Les causes des édits de Turgot, par R. P. Shepherd

En 1776, Turgot a révolutionné la politique économique française par six édits d’une ampleur inégalée. Liberté du commerce, liberté du travail, fiscalité, tout devait y passer, pour faire du pays une nouvelle France. Auteur de Turgot and the six Edicts (1903), à paraître aux éditions de l’Institut Coppet, Robert Perry Shepherd précise les circonstances auxquelles répondaient ces édits de Turgot.


PART II – HISTORICAL AND CRITICAL

CHAPTER I : SUMMARY OF CONDITIONS GIVING RISE TO THE SIX EDICTS

While Turgot was yet in the Seminary of St. Sulpice, he turned his attention to the study of economics. From the time he wrote his letter on Paper Money he entered more and more into that field, and his philosophy of history grew simultaneously with his philosophy of economics. His social and economic philosophy, moreover, was so intertwined with his historic insight that they together formed inseparable components of his body of thought. The same clear vision which he directed to the past with its rise and fall of many nations, he turned with even more eager scrutiny upon and into his present. With an almost photographic accuracy, the mind of the philosopher-economist took note of the hidden forces which lay beneath the unresting agitation so characteristic of his day. And what the man was, no less than what he had stored away in his prodigious memory, what he was by nature no less than what he had become through the character of the studies by which his faculties were trained, determined what he saw. Being what he was by nature and by culture, he could and did see what was concealed from most of his generation.

At the heart of his social philosophy lay certain definite and unchanging principles; the various groupings of men, whatever the bond of cohesion which attracted and held them in political, industrial, social or religious bodies, all these were essentially superficial, temporary, evanescent. The underlying causal and determinative principles, immediately involving the conditions of human existence with all its possibilities, were economic principles based on justice, order and progress. If the relations of man to nature, and the business relations of man to man were forced arbitrarily along lines productive of injustice, disorder and stagnation, Turgot predicted the inevitable overthrow of that misguided authority. In other words, Turgot held that bodies of men were susceptible of becoming permanent, as bodies, only en rapport with the fundamental laws built into the constitution of man; to contravene these laws and to obstruct their operation meant the sure extinction of the institution which thus set itself athwart the course of development. These conceptions he elaborated in the second part of his first address at the Sorbonne.

The larger significance of this philosophy lies not in the mere utterance of it by a graduate student in theology; other men have uttered as wise philosophy. But these ideas became inwrought into the very life of the man, the creative and initial motives of his twenty-five momentous years of public activity. And it is here that, in the interpretation of Turgot’s doctrine, the life of the man rises to importance equal to, if not greater than, the critical analyses of his public documents; indeed, it is the man himself, his fundamental and motive ideas, which give color and complexion to his writings. Not to know the man is to throw the interpretation of his doctrines into inextricable confusion, despite their clarity. To see France as Turgot saw it, to penetrate intelligently into the very heart of its life for twenty three indefatigable years, to breathe its atmosphere of dumb suffering or piteously impotent wrath on the one hand, and on the other the inhuman arrogance which scrupled not to exploit the bodies and souls of men for sensual indulgence and animal ease; to forecast the future of his day, and ours too, from the view point he occupied, this is not a mere indulgence of the historic imagination, it is indispensable to the adequate understanding of the life and acts of Turgot.

It is scarcely possible to overstate the importance of this application of the spirit of history. In the particular case in point, we have one of the best possible illustrations of the vagaries and misinformations to which one will be led by proceeding otherwise.

In his Geschichte der Nationalökonomie[1], Dr. August Oncken gives the best historico-critical study of the works of Turgot which they have yet received. It is impossible to withhold admiration from the work of Dr. Oncken for its thoroughness and characteristically German passion for details. For the main points of his method, nothing but good may be said; for the main points of his conclusions relating to Turgot, scarcely anything good may properly be said. Instead of putting the real man to the fore, and interpreting his doctrines and administration in the light of the character out of which they sprang, Dr. Oncken subjects the manuscripts of Turgot and his immediate predecessors and contemporaries to a minute comparative examination, and out of the analytical fragments he constructs a Turgot as little like the original as figments of the imagination must necessarily be. And for his misconceptions, Dr. Oncken cannot plead the constitutional inability of Frank and Teuton to comprehend each other, for in all that pertains to his public activity in his generation, Turgot was in no sense typical of his race and time; he was much rather an interracial citizen. Purely from the standpoint of interest in the integrity of the science of economics and history in general, one is impelled to deplore the misapplication of excellent method by which Dr. Oncken has worked out conclusions relative to Turgot, to his place in his generation and in the history of economics, which are not only erroneous from the standpoint of the science, but so misleading as to be positively bad. A large part of Dr. Oncken’s work, especially that which concerns Turgot, in both the first and second books of the Geschichte, is one of the most interesting and picturesque pieces of destructive criticism in all the modern literature of economics.

