The ferme générale (French pronunciation: [fɛʁm ʒeneʁal] , "general farm") was, in ancien régime France, essentially an outsourced customs, excise and indirect tax operation. It collected duties on behalf of the King (plus hefty bonus fees for themselves), under renewable six-year contracts. The major tax collectors in that highly unpopular tax farming system were known as the fermiers généraux (singular fermier général), which would be tax farmers-general in English.
The Kingdom of France was a medieval and early modern monarchy in Western Europe. It was one of the most powerful states in Europe and a great power since the Late Middle Ages and the Hundred Years' War. It was also an early colonial power, with possessions around the world.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the fermiers généraux became immensely rich and figure prominently in the history of cultural patronage, as supporters of French music, major collectors of paintings and sculpture, patrons of the marchands-merciers and consumers of the luxury arts in the vanguard of Parisian fashions. In his 1833 novel Ferragus , writer Honoré de Balzac attributes the sad air that hangs about the Île Saint-Louis in central Paris to the many houses there owned by fermiers généraux. Their sons or grandsons purchased patents of nobility and their daughters often married into the aristocracy. Especially members of impoverished aristocratic families were eager to marry daughters of the fermiers généraux in order to restore the wealth they had prior to their ruin. This was called in popular French redorer son blason (literally "to re-gild one's coat of arms").
A marchand-mercier is a French term for a type of entrepreneur working outside the guild system of craftsmen but carefully constrained by the regulations of a corporation under rules codified in 1613. The reduplicative term literally means a merchant of merchandise, but in the 18th century took the connotation of a merchant of objets d'art. Earliest references to this Corps de la Ville de Paris can be found at the close of the 16th century, but in the 18th century marchands-merciers were shopkeepers but they also played an important role in the decoration of Paris homes. In fact, they served as general contractors, designing and commissioning pieces of the most fashionable furniture, and often, in addition, worked outside of their shops as interior decorators, responsible for many aspects of a room's decor. In Paris, the guild system, in place since the late Middle Ages, prohibited craftsmen from working with any material with which they had not undergone a formal apprenticeship. Only a marchand-mercier who worked outside of the guild system, therefore, could mount Chinese porcelains with gilt-bronze handles and stands, fit the cabinetmaker's furniture with Japanese lacquer or Sèvres porcelain plaques, and supply furniture with opulent gilt-bronze mounts.
Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright. The novel sequence La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of post-Napoleonic French life, is generally viewed as his magnum opus.
The Île Saint-Louis is one of two natural islands in the Seine river, in Paris, France.
Before the French Revolution in 1789, the public revenue was based largely on the following taxes:
The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.
The taille was a direct land tax on the French peasantry and non-nobles in Ancien Régime France. The tax was imposed on each household and was based on how much land it held.
A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or farmer, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord. In Europe, peasants were divided into three classes according to their personal status: slave, serf, and free tenant. Peasants either hold title to land in fee simple, or hold land by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.
The gabelle was a very unpopular tax on salt in France that was established during the mid-14th century and lasted, with brief lapses and revisions, until 1946. The term gabelle is derived from the Italian gabella, itself originating from the Arabic word qabala قَبَلَ ("he received").
The Ferme générale developed at a time when the monarchy suffered from chronic financial difficulties. The Affermage (leasing, outsourcing) of the collection of the traite (customs duties and taxes) had the advantage of guaranteeing the Treasury foreseeable and regular receipts, while reducing the perception of its role in tax-collection. The rights were initially contracted separately to various tax farmers, who were named traitants (who had the right to collect the traite) or partisans (who had a share (partie) in the collection of the traite). They were obliged to pay to the Royal Treasury the sum stipulated in their lease, and they received a share of the income and a share of any "unexpected" surplus. Each right was leased separately, which caused great administrative complexity: the taking of goods out of bond could involve several tax farms. Prior to 1598, this system had developed so that the tax farms were allocated among five pays (parts of France).
Outsourcing is an agreement in which one company hires another company to be responsible for a planned or existing activity that is or could be done internally, and sometimes involves transferring employees and assets from one firm to another.
