London: J. Debrett, 1796. First Edition. 8vo. , 839 pp. Bound in contemporary quarter calf over marbled boards (leather very dry, front cover nearly detached but cords holding). Bookplate of the Fraser Institute, which sold more than 5000 books to Livresse (Gatineau, Quebec), from whom we purchased the present volume. Whereas the binding is worn, it is unsophisticated, and the text is generally without blemish. Item #3035
A fascinating moment in the history of Animal Welfare, which provoked a debate about the "worth" of dogs; the "meaning" of the relationship between dogs and humans; and whether or not owning a dog was a luxury of the rich or the right of all.
This volume contains the original Parliamentary Debates for and against Britain's famous DOG TAX of 1796. While professing to control the dog population (and thereby reduce rabies, dog fighting, hunger of the constituents, and "damage" to livestock), the Bill was also designed to regulate owners of dogs, specifically the rural poor. The legislation divided Parliament over a period of forty years (!) "The crux of the disquiet lay in the very English relationship between man and dog. It raised a serious debate about whether having a dog was a luxury or a natural part of being human. The tax tapped into questions about the emotional bond between the two. By putting a tax on dogs it implied a shift in relationship from one of nurturing and caring, to servility and subordination – and dog owners were enraged. To many this was tantamount to taxing spouses and children, and people weren’t happy. This wasn’t about the financial aspect of the tax, but the moral implication and feelings ran high." (Grace Elliot, "A Tax on Dogs," English History Authors online).
These Debates illustrate "the rhetorical erosion of seemingly categorical distinctions between human and animal, animate and inanimate, person and thing. [...] The passage of this seemingly slight piece of legislation created impassioned debates about the nature and welfare of animals, about the rights of individuals to possess or keep property, and about the way the kinship felt for animals tampers with the seemingly self-evident borders of kind. At a moment in which sentimental humanitarian concern with the rights and interests of animals had reached new heights, the taxation of dogs seemed to reclassify the animal as a thing and to draw into question the relation between humans and their ostensible best friends. Although proponents of the bill endeavor to proceed as if dogs can be considered on the same terms as other kinds of taxable luxuries (devouring resources that might better be devoted to humans), opponents of the tax focus on the bonds of mutual dependency and reciprocal obligation that tie humans and animals together, arguing that the right to keep a beloved entity such as a dog expresses a distinctively human need to keep something beyond mere, bare, necessity. Inasmuch as humanity is expressed and inheres in the relation people take to other creatures, the seeming superfluity of the dog embodies the essence of what allows, or enables, people to act as humans." (Source: Lynn Festa, "Person, Animal, Thing: The 1796 Dog Tax and the Right to Superfluous Things" in: Eighteenth-Century Life, Volume 33, Number 2, Spring 2009, pp. 1-44).
Animal control laws were one of many legal measures to circumscribe the lives of the British poor and protect the privilege of the rich. The dog licensing act was intended to control unregulated dogs that roamed the city streets. But since the dog owner (not the dog) was required to carry the license, dog licenses ultimately regulated owners. Rural dog gatherings were associated with unruly working-class gatherings which included animal fights and bear and bull baiting. But there was no consensus in Parliament about the distinction in the age between a taxable dog and an untaxable puppy. Problems with the proposed legislation were abundant; for instance: who would undertake a census of all the new litters in the United Kingdom -- and how often would this occur?
SELECTIONS FROM THE TEXT:
Page 364: John Dent, MP for Lancaster, introduces a Bill in to impose a tax on dogs, in order to "promote the relief and benefit of the poor [and] lessen the Poor Rates, render provisions more cheap and plentiful, diminish the instances of hydrophobia [rabies], and at the same time open a very considerable source of revenue to the public. The diminution of the consumption of flour, oatmeal, and those broken victuals which come from the tables of the affluent, and which, at present, are consumed by dogs, in great quantities, might contribute greatly in the present period of scarcity, to alleviate the distresses of the poor." Mr. Dent states that the Dog Tax would lessen the number of dogs in England from ten million to one. He references the fact that a decrease in the dogs population would lessen the number of cattle and sheep that are destroyed by dogs, while freeing up edible provisions.
