire substitution of direct for indirect taxation, and the establishment of perfect freedom of trade.

That, pending the inquiry which must precede such a complete revision of our fiscal system, the duties on Tea, Sugar, Coffee, and other articles of food, ought to be forthwith abolished.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will be pleased to insist on a substantial reduction of the public expenditure, the institution of an inquiry as to the best mode of providing directly for imperial, as well as for local purposes, and the immediate concession of a free breakfast table for the people. And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever

pray.

ROCK FERRY, CHESHIRE,

1st June, 1874.

I.

EVILS OF INDIRECT TAXATION.

The petition to the House of Commons which I ask this meeting to adopt, refers to so many important reforms that it would be unwise to attempt the discussion of all of them within the limits of a single speech. I shall make no apology therefore for confining my remarks solely to that section in the body of the petition which complains that the great bulk of the Imperial revenue is most improvidently raised by means of duties of Customs and Excise on the necessaries and comforts of life, the effects of which are to extract from the people very much more than the State receives, to check consumption, restrict home and foreign trade, diminish employment, and impoverish the people. What I have to show therefore is, that so far as the revenue is raised by what is called "Indirect Taxation," it is raised improvidently; that the system of taxing commodities not only increases the burdens of the people, but at the same time diminishes the ability of

the people to bear them; and that it taxes the poor in the direct ratio that it pauperises them.

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The origin of customs duties is involved in obscurity, though there is ample evidence that they have never been a very favourite mode of raising the revenue. Arbuthnot quotes Strabo, to show "that Britain bore heavy taxes, especially the customs on the importation of the Gallick trade; but customs do not seem to have been much thought of as a source of revenue until they were introduced by Edward I., who had seen, in the course of his expedition to Palestine, how easily money could be extracted from the people by such means. They were abolished as unconstitutional in the reign of Edward II., and, with this exception, "a free import trade was the undoubted constitutional policy of England for six hundred years after the Conquest." A tyrannical and illegal attempt, however, to levy an obsolete tax, without the consent of Parliament, resulted in a war, the execution of the king, and the overthrow of a dynasty; and the disorganised state of the country after this period gave rise not only to a system of customs duties, but to the still more obnoxious system of excise, of which Blackstone says, that "from its first origin to the present time its very name has been odious to the people of England;" and which is

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