Tuesday, December 13, 2011

License to Travel in Elizabethan England

In my Elizabethan mystery novel, Final Act, all the action takes place in London, but in the sequel (in production), Connolly Flynn must do a little traveling. Interesting to note that in Elizabethan England you couldn't just buy a ticket on the next carriage heading north, or rent a horse and wagon to take you to the seashore without permission, without a license in fact, obtained from the Bailiff at Guild Hall. Caught out of town without a license, you would be considered a vagrant, with unhappy results. One reason for restricting travel was to help prevent the spread of plagues and such. Also, the authorities didn't want the poor to be wandering around, going from town to town seeking handouts.

Perhaps we, in the U.S. in the 21st century ought to think about reinstating this sort of practice. It would be a great way to raise funds, if you charged for the license, without having to soak the rich. Plus, it would probably cut down on traffic on interstate highways, and lessen crowds at airports, both good things. We need forward thinking in solving our financial problems. What do you think?

I'm just asking.

1 comment:

Pelican said...

Travel is already taxed; licensing fees, gas taxes, airline ticket taxes - but that's a far cry from actually having to get permission to travel, or to justify your desire to travel to some sort of licensing board. It would be unconstitutional in several different ways. For instance, the Constitution says we have the right to assemble - will it bear the requirement that we get a license in order to get to an assembly? No.

Secondly, enforcement would be a huge problem. Universal enforcement would require the creation of an enormous bureaucratic agency with truly unacceptable powers of surveillance, stop and seizure. (Would the licensing fees offset the creation of such an agency? I think not.)

Most likely enforcement would not be universal - as in Elizabethan England, it would be enforced on undesireables: in the case of the U.S., ethnic and racial minorities, the homeless. (Would the licensing fees offset the creation of somewhere for the homeless to go, other than our suddenly-illegal-for-them highways? Hardly.)

Do you think the travel enforcers wouldn't take bribes? Do you think a black market in illegal travel licenses wouldn't immediately spring up? I would buy one.

Finally, I don't like to unironically use phrases like "the thing that makes our nation great," but the fact is that Americans are not going to give up their freedom to travel. We love that freedom. Our greatest works of literature (Steinbeck-Twain-Kerouac) celebrate that freedom. The Civil Rights Movement started on the bus. We've already demonstrated our willingness to pay for that freedom, with taxes; we're not about to let some government agency curtail it.

In short: it's a rotten idea, Uncle Don. There's a good reason we left such things behind in Elizabethan England.