Taille - Encyclopedia

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TAILLE (from Fr. tailler, to cut or divide; late Lat. taliare, said to come from talea, talea), the equivalent of the English tallage, was in France the typical direct tax of the middle ages, just as the word tonlieu was the generic term for an indirect tax. Other words used in certain districts in the same sense as taille were queste (questa, questa), fouage (foragium), cote. The essence of the tax denoted by these names was that the amount was fixed en bloc for a whole group of persons, and afterwards divided among them in various ways. In ancient French law we find three forms of taille: the taille servile, taille seigneuriale, and taille royale. The taille servile can scarcely be termed a tax; it was rather a tax which had degenerated into a source of profit for certain individuals. Every lord who possessed serfs could levy the taille on them, and originally this was done arbitrarily (a volonte) both as to frequency and amount. It always remained a characteristic feature of serfdom, but was limited and fixed, either by contracts or concessions from the lord (taille abonnee), or by the customs.

The taille seigneuriale was a true tax, levied by a lord on all his subjects who were neither nobles nor ecclesiastics. But, in our opinion, when feudalism was established, the right of levying it did not belong to every lord, but only to the lord having the haute justice. But he levied it by right, without the necessity for any contract between him and those who paid it. He fixed the sum to be paid by each group of inhabitants, who then had to see that it was assessed, collected, and paid to the lord, electing commissaries (preud hommes) from among themselves for this purpose. This was reducing the administration of taxation to its simplest form. Custom, however, or an order of the lord generally fixed the principle upon which the division was made. It was often a "hearth tax" (fouage), when each fire, i.e. each head of a family, paid the same sum, arrived at by dividing the local contingent of the taille by the number of fires. But this equality, which took no account of wealth or poverty, was felt to be unjust, and the assessment began to be made according to the resources of each family, "the strong bearing the weak, and the weak relieving the strong." The seigniorial taille, like the servile, had the character of a personal tax (taille personelle), a rudimentary tax on income, every man being taxed according to his wages or other income. The king originally had only the right of levying the taille in places where he had retained the exercise of the haute justice. At that time there was no royal taille, strictly speaking; it was only the seigniorial taille transferred to the crown, but it was one of the first taxes his right to levy which upon all the inhabitants of the domain of the crown, whether serfs or roturiers, was recognized. In the course of the 13th century the idea began to prevail that it was fair for the king, in time of war, to levy a taille upon the subjects of the lords having the haute j ustice in various parts of the royal domain. Moreover, tailles were often granted him by the provincial estates or the states-general. Thus the general taille, raised for the benefit of the king, became more and more frequent, and naturally tended to become permanent. This transformation was confirmed, rather than effected, by the ordonnance of 1439. Its immediate object was, not the regulation of the taille, but the organization of the cornpagnies d'ordonnance, i.e. the heavy cavalry which the king from that time on maintained on a permanent footing. Military expenses thus becoming permanent, it was natural that the taille, the tax which had long been devoted to meeting the expenses of the royal wars, should also become permanent. This was contained implicitly in the ordonnance of 1439, which at the same time suppressed the seigniorial taille, as competing too closely with the royal taille by imposing a double burden on the taxpayer. A kind of seigniorial taille continued to exist besides the servile taille, but this kind presupposed a title, a contract between the taxable roturier and the lord, or else immemorial possession, which amounted to a title.

The royal taille naturally retained the distinctive characteristics of the seigniorial, as can be seen from an examination of the way in which it was assessed and collected; the chief characteristic being that ecclesiastics and nobles, who were exempt from the seigniorial taille, were also exempt from the royal. The royal taille, though levied by the king by right, did not fall upon the whole kingdom. The pays d'elections were subject to it, the pays d'etats were not (see France: Law and Institutions). Throughout the pays d'elections the taille was almost universally personal (taille personnelle), i.e. a tax on the whole income of the taxpayer, whatever its source. It was also a distributory tax (impot de repartition); every year the king in his council fixed the total sum which the taille was to produce in the following year; he drew up and signed the brevet de la taille (warrant), and the contribution of the individual taxpayer was arrived at in the last analysis by a series of subdivisions.

