This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
In France the early growth of a strong central power led to an intensification and sharp differentiation of the royal feudal dues from the other feudal charges, which gives them something the character of taxes. But inasmuch as the French State was peculiarly a proprietary State, and the territory was rather a part of the private property of the king than public property in the modern sense, these early charges are not taxes proper, but rents, or, to use the more general term, feudal dues. But the rapid growth of the central power, and the high development of public needs in the kingdom, necessitated more revenues.
1 Schőnberg's Handbuch, 3d ed., III., 185.
2 See Schőnberg's " Investigations into the City of Basel."
These needs were at first met by the collection of indirect consumption and trade taxes. The tendency toward the development of indirect taxes grew apace after the seventeenth century. The mercantile theory, which was supreme for most of the time after Colbert, developed customs duties very highly, and these ran parallel with internal consumption taxes. In the eighteenth century there were three, or possibly four, important taxes which had grown up in various ways out of the feudal dues. These were the " taille "1 (tallage), the " vingtièmes " (twentieths), the "capitation" (poll), and possibly the "dîmes" (tithes).2
The taille is of feudal origin. Originally it was arbitrarily assessed with extreme rigour upon the serfs by the lords, and occasionally upon the great vassals by the king with the assent of the peers. It became a permanent charge when royal power was firmly established on the ruins of feudalism.
1 The term "taille," in English, tallage, also spelled talliage, tail-age, and taillage, is from a root meaning to cut. It is explained as derived from the general method of keeping accounts by means of notched sticks. A taille was any sum of which account was kept, then the amount scored up (tallied) against any person. Slender sticks with notches called "tally sticks" were used by the English exchequer for accounts, until abolished by the statute of 23 Geo. III., c. 82. Similarly, the German "Kerbe," tally sticks. Other roots meaning to cut are common in the names of various taxes : viz., incisio, incisura, cise, later accise, adcisio, Eng. excise ; in these Latin roots the thought is, that a part of the taxed article is cut out for the government.
2 See Vignes, Ed., Traité des Impôts en France, 1872, p. 10.
Charles VIII. made it permanent at the same time with the establishment of the royal army. The taillewas both real and personal. On the one side it was based on the revenue from landed property ; on the other, it was based on the faculty of the tax-payer, measured by the revenues from his landed property, and active rents, as well as the products of his own industry. This tax, suppressed in 1790, yielded 44,737,800 livres the year before. Necker obtained 91,000,000 livres from it. Nobles and clergy were exempt.
The vingtièmes consisted of one or more twentieth parts of the revenues from either landed or movable property. This tax had a varied history. At first it was used with the taille, but when that tax was made permanent under Charles VIII the vingtième disappeared. It was revived in 1710 by Louis XIV. as a war tax. It remained as the occasional resource of the treasury up to the Revolution. Only the clergy were exempt. It produced 46,000,000 livres (Necker 55,000,000).
The capitation, or system of poll taxes, was the variable tax of the ancient monarchy. It dates from 1695. It was at first regarded as a temporary expedient, but was continued to the Revolution. It was assessed according to a tariff of twenty-two classes. But the base was frequently changed. The clergy were exempt, the nobles were taxed on the basis of their presumptive ability, and those who paid the taille were taxed according to the amount of that tax they paid. In 1786 it yielded 41,500,000 livres.
The dîme, or tithe, was an assessment paid in kind from the fruits of the soil for the benefit of the clergy. The tax was not always the tenth, but varied from one-seventh to one thirty-second. The ecclesiastical purpose of this payment has led some to refuse to call it a tax in the strict sense. Since the church exercised a power that differed little from that of the State and the burden was a regular one maintained for a public purpose, it should probably be called a tax.
The corvées were more strictly taxes than the dîmes. These were personal services applied to the construction of the roads and other public works. They were regarded as feudal dues. They were of two kinds : the first were levied on property and rendered by the proprietor for his lands, and the second were levied on persons and rendered by all irrespective of land-holding. The nobles and the aliens were not subject to the personal corvées. The clergy could commute them into money payments or have them rendered at their own cost. The land corvées were due from all hereditary proprietors irrespective of rank, but they were not bound to furnish them in person. Louis XVI. suppressed the corvées in 1776, but they were re-established. They disappeared in 1793.
The most important indirect consumption taxes were leased for 166,000,000 livres, and those collected by the government were 51,500,000 livres.
These together nearly equalled the revenue from direct taxes. The indirect taxes of the ancient monarchy were : first, the aides, which consisted of taxes on drinks, on articles of gold and silver, on iron, oil, skins, starch, bills, paper, etc., and the octrois, levied at the city gates on all sorts of goods when brought into the towns ; second, the gabelle, or salt tax, which was so arranged as to amount practically to a direct tax. For the people were obliged to buy each year from the management of the monopoly an amount of salt determined in each case by the size of the family. There was a similar " salt conscription " in Germany. Thirdly, there was the tax on tobacco.