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E S S A Y
OF PUBLIC CREDIT.
T appears to have been the common practice of an
tiquity, to make provision, during peace, for the necessities of war, and to hoard up treasures before-hand, as the instruments either of conquest or defence; without trusting to extraordinary impofitions, much less to borrowing, in times of disorder and confusion. Besides the immense sums above mentioned *, which were amassed by Athens, and by the PTOLEMIES, and other fuccessors of ALEXANDER; we learn from Plato t, that the frugal LACEDEMONIANS had also collected a great treasure; and ARRIAN I and PLUTARCH | take notice of the riches which ALEXANDER got poffefsion of on the conquest of Susa and ECBATANA, and which were reserved, some of them, from the time of CYRUS. If I remember right, the scripture also mentions the treasure of HEZEKIAH and the JEWISH princes; as profane history does that of PHILIP and PERSEUS, kings of MACEDON. The ancient republics of GAUL had commonly large sums in reserves. Every one knows the treasure
* Efsay V.
I Lib. iii. # PLUT. in vita ALEX. He makes these treasures amount to 80,000 talents, or about 15 millions fterl. QUINTUS CURTIUS (lib. v. cap. 2.) says, that ALEXANDER found in Susa above 50,000 talents, Ş STRABO, lib. iv.
seized in Rome by Julius CÆSAR, during the civil wars; and we find afterwards, that the wiser emperors, AUGUSTUS, TIBERIUS, VESPASIAN, Severus, &c. always discovered the prudent foresight, of saving great fums against any public exigency.
On the contrary, our modern expedient, which has become very general, is to mortgage the public revenues, and to trust that posterity will pay off the incumbrances contracted by their ancestors: And they, having before their eyes, so good an example of their wife fathers, have the same prudent reliance on their posterity; who, at last, from necesity more than choice, are obliged to place the same confidence in a new pofterity. But not to waste time in declaiming against a practice which appears ruinous, beyond all controversy; it seems pretty apparent, that the ancient maxims are, in this respect, more prudent than the modern; even though the latter had been confined within some reasonable bounds, and had ever, in any instance, been attended with such frugality, in time of peace, as to discharge the debts incurred by an expensive war. For why should the case be so different between the public and an individual, as to make us establish different maxims of conduct for each ? If the funds of the former be greater, its necessary expences are proportionably larger; if its resources be more numerous, they are not infinite; and as its frame should be calculated for a much longer duration than the date of a single life, or even of a family, it should embrace maxims, large, durable, and generous, agreeably to the fupposed extent of its existence. To trust to chances and temporary expedients, is, indeed, what the necellity of human affairs frequently renders unavoidable; but whoever voluntarily depend on such resources, have not
necesity, but their own folly, to accuse for their misfortunes, when any such befal them.
If the abuses of treasures be dangerous, either by engaging the state in rash enterprizes, or making it neglect military discipline, in confidence of its riches; the abuses of mortgaging are more certain and inevitable; poverty, impotence, and subjection to foreign powers.
According to modern policy war is attended with every destructive circumstance; loss of men, encrease of taxes, decay of commerce, dissipation of money, devastation by sea and land. According to ancient maxims, the opening of the public treasure, as it produced an uncommon affluence of gold and silver, served as a temporary encouragement to industry, and attoned, in some degree, for the inevitable calamities of war.
It is very tempting to a minister to employ such an expedient, as enables him to make a great figure during his administration, without overburthening the people with taxes, or exciting any immediate clamours against himself. The practice, therefore, of contracting debt will almost infallibly be abufed, in every government. It would scarcely be more imprudent to give a prodigal son a credit in every banker's shop in London, than to impower a statesman to draw bills, in this manner, upon posterity.
What then shall we say to the new paradox, that public incumbrances, are, of themselves, advantageous, independent of the neceflity of contracting them; and that any state, even though it were not pressed by a foreign enemy, could not possibly have embraced a wiser expedient for promoting commerce and riches, than to create funds, and debts, and taxes, without limitation ? Reasonings, such as these, might naturally have passed
for trials of wit among rhetoricians, like the panegyrics
Let us examine the consequences of public debts, both
Public securities are with us become a kind of money, and pass as readily at the current price as gold or silver. Wherever any profitable undertaking offers itself, how expensive loever, there are never wanting hands enow to embrace it; nor need a trader, who has sums in the public stocks, fear to launch cut into the most extensive trade; since he is poilefled of funds, which will answer the most sudden demand that can be made upon him. No merchant thinks it necessary to keep by him any confiderable cash. Bank-stock, or India-bonds, especially the latter, serve all the same purposes ; because he can dispose of them, or pledge them to a banker, in 4 quarter of an hour; and at the same time they are not idle, even when in his scritoire, but bring him in a conAtant revenue. In short, our national debts furnish merchants with a species of money, that is continually multiplying in their hands, and produces sure gain, besides the profits of their commerce. This must enable them to trade upon less profit. The small profit of the merchant renders the commodity cheaper, causes à greater consumption, quickens the labour of the common people, and helps to spread arts and industry throughout the whole society.
There are also, we may observe, in ENGLAND, and in all states, which have both commerce and public
debts, a set of men, who are half merchants, half stockholders, and may be supposed willing to trade for final! profits; because commerce is not their principal or sole support, and their revenues in the funds are a sure re. source for themselves and their families. Were there no funds, great merchants would have no expedient for realizing or securing any part of their profit, but by making purchases of land ; and land has
disadvantages in comparison of funds. Requiring more care and inspection, it divides the time and attention of the merchant; up'n any tempting offer or extraordinary accident in trade, it is not so easily converted into money; and as it attracts too much, both by the many natural pleasures it affords, and the authority it gives, it soon converts the citizen into the country gentleman. More men, therefore, with large stocks and incomes, may naturally be supposed to continue in trade, where there are public debts; and this, it must be owned, is of fome advantage to commerce, by diminishing its profits, promoting circulation, and encouraging industry.
But, in opposition to these two favourable circumftances, perhaps of no very great importance, weigh the many disadvantages which attend our public debts, in the whole interior ceconomy of the state : You will find no comparison between the ill and the good which result from them.
First, It is certain, that national debts cause a mighty confluence of people and riches to the capital, by the great sums, levied in the provinces to pay the interest ; and perhaps, too, by the advantages in trade above mentioned, which they give the merchants in the capital above the rest of the kingdom. The question is, whether, in our case, it be for the public interest, that so