In 1598 the Superintendent of Finances, the Duke of Sully, entrusted tax collection to one farm instead of five separate ones, and subjected the collection of duties raised in the provinces to the rights of the King. The single tax farm was called the Cinq Grosses Fermes (five large farms). In 1607, he issued new rules (Règlement Général sur les Traites) on the collection of duties in an attempt to harmonize procedures. He also attempted to constitute the whole of France into a single customs area, but was without success, as the provinces "considered foreign" (i.e. which became part of France after the foundation of the Kingdom; especially the south and Brittany) refused to merge with the zone covered by the Cinq Grosses Fermes. By the middle of the 17th century, France was divided for tax purposes into three principal zones:
The Superintendent of Finances was the name of the minister in charge of finances in France from 1561 to 1661. The position was abolished in 1661 with the downfall of Nicolas Fouquet, and a new position was created, the Controller-General of Finances.
Maximilien de Béthune, 1st Duke of Sully, Marquis of Rosny and Nogent, Count of Muret and Villebon, Viscount of Meaux was a nobleman, soldier, statesman, and faithful right-hand man who assisted king Henry IV of France in the rule of France. Historians emphasize Sully's role in building a strong centralized administrative system in France using coercion and highly effective new administrative techniques. While not all of his policies were original, he used them well to revitalize France after the European Religious Wars. Most, however, were repealed by later monarchs who preferred absolute power. Historians have also studied his neo-Stoicism and his ideas about virtue, prudence, and discipline.
Not all fermiers-généraux constrained their viewpoint to their own enrichment: Pierre-Paul Riquet, appointed collector in Languedoc-Roussillon in 1630,used his fortune to build the Canal du Midi that links the Mediterranean coast of France to Toulouse and then on to the system of canals and rivers that ran across to the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast, considered to be one of the great engineering feats of the 17th century.
The process was further developed under the aegis of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance to King Louis XIV. To reduce the number of these farmers and to increase the share of the collection transferred to the Royal Treasury, Colbert sought to gather a great number of rights together in fermes générales (general farms). The first fermes générales was instituted in 1680 to collect gabelles, aides, taille and douane .
Although sometimes of obscure origin, the financiers which took these rights often quickly accumulated immense fortunes which enabled them to play a significant political and social role. Their greed and excesses shocked the public and were often turned into objects of ridicule in literature, for example by playwright Alain-René Lesage in his 1709 comedy Turcaret , which was inspired by financier Paul Poisson de Bourvallais.
In 1726, all the existing farms were gathered in a single lease. The forty farmers-general, who held guarantees as contractors of the lease, became powerful and fabulously rich. Examples of the first generation of these tax farmers include Antoine Crozat, the first private owner of French Louisiana, the four Pâris brothers, and Alexandre Le Riche de La Poupelinière.
Increased criticism of the Ferme générale system led the government to introduce new regulations in 1769, which turned the collection of taxes and the administration of the service to which taxation was entrusted to public organisations, with their managers receiving a fixed remuneration. The public career of the reforming economist Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot began with his appointment in 1761 as intendant of the généralité of Limoges.
In 1780, at the initiative of Jacques Necker, finance minister to Louis XVI, indirect taxes were distributed between three tax farm companies: the Ferme générale (for customs duties), the Ligue générale (for taxes on alcohol) and the Administration générale des domaines et des droits domaniaux (for land taxes and fees for land registration).
By the end of the 18th century, the Ferme générale system became a symbol of an unequal society. The Ferme générale, and the great wealth of its proprietors, was seen as encapsulating all the perversions of the political and social system. People blamed the injustices and annoyances - which actually arose from the complexity of the tax system - on the company itself, including the brutality of tax collecting troops and the brutal repression of smuggling. The gabelle (tax on salt) was the most unpopular of all the taxes.
