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[CHARLES DE SECONDAT, BARON MONTESQUIEU, was born near Bordeaux, January 18, 1689. He was hereditary president of the Parliament of Bordeaux, and an active public-spirited magistrate; in private he made scientific researches. In 1721 he wrote the “Persian Letters," a witty analysis of French society, under the guise of a Persian traveler. He sold his office in 1726 ; traveled five years to study institutions; in 1734 issued “Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and of their Decline"; his most famous work, “ The Spirit of Laws" in 1748; a “Defense" of it in 1750 ; “Lysimaque," a political dialogue, " Arsace et Ismenie," a romance, and an essay on Taste" in the “Encyclopedia." He died February 10, 1755.]


The public revenues are a portion that each subject gives of his property, in order to secure or enjoy the remainder.

To fix these revenues in a proper manner, regard should be had both to the necessities of the state and to those of the subject. The real wants of the people ought never to give way to the imaginary wants of the state.

Imaginary wants are those which flow from the passions and the weakness of the governors, from the vain conceit of some extraordinary project, from the inordinate desire of glory, and from a certain impotence of mind incapable of withstanding the impulse of fancy. Often have ministers of a restless disposition imagined that the wants of their own mean and ignoble souls were those of the state.

Nothing requires more wisdom and prudence than the regulation of that portion of which the subject is deprived, and that which he is suffered to retain.

The public revenues should not be measured by the people's abilities to give, but by what they ought to give ; and if they are measured by their abilities to give, it should be considered what they are able to give for a constancy.


OF TAXES IS GOOD IN ITS OWN NATURE. There have been instances in particular monarchies of petty states exempt from taxes that have been as miserable as cir. cum jacent places that groaned under the weight of exactions. The chief reason of this is that the petty state can hardly have any such thing as industry, arts, or manufactures, because of its being subject to a thousand restraints from the great state by which it is environed. The great state may be blessed with industry, manufactures, and arts, and establish laws by which those several advantages are procured ; while the petty state necessarily becomes poor, let it pay never so few taxes.

And yet some have concluded from the poverty of those petty states that in order to render the people industrious they should be loaded with taxes. But it would be a juster inference, that they ought to pay no taxes at all. None live here put wretches who retire from the neighboring parts to avoid working - wretches who, disheartened by labor, make their whole felicity consist in idleness.

The effect of wealth in a country is to inspire every heart with ambition : that of poverty is to give birth to despair. The former is excited by labor, the latter is soothed by indolence.

Nature is just to all mankind, and repays them for their industry : she renders them industrious by annexing rewards in proportion to their labor. But if an arbitrary prince should attempt to deprive the people of nature's bounty, they would fall into a disrelish of industry; and then indolence and inaction must be their only happiness.




When the inhabitants of a state are all free subjects, and each man enjoys his property with as much right as the prince his sovereignty, taxes may then be laid either on persons, on lands, on merchandise, on two of these, or on all three together.

In the taxing of persons, it would be an unjust proportion to conform exactly to that of property. At Athens the people were divided into four classes. Those who drew five hundred measures of liquid or dried fruit from their estates paid a talent to the public; those who drew three hundred measures paid half a talent ; those who had two hundred measures paid ten minæ; those of the fourth class paid nothing at all. The tax was fair, though it was not proportionable : if it did not follow the measure of people's property, it followed that of their wants. It was judged that every man had an equal share of what was necessary for nature, that whatsoever was necessary for nature ought not to be taxed; that to this succeeded the useful, which ought to be taxed, but less than the superfluous; and that the largeness of the taxes on what was superfluous prevented superfluity.

In the taxing of lands it is customary to make lists or registers, in which the different classes of estates are ranged. But it is very difficult to know these differences, and still more so to find people that are not interested in mistaking them. Here, therefore, are two sorts of injustice, that of the man and that of the thing. But if in general the tax be not exorbitant, and the people continue to have plenty of necessaries, these particular acts of injustice will do no harm. On the contrary, if the people are permitted to enjoy only just what is necessary for subsistence, the least disproportion will be of the greatest consequence.

