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The Ancient Regime The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 by Hippolyte A. Taine

Part 9 out of 10

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house he occupies, the site being valued at forty livres."[6] This
tax-payer pays for his real taille, personal and industrial, thirty-
five livres fourteen sous, for collateral taxes seventeen livres
seventeen sous, for the poll-tax twenty-one livres eight sous, for the
vingtièmes twenty-four livres four sous, in all ninety-nine livres
three sous, to which must be added about five livres as the
substitution for the corvée, in all 104 livres on a piece of property
which he rents for 240 livres, a tax amounting to five-twelfths of his

It is much worse on making the same calculation for the poorer
generalities. In Haute-Guyenne,[7] "all property in land is taxed for
the taille, the collateral taxes, and the vingtièmes, more than one-
quarter of its revenue, the only deduction being the expenses of
cultivation; also dwellings, one-third of their revenue, deducting
only the cost of repairs and of maintenance; to which must be added
the poll-tax, which takes about one-tenth of the revenue; the tithe,
which absorbs one-seventh; the seigniorial rents which take another
seventh; the tax substituted for the corvée; the costs of compulsory
collections, seizures, sequestration and constraints, and all ordinary
and extraordinary local charges. This being subtracted, it is evident
that, in communities moderately taxed, the proprietor does not enjoy a
third of his income, and that, in the communities wronged by the
assessments, the proprietors are reduced to the status of simple
farmers scarcely able to get enough to restore the expenses of
cultivation." In Auvergne,[8] the taille amounts to four sous on the
livre net profit; the collateral taxes and the poll-tax take off four
sous three deniers more; the vingtièmes, two sous and three deniers;
the contribution to the royal roads, to the free gift, to local
charges and the cost of levying, take again one sou one denier, the
total being eleven sous and seven deniers on the livre income, without
counting seigniorial dues and the tithe. "The bureau, moreover,
recognizes with regret, that several of the collections pay at the
rate of seventeen sous, sixteen sous, and the most moderate at the
rate of fourteen sous the livre. The evidence of this is in the
bureau; it is on file in the registry of the court of excise, and of
the election-districts. It is still more apparent in parishes where an
infinite number of assessments are found, laid on property that has
been abandoned, which the collectors lease, and the product of which
is often inadequate to pay the tax." Statistics of this kind are
terribly eloquent. They may be summed up in one word. Putting together
Normandy, the Orleans region, that of Soissons, Champagne, Ile-de-
France, Berry, Poitou, Auvergne, the Lyons region, Gascony, and Haute-
Guyenne, in brief the principal election sections, we find that out of
every hundred francs of revenue the direct tax on the tax-payer is
fifty-three francs, or more than one-half[9]. This is about five times
as much as at the present day.


Four direct taxes on the common laborer.

The taxation authorities, however, in thus bearing down on taxable
property has not released the taxable person without property. In the
absence of land it seizes on men. In default of an income it taxes a
man's wages. With the exception of the vingtièmes, the preceding taxes
not only bore on those who possessed something but, again, on those
who possessed nothing. In the Toulousain[10] at St. Pierre de
Barjouville, the poorest day-laborer, with nothing but his hands by
which to earn his support, and getting ten sous a day, pays eight,
nine and ten livres poll-tax. "In Burgundy[11] it is common to see a
poor mechanic, without any property, taxed eighteen and twenty livres
for his poll-tax and the taille." In Limousin,[12] all the money
brought back by the masons in winter serves "to pay the taxes charged
to their families." As to the rural day-laborers and the settlers
(colons) the proprietor, even when privileged, who employs them, is
obliged to take upon himself a part of their quota, otherwise, being
without anything to eat, they cannot work,[13] even in the interest of
the master; man must have his ration of bread the same as an ox his
ration of hay. "In Brittany,[14] it is notorious that nine-tenths of
the artisans, though poorly fed and poorly clothed, have not a crown
free of debt at the end of the year," the poll-tax and others carrying
off this only and last crown. At Paris[15] "the dealer in ashes, the
buyer of old bottles, the gleaner of the gutters, the peddlers of old
iron and old hats," the moment they obtain a shelter pay the poll-tax
of three livres and ten sous each. To ensure its payment the occupant
of a house who sub-lets to them is made responsible. Moreover, in case
of delay, a "blue man," a bailiff's subordinate, is sent who installs
himself on the spot and whose time they have to pay for. Mercier cites
a mechanic, named Quatremain, who, with four small children, lodged in
the sixth story, where he had arranged a chimney as a sort of alcove
in which he and his family slept. "One day I opened his door,
fastened with a latch only, the room presenting to view nothing but
the walls and a vice; the man, coming out from under his chimney, half
sick, says to me, 'I thought it was the blue man for the poll-tax."'
Thus, whatever the condition of the person subject to taxation,
however stripped and destitute, the dexterous hands of the fisc take
hold of him. Mistakes cannot possibly occur: it puts on no disguise,
it comes on the appointed day and rudely lays its hand on his
shoulder. The garret and the hut, as well as the farm and the
farmhouse know the collector, the constable and the bailiff; no hovel
escapes the detestable brood. The people sow, harvest their crops,
work and undergo privation for their benefit; and, should the pennies
so painfully saved each week amount, at the end of the year to a piece
of silver, the mouth of their pouch closes over it.


Observe the system actually at work. It is a sort of shearing
machine, clumsy and badly put together, of which the action is about
as mischievous as it is serviceable. The worst feature is that, with
its creaking gear, the taxable, those employed as its final
instruments, are equally shorn and flayed. Each parish contains two,
three, five, or seven individuals who, under the title of collectors,
and under the authority of the election tribunal, apportion and assess
the taxes. "No duty is more onerous;"[16] everybody, through patronage
or favor, tries to get rid of it. The communities are constantly
pleading against the refractory, and, that nobody may escape under the
pretext of ignorance, the table of future collectors is made up for
ten and fifteen years in advance. In parishes of the second class
these consist of "small proprietors, each of whom becomes a collector
about every six years." In many of the villages the artisans, day-
laborers, and métayer-farmers perform the service, although requiring
all their time to earn their own living. In Auvergne, where the able-
bodied men expatriate themselves in winter to find work, the women are
taken;[17] in the election-district of Saint-Flour, a certain village
has four collectors in petticoats. - They are responsible for all
claims entrusted to them, their property, their furniture and their
persons; and, up to the time of Turgot, each is bound for the others.
We can judge of their risks and sufferings. In 1785,[18] in one single
district in Champagne, eighty-five are imprisoned and two hundred of
them are on the road every year. "The collector, says the provincial
assembly of Berry,[19] usually passes one-half of the day for two
years running from door to door to see delinquent tax-payers." "This
service," writes Turgot,[20] "is the despair and almost always the
ruin of those obliged to perform it; all families in easy
circumstances in a village are thus successively reduced to want." In
short, there is no collector who is not forced to act and who has not
each year "eight or ten writs" served on him[21]. Sometimes he is
imprisoned at the expense of the parish. Sometimes proceedings are
instituted against him and the tax-contributors by the installation of
" 'blue men' and seizures, seizures under arrest, seizures in
execution and sales of furniture." "In the single district of
Villefranche," says the provincial Assembly of Haute-Guyenne, "a
hundred and six warrant officers and other agents of the bailiff are
counted always on the road."

The thing becomes customary and the parish suffers in vain, for it
would suffer yet more were it to do otherwise. " Near Aurillac," says
the Marquis de Mirabeau,[22] "there is industry, application and
economy without which there would be only misery and want. This
produces a people equally divided into being , on the one hand,
insolvent and poor and on the other hand shameful and rich, the latter
who, for fear of being fined, create the impoverished. The taille once
assessed, everybody groans and complains and nobody pays it. The term
having expired, at the hour and minute, constraint begins, the
collectors, although able, taking no trouble to arrest this by making
a settlement, notwithstanding the installation of the bailiff's men is
costly. But this kind of expense is habitual and people expect it
instead of fearing it, for, if it were less rigorous, they would be
sure to be additionally burdened the following year." The receiver,
indeed, who pays the bailiff's officers a franc a day, makes them pay
two francs and appropriates the difference. Hence "if certain parishes
venture to pay promptly, without awaiting constraint, the receiver,
who sees himself deprived of the best portion of his gains, becomes
ill-humored, and, at the next department (meeting), an arrangement is
made between himself, messieurs the elected, the sub-delegate and
other shavers of this species, for the parish to bear a double load,
to teach it how to behave itself."

A population of administrative blood-suckers thus lives on the
peasant. "Lately," says an intendant, "in the district of
Romorantin,[23] the collectors received nothing from a sale of
furniture amounting to six hundred livres, because the proceeds were
absorbed by the expenses. In the district of Chateaudun the same thing
occurred at a sale amounting to nine hundred livres and there are
other transactions of the same kind of which we have no information,
however flagrant." Besides this, the fisc itself is pitiless. The same
intendant writes, in 1784, a year of famine:[24] "People have seen,
with horror, the collector, in the country, disputing with heads of
families over the costs of a sale of furniture which had been
appropriated to stopping their children's cry of want." Were the
collectors not to make seizures they would themselves be seized. Urged
on by the receiver we see them, in the documents, soliciting,
prosecuting and persecuting the tax-payers. Every Sunday and every
fête-day they are posted at the church door to warn delinquents; and
then, during the week they go from door to door to obtain their dues.
"Commonly they cannot write, and take a scribe with them." Out of six
hundred and six traversing the district of Saint-Flour not ten of them
are able to read the official summons and sign a receipt; hence
innumerable mistakes and frauds. Besides a scribe they take along the
bailiff's subordinates, persons of the lowest class, laborers without
work, conscious of being hated and who act accordingly. "Whatever
orders may be given them not to take anything, not to make the
inhabitants feed them, or to enter taverns with collectors," habit is
too strong "and the abuse continues."[25] But, burdensome as the
bailiff's men may be, care is taken not to evade them. In this
respect, writes an intendant, " their obduracy is strange." " No
person," a receiver reports,[26] "pays the collector until he sees the
bailiff's man in his house." The peasant resembles his ass, refusing
to go without being beaten, and, although in this he may appear
stupid, he is clever. For the collector, being responsible, "naturally
inclines to an increase of the assessment on prompt payers to the
advantage of the negligent. Hence the prompt payer becomes, in his
turn, negligent and, although with money in his chest, he allows the
process to go on."[27] Summing all up, he calculates that the process,
even if expensive, costs less than extra taxation, and of the two
evils he chooses the least. He has but one resource against the
collector and receiver, his simulated or actual poverty, voluntary or
involuntary. "Every one subject to the taille," says, again, the
provincial assembly of Berry, "dreads to expose his resources; he
avoids any display of these in his furniture, in his dress, in his
food, and in everything open to another's observation." - "M. de
Choiseul-Gouffier,[28] willing to roof his peasants' houses, liable to
take fire, with tiles, they thanked him for his kindness but begged
him to leave them as they were, telling him that if these were covered
with tiles, instead of with thatch, the subdelegates would increase
their taxation." - "People work, but merely to satisfy their prime
necessities. . . . The fear of paying an extra crown makes an average
man neglect a profit of four times the amount."[29] - ". . .
Accordingly, lean cattle, poor implements, and bad manure-heaps even
among those who might have been better off."[30] - " If I earned any
more," says a peasant, "it would be for the collector." Annual and
illimitable spoliation "takes away even the desire for comforts." The
majority, pusillanimous, distrustful, stupefied, "debased," "differing
little from the old serfs,[31]" resemble Egyptian fellahs and Hindoo
pariahs. The fisc, indeed, through the absolutism and enormity of its
claims, renders property of all kinds precarious, every acquisition
vain, every accumulation delusive; in fact, proprietors are owners
only of that which they can hide.


The salt-tax and the excise.

