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income. The maximum, at which it is fixed by law, is one fifth of the net income of the subject, upon a general estimate of the whole product of the French territory. 2. “The personal contribution embraces every article which falls within the list of the assessed taxes in England, and which the epithet can imply. Horses, dogs, serwants, vehicles, utensils, the rent of dwellings, stock of every description, &c. are all included in one or other of the three branches, the personal, mobiliary, and sumptuary taxes. 3. “An impost on gateways, chimneys, &c. is added to that on doors and windows. The charges on these articles are all of the heaviest kind.” p. 87, 88.
4. The droit des patentes of the new empire is founded on the maitrise, jurandes, et droit de marc d'or, which, under the old government, were taxes paid for the privilege of exercising trades and professions, and upon the emoluments and transfer of publick offices. To this droit des patentes, which is at once a capitation tax, and a tax on the wages of industry, nearly 1,800,000 heads of families are subject.
These direct taxes are "assessed according to tables of distribution, which
—“are constructed from a view of the population; the territorial extent; and the supposed wealth of each department. The prefects and the general councils allot a quota to each district within their jurisdiction; the subprefects to each arrondissement; and the mayors, of whom there is one for each commune or subdivision, apportion their contingent among the inhabitants of the commune.” “The general government, in determining the contingents of the departments, is supposed to be guided by the amount of taxes which each paid to the old government; by the reports of the prefects, relative to the ability and dispositions of the territories within their jurisdiction; and by general calculations with regard to the sources of publick wealth. The subordinate allotments are supposed to depend on similar considerations.” p. 86, 87.
Accustomed as we are to taxation, the amount of these burdens, we think, must strike us as oppressive; but their actual amount is the least
of their evils. It is altogether uncertain at what it may be fixed; and the principles on which the calculation proceeds, are manifestly unjust and erroneous. Government is, in all cases, to determine, by its own arbitrary award, what sum shall be made up by each department; and the inferiour agents of government are to settle how it shall be contributed by the districts. As all uncontrolled power is sure to be abused, these repartitions must often be dictated by partiality; but, even where the intention is fair, the avowed principle of the assessment is such as must lead inevitably to oppression. The density of population, for instance, is taken as one criterion for that assessment; as if it were not certain, that, under such a government, the very multitude of the people must be a cause of general po.# The larger the family, the less can "it afford to pay; and the more anxious the competition for employment, the less likely is that employment to furnish incomes capable of heavy contributions to the state. The supposed wealth of each department is another of the criteria adopted by the French ministers; and this wealth they calculate by the amount of the taxes which it paid to the old government. Our author protests against this absurdity; and observes justly, that
“What a department may have paid to the old government, furnishes no proof of its ability at this moment, on account of the total obstruction of many channels of wealth, and of the revolutions in the possession and value of property. Under the régime, the value of real property was estimated at twenty and twenty-five years’ purchase: at this time, it is not more than twelve or fifteen in many departments. This difference is owing to a want of confidence in the stability of the government; to the high rates of interest; to the duties on registration and transfers; and to an apprehension of those violent expedients to which an arbitrary government may have recourse, in order to relieve its necessities.” p. 91, 92.
It is needless, however, to waste time, in attempting to show, by argument, that such a mode of assessment must give rise to the most grievous inequalities, since there is the most direct and unquestionable evidence of the fact in the official report of the minister of finance for the year 1807. In that document, it is distinctly stated, that “the formation of the new registers has led to the discovery of the abuses of the former distribution. While some proprietors paid, in 1806, the fourth, the third, and even a moiety and more of their incomes, others were taxed at the rate of the one twentieth, one fiftieth, and one.hundredth part only. These inequalities would have remained for ever unknown, if the preparation of the new lists had not enabled us to discover them.” The new survey, to which reference is made in this extract, goes on, our author assures us, with wonderful slowness; and is generally supposed only to have shifted the place of the oppressions it affected to cor1’ect.
Against all these evils, however, the subject is allowed to petition; but we may judge of the value of this privilege, and of the extent of the redress that is likely to be procured by means of it, when we are informed, that, by a special clause in the law, it is provided, that “no relief shall in any case be granted, but upon condition, that the party aggrieved shall point out some estate within his district, which has been underrated, in order that the treasury may be indemnified l’” It is likewise enacted, that if the sums collected do not amount to the contingent prescribed by government, a second distribution shall take place; and if that proves insufficient, a third; so that the vexation is as infinite in its recurrence, as it is intolerable in its pressure.
All this relates to the three first
kinds of direct taxes, which must be born by every body who is in or
out of a profession or business; but, if a man happens to be engaged in any sort of lucrative employment whatever, he is further obliged to submit to the fourth kind of direct tax, the droit des flatentes; which is a duty paid for the liberty of working for one’s bread—a sort of preliminary tax, that a man must pay before he is permitted to earn where withal to pay his other taxes.
So much for the direct taxes. The indirect revenue is derived from the imposts on registration and legal proceedings, from the lands belonging to the crown, from licenses for sporting, from lotteries, the post of. fice, the customs, and the seignorage on coin, from the taxes and monopolies upon saltpetre, gunpowder, snuff, and salt, and from the droits réunis, which comprise the duties of excise, and those on publick carriages, playing cards, &c.