The Ferme générale was thus one of the institutions of the Ancien Régime which was most criticised during the 1789 French Revolution. It was depicted as a group of predatory tyrants; the Girondist politician Antoine Français de Nantes, made an early reputation for himself attacking this prominent target. The Ferme générale was then suppressed in 1790, with farmers-general paying the price at the scaffold: 28 former members of the consortium were guillotined on 8 May 1794. Among them was Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, whose laboratory had been supported by income from his administration of the Ferme générale. His wife, the chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, who escaped the guillotine, was herself the daughter of another farmer-general, Jacques Paulze.
The lease of the Ferme générale was regulated by six-year contracts between the King and an individual who acted as a figurehead for the company. The Ferme générale held guarantee for the contractor. The number of partners was fixed at 40, after having reached nearly 90 earlier. The contractor committed himself to paying the Royal Treasury the amount of the lease and received in return any surplus. In 1780 an upper limit was set for this remuneration.
The Ferme générale had its headquarters in Paris. In its central offices it employed nearly 700 people, including two chaplains. Its local operations included up to 42 provincial offices and nearly 25,000 agents distributed in two branches of activity; that of the offices which checked, liquidated and charged the fees and that of the guards' brigades which sought and suppressed smuggling with very severe punishments (such as hard labour or hanging).
The employees of the Ferme générale were not royal civil servants but they acted in the name of the king, and therefore benefited from particular privileges and the protection of the law. In addition, members of the guards' brigades had the right to bear weapons. The managing of the company was handled collectively by the Ferme générale. They met as committees of experts and had control of the company's external services.
The day before the French Revolution in 1789, almost all the rights of indirect drafts and rights (like the gabelle, the tax on tobacco, and a number of local taxes) were awarded. On the other hand, the Royal Treasury's income from the Ferme générale represented more than half of the total public revenue. The company had also built the 24-kilometre Wall of the Farmers-General between 1784 and 1791 in Paris to ensure the payment of taxes on goods entering the city.
The Ferme générale was one of the most hated components of the Ancien Régime because of the profits it took at the expense of the state, the secrecy of the terms of its contracts, and the violence of its armed agents.Criticism of the Ferme générale also include:
Therefore, at the end of the 18th century, the French state had become involved in considerable debt, which factored among the causes of the French Revolution.
The farmers-general of the Ancien Régime figure prominently in the history of cultural patronage in France. The enlightened farmer-general Le Normant de Tournehem was the legal guardian of Madame de Pompadour, responsible for her education - in turn, thanks to her influence, he was made director-general of the Bâtiments du Roi in December 1745, and held the post, overseeing royal building works at the King's residences in and around Paris, until his death in 1751. As American architect Fiske Kimball observed, “Without artistic prejudices, he was a man of ability, honesty and simplicity, who devoted himself to efficient administration".
Farmers-general also figured among prominent supporters of French music and collectors of paintings and sculpture, such as Pierre Grimod du Fort, and as patrons of the marchands-mercier , a type of merchants who dealt with decorative art objects.
As consumers of luxurious art the farmers-general were at the vanguard of Parisian fashion, like Ange Laurent Lalive de Jully, a patron of arts who embraced the early form of neoclassicist style in decorative arts called the goût grec (lit. "Greek taste"). Others merely made themselves notorious for their squander, like Ange Laurent's brother Denis Joseph de La Live d'Épinay, the estranged husband of the writer and saloniste Louise d'Épinay. The gourmand Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière was the son of the farmer-general Laurent Grimod de La Reynière.
Sons or grandsons of farmer-generals often purchased patents of nobility, with their daughters marrying into aristocracy.
In his Voltaire, A Life 427–31), Ian Davidson describes events on Voltaire's estate at Ferney, north of Geneva, in the 1770s.(pp.
In 1770, hundreds of watchmakers fled the political ructions in Geneva and went to make a new life at Ferney. Voltaire helped them to set up a new watchmaking business. He negotiated a tax exemption for the watchmakers with the duc de Choiseul, Prime Minister of France. But by 1774, the business was prospering and the tax farmers started to take an interest. Three-way negotiations between the tax farmers, Voltaire and Turgot ensued. In December 1775, Turgot confirmed the watchmakers' exemption from the salt tax (gabelle) and from road maintenance duties (corvée) and a figure was agreed to compensate the tax farmers for loss of revenue. Voltaire addressed a public meeting on 12 December and the watchmakers accepted the settlement.
