The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/The Drapier’s Letters 3
UPON A PAPER, CALLED,
THE REPORT OF THE COMMIITEE
RELATING TO WOOD'S HALFPENCE.
THE NOBILITY AND GENTRY OF THE KINGDOM OF IRELAND.
HAVING already written two letters to the people of my own level and condition, and having now very pressing occasion for writing a third: I thought I could not more properly address it than to your lordships and worships.
The occasion is this: a printed paper was sent to me on the 18th instant, entitled, A Report of the Committee of the Lords of his Majesty's most honourable Privy-Council in England, relating to Mr. Wood's halfpence and farthings. There is no mention made where the paper was printed; but I suppose it to have been in Dublin: and I have been told, that the copy did not come over in the Gazette, but in the London Journal, or some other print of no authority or consequence. And for any thing that legally appears to the contrary, it may be a contrivance to fright us; or a project of some printer, who has a mind to make a penny by publishing something upon a subject which now employs all our thoughts in this kingdom. Mr. Wood, in publishing this paper, would insinuate to the world, as if the committee had a greater concern for his credit, and private emolument, than for the honour of the privy-council, and both houses of parliament here, and for the quiet and welfare of this whole kingdom; for it seems intended as a vindication of Mr. Wood, not without several severe reflections on the houses of lords and commons of Ireland.
The whole is indeed written with the turn and air of a pamphlet; as if it were a dispute between William Wood on the one part, and the lords justices, privy-council, and both houses of parliament on the other: the design of it being to clear William Wood, and to charge the other side with casting rash and groundless aspersions upon him.
But if it be really what the title imports, Mr. Wood has treated the committee with great rudeness, by publishing an act of theirs in so unbecoming a manner, without their leave, and before it was communicated to the government and privycouncil of Ireland; to whom the committee advised that it should be transmitted. But, with all deference be it spoken, I do not conceive that a report of a committee of the council in England is hitherto a law in either kingdom; and until any point if determined to be a law, it remains disputable by every subject.
This (may it please your lordships and worships) may seem a strange way of discoursing in an illiterate shopkeeper. I have endeavoured (although without the help of books) to improve that small portion of reason God has been pleased to give me; and when reason plainly appears before me, I cannot turn away my head from it. Thus for instance, if any lawyer should tell me that such a point were law, from which many gross palpable absurdities must follow; I would not, I could not believe him. If Sir Edward Coke should positively assert (which he no where does, but the direct contrary) that a limited prince, could, by his prerogative, oblige his subjects to take half an ounce of lead, stamped with his image, for twenty shillings in gold, I should swear he was deceived, or a deceiver; because a power like that, would leave the whole lives and fortunes of the people entirely at the mercy of the monarch; yet this in effect is what Wood has advanced in some of his papers; and what suspicious people may possibly apprehend from some passages in that which is called the report.
That paper mentions such persons to have been examined, who were desirous and willing to be heard upon this subject. I am told they were four in all; Coleby, Brown, Mr. Finley the banker, and one more, whose name I know not. The first of these was tried for robbing the treasury in Ireland; and though he was acquitted for want of legal proof, yet every person in the court believed him to be guilty. The second was tried for a rape, and stands recorded in the votes of the house of commons, for endeavouring, by perjury and subornation, to take away the life of John Bingham, esq.
But, since I have gone so far as to mention particular persons, it may be some satisfaction to know who is this Wood himself, that has the honour to have a whole kingdom at his mercy for almost two years together. I find he is in the patent entitled esquire, although he were understood to be only a hardwareman; and so I have been bold to call him in my former letters; however, a 'squire he is, not only by virtue of his patent, but by having been a collector in Shropshire; where, pretending to have been robbed, and suing the county, he was cast, and for the infamy of the fact lost his employment.
I have heard another story of this 'squire Wood, from a very honourable lady, that one Hamilton told her. Hamilton was sent for six years ago, by sir Isaac Newton, to try the coinage of four men, who then solicited a patent for coining halfpence for Ireland; their names were Wood, Costor, Eliston, and Parker. Parker made the fairest offer, and Wood the worst; for his coin were three halfpence in a pound weight less value than the other. By which it is plain, with what intentions he solicited his patent; but not so plain how he obtained it.
It is alleged in the said paper called the Report, that upon repeated orders from a secretary of state for sending over such papers and witnesses, as should be thought proper to support the made against the patent by both houses of parliament; the lord lieutenant represented the great difficulty he found himself in, to comply with these orders: that none of the principal members of both houses who were in the king's service, or council, would take upon them to advise, how any material person, or papers, might be sent over on this occasion, etc. And this is often repeated, and represented as a proceeding that seems very extraordinary, and that in a matter which had raised so great a clamour in Ireland, no one person could be prevailed upon to come over from Ireland in support of the united sense of both houses of parliament in Ireland; especially that the chief difficulty should arise from a general apprehension of a miscarriage, in an inquiry before his majesty, or in a proceeding by due course of law, in a case where both houses of parliament had declared themselves so fully convinced, and satisfied upon evidence, and examinations taken in the most solemn manner.
