Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (än rōbĕr´ zhäk türgō´), 1727–81, French economist, comptroller general of finances (1774–76). The son of a rich merchant, he showed precocious ability at school and at the Sorbonne. He early abandoned plans to enter the priesthood, and in 1752 he entered the royal administration. From 1761 to 1774 he was intendant of Limoges. After writing his Lettres sur la tolérance (1753–54), Turgot wrote on economic subjects, notably Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses. He advocated the free-trade and free-competition principles of Vincent de Gournay and was a disciple of the physiocrats. In Limoges, then one of the poorest provinces of France, he applied some of his theories. He encouraged new agricultural methods, introduced new crops, developed industry, promoted local free trade, abolished compulsory labor for public work, built roads, instituted a modicum of public assistance, and removed some tax abuses. Although his reforms were on a modest scale and encountered much local prejudice, he was acclaimed for them, particularly by the philosophes, whom Turgot joined in writing the Encyclopédie. In 1774 the comte de Maurepas made him comptroller general of finances in his cabinet. Turgot's program— "No bankruptcy, no increase in taxes, no borrowing, but economy" —necessitated stringent reforms. He abolished some sinecures and monopolies, tried to improve the system of farming the taxes, drastically cut government expenses, and redeemed part of the public debt. His edict (1774) restoring free circulation of grain inside France antagonized the grain speculators and was unfortunately followed by a crop failure. Bread riots resulted and were suppressed. This, together with the threat to vested interests posed by his reforms, caused Turgot to lose much of his popularity. He aroused the clergy by favoring toleration of the Protestants and provoked a storm of protest by his six edicts of Jan., 1776. The first four edicts were not of major importance. The fifth abolished guilds, thus ending restrictions on work and occupation. The sixth, the most important, struck at the nobles by eliminating the corvée and proposing taxation of all landholders. Opposition to him now included all privileged groups as well as the queen, Marie Antoinette, whose enmity he had incurred when he refused favors to her protégés. Maurepas persuaded Louis XVI to ask Turgot's resignation (May, 1776). Refusing the offer of a pension, Turgot retired to a life of scientific, historical, and literary study. He was succeeded by Jacques Necker, and his edicts were repealed. Subsequent events vindicated Turgot's conviction—expressed as early as 1750—that the only alternative to radical reform was still more radical revolution. There is a five-volume edition of his works by Gustave Schelle (1913–23, in French).

See L. Say, Turgot (1888, tr. 1888); D. Dakin, Turgot and the Ancien Régime in France (1939, repr. 1965).

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