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sufficient for the support of armies, for the reesta, blishment of the Austrian family, and the repressing of the attempts of France.
Surely, my lords, these expectations are not very consistent; nor can it be imagined that they are both formed in the same head, though they may be expressed by the same mouth. It is, however, some recom. mendation of a statesman, when, of his assertions, one can be found reasonable or true; and in this, praise cannot be denied to our present ministers. For though it is undoubtedly false, that this tax will lessen the consumption of spirits, it is certainly true that it will produce a very large revenue, a revenue that will not fail but with the people from whose debaucheries it arises.
Our ministers will therefore have the same honour with their predecessors, of having given rise to a new fund; not indeed for the payment of our debts, but for much more valuable purposes; for the cheering of our hearts under oppression, and for the ready support
of those debts which we have lost hopes of pay. ing. They are resolved, my lords, that the nation, which no endeavours can make wise, shall, while they are at its head, at least be merry; and, since publick happiness is the end of government, they seem to imagine that they shall deserve applause by an expedient, which will enable every man to lay his cares asleep, to drown sorrow, and lose in the delights of drunkenness both the publick miseries and
Luxury, my lords, is to be taxed, but vice prohibited, let the difficulties in executing the law be what they will. Would you lay a tax upon the breach of the ten commandments? Would not such a tax be wicked and scandalous; because it would imply an indulgence to all those who could pay the tax? Is not this a reproach most justly thrown by protestants upon the church of Rome? Was it not the chief cause of the Reformation? And will you follow a precedent which brought reproach and ruin upon those that in. troduced it? This is the very case now before us,
You are going to lay a tax, and consequently to indulge a sort of drunkenness, which almost necessarily produces a breach of every one of the ten commandments. Can you expect the reverend bench will approve of this? I am convinced they will not; and therefore I wish I had seen it full. upon this occasion. I am sure I have seen it much fuller upon some other occasions, in which religion had no such deep concern.
We have already, my lords, several sorts of funds in this nation, so many that a man must have a good deal of learning to be master of them. Thanks to his majesty, we have now amongst us the most learned man of the nation in this way. I wish he would rise up and tell us, what name we are to give to this new fund. We have already the civil list fund, the sinking fund, the aggregate fund, the South sea fund, and God knows how many others. What name we are to give this new fund I know not, unless we are to call it the drinking fund. It may perhaps enable the people of a certain foreign territory to drink claret; but it will disable the people of this kingdom from drinking any thing else but gin; for, when a man has, by gin drinking, rendered himself unfit for labour or business, he can purchase nothing else; and then the best thing he can do is to drink on till he dies.
Surely, my lords, men of such unbounded benevolence, as our present ministers, deserve such honours as were never paid before: they deserve to bestride a butt upon every sign post in the city, or to have their figures exhibited as tokens where this liquor is to be sold by the license which they have procured. They must be at least remembered to future ages, as the happy politicians, who, after all expedients for raising taxes had been employed, discovered a new method of draining the last relicks of the publick wealth, and added a new revenue to the government. Nor will those who shall hereafter enumerate the several funds now established among us, forget among the benefac
tors to their country the illustrious authors of the drinking fund.
May I be allowed, my lords, to congratulate my countrymen and fellow subjects upon the happy times which are now approaching, in which no man will be disqualified from the privilege of being drunk ; when all discontent and disloyalty shall be forgotten, and the people, though now considered by the ministry as enemies, shall acknowledge the lenity of that government, under which all restraints are taken away?
But, to a bill for such desirable purposes, it would be proper, my lords, to prefix a preamble, in which the kindness of our intentions should be more fully explained, that the nation may not mistake our indul. gence for cruelty, nor consider their benefactors as their persecutors. If, therefore, this bill be considered and amended (for why else should it be considered ?) in a committee, I shall humbly propose, that it shall be introduced in this manner.
« Whereas the designs of the present ministry, whatever they are, cannot be executed without a great number of mercenaries, which mercenaries cannot be hired without money; and whereas the present disposition of this nation to drunkenness inclines us to believe, that they will pay more cheerfully for the undisturbed enjoyment of distilled liquors, than for any other concession that can be made by the government; be it enacted, by the king's most excellent majesty, that no man shall hereafter be denied the right of being drunk on the following conditions.”
This, my lords, to trifle no longer, is the proper preamble to this bill, which contains only the conditions on which the people of this kingdom are to be allowed henceforward to riot in debauchery, in debauchery licensed by law and countenanced by the magistrates. For there is no doubt but those, on 'whom the inventors of this tax shall confer authority, will be directed to assist their masters in their design to encourage the consumption of that liquor, from which such large revenues are expected, and to mul
tiply without end those licenses which are to pay a yearly tribute to the crown.
By this unbounded license, my lords, that price will be lessened, from the increase of which the expectations of the efficacy of this law are pretended; for the number of retailers will lessen the value, as in all other cases, and lessen it more than this tax will increase it. Besides, it is to be considered, that at present the retailer expects to be paid for the danger which he incurs by an unlawful trade, and will not trust his reputation or his purse to the mercy of his customer, without a profit proportioned to the hazard; but, when once the restraint shall be taken away, he will sell for common gain, and it can hardly be imagined that, at present, he subjects himself to informations and penalties for less than six pence a gallon. The specious pretence, on which this bill
is founded, and indeed the only pretence that deserves to be termed specious, is the propriety of taxing vice; but this maxim of government has, on this occasion, been either mistaken or perverted. Vice, my lords, is not properly to be taxed, but suppressed; and heavy taxes are sometimes the only means by which that suppression can be attained. Luxury, my lords, or the excess of that which is pernicious only by its excess, may very properly be taxed, that such excess, though not strictly unlawful, may be made more difficult. But the use of those things which are simply hurtful, hurtful in their own nature, and in every degree, is to be prohibited. None, my lords
, ever heard in any nation of a tax upon theft or
theft or adulte ry, because a tax implies a license granted for the use of that which is taxed, to all who shall be willing to
Drunkenness, my lords, is universally and in all circumstances an evil; and therefore ought not to be taxed but punished, and the means of it not to be made easy by a slight impost, which none can feel ; but to be removed out of the reach of the people, and secured by the heaviest taxes, levied with the
utmost rigour. I hope those, to whose care the religion of the nation is particularly consigned, will unanimously join with me in maintaining the necessity, not of taxing vice, but suppressing it, and unite for the rejecting of a bill, by which the future, as well as present, happiness of thousands must be destroyed.
ON THE GIN ACT, FEBRUARY 24, 1743.
THOUGH the noble lord* who has been pleased to excite us to a unanimous concurrence with himself and his associates in the ministry, in passing the excellent and wonder-working bill ; this bill which is to lessen the consumption of spirits, without lessening the quantity which is distilled; which is to restrain drunkards from drinking, by setting their favourite liquor always before their eyes; to conquer habits by continuing them; and correct vice by indulging it, according to the lowest reckoning, for at least another year; still, my lords, such is my obstinacy, or such my ignorance, that I cannot yet comply with his proposal, nor can prevail with myself either to concur with measures so apparently opposite to the interest of the publick, or to hear them vindicated, without declaring how little I approve it.
During the course of this long debate, I have endeavoured to recapitulate and digest the arguments which have been advanced, and have considered them both separately and conjointly ; but find myself at the same distance from conviction ås when I first entered the house.
In vindication of this bill, my lords, we have been told that the present law is ineffectual ; that our ma
* The duke of Newcastle.