How shall I, a poor ignorant shopkeeper, utterly inskilled in law, be able to answer so weighty an objection? I will try what can be done by plain reason, unassisted by art, cunning, or eloquence.
In my humble opinion, the committee of council has already prejudged the whole case, by calling the united sense of both houses of parliament in Ireland a universal clamour. Here the addresses of the lords and commons of Ireland, against a ruinous, destructive project of an obscure, single undertaker, is called a clamour. I desire to know, how such a style would be resented in England from a committee of council there to a parliament; and how many impeachments would follow upon it? But, supposing the appellation to be proper, I never heard of a wise minister who despised the universal clamour of a people; and if that clamour can be quieted by disappointing the fraudulent practice of a single person, the purchase is not exorbitant.
But in answer to this objection: first it is manifest, that if this coinage had been in Ireland, with such limitations as have been formerly specified in other patents, and granted to persons of this kingdom, or even of England, able to give sufficient security, few or no inconveniencies could have happened. As to Mr. Knox's patent mentioned in the report, security was given into the exchequer, that the patentee should, upon all demands, be obliged to receive his halfpence back, and pay gold or silver in exchange for them. And Mr. Moor (to whom I suppose that patent was made over) was in 1694 forced to leave off coining before the end of that year, by the great crowds of people continually offering to return his coinage upon him. In 1698 he coined again, and was forced to give over for the same reason. This entirely alters the case; for there is no such condition in Wood's patent; which condition was worth a hundred times all other limitations whatsoever.
Put the case, that the two houses of lords and commons of England, and the privy council there, should address his majesty to recall a patent, from whence they apprehended the most ruinous consequences to the whole kingdom; and, to make it stronger if possible, that the whole nation, almost to a man, should thereupon discover the most dismal apprehensions, as Mr. Wood styles them; would his majesty debate half an hour what he had to do? Would any minister dare advise him against recalling such a patent? Or would the matter be referred to the privy council, or to Westminster-hall; the two houses of parliament plaintiffs, and William Wood defendant? And is there even the smallest difference between the two cases?
Were not the people of Ireland born as free as those of England? How have they forfeited their freedom? Is not their parliament as fair a representative of the people as that of England? And has not their privy council as great, or a greater share in the administration of publick affairs? Are not they subjects of the same king? Does not the same sun shine upon them? And have they not the same God for their protector? Am I a freeman in England, and do I become a slave in six hours by crossing the channel? No wonder then, if the boldest persons were cautious to interpose, in a matter already determined by the whole voice of the nation, or to presume to represent the representatives of the kingdom; and were justly apprehensive of meeting such a treatment as they would deserve at the next session. It would seem very extraordinary, if any inferiour court in England, should take a great matter out of the hands of the high court of parliament, during a prorogation, and decide it against the opinion of both houses.
It happens however, that although no persons were so bold as to go over as evidences, to prove the truth of the objections, made against this patent by the high court of parliament here, yet these objections stand good, notwithstanding the answers made by Mr. Wood and his counsel.
The report says, that upon an essay made of the fineness, weight, and value of this copper, it exceeded in every article. This is possible enough in the pieces upon which the essay was made; but Wood must have failed very much in point of dexterity, if he had not taken care to provide a sufficient quantity of such halfpence, as would bear the trial; which he was able to do, although they were taken out of several parcels; since it is now plain, that the bias of favour has been wholly on his side.
But what need is there of disputing, when we have a positive demonstration of Wood's fraudulent practices in this point? I have seen a large quantity of these halfpence weighed by a very skilful person, which were of four different kinds, three of them considerably under weight. I have now before me an exact computation of the difference of weight between these four sorts; by which it appears, that the fourth sort, or the lightest, differs from the first to a degree, that in the coinage of three hundred and sixty tons of copper, the patentee will be a gainer, only by that difference, of twenty-four thousand four hundred and ninety-four pounds; and in the whole, the publick will be a loser of eighty-two thousand one hundred and sixty-eight pounds sixteen shillings, even supposing the metal in point of goodness to answer Wood's contract, and the essay that has been made, which it infallibly does not. For, this point has likewise been inquired into by very experienced men; who, upon several trials on many of these halfpence, have found them to be at least one fourth part below the real value, not including the raps or counterfeits that he, or his accomplices, have already made of his own coin, and scattered about. Now the coinage of three hundred and sixty tons of copper, coined by the weight of the fourth or lightest sort of his halfpence, will amount to one hundred twenty-two thousand four hundred eighty-eight pounds, sixteen shillings; and if we subtract a fourth part of the real value, by the base mixture in the metal, we must add to the publick loss one fourth part to be subtracted from the intrinsick value of the copper; which in three hundred and sixty tons amounts to ten thousand and eighty pounds; and this, added to the former sum of eighty-two thousand one hundred sixty-eight pounds, sixteen shillings, will make in all ninety-two thousand two hundred forty-eight pounds loss to the publick: beside the raps or counterfeits that he may at any time hereafter think fit to coin. Nor do I know whether he reckons the dross exclusive, or inclusive, with his three hundred and sixty tons of copper; which, however, will make a considerable difference in the account.
