Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 15
Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot

by Pierre-Louis-Théophile-Georges Goyau


Baron de L'Aulne, French minister, born at Parish, 10 May, 1727; died there, 20 March, 1781. In his youth he was destined for the Church; he composed a treatise on the existence of God, of which fragments remain, and one on the love of God, which is lost. The year 1750, during which he was prior of the Sorbonne, marks the transition between the two periods of his life: on the one hand, he delivered a discourse on the advantages accruing to the human race from the Christian religion, which showed him as still an ecclesiastic; on the other, he delivered a discourse on the successive progress of the human mind, in which the true and false ideas of the philosophers were mingled confusedly. In this discourse he foretold the separation from England of the North American colonies. Early in 1751 the influence of "philosophy" prevailed over Turgot's mind and he decided not to receive Holy orders. In 1752 he entered the magistracy, was master of rêquetes in 1753, spending his leisure time in the acquirement of further knowledge, and in 1761 became intendant at Limoges. In the Limousin government Turgot inaugurated certain attempts in conformity with the new ideas of the economists and philosophers: free trade in corn and the suppression of the taxes known as corvées.

When, after a short term in the ministry of marine, he was appointed by Louis XVI (24 Aug., 1774) controller-general of finances, he profited by the office which he held for twenty months to apply in his general policy the principles of economic Liberalism. This caused popular discontent, due especially to the rise in the price of corn, but Turgot flattered himself that he could quell all opposition. The edict, by which he substituted for the corvée a territorial tax bearing on landed property, displeased the privileged classes; that by which he suppressed the maîtrises and jurandes, an act which the philosophers regarded as an advance, destroyed the professional organization which in the Middle Ages, under the auspices of the Church, regulated economic activity and which at present the syndicalist movement in all countries is endeavouring to re-establish. By depriving the Hôtel Dieu of Paris of its privilege of selling meat on Friday to the exclusion of the butchers, by dispensing the owners of public vehicles from the obligation they were under of allowing their drivers time on Sunday to hear Mass, and by attempting to change the coronation oath which he found too favourable to the Catholics, Turgot displeased the clergy who accused him of indifference for the disciplinary precepts of the Church. He was disgraced by Louis XVI, 12 May, 1776. In his retirement he wrote for Price, "Réflexions sur la situation des Américains des Etats Unis", and for Franklin a treatise, "Des vrais principes de l'imposition". His works were edited by Dussard and Daire (2 vols., Paris, 1844).

DUPONT DE NEMOURS, Memoires sur la vie et les ouvrages de Turgot (2 vols., Paris, 1782); FONCIN, Essai sur le ministere de Turgot (Paris, 1877); SAY, Turgot (Paris, 1877; tr., London, 1888); SHEPHERD, Turgot and the Six Edicts (New York, 1903); DE SEGUR, Au couchant de la monarchie. Louis X VI et Turgot (Paris, 1910); STEPHENS, Life and Writings of Turgot (London, 1895).

GEORGES GOYAU