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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/259

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255
SALT.

appease his growling stomach, and advises him to spurn dainty viands. The cognomen Salinator, borne by a member of the Livian gens, came into prominence for two reasons. The first who received the appellation is said to have imposed a new impost on salt. He is further distinguished for the magnanimity he displayed in laying aside his private grudge against the other consul, Claudius Nero, for the good of the commonwealth. The hearty cooperation of the two commanders-in-chief and their armies led to the death of Hasdrubal and the complete destruction of his army. Wherever a system of taxation is framed with a view to raising the largest possible revenue, the heaviest burden falls on the necessaries of life. From almost time immemorial salt has had to bear a disproportionate share of this load. It is probable that in ancient times all regularly organized governments derived some revenue from this commodity. In Italy, as we have seen, the beginning was made long ago, though the details are lacking. In that country it is still a government monopoly. The profits realized are about thirteen hundred per cent., and its cost is almost prohibitive to the very poor. Such a delicacy do their children consider it that if they are allowed to choose between sweetmeats and salt they take the latter in preference. That a more liberal use of salt would improve the health and sanitary condition of this class hardly admits of a doubt. It is safe to say that no article of consumption has been so ruthlessly exploited by governments to the detriment of their subjects as this one. Taking advantage of the fact that it is a necessary concomitant of the food of man and beast, they have made it an important source of revenue because its payment could not be evaded. In France under the ancient régime the tax on this article differed a good deal in the different provinces, but its transportation from one into another was prohibited. Its manufacture was also limited, and that which was produced by natural evaporation on the coasts was thrown back into the sea by the fiscal agents. While the price was enormous, the great majority of the citizens were not allowed to buy as small a quantity as they chose; they were compelled to pay for a certain amount conditioned upon the size of the family. On the other hand, certain privileged persons received all the salt they wanted gratis; or, if they preferred, they had the prerogative of receiving money in lieu thereof. The king did not directly control the salt monopoly. He acted through an association of revenue farmers who paid into the fisc a fixed sum, after which they had the legal right to exploit their helpless victims to the utmost. They possessed police powers and used them unmercifully. Evasions of the salt laws were rigorously punished by the judges, who were almost always hand in glove with the salt-farmers. Every year for nearly two centuries there were from two to three thousand arrests. Those who were found guilty were