Having built his critical fragments into an imaginary Turgot, Dr. Oncken does not hesitate to question the record of Dupont[2] concerning the change in Turgot’s course from the Church to the Magistracy. Of this interesting episode, Dr. Oncken says: “The grounds, therefore, are not altogether clear. Because, the explanation which he gave his friends, that it was impossible to bear a mask before his face during his whole life, cannot be taken as a serious argument with reference to a position in which the highest dignitaries of the church did not scruple to make an open show of their atheism; even though Turgot was not himself an atheist.” [3]

Oncken’s Turgot, moreover, appears again and again as untrustworthy witness of his friends and of contemporary events and ideas. Expressions such as the following are Dr. Oncken’s regularly recurring judgment:

“But Turgot’s reliability also appears again in a most dubious light”[4] ; “Thereby has Turgot gone against the historical truth”[5] ; “Turgot’s report, therefore, does correspond here with the evidence”[6] ; “This again is an exaggeration”[7].

There is so much of really valuable textual and literary criticism in Dr. Oncken’s work that one is led to feel sincere regret that his prejudice against Turgot, whom he appears utterly to fail to comprehend as a moving character in his field of history, vitiates the integrity of his conclusions and casts suspicion on the animus of his criticism. In one passage, Dr. Oncken starts off with apparently unqualified commendation and appreciation of Turgot. He quotes from Turgot’s letters to the curés of his province, and says: “In the foregoing words we have the whole of Turgot before us. He is a man of enlightenment. To this spirit we owe the long preambles to the edicts which he introduced at the beginning of his ministry. There are verbose discussions which, in place of the customary ‘car tel est notre plaisir’ seem to desire to put the formula ‘car tel est la loi naturelle.’ ” Lest he should, however, seem to be betrayed into unquestionable praise of Turgot, Dr. Oncken immediately adds : “Now, one must not understand, of course, that Turgot had it in mind to carry through his projects at that time only with gentle means. It may have been only a survival of his theological period that he looked upon everyone who opposed enlightenment in his sense either as a dangerous fool, or as inspired by base purposes. The expressions, ‘absurde’, ‘ridicule’, ‘puérile’, ‘imbécile’, and the like which point to the first idea, and ‘frivole’, ‘fripponerie’, ‘brigandage’, and so forth, which point to the second, were frequently in his mouth.” And after quoting his instructions to the police for the prompt and rigorous quelling of the bread riots in the province, Dr. Oncken says: “We have here already an anticipation (Vorklang) of his attitude in the so-called bread war at the beginning of his ministry.” [8]

Further quotations are superfluous. Dr. Oncken, in undertaking the interpretation of Turgot and his works from this standpoint of literary criticism, has failed to comprehend fully the man and his situation. In a peculiar way, Turgot’s life is the interpretation of his doctrines, and Dr. Oncken illustrates how far afield a scientific method may lead one who attempts to approach it from any other point of view.

