Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/50

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the king had been thus satisfied by his confessor, no time was lost in establishing the tax. The effect upon the masses was one of great sadness, but there was no revolt. Many of the property holders in the kingdom endeavored to convince the state officials that under the former condition of affairs they did not enjoy a tenth part of their income, and representatives of the province of Languedoc offered to give up its entire wealth to the crown, if they might be allowed to enjoy, free of every tax, the tenth part of it. All these remonstrances and propositions were not only not listened to, but their presentation was regarded in the light of insubordination.

The product of this new tax was not nearly so much as had been expected; and its most marked result was, that it enabled the king to augment all his infantry to the extent of five men per company.

In this record of tax experience, which, commencing at least as far back as 1667, under Louis XIV, continued with increasing popular oppression and misery until 1789, we find the origin and the horrors of the French Revolution which began in the latter year. During its continuance six thousand persons, mostly of the ranks of the nobility, clergy, and gentry, are said to have perished under the hands of public executioners and upon the scaffold. But when one calls to mind the multitudes that, for many successive generations, were starved and tortured out of existence by a system of exactions under the name of taxation, and for which system the king, the nobility, the clergy, and the influential classes of France were responsible, the wonder is, that the masses of a brutalized and infuriated people should have shown so much clemency and restraint in the hour of their vengeance and of triumph.[1]

  1. On this point, Arthur Young, whose observations on the condition of the French people were made before the great revolution had culminated, or in 1789, writes: "It is impossible to justify the excesses of the people or their taking of arms. They were clearly guilty of great cruelties. But is it really the people to whom we are to impute the whole, or to their oppressors, who had kept them so long in a state of bondage? He who chooses to be served by slaves, and by ill-treated slaves, must know that he holds both his property and life by a tenure far different from those who prefer the service of well-treated freemen; and he who dines to the music of groaning sufferers, must not, in the moment of insurrection, complain that his daughters are ravished and then destroyed, and that his sons' throats are cut. When such evils happen they surely are more imputable to the tyranny of the master than to the cruelty of the servant. The analogy holds with the French peasants. The murder of a seigneur, or a château in flames, is recorded in every newspaper. The rank of the person who suffers attracts notice. But where do we find the register of that seigneur's oppressions of his peasantry, and his exactions of feudal service from those whose children,were dying around them for want of bread? Where do we find the minutes that assigned these starving wretches to be fleeced by impositions, and a mockery in the seigneural court? Who gives us the award of the intendant and his sub-delegues, who