Item of the Day: An Appeal to the Public, on the Subject of the National Debt (1774)

Full Title: An Appeal to the Public, on the Subject of the National Debt. A New Edition. With An Appendix, containing Explanatory Observations and Tables; and an Account of the present State of the Population in Norfolk. Also an Additional Preface. By Richard Price. London: Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand, M.DCC.LXXIV. [1774]




IN perusing this Appeal to the Public, it will be found, that one of my chief purposes in it has been to prove the following proposition: “That to alienate a fund, appropriated to the payment of public debts, while it can be avoided, by borrowing money at simple interest on new taxes or savings, is a most pernicious measure.” And it may be depended upon, that, if there is any certainty in numbers, this has been proved beyond the possibility of reasonable doubt.

Dr. Davenant, in the reign of King William, warned the kingdom of the danger which would attend breaking into appropriated funds. He was disregarded; and the public debts increased so much as to be generally thought, in the year 1716, insupportable. This gave occasion to the establishment, in that year, of a general saving under the name of the SINKING FUND; which repeated laws declared should be applied to the payment of the public debts, and to no other purpose whatever. This fund soon became the only hope of the kingdom; and, could it have been defended against alienation, it would, in a few years, have accomplishd all that was expected from it. Notice was given of this, in the year 1726, by a writer of great abilities (a); and the public was a second time warned of the fatal consequences which would follow alientations. But this warning was also neglected; and, in consequence of this, our debts, instead of being annihilated, as they might have been, have increased from 17 millions, their amount in 1699, and from 52 milions, their amount in 1726, to 140 millions, their amount nearly in the present year. —There is now one farther attempt made to bring back the State fo the path of rectitude and safety by a writer indeed of much less weight, but possessed of the same good intentions. he knows that he cannot expect to be regarded. The same measures will be pursued; and it is easy to foresee in what they will terminate.

“In FRANCE the custom of borrowing on Funds, instead of levying money for the necessary supplies within the year, was begun in 1678. M. COLBERT perceived the tendency of it; and after remonstrating against it in vain, he told the ministers who advised it, that they should answer to God for the mischief they would do to the king and the state, by introducing so pernicious a practice (a).” —The managers of our affairs will have more to answer for. They have not only introduced this pernicious practice; but they have defeated the effect of an establishment, which would have preserved us from all the dangers attending it. —The greatest sufferers by this practice will in the end be the moneyed people themselves; or those creditors of the public, who are now maintained by the contributions of the poor, and the labour of the industrious. —It is impossible that debts always increasing, should not in time sink the kingdom. They have already done us unspeakable mischief. A considerable part of our people is lost. By extending the influence of the crown, they have undermined the foundation of our liberties. It is doubtful also, whether they have not turned the balance of trade against us, by raising the price of our manufactures, and carrying out of the kingdom about a million and a half every year, in payments of dividends to foreigners. The late augmentation of the navy, though probably a right measure, has, by taking a large annual sum from the SINKING FUND, removed us to agreater distance than ever from the possibility of discharging them. An unfavourable turn of events in the East-Indies, or any considerable deficiencies in the revenue, might destroy our ability of paying even the interest of them. At least, it is to be feared, that another war would exhaust our resources, and bring our affairs to a crisis.

In these circumstances; some vigorous measures for our own preservation, ought to be entered into immediately More especially, it seems to be time for the public creditors to think of securing their capital. The law once gave them the Sinking Fund as a sacred and unalienable security. Would it be wrong to require a restitution of it; and to make this a condition of future loans?

Upon the whole. It is my sincere conviction, that a policy, too narrow and selfish, has brought us into threatning circumstances. I have written under this conviction; and, if my feelings have drawn from me any language improperly severe, I hope I shall be excused.

I will only add, that I think myself much obliged to the civility of some who have addressed remarks to me. But their objections have not yet led me to any change of sentiments. — Whenever I am made sensible of having fallen into any material mistakes, I shall think myself bound to acknowledge and retract them. In the mean time, I must beg leave to avoid disputes; and to refer in silence all I have written to the decision of the public.


(a) I have related this fact from the most respectable authority.



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Filed under 1770's, Eighteenth century, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Public Debt

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