The tax-man, in every country, has two hands, one which visibly and
directly searches the coffers of tax-payers, and the other which
covertly employs the hand of an intermediary so as not to incur the
odium of fresh extortions. Here, no precaution of this kind is taken,
the claws of the latter being as visible as those of the former;
according to its structure and the complaints made of it, I am tempted
to believe it more offensive than the other. - In the first place,
the salt-tax, the excises and the customs are annually estimated and
sold to adjudicators who, purely as a business matter, make as much
profit as they can by their bargain. In relation to the tax-payer they
are not administrators but speculators; they have bought him up. He
belongs to them by the terms of their contract; they will squeeze out
of him, not merely their advances and the interest on their advances,
but, again, every possible benefit. This suffices to indicate the mode
of levying indirect taxes. - In the second place, by means of the
salt-tax and the excises, the inquisition enters each household. In
the provinces where these are levied, in Ile-de-France, Maine, Anjou,
Touraine, Orleanais, Berry, Bourbonnais, Bourgogne, Champagne, Perche,
Normandy and Picardy, salt costs thirteen sous a pound, four times as
much as at the present day, and, considering the standard of money,
eight times as much[32]. And, furthermore, by virtue of the ordinance
of 1680, each person over seven years of age is expected to purchase
seven pounds per annum, which, with four persons to a family, makes
eighteen francs a year, and equal to nineteen days' work: a new direct
tax, which, like the taille, is a fiscal hand in the pockets of the
tax-payers, and compelling them, like the taille, to torment each
other. Many of them, in fact, are officially appointed to assess this
obligatory use of salt and, like the collectors of the taille, these
are "jointly responsible for the price of the salt." Others below
them, ever following the same course as in collecting the taille, are
likewise responsible. "After the former have been seized in their
persons and property, the speculator fermier is authorized to commence
action, under the principle of mutual responsibility, against the
principal inhabitants of the parish." The effects of this system have
just been described. Accordingly, "in Normandy," says the Rouen
parliament,[33] "unfortunates without bread are daily objects of
seizure, sale and execution."

But if the rigor is as great as in the matter of the taille, the
vexations are ten times greater, for these are domestic, minute and of
daily occurrence. - It is forbidden to divert an ounce of the seven
obligatory pounds to any use but that of the "pot and the salt-
cellar." If a villager should economize the salt of his soup to make
brine for a piece of pork, with a view to winter consumption, let him
look out for the collecting-clerks! His pork is confiscated and the
fine is three hundred livres. The man must come to the warehouse and
purchase other salt, make a declaration, carry off a certificate and
show this at every visit of inspection. So much the worse for him if
he has not the wherewithal to pay for this supplementary salt; he has
only to sell his pig and abstain from meat at Christmas. This is the
more frequent case, and I dare say that, for the métayers who pay
twenty-five francs per annum, it is the usual case. - It is
forbidden to make use of any other salt for the pot and salt-cellar
than that of the seven pounds. "I am able to cite," says Letrosne,
"two sisters residing one league from a town in which the warehouse is
open only on Saturday. Their supply was exhausted. To pass three or
four days until Saturday comes they boil a remnant of brine from which
they extract a few ounces of salt. A visit from the clerk ensues and a
procès-verbal. Having friends and protectors this costs them only
forty-eight livres." - It is forbidden to take water from the ocean
and from other saline sources, under a penalty of from twenty to forty
livres fine. It is forbidden to water cattle in marshes and other
places containing salt, under penalty of confiscation and a fine of
three hundred livres. It is forbidden to put salt into the bellies of
mackerel on returning from fishing, or between their superposed
layers. An order prescribes one pound and a half to a barrel. Another
order prescribes the destruction annually of the natural salt formed
in certain cantons in Provence. Judges are prohibited from moderating
or reducing the penalties imposed in salt cases, under penalty of
accountability and of deposition. - I pass over quantities of
orders and prohibitions, existing by hundreds. This legislation
encompasses tax-payers like a net with a thousand meshes, while the
official who casts it is interested in finding them at fault. We see
the fisherman, accordingly, unpacking his barrel, the housewife
seeking a certificate for her hams, the exciseman inspecting the
buffet, testing the brine, peering into the salt-box and, if it is of
good quality, declaring it contraband because that of the ferme, the
only legitimate salt, is usually adulterated and mixed with plaster.

Meanwhile, other officials, those of the excise, descend into the
cellar. None are more formidable, nor who more eagerly seize on
pretexts for delinquency[34]. "Let a citizen charitably bestow a
bottle of wine on a poor feeble creature and he is liable to
prosecution and to excessive penalties. . . . The poor invalid that
may interest his curate in the begging of a bottle of wine for him
will undergo a trial, ruining not alone the unfortunate man that
obtains it, but again the benefactor who gave it to him. This is not a
fancied story." By virtue of the right of deficient revenue the clerks
may, at any hour, take an inventory of wine on hand, even the stores
of a vineyard proprietor, indicate what he may consume, tax him for
the rest and for the surplus quantity already drunk, the ferme thus
associating itself with the wine-producer and claiming its portion of
his production. - In a vine-yard at Epernay[35] on four casks of
wine, the average product of one arpent, and worth six hundred francs,
it levies, at first, thirty francs, and then, after the sale of the
four casks, seventy five francs additionally. Naturally, "the
inhabitants resort to the shrewdest and best planned artifices to
escape" such potent rights. But the clerks are alert, watchful, and
well-informed, and they pounce down unexpectedly on every suspected
domicile; their instructions prescribe frequent inspections and exact
registries "enabling them to see at a glance the condition of the
cellar of each inhabitant."[36] - The manufacturer having paid up,
the merchant now has his turn. The latter, on sending the four casks
to the consumer - again pays seventy-five francs to the ferme. The
wine is dispatched and the ferme prescribes the roads by which it must
go; should others be taken it is confiscated, and at every step on the
way some payment must be made. "A boat laden with wine from
Languedoc,[37] Dauphiny or Roussillon, ascending the Rhone and
descending the Loire to reach Paris, through the Briare canal, pays on
the way, leaving out charges on the Rhone, from thirty-five to forty
kinds of duty, not comprising the charges on entering Paris." It pays
these "at fifteen or sixteen places, the multiplied payments obliging
the carriers to devote twelve or fifteen days more to the passage than
they otherwise would if their duties could be paid at one bureau." -
The charges on the routes by water are particularly heavy. "From
Pontarlier to Lyons there are twenty-five or thirty tolls; from Lyons
to Aigues-Mortes there are others, so that whatever costs ten sous in
Burgundy, amounts to fifteen and eighteen sous at Lyons, and to over
twenty-five sous at Aigues-Mortes." - The wine at last reaches the
barriers of the city where it is to be drunk. Here it pays an
octroi[38] of forty-seven francs per hogshead. - Entering Paris it
goes into the tapster's or innkeeper's cellar where it again pays from
thirty to forty francs for the duty on selling it at retail; at Rethel
the duty is from fifty to sixty francs per puncheon, Rheims gauge. -
The total is exorbitant. "At Rennes,[39] the dues and duties on a
hogshead (or barrel) of Bordeaux wine, together with a fifth over and
above the tax, local charges, eight sous per pound and the octroi,
amount to more than seventy-two livres exclusive of the purchase
money; to which must be added the expenses and duties advanced by the
Rennes merchant and which he recovers from the purchaser, Bordeaux
drayage, freight, insurance, tolls of the flood-gate, entrance duty
into the town, hospital dues, fees of gaugers, brokers and inspectors.
The total outlay for the tapster who sells a barrel of wine amounts to
two hundred livres." We may imagine whether, at this price, the people
of Rennes drink it, while these charges fall on the wine-grower,
since, if consumers do not purchase, he is unable to sell.

Accordingly, among the small growers, he is the most to be pitied;
according to the testimony of Arthur Young, wine-grower and misery are
two synonymous terms. The crop often fails, "every doubtful crop
ruining the man without capital." In Burgundy, in Berry, in
Soisonnais, in the Trois-Evêche's, in Champagne,[40] I find in every
report that he lacks bread and lives on alms. In Champagne, the
syndics of Bar-sur-Aube write[41] that the inhabitants, to escape
duties, have more than once emptied their wine into the river, the
provincial assembly declaring that "in the greater portion of the
province the slightest augmentation of duties would cause the
cultivators to desert the soil." - Such is the history of wine
under the ancient regime. From the producer who grows to the tapster
who sells, what extortions and what vexations! As to the salt-tax,
according to the comptroller-general,[42] this annually produces 4,000
domiciliary seizures, 3,400 imprisonments, 500 sentences to flogging,
exile and the galleys. -

If ever two taxes were well combined, not only to despoil, but also
to irritate the peasantry, the poor and the people, here they were.


Why taxation is so burdensome. - Exemptions and privileges.

Evidently the burden of taxation forms the chief cause of misery;
hence an accumulated, deep-seated hatred against the fisc and its
agents, receivers, store-house keepers, excise officials, customs
officers and clerks. - But why is taxation so burdensome? As far as
the communes which annually plead in detail against certain gentlemen
to subject them to the taille are concerned, there is no doubt. What
renders the charge oppressive is the fact that the strongest and those
best able to bear taxation succeed in evading it, the prime cause of
misery being the vastness of the exemptions[43].

Let us look at each of these exemptions, one tax after another. -
In the first place, not only are nobles and ecclesiastics exempt from
the personal taille but again, as we have already seen, they are
exempt from the cultivator's taille, through cultivating their domains
themselves or by a steward. In Auvergne,[44] in the single election-
district of Clermont, fifty parishes are enumerated in which, owing to
this arrangement, every estate of a privileged person is exempt, the
taille falling wholly on those subject to it. Furthermore, it suffices
for a privileged person to maintain that his farmer is only a steward,
which is the case in Poitou in several parishes, the subdelegate and
the élu not daring to look into the matter too closely. In this way
the privileged classes escape the taille, they and their property,
including their farms. - Now, the taille, ever augmenting, is that
which provides, through its special delegations, such a vast number of
new offices. A man of the Third-Estate has merely to run through the
history of its periodical increase to see how it alone, or almost
alone, paid and is paying[45] for the construction of bridges, roads,
canals and courts of justice, for the purchase of offices, for the
establishment and support of houses of refuge, insane asylums,
nurseries, post-houses for horses, fencing and riding schools, for
paving and sweeping Paris, for salaries of lieutenants-general,
governors, and provincial commanders, for the fees of bailiffs,
seneschals and vice-bailiffs, for the salaries of financial and
election officials and of commissioners dispatched to the provinces,
for those of the police of the watch and I know not how many other
purposes. - In the provinces which hold assemblies, where the
taille would seem to be more justly apportioned, the like inequality
is found. In Burgundy[46] the expenses of the police, of public
festivities, of keeping horses, all sums appropriated to the courses
of lectures on chemistry, botany, anatomy and parturition, to the
encouragement of the arts, to subscriptions to the chancellorship, to
franking letters, to presents given to the chiefs and subalterns of
commands, to salaries of officials of the provincial assemblies, to
the ministerial secretaryship, to expenses of levying taxes and even
alms, in short, 1,800,000 livres are spent in the public service at
the charge of the Third-Estate, the two higher orders not paying a

In the second place, with respect to the poll-tax, originally
distributed among twenty-two classes and intended to bear equally on
all according to fortunes, we know that, from the first, the clergy
buy themselves off; and, as to the nobles, they manage so well as to
have their tax reduced proportionately with its increase at the
expense of the Third-Estate. A count or a marquis, an intendant or a
master of requests, with 40,000 livres income, who, according to the
tariff of 1695,[47] should pay from 1,700 to 2,500 livres, pays only
400 livres, while a bourgeois with 6,000 livres income, and who,
according to the same tariff; should pay 70 livres, pays 720. The
poll-tax of the privileged individual is thus diminished three-
quarters or five-sixths, while that of the taille-payer has increased
tenfold. In the Ile-de-France,[48] on an income of 240 livres, the
taille-payer pays twenty-one livres eight sous, and the nobles three
livres, and the intendant himself states that he taxes the nobles only
an eightieth of their revenue; that of Orléanais taxes them only a
hundredth, while, on the other hand, those subject to the taille are
assessed one-eleventh. - If other privileged parties are added to
the nobles, such as officers of justice, employee's of the fermes, and
exempted townsmen, a group is formed embracing nearly everybody rich
or well-off and whose revenue certainly greatly surpasses that of
those who are subject to the taille. Now, the budgets of the
provincial assemblies inform us how much each province levies on each
of the two groups: in the Lyonnais district those subject to the
taille pay 898,000 livres, the privileged, 190,000; in the Ile-de-
France, the former pay 2,689,000 livres and the latter 232,000; in the
generalship of Alençon, the former pay 1,067,000 livres and the latter
122,000; in Champagne, the former pay 1,377,000 livres, and the latter
199,000; in Haute-Guyenne, the former pay 1,268,000 livres, and the
latter 61,000; in the generalship of Auch, the former pay 797,000
livres, the privileged 21,000; in Auvergne the former pay 1,753,000
livres and the latter 86,000; in short, summing up the total of ten
provinces, 11,636,000 livres paid by the poor group and 1,450,000
livres by the rich group, the latter paying eight times less than it
ought to pay.

