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Bates, John

BATES, JOHN. A famous case in English constitutional history, tried before the court of exchequer in November 1606, arose out of the refusal of a merchant of the Levant Company, John Bates, to pay an extra duty of 5s. per cwt. on imported currants levied by the sole authority of the crown in addition to the 2s. 6d. granted by the Statute of Tonnage and Poundage, on the ground that such an imposition was illegal without the sanction of parliament. The unanimous decision of the four barons of the exchequer in favour of the crown threatened to establish a precedent which, in view of the rapidly increasing foreign trade, would have made the king independent of parliament. The judgments of Chief Baron Fleming and Baron Clark are preserved. The first declares that "the king's power is double, ordinary and absolute, and they have several laws and ends. That of the ordinary is for the profit of particular subjects, for the execution of civil justice ... in the ordinary courts, and by the civilians is nominated jus privatum, and with us common law; and these laws cannot be changed without parliament.... The absolute power of the king is not that which is converted or executed to private uses to the benefit of particular persons, but is only that which is applied to the general benefit of the people and is salus populi; and this power is not guided by the rules which direct only at the common law, and is most properly named policy or government; and as the constitution of this body varieth with the time, so varieth this absolute law, according to the wisdom of the king, for the common good; and these being general rules, and true as they are, all things done within these rules are lawful. The matter in question is material matter of state, and ought to be ruled by the rules of policy, and if it be so, the king hath done well to execute his extraordinary power. All customs (i.e. duties levied at the ports), be they old or new, are no other but the effects and issues of trades and commerce with foreign nations; but all commerce and affairs with foreigners, all wars and peace, all acceptance and admitting for foreign current coin, all parties and treaties whatsoever are made by the absolute power of the king; and he who hath power of causes hath power also of effects." Baron Clark, in his judgment, concurred, declaring that the seaports were the king's ports, and that, since foreign merchants were admitted to them only by leave of the crown, the crown possessed also the right of fixing the conditions under which they should be admitted, including the imposition of a money payment. Incidentally, Baron Clark, in reply to the argument that the king's right to levy impositions was limited by the statute of 1370-1371, advanced a principle still more dangerous to constitutional liberty. "The statute of the 45 Edward III. cap. 4," he said, "which hath been so much urged, that no new imposition shall be imposed upon wool-fells, wool or leather, but only the custom and subsidy granted to the king - this extends only to the king himself and shall not bind his successors, for it is a principal part of the crown of England, which the king cannot diminish."

See State Trials (ed. 1779), xi. pp. 30-32; excerpts in G.W. Prothero, Statutes and Constitutional Documents (Clarendon Press, 1894); G.B. Adams and H. Morse Stephens, Select Documents of Eng. Const. Hist. (New York, 1901); cf. T.P. Taswell-Langmead, Eng. Const. Hist. (London, 1905), p. 393.

(W. A. P.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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