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[SECT. II.]-TAXES UPON LAND.* (SUBSECT. 1.]— Taxes upon the Rent of Land. A tax upon the rent of land may be imposed in two different ways:—i. It may be imposed according to a certain Rule or Canon, which, being once fixed, is understood not to be liable to subsequent alterations ; or, ii. It may be proportioned to the actual rent, rising or falling, according to the progressive or declining state of the land in point of cultivation. [Of these in their order.]
[i.]—The Land Tax in England is of the former description. The original of this tax is traced by Sir William Blackstone to the period when military tenures were introduced, when every tenant of a knight's fee was bound, if called upon, to attend the king, in his array, for forty days in every year. But this personal attendance growing troublesome in many respects, the tenants found means of compounding for it, by first sending others in their stead, and, in process of time, by making a pecuniary satisfaction to the crown as an equivalent. This pecuniary satisfaction at last came to be levied by assessments, at so much for every knight's fee, under the name of scutage, which appears to have been levied for the first time in the 5th year of Henry II., on account of his expedition to Toulouse, and were then, probably, mere arbitrary compositions, as the king and the subject could agree. But this precedent being afterwards abused into a means of oppression, it became a matter of national complaint; and King John was obliged to promise, in his Magna Charta, that no scutage should be imposed without the consent of the Common Council of the realm.
Of the same nature with scutages upon knights' fees, were the assessments of hydage upon all other lands, and of tallage upon cities or burghs. But they all gradually fell into disuse
upon the introduction of subsidies about the time of King Richard II. and King Henry IV. These were a tax, not immediately
* [It has been found requisite to mo- ing page. The word “Land” is here dify the distribution of Mr. Smith and substituted for the word “ Rent.") Mr. Stewart, stated in the last preced
imposed upon property, but upon persons in respect of their reputed estates, after the nominal rate of four shillings in the pound for lands, and two shillings and eightpence for goods, and for those of aliens in a double proportion. But this assessment was also made according to an ancient valuation, in which the computation was so very moderate, and the rental of the kingdom was supposed to be so extremely low, that one subsidy of this sort did not, according to Sir Edward Coke, amount to more than £70,000, whereas a modern land-tax, at the same rate, produces two millions. It was anciently the rule never to grant more than one subsidy and two fifteenths at a time; but this rule was broken through, for the first time, on a very pressing occasion,—the Spanish invasion in 1588, when the Parliament gave Queen Elizabeth two subsidies and four fifteenths. Afterwards, as money sunk in value, more subsidies were given; and we have an instance, in the first parliament of 1640, of the king's desiring twelve subsidies of the Commons, to be raised in three years,-a proposal which excited much alarm at the time, although the total amount of the sum to be thus levied, (according to Blackstone's calculation,) is less than what is now raised in one year by a land-tax of two shillings in the pound.
The subsidy was usually raised by Commissioners appointed 1 Tenths and fifteenths were temporary the Exchequer, which rate was, at the aids, issuing out of personal property, time, the fifteenth part of the value of and granted to the king by parliament. every township, the whole amounting They were formerly the real tenth or to about £29,000. And, therefore, it fifteenth part of all the movables be- still kept up the name of a fifteenth, longing to the subject. Tenths are when, by the alteration of the value of said to have been first granted under money, and the increase of personal Henry II. ; but, afterwards, fifteenths property, things came to be in a very were more usually granted than tenths. different situation. So that, when of Originally the amount of these taxes later years the Commons granted the was uncertain, being levied by assess- king a fifteenth, every parish in England ments, new made at every fresh grant immediately knew their proportion of of the Commons; but it was at length it; that is, the same identical sum reduced to a certainty in the 8th year that was assessed by the same aid in of Edward III., when, by virtue of the the 8th of Edward III., and then raised King's Commission, new taxations were it by a rate among themselves, and remade of every township, borough, and turned it into the Royal Exchequer.city in the kingdom, and recorded in Blackstone, Commentaries, Vol. I. p. 308.
by the Crown, or the Great Officers of State ; and, therefore, in the beginning of the civil wars between Charles I. and his Parliament, the latter having no other sufficient revenue to support themselves and their measures, introduced the practice of laying weekly and monthly assessments of a specific sum upon the several counties of the kingdom, to be levied by a pound rate on lands and personal estates; which were occasionally continued during the whole usurpation, sometimes at the rate of £120,000 a month, sometimes at inferior rates. After the Restoration, the ancient method of granting subsidies, instead of such monthly assessments, was twice, and twice only, renewed, viz., in 1663 and in 1670, (when £800,000 was raised by way of subsidy,) which was the last time of raising supplies in that manner. For the monthly assessments being now established by custom, being raised by Commissioners named by Parliament, and producing a more certain revenue; from that time forwards we hear no more of subsidies, but occasional assessments were granted as the national emergencies required.
