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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Paine here returns to his theme of the connection between war, public financing, and taxation. He cynically argues that history might lead one to the conclusion that far from raising taxes in order to fund wars, much benefit can be gained by the ruling and banking elite if wars are started in order to raise the national debt and increase taxation. Sometimes one wonders if this might be true. Paine and Burke were only two figures in a very spirited debate which took place in the 1790s about the significance and meaning of the French Revolution. It also involved Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Joseph Priestley, Catharine Macaulay, and Sir James Mackintosh, whose writings on the subject can be found at the OLL website [/collection/73].

Other quotes about Taxation:

13 July, 2009

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Thomas Paine responded to one of Burke’s critiques of the French Revolution by cynically arguing that wars are sometimes started in order to increase taxation (“the harvest of war”) (1791)

Read the full quote in context here.

In his debate with Edmund Burke over the French Revolution, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) argues that there is a connection between war and the raising of taxes and that sometimes the former is engaged in to promote the latter:

It may with reason be said, that in the manner the English nation is represented, it signifies not where this right resides, whether in the Crown, or in the Parliament. War is the common harvest of all those who participate in the division and expenditure of public money, in all countries. It is the art of conquering at home: the object of it is an increase of revenue; and as revenue cannot be increased without taxes, a pretence must be made for expenditures. In reviewing the history of the English government, its wars and its taxes, a by-stander, not blinded by prejudice, nor warped by interest, would declare, that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

The French constitution says, That the right of war and peace is in the nation. Where else should it reside, but in those who are to pay the expence?

In England, this right is said to reside in a metaphor, shewn at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling a-piece: So are the lions; and it would be a step nearer to reason to say it resided in them, for any inanimate metaphor is no more than a hat or a cap. We can all see the absurdity of worshipping Aaron’s molten calf, or Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image; but why do men continue to practise themselves the absurdities they despise in others?

It may with reason be said, that in the manner the English nation is represented, it signifies not where this right resides, whether in the Crown, or in the Parliament. War is the common harvest of all those who participate in the division and expenditure of public money, in all countries. It is the art of conquering at home: the object of it is an increase of revenue; and as revenue cannot be increased without taxes, a pretence must be made for expenditures. In reviewing the history of the English government, its wars and its taxes, a by-stander, not blinded by prejudice, nor warped by interest, would declare, that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.

Mr. Burke, as a Member of the House of Commons, is a part of the English Government; and though he professes himself an enemy to war, he abuses the French Constitution, which seeks to explode it. He holds up the English Government as a model in all its parts, to France; but he should first know the remarks which the French make upon it. They contend, in favour of their own, that the portion of liberty enjoyed in England, is just enough to enslave a country by, more productively than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a Government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both. They account also for the readiness which always appears in such governments for engaging in wars, by remarking on the different motives which produce them. In despotic governments, wars are the effect of pride; but in those governments in which they become the means of taxation, they acquire thereby a more permanent promptitude.

[More works by Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)]