The imposts on registration and legal proceedings, appear peculiarly heavy. Under this head comes the tax on inheritances, which was estimated, in 1803, in the following dashing manner.
“These constitute a fruitful source of revenue; and yielded, in 1806, something more than seventy millions of francs, according to the budget of the year.” p. 111.
Our author, proceeding on principles that are now universally recognised, reprobates, in the severest terms, this most oppressive and improvident mode of raising a revenue, as a source of oppression, and a bar to that improvement which would result from “the more productive care of individual interest.” Here is an immense territory, amounting to nearly five millions of acres, withheld from the publick in the most prejudicial of all modes; on which territory are employed no fewer than eight thousand government officers, calling themselves conservators, inspectors, guards, surveyors, &c. And to complete the injury, “no individual proprietor of woodland can cut down his timber, or clear his land, under a heavy penalty, without making, six months previously, a declaration of his intention to one of the conservators, whose report determines the government either to grant or refuse permission to that effect. This regulation gives the government a virtual monopoly of the sale of wood throughout the empire.” p. 111.
The next branch of revenue is derived from the lotteries; and these lotteries, blamable as they are, even in the moderation to which they are confined under our government, are mischievous beyond all calculation, in the excess to which they are encouraged among the French. “The drawings take place twice a week at Paris; and so often at Bourdeaux, Brussels, Lyons and Strasbourg, as to afford one every other day.” Under the same head are included the numerous gambling tables of the metropolis; all of which are licensed, and some farmed out by the government. There is but too much truth, we fear in the following striking passage.
Vol. 1 v. 2 B
“The rapid destruction and creation of fortunes, the fate of the paper currency, and the impoverishment of all classes during the revolution, have given, in that country, tenfold activity to the spirit of gambling, which naturally belongs to a sanguine people. It may be truly said to rage in the metropolis; and exhibits there, under the most disgusting and frightful aspect, all the miseries and disorders which usually follow in the train of licentious adventure and criminal indulgence. The tickets of the lottery pass from the hands of the factors. at a considerable advance, into those of the lower orders, whom the tumults of civil commotion, and the absence of religious instruction, have estranged from the love of regular industry. They circulate widely, also, among the class of abandoned profligates; of persons without employment, les gens dese:cwrés, and of decent but necessitous indi- . viduals, with whom Paris abounds beyond any other capital in the world. I have heard it asserted, by an intelligent person engaged in the administration of the lotteries, that they occasioned in Paris more than one hundred suicides in the course of the year.” p. 116–17.
The suppression of all this evil is hardly to be expected, while the sum of twelve millions of francs continues to be yearly produced by it. And yet, nothing but experience would make any man believe that rulers in general can be so blind to the ultimate interests of their own revenue, as to fancy these irregularities productive to the exchequer. That a government should care very little about them, in a moral point of view, is credible enough; but that, in a calculating age, when the land and industry of the people are acknowledged to be the ultimate funds of revenue, a system should be encouraged which leads so directly to the neglect of the land and the diminution of industry, is not a little astonishing.
One of the most remarkable instances in which financial and political objects are combined by the French government, may be found in the system of the postoffice. The discipline, indeed, of that branch of it which is charged with the supply
of horses for travellers, appears to be exceedingly commendable; but this advantage is purchased at a great price; for we find that—
“No papers of any description, whether printed or manuscript, are suffered to reach their destination, if not perfectly conformable to Buonaparte's views. No communication can be held through this channel without being subject to governmental inspection. Through the agency of the numerous functionaries of this establishment, and of the innkeepers, with whom they are in close correspondence, a minute supervision is exercised over travellers in every part of the empire, of whom scarcely an individual can pass unnoticed or unknown. I was credibly informed in Paris, that more than thirty clerks are unremittingly employed in opening and copying the letters which are received in the postoffice of that capital. The provincial postoffices are similarly constituted.” p. 119–20.
This branch of the revenue, in the year 1807, yielded about seven millions of francs.
“The gross produce was estimated at twenty five millions. The necessity of maintaining postoffices near the armies, is assigned as the cause why so small a portion of the receipts were emptied into the treasury.” p. 118–19.
Englishmen will hardly wish to see this system imitated; but they will easily perceive its immense utility to an enterprising government.
The history of the customs is also very remarkable. This branch of the revenue was stated, in 1805, as having yielded forty one millions of francs. At present, we are assured that the produce of this import
“is drawn almost exclusively from the smuggling trade, and the forfeiture of goods of British manufacture. It will, however, be thought necessary, for sometime, that a large item under this head should be introduced into the budget, compounded of these, or any other ingredients, however extraneous, in order to conceal the amount of the loss consequent on the total privation of external trade.” p. 122–3.