You will here please to observe, that the profit allowed to Wood by the patent, is twelve pence out of every pound of copper valued at 1s. 6d. whereas 5d. only is allowed for coinage of a pound weight for the English halfpence; and this difference is almost 25 per cent, which is double to the highest exchange of money, even under all the additional pressures and obstructions to trade, that this unhappy kingdom lies at present. This one circumstance, in the coinage of three hundred and sixty tons of copper, makes a difference of twenty-seven thousand seven hundred and twenty pounds, between English and Irish halfpence, even allowing those of Wood to be all of the heaviest sort.
It is likewise to be considered, that for every halfpenny in a pound weight, exceeding the number directed by the patent, Wood will be a gainer in the coinage of three hundred and sixty tons of copper, sixteen hundred and eighty pounds profit more than the patent allows him; out of which he may afford to make his comptrollers easy upon that article.
As to what is alleged, that these halfpence far exceed the like coinage for Ireland in the reigns of his majesty's predecessors; there cannot well be a more exceptionable way of arguing, although the fact were true; which, however, is altogether mistaken; not by any fault in the committee, but by the fraud and imposition of Wood, who certainly produced the worst patterns he could find; such as were coined in small numbers by permissions to private men, as butchers halfpence, black-dogs, and others the like; or perhaps the small St. Patrick's coin, which passes now for a farthing, or at best some of the smallest raps of the latest kind. For I have now by me halfpence coined in the year 1680 by virtue of the patent granted to my lord Dartmouth, which was renewed to Knox, and they are heavier by a ninth part than those of Wood, and of much better metal; and the great St. Patrick's halfpence are yet larger than either.
But what is all this to the present debate? If, under the various exigencies of former times by wars, rebellions, and insurrections, the kings of England were sometimes forced to pay their armies here with mixed or base money; God forbid that the necessities of turbulent times should be a precedent for times of peace, and order, and settlement.
In the patent abovementioned, granted to lord Dartmouth in the reign of king Charles the second, and renewed to Knox, the securities given into the exchequer, obliging the patentee to receive his money back upon every demand, were an effectual remedy against all inconveniencies: and the copper was coined in our kingdom; so that we were in no danger to purchase it with the loss of all our silver and gold carried over to another, nor to be at the trouble of going to England, for the redressing of any abuse.
That the kings of England have exercised their prerogative of coining copper for Ireland, and for England, is not the present question: but, to speak in the style of the report, it would seem a little extraordinary, supposing a king should think fit to exercise his prerogative by coining copper in Ireland, to be current in England, without referring it to his officers in that kingdom, to be informed whether the grant were reasonable, and whether the people desired it or not, and without regard to the addresses of his parliament against it. God forbid that so mean a man as I should meddle with the king's prerogative: but I have heard very wise men say, that the king's prerogative is bounded and limited by the good and welfare of his people. I desire to know, whether it be not understood and avowed, that the good of Ireland was intended by this patent? But Ireland is not consulted at all in the matter; and, as soon as Ireland is informed of it, they declare against it: the two houses of parliament and the privy council address his majesty upon the mischiefs apprehended by such a patent; the privy council in England take the matter out of the parliament's cognizance; the good of the kingdom is dropped; and it is now determined, that Mr. Wood shall have the power of mining a whole nation for his private advantage.
I never can suppose, that such patents as these, were originally granted with a view of being a job for the interest of a particular person, to the damage of the publick. Whatever profit must arise to the patentee, was surely meant at best but as a secondary motive; and since somebody must be a gainer, the choice of the person was made either by favour, or something else, or by the pretence of merit and honesty: this argument returns so often and strongly into my head, that I cannot forbear frequently repeating it. Surely his majesty, when he consented to the passing of this patent, conceived he was doing an act of grace to his most loyal subjects of Ireland, without any regard to Mr. Wood, farther than as an instrument: but the people of Ireland think this patent (intended, no doubt, for their good) to be a most intolerable grievance; and therefore Mr. Wood can never succeed, without an open avowal that his profit is preferred, not only before the interest, but the very safety and being of a great kingdom; and a kingdom distinguished for its loyalty perhaps above all others upon earth; not turned from its duty by the jurisdiction of the house of lords abolished at a stroke, by the hardships of the act of navigation newly enforced, by all possible obstructions in trade, and by a hundred other instances, enough to fill this paper; nor was there ever among us the least attempt toward an insurrection in favour of the pretender. Therefore, whatever justice a free people can claim, we have at least an equal title to it with our brethren in England; and whatever grace a good prince can bestow on the most loyal subjects, we have reason to expect it; neither has this kingdom any way deserved to be sacrificed to one single, rapacious, obscure, ignominious projector.