These periodical assessments, the subsidies which preceded them, and the more ancient scutage, hydage, and talliage, were, to all intents and purposes, a land-tax; and the assessments were sometimes expressly called so. The idea, therefore, of taxing landed property was by no means a novelty, (as some have supposed,) introduced in the reign of William III. ; all that was then done was to extend the principle, by introducing a new plan for levying the tax, agreeably to a new assessment or valuation of estates throughout the kingdom. This valuation was made in 1692, and it is according to that, Parliament at present renews the grant of the land-tax, and orders it to be collected. It is observed by Mr. Christian, in his Notes on Blackstone, that even the plan and arrangements for levying this tax (as specified in the 4th of William and Mary) are, in all the most important particulars, copied from the Act of Charles II., already referred to, (22 and 23 Car. II., passed in 1670,) in which the mode of collecting the land-tax differs totally from the former subsidy assessment, and appears to have been suggested by an Act passed in the time of the Commonwealtb, (1656,) for an assessment to raise £60,000 a month.
Before proceeding farther, it is proper for me to remark, that what is called the Land-tax in England, does not affect merely landed property, but all personal estates, except property in the public funds, and stock upon land, supposed necessary for agriculture. With these exceptions, all personal estates are charged in the same proportion as land-rents. In this respect, the land-tax, as it is levied at present, agrees with the subsidies and other taxes already referred to. “Indeed,” as Sir James Steuart observes, “there is no vestige in the History of England of any tax imposed singly on land. The subsidies, monthly assessments, and pound-rates in the different stages of the monarchy, have all been mixed duties, composed of a charge upon the lands, upon the money and personal estates of the subject, and frequently including a poll-tax, where men of different ranks were differently charged."*
According to the valuation made in 1692, a supply of £500,000 was equal to one shilling in the pound of the value of the estates given in. Since that period it has continued an annual charge on the subject;-in general, at four shillings in the pound, sometimes at three, sometimes at two; twice at one (viz., in the years 1732, 1733,) but without any total intermission. The method of raising it is, by charging a particular sum upon each county, according to the valuation given in, in 1692; and this sum is assessed and raised upon individuals, (their personal estates as well as real, being liable to the tax,) by Commissioners appointed in the Act, being the principal landholders of the county, and their officers.
It is commonly understood that the valuation according to which the different counties and parishes were assessed to the land-tax by the 4th of William and Mary, was very unequal at its first establishment, in consequence of the liberality or fraud of the owners and assessors in their representations of the value, produced by their attachment or aversion to the new government. In this respect, therefore, the English land-tax was even from the beginning reprehensible upon the general principle stated by Mr. Smith, as the first of his fundamental maxims.
* (Political Economy, Book V. chap. xi., footnote; Works, Vol. IV. p. 280.)
Besides this inequality, however, another disproportion in the general assessment has been occasioned by the unequal cultivation of the different counties of England since the close of last century, and such has been the effect of these two causes combined, that while some estates pay four shillings, others pay fourpence, or even less, by the same rule of proportion. A late writer asserts, upon good information, that a gentleman possessing an estate of £5000 a year, in one of the northern counties of England, pays in land-tax, at four shillings in the pound, only £75. To an inequality of the same kind, every land-tax must necessarily become liable in process of time, which is imposed according to a certain invariable canon, however equitably that canon may have been adjusted at the time it was established.
This defect, in point of equality is, in the opinion of Mr. Smith, the only one which can be objected to the English land-tax:-“ It is perfectly agreeable," he observes,“ to all the other general principles which ought to regulate taxation;" and, more particularly, he adds, “it possesses the recommendation of perfect certainty."*
In opposition, however, to this unqualified encomium, something may be objected; and, in fact, a very able writer, Sir J. Steuart, has fixed on this very circumstance of certainty as one in which the English land-tax is remarkably defective. “The sums imposed,” says he, “ at so many shillings in the pound upon every district in the kingdom, whether cities, towns, universities, or open country, &c., are not distributed according to any rule of proportion upon the property of individuals ; but this operation is left to assessors. By the original distribution, indeed, it appears what every city, county, university, &c., is to pay according as the tax is imposed at one, two, three, or four shillings in the pound. Still, however, such a regulation nowise prevents the inconveniences which attend this tax, because the burden of it does not consist in the total amount
· Gray's Pamphlet. Becket, 1797,
* [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ij.; Vol. III. p. 260, tenth edition.]