Turgot looked upon the impending revolution in France as essentially an economic affair. The conception of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, as Guizot later recorded it[9], was common among the philosophes of Turgot’s day. The intellect of man had revolted against the authority of institutions which presumed to dictate to thought and conscience. Now that thought was freed—and it was tremendously free both within and without the Church at that particular period— it was inevitable that thought should revolt further against the authority of institutions which presumed to dictate the conditions of existence, of man’s subsistence to be gained only from nature, and the distribution of the means of sustenance. He predicated certain laws inherent in man through all the continuous process of creation, and believed, with all the energy of his being, that governmental interference in economic relations lay at the root of the wide-spread misery which enshrouded, sometimes all too literally, the masses of the people. Whatever social and political changes might be involved in the revolution, Turgot regarded them as incidental and secondary rather than fundamental and causal. Unreasoned and irrational legislation, which forced a whole nation into centuries of abnormal commercial and industrial relations, had brought that nation to the verge of collapse; wretchedness and destitution, in gilt trappings or in wanton nakedness, were all the nation had to show as the result of its misguided efforts at economic legislation. To discern this was a vastly different thing from attempting to change what was already articulated in the political constitution of the realm. The conditions might be resolved in salons and sederunts; doctrinaires might discuss and wit multiply its epigrams, but medicament such as this could stem no nation rushing on to economic ruin. Neither could a deferential and apologetic suggestion of reform meet the case; the fruit of ages of unwisdom was ripe; it must be plucked, otherwise it must fall. The reforms attempted, moreover, must be no mere product of speculative wisdom; they must be tried and approved policies. Even though Dr. Oncken’s Turgot left his province after thirteen years’ administration in worse condition than he found it[10], the real Turgot had proved to the satisfaction of his people the beneficence of rational government. For an economic revolution peacefully wrought throughout a nation no unskilled or faltering hand would serve. The policies must be conceived in honest wisdom and be guided by a hand of conscious strength, lest they glide harmlessly over the surface of established institutions and not go directly and with relentless precision to the heart of the economic disease. A supple, pliant politician could do no work such as this. Turgot was frigid on occasion. His face must needs seem adamant in uncompromising inflexibility and hauteur when Privilege would plead its right to economic advantage even though the nation fall; but that same face was often jeweled by tears of sympathy for the woes of France.

For more than two decades Turgot had been in active public work, directly responsible to the Crown. He witnessed the decadence of royal power, at close range and from the vantage ground of official position and intimate relation to its activities. He was as sincerely attached to the monarchy as any man in France. He knew its ancient constitution, he saw its prestige waning; he served under several successive Ministers of Finance who failed to govern. He saw the throne becoming more clearly and surely the servant, conscious or unconscious, of the classes of economic privilege, and preying with them on the unprivileged. He had no purpose, as he distinctly tells us[11], of interfering in any way with the distinctions which divided the nation into political and social classes, but economic classes arbitrarily created, were the constant object of his strongest opposition. The Six Edicts were drawn directly at three phases of this unnatural division of the French people.

His devotion to the monarchy, moreover, in no way implied or involved the despotism of Quesnay’s doctrines[12]. In a passage too long to be quoted here[13], Turgot defines monarchy in terms strikingly similar to the later and more familiar words of Guizot[14]. To him the monarch was the personification of sovereignty, raised above all for the welfare of all, and answerable for the exercise of that sovereignty at the bar of reason, justice and social welfare.

In the Memoir to the King, Louis XVI, communicating the Six Edicts to him and explaining them semi-confidentially, he uses this significant language: “I expect to be sharply criticized, and I fear the criticisms less because they will fall only on me; but it appeals to me as very important to give to the laws which Your Majesty enacts for the welfare of his people, that character of justice and reason which alone can make them permanent.

Your Majesty reigns at this present moment by virtue of his power: He can reign in the future only by the reason and justice which shall pervade his laws, by the justice in which they are grounded, and by the gratitude of his people. Since Your Majesty has no wish to reign except to bestow kindness, why should he not be ambitious to reign later by the permanence of his beneficence?

The preamble (to the edict abolishing the corvée) which I propose will be vigorously attacked from every side where a criticism may be based; but though no one will think more of me, when nothing remains of Your Majesty in this land but the memory of the good he accomplished, I venture to believe that that same preamble will be cited, and then, the solemn declaration which Your Majesty makes, that he suppressed the corvée as unjust, will be an insuperable barrier to every Minister who might dare to propose to re-establish it. I will not conceal from Your Majesty that I had that time in view when I composed the preamble, and that I am deeply interested in it for that reason.” [15]

Chiefly because of the rigor of the administration concerning the internal economic affairs of the nation, the monarch and his executives were universally hated and detested by the people. To restore the Crown to its rightful place as sovereign of all the people, and to re-establish it in the minds and hearts of the mass of the subjects, was one of the most imperative reforms according to Turgot’s view.