Among other clauses mentioned in this patent, to show how advantageous it is to Ireland, there is one which seems to be of a singular nature: that the patentee shall be obliged during his term to pay eight hundred pounds a year to the crown, and two hundred pounds a year to the comptroller. I have heard indeed, that the king's council do always consider in the passing of a patent, whether it will be of advantage to the crown; but I have likewise heard, that it is at the same time considered, whether passing of it may be injurious to any other persons, or bodies politick? However, although the attorney and solicitor be servants to the king, and therefore bound to consult his majesty's interest; yet I am under some doubt, whether eight hundred pounds a year to the crown, would be equivalent to the ruin of a kingdom. It would be far better for us to have paid eight thousand pounds a year into his majesty's coffers in the midst of all our taxes, (which in proportion are greater in this kingdom than ever they were in England, even during the war) than purchase such an addition to the revenue at the price of our utter undoing.
But here it is plain, that fourteen thousand pounds are to be paid by Wood, only as a small circumstantial charge for the purchase of his patent: what were his other visible costs I know not, and what were his latent, is variously conjectured; but he must be surely a man of some wonderful merit. Has he saved any other kingdom at his own expense, to give him a title of reimbursing himself by the destruction of ours? Has he discovered the longitude, or the universal medicine? No; but he has found the philosopher's stone after a new manner, by debasing copper, and resolving to force it upon us for gold.
When the two houses represented to his majesty, that this patent to Wood was obtained in a clandestine manner, surely the committee could not think the parliament would insinuate, that it had not passed in the common forms, and run through every office where fees and perquisites were due. They knew very well, that persons in places were no enemies to grants; and that the officers of the crown could not be kept in the dark. But the late lord lieutenant of Ireland affirmed it was a secret to him; and who will doubt his veracity, especially when he swore to a person of quality, from whom I had it, that Ireland should never be troubled with these halfpence? It was a secret to the people of Ireland, who were to be the only sufferers; and those who best know the state of the kingdom, and were most able to advise in such an affair, were wholly strangers to it.
It is allowed by the report, that this patent was passed without the knowledge of the chief governor, or officers of Ireland: and it is there elaborately shown, that former patents have passed in the same manner, and are good in law. I shall not dispute legality of patents, but am ready to suppose it in his majesty's power, to grant a patent for stamping round bits of copper, to every subject he has. Therefore, to lay aside the point of law, I would only put the question, whether in reason and justice it would not have been proper, in an affair upon which the welfare of this kingdom depends, that the said kingdom should have received timely notice; and the matter not be carried on between the patentee, and the officers of the crown, who were to be the only gainers by it.
The parliament, who in matters of this nature are the most able and faithful counsellors, did represent this grant to be destructive of trade, and dangerous to the properties of the people: to which the only answer is, that the king has a prerogative to make such a grant.
It is asserted, that in the patent to Knox, his halfpence are made and declared the current coin of the kingdom; whereas, in this to Wood, there is only a power given to issue them to such as will receive them. The authors of the report, I think, do not affirm, that the king can, by law, declare any thing to be current money by his letters patent. I dare say they will not affirm it; and if Knox's patent contained in it powers contrary to law, why is it mentioned as a precedent in his majesty's just and merciful reign? But, although that clause be not in Wood's patent, yet possibly there are others, the legality whereof may be equally doubted; and particularly that, whereby a power is given to William Wood, to break into houses in search of any coin made in imitation of his. This may perhaps be affirmed to be illegal and dangerous to the liberty of the subject; yet this is a precedent taken from Knox's patent, where the same power is granted, and is a strong instance what uses may be sometimes made of precedents.
But although, before the passing of this patent, it was not thought necessary to consult any persons of this kingdom, or make the least inquiry, whether copper money were wanting among us; yet now at length when the matter is over, when the patent has long passed, when Wood has already coined seventeen thousand pounds, and has his tools and implements prepared to coin six times as much more, the committee has been pleased to make this affair the subject of inquiry; Wood is permitted to produce his evidences, which consist, as I have already observed, of four in number, whereof Coleby, Brown, and Mr. Finley the banker are three. And these were to prove that copper money was extremely wanted in Ireland. The first had been out of the kingdom almost twenty years, from the time that he was tried for robbing the treasury; and therefore his knowledge and credibility are equal. The second may be allowed a more knowing witness, because I think it is not above a year since the house of commons ordered the attorney general to prosecute him, for endeavouring to take away the life of John Bingham esq. member of parliament, by perjury and subornation. He asserted, that he was forced to tally with his labourers for want of small money, which has often been practised in England by sir Ambrose Crawley, and others; but those who knew him better, give a different reason, if there be any truth at all in the fact, that he was forced to tally with his labourers not for want of halfpence, but of more substantial money; which is highly possible, because the race of suborners, forgers, perjurers, and ravishers, are usually people of no fortune, or of those who have run it out by their vices and profuseness. Mr. Finley, the third witness, honestly confessed, that he was ignorant whether Ireland wanted copper or not; but his only intention was to buy a certain quantity from Wood at a large discount, and sell them as well as he could; by which he hoped to get two or three thousand pounds for himself.
But suppose there were not one single halfpenny of copper coin in this whole kingdom, (which Mr. Wood seems to intend, unless we will come to his terms, as appears by employing his emissaries to buy up our old ones at a penny in the shilling more than they pass for) it could not be any real evil to us, although it might be some inconvenience. We have many sorts of small silver coins, to which they are strangers in England; such as the French threepences, fourpence-halfpennies, and eight-pence farthings, the Scotch fivepences and tenpences, beside their twentypences and three-and-four-pences, by which we are able to make change to a halfpenny of almost any piece of gold and silver; and if we are driven to the expedient of a sealed card, with the little gold and silver still remaining, it will, I suppose, be somewhat better, than to have nothing left but Wood's adulterated copper, which he is neither obliged by his patent, nor hitherto able by his estate, to make good.
