Feargus O'Connor. Ministerial Defeats. The Budget.

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

London, Tuesday, April 19, 1853

The Commission which met last week to examine into the state of mind of Feargus O'Connor, late M.P. for Nottingham, returned the following verdict:

"We find that Mr. Feargus O'Connor has been insane since the 10th of June, 1852, without any lucid intervals."[1]

As a political character O'Connor had outlived himself already in 1848. His strength was broken, his mission fulfilled, and unable to master the proletarian movement organised by himself, he had grown almost a hindrance to it. If historical impartiality oblige me not to conceal this circumstance, it also obliges me in justice to the fallen man; to lay before the same public, the judgment given on O'Connor, by Ernest Jones, in The People's Paper.

"Here was a man who broke away from rank, wealth, and station; who threw p a lucrative and successful practice; who dissipated a large fortune, not in private self-denial, but in political self-sacrifice; who made himself an eternal exile from his own country, where he owned broad acres and represented one of its largest Counties; who was hated by his family because he loved the human race; whose every act was devotion to the people; and who ends almost destitute after a career of unexampled labor.... There is his life. Now look at his work: At a time of utter prostration, of disunion, doubt and misery, he gathered the millions of this country together, as men had never yet been gathered. O'Connell rallied the Irish, but it was with the help of the priests; Mazzini roused the Italians, but nobles and traders were on his side; Kossuth gathered the Hungarians, but Senates and armies were at his back; and both the Hungarians and Italians were burning against a foreign conqueror. But O'Connor, without noble, priest or trader, rallied and upheld one downtrodden class against them all! Without even the leverage of national feeling to unite them! La Fayette had the merchants, Lamartine had the shopkeepers. O'Connor had the people! But the people in the nineteenth century, in Constitutional England, are the weakest of all. He taught them how to become the strongest."

Last week was a week of defeats for the Coalition Cabinet. It met for the first time with a Coalition Opposition. On Tuesday the 12th inst., Mr. Butt moved to maintain for the Irish soldiers the Asylum of Kilmainham Hospital. The Secretary at War[2] opposed the motion; but it was carried against the Government by 198 against 131. On this occasion it was beaten by a Coalition of the Irish Brigade[3] with the Conservative Opposition. On the following Thursday it was defeated by a Coalition of the Conservatives and the Manchester School[4]. Mr. Milner Gibson having brought in his yearly motion for the abolition of the "Taxes on Knowledge," the repeal of the Advertisement Duty was voted[5], notwithstanding the protestations of Gladstone, Russell and Sidney. They lost, by 200 against 169. Bright, Gibson and MacGregor voted side by side with Disraeli, Pakington, etc., and Mr. Cobden made the formal declaration, "That he accepted the assistance of Mr. Disraeli and his friends with all his heart."[6] But by far the greatest defeat the Government has sustained was brought upon it, not by a division in the House, but by an act of its own.

Of the Kossuth rocket affair[7] full particulars will already have reached the readers of the Tribune, but in order to prove that the whole of it was a premeditated affair between Palmerston and the Foreign Powers, it is merely necessary to state what his own official journal, The Morning Post, contains with regard to the occurrence:

"The promptitude and vigilance of the course adopted by Government will give confidence to those foreign powers who have doubted the efficacy of our laws in repressing mischief among our troublesome guests."[8]

This business will have its serious consequences for the Coalition Ministry. Already, and this is of great significance, it has demasked old Palmerston's revolutionary dandyism. Even his most credulous but honest admirer, The Morning Advertiser, openly disavows him. Palmerston's star began to pale at the time when he bestowed his sympathies on the hero of the 2d December and of the plain of Satory; it has vanished, since he became professedly an "Austrian Minister."[9] But, the mission of the Coalition Ministry is precisely the demoralization of all the current talents and renommées of the old Oligarchy. And this problem it is resolving with an admirable perseverance. Should Palmerston's Ministry survive this catastrophe, then he may indeed, with a slight alteration of the saying of Francis I, jocosely proclaim "Nothing is lost except honor."[10]

I come now to the event of the day Mr. Gladstone's budget laid before the House of Commons in its yesterday's sitting, in a speech which occupied no less than five hours[11]. It is a Coalition Budget, elaborated in an encyclopedical manner, exceedingly fitted for an article in Ersch & Gruber's voluminous Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. You know that the era of encyclopedists arrives always when facts have become bulky, and genius remains proportionably small.

