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Proposals for organizing a Bank of London to provide security of deposit and credit on reasonable terms were in the air throughout the closing decades of the seventeenth century. Sir William Temple told his countrymen that the province of Holland had borrowed the equivalent of 5 million at 4%, that interest in Holland was always paid on the day due, and that when any of the principal of the province s debt was paid off, the public creditor received his money with tears, well knowing he could find no other investment equally secure. (349) Some Dutch interest rates were down to 3%, while at the same time the English Crown was paying 6 30% for short-term loans. A political environment favorable to the creation of an English national debt and a state-sponsored bank was provided by the revolution of 1688. This was not just because a Dutch prince became King William III of England, but primarily because this king was a strictly constitutional monarch with no pretensions to absolute personal power. Thus the government might now aspire to borrow in the name of the English people. It would be more accurate to say that William borrowed in the name of himself and of the great Whig mercantile interests which backed him and dominated the Parliament. Nevertheless, a union of king and country was developing. By the 1720 s the English national credit could be effectively pledged behind the loans of the government in the manner of the medieval Italian republics, the provinces of seventeenth-century Holland, and modern democracies. William III immediately engaged England in a costly war with Louis XIV of France. At first William borrowed from city goldsmiths and merchants in the old way and paid high rates, sometimes up to 30%. But the time was ripe for financial reform. The need of the government for longterm loans on reasonable terms was matched by the need of Englishmen to find suitable safe investments for their rapidly accumulating investable funds. In the absence of convenient credit instruments, metal was still hoarded, the price of land pushed up, and there was a rash of speculation in new commercial ventures. The word stock-jobber was coined for what is now called a promoter. The spirit of the cogging dices of Whitefriars took possession of the grave Senators of the City. (350) The first attempts of William s Whig government to create a funded debt were experimental and costly. They were born of the government s desperate need for cash to carry on the war with France. In 1692 the Parliament provided new duties on beer and other liquors to be set aside as security for a long-term loan of 1 million in the form of life annuities which would pay 10% until 1700 and thereafter 7% plus tontine benefits to long survivors. (351) The creditors risk seemed considerable because William s regime was contested; if the Stuart Kings returned, they would repudiate the debts of William s government. In 1693 another long-term loan of 1 million was floated, secured by a duty on salt, at 10% interest for 16 years plus lottery benefits, which brought the cost of the loan up
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to 14%. (352) This type of finance was costly and unsatisfactory. The provinces of Holland were borrowing at 3 4%, and did not have to pledge specific revenues. In 1694 another large war loan was required by the government. This time a momentous expedient was devised. As is usual with such innovations, doubts, fears, and prejudices were resolved by the acute national need and the uninviting character of the alternatives. The Parliament passed an ambiguously worded bill to impose a new duty on tonnage for the benefit of such persons as should advance money toward carrying on the war. The plan was to borrow 1,200,000 at what was then considered the moderate rate of 8%, secured by these duties; as an added inducement, the subscribers to the loan were to be given the privilege of pooling their funds and of incorporating themselves under the name of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England. (353) In return for lending its entire capital of 1.2 million to the government, this bank would receive from the government a perpetual annuity of 100,000, or 8% interest plus 4000 a year for management, all tax-exempt. It would have the right (but not as a monopoly) to trade in bullion and bills of exchange and implicitly the right to carry on a banking business and, therefore, to issue bank notes up to an amount equal to its capital funds. (354) The bank was at first forbidden to loan otherwise to the Crown or to trade in commodities. Its privileges would cease when the principal of the loan was repaid, but not before 1706. The loan, however, never was repaid, and the bank survives. No one was permitted to subscribe to more than 20,000 of the bank s stock. A quarter of the subscriptions was to be paid in prompt cash. The bank s liabilities were not to exceed its capital. (355) Dividends were to be paid only out of profits. The books were opened for stock subscription on June 21, 1694, and the promoters were allowed six months to find the funds. The entire amount was subscribed in twelve days. The bank commenced its operations on January 1, 1695, in the house of the Company of Grocers, with a staff of fifty-four people. These were boom days for stock subscriptions of all sorts. The government had found a way to enlist in its support the general desire for capital gains. It repeatedly appealed to speculative hopes in its subsequent financing by selling long-term debt with lottery privileges. The tonnage bank, as the Bank of England was called from the nature of the tax that secured its revenue, was a political institution from the start. The Whig ministry, which supported the Protestant succession against the French-sponsored Stuarts, had devised a valuable ally. As it was supposed that the Stuarts would not recognize the debt to the bank, the bank could be relied upon to support the Whig government in its wars with France. This it did, but not without protracted bargaining between the cabinet and the bank. Dutch finance, as the political enemies of the ministry called this new bank and its emissions, was distrusted by the Tories because it facilitated a large government debt, stimulated
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