With respect to the vingtièmes, the disproportion is less, the
precise amounts not being attainable; we may nevertheless assume that
the assessment of the privileged class is about one-half of what it
should be. "In 1772," says[49] M. de Calonne, "it was admitted that
the vingtièmes were not carried to their full value. False
declarations, counterfeit leases, too favorable conditions granted to
almost all the wealthy proprietors gave rise to inequalities and
countless errors. A verification of 4,902 parishes shows that the
product of the two vingtièmes amounting to 54,000,000 should have
amounted to 81,000,000." A seigniorial domain which, according to its
own return of income, should pay 2,400 livres, pays only 1,216. The
case is much worse with the princes of the blood; we have seen that
their domains are exempt and pay only 188,000 livres instead of
2,400,000. Under this system, which crushes the weak to relieve the
strong, the more capable one is of contributing, the less one
contributes. - The same story characterizes the fourth and last
direct taxation, namely, the tax substituted for the corvée. This tax,
attached, at first, to the vingtièmes and consequently extending to
all proprietors, through an act of the Council is attached to the
taille and, consequently, bears on those the most burdened[50]. Now
this tax amounts to an extra of one-quarter added to the principal of
the taille, of which one example may be cited, that of Champagne,
where, on every 100 livres income the sum of six livres five sous
devolves on the taille-payer. "Thus," says the provincial assembly,
"every road used by active commerce, by the multiplied coursing of the
rich, is repaired wholly by the contributions of the poor." - As
these figures spread out before the eye we involuntarily recur to the
two animals in the fable, the horse and the mule traveling together on
the same road; the horse, by right, may prance along as he pleases;
hence his load is gradually transferred to the mule, the beast of
burden, which finally sinks beneath the extra load.

Not only, in the corps of tax-payers, are the privileged
disburdened to the detriment of the taxable, but again, in the corps
of the taxable, the rich are relieved to the injury of the poor, to
such an extent that the heaviest portion of the load finally falls on
the most indigent and most laborious class, on the small proprietor
cultivating his own field, on the simple artisan with nothing but his
tools and his hands, and, in general, on the inhabitants of villages.
In the first place, in the matter of taxes, a number of the towns are
"abonnées," or free. Compiègne, for the taille and its accessories,
with 1,671 firesides, pays only 8,000 francs, whilst one of the
villages in its neighborhood, Canly, with 148 firesides, pays 4,475
francs[51]. In the poll-tax, Versailles, Saint-Germain, Beauvais,
Etampes, Pontoise, Saint-Denis, Compiegne, Fontainebleau, taxed in the
aggregate at 169,000 livres, are two-thirds exempt, contributing but
little more than one franc, instead of three francs ten sous, per head
of the population; at Versailles it is still less, since for 70,000
inhabitants the poll-tax amounts to only 51,600 francs[52]. Besides,
in any event, on the apportionment of a tax, the bourgeois of the town
is favored above his rural neighbors. Accordingly, "the inhabitants of
the country, who depend on the town and are comprehended in its
functions, are treated with a rigor of which it would be difficult to
form an idea. . . . Town influence is constantly throwing the burden
on those who are trying to be relieved of it, the richest of citizens
paying less taille than the most miserable of the peasant
farmers[53]." Hence, "the horror of the taille depopulates the rural
districts, concentrating in the towns all the talents and all the
capital[54]." Outside of the towns there is the same differences. Each
year, the élus and their collectors, exercising arbitrary power, fix
the taille of the parish and of each inhabitant. In these ignorant and
partial hands the scales are not held by equity but by self-interest,
local hatreds, the desire for revenge, the necessity of favoring some
friend, relative, neighbor, protector, or patron, some powerful or
some dangerous person. The intendant of Moulins, on visiting his
generalship, finds "people of influence paying nothing, while the poor
are over-charged." That of Dijon writes that "the basis of
apportionment is arbitrary, to such an extent that the people of the
province must not be allowed to suffer any longer."[55] In the
generalship of Rouen "some parishes pay over four sous the livre and
others scarcely one sou."[56] "For three years past that I have lived
in the country," writes a lady of the same district, "I have remarked
that most of the wealthy proprietors are the least pressed; they are
selected to make the apportionment, and the people are always
abused."[57] - "I live on an estate ten leagues from Paris," wrote
d'Argenson, "where it was desired to assess the taille
proportionately, but only injustice has been the outcome since the
seigniors made use of their influence to relieve their own tenants."
[58] Besides, in addition to those who, through favor, diminish their
taille, there are others who buy themselves off entirely. An
intendant, visiting the subdelegation of Bar-sur-Seine, observes" that
the rich cultivators succeed in obtaining petty commissions in
connection with the king's household and enjoy the privileges attached
to these, which throws the burden of taxation on the others."[59]
"One of the leading causes of our prodigious taxation," says the
provincial assembly of Auvergne, "is the inconceivable number of the
privileged, which daily increases through traffic in and the
assignment of offices; cases occur in which these have ennobled six
families in less than twenty years." Should this abuse continue, "in a
hundred years every tax-payer the most capable of supporting taxation
will be ennobled."[60] Observe, moreover, that an infinity of offices
and functions, without conferring nobility, exempt their titularies
from the personal taille and reduce their poll-tax to the fortieth of
their income; at first, all public functionaries, administrative or
judicial, and next all employments in the salt-department, in the
customs, in the post-office, in the royal domains, and in the
excise.[61] "There are few parishes," writes an intendant, "in which
these employees are not found, while several contain as many as two or
three."[62] A postmaster is exempt from the taille, in all his
possessions and offices, and even on his farms to the extent of a
hundred arpents. The notaries of Angoulême are exempt from the corvée,
from collections, and the lodging of soldiers, while neither their
sons or chief clerks can be drafted in the militia. On closely
examining the great fiscal net in administrative correspondence, we
detect at every step some meshes through which, with a bit of effort
and cunning, all the big and average-sized fish escape; the small fry
alone remain at the bottom of the scoop. A surgeon not an apothecary,
a man of good family forty-five years old, in commerce, but living
with his parent and in a province with a written code, escapes the
collector. The same immunity is extended to the begging agents of the
monks of "la Merci" and "L'Etroite Observance." Throughout the South
and the East individuals in easy circumstances purchase this
commission of beggar for a "louis," or for ten crowns, and, putting
three livres in a cup, go about presenting it in this or that
parish:[63] ten of the inhabitants of a small mountain village and
five inhabitants in the little village of Treignac obtain their
discharge in this fashion. Consequently, "the collections fall on the
poor, always powerless and often insolvent," the privileged who effect
the ruin of the tax-payer causing the deficiencies of the treasury.


The octrois of towns. - The poor the greatest sufferers.

One word more to complete the picture. People seek shelter in the
towns and, indeed, compared with the country, the towns are a refuge.
But misery accompanies the poor, for, on the one hand, they are
involved in debt, and, on the other, the closed circles administering
municipal affairs impose taxation on the poor. The towns being
oppressed by the fisc, they in their turn oppress the people by
passing to them the load which the king had imposed. Seven times in
twenty-eight years[64] he withdraws and re-sells the right of
appointing their municipal officers, and, to get rid of "this enormous
financial burden," the towns double their octrois. At present,
although liberated, they still make payment; the annual charge has
become a perpetual charge; never does the fisc release its hold; once
beginning to suck it continues to suck. "Hence, in Brittany," says an
intendant, "not a town is there whose expenses are not greater than
its revenue."[65] They are unable to mend their pavements, and repair
their streets, "the approaches to them being almost impracticable."
What could they do for self-support, obliged, as they are, to pay over
again after having already paid? Their augmented octrois, in 1748,
ought to furnish during a period of eleven years a total of 606,000
livres; but, the eleven years having lapsed, the tax authorities, in
spite of having been paid, still maintains its exigencies, and to such
an extent that, in 1774, they have contributed 2,071,052 livres, the
provisional octroi being still maintained. - Now, this exorbitant
octroi bears heavily everywhere on the most indispensable necessities,
the artisan being more heavily burdened than the bourgeois. In Paris,
as we have seen above, wine pays forty-seven livres a hogshead
entrance duty which, at the present standard of value, must be
doubled. "A turbot, taken on the coast at Harfleur and brought by
post, pays an entrance duty of eleven times its value, the people of
the capital therefore being condemned to dispense with fish from the
sea."[66] At the gates of Paris, in the little parish of
Aubervilliers, I find "excessive duties on hay, straw, seeds, tallow,
candles, eggs, sugar, fish, faggots and firewood."[67] Compiegne pays
the whole amount of its taille by means of a tax on beverages and
cattle[68]. "In Toul and in Verdun the taxes are so onerous that but
few consent to remain in the town, except those kept there by their
offices and by old habits."[69] At Coulommiers, "the merchants and
the people are so severely taxed they dread undertaking any
enterprise." Popular hatred everywhere is profound against octroi,
barrier and clerk. The bourgeois oligarchy everywhere first cares for
itself before caring for those it governs. At Nevers and at
Moulins,[70] "all rich persons find means to escape their turn to
collect taxes by belonging to different commissions or through their
influence with the élus, to such an extent that the collectors of
Nevers, of the present and preceding year, might be mistaken for real
beggars; there is hardly any small village whose tax collectors are
solvent, since the tenant farmers (métayers) have had to be
appointed." At Angers, "independent of presents and candles, which
annually consume 2,172 livres, the public pence are employed and
wasted in clandestine outlays according to the fancy of the municipal
officers." In Provence, where the communities are free to tax
themselves and where they might be expected to show some consideration
for the poor, "most of the towns, and notably Aix, Marseilles and
Toulon,[71] pay their impositions," local and general, "exclusively by
the tax called the "piquet." This is a tax "on all species of flour
belonging to and consumed on the territory;" for example, of 254,897
livres, which Toulon expends, the piquet furnishes 233,405. Thus the
taxation falls wholly on the people, while the bishop, the marquis,
the president, the merchant of importance pay less on their dinner of
delicate fish and becaficos than the caulker or porter on his two
pounds of bread rubbed with a piece of garlic! Bread in this country
is already too dear! And the quality is so poor that Malouet, the
intendant of the marine, refuses to let his workmen eat it!

"Sire," said M. de la Fare, bishop of Nancy, from his pulpit, May
4th, 1789, "Sire, the people over which you reign has given
unmistakable proofs of its patience. . . . They are martyrs in whom
life seems to have been allowed to remain to enable them to suffer the


"I am miserable because too much is taken from me. Too much is
taken from me because not enough is taken from the privileged. Not
only do the privileged force me to pay in their place, but, again,
they previously deduct from my earnings their ecclesiastic and feudal
dues. When, out of my income of 100 francs, I have parted with fifty-
three francs, and more, to the collector, I am obliged again to give
fourteen francs to the seignior, also more than fourteen for
tithes,[73] and, out of the remaining eighteen or nineteen francs, I
have additionally to satisfy the excise men. I alone, a poor man, pay
two governments, one the old government, local and now absent,
useless, inconvenient and humiliating, and active only through
annoyances, exemptions and taxes; and the other, recent, centralized,
everywhere present, which, taking upon itself all functions, has vast
needs, and makes my meager shoulders support its enormous weight."

