Imagens das páginas

Sir William Blackstone himself has been partly misled by this circumstance, the following passage seems a sufficient proof:"Wills and testaments, rights of inheritance and successions, are all of them creatures of the civil or municipal laws, and accordingly are, in all respects, regulated by them; every distinct country having different ceremonies and requisites to make a testament completely valid; neither does anything vary more than the right of inheritance under different national establishments."*

If these reasonings were just, they would undoubtedly obviate one very strong objection to the project of Cocceii and Turgot, and would have the subject to be decided entirely on principles of political expediency; not that I think the ideas of these two ingenious writers could be vindicated even on such grounds, for if they were carried into effect, a variety of mischievous consequences seems unavoidable.

In the first place, the effect of such an arrangement would be to diminish the parental authority; a principle, however, which, on the other hand, notwithstanding its importance to the welfare of society, may undoubtedly be carried too far, and which it may be expedient to restrain within due bounds, by securing to children a certain proportion of their father's effects, placed beyond the reach of the caprices and bad passions to which human nature is subject. The second effect would be to damp the spirit of industry, by rendering men indifferent about the acquisition of riches, and disposing them to spend them with indiscretion. The third is, the effect it would have in leading them to transfer their property to other countries, where the interests of the community, and the feelings of individuals, are treated with more respect.

I confess, too, it appears to me, notwithstanding what Blackstone has said on this subject, that our natural sense of justice, independently of any views of expediency, dictates, that the fruits of a man's laborious industry, or what is the same thing in the present constitution of society, everything which is fully and completely his own property, he should be able to transfer by * [Commentaries, Book II. chap. i.; Vol. II. p. 12, fourteenth edition.]

testament, agreeably to his own pleasure, a due provision being secured to those individuals whom he has been the means of bringing into the world, and to whom, independently of all considerations of their personal merit or demerit, he lies under obligations of the most sacred nature. But how far the right of bequest should extend in the case of landed property, is another question, upon which I do not presume to decide, any farther, than that it should not extend to any individuals who, at the death of the testator, were mere creatures of the imagination. Perhaps, as I hinted before, the principles of English jurisprudence on this head, even with all the disadvantages resulting from their institution of trust-deeds, which reprobates perpetuities, but allows the testator, as far as he sees proper, to exert the powers of bequest in favour of any heirs actually existing at the time, is as consonant as any other that can well be imagined, to those established habits of thinking and feeling, which, in the present state of the world, it is peculiarly incumbent on a wise legislator to respect; while, at the same time, its beneficial effects to society are incalculably great. Compared with our [the Scottish] system of policy in this respect, it leaves the commerce of land in a great measure free. With some slight restriction, therefore, the following sentiment of Sir William Blackstone is as just as it is elegantly expressed:-"The transmission of one's possessions to posterity, has an evident tendency to make a man a good citizen and a useful member of society; it sets the passions on the side of duty, and prompts a man to deserve well of the public, when he is sure that the reward of his services will not die with himself, but be transmitted to those with whom he is connected by the dearest and most tender affections."*

In the case of those who die intestate, these considerations do not apply. Here the arrangements of the Legislature are unembarrassed by the regard which is always due to the feelings, and even prejudices, which are interwoven with the national manners.

I could have wished to prosecute this subject a little farther, * [Commentaries, Book II. chap. i.; Vol. II. p. 10, seq., fourteenth edition.]

[merged small][ocr errors]

and to illustrate the happy effects which a general freedom of commerce and industry, in particular of landed property, produces on the moral and intellectual improvement of mankind. The field, however, is too extensive to be now entered on. I shall content myself, therefore, with remarking how widely the characters of men are diversified by the species of property to which they attach themselves, as well as by the proportions in which it is distributed among them. The various pursuits of private life are still more remarkable in the strongly contrasted manners of an agricultural and of a commercial nation. It is only in such a state of society as that in which we live, in which commerce, agriculture, and manufactures act and react upon each other, that the human character and genius can be completely developed. The inconveniences we labour under, which are comparatively few, arise chiefly from some legislative restraints, which might easily be removed, without injury to individuals, or damage to the state. Nor can there be a doubt, that the progress of human reason, which has already accomplished so much, will, gradually and slowly, correct these imperfections, and bring the established systems of Political Economy nearer and nearer to the order of nature.-(End of Interpolation from Notes.)




Ir is evident that, in every political community, there are a variety of expenses which must be necessarily incurred by the sovereign for the public service. It is sufficient to mention the support of the Sovereign Dignity,-the Religious Establishment, the Administration of Justice,-the National Defence, -besides Public Works, such as roads, ports, bridges, &c. These different objects of public expense (but, in a more especial manner, the exigencies of War) imply the necessity of a Public Revenue, to be at the disposal of the Sovereign, or of the Commonwealth. Something of this kind, therefore, may be considered as a necessary consequence of the Political Union; and the only difference among states, in this branch of their economy, consists, in the different sources from which the Public Revenue is drawn.

Among the nations of antiquity, the common practice appears to have been, to make provision for hostilities by hoarding up treasures during the intervals of peace which they enjoyed. Some good observations on this point of their policy may be found in the beginning of Mr. Hume's Essay on Public Credit.1 It is unnecessary to prosecute the subject here, as their example has not been copied by any of the great European princes since the death of Henry IV. of France, with the exception of some of the last sovereigns in Prussia. Frederick William, at his death in 1740, is said to have left seven millions sterling in his treasury; and his son, Frederick the Great, (as we are assured 1 [Essays, Vol. I.]-See Filangieri, [Riflessioni Politiche, &c.] Vol. II.

p. 372.

by the Baron de Hertzberg,) accumulated twice the most considerable treasure that any prince ever possessed.1 It is, however, only by a very singular combination of circumstances that such a parsimonious spirit can exist for a length of time in a great monarchy in the present state of European manners. Nor is the case very different in our modern republics, of which many are in debt, and none are supposed to have amassed anything that deserves the name of a treasure but the Canton of Berne.

In great and civilized states, too, the progress of luxury and expense renders public stock and public lands altogether inadequate resources for supplying the necessary demands of Government. With respect to the former, a sufficient objection arises from the unstable and perishable nature of stock and credit, in consequence of which they cannot be trusted to with safety as the principal funds of a sure, steady, and permanent revenue; and as to the latter, it is asserted by Mr. Smith,* that "in the present state of the greater part of the civilized monarchies of Europe, the rent of all the lands in the country, managed as they probably would be if they all belonged to one proprietor, would scarce amount to the ordinary revenue which they levy upon the people even in peaceable times."2

It follows from these observations, that in the present state of the great nations of Europe the greater part of the expenses of Government must be defrayed by taxes of one kind or another; or, in other words, by the contribution of private revenue for public purposes. As the sum which the state raises in this manner is the price of the protection which Government affords to the subject, there can be no limitation to the extent of what may be equitably levied, provided the value of the protection afforded is adequate to the amount of the contribution collected.

It is, however, the most important duty of a statesman to

1 Guthrie's Grammar, p. 471. Hertzberg's Two Discourses, &c. p. 3; p. 37 of the original. The translation is printed for Dilly, 1786.

* [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 250, tenth edition.]


Filangieri, [Ibid.] Vol. II. p. 318.

« AnteriorContinuar »