The Breton Association Organizes Tax Resistance Against Charles Ⅹ

When Charles of France attempted to bypass the legislature and enact his own taxes in , French liberals in the Breton Association organized tax resistance and created a fund to defray the costs of any tax resisters who were prosecuted. Fifteen regional organizations were formed specifically to engage in tax resistance.

The following descriptions come from two publications written shortly after the tax resistance campaign:

Apprehending… that the Ministers intended to violate the Charter, — that a part of the scheme would be an arbitrary change of the constitution of the Chamber of Deputies, and that the taxes must of course be voted by such an unconstitutional legislature or else levied by royal ordinance without any pretense of regard for the forms of the Charter, — the people immediately saw that the taxes afforded a point of legal and peaceful resistance to the government of the most advantageous description. It was plainly impossible for the Ministers to proceed with the affairs of the Kingdom without pecuniary resources, either in imposts or loans; and the latter could never be obtained unless with a prospect of repayment by means of the former, or some mode of permanently binding the nation to their reimbursement. If the constitutional representatives of the people were deprived of their proper influence in the government, as regularly exercised in the grant of supplies, the people themselves had the power to redress the wrong by refusing to pay any tax unlawfully imposed on their estates. The idea was deemed a happy one for the liberal and national party, as it was a dangerous one for the Ministers; — and a plan was immediately arranged, and put in operation, for the accomplishment of the desired object, which, from being first adopted by the landholders of the old province of Bretagne, became known by the name of the Breton Subscription or Association.

This Association had a two-fold object. They proposed, in the first place, to refuse to pay any illegal tax, and in the second place to raise by contribution a common fund for indemnifying any subscriber, whose property or person might suffer by reason of his refusal.

The scheme appears to have been a perfect one, as the means of peaceable resistance to any arbitrary acts of the Government. If generally subscribed, the prospectus would have the effect of combining the whole Nation in a lawful confederacy to sustain the Charter in spite of the physical force which might be wielded by the King. For if a subscriber refused to pay his tax, the Government could but order a distraint on his property, and it was easy to foresee that this would not benefit the Treasury. The whole of the classes industrielles, the great capitalists and landholders, the possessors of the moveable riches of the country, were in general ardent friends of the liberal cause. If they enrolled themselves as parties to the Subscription, a distraint would avail nothing, because there would be nobody to buy the property distrained: and in such a state of things, with all the wealth and feeling of the Nation on one side, and nothing but a taxgatherer’s warrant on the other, M. de Polignac would be greatly puzzled, even if aided by all the alchymy of the baron Rothschild and his brothers, to transmute into good current louisd’ors that all important portion of the annual budget of one thousand millions of francs, which consists in direct taxes.

Six Parisian newspapers that printed the Association’s manifesto were prosecuted by the crown.

The members subscribed each ten francs. In the event of any tax being imposed without the consent of the Chambers, or with the consent of a Chamber of Deputies created by any illegal alteration of the existing law, payment of the tax was to be refused, and the money subscribed was to be employed in defending and indemnifying the persons who should so refuse, and to prosecute all who might be concerned in the imposing, or the levying of such illegal taxes. The document, containing the resolutions adopted by the association, after appearing in the journals of Brittany, was reprinted in the liberal journals of Paris. They were immediately seized by the police.

[T]he editors were imprisoned for a month, and fined in 500 francs. The court stated the grounds on which it proceeded in finding the publication libelous to be:— “Because the Breton Association is founded on the supposition that the impost might be illegally established, either without the concurrence of the Chambers, or with the concurrence of a Chamber of Deputies formed on an electoral system, not returned agreeably to the constitutional forms; — Because such a supposition cannot be realized without a violation of the fundamental laws of the state; — Because the editors of the Journal du Commerce, and the Courier Française, by publishing the prospectus of this association, and accompanying this publication with apologetical reflections, in which the pretended danger is represented as imminent, have not used the legal right of discussion and censure of the acts of the ministers, but have excited to the hatred and contempt of the government of the king.” This decision excited great surprise and dissatisfaction among the Parisians; and certainly, of the two courts, the provincial tribunal of Rouen [which acquitted] would seem to have been guided by the sounder principles. Confessedly the remedy proposed was proposed only to meet a contingent evil; if that evil should arrive, the remedy confessedly was a legal and a proper one. The association could cease to be a chimera only to become a laudable and constitutional union. The ministers lost by gaining a conviction. They were placed in the ridiculous position of being unable, or being afraid, to attack the thing itself, while they were virulent against the mere description of what the thing was. The associations spread over the greater part of the kingdom; they embraced more than half the Chamber of Deputies, and a very considerable number of peers.

The Breton Association’s subscription read as follows:

We, the inhabitants, of both sexes, in the five departments of the ancient province of Brittany, under the jurisdiction and protection of the royal court of Rennes, bound by our own oaths, and those of the heads of our families, to fidelity to the king and attachment to the charter, having considered that a handful of political madmen have conceived the audacious design of attacking the very basis of our constitutional rights conferred by the charter; having considered also that, if Brittany has found, in the enjoyment of these rights, the compensation of those that were secured to her by her union to France, her national character and her honour equally induce her to imitate the generous conduct of her ancestors, by resisting the usurpations and arbitrary caprices of ministerial authority; having considered finally that any armed resistance would be the most dreadful calamity; that it would be unjust and without motive as long as legal resistance can be had recourse to; and that the most certain means of rendering preferable a recourse to judicial authority is to ensure to the victims a mutual and paternal link with their fellow-citizens:— We declare, connected as we are by ties of honour and legal right — 

  1. To subscribe individually for ten francs, and also the underwritten, whose names are inscribed on the electoral lists of , for the 10th of the contributions attributed to them on the aforesaid lists; and we oblige ourselves to pay the same money on presentation of the drafts of Procurators-general, in case they should be named conformably to the third article of the present declaration.
  2. This subscription will form a common stock or fund for all Brittany, destined to indemnify the subscribers for any expense they may be put to by their refusal to pay any illegal contributions imposed upon the public, either without the free, regular, and constitutional assent of the king, and the chambers established by the charter and the present laws, or even with the assent of the chambers created by any electoral system contrary to the same constitutional regulations.
  3. In case of any illegal change in the mode of elections, or any illegal establishment of the taxes, two proxies of each district will assemble at Pontivy, and as soon as they are twenty in number, they will, have power to elect amongst the subscribers three procurators-general and an under-procurator in each of the five departments.
  4. The duty of the general procurators will be to receive the subscriptions, to afford indemnities conformably to the second article, at the request of any subscriber, prosecuted for the payment of illegal contributions; to sue in his name through the sub-procurator of his department for justice against the exactors by all possible means allowed by law; and to become the accusers of all those who are accomplices or abettors of the establishment of illegal taxes.
  5. The subscribers named and proxies of this district to assemble with the proxies of the other districts, and to deposit the present subscription in the bands of the general procurators.

Charles abdicated the in the wake of the July Revolution.