Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
CONTRIBUTION OF WAR. Although war is a state of violence between two countries, and violence generally supposes the employment of arbitrary power, still there are established between civilized nations customs and rules, to which the belligerents submit. There is, therefore, a distinction made between the legitimate and illegitimate means of injuring an enemy. Chief among the former are contributions of war, requisitions, forage and conveyances which are exacted in the enemy's country. There was a time when war consisted of a series of acts of violence, without rule or restraint; when both the person and property of the vanquished were at the mercy of the victor; and when the country invaded by an army was submitted to pillage and devastation. When all nations had in turn experienced the horrors of war, they agreed, at least, to submit these inevitable evils to rule, since it was impossible to suppress them entirely. Instead of plundering the inhabitants and burning their houses, the invading army exacted of the invaded district or conquered city contributions of war (tributa bellica). On condition of the payment of this tribute, the preservation of private property of all kinds was assured, and the enemy were obliged to buy and pay for whatever he demanded afterward, excepting the services which might be eventually required of the citizens and temporary subjects. Such is the history of the origin of tribute contribution of war levied by the enemy upon a country which they have invaded. The progress of public or state morality, and the mitigation of the hard usages of war, have made it the common rule to respect private property except in maritime warfare; and tribute, or contribution, is now no longer regarded as a substitute for fire and pillage; that is to say, a declaration of the local authorities that they would not or could not pay the tribute demanded would not give the enemy the right to pillage and burn, but would simply oblige the enemy to have recourse to force. Tribute of war is, therefore, an extraordinary tax levied for the benefit of the enemy and by their order. In order that this levy may be made in an equitable manner, it is customary for the assessment and collection of the sum demanded to be left to the local authorities. Their first duty is to proportion each one's share to his means; they, therefore, ordinarily take as their guide the assessment roll for ordinary taxes. If an individual has paid more than he justly should in proportion to his fortune, he has the right of recourse against the commune, the canton; in short, against the district on which the tribute was assessed. If a district has been too heavily taxed, it has the same resource against the district, the department, the province, and so on. As we said above, it is only in the case of the refusal of the local authorities to levy the tribute that the victor can exercise his authority directly by way of force. He takes it upon himself to assess the required tax according to the same rules as those stated above for the local authorities. But, considering his limited knowledge of the country, and the greater or less pressure of his wants, this mode of procedure is more apt to be marked by arbitrariness than the former. We must not, however, believe that tribute of war constitutes an absolute guarantee of safety to private property. The weakening of the enemy being the aim of military operations, it is permitted to destroy property the possession of which could not be abandoned to the enemy without increasing his strength. This is an additional proof that tribute of war is not based upon the redemption of private property. Thus gardens, vineyards, villas and forests should be spared, but the enemy always has the right to destroy them in order to strengthen his position. We must distinguish between contribution of war and requisition. Requisition consists in the asking for certain specified objects, under the form of a request, but exacted by force in case of need. Washington, in the American revolutionary war, invented both the word and the thing it denotes. But the use of requisition dates mainly from the wars of the French revolution, and was practiced by the French armies, who brought to a high degree of perfection the system of living upon the enemy's country. Besides what we may call the local contribution of war, which is exacted in the course of military operations, there is the tribute exacted at the conclusion of hostilities, either by a special agreement, or by virtue of conditions inserted in the treaty of peace. We may cite, as examples of tribute in this last acceptation, the war tribute of 140,000,000 francs required of Prussia (6,000,000 inhabitants) by France, in virtue of the agreements of Sept. 8, and of Nov. 5, 1808; the tribute of 700,000,000 francs required of France (30,000,000 inhabitants) by the allies, in virtue of the fourth article of the treaty of Nov. 20, 1815; and, finally, the tribute of 5,000,000,000 francs required by the treaty of February, 1871 (France having 37,000,000 inhabitants). There is no difference between a contribution of war, taken in this sense, and the payment of the costs of the war.
—What is the position of the part of the country which, by the course of events, is subjected to the payment of a tribute of war, relatively to the state at large? Is the state, when restored to the full exercise of its sovereignty over the provinces temporarily overrun and laid under tribute by the enemy, bound to reimburse to these provinces the sum they have been forced to pay? Not in justice; for the state had nothing to do with this expense, and it is responsible only for the acts which are performed by its order. If the territory has been invaded because of the weakness of the state, it is a case of superior force, for the consequences of which the state should not be called to account. Besides, there would be a certain amount of danger in laying down in principle the obligation of the state to make such reimbursement; for it would suffice for the enemy to be master of a part of the country to drain by his exactions the entire state. On the other hand, it would often be contrary to equity to adhere to the strict law, or to the general considerations of political interest. If the inhabitants of a city have saved the country by a prolonged resistance, by sacrificing their fields, their villas, their suburbs; or if a province has retarded the enemy's march by destroying its crops and resources of every kind, and by harassing the enemy, it is just that the state should compensate this province for the losses which it has suffered in the general interest. These considerations of equity apply, also, when the part of the country occupied by the enemy has been abandoned to him for purposes of strategy, the real line of defense being placed much further back. They may be applied, also, though the application is more doubtful here, when the occupation is the fault of a gross blunder of the general intrusted with the defense of the territory. Finally, they apply most naturally when a province is, by its situation, exposed to become the theatre of the war, as was formerly the case with Belgium, the province of Milan and the provinces of the Rhine. We might multiply examples of this kind. Quite the reverse of the principle of law, which adapts to itself the circumstances of a fact, equity, more pliable, adapts itself to the circumstances, and follows after them in all their windings.
Return to top