Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/42

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30
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

upon them, or to ascertain accurately at any one time (as was especially the case during the latter third of the eighteenth century) the true state of the national exchequer; all of which fostered indefensible waste and extravagance. At the death of Louis XV in 1774, the annual expenditure of the king and his household probably amounted to one eighth of the entire revenue of the state,[1] and the total indebtedness of the state in 1789, the year of the commencement of the revolution, was estimated as being in excess of $1,000,000,000, carrying an annual interest of $206,000,000; and it is to be remembered that these figures must be at least doubled to represent the corresponding sums of the present day. All this indebtedness, and all that was subsequently incurred through the issue of irredeemable "assignats" (paper or fiat money), was ultimately, through one means or another, entirely repudiated.

In the collection of levies the inquisitorial, infinitesimal assessment and dooming penalty system, the like of which still finds favor in Massachusetts, was carried out to perfection; and the only rule of practice which in different districts could prefer any claim to uniformity, was the rule of inequality of assessment, and harshness and cruelty in collection. Arthur Young, an English gentleman of culture and keen powers of observation, who traveled in France in 1787-'89, states, in recording the above experiences, that "he shuddered at the oppression of which he became cognizant."

One of the chief sources of revenue to the state was from an exaction known as the taille,[2] which was mainly in the nature of a direct tax on land, though in some provinces it was a levy on both polls and land. The history of this exaction has been carefully investigated and is not a little interesting. It originated in the early feudal period, and was imposed on persons originally bondsmen, or on persons who held in "farm," or lease, or resided on the lands of a noble or suzerain, and from which the proprietors or suzerains of the land were exempt. And as no vassal could at will divest himself of servitude or allegiance to his lord or suzerain, so the obligation to pay tribute (taxes?) always remained upon him as a personal servitude, wherever he might be In other words, the condition of the masses in France during the middle ages was not unlike the condition of the slaves in the United States previous to emancipation. These had property in


  1. There were seventy-five officers connected with the king's chapel alone; forty-eight physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries attached to his person; and three hundred and eighty-three men and one hundred and thirty-three boys employed for his table.
  2. The taille was the equivalent of the English "tallage." But the discretionary power of levying the impost was taken away from the English crown and nobility by the provisions of Magna Charta.