Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII.: HOW THE CONDITION OF THE FRENCH PEASANTRY WAS WORSE IN SOME RESPECTS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY THAN IT HAD BEEN IN THE THIRTEENTH, NOTWITHSTANDING THE PROGRESS OF CIVILIZATION. - The Old Regime and the Revolution
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CHAPTER XII.: HOW THE CONDITION OF THE FRENCH PEASANTRY WAS WORSE IN SOME RESPECTS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY THAN IT HAD BEEN IN THE THIRTEENTH, NOTWITHSTANDING THE PROGRESS OF CIVILIZATION. - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution 
The Old Regime and the Revolution, trans John Bonner (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1856).
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HOW THE CONDITION OF THE FRENCH PEASANTRY WAS WORSE IN SOME RESPECTS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY THAN IT HAD BEEN IN THE THIRTEENTH, NOTWITHSTANDING THE PROGRESS OF CIVILIZATION.
IN the eighteenth century, the French peasantry were no longer a prey to small feudal despots. They rarely suffered violence at the hands of government. They enjoyed civil liberty and possessed land; but they were shunned by all the other classes of society and led a life of unexampled isolation. The consequences of this new and singular form of oppression deserve to be examined separately and with some attention.
At the very beginning of the seventeenth century, Henry IV. complained, says Peréfix, that the nobility were deserting the rural districts. The desertion had become general by the middle of the eighteenth: all the documents of the time—treatises on political economy, intendants’ correspondence, reports of agricultural societies—concur in deploring the fact. It is, moreover, indisputably proved by the capitation registers. The capitation-tax was levied at the actual place of residence of the taxable: all the great and a portion of the lesser nobility paid it at Paris.
No men of rank remained in the country districts but those whose means did not allow them to move. A man of this class was strangely situate among the peasantry. He was no longer their ruler, and had no reasons for conciliating, or aiding, or guiding them, while, on the other hand, he did not share their burdens, and consequently felt no sympathy for sufferings which did not afflict him, or for wrongs to which he was a stranger. Though they had ceased to be his subjects, he had not become their fellow-citizen. The position is without parallel in history.
There resulted from it a sort of absenteeism of heart, if I may use the expression, which was even more effective than absenteeism of body. The man of rank who resided on his estate often thought and acted as his steward would have done in his absence. He viewed his tenants merely in the light of debtors, and rigorously exacted from them his full due according to law, thus rendering the remains of the feudal system harder to bear than its entirety had formerly been.bc
He was often in involved and needy circumstances, and lived meanly in his chateau, his main thought being how he could save money for the winter at Paris. With their peculiar directness of mind, the people gave him the name of the least of all birds of prey; they called him the hobby.
There were individual exceptions, of course; but history regards classes only. No one denies that there were at this time many rich landowners who concerned themselves for the welfare of the peasantry, without being compelled to do so by duty or interest; but these were rebels against the law of their condition, which, in spite of themselves, enjoined indifference on the one side and hatred on the other.
It has been common to ascribe the general desertion of the country parts by the nobility to the policy of particular kings or ministers: some have traced it to Richelieu, others to Louis XIV. During the last three centuries of the monarchy it certainly was the aim of the monarchs to keep the nobility apart from the people, and to attract the former to the court. That aim was pursued with especial vigor in the seventeenth century, when the nobility were still feared by the kings. One of the questions addressed to intendants was, “Do the noblemen of your province prefer remaining there, or leaving their homes?” The answer of one intendant regretted that in his province men of rank preferred the company of mere peasants to the society of the court and their duty to the king. The province of which this was said was Anjou, which afterward became La Vendée. These noblemen, who were said to be slow to perform their duty to the king, were the only ones who defended the French monarchy in the field, and died for it; they owed this glorious distinction solely to their influence over the peasantry, among whom they were censured for preferring to reside.
