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MR. BURKE'S PLAN OF ECONOMICAL REFORM.
December 15. 1779. THIS day Mr. Burke opened the outlines of his celebrated
Plan of Economical Reform, and gave notice that he would bring forward the business as soon after the Christmas holidays as possible. Upon this occasion,
Mr. BURKE, after some observations upon the means which he conceived were used to prevent him from engaging the attention of the House to this interesting subject, said: – A general sense prevails of the profusion with which all our affairs are carried on, and with it a general wish for some sort of reformation. That desire for reformation operates every where, except where it ought to operate most strongly - in this House.
The proposition which has been lately made by a truly noble duke, and those propositions which are this very day making, in the other House, by a noble lord of great talents, industry, and eloquence, are, in my opinion, a reproach to us. To us, who claim the exclusive management of the public purse, all interference of the Lords, in our peculiar province, is a reproach. It may be something worse than a reproach; for, if the House of Lords should assume, or, if you please, should usurp the performance of a duty of ours which we neglect, they will be supported in a usurpation that is necessary to the public. Privileges (even such privileges as ours) are lost by neglect, as well as by abuse: and whenever it becomes evident, that they are kept up as gratifications of pride and self-importance, instead of being employed as instruments of public good, their stability will be only equal to their value. Old parliamentary forms and privileges are no trifles. I freely grant it. But the nation calls for something more substantial than the very best of them: and if form and duty are to be separated, they will prefer the duty without the form, to the form without the duty. If both Lords and Commons should conspire in a neglect of duty, other ways, still more irregular than the interference of the Lords may now appear, will be resorted to: for I conceive the nation will, some way or other, have its business done, or it is a nation no longer.
It is not only the sense and feeling of our country that calls upon us; the call of our enemies is still louder. This is the second year in which France is waging upon us the most dreadful of all wars, a war of economy. M. Neckar has opened his second budget. In the edict of November last, the King of France declares in the preamble, that he has brought his fixed and certain expences to an equilibrium with his receipt. In those fixed expences, he reckons an annual sinking of debt. For the additional services of the war, he borrows only two millions. He borrows not for perpetuity, but for lives; and not a single tax is levied on the subject to fund this loan. The whole is funded on economy, and on improvement of the public revenue.
This fair appearance, I allow, may have something at bottom, which is to be detracted from it. A large unfunded debt is probably left. Be it so. But what is our condition in respect of debts both funded and unfunded? What millions shall we not, must we not, borrow this year? What taxes are we to lay for funding these millions ? Which of our taxes already granted, for these three years past, are not deficient? Not one, in my opinion.
must tax for what is to come; we must tax for what is past; or we shall be at a dead stand in all the operations of the war.
Are we to conceal from ourselves, that the omnipotence of economy alone has, from the rubbish and wrecks and fragments of the late war, already created a marine for France? Are we not informed, that in the disposition and array of the resources of that country, there is a reserve not yet brought forward, very little short of an annual two millions and an half, in the war taxes ? Against this masked battery, whenever it shall be opened in the conflict of finance between the two nations, we have not a single work thrown
to cover us. We have nothing at all of the kind to oppose it. The keeping this supply in reserve by France, is the work of economy, of economy in a court formerly the most prodigal, and in an administration of finance the most disorderly and corrupt. Absolute monarchies have been usually the seats of dissipation and profusion; republics of order and good management. France appears to be improved. On our part, indeed, we are not - we are not, indeed, what we have been. And, in our present state, if we will not submit to be taught by an enemy, we must submit to be ruined by him.
On this subject of economy, on the other side of the House they have not so much as dropped a single expression; they have not even thrown an oblique hint which glances that way. A very ingenious gentleman of great consideration, connected with ministry (Mr. Eden), has published a book, much of which is on the subject of finance; the fruit of the throes and labour-pangs of ministry to bring forth taxes, in order to people the waste they have made in the public stock. This gentleman has ransacked every thing, at home and abroad, ancient and modern, to find taxes for that length of war, with the prospect of which he flatters his readers: but though he looks into
every corner in the course of his inquisitive and learned research, and descends almost to thrust his nose into the urine tubs of Vespasian; yet in all this straining and