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St Albans 1733

Two letters in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1733, concerning St Albans, resonate somewhat with political questions of today but a short introduction is needed to put them in context.

Sir Robert Walpole, First Lord of the Treasury under George II, introduced extensive financial reforms after the disaster of the South Sea Bubble. He reduced the National Debt and reviewed the system of taxation. In this latter exercise he determined to reduce the Land Tax to stimulate agriculture and paid for this by renewing the tax on salt. Instead of an import duty on wine and tobacco he proposed an excise duty on the sale of these and other commodities, the duty to be collected at warehouses, and not ports, in order to thwart the extensive crime of smuggling and consequent loss of revenue.

These proposals led to widespread opposition, including the alleged invasion of privacy by the excise collectors (the modern-day taxman). Another cause of complaint was the traditional objection of the English, since the Civil War, to a standing army. These objections were the subjects of the first letter quoted below, on the face of it a reasonable request by the voters to their newly-elected MP. It should be remembered that the franchise extended only to adult males possessing residential property of a specified value or, in certain borough constituencies, registered as freemen. This latter is the significance of the second letter. Both letters are included in the file below.