The report farther tells us, it must be admitted, that letters patents, under the great seal of Great Britain, for coining copper money for Ireland are legal and obligatory, a just and reasonable exercise of his majesty's royal prerogative, and in no manner derogatory, or invasive of any liberty or privilege of his subjects of Ireland. First, we desire to know, why his majesty's prerogative might not have been, as well asserted by passing this patent in Ireland, and subjecting the several conditions of the contract to the inspection of those who are only concerned, as was formerly done in the only precedents for patents granted fof coining in this kingdom, since the mixed money in queen Elizabeth's time, during the difficulties of a rebellion: whereas now, upon the greatest imposition that can possibly be practised, we must go to England with our complaints; where it has been for some time the fashion to think, and to affirm, that we cannot be too hardly used. Again, the report says, that such patents are obligatory. After long thinking, I am not able to find out, what can possibly be meant here by this word obligatory. The patent of Wood neither obliges him to utter his coin, nor us to take it; or if it did the latter, it would be so far void, because no patent can oblige the subject against law; unless an illegal patent passed in one kingdom, can bind another, and not itself.
Lastly, it is added, that such patents are in no manner derogatory, or invasive of any liberty or privilege of the king's subjects of Ireland. If this proposition be true, as it is here laid down, without any limitation either expressed or implied, it must follow, that a king of England may at any time coin copper money for Ireland, and oblige his subjects here to take a piece of copper under the value of half a farthing, for half a crown, as was practised by the late king James; and even without that arbitrary prince's excuse, from the necessity and exigencies of his affairs. If this be in no manner derogatory, nor invasive of any liberties or privileges of the subjects of Ireland, it ought to have been expressed what our liberties and privileges are, and whether we have any at all; for, in specifying the word Ireland, instead of saying his majesty's subjects, it would seem to insinuate, that we are not upon the same foot with our fellow-subjects in England; which, however the practice may have been, I hope will never be directly asserted; for I do not understand that Poining's act deprived us of our liberty, but only changed the manner of passing laws here (which however was a power most indirectly obtained) by leaving the negative to the two houses of parliament. But, waving all controversies relating to the legislature, no person, I believe, was ever yet so bold as to affirm, that the people of Ireland have not the same title to the benefits of the common law, with the rest of his majesty's subjects; and therefore, whatever liberties or privileges the people of England enjoy by common law, we of Ireland have the same; so that, in my humble opinion, the word Ireland standing in that proposition, was, in the mildest interpretation, a lapse of the pen.
The report farther asserts, that the precedents are many, wherein cases of great importance to Ireland, and which immediately affected the interests of that kingdom, such as warrants, orders, and directions by the authority of the king and his predecessors, have been issued under the royal sign manual, without any previous reference or advice of his majesty's officers of Ireland, which have always had their due force, and have been punctually complied with and obeyed. It may be so, and I am heartily sorry for it; because it may prove an eternal source of discontent. However, among all these precedents, there is not one of a patent for coining money for Ireland.
There is nothing has perplexed me more than this doctrine of precedents. If a job is to be done, and upon searching records you find it has been done before, there will not want a lawyer to justify the legality of it by producing his precedents, without ever considering the motives and circumstances that first introduced them; the necessity, or turbulence, or iniquity of times; the corruptions of ministers, or the arbitrary disposition of the prince then reigning. And I have been told by persons eminent in the law, that the worst actions which human nature is capable of, may be justified by the same doctrine. How the first precedents began of determining cases of the highest importance to Ireland, and immediately affecting its interests, without any previous reference or advice to the king's officers here, may soon be accounted for. Before this kingdom was entirely reduced, by the submission of Tyrone in the last year of queen Elizabeth's reign, there was a period of four hundred years, which was a various scene of war and peace between the English pale, and the Irish natives; and the government of that part of this island, which lay in the English hands, was, in many things, under the immediate administration of the king: silver and copper were often coined here among us; and once at last upon great necessity, a mixed or base metal was sent from England. The reign of king James I was employed in settling the kingdom after Tyrone's rebellion; and this nation flourished extremely till the time of the massacre, 1641. In that difficult juncture of affairs, the nobility and gentry coined their own plate here in Dublin.
By all that I can discover, the copper coin of Ireland, for three hundred years past, consisted of small pence and halfpence; which particular men had license to coin, and were current only within certain towns and districts, according to the personal credit of the owner, who uttered them, and was bound to receive them again, whereof I have seen many sorts; neither have I heard, of any patent granted for coining copper for Ireland, till the reign of king Charles the second, which was in the year 1680, to George Leg, lord Dartmouth; and renewed by king James the second, in the first year of his reign (1685) to John Knox. Both patents were passed in Ireland; and in both, the patentees were bound to receive their coin again, from any that would ofter them twenty shillings of it, for which they were obliged to pay gold or silver.
