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La Gabelle

Whereas anyone could buy or sell salt, its distribution was subject to legal controls and restrictions (amounts imported, licences, commercial documents, etc...) and to a specific tax--gabelle--paid to the ruler. The salt gabelle--a legacy of the gabelle that Charles of Anjou instituted in 1259 to finance his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples--was introduced in France as a temporary measure in 1317 and definitively in 1340. Because it was variable according to time and place, it very soon became synonymous with fiscal injustice and was at the origin of riots instigated by both those who feared the loss of their privileges and those who had nothing to lose (e.g. in 1548 in Western France and in 1639 in Normandy). Much friction arose from constantly putting off the equalization of the gabelle throughout the French kingdom. The Finance minister Sully's attempts to organise salt supplies and tax-collecting at the end of the 16th C under the reign of Henry IV were not entirely successful. The ruling on the gabelle and its various ratifications 80 years later also failed to unify or just simplify procedures. All this was essentially because, until the French revolution, those with official tenure at the storehouse - who cared little for the royal tax but much for the social prerogatives that went with it - and the agents to whom the tax was farmed out--who paid a fixed sum out of their own personal fortunes for this privilege and for whom the proceeds of the tax were vital--did not always see eye to eye. Too many people, great or small - keepers, clerks, tax collectors and inspectors - had a vested interest to defend. All were willing to help repress smuggling arising from the inequalities in the tax regime. Offenders could even be condemned to the galleys, a sentence that did much to sustain hatred of the gabelle and for its associated exemption, the 'franc salé'. Although the gabelle was revoked in 1790 by the Constitutive Assembly, it was very soon re-established and not finally abolished until the 1946 Finance Law. In Germany, a similar tax on table salt was not revoked until 1993! Source.

By the way, Pliny, following Aristotle's ideas, interprets the use of salt as a means of payment ..."in Rome...the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it..."

Plinius Naturalis Historia. XXXI Source.

Steven Huddart
Smeal College of Business, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802-3603 USA
(814) 863-0048
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was last updated on Tue, Aug 21, 2018.
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