Of the seignorage on the coin, we are told that it -“produced in the year 1807, about four
hundred thousand francs. The whole amount of the new coinage, at that period, was about three hundred and sixty millions of francs. There has been some im. provement in the machinery of the mint; but a material adulteration, particularly in the gold coin, although the new laws on this head prescribe the standard of the old regime. A tax, under the title of droit de garantie, is raised upon all articles of gold and silver fabricated by jewellers, foc. upon which the government imprints a stamp. The amount of specie existing in France before the revolution, was estimated, by Neckar, at 2,200,000,000 francs. Peuchet supposes it to have amounted, in the year 1807, within the limits of the old territory, to 1,850,000,000. The diminution, however, must have been much more considerable than this writer is willing to allow. To be satisfied of this, it is only necessary to reflect on the various causes which conspired to drain off the specie in the course of the revolution; such as, the vast amount of coin paid to the armies abroad; the operation of the paper currency; the subtraction of capital by emigrants and others; and the great balance of trade, which has been uniformly against France during the present and the last war, and which, in the year 1801, amounted to 112,559,000 francs. Much of the specie which remains is locked out of circulation, in consequence of the small proprietors among whom the great estates have been divided.” p. 123-4.
These persons, from being mere farmers and tenants, have acquired an income of more than 300,000,000 francs; and do not disburse the third part of what the former landowners expended upon the products of national industry.
“The government enjoys a monopoly of gunpowder and saltpetre, and exercises an exclusive privilege in the fabrication and sale of snuff and salt, in the departments beyond the Alps. They have laid a general tax on salt, more productive than the famous gabelle, and scarcely less burdensome, although they are at great pains to inculcate the utility of the exchange. The duty is levied upon its fabrication at the saltmarshes, and farmed out to an administration or régie. The retail sale is left unincumbered in the interiour of the empire. In this difference, the principal advantage ascribed to it over the gabelle is said to consist. The price of the commodity is, however, higher than at any antecedent period.” p. 126.
In order to diminish the unpopularity of this new duty, “it was stated to be in lieu of, and destined to the same purpose, as the tolls previously collected on the high roads;” which had given rise to so gross a peculation, and excited so universal a disgust, “that it was at length found necessary to abolish the whole system of turnpikes.” The state of the roads at present is very unequal. The military highways in the directions of Spain, Italy, the Rhine and the Netherlands, are carefully repaired; while the humbler, but more useful communications, constructed for commercial and domestick intercourse, are falling into lamentable decay. On every side, says the minister of finance in his report for the year 1805, are to be observed “des ruines a reparer, des landes arides à couvrir d'habitations et de troupeaux; des marais qu’il faut rendre à la culture et à la salubrité; des ports qu'il faut ouvrir ou recreuser; des départemens entiers qu’il faut, par des communications, attacher au reste de l'empire.”
The Droits réunis have nothing peculiarly remarkable, except the painful proportion which the expense of collecting them bears to the whole sum collected. “They yield a net revenue of about fifty millions of francs; and draw, altogether, from the people, about one hundred millions.”
But these direct and indirect taxes are not the heaviest of the impositions to which the demands of conquering ambition subject the people. The following extract exhibits a series of grievances yet more deplorable.
“Under the name of additional centimes [centimes additionels] a certain per centage is levied upon the whole amount of the direct taxes, for various purposes: one of which is the supply of the deficit which may occur in the collection of those taxes. The government exacts, also, a large per centage on this fund, under the title of a war tax. The councils of the departments, and of the communes, are authorized to
levy a similar contribution for the purpose of defraying local charges of every description; for the support of the judiciary establishment, and all its appendages; of the provincial bureaux; of prisons, hospitals, &c. I shall state the amount of this per centage in several instances, in order to convey an idea of the vast addition which it makes to the publick burdens.
“Ramel calculates, that the additional centimes levied in the year 1800, amounted to forty-three and a half per cent. on the total of the direct taxes. In the year 1807, the government imposed an additional duty, on account of the war, often per cent. on the land tax; ten per cent. on the window tax; fifteen per cent. on the droit dee patentes, &c. The general councils were authorized to levy sixteen per cent. on all the direct taxes, for the purposes mentioned above: one and a half per cent. for the expenses of the general survey; four per cent... for the reparation of the publick buildings, roads, &c. The councils of the communes were also impowered to raise a considerable per centage, in order to defray the expenses of their particular subdivisions.”
The total addition for that year, therefore, was something under forty per cent, on the whole direct taxes.
“In 1808, the councils of the departments were authorized to raise seventeen per cent, on the direct taxes, for general purposes; and five per cent. for the improvements of the roads, bridges, &c. The councils of the communes were invested with the privilege of collecting duties according to the rates of the preceding year, within their particular jurisdictions. Ten percent. was also imposed upon the income of all real property; ostensibly for the purpose of rebuilding and repairing places of worship, for the reparation of the ecclesiastical semimaries, and for the purchase of dwellings for the ministers of religion, both catholick and protestant.” p. 134, 136.
This gives an addition of about 30 per cent. But
—“the councils may also, at any time, propose to the government such an additional per centage as the domestick interests of their departments seem to require. The government may also, at any period, by a special law, impose an additional tax of this sort, either conformably to a proposition of the councils, or according to exigencies of state, produced by the war, or