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Remarks on the Qualification of Officers.
IN employments where direct labour only is wanting, and trust quite out of the question, the service is merely animal or mechanical. In cutting a river, or forming a road, as there is no possibility of fraud, the merit of honesty is but of little weight. Health, strength, and hardiness, are the labourer's virtues. But where property depends on the trust, and lies at the discretion of the servant, the judgment of the master takes a different channel, both in the choice and the wages. The honest and the dissolute have here no comparison of merit. A known thief may be trusted to gather stones; but a steward ought to be proof against the temptations of uncounted gold.
The Excise is so far from being of the nature of the first, that it is all, and more than can commonly be put together in the last it is a place of poverty, of trust, of opportunity, and temptation. A compound of discords, where the more they harmonize, the more they offend.
To be properly qualified for the employment, it is not only necessary that the person should be honest, but that he be sober, diligent, and skilful; sober, that he may be always capable of business; diligent, that he may be always in his business; and skilful, that he may be able to prevent or detect frauds against the Revenue. The want of any of these qualifications is a capital offence in the Excise. A complaint of drunkenness, negligence, or ignorance, is certain death by the laws of the board. It cannot then be all sorts of persons who are proper for the office. The very notion of procuring a sufficient number for even less than the present salary, is so destitute of every degree of sound reason, that it needs no reply. The employment, from the insufficiency of the salary, is already become so inconsiderable in the general opinion, that persons of any capacity or reputation will keep out of it; for where is the mechanic, or even the labourer, who cannot earn at least 1s. 94d. per day? It certainly cannot be proper to take the dregs of every calling, and to make the Excise the common receptacle for the indigent, the ignorant, and the calamitous.
A truly worthy commissioner, lately dead, made a public offer, a few years ago, of putting any of his neighbours' sons into the Excise; but though the offer amounted almost to an invitation, one only, whom seven years apprenticeship could not make a tailor, accepted it; who, after a twelve-month's instruction, was ordered off, but in a few days finding the employment beyond his abilities, he prudently deserted it, and returned home, where he now remains in the character of an husbandman.
There are very few instances of rejection even of persons who can scarce write their own names legibly; for as there is neither law to compel, nor encouragement to excite, no other can be had than such as offer, and none will offer who can see any other prospect of living. Every one knows that the Excise is a place of labour, not of ease; of hazard, not of certainty; and that downright poverty finishes the character.
It must strike every considerate mind, to hear a man with a large family, faithful enough to declare, that he cannot support himself on the salary with that honest independency he could wish. There is a great degree of affecting honesty in an ingenuous confession. Eloquence may strike the ear, but the language of poverty strikes the heart; the first may charm like music, but the second alarms like a knell.
Of late years there has been such an admission of improper and unqualified persons in the Excise, that the office is not only become contemptible, but the Revenue insecure. Collectors, whose long services and qualifications have advanced them to that station, are disgraced by the wretchedness of new supers continually. Certainly some regard ought to be had to decency, as well as merit.
These are some of the capital evils which arise from the wretched poverty of the salary. Evils they certainly are; for what can be more destructive in a Revenue office, than corruption, collusion, neglect, and ill qualifications.
Should it be questioned whether an augmentation of salary would remove them, I answer, there is scarce a doubt to be made of it. Human wisdom may possibly be deceived in its wisest designs; but here, every thought and circumstance establishes the hope. They are evils of such a ruinous tendency, that they must, by some means or other, be removed. Rigour and severity have been tried in vain ; for punishment loses all its force where men expect and disregard it.
Of late years, the board of Excise has shewn an extraor
dinary tenderness in such instances as might otherwise have affected the circumstances of their officers. Their compassion has greatly tended to lessen the distresses of the employment; but as it cannot amount to a total removal of them, the officers of Excise throughout the kingdom have (as the voice of one man) prepared petitions to be laid before the Honourable House of Commons on the ensuing Parliament.
An augmentation of salary, sufficient to enable them to live honestly and competently, would produce more good effect than all the laws of the land can enforce. The generality of such frauds as the officers have been detected in, have appeared of a nature as remote from inherent dishonesty, as a temporary illness is from an incurable disease. Surrounded with want, children, and despair, what can the husband or the father do? No laws compel like natureno connections bind like blood.
With an addition of salary, the Excise would wear a new aspect, and recover its former constitution. Languor and neglect would give place to care and chearfulness. Men of reputation and abilities would seek after it, and finding a comfortable maintenance would stick to it. The unworthy and incapable would be rejected, the power of superiors be re-established, and laws and instructions receive new force. The officers would be secured from the temptations of poverty, and the Revenue from the evils of it; the cure would be as extensive as the complaint, and new health out-root the present corruptions.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST NUMBER OF THE
To the Public.
THE design of this work has been so fully expressed in the printed proposals, that it is unnecessary to trouble the reader now with a formal preface; and instead of that vain parade with which publications of this kind are introduced to the public, we shall content ourselves with soliciting their candour, till our more qualified labours shall entitle us to their praise.
The generous and considerate will recollect, that imperfection is natural to infancy; and that nothing claims their patronage with a better grace than those undertakings which, beside their infant state, have many formidable disadvantages to oppress them.
We presume it is unnecessary to inform our friends that we encounter all the inconveniencies which a magazine can possibly start with. Unassisted by imported materials, we are destined to create, what our predecessors, in this walk, had only to compile.-And the present perplexities of affairs have rendered it somewhat difficult for us to procure the necessary aids.
Thus encompassed with difficulties, the first number of THE PENNSYLVANIA MAGAZINE entreats a favourable reception; of which we shall only say, like the snow-drop, it comes forth in a barren season, and contents itself with foretelling, that CHOICER FLOWERS are preparing appear.
Philadelphia, January 24, 1775.
PETITION TO THE BOARD OF EXCISE.
In humble obedience to your Honours' letter of discharge, bearing date August 29, 1765, I delivered up my commission, and since that time have given you no trouble.
I confess the justice of your Honours' displeasure, and humbly beg leave to add my thanks for the candour and lenity which you at that unfortunate time indulged me
And though the nature of the report and my own confession cut off all expectations of enjoying your Honours' favour then, yet I humbly hope it has not finally excluded me therefrom; upon which hope I humbly presume to intreat your Honours' to restore me.
The time I enjoyed my former commission was short and unfortunate an officer only a single year. No complaint of the least dishonesty, or intemperance, ever appeared against me; and if I am so happy as to succeed in this my humble petition, I will endeavour that my future conduct shall as much engage your Honours' approbation, as my former has merited your displeasure.
"I am your
Honours' most dutiful "humble Servant,
London, July 3, 1766.