To do this meant, on the one hand, to abolish the whole regime of economic privileges and, on the other, to rescue the royal power from the clutches of extortionate financiers, while the State must be guided away from the rocks of bankruptcy, against which it had been run by Terray. [16] This implied, by necessary consequence, a complete revision of the fiscal policies of the State, the recovery into the hands of the King of the mass of revenues which had been alienated, in one way and another, all of which were exacted from the people, but which failed wholly or in part to reach the royal treasury. Further, this program implied the reduction to a minimum of the friction between the individual will and the State in the matter of taxes, the abolition of the most vexatious and harassing taxes, and the most humane administration of those which the burdens of state made necessary. All the Six Edicts bore directly on this matter of reform.

The burden of this change in fiscal policy bore heavily on the privileged classes, as Turgot intended. The Minister did not hesitate to declare frankly his policy in this regard, and to defend it by historical precedent, the necessities of the State, and the promptings of common humanity. As will be seen later, in the analysis of the arguments on the abolition of the corvée, Turgot first established the series of advantages possessed by the privileged owners of land, and then submitted their claims to these advantages to the most scrupulous and rigid critical examination. Unfortunately this argument has never been translated into English, and almost no reference is made to it by the critics and historians of Turgot’s work. It is of fundamental importance, in understanding his positions and the reasons therefor on the subject of economic privileges.

For their organ of protest against the projects of the minister, the nobility had the parliaments. Not that the lawyers had great love for the Noblesse, but, being privilégiés themselves, they had common cause against the reforms which included them and their interests. But all their protests and the strength of their opposition had been anticipated by Turgot, and in the argument with Miromenil over the question of these privileges, before the Edicts were submitted to parliament for registration, he closes his argument with these sententious words:

“The motives which might have prompted respect for that privilege, had it been limited to the race of ancient defenders of the State, cannot be regarded, surely, in the same light when it has become common to the race of money-lenders who have plundered the State. Besides, what sort of administration would that be which would lay all the public charges on those who are poor in order to exempt all the rich!” [17]

As for the Church, Turgot had greater respect for its religious functions than many of those who attended mass regularly, or administered it. But for its economic privileges he had no more respect than for those of the nobility. He directly charges the clergy with subterfuge and inexcusable weakness in accumulating loans to discharge the gratuities they gave the Crown in lieu of proportionate contributions on their property[18], but, inasmuch as the withdrawal of the economic privileges of the nobility was sure to raise determined opposition and a lively clamor, Turgot discreetly says of the clergy : “The privileges of the clergy are susceptible of the same discussions as those of the Noblesse, and I believe them no better grounded; however, since deducting the tithes and casuels leaves the property of the ecclesiastics no very considerable object, I am not unwilling to postpone to another time the discussion of principles involved, and to withdraw here the provision which concerns the clergy: although the proposition may be most just, it is certain that it will excite lively protest; and perhaps the opinions of the king and the minister are not so sufficiently decided but that it may be best to avoid having two quarrels on hand at the same time.” [19]

With this definition of his policy, even had Turgot had been known as the author of Le Conciliateur, and to have urged the King sturdily to omit from his oath of office the provision committing him to the extermination of heretics, the most unstinted and inveterate hostility of the Church was assured against his every reform measure. And the Church can stir up the popular mind when it will.

It will be seen, thus, that the Six Edicts were designed to cover in part the wide-sweeping and radical economic reforms which, in the mind of Turgot, were necessary to avert the Revolution. The reforms were then possible without the shedding of blood. But France chose to pay the price. The edicts were calculated partly to restore the monarchy to the de facto head of the State, re-exalted in the hearts of the people, and made free from the parasites which were fattening from its already over-weakened vitality, and set forward to impartial government of all the subjects. The nobility were to be recalled to their original subordination, made to discharge their reasonable function to the State, and their largesses, perquisites and indulgences at the Court curtailed to the minimum of valid requirements. The Church was to be regarded as an economic person, and required to share the burdens of the State, while her claims to temporal indulgence on the ground of her other-worldly prerogatives, were promised ultimate extinction. All these plans had been well considered, carefully pondered and peremptory ordered on the basis of their inherent conformity to justice and reason.

