Calonne presents his fiscal reforms (1787)


In 1787 the king’s finance minister Calonne appeared before the Assembly of Notables and delivered this speech, outlining his proposals for fiscal reform:


“Abuses [in tax payment] are defended by self-interest, influence, wealth and ancient prejudices which seem to be hallowed by time. But what are all these together compared with the common good and the necessity of the state? These abuses oppress the wealth producing, laboring class; the abuses of pecuniary privilege; exceptions to the general rule, and so many unjust; exemptions which only relieve one section of taxpayers by aggravating the condition of the others…

His Majesty has decided to remedy these defects by applying the rules of a strictly distributive justice, by restoring the original intention behind the [vingtième] tax, and by raising it to its true value without increasing anyone’s contribution (indeed granting some relief to the people), and finally by making every kind of privilege incompatible. The vingtième will be replaced by a general land tax, covering the whole area of the kingdom on a proportion of all produce, payable in kind where feasible, otherwise in money, and admitting of no exception, even the crown lands…

The lands of the Church would necessarily be included in this general assessment which, to be fair, must include all land as does the protection for which it is the price. But in order that these lands should not be overburdened by continuing to pay the taxes collected to fund the debt of the clergy, the King, sovereign protector of the churches of his kingdom, has decided to provide for the repayment of this debt by granting the clergy the necessary authorisation to make the repayment…

Complete freedom of the grain trade… with the one exception of deferring to the wishes of the provinces when any of them think it necessary temporarily to suspend export abroad…

The King also proposes the abolition of the corvée and the conversion of this excessively harsh exaction to a monetary contribution, distributed more justly and spent in such a way that it can never be diverted to other purposes.

Internal free trade, customs houses removed to the frontiers, the establishment of a uniform tariff taking the needs of commerce into consideration, the suppression of several taxes which are harmful to industry or lead too easily to harassment and the alleviation of the burden of the gabelle (which I have never mentioned to His Majesty without his being deeply grieved that he cannot rid his subjects of it altogether). These, gentlemen, are so many salutary measures which enter into the plan upon which His Majesty will enlarge and which all conform to the principles of order and uniformity which are its basis.”