These, in precise terms, are the vague ideas beginning to ferment
in the popular brain and encountered on every page of the records of
the States-General.

"Would to God," says a Normandy village,[74] "the monarch might
take into his own hands the defense of the miserable citizen pelted
and oppressed by clerks, seigniors, justiciary and clergy!"

"Sire," writes a village in Champagne,[75] "the only message to us
on your part is a demand for money. We were led to believe that this
might cease, but every year the demand comes for more. We do not hold
you responsible for this because we love you, but those whom you
employ, who better know how to manage their own affairs than yours. We
believed that you were deceived by them and we, in our chagrin, said
to ourselves, If our good king only knew of this! . . . We are crushed
down with every species of taxation; thus far we have given you a part
of our bread, and, should this continue, we shall be in want. . . .
Could you see the miserable tenements in which we live, the poor food
we eat, you would feel for us; this would prove to you better than
words that we can support this no longer and that it must be lessened.
. . . That which grieves us is that those who possess the most, pay
the least. We pay the tailles and for our implements, while the
ecclesiastics and nobles who own the best land pay nothing. Why do the
rich pay the least and the poor the most? Should not each pay
according to his ability? Sire, we entreat that things may be so
arranged, for that is just. . . . Did we dare, we should undertake to
plant the slopes with vines; but we are so persecuted by the clerks of
the excise we would rather pull up those already planted; the wine
that we could make would all go to them, scarcely any of it remaining
for ourselves. These exactions are a great scourge and, to escape
them, we would rather let the ground lie waste. . . . Relieve us of
all these extortions and of the excisemen; we are great sufferers
through all these devices; now is the time to change them; never shall
we be happy as long as these last. We entreat all this of you, Sire,
along with others of your subjects as wearied as ourselves. . . . We
would entreat yet more but you cannot do all at one time."

Imposts and privileges, in the really popular registers, are the
two enemies against which complaints everywhere arise[76].

"We are overwhelmed by demands for subsidies, . . . we are burdened
with taxes beyond our strength, . . . we do not feel able to support
any more, we perish, overpowered by the sacrifices demanded of us.
Labor is taxed while indolence is exempt. . . . Feudalism is the most
disastrous of abuses, the evils it causes surpassing those of hail and
lightning. . . . Subsistence is impossible if three-quarters of the
crops are to be taken for field-rents, terrage, etc. . . . The
proprietor has a fourth part, the décimateur a twelfth, the harvester
a twelfth, taxation a tenth, not counting the depredations of vast
quantities of game which devour the growing crops: nothing is left for
the poor cultivator but pain and sorrow."

Why should the Third-Estate alone pay for roads on which the nobles
and the clergy drive in their carriages? Why are the poor alone
subject to militia draft? Why does "the subdelegate cause only the
defenseless and the unprotected to be drafted?" Why does it suffice to
be the servant of a privileged person to escape this service? Destroy
those dove-cotes, formerly only small pigeon-pens and which now
contain as many as 5,000 pairs. Abolish the barbarous rights of
"motte, quevaise and domaine congéable[77] under which more than
500,000 persons still suffer in Lower Brittany." "You have in your
armies, Sire, more than 30,000 Franche-Comté serfs;" should one of
these become an officer and be pensioned out of the service he would
be obliged to return to and live in the hut in which he was born,
otherwise; at his death, the seignior will take his pittance. Let
there be no more absentee prelates, nor abbés-commendatory. "The
present deficit is not to be paid by us but by the bishops and
beneficiaries; deprive the princes of the church of two-thirds of
their revenues." "Let feudalism be abolished. Man, the peasant
especially, is tyrannically bowed down to the impoverished ground on
which he lies exhausted. . . . There is no freedom, no prosperity, no
happiness where the soil is enthralled. . . . Let the lord's dues, and
other odious taxes not feudal, be abolished, a thousand times returned
to the privileged. Let feudalism content itself with its iron scepter
without adding the poniard of the revenue speculator."[78]

Here, and for some time before this, it is not the Countryman who
speaks but the procureur, the lawyer, who places professional
metaphors and theories at his service. But the lawyer has simply
translated the countryman's sentiments into literary dialect.



[1]"Collection des économistes," II. 832. See a tabular statement
by Beaudan.

[2] "Ephémérides du citoyen," IX. 15; an article by M. de Butré,

[3] "Collection des économistes," I. 551, 562.

[4] "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de Champagne"
(1787), p. 240.

[5] Cf., "Notice historique sur la Révolution dans le département de
l'Eure," by Boivin-Champeaux, p. 37. - A register of grievances of the
parish of Epreville; on 100 francs income the Treasury takes 22 for
the taille, 16 for collaterals, 15 for the poll-tax, 11 for the
vingtièmes, total 67 livres.

[6] "Procès-verbaux de l'assemblée provinciale de Ile-de-France
(1787), p. 131.

[7] "Procèx-verbaux de l'ass. prov de la Haute-Guyenne" (1784), II.
17, 40, 47.

[8] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. d'Auvergne" (1787), p. 253. -
Doléances, by Gautier de Biauzat, member of the council elected by the
provincial assembly of Auvergne. (1788), p.3.

[9] See note 5 at the end of the volume.

[10] "Théron de Montaugé," p. 109 (1763). Wages at this time are
from 7 to 12 sous a day during the summer.

[11] Archives nationales, procès-verbaux and registers of the
States-General, V. 59, p. 6. Memorandum to M. Necker from M. d'Orgeux,
honorary councilor to the Parliament of Bourgogne, 25 Oct. 1788..

[12] Ibid. H, 1418. A letter of the intendant of Limoges, Feb. 26,

[13] Turgot, II. 259.

[14] Archives nationales, H, 426 (remonstrances of the Parliament
of Brittany, Feb. 1783).

[15] Mercier; XI. 59; X. 262.

[16] Archives nationales, H, 1422, a letter by M d'Aine, intendant
of Limoges (February 17, 1782) one by the intendant of Moulins (April,
1779); the trial of the community of Mollon (Bordelais), and the
tables of its collectors.

[17] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. d'Auvergne," p. 266.

[18] Albert Babeau, "Histoire de Troyes," I. 72

[19] " Procés-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de Berry" (1778), I. pp.72,

[20] De Tocqueville, 187.

[21] Archives nationales, H, 1417. (A letter of M. de Cypièrre,
intendant at Orleans, April 17, 1765).

[22] "Traité de Population," 2d part, p.26.

[23] Archives nationales, H, 1417. (A letter of M. de Cypièrre,
intendant at Orleans, April 17, 1765).

[24] Ibid. H, 1418. (Letter of May 28, 1784).

[25] Ibid. (Letter of the intendant of Tours, June 15, 1765.)

[26] Archives Nationales, H, 1417. A report by Raudon, receiver of
tailles in the election of Laon, January, 1764.

[27] "Procèx-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de Berry" (1778), I. p.72.

[28] Champfort, 93.

[29] "Procèx-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de Berry," I. 77.

[30] Arthur Young, II. 205.

[31] "Procès-verbaux of the ass. prov. of the generalship of Rouen"
(1787), p.271.

[32] Letrosne (1779). "De l'administration provinciale et de Ia
reforme de l'impôt," pp. 39 to 262 and 138. - Archives nationales, H.
138 (1782). Cahier de Bugey, "Salt costs a person living in the
countryside purchasing it from the retailers from 15 to 17 sous a
pound, according to the way of measuring it.

[33] Floquet, VI. 367 (May 10, 1760).

[34] Boivin-Champeaux, p.44. (Cahiers of Bray and of Gamaches).

[35] Arthur Young, II. 175-178.

[36] Archives nationales, G, 300; G, 319. (Registers and
instructions of various local directors of the Excise to their

[37] Letrosne, ibid. 523.

[38] Octroi: a toll or tax levied at the gates of a city on
articles brought in. (SR.)

[39] Archives Nationales, H, 426 (Papers of the Parliament of
Brittany, February, 1783).

[40] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de Soissonnais" (1787), p.45.
- Archives nationales, H, 1515 (Remonstrances of the Parliament of
Metz, 1768). The class of indigents form more than twelve-thirteenths
of the whole number of villages of laborers and generally those of the
wine-growers." Ibid. G, 319 (Tableau des directions of Chateaudon and

[41] Albert Babeau, I. 89. p. 21.

[42] "Mémoires," presented to the Assembly of Notables, by M. de
Calonne (1787), p.67.

[43] Here we are at the root of the reason why democratically
elected politicians and their administrative staffs are today taxed
even though such taxation is only a paper-exercise adding costs to the
cost of government administration. (SR.)

[44] Gautier de Bianzat, "Doléances," 193, 225. "Procès-verbaux de
l'ass. prov. de Poitou" (1787), p.99.

[45] Gautier de Bianzat, ibid..

[46] Archives nationales, the procès-verbaux and cahiers of the
States-General, V. 59. P. 6. (Letter of M. Orgeux to M. Necker), V.
27. p. 560-573. (Cahiers of the Third-Estate of Arnay-le-Duc)

[47] In these figures the rise of the money standard has been kept
in mind, the silver "marc," worth 59 francs in 1965, being worth 49
francs during the last half of the eighteenth century.

[48] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de Ile-de-France," 132, 158;
de l'Orléanais, 96, 387.

[49] "Mémoire," presented to the Assembly of Notables (1787), p. 1.
- See note 2 at the end of the volume, on the estate of Blet.

[50] "Procès-verbeaux de l'ass. prov. d'Alsace" (1787), p. 116;" -
of Champagne," 192. (According to a declaration of June 2, 1787, the
tax substituted for the corvée may be extended to one-sixth of the
taille, with accessory taxes and the poll-tax combined). "De la
généralité d'Alençcon," 179; " - du Berry," I. 218.

[51] Archives nationales, G, 322 (Memorandum on the excise dues of
Compiègne and its neighborhood, 1786)

[52] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de l'Ile-de-France," p. 104.

[53] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de Berry, I. 85, II. 91. " -
de l'Orléanais, p. 225." "Arbitrariness, injustice, inequality, are
inseparable from the taille when any change of collector takes place."

[54] "Archives Nationales," H. 615. Letter of M. de Lagourda, a
noble from Bretagne, to M. Necker, dated December 4, 1780: " You are
always taxing the useful and necessary people who decrease in numbers
all the time: these are the workers of the land. The countryside has
become deserted and no one will any longer plow the land. I testify to
God and to you, Sir, that we have lost more than a third of our
budding wheat of the last harvest because we did not have the
necessary man-power do to the work."

[55] Ibid. 1149. (letter of M. de Reverseau, March 16, 1781); H,
200 (letter of M. Amelot, Nov. 2, 1784).

[56] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de la généralite de Rouen,"

[57] Hippeau, VI. 22 (1788).

[58] D'Argenson. VI. 37.

[59] Archives nationales, H. 200 (Memoir of M. Amelot, 1785).

[60] Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. d'Auvergne," 253.

[61] Boivin-Champeaux, "Doléances de la parvisse de Tilleul-
Lambert" (Eure). "Numbers of privileged characters, Messieurs of the
elections, Messieurs the post-masters, Messieurs the presidents and
other attachés of the salt-warehouse, every individual possessing
extensive property pays but a third or a half of the taxes they ought
to pay."

[62] De Tocqueville, 385. - "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. de
Lyonnais," p. 56

[63] Archives nationales, H, 1422. (Letters of M. d'Aine,
intendant, also of the receiver for the election of Tulle, February
23, 1783).

[64] De Tocqueville, 64, 363.

[65] Archives nationales, H, 612, 614. (Letters of M. de la Bove,
September 11, and Dec. 2, 1774; June 28, 1777).

[66] Mercier, II. 62.

[67] "Grievances" of the parish of Aubervilliers.