If some subjects do not pay enough, the mischief is not so great; their convenience and ease turn always to the public advantage ; if some private people pay too much, their ruin redounds to the public detriment. If the government proportions its fortune to that of individuals, the ease and convenience of the latter will soon make its fortune rise. The whole depends upon a critical moment : shall the state begin with impoverishing the subjects to enrich itself? Or had it better wait to be enriched by its subjects? Is it more advisable for it to have the former or the latter advantage? Which shall it choose to begin or to end with opulence ?



The duties felt least by the people are those on merchandise, because they are not demanded of them in form. They may be so prudently managed that the people themselves shall hardly know they pay them. For this purpose it is of the utmost consequence that the person who sells the merchandise should pay the duty. He is very sensible that he does not pay it for himself, and the consumer who pays it in the main, confounds it with the price. Some authors have observed that Nero bad abolished the duty of the five-and-twentieth part arising from the sale of slaves; and yet he had only ordained that it should be paid by the seller instead of the purchaser; this regulation, which left the impost entire, seemed nevertheless to suppress it.

There are two states in Europe where the imposts are very heavy upon liquors; in one the brewer alone pays the duty, in the other it is levied indiscriminately upon all the consumers : in the first nobody feels the rigor of the impost, in the second it is looked upon as a grievance; in the former the subject is sensible only of the liberty he has of not paying, in the latter he feels only the necessity that compels him to pay.

Further, the obliging the consumers to pay requires a perpetual rummaging and searching into their houses. Now nothing is more contrary than this to liberty; and those who establish these sorts of duties have not surely been so happy as to hit upon the best method of collecting the revenue.


In order to make the purchaser confound the price of the commodity with the impost, there must be some proportion between the impost and the value of the commodity : for which reason there ought not to be an excessive duty upon merchandise of little value. There are countries in which the duty exceeds seventeen or eighteen times the value of the commodity. In this case the prince removes the disguise : his subjects plainly see they are dealt with in an unreasonable manner, which renders them most exquisitely sensible of their servile condition.

Besides, the prince, to be able to levy a duty so disproportioned to the value of the commodity, must be himself the vender, and the people must not have it in their power to purchase it elsewhere : a practice subject to a thousand inconveniences.

Smuggling being in this case extremely lucrative, the natural and most reasonable penalty, namely, the confiscation of the merchandise, becomes incapable of putting a stop to it; especially as this very merchandise is intrinsically of inconsiderable value. Recourse must therefore be had to extravagant punishments, such as those inflicted for capital crimes.

All proportion then of penalties is at an end. Persons that cannot really be considered as vicious are punished like the most infamous criminals; which of all things in the world is the most contrary to the spirit of a moderate government.

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Again, in proportion as people are tempted to cheat the farmer of the revenues, the more the latter is enriched, and the former impoverished. To put a stop to smuggling, the farmer must be invested with extraordinary means of oppressing, and then the country is ruined.



Taxes ought to be very light in despotic governments : otherwise who would be at the trouble of tilling the land ? Besides, how is it possible to pay heavy duties in a government that makes no manner of return to the different contributions of the subject?

The exorbitant power of the prince and the extreme depression of the people require that there should not be even a possibility of the least mistake between them. The taxes ought to be so easy to collect, and so clearly settled, as to leave no opportunity for the collectors to increase or diminish them. A portion of the fruits of the earth, a capitation, a duty of so much per cent on merchandise, are the only taxes suitable to that government.


With respect to confiscations, there is one thing very particular, that, contrary to the general custom, they are more severe in Europe than in Asia. In Europe not only the merchandise, but even sometimes the ships and carriages, are confiscated; which is never practiced in Asia. This is because in Europe the merchant can have recourse to magistrates, who are able to shelter him from oppression; in Asia the magistrates themselves would be the greatest oppressors.

What remedy could a merchant have against a pasha who was determined to confiscate his goods?

The prince, therefore, checks his own power, finding himself under the necessity of acting with some kind of lenity. In Turkey they raise only a single duty for the importation of goods, and afterwards the whole country is open to the merchant. Smuggling is not attended with confiscation or increase of duty. In China they never look into the baggage of those who are not merchants. Defrauding the customs in the terri

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