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appointed the district officers, or Intendants, who, for the extent of their authority and the variety of their functions, may be compared to the Indian collectors. They were really the men who governed France.
The system of taxation was oppressive and unequal. The nobles and clergy were, practically, exempted from all direct taxes. Oppressive as taxation was, owing to its weight alone, and to its unjust distribution between classes, it was rendered yet more so by want of administrative unity, by the nature of some of the taxes and the method of their assessment and collection. Internal custom houses and tolls impeded trade, gave rise to smuggling, and raised the price of all articles of food and clothing. It took three and a half months to carry goods from Provence to Normandy, which, but for delays caused by the imposition of duties, might have travelled in three weeks. Customs duties were levied with such strictness that artizans who crossed the Rhône on their way to their work had to pay on the victuals which they carried in their pockets. Excise duties were laid on articles of commonest use and consumption, such as candles, fuel, wine, and even on grain and flour. Some provinces and towns were privileged in relation to certain taxes, and as a rule it was the poorest provinces on which the heaviest burdens lay. One of the most iniquitous of the taxes was the gabelle or tax on salt. Of this tax, which was farmed, two-thirds of the whole were levied on a third of the kingdom. The price
varied so much that the same measure which cost a few shillings in one province cost two or three pounds in another. The farmers of the tax had behind them a small army of officials for the suppression of smuggling,
as well as special courts for the punishment of those who disobeyed fiscal regulations. These regulations were minute and vexatious in the extreme. Throughout the north and centre of France, the gabelle was in reality a poll-tax; the sale of salt was a monopoly in the hands of the farmers; no one might use other salt than that sold by them, and it was obligatory on every person aged above seven years to purchase seven pounds yearly. This salt, however, of which the purchase was obligatory, might only be used for purely cooking purposes. If the farmer wished to salt his pig, or the fisherman his fish, they must buy additional salt, and obtain a certificate that such purchase had been made. Thousands of persons, either for inability to pay the tax, or for attempting to evade the laws of the farm, were yearly fined, imprisoned, sent to the galleys or hanged. The chief of the property taxes, the taille, inflicted as much suffering as the gabelle, and was also ruinous to agriculture. Over two-thirds of France, the taille was a tax on land, houses, and industry, reassessed every year not according to any fixed rate, but according to the presumed capacity of the province, the parish, and the individual tax-payers. The consequence was that, on the smallest indication of prosperity, the amount of the tax was raised, and then parish after parish, and farmer after farmer, were reduced to the same dead level of indigence."* To this must be added that there was no effectual method of administering relief in times of distress. On the one hand, the policy of government rendered constant famine inevitable; yet, on the other hand, any attempt to give relief by fixing * Gardiner's French Revolution, pp. 9-10.
the price of provisions necessarily discouraged production and diminished the supply. Nor must it be forgotten that government helped to anger, to degrade, and to brutalize the people by the barbarous nature of the punishments inflicted under its penal code.
The towns, which from the twelfth century onwards sprang up with the growth of arts and commerce, had been largely instrumental in overthrowing feudalism. As so many centres of strength, they became rivals to the power of the feudal nobles, and gradually established themselves in practical independence. But, in France, the later kings had been driven to raise money by selling offices, or by making whole towns buy the right to elect their own municipal officers. Thus, by degrees, all public interest in municipal affairs died out, as municipal authority became centred in little local oligarchies of the higher and richer order of citizens; and, as the people ceased to interest themselves in local affairs, government became more and more able to interfere in them, until at last, in all matters of local taxation, finance, and administration, municipalities simply did what the government officials ordered them to do. Thus there was everywhere a dead uniformity of subjection to a central power even when the forms of freedom survived. In the country the subjection was, naturally, more complete. Scattered cultivators cannot combine as the inhabitants of a town can. All, therefore, who could do so, flocked to the towns, and rural independ ence became a mere name. Whenever questions as to an act of the administration arose, they were referred not to the ordinary tribunals, but to government officials. Being the sole judges of their own acts, they
could always invent a pretext for exempting from the jurisdiction of the courts cases affecting themselves or their favourites.
Thus, by imperceptible degrees, government got all power into its own hands; and as it felt itself growing stronger, its supervision became. more and more thorough, and its interference more and more minute. Absolutely nothing could be started in the country without a previous reference to government. The usual consequences followed--multiplication of statistics, of reports, and official correspondence, and a consequent paralysis of all real work and progress. The interference of non-officials became more and more intolerable to government; the growth of independent associations was regarded with ever-increasing jealousy; criticism of government officials was practically prohibited; and, as far as possible, a censorship was exercised over the press. The consequence, so far as the people was concerned, was the utter destruction of independence and self-helpfulness; a tendency to look to government for the initiative in everything, and to throw the blame on government, whenever anything went wrong. Paris was the one centre of activity and of intelligence in the kingdom. Arthur Young, an English farmer, who was travelling in France between 1787 and 1789, remarks upon the absolute ignorance of the inhabitants of the villages and country towns. There were no newspapers. People simply waited to see what Paris would say and do.
In no country in Europe were the different orders of society more completely isolated. They were like mutually exclusive castes, in juxtaposition, but never
mingling. The nobility was a caste resting on birth. There was practically no entrance to it for one not born in the order. In England, on the other hand, the nobility are not a caste, but an aristocracy associating with the people, and, above all, intermarrying with them. The word gentleman in France meant simply a man of noble birth, and its meaning admitted of no extension. Thus there was nothing to connect the nobility and gentry with the citizens and the cultivators. The unpopularity of the nobles, caused by their aristocratic exclusiveness, and their almost complete exemption from taxation, became every day greater, as the burden of taxation V became heavier. The hostility between the nobles and the middle class was all the more pronounced because they lived side by side in the cities. Men flocked to the towns, because there they escaped certain taxes, and, above all, because they were not liable to have thrust upon them the odious office of collector of the property tax. When resident in the towns, they generally became candidates for appointments under government, because officials were exempted from many of the burdens which fell upon the peasantry. In this way fresh inequalities were set up between citizens and peasants. The heaviest burdens fell upon the peasantry, who naturally became discontented and jealous. Thus France, instead of being one, was split up into an infinite number of sections, each having cause to hate the rest, but no two having cause to love one another. The poor nobles hated the richer ones, and both hated and were hated by citizens and peasants. Citizens and peasants hated one another, and the citizens were divided amongst themselves. Some thought themselves better born than others: some