To this Chancellor Penn countered that Parliament should "feel for the owners of some dogs, particularly poor persons. It was clear that the poor should not keep a great number of dogs; but he thought there were many indigent persons to whom dogs were useful, and to whose children and family they might afford some rational amusement."
Page 456: Mr. Gray states that "One clause [of the Bill] in particular is ludicrous in the extreme; I mean that which exempts any person from punishment who may be found killing or converting to his own use dogs who have not paid the tax."
Days later Mr. Sheridan argued that "So far the bill was repugnant to the principles of humanity; for it was nothing less than a death-warrant against that valuable race of animals. Besides, he wanted to know what principle the bill proceeded upon, that the same privilege should not be also allowed with respect to horses, since there was a certain species of dogs, such as pointers, setters, & c. that were scarcely less valuable." The Secretary of War argues very persuasively that sporting dogs were owned by the rich, who were able to pay the tax, but not the poor, for whom "the affection for a dog was so natural, that in poetry and painting it had been constantly recorded, and in any sort of domestic representation, we scarcely see a picture without a memorial of this attachment. If the rich man feels a partiality for a dog, what must a poor man do, who has so few amusements? -- A dog is the companion of his laborious hours, and when he is bereft of his wife and children, fills up the drear vacuity. [...] Would the House then sacrifice that honest, virtuous satisfaction? [...] It would be cruel and impolitic to pass such a law; for it is the sort of law, from which every man would revolt. The dog is a companion to the solitary man, and to the man of family a playfellow for his children; and these considerations induced him to wish that satisfaction to be preserved to the poor." Mr. Penton objected to the general principle of the Bill: "The most beggarly nation would not adopt a measure calculate to exterminate the whole of the canine species." (pages 506-519; see also pp. 530 et seq.)
Pages 702-703: "Mr. Lechmere wished that it could be possible to tax lapdogs -- a pampered useless race." On p. 839 the Act was passed (April 28, 1796).
Ingrid H. Tague explains: "A tax on dogs was passed in 1796 because it seemed to address both the government's need for revenue and other serious social and economic problems. Arguments for and against a dog tax throughout the eighteenth century engaged with issues not raised in discussions of other kinds of taxes because of the unique place of dogs in human society; positions on the question of a dog tax depended largely on assumptions about the purpose that dogs served, or ought to serve. Proponents often argued that a dog tax would decrease the population of nuisance dogs, whilst also preventing poaching. Other tax advocates presented a dog tax as a luxury tax, but there was no agreement about which kinds of dogs were luxuries, and which were necessities that should be exempt from the tax. By the time a bill was debated in parliament in 1796, the terms of the debate had shifted because of new attitudes toward animals. The tax that was ultimately passed largely ignored the interests of the primary advocates of a tax throughout the century, instead treating the pets of the poor as necessities that merited exemption." (Source: "Eighteenth-Century English Debates on a Dog Tax" in: The Historical Journal, Vol. 51, No. 4 [Dec., 2008], pp. 901-920).
The convoluted language of the Act that was ultimately passed (and which is not included in these Debates) reads: “That from and after the 5th day of July 1796, every person who shall keep any Greyhound, Hound, Pointer, Setting Dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier or who shall keep two or more dogs, of whatever description or denomination shall be charged and assessed annually with the sum of five shillings for each Greyhound, Pointer, Setting dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier; and also, for each dog, where two or more dogs shall be kept, and every person who shall inhabit any dwelling house, assessed toto any of the duties on inhabited houses, or on windows or lights, and shall keep one dog and no more, such dog not being a Greyhound, Pointer, Setting dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier, shall be charged and assessed annually, with the sum of three shillings for such dog. There are clauses which provide, that the duty shall not extend to dogs not six months old, and that gentlemen keeping hounds may compound for any number, on paying this year fifteen pounds, and every subsequent one, twenty pounds; as it is understood only three-fourths of the tax are to be collected this year.”
Ours is the only copy of the 1796 Parliamentary Debates currently on the market.