The Rights of Man

by Thomas Paine

Applying Principle to Practice, Chapter 5 - Ways and Means of Improving the Condition of Europe Interspersed with Miscellaneous Observations, Part 6 of 8

I shall now conclude this plan with enumerating the several particulars, and then proceed to other matters.

The enumeration is as follows:

  • First, Abolition of two millions poor-rates.
  • Secondly, Provision for two hundred and fifty thousand poor families.
  • Thirdly, Education for one million and thirty thousand children.
  • Fourthly, Comfortable provision for one hundred and forty thousand aged persons.
  • Fifthly, Donation of twenty shillings each for fifty thousand births.
  • Sixthly, Donation of twenty shillings each for twenty thousand marriages.
  • Seventhly, Allowance of twenty thousand pounds for the funeral expenses of persons travelling for work, and dying at a distance from their friends.
  • Eighthly, Employment, at all times, for the casual poor in the cities of London and Westminster.

By the operation of this plan, the poor laws, those instruments of civil torture, will be superseded, and the wasteful expense of litigation prevented. The hearts of the humane will not be shocked by ragged and hungry children, and persons of seventy and eighty years of age, begging for bread. The dying poor will not be dragged from place to place to breathe their last, as a reprisal of parish upon parish. Widows will have a maintenance for their children, and not be carted away, on the death of their husbands, like culprits and criminals; and children will no longer be considered as increasing the distresses of their parents. The haunts of the wretched will be known, because it will be to their advantage; and the number of petty crimes, the offspring of distress and poverty, will be lessened. The poor, as well as the rich, will then be interested in the support of government, and the cause and apprehension of riots and tumults will cease.- Ye who sit in ease, and solace yourselves in plenty, and such there are in Turkey and Russia, as well as in England, and who say to yourselves, "Are we not well off?" have ye thought of these things? When ye do, ye will cease to speak and feel for yourselves alone.

The plan is easy in practice. It does not embarrass trade by a sudden interruption in the order of taxes, but effects the relief by changing the application of them; and the money necessary for the purpose can be drawn from the excise collections, which are made eight times a year in every market town in England.

Having now arranged and concluded this subject, I proceed to the next.

Taking the present current expenses at seven millions and an half, which is the least amount they are now at, there will remain (after the sum of one million and an half be taken for the new current expenses and four millions for the before-mentioned service) the sum of two millions; part of which to be applied as follows:

Though fleets and armies, by an alliance with France, will, in a great measure, become useless, yet the persons who have devoted themselves to those services, and have thereby unfitted themselves for other lines of life, are not to be sufferers by the means that make others happy. They are a different description of men from those who form or hang about a court.

A part of the army will remain, at least for some years, and also of the navy, for which a provision is already made in the former part of this plan of one million, which is almost half a million more than the peace establishment of the army and navy in the prodigal times of Charles the Second.

Suppose, then, fifteen thousand soldiers to be disbanded, and that an allowance be made to each of three shillings a week during life, clear of all deductions, to be paid in the same manner as the Chelsea College pensioners are paid, and for them to return to their trades and their friends; and also that an addition of fifteen thousand sixpences per week be made to the pay of the soldiers who shall remain; the annual expenses will be:

To the pay of fifteen thousand disbanded soldiers at three shillings per week £117,000
Additional pay to the remaining soldiers 19,500
Suppose that the pay to the officers of the disbanded corps be the same amount as sum allowed to the men 117,000
To prevent bulky estimations, admit the same sum to the disbanded navy as to the army, and the same increase of pay 253,500
Total £507,000

Every year some part of this sum of half a million (I omit the odd seven thousand pounds for the purpose of keeping the account unembarrassed) will fall in, and the whole of it in time, as it is on the ground of life annuities, except the increased pay of twenty-nine thousand pounds. As it falls in, part of the taxes may be taken off; and as, for instance, when thirty thousand pounds fall in, the duty on hops may be wholly taken off; and as other parts fall in, the duties on candles and soap may be lessened, till at last they will totally cease. There now remains at least one million and a half of surplus taxes.

