land, from the profits of their stock, or from 
the wages of their labour. 
Capitation Taxes
Capitation taxes, if it is attempted to proportion 
them to the fortune or revenue of 
each contributor, become altogether arbitrary
The state of a man's fortune varies from day 
to day; and, without an inquisition, more intolerable 
than any tax, and renewed at least 
once every year, can only be guessed at. His 
assessment, therefore, must, in most cases
depend upon the good or bad humour of his 
assessors, and must, therefore, be altogether 
arbitrary and uncertain. 
Capitation taxes, if they are proportioned
not to the supposed fortune, but to the rank 
of each contributor, become altogether unequal
the degrees of fortune being frequently 
unequal in the same degree of rank
Such taxes, therefore, if it is attempted to 
render them equal, become altogether arbitrary 
and uncertain; and if it is attempted to 
render them certain and not arbitrary, become 
altogether unequal. Let the tax be 
light or heavy, uncertainty is always a great 
grievance. In a light tax, a considerable degree 
of inequality may be supported; in a 
heavy one, it is altogether intolerable
In the different poll-taxes which took place 
in England during the reign of William III
the contributors were, the greater part of 
them, assessed according to the degree of 
their rank; as dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, 
barons, esquires, gentlemen, the eldest 
and youngest sons of peers, &c. All 
shop-keepers and tradesmen worth more than 
three hundred pounds, that is, the better sort 
of them, were subject to the same assessment
how great soever might be the difference in 
their fortunes. Their rank was more considered 
than their fortune. Several of those 
who, in the first poll-tax, were rated according 
to their supposed fortune, were afterwards 
rated according to their rank. Serjeants, attorneys
and proctors at law, who, in the first 
poll-tax, were assessed at three shillings in 
the pound of their supposed income, were 
afterwards assessed as gentlemen. In the assessment 
of a tax which was not very heavy
a considerable degree of inequality had been 
found less insupportable than any degree of 
In the capitation which has been levied in 
France, without any interruption, since the 
beginning of the present century, the highest 
orders of people are rated according to their 
rank, by an invariable tariff; the lower orders 
of people, according to what is supposed to 
be their fortune, by an assessment which varies 
from year to year. The officers of the 
king's court, the judges, and other officers in 
the superior courts of justice, the officers of 
the troops, &c. are assessed in the first manner. 
The inferior ranks of people in the provinces 
are assessed in the second. In France
the great easily submit to a considerable degree 
of inequality in a tax which, so far as it 
affects them, is not a very heavy one; but 
could not brook the arbitrary assessment of 
an intendant
The inferior ranks of people must, in that 
country, suffer patiently the usage which their 
superiors think proper to give them. 
In England, the different poll-taxes never 
produced the sum which had been expected 
from them, or which it was supposed they 
might have produced, had they been exactly 
levied. In France, the capitation always produces 
the sum expected from it. The mild 
government of England, when it assessed the 
different ranks of people to the poll-tax, contented 
itself with what that assessment happened 
to produce, and required no compensation 
for the loss which the state might sustain, 
either by those who could not pay, or 
by those who would not pay (for there were 
many such), and who, by the indulgent execution 
of the law, were not forced to pay
The more severe government of France assesses 
upon each generality a certain sum
which the intendant must find as he can. If 
any province complains of being assessed too 
high, it may, in the assessment of next year
obtain an abatement proportioned to the overcharge 
of the year before; but it must pay in 
the mean time. The intendant, in order to 
be sure of finding the sum assessed upon his 
generality, was empowered to assess it in a 
larger sum, that the failure or inability of some 
of the contributors might be compensated by 
the overcharge of the rest; and till 1765, the 
fixation of this surplus assessment was left altogether 
to his discretion. In that year, indeed, 
the council assumed this power to itself. In 
the capitation of the provinces, it is observed 
by the perfectly well informed author of the 
Memoirs upon the Impositions in France, the 
proportion which falls upon the nobility, and 
upon those whose privileges exempt them from 
the taille, is the least considerable. The largest 
falls upon those subject to the taille, who are 
assessed to the capitation at so much a-pound 
of what they pay to that other tax. 
Capitation taxes, so far as they are levied 
upon the lower ranks of people, are direct 
taxes upon the wages of labour, and are attended 
with all the inconveniencies of such 
Capitation taxes are levied at little expense
and, where they are rigorously exacted
afford a very sure revenue to the state. It is 
upon this account that, in countries where the 
ease, comfort, and security of the inferior 
ranks of people are little attended to, capitation 
taxes are very common. It is in general, 
however, but a small part of the public revenue