Parlementary Remonstrance against the Third "Twentieth" Tax

Later in the 1750s, the Parlement turned its attention from religious controversy to royal fiscal policy. With the outbreak of yet another war—the Seven Years’ (or French and Indian) War against Britain—the royal treasury needed even more revenues, and the King proposed adding, for the third time in a decade, a surtax of one–twentieth on all income from property, including normally exempt noble lands. The magistrates—many of them landowning nobles—opposed this idea, not by arguing that nobles should be exempt from taxes (an idea they believed fervently), but by claiming that the crown, by so drastically breaking with tradition, was violating the unwritten constitution of the kingdom. In response, the King held a special "seat of justice" ceremony the next day to enforce registration of the edicts.


Basically Sire, due to these utterances and the risks they pose for all of Your Majesty's subjects who are concerned with the success of the remonstrances that they lay before the throne, your parlement finds itself forced to respectfully remind you what one of your august predecessors, speaking through an envoy, said. "According to our government's constitution and former rulings by Most Christian Kings, kept thus far with religious exactness, nothing may have the force of public law in France, either for ecclesiastical or public matters, that has not been authorized and publicized by parlementary decree." Or what another of your predecessors also stated: that "verification by parlement is required and necessary, such that the measures applicable to the affairs of State remain in abeyance until they have been verified."

These formal and authentic assertions emphatically contain the maxims that your parlement has always supported. These maxims were also tacitly stressed by another of our sovereigns when, in his presence, his minister came to parlement and said, "The need to verify edicts by parlement is one of the most sacred public laws, and one that the kings have always observed most religiously. This verification occurs by free vote, and it is illusory and contradictory to believe that the edicts which, in accordance with the laws of the kingdom are not open to execution until they have been brought and deliberated in the presence of the sovereign, are considered verified once the King has them read and published in his presence."

If the registration of parlement's edicts is one of the most appropriate ways of imposing them on foreign nations, it is because these nations know that the constitution of the French monarchy is such that until these edicts have been verified and registered by the parlement, they are not legitimate.

To reduce the focus on the registration by your parlement to the effect of contributing to its imposition on enemies, is to admit only the long-term consequences, rather than the immediate and appropriate effects from which it should stem. In this way, it distorts the nature of the registration and gives an opening for false impressions by which some would want to persuade Your Majesty that this registration can be supplanted by extraordinary means.

Sire, it would be against the views and interests of Your Majesty to allow an attack on principles that are as old as the monarchy itself and that are intimately tied to the conservation of your very authority. These principles are as important to the preservation of the obedience you are due by the execution of duly verified laws, as they are useful to those subjects who owe you this obedience. And it is your parlement, more than those who are close to the throne, that is more capable of assembling the needs and the just demands of your subjects.

Sire, we implore you to only see expressions of an unlimited faithfulness in all aspects of our respectful representation. It is with zeal, as well as discretion, that this faithfulness aims at deepening our understanding of all the aspects of the State that are capable of having an influence on the interests of Your Majesty and on those of your subjects. This faithfulness refuses to accept the registration of the above-mentioned edicts which, for reasons of order and public interest, are so essential, so powerful, so important, that it would be a reprehensible and fatal weakness to only try to be rid of them. Finally, this faithfulness insists on the conservation of the essential rights of the ministry that your parlement fulfills for the State, because the protection of these rights is the only guarantee for the State and of all Your Majesty's subjects.

If, in doing its duty, your parlement dedicates itself to the strict obligation of usefully serving Your Majesty and the State by overcoming the obstacles that become a part of registering of the above-mentioned edicts, it could converge with Your Majesty's views with as much zeal and more satisfaction if it could present him with the projects which could be reconciled with the most important interests of which it must never lose sight. Your parlement thus begs you Sire, with all the more confidence, to find resources that agree with the feelings of your own heart and with the situation of your people. It is assured by Your Majesty's answer that none of the number of projects that could be approved will find the idea of new taxes on land, so fatal to the State, so justly disapproved by your parlement, when against its formal vow they were introduced in the Kingdom. And this insidious announcement, too widely divulged to the public, alarmed the magistrates as much as it did your parlement and all citizens.

Sire, your parlement will not stop representing to you with the love and respect with which it is imbued for your sacred person. Among the projects to improve the finances, the one that is the surest, fairest, and the most worthy of Your Majesty, shall always be the affirmation and the progress of prudent savings by the administration. With this is also the reformation of the enormous abuses that render most of the treaties and companies that are created for your service as onerous for Your Majesty as they are onerous and ruinous for your subjects. Finally, there is the greater and greater reduction of useless expenses. Sire, if these reductions were as obvious as they are in agreement with Your Majesty's intentions, your subjects' courage would take on new force. The French nation, so noble, so generous and so attached to its kings, would raise the infallible means, would make the greatest efforts to save it through these reductions on the immense amounts raised from it if only they are used for the dignity of the throne, the effective service of Your Majesty, and the good of the State

Respectfully, Sire, etc.

The Parlement of Paris, 18 September 1759.

The King, upon receiving these remonstrances, said only that he would study them and would make his intentions known to his parlement.

Source: Jules Flammermont, Remonstrances du Parlement de Paris au XVIIIe siècle, vol. 2 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1888–98), 243–66