Haughty Charles Ⅹ Triggers a Tax Resistance Campaign

On this date in 1829, in response to Charles ’s attempt to govern autocratically and in the face of the opposition of France’s elected legislature, the Journal des Débats editorialized as follows:

The Charter now has an authority against which all the efforts of despotism will fail. The people will pay a billion to the law; they will not pay two million to the ordinances of a minister. Were illegal taxes to be demanded, a Hampden would arise. Hampden! a name that reminds us still of disorder and war. Woe to France! woe to the king.

Que feront-ils cependant? Iront-ils chercher un appui dans la force des baïonnettes? Les baïonnettes aujourd’hui sont intelligentes, elles connaissent et respectent la loi. Incapables de régner trois semains avec la liberté de la presse, vont-ils nous la retirer? Ils ne le pourraient qu’en violant la loi consentie par les trois pouvoirs, c’est-à-dire en se mettant hors la loi du pays. Vont-ils déchirer cette Charte qui fait l’immortalité de Louis XVIII et la puissance de son successeur? Qu’ils y pensent bien! La Charte a maintenant une autorité contre laquelle viendraient se briser tous les efforts du despotisme. Le peuple paie un milliard à la loi: il ne paierait pas deux millions aux ordonnances d’un ministre. Avec les taxes illégales naîtrait un Hampden pour les briser. Hampden! faut-il encore que nous rappellions ce nom de trouble et de guerre. Malheureuse France! malheureux Roi.

The author of that sideways call to tax resistance (with its shout-out to famous English tax resister John Hampden) was then prosecuted by the crown. He was convicted, but then won acquittal on appeal. Tax resistance was not an idle threat, as groups like the Breton Association (a.k.a. League of Breton Resistance) and “Help Yourself and Heaven Will Help You” were forming to coordinate resistance to taxes.

By the following year, the king had decided to double-down on his autocratic policies, but the country responded by getting further out of control. The press began simply disregarding censorship and declaring the monarchy to have lost the authority to rule, and by mid-year, insurrectionists were building barricades in the streets of Paris, and Charles was forced to abandon the throne and flee to England.

I recently read George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which takes place during the agitation leading up to the Reform Act of 1832, a conflict that featured tax resistance as a tactic of the Political Unions.

That struggle — along with things like Catholic emancipation, the industrial revolution, luddism, and the advance of steam-powered locomotives — just sort of floats in the background of the novel as a reminder of the tumult of the era, and Eliot doesn’t include any detailed tidbits worth reporting here.

However, a piece of verse that she uses as the introduction to one of her chapters fits right in here at The Picket Line:

“Where lies the power, there let the blame lie too.”
Nay, power is relative; you cannot fright
The coming pest with border fortresses,
Or catch your carp with subtle argument.
All force is twain in one: cause is not cause
Unless effect be there; and action’s self
Must needs contain a passive. So command
Exists but with obedience.