Turgot wrote the notes for a Eulogy of his friend Gournay just fifteen years before he became the business head of the nation. The notes, unpublished during his life, have since come to be regarded as a succinct summary of Physiocratic doctrines, of Gournay’s economic ideas, and of Turgot’s own most familiar and warmly-espoused ideas of needed economic reforms. Together with the Réflexions, the Éloge de Gournay represents the best and most widely known of Turgot’s work.

The Éloge which Dr. Oncken’s Turgot wrote does not in any way represent Quesnay’s principles, for his Turgot never met Quesnay until less than a year before the Notes were written[20], and the distance between the men was so great, and Quesnay’s professional duties were so heavy, that Turgot was prevented from knowing what Quesnay believed[21]. Neither does he represent Gournay, but he misrepresents his friend, who owed his ideas to Child and de Witt[22], gives unmistakable evidence of exaggeration and is altogether untrustworthy[23] ; in fact he constructed Gournay’s doctrines for him, but because of overweening modesty, chose rather to publish the new ideas as Gournay’s rather than acknowledge the truth that they were his own. The following words are interesting:

“Dann hat aber Turgot, der Gournay als einen Mann des absolutesten laissez faire et laissez passer hinstellt, abermals falsch berichtet”[24] ; “Das ist die Lehre des Physiokratischen Systems, allein es ist nicht die Lehre Gournay’s ; und auch hier hat also Turgot wieder falsch berichtet”[25] ; “Nun muss man freilich Schelle zugeben, dass, wenn die Anschauungen, welche Turgot im Eloge seinem Freunde Gournay zuschreibt, in der That dessen eigene waren, so handelte es sich wirklich um eine neue Theorie, und es ware dann eine übergrosse Bescheidenheit gewesen, dies selber abzulehnen. Allein Turgot war in dem soeben angeführten Satze einmal ausnahmsweise im Recht.” [26]

Taken altogether, Dr. Oncken’s Turgot is not reliable authority, scarcely so even for his own doctrines. But the real Turgot undoubtedly held, in 1759, the doctrines which were embodied in the Six Edicts which were promulgated in 1776. In the Eulogy Turgot says:

“M. de Gournay no more imagined that in a kingdom where the order of successions has been established only by custom, and where the application of the death penalty for many crimes is still given over to jurisprudence, the government would condescend to regulate by express laws the length and breadth of a piece of cloth, the number of threads of which it must be made, and consecrate by the seal of legislative authority four volumes in quarto filled with such important details; and besides this, statutes without number dictated by the spirit of monopoly, the object of which is to discourage industry and to concentrate trade in a small number of hands by means of the multiplication of formalities and costs, and by subjecting to apprenticeships and journeyman-periods of ten years, trades which may be learned in ten days; by the exclusion of those who are not sons of masters and of those who are born outside certain limits, by forbidding the employment of women in the manufacture of cloth, etc., etc.

Nor did he imagine that in a realm subject to the same prince, all the cities should be mutually regarded as enemies, arrogating to themselves the right to interdict travel in their limits to Frenchmen designated by the name of foreigners, of setting themselves up in opposition to the sale and free passage of commodities from a neighboring province, and of thus fighting in behalf of a flimsy interest the general interest of the State, etc., etc.

  1. de Gournay concluded that the sole ends which administration ought to propose to itself were, 1. To give all branches of commerce that precious liberty which the prejudices of centuries of ignorance, the readiness of government to lend itself to private interests, and the desire of a poorly understood perfection, have caused it to lose. 2. To open opportunities to labor to all members of the State, at least by exciting the greatest possible competition in the sale of goods, which would necessarily result in the greatest perfection in manufacturing processes and the most advantageous price to the purchaser. 3. To give at the same time to the purchaser the greatest number of competitors by opening to the vendor all markets for his article, the only means of assuring to labor its recompense, and of perpetuating production, which has no other incentive than that recompense.” [27]

These doctrines, written hastily by Magistrate Turgot when he was thirty-two years of age, cannot be other than representative of the theories he had at that time evolved concerning the function of government in the economic organization of the State. Whether his views do misrepresent Gournay or not must be submitted to the same kind of study Dr. Oncken has begun; but antecedent probabilities are all against any misrepresentation of Gournay by Turgot. It is altogether probable that the economic doctrines of the Éloge do not represent the Physiocratic School of Quesnay, for the points of difference between Turgot and Quesnay are many and striking; but that is a study yet to be made, and immaterial here.