In every budget the principal question is the relation between income and expenditure, the balance in the shape of a surplus or a deficiency prescribing the general conditions of either a relaxation or an increase to be established in the taxation of the country. Mr. Disraeli had estimated the revenue for the year 1852-53 at £52,325,000, and the expenditure at £51,163,000. Now, Mr. Gladstone informs us that the actual revenue has been £53,089,000, and the real expenditure only £50,782,000. These figures show an actual surplus of income over expenditure amounting to £2,460,000. Thus far, Mr. Gladstone would seem to have improved Mr. Disraeli. The latter could only boast of a surplus of £1,600,000; Gladstone comes with a saving of £2,460,000. Unfortunately, unlike Disraeli's surplus, that of Mr. Gladstone, on nearer examination, dwindles down to the moderate amount of £700,000, the millions having already found their way out of his pocket by various votes of the House of Commons and other extraordinary expenditure; and, as Mr. Gladstone cautiously adds:

"It must be remembered that £215,000, out of the £700,000, is derived from occasional and not permanent sources of income."

Then, the only basis of operations left to Mr. Gladstone is a surplus of £485,000. Accordingly any proposed remission of old taxes beyond this amount has to be balanced by the imposition of new ones.

Mr. Gladstone opened his speech with the "question brûlante" of the Income Tax. He said that it was possible to part with that tax at once, but that the Government were not prepared to recommend its immediate abandonment. The first thing to which he called attention was, that "we draw from this tax £5,500,000." Next he attempted a "brilliant" vindication of the effects of this tax, on the history of which he expended a good deal of breath.

The Income Tax," he remarked, "has served in a time of vital struggle to enable you to raise the income of the country above its expenditure for war and civil government.... If you do not destroy the efficacy of this engine, it affords you the means, should unhappily hostilities again break out, of at once raising your army to 300,000 men, and your fleet to 100,000, with all your establishments in proportion."

Further Mr. Gladstone observed, that the Income Tax had not only served in carrying on the Anti-Jacobin war, but also the free-trade policy of Sir Robert Peel. After this apologetic introduction we are suddenly startled by the announcement that "the Income 'Fax is full of irregularities." In fact, Mr. Gladstone admits, that in order to preserve the tax, it must be reconstructed so as to avoid its present inequalities; but that in order to remove these inequalities, you must break up the whole set. Strangely contradicting himself, he is afterwards at great pains to show that there exist no such inequalities at all, and that they are merely imaginary. As to the question of realized and precarious incomes, he reduces it to a question of "land and of trade," and tries to persuade people, through some awkward calculations, that land actually pays 9d. in the pound, while trade only pays 7d. He then adds:

"that the assessment on land and houses does not depend on the returns of the owners, whereas in trade the returns of income are made by the holders themselves, and in many cases in a fraudulent manner."

With regard to fundholders, Mr. Gladstone asserts that to tax the capitalised value of their income, would be a gross breach of the public faith. Any distinction, in short, between realized or precarious income, as proposed by Mr. Disraeli, is flatly rejected by Mr. Gladstone. On the other hand he is ready to extend the Income Tax to Ireland, and an income above £100, the limit of its area having hitherto been at E150 a year. Quite inconsistently, however, with his just pronounced doctrine, that "it is impossible to distinguish between the respective value of intelligence, labor and property, and to represent these relations in arithmetical results," he proposes to subject incomes between £100 and £150 to a rate of only 5d in the pound. Lastly, in order to reconcile his admiration for the Income Tax, with the avowed necessity of its abolition, Mr. Gladstone proposes

"to renew the tax for two years, from April, 1853, at 7d. in the pound; for two years more, from April, 1855, at the rate of 6d. in the pound; and for three years more, from April, 1857, at the rate of 5d. in the pound; under which proposal the tax would expire on 5th April, 1860."

Having thus conferred, what he imagines to be a boon, [on] the landed aristocracy and the fundholders, by his refusal to acknowledge the principle of distinction between realized and precarious incomes, Mr. Gladstone, on the other hand, is careful to hold out a similar bait to the Manchester School by the adjustment of the legacy duty, extending it to all kinds of property, but declining to deal with the probates.

"I have no doubt," he remarked, "that this tax, if adjusted by the House, will add £500,000 more to our permanent means in 1853-'54; will add £700,000 more in 1854-'55; £400,000 in 1855-'56; and £400,000 more in 1856-'57; making a total addition to the permanent means of the country of £2,000,000."

Respecting Scotland, Mr. Gladstone proposed, that 1/ should be added to the present Spirits' Duty of 3/8 (the gain would be £318,000), and also an increased impost on the licenses of tea-dealers, brewers, maltsters, tobacco-manufacturers and dealers, and soap-boilers.