[68] Archives nationales, G, 300; G, 322 ("Mémoires" on the excise

[69] "Procès-verbaux de l'ass. prov. des Trois-Evêchés p. 442.

[70] Archives nationales, H, 1422 (Letter of the intendant of
Moulins, April 1779).

[71] Archives nationales, H. 1312 (Letters of M. D'Antheman
procureur-général of the excise court (May 19, 1783), and of the
Archbishop of Aix (June 15, 1783).) - Provence produced wheat only
sufficient for seven and a half months' consumption.

[72] Abbreviation for the "cahier des doléances", in English
'register of grieviances', brought with them by the representatives of
the people to the great gathering in Paris of the "States-Généraux" in
1789. (SR.)

[73] The feudal dues may be estimated at a seventh of the net
income and the dime also at a seventh. These are the figures given by
the ass. prov. of Haute-Guyenne (Procès-verbaux, p. 47). - Isolated
instances, in other provinces, indicate similar results. The dime
ranges from a tenth to the thirteenth of the gross product, and
commonly the tenth. I regard the average as about the fourteenth, and
as one-half of the gross product must he deducted for expenses of
cultivation, it amounts to one-seventh. Letrosne says a fifth and even
a quarter.

[74] Boivin-Champeaux, 72.

[75] Grievances of the community of Culmon (Election de Langres.)

[76] Boivin-Champeaux, 34, 36, 41, 48. - Périn ("Doléances des
paroisses rurales de l'Artuis," 301, 308). - Archives nationales,
procès-verbaux and cahiers of the States-Géneraux, vol. XVII. P. 12
(Letter of the inhabitants of Dracy-le Viteux).

[77] Motte: a mound indicative of Seigniorial dominion; quevaise;
the right of forcing a resident to remain on his property under
penalty of forfeiture; domaine congéable; property held subject to
capricious ejection. (TR)

[78] Prud'homme, "Résumé des cahiers," III. passim, and especially
from 317 to 340.



Intellectual incapacity. - How ideas are transformed into marvelous

To comprehend their actions we ought now to look into the
condition of their minds, to know the current train of their ideas,
their mode of thinking. But is it really essential to draw this
portrait, and are not the details of their mental condition we have
just presented sufficient? We shall obtain a knowledge of them later,
and through their actions, when, in Touraine, they knock a mayor and
his assistant, chosen by themselves, senseless with kicks from their
wooden shoes, because, in obeying the national Assembly, these two
unfortunate men prepared a table of taxes; or when at Troyes, they
drag through the streets and tear to pieces the venerable magistrate
who was nourishing them at that very moment, and who had just dictated
his testament in their favor.-Take the still rude brain of a
contemporary peasant and deprive it of the ideas which, for eighty
years past, have entered it by so many channels, through the primary
school of each village, through the return home of the conscript after
seven years' service, through the prodigious multiplication of books,
newspapers, roads, railroads, foreign travel and every other species
of communication.[1] Try to imagine the peasant of the eighteenth
century, penned and shut up from father to son in his hamlet, without
parish highways, deprived of news, with no instruction but the Sunday
sermon, continuously worrying about his daily bread and the taxes,
"with his wretched, dried-up aspect,"[2] not daring to repair his
house, always persecuted, distrustful, his mind contracted and
stinted, so to say, by misery. His condition is almost that of his ox
or his ass, while his ideas are those of his condition. He has been a
long time stolid; "he lacks even instinct,"[3] mechanically and
fixedly regarding the ground on which he drags along his hereditary
plow. In 1751, d'Argenson wrote in his journal:

"nothing in the news from the court affects them; the reign is
indifferent to them. . . . . the distance between the capital and the
province daily widens. . . . Here they are ignorant of the striking
occurrences that most impressed us at Paris. . . .The inhabitants of
the country side are merely poverty-stricken slaves, draft cattle
under a yoke, moving on as they are goaded, caring for nothing and
embarrassed by nothing, provided they can eat and sleep at regular

They make no complaints, "they do not even dream of
complaining;"[4] their wretchedness seems to them natural like winter
or hail. Their minds, like their agriculture, still belong to the
middle ages.-In the environment of Toulouse,[5] to ascertain who
committed a robbery, to cure a man or a sick animal, they resort to a
sorcerer, who divines this by means of a sieve. The countryman fully
believes in ghosts and, on All Saints' eve, he lays the cloth for the
dead.- In Auvergne, at the outbreak the Revolution, on a contagious
fever making its appearance, M. de Montlosier, declared to be a
sorcerer, is the cause of it, and two hundred men assemble together to
demolish his dwelling. Their religious belief is on the same level.[6]
"Their priests drink with them and sell them absolution. On Sundays,
at the sermon, they put up lieutenancies and sub-lieutenancies (among
the saints) for sale: so much for a lieutenant's place under St.
Peter! - If the peasant hesitates in his bid, an eulogy of St. Peter
at once begins, and then our peasants run it up fast enough." - To
intellects in a primitive state, barren of ideas and crowded with
images, idols on earth are as essential as idols in heaven. "No doubt
whatever existed in my mind," says Rétit de la Bretonne,[7] "of the
power of the king to compel any man to bestow his wife or daughter on
me, and my village (Sacy, in Burgundy) thought as I did."[8] There is
no room in minds of this description for abstract conceptions, for any
idea of social order; they are submissive to it and that is all. "The
mass of the people," writes Governor in 1789, "have no religion but
that of their priests, no law but that of those above them, no
morality but that of self-interest; these are the beings who, led on
by drunken curates, are now on the high road to liberty, and the first
use they make of it is to rebel on all sides because there is

How could things be otherwise? Every idea, previous to taking root
in their brain, must possess a legendary form, as absurd as it is
simple, adapted to their experiences, their faculties, their fears and
their aspirations. Once planted in this uncultivated and fertile soil
it vegetates and becomes transformed, developing into gross
excrescences, somber foliage and poisonous fruit. The more monstrous
the greater its vigor, clinging to the slightest of probabilities and
tenacious against the most certain of demonstrations. Under Louis XV,
in an arrest of vagabonds, a few children having been carried off
willfully or by mistake, the rumor spreads that the king takes baths
in blood to restore his exhausted functions, and, so true does this
seem to be, the women, horrified through their maternal instincts,
join in the riot; a policeman is seized and knocked down, and, on his
demanding a confessor, a woman in the crowd, picking up a stone, cries
out that he must not have time to go to heaven, and smashes his head
with it, believing that she is performing an act of justice[10]. Under
Louis XVI evidence is presented to the people that there is no
scarcity: in 1789, [11] an officer, listening to the conversation of
his soldiers, hears them state "with full belief that the princes and
courtiers, with a view to starve Paris out, are throwing flour into
the Seine." Turning to a quarter-master he asks him how he can
possibly believe such an absurd story. "Lieutenant," he replies, "'tis
time - the bags were tied with blue strings (cordons bleus)." To them
this is a sufficient reason, and no argument could convince them to
the contrary. Thus, among the dregs of society, foul and horrible
romances are forged, in connection the famine and the Bastille, in
which Louis XVI., the queen Marie Antoinette, the Comte d'Artois,
Madame de Lamballe, the Polignacs, the revenue farmers, the seigniors
and ladies of high rank are portrayed as vampires and ghouls. I have
seen many editions of these in the pamphlets of the day, in the
engravings not exhibited, and among popular prints and illustrations,
the latter the most effective, since they appeal to the eye. They
surpass the stories of Mandrin[12] and Cartouche, being exactly
suitable for men whose literature consists of the popular laments of
Mandrin and Cartouche.


Political incapacity. - Interpretation of political rumors and of
government action.

By this we can judge of their political intelligence. Every
object appears to them in a false light; they are like children who,
at each turn of the road, see in each tree or bush some frightful
hobgoblin. Arthur Young, on visiting the springs near Clermont, is
arrested,[13] and the people want to imprison a woman, his guide, some
of the bystanders regarding him as an "agent of the Queen, who
intended to blow the town up with a mine, and send all that escaped to
the galleys." Six days after this, beyond Puy, and notwithstanding his
passport, the village guard come and take him out of bed at eleven
o'clock at nights, declaring that "I was undoubtedly a conspirator
with the Queen, the Count d'Artois and the Count d'Entragues (who has
property here), who had employed me as arpenteur to measure their
fields in order to double their taxes." We here take the unconscious,
apprehensive, popular imagination in the act; a slight indication, a
word, prompting the construction of either air castles or fantastic
dungeons, and seeing these as plainly as if they were so many
substantial realities. They have not the inward resources that render
capable of separating and discerning; their conceptions are formed in
a lump; both object and fancy appear together and are united in one
single perception. At the moment of electing deputies the report is
current in Province[14] that "the best of kings desires perfect
equality, that there are to be no more bishops, nor seigniors, nor
tithes, nor seigniorial dues, no more tithes or distinctions, no more
hunting or fishing rights, . . . that the people are to be wholly
relieved of taxation, and that the first two orders alone are to
provide the expenses of the government." Whereupon forty or fifty
riots take place in one day. "Several communities refuse to make any
payments to their treasurer outside of royal requisitions." Others do
better: "on pillaging the strong-box of the receiver of the tax on
leather at Brignolles, they shout out Vive le Roi!" "The peasant
constantly asserts his pillage and destruction to be in conformity
with the king's will." A little later, in Auvergne, the peasants who
burn castles are to display "much repugnance" in thus maltreating
"such kind seigniors," but they allege "imperative orders, having been
advised that the king wished it."[15] At Lyons, when the tapsters of
the town and the peasants of the neighborhood trample the customs
officials underfoot they believe that the king has suspended all
customs dues for three days.[16] The scope of their imagination is
proportionate to their shortsightedness. "Bread, no more rents, no
more taxes!" is the sole cry, the cry of want, while exasperated want
plunges ahead like a famished bull. Down with the monopolist ! -
storehouses are forced open, convoys of grain are stopped, markets are
pillaged, bakers are hung, and the price of bread is fixed so that
none is to be had or is concealed. Down with the octroi ! -
barriers are demolished, clerks are beaten, money is wanting in the
towns for urgent expenses. Burn tax registries, account-books,
municipal archives, seigniors' charter-safes, convent parchments,
every detestable document creative of debtors and sufferers ! The
village itself is no longer able to preserve its parish property. The
rage against any written document, against public officers, against
any man more or less connected with grain, is blind and determined.
The furious animal destroys all, although wounding himself, driving
and roaring against the obstacle that ought to be outflanked.


Destructive impulses. - The object of blind rage. - Distrust of
natural leaders. - Suspicion of them changed into hatred. -
Disposition of the people in 1789.

This owing to the absence of leaders and in the absence of
organization, a mob is simply a herd. Its mistrust of its natural
leaders, of the great, of the wealthy, of persons in office and
clothed with authority, is inveterate and incurable. Vainly do these
wish it well and do it good; it has no faith in their humanity or
disinterestedness. It has been too down-trodden; it entertains
prejudices against every measure proceeding from them, even the most
liberal and the most beneficial. "At the mere mention of the new
assemblies," says a provincial commission in 1787,[17] "we heard a
workman exclaim, 'What, more new extortioners!' " Superiors of every
kind are suspected, and from suspicion to hostility the road is not
long. In 1788[18] Mercier declares that "insubordination has been
manifest for some years, especially among the trades. . . . Formerly,
on entering a printing-office the men took off their hats. Now they
content themselves with staring and leering at you; scarcely have you
crossed threshold when you yourself more lightly spoken of than if you
were one of them." The same attitude is taken by the peasants in the
environment of Paris; Madame Vigée-Lebrun,[19] on going to Romainville
to visit Marshal de Ségur, remarks: "Not only do they not remove their
hats but they regard us insolently; some of them even threatened us
with clubs." In March and April following this, her guests arrive at
her concert in consternation. "In the morning, at the promenade of
Longchamps, the populace, assembled at the barrier of l'Etoile,
insulted the people passing by in carriages in the grossest manner;
some of the wretches on the footsteps exclaiming: 'Next year you shall
be behind the carriage and we inside.' " At the close of the year
1788, the stream becomes a torrent and the torrent a cataract. An
intendant[20] writes that, in his province, the government must
decide, and in the popular sense, to separate from privileged classes,
abandon old forms and give the Third-Estate a double vote. The clergy
and the nobles are detested, and their supremacy is a yoke. "Last
July," he says, "the old States-General would have been received with
pleasure and there would have been few obstacles to its formation.
During the past five months minds have become enlightened; respective
interests have been discussed, and leagues formed. You have been kept
in ignorance of the fermentation which is at its height among all
classes of the Third-Estate, and a spark will kindle the
conflagration. If the king's decision should be favorable to the first
two orders a general insurrection will occur throughout the provinces,
600,000 men in arms and the horrors of the Jacquerie." The word is
spoken and the reality is coming. An insurrectionary multitude
rejecting its natural leaders must elect or submit to others. It is
like an army which, entering on a campaign, finding itself without
officers; the vacancies are for the boldest, most violent, those most
oppressed by the previous rule, and who, leading the advance, shouting
"forward" and thus form the leading groups. In 1789, the bands are
ready; for, below the suffering people there is yet another people
which suffers yet more, whose insurrection is permanent, and which,
repressed, persecuted, and obscure, only awaits an opportunity to come
out of its hiding-place and openly give their passions free vent.


