By DAVID A. WELLS, LL.D., D. C. L.,
CORRESPONDANT DE L'INSTITUT DE FRANCE, ETC.
II. — THE PLACE OF TAXATION IN LITERATURE AND HISTORY,
TAXATION in France. — No chapter in history is more replete with interest and instruction than that which exhibits the system for exacting contributions for the support of the state which characterized the fiscal policy and administration of France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which is now acknowledged to have been mainly instrumental in bringing on the memorable revolution in the closing years of the latter century.
Feudalism in France, previous to 1789, had come to find its expression almost exclusively, in the claims on the part of the various and multiplied representatives of authority — nobility and clergy — to regulate taxation, in respect to both imposition and exemption.
The kingdom was divided into departments, with an officer called an "intendant," or "farmer-general" (fermier général) at the head of each, into whose hands the whole power of the crown in respect to revenue matters was delegated. Each department was then sub-divided, and at the head of each of these subdivisions a deputy was appointed by the intendant. The rolls or lists of the various crown taxes, for polls, service, incomes, "proportions," and the like, were distributed by the intendants to their deputies, who had the power to exempt, change, add to, or diminish the list at their pleasure.
It must be obvious, that the friends of the intendant and of all his deputies, and the friends of their friends, might be favored at the expense of the helpless masses; and that great noblemen in favor at the court, to whom the intendant himself would naturally look for protection, would especially find little difficulty in transferring most or all of the burden of tribute rightfully due from them to the state, to others who had no such influence. The result was that taxation in France at the period mentioned had become in the highest degree arbitrary, and a scarcely disguised form of plunder; and the methods of assessment were so crude and defective that it is probable that the state never received fifty per cent of the amount collected, and in many cases no more than forty or thirty per cent. The expenditures of the revenues received were, moreover, characterized by so little system as to render it difficult to exercise any efficient check