The whole amount of the increased taxes available for the year 1853-'54 would thus be:

Upon the Income Tax £295,000

Upon the Legacy Duty 500,000

Upon Spirits 436,000

Upon Licenses1 13,000


Which with the surplus of 805,000

Would give us for the remission of ,taxes a sum amounting to £2,149,000

Now, what are the propositions of Mr. Gladstone with respect to the remission of old taxes? I shall restrain myself, of course, from entering too deeply into this labyrinth. It cannot be fathomed in a moment. Accordingly I shall touch merely on the principal points, which are:

1. The abolition of the duty on Soap, the gross amount of which is actually £1,397,000.
2. Gradual reduction of the duties on Tea, when the descent from 2/2¼ to 1/ is to be brought about in about three years.
3. Remission of the duties upon a large number of minor articles.
4. Relaxation of the £4,000,000 owed by Ireland in the shape of Consolidated Annuities.
5. Reduction of the Attorney's Certificate Duty by one-half, according to the motion of Lord R. Grosvenor, which abolished the whole.
6. Reduction of the Advertisement Duty to /6, according to the motion of Mr. Gibson (the House having, however, already noted its entire abolition). Lastly:
7. Abolition of the Stamp Duty on Newspaper Supplements (a huge pièce de réjouissance[12] for The Times, the only paper issuing Supplements).These are, in short, the principal features of the budget which Mr. Gladstone has been hatching now for more than four months. The debate in the House of Commons, fixed for Monday next, will afford me the opportunity of further commenting upon that coalition product.

  1. The People's Paper, No. 50, April 16, 1853; below is cited a passage from Ernest ones' article "The People's Friend" published in this issue.—Ed.
  2. S. Herbert.—Ed.
  3. The Irish Brigade —the Irish faction in the British Parliament from the 1830s to the 1850s. It was led by Daniel O'Connell until 1847. As neither the Tories nor the Whigs had a decisive majority the Irish Brigade, alongside the Free Traders, could tip the balance in Parliament and. in some cases decide the fate of the government.

    In the early 1850s, a number of M.P.s belonging to this faction entered into an alliance with the radical Irish Tenant-Right League and formed the so-called Independent Opposition in the House of Commons. However, the leaders of the Irish Brigade soon concluded an agreement with British ruling circles and refused to support the League's demands, which led to the demoralisation and final dissolution of the Independent Opposition in 1859.
  4. The Manchester School —a trend in economic thinking which reflected the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. Its supporters, known as Free Traders, advocated removal of protective tariffs and non-intervention by the government in economic life. The centre of the Free Traders' agitation was Manchester, where the movement was headed by two textile manufacturers, Richard Cobden and John Bright, who founded the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838. In the 1840s and 1850s the Free Traders were a separate political group, which later formed the Left wing of the Liberal Party.
  5. The Taxes on Knowledge in Britain were the advertisement duty, the stamp duty on newspapers and the tax on paper.
  6. Richard Cobden's speech in the House of Commons on April 14 is quoted from the leading article published in The Times, No. 21403, April 15, 1853.—Ed.
  7. See The Rocket Affair. The Swiss Insurrection.—Ed.
  8. The Morning Post, April 18, 1853.—Ed.
  9. In a conversation with the French Ambassador, shortly after the Bonapartist coup d'état on December 2, 1851, the British Foreign Secretary Palmerston approved of Louis Bonaparte's usurpation. (Marx calls the latter "the hero of the plain of Satory", referring to a review that he held near Versailles in the autumn of 1850 which was actually a Bonapartist demonstration.) Palmerston did this without consulting the other members of the Ministry, however, which led to his dismissal in December 1851. The British Government was nevertheless the first to recognise Bonaparte.

    As Home Secretary in Aberdeen's Coalition Government formed in December 1852, Palmerston instigated police persecutions, harassment in the press and lawsuits against political refugees in Britain. His department communicated information about their activities to the police of Austria and other continental powers. While carrying on this policy, Palmerston professed loyalty to constitutional and democratic principles.
  10. After his defeat and capture at Pavia in 1525, in the war against the King of Spain and the Emperor of Germany, Charles V, Francis I wrote in a letter to his mother: "All is lost except honour."—Ed.
  11. The reference is to William Gladstone's speech in the House of Commons on April 18, 1853, quoted below from the report in The Times, No. 21406, April 19, 1853.—Ed.
  12. Enjoyment.—Ed.