Two days later, Voltaire wrote to his friend Mme de Saint-Julien:
... while we were gently passing our time in thanking M. Turgot, and while the whole province was busy drinking, the gendarmes of the tax farmers, whose time runs out on 1 January, had orders to sabotage us. They marched about in groups of fifty, stopped all the vehicles, searched all the pockets, forced their way into all the houses and made every kind of damage there in the name of the king, and made the peasants buy them off with money. I cannot conceive why the people did not ring the tocsin against them in all the villages, and why they were not exterminated. It is very strange that the ferme générale, with only another fortnight left for them to keep their troops here in winter quarters, should have permitted or even encouraged them in such criminal excesses. The decent people were very wise and held back the ordinary folk, who wanted to throw themselves on these brigands, as if on mad wolves.
According to Davidson, good sense prevailed despite this violence, Voltaire was appointed a tax commissioner, profits peaked in 1776 and the watchmaking business survived the revolution and continued "well into the nineteenth century".
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de l'Aulne, commonly known as Turgot, was a French economist and statesman. Originally considered a physiocrat, he is today best remembered as an early advocate for economic liberalism. He is thought to be the first economist to have recognized the law of diminishing marginal returns in agriculture.
Étienne de Silhouette was a French Ancien Régime Controller-General of Finances under Louis XV.
The causes of the French Revolution can be attributed to several intertwining factors:
Pierre-Paul Riquet, Baron de Bonrepos was the engineer and canal-builder responsible for the construction of the Canal du Midi.
A parlement, in the Ancien Régime of France, was a provincial appellate court. In 1789, France had 13 parlements, the most important of which was the Parlement of Paris. While the English word parliament derives from this French term, parlements were not legislative bodies. They consisted of a dozen or more appellate judges, or about 1,100 judges nationwide. They were the court of final appeal of the judicial system, and typically wielded much power over a wide range of subject matter, particularly taxation. Laws and edicts issued by the Crown were not official in their respective jurisdictions until the parlements gave their assent by publishing them. The members were aristocrats called nobles of the gown who had bought or inherited their offices, and were independent of the King.
Pierre le Pesant, sieur de Boisguilbert or Boisguillebert was a French law-maker and a Jansenist, one of the inventors of the notion of an economical market.
Farming or tax-farming is a technique of financial management, namely the process of commuting (changing), by its assignment by legal contract to a third party, a future uncertain revenue stream into fixed and certain periodic rents, in consideration for which commutation a discount in value received is suffered. It is most commonly used in the field of public finance, where the state wishes to gain some certainty about its future taxation revenue for the purposes of medium-term budgetting of expenditure. The tax collection process requires considerable expenditure on administration and the yield is uncertain both as to amount and timing, as taxpayers delay or default on their assessed obligations, often the result of unforeseen external forces such as bad weather affecting harvests. Governments have thus frequently over history resorted to the services of an entrepreneurial financier to whom they lease or assign the right to collect and retain the whole of the tax revenue due to the state in return for his payment into the treasury of fixed sums. Sometimes the tax farmer was a government employee, paid a salary, and all monies collected went to the government.
The Saline Royale is a historical building at Arc-et-Senans in the department of Doubs, eastern France. It is next to the Forest of Chaux and about 35 kilometers from Besançon. The architect was Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736–1806), a prominent Parisian architect of the time. The work is an important example of an early Enlightenment project in which the architect based his design on a philosophy that favored arranging buildings according to a rational geometry and a hierarchical relation between the parts of the project.
Recettes générales, commonly known as généralités, were the administrative divisions of France under the Ancien Régime and are often considered to prefigure the current préfectures. At the time of the French Revolution, there were thirty-six généralités.
