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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.

III.  THE COMMON LABORER.

Four direct taxes on the common laborer.

The taxation authorities, however, in thus bearing down on taxable property has not released the taxable person without property.  In the absence of land it seizes on men.  In default of an income it taxes a man’s wages.  With the exception of the vingtièmes, the preceding taxes not only bore on those who possessed something but, again, on those who possessed nothing.  In the Toulousain[10] at St. Pierre de Barjouville, the poorest day-laborer, with nothing but his hands by which to earn his support, and getting ten sous a day, pays eight, nine and ten livres poll-tax.  “In Burgundy[11] it is common to see a poor mechanic, without any property, taxed eighteen and twenty livres for his poll-tax and the taille.”  In Limousin,[12] all the money brought back by the masons in winter serves “to pay the taxes charged to their families.”  As to the rural day-laborers and the settlers (colons) the proprietor, even when privileged, who employs them, is obliged to take upon himself a part of their quota, otherwise, being without anything to eat, they cannot work,[13] even in the interest of the master; man must have his ration of bread the same as an ox his ration of hay.  “In Brittany,[14] it is notorious that nine-tenths of the artisans, though poorly fed and poorly clothed, have not a crown free of debt at the end of the year,” the poll-tax and others carrying off this only and last crown.  At Paris[15] “the dealer in ashes, the buyer of old bottles, the gleaner of the gutters, the peddlers of old iron and old hats,” the moment they obtain a shelter pay the poll-tax of three livres and ten sous each.  To ensure its payment the occupant of a house who sub-lets to them is made responsible.  Moreover, in case of delay, a “blue man,” a bailiff’s subordinate, is sent who installs himself on the spot and whose time they have to pay for.  Mercier cites a mechanic, named Quatremain, who, with four small children, lodged in the sixth story, where he had arranged a chimney as a sort of alcove in which he and his family slept.  “One day I opened his door, fastened with a latch only, the room presenting to view nothing but the walls and a vice; the man, coming out from under his chimney, half sick, says to me, ‘I thought it was the blue man for the poll-tax."’ Thus, whatever the condition of the person subject to taxation, however stripped and destitute, the dexterous hands of the fisc take hold of him.  Mistakes cannot possibly occur:  it puts on no disguise, it comes on the appointed day and rudely lays its hand on his shoulder.  The garret and the hut, as well as the farm and the farmhouse know the collector, the constable and the bailiff; no hovel escapes the detestable brood.  The people sow, harvest their crops, work and undergo privation for their benefit; and, should the pennies so painfully saved each week amount, at the end of the year to a piece of silver, the mouth of their pouch closes over it.

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