The patents both of lord Dartmouth and Knox, were referred to the attorney-general here, and a report made accordingly; and both, as I have already said, were passed in this kingdom. Knox had only a patent for the remainder of the term granted to lord Dartmouth; the patent expired in 1701, and upon a petition by Roger Moor to have it renewed, the matter was referred hither; and upon the report of the attorney and solicitor, that it was nor for his majesty's service, or interest of the nation, to have it renewed, it was rejected by king William. It should therefore seem very extraordinary, that a patent for coining copper halfpence, intended and professed for the good of the kingdom, should be passed, without once consulting that kingdom, for the good of which it is declared to be intended; and this, upon the application of a poor, private, obscure mechanick; and a patent of such a nature, that as soon as ever the kingdom is informed of its being passed, they cry out unanimously against it, as ruinous and destructive. The representatives of the nation in parliament, and the privy council, address the king to have it recalled; yet the patentee, such a one as I have described, shall prevail to have this patent approved; and his private interest shall weigh down the application of a whole kingdom. St. Paul says, All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. We are answered, that this patent is lawful: but is it expedient? We read that the high priest said, It was expedient that one man should die for the people; and this was a most wicked proposition: but that a whole nation should die for one man, was never heard of before.
But, because much weight is laid on the precedents of other patents for coining copper for Ireland, I will set this matter in as clear a light as I can. Whoever has read the report, will be apt to think, that a dozen precedents at least could be produced of copper coined for Ireland, by virtue of patents passed in England, and that the coinage was there too; whereas I am confident, there cannot be one precedent shown of a patent passed in England for coining copper for Ireland, for above a hundred years past; and if there were any before, it must be in times of confusion. The only patents I could ever hear of, are those already mentioned to lord Dartmouth and Knox; the former in 1680, and the latter in 1685. Now let us compare these patents with that granted to Wood. First, the patent to Knox, which was under the same conditions as that granted to lord Dartmouth, was passed in Ireland; the government, and the attorney and solicitor general, making report that it would be useful to this kingdom.
The patent was passed with the advice of the king's council here; the patentee was obliged to receive his coin from those who thought themselves surcharged, and to give gold and silver for it. Lastly, the patentee was to pay only 16l. 13s. 4d. per annum to the crown. Then, as to the execution of that patent; first, I find the halfpence were milled, which, as it is of great use to prevent counterfeits, (and therefore industriously avoided by Wood) so it was an addition to the charge of coinage. And as for the weight and goodness of the metal, I have several halfpence now by me, many of which weigh a ninth part more than those coined by Wood, and bear the fire and hammer a great deal better, and, which is no trifle, the impression is fairer and deeper. I grant indeed that many of the latter coinage, yield in weight to some of Wood's, by a fraud natural to such patentees; but not so immediately after the grant, and before the coin grew current: for this circumstance Mr. Wood must serve for a precedent in future times.
Let us now examine this new patent granted to William Wood. It passed upon very small suggestions of his own, and of a few confederates: it passed in England without the least reference hither; it passed unknown to the very lord lieutenant, then in England. Wood is empowered to coin one hundred and eight thousand pounds, and all the officers in the kingdom (civil and military) are commanded in the report to countenance and assist him. Knox had only power to utter what we would take, and was obliged to receive his coin back again at our demand, and to enter into security for so doing. Wood's halfpence are not milled, and therefore more easily counterfeited by himself, as well as by others. Wood pays a thousand pounds per annum for fourteen years; Knox paid only sixteen pounds thirteen shillings and four pence per annum for twenty-one years.
It was the report, that set me the example of making a comparison between those two patents, wherein the committee was grossly misled by the false representation of William Wood; as it was, by another assertion, that seven hundred tons of copper were coined during the twenty-one years of lord Dartmouth's and Knox's patents. Such a quantity of copper, at the rate of two shillings and eight pence per pound, would amount to about a hundred and ninety thousand pounds; which was very near as much as the current cash of the kingdom in those days; yet during that period, Ireland was never known to have too much copper coin; and for several years there was no coining at all: besides, I am assured, that upon inquiring into the customhouse books, all the copper imported into this kingdom from 1683 to 1692, which includes eight years of the twenty-one (beside one year allowed for the troubles) did not exceed forty-seven tons. And we cannot suppose even that small quantity to have been wholly applied to coinage: so that I believe there was never any comparison more unluckily made, or so destructive of the design for which it was produced.
The psalmist reckons it an effect of God's anger, when he selleth his people for nought, and taketh no money for them. That we have greatly offended God by the wickedness of our lives, is not to be disputed: but our king we have not offended in word or deed; and although he be God's vicegerent upon earth, he will not punish us for any offences, except those we shall commit against his legal authority, his sacred person (which God preserve) or the laws of the land.