The Wall of the Ferme générale was commissioned by Antoine Lavoisier and built between 1784 and 1791 by the Ferme générale, the corporation of tax farmers. It was one of the several city walls of Paris built between the early Middle Ages and the mid 19th century. It was 24 kilometers long and roughly followed the route now occupied by line 2 and line 6 of the metro. It crossed the districts of the Place de l'Étoile, Batignolles, Pigalle, Belleville, Nation, the Place d'Italie, Denfert-Rochereau, Montparnasse and the Trocadéro.
The Controller-General or Comptroller-General of Finances was the name of the minister in charge of finances in France from 1661 to 1791. The position replaced the former position of Superintendent of Finances, which was abolished with the downfall of Nicolas Fouquet.
The Ancien Régime was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages until 1789, when hereditary monarchy and the feudal system of French nobility were abolished by the French Revolution. The Ancien Régime was ruled by the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties. The term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe. The administrative and social structures of the Ancien Régime were the result of years of state-building, legislative acts, internal conflicts, and civil wars, but they remained and the Valois Dynasty's attempts at re-establishing control over the scattered political centres of the country were hindered by the Huguenot Wars. Much of the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII and the early years of Louis XIV were focused on administrative centralization. Despite, however, the notion of "absolute monarchy" and the efforts by the kings to create a centralized state, the Kingdom of France retained its irregularities: authority regularly overlapped and nobles struggled to retain autonomy.
Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was one of the earliest exponents of French Neoclassical architecture. He used his knowledge of architectural theory to design not only domestic architecture but also town planning; as a consequence of his visionary plan for the Ideal City of Chaux, he became known as a utopian. His greatest works were funded by the French monarchy and came to be perceived as symbols of the Ancien Régime rather than Utopia. The French Revolution hampered his career; much of his work was destroyed in the nineteenth century. In 1804, he published a collection of his designs under the title L'Architecture considérée sous le rapport de l'art, des mœurs et de la législation. In this book he took the opportunity of revising his earlier designs, making them more rigorously neoclassical and up to date. This revision has distorted an accurate assessment of his role in the evolution of Neoclassical architecture. His most ambitious work was the uncompleted Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, an idealistic and visionary town showing many examples of architecture parlante. Conversely his works and commissions also included the more mundane and everyday architecture such as approximately sixty elaborate tollgates around Paris in the Wall of the General Tax Farm.
Louis Mandrin was a French smuggler (highwayman) from Dauphiné.
The Revolt of the papier timbré was an anti-fiscal revolt in the west of Ancien Régime France, during the reign of Louis XIV from April to September 1675. It was fiercest in Lower Brittany, where it took on an anti-lordly tone and became known as the revolt of the Bonnets rouges or revolt of the Torrebens. It was unleashed by an increase in taxes, including the papier timbré, needed to authenticate official documents.
The Courts of Aids were sovereign courts in Ancien Régime France, primarily concerned with customs, but also other matters of public finance. They exercised some control over certain excise taxes and octroi duties, which were regarded as of a different nature from the taille, the gabelle, and the general imposts of the kingdom. The Paris court sat in the Palais-Vieux, of which a monumental door can still be seen in the Rue du Temple. It was set up to judge appeal-cases of extraordinary and ordinary financial matters relating to the chambre du Trésor (treasury).
Jean-Benjamin François de la Borde was a French composer, writer on music and fermier général. Born into an aristocratic family, he studied violin under Antoine Dauvergne and composition under Jean-Philippe Rameau. From 1762 to 1774, he served at the court of Louis XV as premier valet de la chambre, losing his post on the death of the king. He wrote many operas, mostly comic, and a four-volume collection of songs for solo voice, Choix de chansons mises en musique illustrated by Jean-Michel Moreau. Many of the songs from the collection were later published individually through the efforts of the English folksong collector Lucy Etheldred Broadwood. His Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne was published in 1780. La Borde was guillotined during the French Revolution in 1794.
The croquant rebellions were several peasant revolts that erupted in Limousin, Quercy, and Perigord (France) and that extended through the southeast of the country in the latter part of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.