Insurrectionary leaders and recruits. - Poachers. - Smugglers and
dealers in contraband salt. - Bandits. - Beggars and vagabonds. -
Advent of brigands. - The people of Paris.

Vagrants, recalcitrants of all kinds, fugitives of the law or the
police, beggars, cripples, foul, filthy, haggard and savage, they are
bred by the social injustice of the system, and around every one of
the social wounds these swarm like vermin. - Four hundred
captaincies protects vast quantities of game feeding on the crops
under the eyes of owners of the land, transforming these into
thousands of poachers, the more dangerous since they are armed, and
defy the most terrible laws. Already in 1752[21] are seen around Paris
"gatherings of fifty or sixty, all fully armed and acting as if on
regular foraging campaigns, with the infantry at the center and the
cavalry on the wings. . . . They live in the forests where they have
created a fortified and guarded area and paying exactly for what they
take to live on." In 1777[22], at Sens in Burgundy, the public
attorney, M. Terray, hunting on his own property with two officers,
meets a gang of poachers who fire on the game under their eyes, and
soon afterwards fire on them. Terray is wounded and one of the
officers has his coat pierced; guards arrive, but the poachers stand
firm and repel them; dragoons are sent for and the poachers kill of
these, along with three horses, and are attacked with sabers; four of
them are brought to the ground and seven are captured.-Reports of the
States-General show that every year, in each extensive forest, murders
occur, sometimes at the hands of a poacher, and again, and the most
frequently, by the shot of a gamekeeper. - It is a continuous warfare
at home; every vast domain thus harbors its rebels, provided with
powder and ball and knowing how to use them.

Other recruits for rioting are found among smugglers and in
dealers in contraband salt[23]. A tax, as soon as it becomes
exorbitant, invites fraud, and raises up a population of delinquents
against its army of clerks. The number of such defrauders may be seen
when we consider the number of custom officers: twelve hundred leagues
of interior custom districts are guarded by 50,000 men, of which
23,000 are soldiers in civilian dress[24]. "In the principal provinces
of the salt-tax and in the provinces of the five great tax leasing
administrations (fermes), for four leagues (ten miles) on either side
of the prohibited line," cultivation is abandoned; everybody is either
a customs official or a smuggler[25]. The more excessive the tax the
higher the premium offered to the violators of the law; at every place
on the boundaries of Brittany with Normandy, Maine and Anjou, four
pence per pound added to the salt-tax multiplies beyond any conception
the already enormous number of contraband dealers. "Numerous bands of
men,[26] armed with frettes, or long sticks pointed with iron, and
often with pistols or guns, attempt to force a passage. "A multitude
of women and of children, quite young, cross the brigades boundaries
or, on the other side, troops of dogs are brought there, kept closed
up for a certain time without food or drink, then loaded with salt and
now turned loose so that they, driven by hunger, immediately bring
their cargo back to their masters."-Vagabonds, outlaws, the famished,
sniff this lucrative occupation from afar and run to it like so many
packs of hounds. "The outskirts of Brittany are filled with a
population of emigrants, mostly outcast from their own districts, who,
after a year's registered stay, may enjoy the privileges of the
Bretons: their occupation is limited to collecting piles of salt to
re-sell to the contraband dealers." We might imagine them, as in a
flash of lightening, as a long line of restless nomads, nocturnal and
pursued, an entire tribe, male and female, of unsociable prowlers,
familiar with to underhand tricks, toughened by hard weather, ragged,
"nearly all infected by persistent scabies," and I find similar bodies
in the vicinity of Morlaix, Lorient, and other ports on the frontiers
of other provinces and on the frontiers of the kingdom. From 1783 to
1787, in Quercy, two allied bands of smugglers, sixty and eighty each,
defraud the revenue of 40,000 of tobacco, kill two customs officers,
and, with their guns, defend their stores in the mountains; to
suppress them soldiers are needed, which their military commander will
not furnish. In 1789,[27] a large troop of smugglers carry on
operations permanently on the frontiers of Maine and Anjou; the
military commander writes that "their chief is an intelligent and
formidable bandit, who already has under him fifty-five men, he will,
due to misery and rebellion soon have a corps;" it would, as we are
unable to take him by force, be best, if some of his men could be
turned and made to hand him over to us. These are the means resorted
to in regions where brigandage is endemic. - Here, indeed, as in
Calabria, the people are on the side of the brigands against the
gendarmes. The exploits of Mandrin in 1754,[28] may be remembered: his
company of sixty men who bring in contraband goods and ransom only the
clerks, his expedition, lasting nearly a year, across Franche-Comté,
Lyonnais, Bourbonnais, Auvergne and Burgundy, the twenty-seven towns
he enters making no resistance, delivering prisoners and making sale
of his merchandise. To overcome him a camp had to be formed at Valance
and 2,000 men sent against him; he was taken through treachery, and
still at the present day certain families are proud of their
relationship to him, declaring him a liberator. - No symptom is more
alarming: on the enemies of the law being preferred by the people to
its defenders, society disintegrates and the worms begin to work. -
Add to these the veritable brigands, assassins and robbers. "In
1782,[29] the provost's court of Montargis is engaged on the trial of
Hulin and two hundred of his accomplices who, for ten years, by means
of joint enterprises, have desolated a portion of the kingdom." -
Mercier enumerates in France "an army of more than 10,000 brigands and
vagabonds" against which the police, composed of 3,756 men, is always
on the march. "Complaints are daily made," says the provincial
assembly of Haute-Guyenne, "that there is no police in the country."
The absentee seignior pays no attention to this matter; his judges and
officials take good care not to operate gratuitously against an
insolvent criminal, the result is that "his estates become the refuge
of all the rascals of the area."[30] - Every abuse thus carries with
it a risk, both due to misplaced carelessness as well as excessive
rigor, to relaxed feudalism as well as to harsh monarchy. All the
institutions appear to work together to breed and or tolerate the
troublemakers, preparing, outside the social defenses, the men of
action who will carry it by storm.

But the total effect of all this is yet more damaging, for, out of
the vast numbers of workers it ruins it forms beggars unwilling to
work, dangerous sluggards going about begging and extorting bread from
peasants who have not too much for themselves. "The vagabonds about
the country," says Letrosne,[31] "are a terrible pest; they are like
an enemy's force which, distributed over the territory, obtains a
living as it pleases, levying veritable contributions. . . . They are
constantly roving around the country, examining the approaches to
houses, and informing themselves about their inmates and of their
habits.- Woe to those supposed to have money! . . . What numbers of
highway robberies and what burglaries! What numbers of travelers
assassinated, and houses and doors broken into! What assassinations of
curates, farmers and widows, tormented to discover money and
afterwards killed! Twenty-five years anterior (page 384/284) to the
Revolution it was not infrequent to see fifteen or twenty of these
"invade a farm-house to sleep there, intimidating the farmers and
exacting whatever they pleased." In 1764, the government takes
measures against them which indicate the magnitude of the evil[32].

"Are held to be vagabonds and vagrants, and condemned as such,
those who, for a preceding term of six months, shall have exercised no
trade or profession, and who, having no occupation or means of
subsistence, can procure no persons worthy of confidence to attest and
verify their habits and mode of life. . . . The intent of His Majesty
is not merely to arrest vagabonds traversing the country but, again,
all mendicants whatsoever who, without occupations, may be regarded as
suspected of vagabondage."

The penalty for able-bodied men is three years in the galleys; in
case of a second conviction, nine years; and for a third, imprisonment
for life. Under the age of sixteen, they are put in an institution. "A
mendicant who has made himself liable to arrest by the police," says
the circular, "is not to be released except under the most positive
assurance that he will no longer beg; this course will be followed
only in case of persons worthy of confidence and solvent guaranteeing
the mendicant, and engaging to provide him with employment or to
support him, and they shall indicate the means by which they are to
prevent him from begging." This being furnished, the special
authorization of the intendant must be obtained in addition. By virtue
of this law, 50,000 beggars are said to have been arrested at once,
and, as the ordinary hospitals and prisons were not large enough to
contain them, jails had to be constructed. Up to the end of the
ancient régime this measure is carried out with occasional
intermissions: in Languedoc, in 1768, arrests were still made of 433
in six months, and, in 1785, 205 in four months[33]. A little before
this time 300 were confined in the depot of Besançon, 500 in that of
Rennes and 650 in that of Saint Denis. It cost the king a million a
year to support them, and God knows how they were bedded and fed!
Water, straw, bread, and two ounces of salted grease, the whole at an
expense of five sous a day; and, as the price of provisions for twenty
years back had increased more than a third, the keeper who had them in
charge was obliged to make them fast or ruin himself. - With
respect to the mode of filling the depots, the police are Turks in
their treatment of the lower class; they strike into the heap, their
broom bruising as many as they sweep out. According to the ordinance
of 1778, writes an intendant,[34]

"the police must arrest not only beggars and vagabonds whom they
encounter but, again, those denounced as such or as suspected persons.
The citizen, the most irreproachable in his conduct and the least open
to suspicion of vagabondage, is not sure of not being shut up in the
depot, as his freedom depends on a policeman who is constantly liable
to be deceived by a false denunciation or corrupted by a bribe. I have
seen in the depot at Rennes several husbands arrested solely through
the denunciation of their wives, and as many women through that of
their husbands; several children by the first wife at the solicitation
of their step-mothers; many female domestics pregnant by the masters
they served, shut up at their instigation, and girls in the same
situation at the instance of their seducers; children denounced by
their fathers, and fathers denounced by their children; all without
the slightest evidence of vagabondage or mendicity. . . . No decision
of the provost's court exists restoring the incarcerated to their
liberty, notwithstanding the infinite number arrested unjustly."

Suppose that a human intendant, like this one, sets them at
liberty: there they are in the streets, without a penny, beggars
through the action of a law which proscribes mendicity and which adds
to the wretched it prosecutes the wretched it creates, still more
embittered and corrupt in body and in soul.

"It nearly always happens," says the same intendant, "that the
prisoners, arrested twenty-five or thirty leagues from the depot, are
not confined there until three or four months after their arrest, and
sometimes longer. Meanwhile, they are transferred from brigade to
brigade, in the prisons found along the road, where they remain until
the number increases sufficiently to form a convoy. Men and women are
confined in the same prison, the result of which is, the females not
pregnant on entering it are always so on their arrival at the depot.
The prisons are generally unhealthy; frequently, the majority of the
prisoners are sick on leaving it;"

and many become rascals on coming in contact with rascals.-Moral
contagion and physical contagion, the ulcer thus increasing through
the remedy, centers of repression becoming centers of corruption.

And yet with all its rigors the law does not attain its ends.