The report is very profuse in arguments, that Ireland is in great want of copper money: who were the witnesses to prove it, has been shown already: but, in the name of God, who are to be judges? Does not the nation best know its own wants? Both houses of parliament, the privy council, and the whole body of the people, declare the contrary. Or, let the wants be what they will, we desire they may not be supplied by Mr. Wood: we know our own wants but too well; they are many, and grievous to be born, but quite of another kind. Let England be satisfied: as things go, they will in a short time have all our gold and silver, and may keep their adulterate copper at home, for we are determined not to purchase it with our manufactures, which Wood has graciously offered to accept. Our wants are not so bad by a hundredth part, as the method he has taken to supply them. He has already tried his faculty in New-England; and I hope he will meet at least with an equal reception here; what that was, I leave to publick intelligence. I am supposing a wild case; that if there should be any persons already receiving a monstrous pension out of this kingdom, who were instrumental in procuring the patent, they have not either well consulted their own interests, or Wood must put more dross into his copper, and still diminish its weight.
Upon Wood's complaint, that the officers of the king's revenue here, had already given orders to all the inferiour officers not to receive any of his coin; the report says that this cannot but be looked upon as a very extraordinary proceeding, and contrary to the powers given in the patent. The committee say, they cannot advise his majesty tg give directions to the officers of the revenue here, not to receive or utter any of the said coin, as has been desired in the addresses of both houses; but, on the contrary, they think it both just and reasonable, that the king should immediately give orders to the commissioners of the revenue, etc. to revoke all orders, etc. that may have been given by them, to hinder or obstruct the receiving of the said coin. And accordingly, we are told, such orders are arrived. Now this was a cast of Wood's politicks; for his information was wholly false and groundless, which he knew very well; and that the commissioners of the revenue here were all, except one, sent us from England, and love their employments too well to have taken such a step: but Wood was wise enough to consider, that such orders of revocation would be an open declaration of the crown in his favour, would put the government here under a difficulty, would make a noise, and possibly create some terrour in the poor people of Ireland. And one great point he has gained, that although any orders of revocation will be needless, yet a new order is to be sent (and perhaps is already here) to the commissioners of the revenue, and all the king's officers in Ireland, that Wood's halfpence be suffered and permitted, without any let, suit, trouble, molestation, or denial of any of the king's officers or ministers whatsoever, to pass, and be received as current money by such as shall be willing to receive them. In this order there is no exception; and therefore, as far as I can judge, it includes all officers, both civil and military, from the lord high chancellor to a justice of peace, and from the general to an ensign; so that Wood's project is not likely to fail for want of managers enough. For my own part, as things stand, I have but little regret to find myself out of the number; and therefore I shall continue in all humility to exhort and warn my fellow-subjects, never to receive or utter this coin, which will reduce the kingdom to beggary, by much quicker and larger steps, than have hitherto been taken.
But it is needless to argue any longer. The matter is come to an issue. His majesty, pursuant to the law, has left the field open between Wood and the kingdom of Ireland. Wood has liberty to offer his coin, and we have law, reason, liberty, and necessity to refuse it. A knavish jockey may ride an old foundered jade about the market, but none are obliged to buy it. I hope the words voluntary, and willing to receive it, will be understood and applied in their true natural meaning, as commonly understood by protestants. For, if a fierce captain comes to my shop to buy six yards of scarlet cloth, followed by a porter laden with a sack of Wood's coin upon his shoulders; if we are agreed about the price, and my scarlet lies ready cut upon the compter; if he then gives me the word of command to receive my money in Wood's coin, and calls me a disaffected, jacobite dog, for refusing it (although I am as loyal a subject as himself, and without hire) and thereupon seizes my cloth, leaving me the price in this odious copper, and bids me take my remedy: in this case I shall hardly be brought to think, that I am left to my own will. I shall therefore on such occasions first order the porter aforesaid to go off with his pack; and then see the money in silver and gold in my possession, before I cut or measure my cloth. But, if a common soldier drinks his pot first, and then offers payment in Wood's halfpence, the landlady may be under some difficulty; for, if she complains to his captain or ensign, they are likewise officers included in this general order for encouraging these halfpence to pass as current money. If she goes to a justice of peace, he is also an officer, to whom this general order is directed. I do therefore advise her to follow my practice, which I have already begun, and be paid for her goods before she parts with them. However, I should have been content, for some reasons, that the military gentlemen had been excepted by name; because I have heard it said, that their discipline is best confined within their own district.
His majesty, in the conclusion of his answer to the address of the house of lords against Wood's coin, is pleased to say, that he will do every thing in his power to the satisfaction of his people. It should seem, therefore, that the recalling of the patent is not to be understood as a thing in his power. But however, since the law does not oblige us to receive this coin, and consequently the patent leaves it to our voluntary choice, there is nothing remaining to preserve us from ruin, but that the whole kingdom should continue in a firm, determinate resolution, never to receive or utter this fatal coin. After which, let the officers, to whom these orders are directed (I would willingly except the military) come with their exhortations, their arguments, and their eloquence, to persuade us to find our interest in our undoing. Let Wood and his accomplices travel about the country with cartloads of their ware, and see who will take it off their hands; there will be no fear of his being robbed, for a highwayman would scorn to touch it.