The tax on houses and windows is one of those direct taxes, which, like the poor-rates, is not confounded with trade; and, when taken off, the relief will be instantly felt. This tax falls heavy on the middle class of people. The amount of this tax, by the returns of 1788, was:

Houses and windows: £ s. d. By the act of 1766 385,459 11 7
By the act be 1779 130,739 14 5 1/2
  516,199 6 0 1/2

If this tax be struck off, there will then remain about one million of surplus taxes; and as it is always proper to keep a sum in reserve, for incidental matters, it may be best not to extend reductions further in the first instance, but to consider what may be accomplished by other modes of reform.

Among the taxes most heavily felt is the commutation tax. I shall therefore offer a plan for its abolition, by substituting another in its place, which will effect three objects at once: 1, that of removing the burthen to where it can best be borne; 2, restoring justice among families by a distribution of property; 3, extirpating the overgrown influence arising from the unnatural law of primogeniture, which is one of the principal sources of corruption at elections. The amount of commutation tax by the returns of 1788, was £771,657.

When taxes are proposed, the country is amused by the plausible language of taxing luxuries. One thing is called a luxury at one time, and something else at another; but the real luxury does not consist in the article, but in the means of procuring it, and this is always kept out of sight.

I know not why any plant or herb of the field should be a greater luxury in one country than another; but an overgrown estate in either is a luxury at all times, and, as such, is the proper object of taxation. It is, therefore, right to take those kind tax-making gentlemen up on their own word, and argue on the principle themselves have laid down, that of taxing luxuries. If they or their champion, Mr. Burke, who, I fear, is growing out of date, like the man in armour, can prove that an estate of twenty, thirty, or forty thousand pounds a year is not a luxury, I will give up the argument.

Admitting that any annual sum, say, for instance, one thousand pounds, is necessary or sufficient for the support of a family, consequently the second thousand is of the nature of a luxury, the third still more so, and by proceeding on, we shall at last arrive at a sum that may not improperly be called a prohibitable luxury. It would be impolitic to set bounds to property acquired by industry, and therefore it is right to place the prohibition beyond the probable acquisition to which industry can extend; but there ought to be a limit to property or the accumulation of it by bequest. It should pass in some other line. The richest in every nation have poor relations, and those often very near in consanguinity.

The following table of progressive taxation is constructed on the above principles, and as a substitute for the commutation tax. It will reach the point of prohibition by a regular operation, and thereby supersede the aristocratical law of primogeniture.


A tax on all estates of the clear
yearly value of £50, after deducting
the land tax, and up To £500
0s 3d  
per pound
From £500 to £1,000 0 6
On the second thousand 0 9
On the third " 1 0
On the fourth " 1 6
On the fifth " 2 0
On the sixth " 3 0
On the seventh " 4 0
On the eighth " 5 0
On the ninth " 6 0
On the tenth " 7 0
On the eleventh " 8 0
On the twelfth " 9 0
On the thirteenth " 10 0
On the fourteenth " 11 0
On the fifteenth " 12 0
On the sixteenth " 13 0
On the seventeenth " 14 0
On the eighteenth " 15 0
On the nineteenth " 16 0
On the twentieth " 17 0
On the twenty-first " 18 0
On the twenty-second " 19 0
On the twenty-third " 20 0

The foregoing table shows the progression per pound on every progressive thousand. The following table shows the amount of the tax on every thousand separately, and in the last column the total amount of all the separate sums collected.


An estate of £50 per annum at 3d per pound pays £0 12 6
100 " " " " 1 5 0
200 " " " " 2 10 0
300 " " " " 3 15 0
400 " " " " 5 0 0
500 " " " " 7 5 0

After £500, the tax of 6d. per pound takes place on the second £500; consequently an estate of £1,000 per annum pays £2l, 15s., and so on.

