Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/48

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
36
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

to find some method by which the burden of the multitudinous taxes imposed for defraying these expenditures might not be enormously and unnecessarily augmented by their method of taking. He accordingly proposed what was in effect a single tax—namely, that the king should annually take by one act or payment a royal tithe or tenth—dixme royale—of all the property of each community, or of each person in the kingdom; and that this simple and sole tax, which would suffice for all, and which would pass directly into the coffers of the king, should be the means by which every other form of tax or exaction from the people, with all its complicated, inquisitorial machinery for collection, should be abolished. About the same time a lieutenant-general of France—one Boisguilbert, of Rouen—took up the investigation of the same subject, and published a really learned and profound book; in which he also proposed a new system of taxation, which he claimed would at once relieve the people of many taxes, and the state of the necessity of great expenditure, by providing that the proceeds of every tax should go at once into the treasury of the king, instead of enriching first the farmers-general, the finance ministers, and their deputies.

The system of Boisguilbert was analogous to that proposed by Vauban, with the exception that the former advocated the continuance of some taxes on foreign commerce and upon foods, and the latter desired especially to abolish all such forms of taxation.

Admirable in many respects as were these proposed reforms; clearly based as they undoubtedly were upon what are now recognized as sound economic principles, they had one great defect. They prescribed a course which if followed would have taken away the means of livelihood of a very large number of officials. It would have compelled them to live at their own expense, instead of at the expense of the public. This was enough to insure their failure. All the people whose interests, fortunes, and emoluments were threatened arrayed themselves in opposition; for they reasoned truly that place, power, wealth, and social position would fly from their grasp if the counsels of Vauban were to be followed. It is not to be wondered, then, that the king listened to the advice of the multitude who were privileged to talk with him, rather than to his one clear-headed, unselfish, faithful servitor; or that when Marshal Vauban presented him with a book embodying and explaining his fiscal views and system, he received it with a very ill grace. His ministers also, even if they were contrary disposed, which is not probable, could not do otherwise than follow the views of the king, and from that moment the splendid services of the marshal, his military genius, his virtues, the former affection the king had had for him—all were forgotten. He stood in the position of one courting the favor of the people, and con-