their possession, and spoke of themselves as owners of property, but in reality their property followed the condition of the servitude of their persons, and both persons and property belonged equally to the masters. The taille, furthermore, as a badge of servitude, was supposed to dishonor whoever was subject to it, and degrade him not only below the rank of a gentleman, but of that of a "burgher," or inhabitant of a borough or town; "and no gentleman, or even any burgher," writes Adam Smith in 1775, "will submit to this degradation."
(Repulsive and barbarous as was the taille, it is curious to note that the principle involved in it still survives and finds recognition and practice in States claiming a high civilization; as, for example, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where personal property is held to owe a servitude to the State and to be subject to taxation by it in virtue of the citizenship or personal domicile of its owner, although the property itself may be located beyond the territory and jurisdiction of the taxing power.)
The hardship and injustice of the practical working of the taille may be thus illustrated: In all cases the nobility and the clergy were exempt from its payment, as were also the holders of a multitude of minor Government offices, which, however, did not carry with them any patent of nobility. These exempt classes, which in the time of Louis XVI are believed to have numbered some 300,000 out of a total estimated population of 25,000,000 in the kingdom, owned about one half of the whole soil of France; so that the burden of the taille, amounting in 1789 to 110,000,000 livres (francs), fell exclusively on the rural classes; especially upon the agricultural interests, which it would have been sound policy on the part of the State to favor.
"But the mode in which the taille was levied still further illustrates its iniquity. The Comptroller-General of the Finances, in the first instance, decreed that a certain aggregate sum was to be raised, and then two subordinate officials and the local landlords in each province and parish were left to decide among themselves how the prescribed amount was to be exacted from the taxpayers. The combined forces of jobbery and absolute authority rendered its incidence grossly unfair, the poorer localities generally paying the larger share, while the richer ones escaped lightly. Thus there was brought about a condition of things in which the most miserable sections of the community were made to feel their inferiority in every relation of life. They were humbled in all their feelings, and they could not but loathe those whom birth or favoritism had placed above them."
Besides the taille, two other forms of direct exaction were in
- The Financial Causes of the French Revolution. By Ferdinand Rothschild.