When Turgot was called to the Province of Limousin as Intendant, these were the doctrines he had in mind, and these were the theories of administration he was most anxious to put to the test of actual practice. When he was offered the less arduous Intendancy of Lyon in August of 1762, he writes a long letter to Controller-General Bertin, concerning the condition of Limousin, his own studies of local conditions and his hopes for the future of the province, and closes with these words:

“I believe, Monsieur, that you would not disapprove that, prompted by my personal interest, I should place before your eyes everything which concerns a work so important. I am dependent altogether on what concerns me in your views for the province where I am, and the aim of this long letter is to pray you to enable me to accomplish here all the good of which I believe it to be susceptible, and which alone attaches me to it. But, in case you believe you will be unable to assist me to succeed in this, then I must think of myself, and I pray you to ask of the King for me the Intendancy of Lyon. I have written to M. d’Ormesson somewhat in the same spirit. He fully understands all the labor which the conditions of the Generality of Limoges requires, and will be able to inform you fully.” [28]

When thirteen years of most practical provincial administration had only served to deepen his convictions of the truth and relevancy of his theories, and he was summoned to the Council of the King, these doctrines became the definite objective of his administration, and from his first official act until the last, Turgot was unswervingly consistent in his devotion to these four cardinal points as set forth in the Éloge: 1. The simplest administrative methods compatible with efficient service; 2. Free trade in the necessities of life; 3. Free opportunity for labor for all who were capable and desirous of it; 4. Free industry as opposed to arbitrary monopoly of the various channels of industrial activity. These theories demanded the Six Edicts; the conditions of the State in all its parts needed the rigorous application of the doctrines; the political supremacy and financial independence of the sovereign, as well as the equality of economic opportunity of the subjects demanded it. It was to realize such beneficent ideals as these that the Edicts were issued, and through this have become unique among the historic documents of statecraft.

The objectives of the Edicts were general rather than specific; they looked toward general interests rather than to particular ones. Moreover, from what has been developed of the general conditions, and from the nature of the Edicts themselves, it is obvious that the primary objective was economic amelioration.

Largely because of interference by the general and provincial governments in industrial and trade relations, the mass of the people were always at or near the margin of starvation. The necessities of life were sure sources of revenue, for the people must pay the taxes assessed or starve. The multiplied restrictions laid on the distribution of such commodities as were produced from the soil were, as Turgot says of them, “beyond belief, were they not here before the eyes”. Beginning with his first official enactment in September, 1774, Turgot issued, during the remainder of that year and in the course of the trying year which followed, twenty-three Edicts of the King, Writs of the Council, and various other declarations and letters-patent, all bearing directly on the freedom of the grain trade from its shackles throughout the interior of the kingdom. This policy found its culmination in the second of the Six Edicts which was designed to secure the adequate provisionment of the city of Paris. In the preamble of this edict, Turgot summarizes his whole free trade policy. To him, the interests of the government itself, of the producers, traders and consumers, all imperatively demanded that the government cease its attempt to improve on Nature’s provisions, in man and in the soil, for the nurture of her children.

The government had never committed itself to the claim that the right of labor, le droit du travail, was the exclusive property of the prince, which the king might sell, and which the subjects ought to buy. [29] But the policy of government had, in fact, conformed to that identical policy. All channels of activity, with few unimportant exceptions, were sold to guilds who exercised a monopoly of their particular craft, and paid into the Royal treasury for the institution, confirmation and extension of their privileges. The loans they were compelled to contract to meet the exactions of the tottering Royalty, only served further to weaken the monarchy, strengthened the hold of the guilds upon it, and barred more effectually the door to employment and a means of livelihood to all except those favored by the craft-monopolies. Such conditions were as intolerable and unendurable as those which beset the grain trade; and the abolition of the whole guild system, taken in connection with the emancipation of trade in the necessities of life, was designed to open the way to honest appropriation of the subsistence brought within the reach of honorable industry.

