Parlementary Remonstrance against Reforms of Royal Debts
In 1763, with the Seven Years’ War having gone badly for France and the treasury facing ever greater shortfalls, the crown issued a series of new edicts on fiscal matters, necessary in large measure to pay off the war debts, which would extend the "twentieth" surtax (originally levied in 1750); add a new surtax on the "capitation" or "head tax" on all subjects of the King, including nobles; and create a special tax on revenues from non–real property (including royally issued bonds, held by most magistrates, judges, and provincial elites). Once again forced to register these measures under protest, the magistrates took the opportunity to upbraid the crown and to warn that once the current debts were retired the new taxes would have to be revoked.
At a time when a people who adores you are impatiently awaiting the pleasures of peace, are preparing to let the transports of their joy erupt, and to etch in bronze their gratitude for your benevolence, why is it necessary that an imposing combination of power and authority will not allow a glimpse of the respect that inspires them?
. . . Sire, your parlement could not proceed to the registering of the disposition of your edict that orders the census and estimation of all the goods of the Kingdom, without first having some knowledge of the rules and instructions on how to conduct it. In addition, there currently exists a no-less efficient means of rectifying the arbitrary nature of the division of taxes—by bringing them all back under the jurisdiction of the regular tribunals and by having the different taxation roles remitted to the individual's Office of the Clerk of the Court.
The first "twentieth" is a tax reserved for wartime but which nevertheless represents the idea of a tax that is indefinite in duration, and this can only stir up the most emphatic alarm in the minds of your subjects. Should your parlement not quickly solicit the goodness of your Majesty, not only to request that he set an imminent deadline for stopping the first "twentieth," but also to receive approval for its collection based on the notifications currently in effect, without their being able to be increased?
The continuation of the second "twentieth" over six years is equally contrary to the promises that Your Majesty deigned to make, and to the state of poverty that the people have been reduced to.
The "free gift" of the cities, in principle considered as a free and voluntary aid, is in fact prorogated against the explicit statement of Your Majesty. Additionally, your parlement has observed, with the most poignant sadness, illegal collections and the authorized misappropriation of public funds, even though the offenders were to be severely punished.
Sire, how can your parlement not feel obligated to insist to Your Majesty on the fifth sous per livre on the farm taxes when they were created! And now with the return of peace, when your subjects should be able to foster the hope that this tax would be repealed, they have the pain of seeing that your Majesty is requiring a sixth. Sire, we dare show you that these accumulated taxes are causing immense harm to commerce and agriculture by their reduction of consumption. . . .
When your Majesty deigned to set the guidelines for the liquidation of the State's debt, should your parlement not have shown you, Sire, the results of the city paying an annuity, the burden of which falls almost entirely on the inhabitants of this capital that already contributes in so many ways and so bountifully to the costs of the State? And should the parlement not also have warned you of the public disrepute they would receive because of this annuity? And if your Majesty has formed a plan to reimburse the life annuities . . . your parlement should have shown you, Sire, that it is time to arrange for the privilege of liquidating them when your finances allow.
The measures of the edict . . . are very contrary to the rights of feudalism, to the acts and intentions of the founders, to the interest of creditors and, in general, to property rights. Besides, as a source of interest for Your Majesty's finances, it is so minor, and the possibility of fraud so great, that your parlement must beg your Majesty to repeal this edict. . . .
Sire, to demonstrate the need to rely on economy and better administration, what more convincing or more heartrending proof is there to give to your Majesty than the Kingdom's state of decline? Sire this decline is evidenced by falling population, the desertion that leaves a portion of the land uncultivated, the increase in begging, the despondency and disappointment rife among the workers in the countryside. . . . And finally, Sire, it is also evidenced through the loss of the patriotic spirit and, if we dare say, the fear of seeing oneself reborn into a future destined for heavier impositions that those that one endured oneself. . . .
The sad result of inequality in the division of taxes, a nefarious source of the fortune of some and the ruin of others, is an inequality that is contrary to your justice and your beneficence. . . .
Sire, your parlement must make the most adamant and the most respectful entreaties to your Majesty, and beg him to make the State's budget available so that it can be compared to the old peacetime budget so that it can be seen what your Majesty judges to be necessary to maintain the country's borders, police the state police, keep the peace, while protecting the peace, commerce, and the dignity of the throne.
Actually, the increase of different types of taxes that fall on the lands and their produce, and on individuals and the actions of society, give rise to government control that is so diversified that a throng of officers would be needed just to make it profitable—officers whose salaries should remain in Your Majesty's coffers. . . .
Sire, as long as you are seeing to this matter of reimbursing the State's debts, your parlement dares to hope that your Majesty will not resort to new loans . . . since the ever increasing number of loans is the cause of your finances being unsettled, and of excessive taxes.
The King responded:
I know the needs of my people, and am aware of all of the efforts that they have made during the duration of the war. When I decided on the edicts and on the statement that I had entered into the register, I had already thought about the points that my parlement brings to my attention in their remonstrances. I was constrained by necessity to provide for the expenses of the State and for its freedom. I cannot change anything in the plan that I have proposed. My parlement shall become aware of its usefulness when it is executed, and shall recognize my views that are aimed at relieving my people.
Jules Flammermont, Remonstrances du Parlement de Paris au XVIIIe siècle, vol. 2 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1888–98), 323–44.