Friday, February 10, 2006

The fiscal-military state

We have had some interesting debates on whether the Glorious Revolution was (a) glorious and (b) a revolution. 'Glorious' is a value judgement, 'revolution' a debate over semantics. I interpret 'revolution' as meaning a profound and irreversible change, and according to that definition, the events of 1688-1689 had revolutionary consequences. But you don't have to agree!

Here is my take on the Revolutions as a major catalysts of constitutional change.

1. During the 1690s and early 1700s a powerful central executive developed. The expansion of the army and the navy necessitated a greatly increased bureaucracy, particularly in the financial departments of the state. Crown finances improved: the crown’s revenue depended on customs, excise (collected directly by the crown from 1683) and from 1693 the land tax. By the early 18th century the English paid twice as much in taxation as the French.

2. A new system of public credit developed. By measures of 1693 and 1694 the king’s debt became the National Debt, financed by bonds, annuities and other forms of individual savings. The Tonnage Act of 1694 provided for a loan of £1.2m at 8% and for subscribers to be incorporated as the Bank of England empowered to deal in bills of exchange. War was now paid for by borrowing as well as taxation. Bankers and financiers flourished in this new climate.

3. With the creation of this ‘fiscal-military state’ England became a major military as well as naval power. Anne’s armies ranged from the Netherlands to the Baltic and Spain.

4. Parliament became a permanent part of the constitution and its work dramatically increased. With the National Debt established on a parliamentary basis, annual sessions were assured.

Add to this the fact that the doctrine of the divine right of kings had been dramatically undermined and that religious dissent was legally recognized for the first time, and it's all beginning to look very much like a revolution.

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