For the 1st £500 at (per pound) 0s 3d £7 5 Total Amount
2nd " 0 6 14 10 £21 15
2nd 1000 at 0 9 3711 59 5
3rd " 1 0 50 0 109 5
4th " 1 6 75 0 184 5
5th " 2 0 100 0 284 5
6th " 3 0 150 0 434 5
7th " 4 0 200 0 634 5
8th " 5 0 250 0 880 5
9th " 6 0 300 0 1100 5
10th " 7 0 350 0 1530 5
11th " 8 0 400 0 1930 5
12th " 9 0 450 0 2380 5
13th " 10 0 500 0 2880 5
14th " 11 0 550 0 3430 5
15th " 12 0 600 0 4030 5
16th " 13 0 650 0 4680 5
17th " 14 0 700 0 5380 5
18th " 15 0 750 0 6130 5
19th " 16 0 800 0 6930 5
20th " 17 0 850 0 7780 5
21st " 18 0 900 0 8680 5
22nd " 19 0 950 0 9630 5
23rd " 20 0 1000 0 10630 5

At the twenty-third thousand the tax becomes 20s. in the pound, and consequently every thousand beyond that sum can produce no profit but by dividing the estate. Yet formidable as this tax appears, it will not, I believe, produce so much as the commutation tax; should it produce more, it ought to be lowered to that amount upon estates under two or three thousand a year.

On small and middling estates it is lighter (as it is intended to be) than the commutation tax. It is not till after seven or eight thousand a year that it begins to be heavy. The object is not so much the produce of the tax as the justice of the measure. The aristocracy has screened itself too much, and this serves to restore a part of the lost equilibrium.

As an instance of its screening itself, it is only necessary to look back to the first establishment of the excise laws, at what is called the Restoration, or the coming of Charles the Second. The aristocratical interest then in power, commuted the feudal services itself was under, by laying a tax on beer brewed for sale; that is, they compounded with Charles for an exemption from those services for themselves and their heirs, by a tax to be paid by other people. The aristocracy do not purchase beer brewed for sale, but brew their own beer free of the duty, and if any commutation at that time were necessary, it ought to have been at the expense of those for whom the exemptions from those services were intended; [NOTE 1] instead of which, it was thrown on an entirely different class of men.

But the chief object of this progressive tax (besides the justice of rendering taxes more equal than they are) is, as already stated, to extirpate the overgrown influence arising from the unnatural law of primogeniture, and which is one of the principal sources of corruption at elections.

It would be attended with no good consequences to enquire how such vast estates as thirty, forty, or fifty thousand a year could commence, and that at a time when commerce and manufactures were not in a state to admit of such acquisitions. Let it be sufficient to remedy the evil by putting them in a condition of descending again to the community by the quiet means of apportioning them among all the heirs and heiresses of those families. This will be the more necessary, because hitherto the aristocracy have quartered their younger children and connections upon the public in useless posts, places and offices, which when abolished will leave them destitute, unless the law of primogeniture be also abolished or superseded.

A progressive tax will, in a great measure, effect this object, and that as a matter of interest to the parties most immediately concerned, as will be seen by the following table; which shows the net produce upon every estate, after subtracting the tax. By this it will appear that after an estate exceeds thirteen or fourteen thousand a year, the remainder produces but little profit to the holder, and consequently, Will pass either to the younger children, or to other kindred.


Showing the net produce of every estate from one thousand to twenty-three thousand pounds a year

No of thousand per annum Total tax subtracted Net produce
£1000 £21 £979
2000 59 1941
3000 109 2891
4000 184 3816
5000 284 4716
6000 434 5566
7000 634 6366
8000 880 7120
9000 1100 7900
10,000 1530 8470
11,000 1930 9070
12,000 2380 9620
13,000 2880 10,120
14,000 3430 10,570
15,000 4030 10,970
16,000 4680 11,320
17,000 5380 11,620
18,000 6130 11,870
19,000 6930 12,170
20,000 7780 12,220
21,000 8680 12,320
22,000 9630 12,370
23,000 10,630 12,370
N.B. The odd shillings are dropped in this table.

According to this table, an estate cannot produce more than £12,370 clear of the land tax and the progressive tax, and therefore the dividing such estates will follow as a matter of family interest. An estate of £23,000 a year, divided into five estates of four thousand each and one of three, will be charged only £1,129 which is but five per cent., but if held by one possessor, will be charged £10,630.


  1. The tax on beer brewed for sale, from which the aristocracy are exempt, is almost one million more than the present commutation tax, being by the returns of 1788, 1,666,152- and, consequently, they ought to take on themselves the amount of the commutation tax, as they are already exempted from one which is almost a million greater.

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