"Our towns," says the parliament of Brittany,[35] "are so filled
with beggars it seems as if the measures taken to suppress mendicity
only increase it." - "The principal highways," writes the
intendant, "are infested with dangerous vagabonds and vagrants, actual
beggars, which the police do not arrest, either through negligence or
because their interference is not provoked by special solicitations."

What would be done with them if they were arrested? They are too
many, and there is no place to put them. And, moreover, how prevent
people who live on alms from demanding alms? The effect, undoubtedly,
is lamentable but inevitable. Poverty, to a certain extent, is a slow
gangrene in which the morbid parts consume the healthy parts, the man
scarcely able to subsist being eaten up alive by the man who has
nothing to live on.

"The peasant is ruined, perishing, the victim of oppression by the
multitude of the poor that lay waste the country and take refuge in
the towns. Hence the mobs so prejudicial to public safety, that crowd
of smugglers and vagrants, that large body of men who have become
robbers and assassins, solely because they lack bread. This gives but
a faint idea of the disorders I have seen with my own eyes[36]. The
poverty of the rural districts, excessive in itself, becomes yet more
so through the disturbances it engenders; we have not to seek
elsewhere for frightful sources of mendicity and for all the

Of what avail are palliatives or violent proceedings against an
evil which is in the blood, and which belongs to the very constitution
of the social organism? What police force could effect anything in a
parish in which one-quarter or one-third of its inhabitants have
nothing to eat but that which they beg from door to door? At
Argentré,[38] in Brittany, "a town without trade or industry, out of
2,300 inhabitants, more than one-half are anything else but well-off,
and over 500 are reduced to beggary." At Dainville, in Artois, "out of
130 houses sixty are on the poor-list."[39] In Normandy, according to
statements made by the curates, "of 900 parishioners in Saint-Malo,
three-quarters can barely live and the rest are in poverty." "Of 1,500
inhabitants in Saint-Patrice, 400 live on alms." Of 500 inhabitants in
Saint-Laurent three-quarters live on alms." At Marboef, says a report,
"of 500 persons inhabiting our parish, 100 are reduced to mendicity,
and besides these, thirty or forty a day come to us from neighboring
parishes."[40] At Bolbone in Languedoc[41] daily at the convent gate
is "general almsgiving to 300 or 400 poor people, independent of that
for the aged and the sick, which is more numerously attended." At
Lyons, in 1787, "30,000 workmen depend on public charity for
subsistence;" at Rennes, in 1788, after an inundation, "two-thirds of
the inhabitants are in a state of destitution;"[42] at Paris, out of
650,000 inhabitants, the census of 1791 counts 118,784 as
indigent.[43] - Let frost or hail come, as in 1788, let a crop fail,
let bread cost four sous a pound, and let a workman in the charity-
workshops earn only twelve sous a day,[44] can one imagine that
people will resign themselves to death by starvation? Around Rouen,
during the winter of 1788, the forests are pillaged in open day, the
woods at Baguères are wholly cut away, the fallen trees are publicly
sold by the marauders[45]. Both the famished and the marauders go
together, necessity making itself the accomplice of crime. From
province to province we can follow up their tracks: four months later,
in the vicinity of Etampes, fifteen brigands break into four
farmhouses during the night, while the farmers, threatened by
incendiaries, are obliged to give, one three hundred francs, another
five hundred, all the money, probably, they have in their coffers[46].
"Robbers, convicts, the worthless of every species," are to form the
advance guard of insurrections and lead the peasantry to the extreme
of violence[47]. After the sack of the Reveillon house in Paris it is
remarked that "of the forty ringleaders arrested, there was scarcely
one who was not an old offender, and either flogged or branded."[48]
In every revolution the dregs of society come to the surface. Never
had these been visible before; like badgers in the woods, or rats in
the sewers, they had remained in their burrows or in their holes. They
issue from these in swarms, and suddenly, in Paris, what figures![49]
"Never had any like them been seen in daylight. . . Where do they come
from? Who has brought them out of their obscure hiding places? . . .
strangers from everywhere, armed with clubs, ragged, . . . some almost
naked, others oddly dressed" in incongruous patches and "frightful to
look at," constitute the riotous chiefs or their subordinates, at six
francs per head, behind which the people are to march.

"At Paris," says Mercier,[50] "the people are weak, pallid,
diminutive, stunted," maltreated, "and, apparently, a class apart from
other classes in the country. The rich and the great who possess
equipages, enjoy the privilege of crushing them or of mutilating them
in the streets. . . There is no convenience for pedestrians, no side-
walks. Hundred victims die annually under the carriage wheels." "I
saw," says Arthur Young, "a poor child run over and probably killed,
and have been myself several times been covered from head to toe with
the water from the gutter. Should young (English) noblemen drive along
London streets without sidewalks, in the same manner as their equals
in Paris, they would speedily and justly get very well thrashed and
rolled in the gutter."

Mercier grows uneasy in the face of the immense populace:

"In Paris there are, probably, 200,000 persons with no property
intrinsically worth fifty crowns, and yet the city subsists!"

Order, consequently, is maintained only through fear and by force,
owing to the soldiery of the watch who are called tristes-à-patte by
the crowd. "This nick name enrages this species of militia, who then
deal heavier blows around them, wounding indiscriminately all they
encounter. The low class is always ready to make war on them because
it has never been fairly treated by them." In fact, "a squad of the
guard often scatters, with no trouble, crowds of five or six hundred
men, at first greatly excited, but melting away in the twinkling of an
eye, after the soldiery have distributed a few blows and handcuffed
two or three of the ringleaders." - Nevertheless, "were the people
of Paris abandoned to their true inclinations, did they not feel the
horse and foot guards behind them, the commissary and policeman, there
would be no limits to their disorder. The populace, delivered from its
customary restraint, would give itself up to violence of so cruel a
stamp as not to know when to stop. . . As long as white bread
lasts,[51] the commotion will not prove general; the flour market[52]
must interest itself in the matter, if the women are to remain
tranquil. . . Should white bread be wanting for two market days in
succession, the uprising would be universal, and it is impossible to
foresee the lengths this multitude at bay will go to in order to
escape famine, they and their children." -In 1789 white bread proves
to be wanting throughout France.



[1] Théron de Montaugé, 102, 113. In the Toulousain ten parishes
out of fifty have schools. - In Gascony, says the ass. prov. of Auch
(p. 24), "most of the rural districts are without schoolmasters or
parsonages." - In 1778, the post between Paris and Toulouse runs only
three times a week; that of Toulouse by way of Alby, Rodez, etc.,
twice a week; for Beaumont, Saint-Girons, etc., once a week. "In the
country," says Théron de Montaugé, "one may be said to live in
solitude and exile." In 1789 the Paris post reaches Besançon three
times a week. (Arthur Young, I. 257).

[2] One of the Marquis de Mirabeau's expressions.

[3] Archives nationales, G. 300, letter of an excise director at
Coulommiers, Aug. 13, 1781.

[4] D'Argenson, VI. 425 (June 16, 1751).

[5] De Montlosier, I. 102, 146.

[6] Théron de Montaugé, 102.

[7] Monsieur Nicolas, I. 448.

[8] "Tableaux de la Révolution," by Schmidt, II. 7 (report by the
agent Perriere who lived in Auvergne.)

[9] Gouverneur Morris, II. 69, April 29, 1789.

[10] Mercier, "Tableau de Paris," XII. 83.

[11] De Vaublanc, 209.

[12] Mandrin, (Louis) (Saint Étienne-de- Saint-Geoirs, Isère, 1724
- Valence, 1755). French smuggler who, after 1750, was active over an
enormous territory with the support of the population; hunted down by
the army, caught, condemned to death to be broken alive on the wheel.

[13] Arthur Young, I. 283 (Aug. 13, 1789); I. 289 (Aug. 19, 1789).

[14] Archives nationales, H, 274. Letters respectively of M. de
Caraman (March 18 and April 12, 1789); M. d'Eymar de Montmegran (April
2); M. de la Tour (March 30). "The sovereign's greatest benefit is
interpreted in the strangest manner by an ignorant populace."

[15] Doniol, "Hist. Des classes rurales," 495. (Letter of Aug. 3,
1789, to M. de Clermont-Tonnerre).

[16] Archives nationales, H. 1453. (Letter of Aug. 3, 1789, to M.
de Clermont-Tonnere).

[17] Procès-verbaux de l'ass. Prov. D'Orléanais," p. 296."Distrusts
still prevails throughout the rural districts. . . Your first orders
for departmental assemblies only awakened suspicion in certain

[18] "Tableau de Paris," XII. 186.

[19] Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, I. 158, (1788); I. 183 (1789).

[20] Archives nationals, H. 723. (Letter of M. de Caumartin,
intendant at Besançon, Dec. 5, 1788).

[21] D'Argenson, March 13, 1752.

[22] "Corresp.," of Métra, V, 179 (November 22, 1777).

[23] Beugnot, I. 142. "No inhabitant of the barony of Choiseul
mingled with any of the bands composed of the patriots of Montigny,
smugglers and outcasts of the neighborhood." - See, on the poachers of
the day, "Les deux amis de Bourbonne," by Diderot.

[24] De Calonne, "Mémoires presentés à l'ass. des notables," No. 8.
- Necker, "De l'Administration des Finances," I. 195.

[25] Letrosne, "De l'Administration des Finances," 59.

[26] Archives nationales, H. 426. (Mémoires of the farmers-general,
Jan. 13, 1781, Sept. 15, 1782). H, 614. (Letter of M. de Coetlosquet,
April 25, 1777). H, 1431. Report by the farmers-general, March 9,

[27] Archives nationales, H, 1453. Letter of the Baron de Bezenval,
June 19, 1789.

[28] "Mandrin," by Paul Simian, passim. - "Histoire de Beaume,"
by Rossignol, p. 453. - "Mandrin," by Ch. Jarrin (1875). Major Fisher,
who attacks and disperses the gang, writes that the affair is urgent
since, "higher to the North near Forez, one can find two or three
hundred vagrants who only wait for a chance to unite with them."

[29] Mercier, XI. 116.

[30] See above, book I. p. 55.

[31] Letrosne, ibid. (1779), p. 539.

[32] Archives nationales, F16, 965, and H, 892. (Ordinance of
August 4 1764; a circular of instructions of July 20, 1767; a letter
of a police lieutenant of Toulouse, September 21, 1787).

[33] Archives nationales, H, 724; H, 554; F4 2397; F16 965. -
Letters of the jailers of Carcassonne (June 22, 1789); of Béziers
(July 19, 1786); of Nimes (July 1, 1786); of the intendant, M. d'Aine
(March 19, 1786).

[34] Archives nationales, H, 554. (Letter of M. de Bertrand,
intendant of Rennes, August 7, 1785).

[35] Archives nationales, H, 426. (Remonstrances, Feb. 1783). - H,
554. (Letter of M. de Bertrand, Aug. 17, 1785).

[36] Archives nationales, H, 614 (Mémoire by René de Hauteville,
parliamentary advocate, Saint-Brieuc, Dec. 25, 1776.)

[37] "Process-verbaux de l'ass. Prov. de Soissonnais" (1787) p.

[38] Archives nationales, H, 616 (A letter of M. De Boves,
intendant of Rennes, April 23, 1774).

[39] Périn, "La Jeunesse de Robespierre," 301. (Doléances des
parroisses rurales en 1789).

[40] Hippeau, "Le Gouvern. de Normandie," VII. 147-177 (1789). -
Boivin-Champeaux, "Notice hist. sur la Révolution dans le département
de l'Eure," p. 83 (1789).

[41] Théron de Montaugé, p. 87. (Letter of the prior of the
convent, March, 1789).

[42] "Procès-verbaux de l'Ass. prov. de Lyonnais," p.57. -
Archives nationales, F4, 2073. Memorandum of Jan. 24, 1788.
"Charitable assistance is very limited, the provincial authorities
providing no resources for such accidents."

