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Introduction of the Excise Tax in the Towns of Brandenburg (April 15, 1667)

The excise or sales tax that Elector Frederick William’s government imposed on Brandenburg’s towns (and which was later extended to most of his other provinces) was the urban counterpart to the direct tax [Kontribution] on village cultivators that was reluctantly approved by the Estates in 1653. The excise was influenced by Dutch and French models, and was held, both by Frederick William and the urban commoners, to possess the virtue of obligating the urban elites, hitherto often beneficiaries of self-crafted tax exemptions, to bear a tax burden proportional to their expenditures. In some towns, popular uprisings favoring the excise forced urban patricians to acquiesce to it. And while the landed nobility enjoyed virtual exemption from direct taxation of their lands and manorial farms, their purchases in nearby towns entailed the payment of the urban excise. The text below affords some insight into the relative value of the various goods and services taxed.

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Order Establishing a Consumption or Excise Tax in All Towns of Electoral and Mark Brandenburg, for Three Years, Beginning June 1, 1667 (Dated April 15, 1667)

We, Frederick William, by grace of God Margrave in Brandenburg, Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Empire and Elector, etc., in Prussia, etc.:

Do hereby proclaim and give notice to all and sundry: Inasmuch as most lively representations have on various occasions been made to Us concerning the poor and needy condition of Our towns in Our Electorate and Mark of Brandenburg, and We have accordingly considered all kinds of ways and means to restore them and to save them from final ruin and complete destruction, it has seemed to Us that it would be particularly conducive to the improvement of their condition and promotion of their prosperity if the public burdens were somewhat more evenly distributed, not all laid only on the poor, nor levied exclusively on land and houses, for which purpose we can think of no means more convenient and equitable than the introduction of a fixed and moderate excise, toward which all inhabitants without distinction shall contribute, each contributing much or little, according to whether his consumption is large or small.

1. And it is therefore, firstly, Our most gracious and strict will and command that as from the first of June, by which date the Patent can be brought to the public notice in all towns of Our Electoral Mark of Brandenburg including also the Episcopal, Crown Agents’, and Knights’ towns, and in particuar also in Storchow and Beesekow, and similarly, so far as brewing is concerned, in all alehouses and breweries that engage in the sale of beer in cloisters, liberties, suburbs, villages and hamlets, the following tax shall be placed on the commodities hereafter specified and included in the contributio, but the contribution towards this excise from the Episcopal, Crown Agents’ and Knights’ towns shall count toward the quota of contributio paid by each place.

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