The conseil du roi first divided the total sum among the various generalites (the higher financial divisions), again dividing the amount due from each generalite among the elections of which it was composed. Then the elus in each election divided the contribution due from it among the parishes. The final division took place in the parish or community, among the inhabitants subject to the tax. So far the system remained the same as that of the old seigniorial taille. The assessment and collection of it were the business of the community; the crown, in principle, had nothing to do with them and did not bear the cost of a local administration for the purpose. The community had to produce its contingent of the taille. In principle it was even held to be the debtor for the amount; hence the inhabitants were jointly responsible, a state of affairs which was not suppressed till the time of Turgot, and even then not completely.

The inhabitants subject to the taille, summoned to a general assembly by the syndic, elected commissaries for the assessment (asseeurs) and collection (collecteurs) of the tax from among themselves. Originally two series were elected, both assessors and collectors. But from 1600 onwards the same persons fulfilled both functions, the object being, by giving the assessors the duty of collecting the tax, to lead to a duster and more conscientious assessment. The system appeared to be admirable, forming in this respect a kind of self-government, but in practice it was frequently oppressive for the taxpayers. The assessors estimated the individual incomes arbitrarily, village quarrels and rivalries leading them to over-charge some and under-charge others, and complaints were numberless on this point. Control should no doubt have been exercised'by the elus, but they do not seem to have taken this part of their duties very seriously. Payment was rigorously enforced, and thus for a variety of reasons the taille was a burdensome and hated tax. It had still further vices: not only were nobles and ecclesiastics exempt from it, but many other privileges had been introduced by law, total or partial exemption extending to a large number of civil and military officials and employes of the crown on the ferme generale. The towns in general were not subject to it, at least directly; some had been exempt from time immemorial, others (redimees) had purchased exemption for a sum of money, yet others (abonnees) had compounded for the tax, i.e. instead of paying the taille they paid into the royal treasury a sum fixed by contract, which they generally raised by octrois, or entrance dues.

Such was the administration of the taille until about the middle of the 17th century, after which time, although the broad lines remained the same, important reforms were introduced. They came principally from the provincial intendants, or from the tours des aides, which were animated by a liberal spirit. The intendants, by an exercise of their general or special powers, took the place of the elus, and delegated commissaires aux tailles (commissaries of the taille) for the assessment of the parishes, who guided and supervised the elected collectors - for the most part ignorant and partial peasants. They also endeavoured to distinguish between different kinds of income, in order to arrive at a more just estimate of the total income, and fixed by tariff the proportion in which each kind of income was to contribute. They sometimes settled officially and of their own authority the share of certain taxpayers, and, though this was sometimes done as a favour, it was often a measure of justice. They also tried to limit the scope of privileges. These efforts were inspired by a series of scientific studies and criticisms, chief among which were Vauban's Dime royale, and the Taille tarifee of the Abbe de St. Pierre.

In certain districts the taille was real (taille reelle) i.e. a tax on real property. It was not an equal tax falling on all landowners, but the question as to whether a certain estate was to be taxed or not was decided according to the quality of the property, and not that of the owner. The biens nobles (fiefs) and the biens ecclesiastiques were exempt; tenures roturieres, however, by whomsoever held, were taxed. A small part of the pays d'elections was also pays de taille reele. But it was the chief form of tax in the pays d'etats, and even there an attempt had generally been made to check the exemption of nobles' property. It has been shown that in these districts the taille had originally been personal, having become real by a curious evolution. In these districts there were cadastres, or compoixterriers (land registers), which allowed of a non-arbitrary assessment; and at the end of the ancien regime merely needed revision.

In certain provinces where the royal taille was levied there were neither elections nor generalites, and the whole administration of the tax was in the hands of the intendants. These were the provinces of the east and north, which were united to the crown at a period when the power of the intendants was already fully developed; they were sometimes known as pays d'imposition. See FRANCE: Law and Institutions; Henri See, Les Classes rurales et le regime domanial en France au Moyen Age (Paris, 1901); and Auger, Code des tailles (Paris, 1788). (J. P. E.)

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