farming

farming, in the history of taxation, collection of taxes through private contractors. Usually, the tax farmer paid a lump sum to the public treasury; the difference between that sum and the sum actually collected represented his profit or loss. Although tax farming is no longer practiced, it was common in the cities of ancient Greece and in republican Rome, where the collection of direct taxes was farmed out to publicans; in the Roman Empire only indirect taxes were farmed. In the past, tax farming was practiced in most countries of Europe and Asia. In England the system was tried briefly but played no important part. It was most fully applied in France after 1681, when Jean Baptiste Colbert founded the general farms as an agency of royal administration. The collection of certain indirect taxes was leased by the king to the company of farmers general, a chartered body of 40 financiers (at one time they numbered 60) that guaranteed a fixed sum of revenue in advance. Popular hatred soon developed against the huge profits and extortionist practices of the farmers general, whose organization was abolished (1791) in the French Revolution; some 30 former members of the farm—Antoine Lavoisier among them—were guillotined in the Reign of Terror.

See G. T. Matthews, The Royal General Farms in Eighteenth-Century France (1958).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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