Care must be taken, however, not to ascribe the migration of the nobility into the capital to the direct influence of this or that king. The true and principal cause of the phenomenon lay not in the policy of individuals, but in the slow, unceasing operation of institutions; this is proved by the utter incapacity of the government to arrest the mischief, when in the eighteenth century it was so minded. When the nobility lost, irretrievably, their political rights, and the local franchises were taken away, the migration became universal. No stimulus was required to wean the nobles from the country; they had no wish to stay there: rural life had no charms for them.
What I have said of the nobility applies equally to rich landowners in general. Centralization stripped the rural districts of their rich and enlightened inhabitants. I might explain how, moreover, it prevented agriculture from arriving at perfection; for, as Montesquieu profoundly observes, “The yield of land depends less on its fertility than on the freedom of its occupants.” But I do not wish to digress.
We have seen already how the middle classes deserted the country parts and took refuge in cities. Nothing is better established by the documents of the old regime. One rarely sees, say they, more than one generation of rich peasants. The moment a farmer acquires a little property, he takes his son from the plow, sends him into the city, and buys him some small office. Hence arose the strange dislike which farmers even still seem to feel for the calling which has enriched them. The effect has outlived the cause.
In fact, the only well-bred man, or, as the English would say, the only gentleman who lived permanently among the peasantry, and associated with them, was the parish curate; and the curate would have become the master of the rural classes, in spite of Voltaire, had he not been so notoriously connected with the political hierarchy, whose odium he shared together with its privileges.d
The peasant, then, was widely separated from the upper classes of society. He was kept aloof from all who could help or guide him. The higher his fellows rose in influence and station, the more they avoided him. He seemed to have been picked out of the whole nation, and set aside.
No such state of things existed in any other great nation of civilized Europe, nor had it been of long duration in France. The peasant of the fourteenth century was liable to more oppression, but he had better claims to assistance. If the aristocracy tyrannized over him occasionally, they never abandoned him.
Villages in the eighteenth century were assemblages of poor, ignorant, and coarse persons; with unskilled magistrates, universally despised; with a syndic who could not read; with a collector who could not add up the accounts on which his neighbors’ and his own fortune depended. Their old seigniors, despoiled of their authority, had come to consider it degrading to be concerned in their government. They viewed the distribution of the taille, the militia levy, the regulation of corvées, as servile duties only fit for a syndic. No one but the central power paid any attention to village affairs; and, as it was distant, and had nothing to fear from the villagers, it noticed them no further than was necessary to get money from them.
See, now, what became of this forsaken class, over which no one tried to tyrannize, but which no one tried to aid or enlighten.
The weightiest of the feudal burdens had certainly been lightened or removed, but they had been succeeded by others perhaps even more oppressive. Peasants were relieved from many grievances which had afflicted their ancestors, but they endured sufferings which the latter had never known.
It is notorious that the increase of the taille—tenfold in two centuries—fell wholly on the agricultural classes. A word must be said here of the manner in which it was levied in the country, in order to show what barbarous laws may be established or maintained in a civilized age, when the leading minds of the nation have no personal interest in changing them.
I find a sketch of the taille, in a confidential circular of the comptroller-general to the intendants, dated 1772. It is a masterpiece of accuracy and brevity. “In the greater part of the kingdom,” says the minister, “the taille is arbitrarily distributed and levied, under a joint and several responsibility, on the persons of taxables and not on property; it varies constantly in consequence of the fluctuations in the means of those who pay it.” That is the whole story; impossible to sketch with more art the lucrative evil.
The sum to be paid by each parish was fixed yearly. As the minister observed, it varied incessantly, so that the farmer could never tell how much he would have to pay from year to year. In each parish a peasant was chosen at haphazard every year, and appointed collector; it was his business to distribute the tax among his fellow-parishioners.
I promised to describe the office of collector. Listen to the Provincial Assembly of Guienne: it is an impartial witness, being wholly composed of persons who are exempt in virtue of royal appointments. It declared in 1779: “As no one is willing to take the office of collector, it must be held alternately by every one. Hence the tax is levied every year by a new collector, about whose capacity and honesty no inquiry is made. The tax levy is what might be expected: it bears the mark of the collector’s fears, his weaknesses, or his vices. How could it be otherwise? He is wholly in the dark. Who can tell the exact income of his neighbor, or the proportion it bears to that of others? Yet, the collector is bound to decide the exact amount of each; and for the proceeds of the tax his property and his person are liable. He usually loses half his time, for two years, in running after the tax-payers. Those who can not read are obliged to find a neighbor to take their place.”
A short while before, Turgot had said of another province, “The post of collector often drives its incumbent to despair, and nearly always ruins him. In each village, all the families in easy circumstances are thus successively reduced to poverty.”
The unfortunate individual was, however, armed with prodigious power—a tyrant as well as a martyr. While he was ruining himself, he held the fortune of every one else in his hands. In the language of the provincial assembly, “Family affection, personal friendships and spites, a desire for vengeance, a wish to conciliate, fears of displeasing a rich man who has work to give—all these render it almost impossible that he can discharge his duties justly.” Fear often made the collector pitiless. In some parishes he did not show his face without a band of bailiffs and followers at his back. “Unless he is backed by bailiffs,” writes an intendant in 1764, “the taxables will not pay.” “At Villefranche alone,” says the provincial assembly quoted above, “six hundred bailiffs and followers are always kept on foot.”e
To escape this violent and arbitrary taxation, the French peasant of the eighteenth century imitated the Jew of the Middle Ages. He assumed the garb of poverty if he was accidentally in easy circumstances; the idea of a competency terrified him. I find this proved by a document which does not date from Guienne, but from a hundred leagues from thence. The Agricultural Society of Maine announced in its report of 1761 that it had intended to distribute cattle as prizes, but had “abandoned the design from apprehensions that the distribution of such prizes might awaken jealousies which the arbitrary mode of distributing the taxes might enable defeated competitors to gratify in future years.”
This system of taxation trained every one, in fact, to spy out his neighbors, and denounce to the collector their progress toward affluence: all were educated to be informers and natural enemies. What more would one expect to hear of the dominions of a rajah of Hindostan?
There were parts of France, however, where the taxes were uniform and mild; these were some of the pays d’états.f It is true that these provinces had reserved the right of taxing themselves. In Languedoc, for instance, the taille bore wholly on landed property, and did not vary with the owner’s means. Every thirty years the whole province was divided into three classes of lands, according to fertility, and the proportion to be borne by each estate was carefully fixed and recorded in a register. Every one knew beforehand precisely how much he had to pay. If he failed to pay, he, or rather his land, was alone responsible. If he felt aggrieved by the levy, he had the right of demanding a comparison of his quota with that of any other resident of the parish he chose to select, by the process we now call an “appeal for proportionate equality.”
It will be seen that this system is precisely the one which we pursue to-day; it has been extended to the whole country without alteration. It is worthy of remark, that while we have borrowed from the old regime the form of our public administration, we have abstained from imitating it in other respects. Our administrative methods are copied from those of the old provinces. We have taken the machine, but rejected its product.
The habitual poverty of the country people had given rise to maxims well calculated to keep them poor. Richelieu, in his Political Testament, says, “If the people were well off, it would be difficult to restrain them within legal bounds.” Rulers in the eighteenth century did not go quite so far, but they believed the peasant would not work without the spur of need; misery appeared to them the only safeguard against idleness. I have heard the very same theory advanced in reference to the negroes in our colonies. So general has this belief been, that most political economists have felt it necessary to refute it at length.
It is well known that the primitive object of the taille was to enable the king to hire soldiers in lieu of the nobles and vassals who were bound to service; yet in the seventeenth century the military service was again exacted, as has been mentioned, under the name of militia, and this time the burden fell wholly upon the people, and almost exclusively on the peasantry.
That militia duty was often strenuously refused or evaded is well established by the immense number of police reports referring to the apprehension of refractory militia-men or deserters that are to be found in every intendant’s office. It was, it seems, the most odious of all the burdens that were laid on the peasantry. They fled into the woods to avoid serving, or resisted the levies with force of arms. This appears surprising in view of the ease with which a system of compulsory conscription is enforced to-day.
The intense aversion which the old regime peasantry felt for the militia system was due less to the principle of the law than to the manner in which it was executed; to the length of time during which the risk hung over men’s heads (a man was liable till he was forty, unless he married); to the arbitrary revision of the lots, which often made a good number as fatal as a bad one; to the legal impossibility of procuring a substitute; to the disgust inspired by a hard, dangerous vocation, in which it was wholly impossible to rise; but, above all, to the reflection that this great burden bore on them alone, and on the most wretched individuals among them. The ignominious distinction established between them and other classes imbittered their actual wrongs.
I have examined the reports of several drawings for militia-men, in various parishes, in the year 1769. The exempts are enumerated: one is the servant of a gentleman; another, watchman at an abbey; a third is only valet of a burgher, it is true, but his master “lives nobly.” No one, as a rule, was exempt but persons in easy circumstances. When a farmer, for instance, paid heavy taxes for several years, his sons were exempt: this was called encouraging agriculture. Political economists, much as they admired equality in other matters, made no objection to this privilege; they only desired to extend it to other cases, or, in other words, to increase the burden of the poorest and most unprotected peasantry. One of them observes that “soldiers are so badly paid, so poorly lodged, dressed, and fed, and kept in such strict dependence, that it would be too cruel to choose them out of any class but the very lowest.”
Up to the close of the reign of Louis XIV. the high-roads were not repaired at all, or were kept in repair at the cost of the state and of the road-side landowners: it was at that period that the plan of keeping them in repair at the expense of the peasantry, by corvées, was first commenced. It seemed so excellent a mode of securing good roads without paying for them, that in 1737 a circular of Comptroller-general Orry applied it to the whole of France. Intendants were authorized to imprison refractory peasants, or to send bailiffs for them.g
Thenceforth, measurably with the extension of trade and the desire for good roads, corvées were extended and increased.h A report made in 1779 to the Provincial Assembly of Berry states that the annual value of labor performed by the peasantry in corvées in that poor province was 700,000 livres. A similar estimate was made for lower Normandy in 1787. No better indication of the sad condition of the country-people could be found. Social progress enriched all other classes of society, but impoverished the peasantry. Civilization was a blessing to all but them.
It is stated in the correspondence of the intendants about the same period, that the peasantry must not be allowed to perform their regular corvées on private roads, for they are all required on the highways, or, as the phrase was, on the king’s highway.i The strange notion that the cost of keeping the roads in repair ought to be borne by the poorest persons in the community, and those who travel the least—new as it was—took such root in the minds of those who were gainers by it, that they soon came to believe that no other system was feasible. An attempt was made in 1776 to commute corvées for a tax payable in money: the new tax was as unequally distributed as the old imposition.
Corvées, on ceasing to be seigniorial and becoming royal, were gradually applied to all public works. In 1719 they were exacted for the construction of barracks. “The parishes must send their best workmen,” said the ordinance, “and give up all other work for this.” Corvées were exacted for the conveyance of convicts to the galleys,k and of beggars to charitable institutions; for the removal of military baggage from place to place, when troops were moved.l This was no slight task at a time when every regiment was encumbered with heavy baggage: it was requisite to gather from the neighborhood for many miles around an immense number of carts and oxen. This kind of compulsory labor, which was hardly felt at first, became a very heavy burden when the standing armies became large. I have seen pressing demands from contractors, insisting on the employment of corvées for the conveyance of timber from the forests to ship-yards.m Labor of this description was usually remunerated, but the price was low and unalterable. This ill-advised imposition sometimes became so burdensome as to frighten the receivers of the taille. In 1751 a receiver was apprehensive lest “the expense to which the peasantry were put for the repairs of the roads would incapacitate them from paying the taille.”
Could these oppressive measures have been carried into effect if beside the peasantry there had stood rich and enlightened men, with the will and the power, if not to protect them, at least to intercede on their behalf with the master, who held the fortune of rich and poor alike in his hand?
I have read a letter, written in 1774 by a wealthy landholder to the provincial intendant on the subject of opening a road. The road, says he, would insure the prosperity of the village, and he explains why; then he recommends the establishment of a fair, which could not fail to double the price of produce; and, lastly, this excellent citizen advises the foundation of a school, with some small help from government, as the best method of procuring industrious subjects for the king. None of these ideas had occurred to him until he had been confined a couple of years by a lettre de cachet in his chateau. “It is my exile on my estate,” he adds ingenuously, “which has convinced me of the extreme utility of all these projects.”
It was especially in time of scarcity that observers noticed the rupture of the old bonds of patronage and dependence which had formerly linked the great landowners and the peasantry together. At these critical periods the central government was terrified by a consciousness of its weakness. It tried to recall to life the individual influences or the political associations it had destroyed, but they gave no sign, and it saw with surprise that the people it had killed were really dead.
When the suffering was very great, especially in the poorer provinces, some intendants, like Turgot, issued illegal ordinances, compelling the rich landowners to feed their peasantry till the harvest came round. I have seen letters from several curates, dated 1770, advocating the taxation of the richest landowners of their parishes, laymen and ecclesiastics alike—“men who own large estates, on which they never reside, and which only serve to give them an income which they spend elsewhere.”
Villages were always infested with beggars, for, as Letronne remarks, the poor are relieved in the cities, but in the country, especially in winter, there is no one to help them, and they have no choice but to beg.
These unfortunate people were sometimes furiously persecuted. The Duke of Choiseul undertook in 1767 to put down mendicity throughout France. The intendant’s correspondence bears witness to the rigor with which he proceeded. Orders were given to the police to arrest simultaneously all the beggars in the kingdom: it is said they seized fifty thousand. All able-bodied vagabonds were sent to the galleys; for the others, some forty poor-houses were opened in various parts of the kingdom. It would have answered better to have opened the hearts of the rich.
The government of the old regime, which was so mild and so timid, so fond of formalities and delays in dealing with the upper classes, was often rough and always prompt in dealing with the lower, especially with the peasantry. I have never been able to discover, in all the documents I have examined, a single instance where a burgher was arrested by order of an intendant, but peasants were arrested daily for corvées, militia duty, mendicity, and a thousand other matters. One class was entitled to be judged by an independent tribunal, after a long and public hearing; the other was dragged before the police magistrate (prévôt), who decided summarily and without appeal.n
“The immense distance which separates the people from other classes of society,” says Necker in 1785, “tends to divert attention from the manner in which power may be used against individuals. Were it not for the gentleness and humanity of the French character, and the spirit of the age, the subject would be an endless source of sorrow to those who can sympathize with sufferings which they do not share.”
But the oppressive character of the system was more conspicuous in the improvement it prevented than in the injury it caused. Free, and landholders as they were, the peasantry were almost as ignorant as, and often more wretched than the serfs their ancestors. In the midst of a prodigious development of art and science, they made no industrial progress; they remained dark and uncivilized in a world that glittered with intelligence. They had never learned to use the quickness and keenness of their race; they could not even succeed in their own calling—agriculture. A celebrated English agricultural writer described what he saw as being “farms dating from the tenth century.” They excelled in nothing but warfare; for, as soldiers, they could not help mingling with other social classes.
Such was the depth of wretchedness and solitude in which the French peasantry were hermetically sealed. I was surprised and almost alarmed by discovering that, less than twenty years before the Catholic faith was abolished without resistance and the churches profaned, the government often adopted the following method of ascertaining the population of a canton: the curates reported the number of communicants at Easter; to this an approximate figure was added for children under age and sick persons; and the total was assumed to be the exact population. Yet the ideas of the time, strangely altered and disguised, were making their way into the peasant’s mind by devious and crooked channels, though nothing of them appeared on the surface. Manners, customs, belief—all were unchanged: the peasant was not only resigned, he was in good spirits.
Care must be taken not to misunderstand the gayety which the French have often exhibited in the greatest affliction. It is a mere attempt to divert the mind from the contemplation of misfortune which seems inevitable; it by no means indicates insensibility. Throw open a door by which these men may escape from the misery which they appear to bear so lightly, and they will rush through it with such force as to pass over any obstacle that stands in the way, without even noticing it.
We see these things very plainly from our point of view, but they were hidden from contemporaneous observers. The upper classes never easily read the mind of their inferiors, and least of all of the peasantry. Their education and their social habits endow the latter with habits of judging which are peculiar to themselves, and which other classes do not acquire; and when rich and poor have no interests, or grievances, or business in common, the obscurity which wraps their respective minds becomes impenetrable; they may live side by side for centuries without understanding each other. It is curious to note the astonishing feeling of security which pervaded the upper and middle classes of society at the time the Revolution began, to hear their ingenious lucubrations on the virtues of the people, on their gentleness, their affectionate disposition, their innocent pleasures, when ’93 is close at hand. A ridiculous, but a terrible spectacle!
Let us stop here, before proceedings further, and observe, through all the small facts I have noticed, one of the greatest of God’s laws for the government of society.
The French nobility will not mix with the other classes. Men of rank succeed in throwing off all their public burdens. They fancy that by doing so they may preserve their rank without its troublesome appendages, and at first sight it really seems they can; but before long an internal disease assails them, and reduces them gradually. They grow poorer as their privileges multiply. The middle classes, from which they had taken such care to keep aloof, grow rich and enlightened beside them, without them, in spite of them. The very men they had refused to accept as associates or fellow-citizens are about to become their rivals, their enemies, and, ere long, their masters. Though they have been relieved from the responsibility of guiding, protecting, assisting their vassals, they estimate that they have lost nothing, because their titles and their pecuniary privileges still remain intact. As they are still the first men in the country in rank, they persuade themselves that they still hold rule; and, in fact, they are still surrounded by those whom in notarial acts they style “their subjects,” while others are their vassals, their tenants, their farmers. But, in reality, they govern no one. They stand quite alone, and from the blow that threatens to overwhelm them, their only resource will be in flight.
Though the career of the nobility and that of the middle classes had differed widely, there was one point of resemblance between them: both had kept themselves aloof from the people. Instead of uniting with the peasantry, the middle classes had shrunk from the contact of their miseries; instead of joining them to combat the principle of inequality of ranks, they had only sought to aggravate the injustice of their position: they had been as eager for exceptional rights as the nobility for privileges. Themselves sprung from the ranks of the peasantry, they had so lost all recollection and knowledge of their former character, that it was not till they had armed the peasants that they perceived they had roused passions which they could neither gauge, guide, nor restrain, and of which they were destined to be the victims as well as the authors.
The ruin of the great house of France, which once promised to spread over the whole Continent, will always be a subject of wonder, but no careful student of its history can fail to comprehend its fall. With few exceptions, all the vices, all the errors, all the fatal prejudices which I have sketched, owed either their origin, or their continuance, or their development to the exertions made by most of our kings to create distinctions of classes in order to govern more absolutely.
But when the work was complete—when the nobility were isolated from the middle classes, and both from the peasantry—when each class contained a variety of small private associations, each as distinct from the others as the classes themselves, the whole nation, though homogeneous, was composed of parts that did not hold together. There was no organization that could resist the government, but there was none that could assist it. So it was that, the moment the groundwork moved, the whole edifice of the French monarchy gave way and fell with a crash.
Nor did the people, in taking advantage of the faults of their masters, and throwing off their yoke, wholly succeed in eradicating the false notions, the vicious habits, the bad propensities these masters had either imparted or allowed them to acquire. They have at times used liberty like slaves, and shown themselves to be as incapable of self-government as they were void of pity for their old teachers.
I shall now pursue my subject, and, losing sight of the ancient and general predisposing causes of the great revolution, pass to some specific facts of more recent date, which determined finally its locality, its origin, and its character.
[Note b, page 152.]One of the many examples of this is to be found in the election of Mayence. The chief domains of that election were farmed out to farmers-general, who hired as sub-farmers small wretched peasants, who had nothing in the world, and to whom the most necessary farm-tools had to be furnished. It is easy to understand how creditors of this stamp would deal harshly with the farmers or debtors of the feudal seignior whom they represented, and would render the feudal tenure more oppressive than it had been in the Middle Ages.
[Note c, page 152.]another example.
[Note d, page 154.]example of the effect of the pecuniary rights of the clergy in alienating the affections of those whose isolation should have made them friends of the church.
[Note e, page 157.]The following passage is taken from a clear and moderate memorial presented in 1788 by the peasantry to a provincial assembly: “To the other grievances incident to the collection of the taille must be added that of the bailiff’s followers. They usually appear five times during the levy. They are, in general, invalid soldiers or Swiss. At each visit they remain four or five days in the parish, and for each of them 36 sous a day are added to the tax-levy. As for the distribution of the tax, we will not expose the well-known abuses of authority, or the bad effects of a distribution made by persons who are often incapable, and almost invariably partial and vindictive. These causes have, however, been a source of trouble and strife. They have led to lawsuits which have been very costly to litigants, and very advantageous to the places where the courts sit.”
[Note f, page 158.]superiority of the methods used in the pays d’états admitted by officials of the central govrenment itself.
[Note g, page 161.]arbitrary imprisonment for corvées.
[Note h, page 161.]of the manner in which the privileged classes originally understood the progress of civilization in reference to roads.
[Note i, page 162.]There were two means of making roads. One was by corvées for all heavy work requiring mere manual labor; the other—and the least valuable resource—was by imposing a general tax, whose proceeds were placed at the disposal of the Department of Bridges and Roads for the construction of scientific works. The privileged classes, that is to say, the principal landholders, who were of course the parties most interested in the roads, had nothing to do with corvées; and as the general tax in favor of the Bridge and Road Department was always joined with the taille, and levied on those who paid it, they escaped that too.
[Note k, page 162.]instance of corvées for the removal of convicts.
[Note l, page 162.]Turgot’s sketches of the inconveniences and annoyances of corvées for the transportation of military baggage do not seem to me exaggerated now that I have read the documents bearing on the subject. He says, among other things, that the first inconvenience of the system is the extreme inequality with which this heavy burden is borne. It falls wholly on a small number of parishes, who are exposed to it by the misfortune of their position. The distance to be traversed is often five, six, and sometimes ten or fifteen leagues; three days are consumed in the journey and the return. The sum allowed is not one fifth the value of the labor. These corvées are almost invariably required in summer during harvest-time. The oxen are almost always overdriven, and often come home sick, so that many farmers prefer paying 15 or 20 livres to furnishing a cart and four oxen. The work is done in a most disorderly manner; the peasantry are constantly in prey to the violence of the soldiery. Officers almost always exact more than the law allows: they sometimes compel the farmers to yoke saddle-horses to carts, whereby the animals are often lamed. Soldiers will insist on riding on carts that are already heavily laden; in their impatience at the slow gait of the oxen, they will prick them with their swords, and if the farmer objects he is very roughly handled.
[Note m, page 162.]example of the application of corvées to every thing.
[Note n, page 165.]instance of the manner in which the peasantry were often treated.