It was through these economic solacements that Turgot sought to alleviate many social ills and to attain such social betterments as could alone serve as a substantial foundation for the perpetuation of the monarchy. It was clear to his mind, at least as early as 1759, that a kingdom divided against itself could not stand. The industrial heterogeneity of the nation, the mutual suspicions and hostilities of its several parts towards each other, its utter lack of political unity except in common endurance of the exactions of the monarch, and the complete want of a social and national consciousness, all these conspired to the instability of the whole political order. Attached with devotion and loyalty to the monarchy, the character of Turgot’s legislation and his method of presenting it witness the sincerity of his desire to create a new and homogeneous France out of the distracting chaos of its severally distracted parts.

All his important laws, beginning with the one of September 13, 1774, were introduced by preambles couched in plain and direct language, setting forth the reasons which prompted the King to enact the law. Circulating these documents widely, as if striving to reason with the public for whom and by whom alone the laws could be made effective, Turgot was plainly seeking to create a public mind. For in no other way could France be welded into a self-conscious state than by the creation and education of a public opinion pervading all classes; the laws of general scope and application were addressed to the reason of all concerned, and their concurrence tacitly solicited; and the constant appeal to justice and equity could not but quicken conscience within the body of the State. By this undisguised candor he sought to create behind the throne a political solidarity in its citizenship such as France did not at that time have, and such as she has not yet secured.

Such attempts as these are unique in the history of statecraft, and many nations which boast of their unparalleled freedom might well wish themselves free from the incubus of lobby legislation with its train of secret legislative concoctions and unsuspected “riders”, and in the enjoyment of such a wholesome and practical referendum to the public mind and conscience as the device of this statesman in the ancien régime. And back of all these political, social and industrial objectives of the six edicts lay the further aim of moral culture both for the individual citizen and for the State. Turgot sharply arraigns the guild system in that it condemned to idleness and debauchery, to helpless incapacity and enforced prostitution, multitudes who might otherwise be self-supporting and contributing health, and not disease, to the life of the State. In like manner he condemned roundly the promiscuous billetting of troops, especially in rural districts where there was no escape from the moral contamination and debauch inseparable from that regime. As early as his first discourse at the Sorbonne, Turgot felt that a morally corrupt state was in process of extinction, and could not endure. He scrupulously avoids making the ulterior moral effects of the edicts conspicuous, but a mind “nervously conscientious”, as his has been described, religious beyond the religion of his time, could not fail to impress this sentiment on every public document emanating from his pen; and his persistent address to the conscience of France was, perhaps, the best emphasis that could be given to his thought.

His appeal for public morality was not so disguised. The complicated methods of government, the surrender to private interests, the petty details to which the majesty of the law was prostituted, the farming of taxes and the monopolies of labor and of trade, all afforded rich incentive to dishonesty in administration. In the Memoir to the King, referring to the third edict, he flatly accuses the farmers of the taxes on fish and sea-food of blackmail and bribery. The whole scheme of simplification of the revenue system of the government had in view the two advantages of more adequate revenue and the elimination of vexations from the tax-payers and of rascality from the administration.

[1] Hand und Lehrbuch der Staatswissenschaften, edited by Max von Heckel, Band 2, 1902.

[2] Dupont, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. I, p. 28.

[3] Oncken, Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, p. 436.

[4] Ibid., p. 304.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 293.

[7] Ibid., p. 306.

[8] Oncken, Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, pp. 439, 440.

[9] Guizot, History of Civilization in Europe, p. 257.

[10] Oncken, Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, p. 438.

[11] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. II, p. 277.

[12] Oncken, Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, p. 401.

[13] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, pp. 593-597.

[14] Guizot, History of Civilization in Europe, pp. 195, 196, 300.

[15] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, p. 242.

[16] Stourm, Les Finances de l’Ancien Régime et de la Révolution, vol. I, pp. 17-25, 37, 38 ; vol. II, pp. 126-129, 190, 209-213.

[17] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. I, p. 276.

[18] Ibid., p. 288.

[19] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. I, p. 280.

[20] Oncken, Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, p. 321.

[21] Ibid., p. 322.

[22] Ibid., pp. 291, 437.

[23] Ibid., pp, 306, 437, 438.

[24] Ibid., p. 299.

[25] Ibid., p. 300.

[26] Oncken, Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, p. 313.

[27] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. I, pp. 268, 276.

[28] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. I, p. 510.

[29] Daire, Œuvres de Turgot, vol. I, p. 306.

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