I am only in pain how the commissioners of the revenue will proceed in this juncture; because, I am told, they are obliged by an act of parliament to take nothing but gold and silver in payment for his majesty's customs: and I think they cannot justly offer this coinage of Mr. Wood to others, unless they will be content to receive it themselves.
The sum of the whole is this: the committee advises the king to send immediate orders to all his officers here, that Wood's coin be suffered and permitted without any let, suit, trouble, etc. to pass, and be received as current money by such as shall be willing to receive the same. It is probable, that the first willing receivers may be those, who must receive it whether they will or not, at least under the penalty of losing an office. But the landed undepending men, the merchants, the shopkeepers, and bulk of the people, I hope, and am almost confident, will never receive it. What must the consequence be? The owners will sell it for as much as they can get. Wood's halfpence will come to be offered for six a penny (yet then he will be a sufficient gainer) and the necessary receivers will be losers of two thirds in their salaries or pay.
This puts me in mind of a passage I was told many years ago in England. At a quarter-session in Leicester, the justices had wisely decreed to take off a halfpenny in a quart from the price of ale. One of them, who came in after the thing was determined, being informed of what had passed, said thus: Gentlemen, you have made an order, that ale should be sold in our County for three halfpence a quart; I desire you will now make another, to appoint who must drink it; for by G—— I will not.
I must beg leave to caution your lordships and worships in one particular. Wood has graciously promised to load us at present only with forty thousand pounds of his coin, till the exigencies of the kingdom require the rest. I entreat you will never suffer Mr. Wood to be a judge of your exigencies. While there is one piece of silver or gold left in the kingdom, he will call it an exigency. He will double his present quantum by stealth as soon as he can; he will pour his own raps and counterfeits upon us; France and Holland will do the same; nor will our own coiners at home be behind them: to confirm which, I have now in my pocket a rap, or counterfeit halfpenny, in imitation of his; but so ill performed, that in my conscience I believe it is not of his coining.
I must now desire your lordships and worships, that you will give great allowance for this long, undigested paper. I find myself to have gone into several repetitions, which were the effects of haste, while new thoughts fell in to add something to what I had said before. I think I may affirm, that I have fully answered every paragraph in the report; which although it be not unartfully drawn, and is perfectly in the spirit of a pleader, who can find the most plausible topicks in behalf of his client, yet there was no great skill required, to detect the many mistakes contained in it; which, however, are by no means to be charged upon the right honourable committee, but upon the most false, impudent, and fraudulent representations of Wood and his accomplices. I desire one particular may dwell upon your minds, although I have mentioned it more than once; that after all the weight laid upon precedents, there is not one produced in the whole, report of a patent for coining copper in England to pass in Ireland; and only two patents referred to (for indeed there were no more) which were both passed in Ireland, by references to the king's council here, both less advantageous to the coiner than this of Wood; and in both, securities given to receive the coin at every call, and give gold and silver in lieu of it. This demonstrates the most flagrant falsehood and impudence of Wood, by which he would endeavour to make the right honourable committee, his instruments (for his own illegal and exorbitant gain) to ruin a kingdom, which has deserved quite different treatment.
I am very sensible, that such a work as I have undertaken, might have worthily employed a much better pen: but when a house is attempted to be robbed, it often happens the weakest in the family, runs first to stop the door. All the assistance I had, were some informations from an eminent person; whereof I am afraid I have spoiled a few, by endeavouring to make them of a piece with my own productions, and the rest I was not able to manage: I was in the case of David, who could not move in the armour of Saul; and therefore I rather chose to attack this uncircumcised Philistine (Wood I mean) with a sling and a stone. And I may say for Wood's honour as well as my own, that he resembles Goliah in many circumstances, very applicable to the present purpose: for, Goliah had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass, and he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. In short, he was like Mr. Wood, all over brass, and he defied the armies of the living God. Goliah's conditions of combat were likewise the same with those of Wood: if he prevail against us, then shall we be his servants. But if it happens that I prevail over him, I renounce the other part of the condition; he shall never be a servant of mine; for I do not think him fit to be trusted in any honest man's shop.
I will conclude with my humble desire and request, which I made in my second letter, that your lordships and worships, would please to order a declaration to be drawn up, expressing in the strongest terms your resolutions never to receive or utter any of Wood's halfpence, or farthings; and forbidding your tenants to receive them: that the said declaration may be signed by as many persons as possible, who have estates in this kingdom, and be sent down to your several tenants aforesaid.
And if the dread of Wood's halfpence should continue until next quarter-sessions, which I hope it will not, the gentlemen of every county will then have a fair opportunity of declaring against them with unanimity and zeal.
I am, with the greatest respect,
(May it please your lordships and worships)
your most dutiful and
August 25, 1724.
- Duke of Grafton.
- It should be — who 'alone' are concerned, both to avoid the equivoque, and the repetition of the same word — 'only' — in the next line.
- This sentence is altogether ungrammatical: 'which' here is a nominative without any verb to which it refers. It ought to have been 'in' which, (although it be not, &c.) there was no great skill required to detect the many mistakes contained.
- A declaration pursuant to this request was signed soon after by the most considerable persons of the kingdom, which was universally spread, and of great use.