Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques

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Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques

(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 LimogesLimoges
, city (1990 pop. 136,407), capital of Haute-Vienne dept., W central France, on the Vienne River. It is famous for its ceramics industry, which uses the abundant kaolin in the area; the city's porcelain workshops employ more than 10,000 people.
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. 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 GournayGournay, Vincent de
, 1712–59, French economist, precursor of the physiocrats and of Adam Smith. A wealthy merchant, he was in government service as intendant of commerce from 1751 to 1758.
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 and was a disciple of the physiocratsphysiocrats
, school of French thinkers in the 18th cent. who evolved the first complete system of economics. They were also referred to simply as "the economists" or "the sect." The founder and leader of physiocracy was François Quesnay.
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. 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 EncyclopédieEncyclopédie
, the work of the French Encyclopedists, or philosophes. The full title was Encyclopédie; ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers.
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. In 1774 the comte de MaurepasMaurepas, Jean Frédéric Phélippeaux, comte de
, 1701–81, French statesman. He succeeded his father as minister of state at 14, the post being administered for him in his minority.
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 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 farmingfarming,
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.
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 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 corvéecorvée
, under the feudal system, compulsory, unpaid labor demanded by a lord or king and the system of such labor in general. There were national and local variations, but in broad terms the corvée proper included work on the lord's portion of the manorial
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 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 NeckerNecker, Jacques
, 1732–1804, French financier and statesman, b. Geneva, Switzerland. In 1750 he went to Paris and entered banking. He rose rapidly to importance, established a bank of his own, and became a director of the French East India Company.
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, 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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Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques


(Baron de l’Aulne). Born May 10, 1727, in Paris; died there Mar. 20, 1781. French state figure, Enlightenment philosopher, and economist.

Turgot graduated from the theological faculty of the Sorbonne, but he did not pursue an ecclesiastical career. In 1751 he became a councilor of the Parisian parliament, and from 1761 to 1774 he served as intendant of Limoges. As comptroller general from 1774 to 1776, he carried out a number of antifeudal reforms, including the repeal of restrictions on the grain trade and the abolition of guilds; these reforms, however, aroused the opposition of the privileged estates and were repealed after Turgot resigned.

Turgot’s philosophical views were influenced by the ideas of the representatives of the Enlightenment with whom he collaborated on the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert. Turgot combined materialist and sensationalist views with a belief in god the creator as the prime source of existence. He argued for the constancy of the laws of nature, and, in anticipation of Condor-cet’s conception, he formulated one of the first versions of the rationalist theory of the progress of society. Turgot claimed that in spite of innumerable victims and devastating upheavals, “customs become less rigid, the human mind is enlightened, isolated nations draw together, and commerce and politics finally unite the world” (Izbr. filos, proizv., Moscow, 1937, p. 52). He was also the first to formulate the doctrine of the three stages of human cultural progress: religious, speculative, and scientific. Turgot acknowledged the role of economic relations as the motive force of progress, and he linked the various political forms with the stages of economic development.

Turgot’s primary work was Reflections on the Formation and the Distribution of Riches (1766). Like F. Quesnay and other Physiocrats, he defended the principle of freedom of economic activity. Although he shared Quesnay’s view of farming as the only source of surplus product, he assigned a much greater role to industry and trade and made a deeper analysis of capital, money, and profit. Turgot was the first to approach an understanding of how important ownership of the means of production is in the class division of society, and he made a distinction within the “farming class” and the “class of craftsmen” between private employers and hired workers. An ideologist of the incipient capitalism of his time, Turgot was, in the words of K. Marx, “one of the intellectual heroes who overthrew the old regime” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 15, p. 384).


Oeuvres, vols. 1–5. Paris, 1913–23.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. filosofskie proizvedeniia. Moscow, 1937.
Izbr. ekonomicheskie proizvedeniia. Moscow, 1961.


Volgin, V. P. Razvitie obshchestvennoi mysli vo Frantsii v XVIII veke. Moscow, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.