[43] Levasseur, "La France industrielle," 119. - In 1862, the
population being almost triple (1 696 000) there are but 90 000

[44] Albert Babeau, "Hist. de Troyes," I. 91. (Letter of the mayor
Huez, July 30, 1788).

[45] Floquet, VII, 506.

[46] Archives nationales, H, 1453. (Letter of M. de Sainte-Suzanne,
April 29, 1789).

[47] Arthur Young, I. 256.

[48] "Correspond. secrèt inédite," from 1777 to 1792, published by
M. de Lescure, II. 351 (May 8, 1789). Cf. C. Desmoulins, "La
Lanterne," of 100 rioters arrested at Lyons 96 were branded.

[49] De Bezenval, II. 344, 350. - Dussault, "La Prise de la
Bastille," 352. - Marmontel, II, ch. XIV, 249. --Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, I.
177, 188.

[50] Mercier, I. 32; VI. 15; X. 179; XI. 59; XII. 83. - Arthur
Young, I. 122.

[51] In the original, pain de Gonesse, - bread, made in a village
of this name near Paris, and renowned for its whiteness. - TR.

[52] "Dialogues sur le commerce des blés," by Galiani (1770). "If
the strong of the markets are content, no misfortune will happen to
the administration. The great conspire and rebel; the bourgeois
murmurs and lives a celibate; peasants and artisans despair and go
away; porters get up riots."

CHAPTER IV. The Armed Forces.


Military force declines. - How the army is recruited. - How the
soldier is treated.

Against universal sedition where is force? - The measures and
dispositions which govern the 150,000 men who maintain order are the
same as those ruling the 26 millions people subject to it. We find
here the same abuses, disaffection, and other causes for the
dissolution of the nation which, in their turn, will dissolve the

Of the 90 millions of pay[1] which the army annually costs the
treasury, 46 millions are for officers and only 44 millions for
soldiers, and we are already aware that a new ordinance reserves ranks
of all kinds for verified nobles. In no direction is this inequality,
against which public opinion rebels so vigorously, more apparent. On
the one hand, authority, honors, money, leisure, good-living, social
enjoyments, and plays in private, for the minority. On the other hand,
for the majority, subjection, dejection, fatigue, a forced or betrayed
enlistment, no hope of promotion, pay at six sous a day,[2] a narrow
cot for two, bread fit for dogs, and, for several years, kicks like
those bestowed on a dog.[3] On the one hand, a nobility of high
estate, and, on the other, the lowest of the populace. One might say
that this was specially designed for contrast and to intensify
irritation. "The insignificant pay of the soldier," says an economist,
"the way in which he is dressed, lodged and fed, his utter dependence,
would render it cruelty to take any other than a man of the lower
class."[4] Indeed, he is sought for only in the lowest layers of
society. Not only are nobles and the bourgeoisie exempt from
conscription, but again the employees of the administration, of the
fermes and of public works, "all gamekeepers and forest-rangers, the
hired domestics and valets of ecclesiastics, of communities, of
religious establishments, of the gentry and of nobles,"[5] and even of
the bourgeoisie living in grand style, and still better, the sons of
cultivators in easy circumstances, and, in general, all possessing
influence or any species of protector. There remains, accordingly, for
the militia none but the poorest class, and they do not willingly
enter it. On the contrary, the service is hateful to them; they
conceal themselves in the forests where they have to be pursued by
armed men: in a certain canton which, three years later, furnishes in
one day from fifty to one hundred volunteers, the young men cut off
their thumbs to escape the draft.[6] To this scum of society is added
the sweepings of the depots and of the jails. Among the vagabonds that
fill these, after winnowing out those able to make their families
known or to obtain sponsors, "there are none left," says an intendant,
"but those who are entirely unknown or dangerous, out of which those
regarded as the least vicious are selected and efforts are made to
place these in the army."[7] - The last of its affluents is the
half-forced, half-voluntary enlistment by which the ranks are for the
most part filled, the human waste of large towns, like adventurers,
discharged apprentices, young reprobates turned out of doors, and
people without homes or steady occupation. The recruiting agent who is
paid so much a head for his recruits and so much an inch on their
stature above five feet, "holds his court in a tavern, treating
everyone" promoting his merchandise:

"Come, boys, soup, fish, meat and salad is what you get to eat in
the regiment;" nothing else, "I don't deceive you - pie and Arbois
wine are the extras."[8]

He pours the wine, pays the bill and, if need be, yields his
mistress. "After a few days debauchery, the young libertine, with no
money to pay his debts, is obliged to sell himself, while the laborer,
transformed into soldier, begins to drill under the lash." - Strange
recruits these, for the protection of society, all selected from the
class which will attack it, down-trodden peasants, imprisoned
vagabonds, social outcasts, poor fellows in debt, disheartened,
excited and easily tempted, who, according to circumstances, become at
one time rioters, and at another soldiers. - Which lot is preferable?
The bread the soldier eats is not more abundant than that of the
prisoner, while poorer in quality; for the bran is taken out of the
bread which the locked-up vagabond eats, and left in the bread which
is eaten by the soldier who locks him up[9]. In this state of things
the soldier ought not to mediate on his lot, and yet this is just what
his officers incite him to do. They also have become politicians and
fault-finders. Some years before the Revolution[10] "disputes
occurred" in the army, "discussions and complaints, and, the new ideas
fermenting in their heads, a correspondence was established between
two regiments. Written information was obtained from Paris, authorized
by the Minister of War, which cost, I believe, twelve louis per annum.
It soon took a philosophic turn, embracing dissertations, criticisms
of the ministry, and of the government, desirable changes and,
therefore, the more diffused." Sergeants like Hoche, and fencing-
masters like Augereau, certainly often read this news, carelessly left
lying on the tables, and commented on it during the evening in their
soldier quarters. Discontent is of ancient date, and already, at the
end of the late reign, grievous words are heard. At a banquet given by
a prince of the blood,[11] with a table set for a hundred guests under
an immense tent and served by grenadiers, the odor these diffused
upset the prince's delicate nose. "These worthy fellows," said he, a
little too loud, "smell strong of the stocking." One of the grenadiers
bluntly responded, "Because we haven't got any," which "was followed
by profound silence." During the ensuring years irritation smolders
and augments; the soldiers of Rochambeau have fought side by side with
the free militia of America, and they keep this in mind. In 1788,[12]
Marshal de Vaux, previous to the insurrection in Dauphiny, writes to
minister that "it is impossible to rely on the troops," while four
months after the opening of the States-General 16,000 deserters
roaming around Paris leads the revolts instead of suppressing


The social organization is dissolved. - No central rallying
point. - Inertia of the provinces. - Ascendancy of Paris.

Once this barrier has disappeared, no other embankment remains
and the inundation spreads all over France like over an immense plain.
With other nations in like circumstances, some obstacles have been
encountered; elevations have existed, centers of refuge, old
constructions in which, in the universal fright, a portion of the
population could find shelter. Here, the first crisis sweeps away all
that remains, each individual of the twenty-six scattered millions
standing alone by himself. The administrations of Richelieu and Louis
XIV. had been a long time at work insensibly destroying the natural
groupings which, when suddenly dissolved, unite and form over again of
their own accord. Except in Vendée, I find no place, nor any class, in
which a good many men, having confidence in a few men, are able, in
the hour of danger, to rally around these and form a compact body.
Neither provincial nor municipal patriotism any longer exists. The
inferior clergy are hostile to the prelates, the gentry of the
province to the nobility of the court, the vassal to the seignior, the
peasant to the townsman, the urban population to the municipal
oligarchy, corporation to corporation, parish to parish, neighbor to
neighbor. All are separated by their privileges and their jealousies,
by the consciousness of having been imposed on, or frustrated, for the
advantage of another. The journeyman tailor is embittered against his
foreman for preventing him from doing a day's work in private houses,
hairdressers against their employers for the like reason, the pastry-
cook against the baker who prevents him from baking the pies of
housekeepers, the village spinner against the town spinners who wish
to break him up, the rural wine-growers against the bourgeois who, in
the circle of seven leagues, strives to have their vines pulled
up,[14] the village against the neighboring village whose reduction of
taxation has ruined it, the overtaxed peasant against the under taxed
peasant, one-half of a parish against its collectors, who, to its
detriment, have favored the other half.

"The nation," says Turgot, mournfully,[15] "is a society composed
of different orders badly united and of a people whose members have
few mutual liens, nobody, consequently, caring for any interest but
his own. Nowhere is there any sign of an interest in common. Towns and
villages maintain no more relation with each other than the districts
to which they are attached; they are even unable to agree together
with a view to carry out public improvements of great importance to

The central power for a hundred and fifty years rules through its
division of power. Men have been kept separate, prevented from acting
in concert, the work being so successful that they no longer
understand each other, each class ignoring the other class, each
forming of the other a chimerical picture, each bestowing on the other
the hues of its own imagination, one composing an idyll, the other
framing a melodrama, one imagining peasants as sentimental swains, the
other convinced that the nobles are horrible tyrants. - Through
this mutual misconception and this secular isolation, the French lose
the habit, the art and the faculty for acting in an entire body. They
are no longer capable of spontaneous agreement and collective action.
No one, in the moment of danger, dares rely on his neighbors or on his
equals. No one knows where to turn to obtain a guide. "A man willing
to be responsible for the smallest district cannot be found; and, more
than this, one man able to answer for another man[16]." Utter and
irremediable disorder is at hand. The Utopia of the theorists has been
accomplished, the savage condition has recommenced. Individuals now
stand in by themselves; everyone reverting back to his original
feebleness, while his possessions and his life are at the mercy of the
first band that comes along. He has nothing within him to control him
but the sheep-like habit of being led, of awaiting an impulsion, of
turning towards the accustomed center, towards Paris, from which his
orders have always arrived. Arthur Young[17] is struck with this
mechanical movement. Political ignorance and docility are everywhere
complete. He, a foreigner, conveys the news of Alsace into Burgundy:
the insurrection there had been terrible, the populace having sacked
the city-hall at Strasbourg, of which not a word was known at Dijon;
"yet it is nine days since it happened; had it been nineteen I
question if they would more than have received the intelligence."
There are no newspapers in the cafés; no local centers of information,
of resolution, of action. The province submits to events at the
capital; "people dare not move; they dare not even form an opinion
before Paris speaks." - This is what Monarchical centralization leads
to. It has deprived the groups of their cohesion and the individual of
his motivational drive. Only human dust remains, and this, whirling
about and gathered together in massive force, is blindly driven along
by the wind.[18]


Direction of the current. - The people led by lawyers. -
Theories and piques the sole surviving forces. - Suicide of the
Ancient regime.

We are all well aware from which side the gale comes, and, to
assure ourselves, we have merely to see how the reports of the Third-
Estate are made up. The peasant is led by the man of the law, the
petty attorney of the rural districts, the envious advocate and
theorist. This one insists, in the report, on a statement being made
in writing and at length of his local and personal grievances, his
protest against taxes and deductions, his request to have his dog free
of the clog, and his desire to own a gun to use against the
wolves[19]. Another one, who suggests and directs, envelopes all this
in the language of the Rights of Man and that of the circular of

"For two months," writes a commandant in the South,[20] "inferior
judges and lawyers, with which both town and country swarm, with a
view to their election to the States-General, have been racing after
the members of the Third-Estate, under the pretext of standing by them
and of giving them information. . . They have striven to make them
believe that, in the States-General, they alone would be masters and
regulate all the affairs of the kingdom; that the Third-Estate, in
selecting its deputies among men of the robe, would secure the might
and the right to take the lead, to abolish nobility and to cancel all
its rights and privileges; that nobility would no longer be
hereditary; that all citizens, in deserving it, would be entitled to
claim it; that, if the people elected them, they would have accorded
to the Third-Estate whatever it desired, because the curates,
belonging to the Third-Estate, having agreed to separate from the
higher clergy and unite with them, the nobles and the clergy, united
together, would have but one vote against two of the Third-Estate. . .
. If the third - Estate had chosen sensible townspeople or merchants
they would have combined without difficulty with the other two orders.

Book of the day: