Thomas Hodgskin noted in his journey through the northern German states that the burden of heavy taxation was no better than it had been under the conqueror Napoleon (1820)

Thomas Hodgskin

A few years after the defeat of Napoleon, the English radical individualist Thomas Hodgskin toured northern Germany where he observed the economic, political, and social condition of the people:

The pressure of governments on subjects is at present so exclusively felt through taxes, that these latter are always sure to be complained of. At present, also, men complain more than before. The pressure they labour under is augmented, while the hope they had formed of its being decreased has been disappointed. The ex-emperor had so long been the object of reproach, he had done so many unusual and very often oppressive things, and men are so ready to attribute every evil they suffer to every thing but their own deeds and opinions, that it was only natural all Europe should believe he was the cause of every calamity and suffering. People consequently hoped when he was destroyed that golden days of enjoyment would be their lot. He is destroyed, and the only difference discovered is, that the evils suffered are still as great, but they are more systematically, regularly, and, according to opinion, legitimately inflicted.

The impact of the Napoleonic Wars on European society was of great interest to classical liberals and political economists. In many respects it had turned into a nearly 25 year long “world war” which had severely limited trade, caused inflation, imposed heavy taxation and confiscation of property on civilians, and led to the rise of dictatorship and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The French government sent the economist Jean-Baptiste Say to see at first hand the impact of the war and economic blocade on Britain. He was shocked by what he saw. Thomas Hodgskin took himself to northern Germany and he concluded that the ordinary people still labored under just as heavy a tax burden in 1820 as they had under Napoleon’s empire. This experience was part of the gradual radicalisation of Hodgskin into a stronger and stronger advocate of economic liberty.