The tithe

In a special way Pestalozzi was involved in the question of the "tithe", on which the fate of the young republic should be decided. The tithe originally was an ecclesiastical duty and was based on statements of the bible. The meaning was to meet the living of the pastors who exclusively worked for the Christian proclamation, by leaving the tenth of the own agricultural yield to them. When it aroused to pay with money, in many places it became common to pay the tithe cash. In the course of history the church (especially the monasteries) gradually claimed the tithe as a general duty of the farmers who were enslaved to it. When the monasteries were abolished during the reformation, the state did not abolish the tithe, but now appeared as owner of the right of the tithe itself. The state let schools, hospitals, institutions for the poor, churches and private persons have the right to draw the tithe. Thus it happened that the class of the farmers had to carry the whole load of the welfare. A general tax duty that would also burden the wealthy and rich traders, entrepreneurs, clergymen and aristocrats did not exist back then. In principle a wealthy farmer could buy free from the tithe by paying a sum twenty times as high as the annual tithe at one go. In his great village novel "Lienhard und Gertrud" (Lienhard and Gertrud) Pestalozzi shows a way how farmers could buy free from the tithe by additional earnings in the cotton industry. Yes, even the children could, according to Pestalozzi's convictions, by daily spinning and weaving in the course of many years make their decisive contribution to buy free from the tithe once.

When they marched into Switzerland the French had promised to the farmers to abolish all duties of the time of the feudalism, consequently also to abolish the tithe. That explains, why the farmers from the central part of Switzerland (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden) had little interest in the revolution, as they had bought free from the tithe already long ago.

To keep the promise, the Helvetic councils abolished all duties of the time of the feudalism, also the tithe, already two months after the marching in of the French.- This was well-meant, but in so far a fateful mistake as the state robbed itself of its main source of income, before it made a general tax right. Besides between the people there flared up a vehement argument about the question, if the tithe has to be considered to be a public duty or a debt under private law. In the second case there aroused the necessity of buying free in order to refund a debt.

In this argument Pestalozzi intervened and in the summer of 1798 published the so called "Erstes Zehntenblatt" ("Über den Zehnten") (first paper about the tithe), a writing in the form of a conversation between farmers. There Pestalozzi shows on the one hand, that the tithe is unfair and also hinders the agricultural progress and because of that has to be replaced by a general property tax; but on the other hand he also realizes, that the people, who own the rights of the tithe up to now, have to be compensated for the loss of their source of income. So he developed the plan to privatize the land of the communities that often lay fallow, to thus use them more intensively and at the same time compensate the previous owners of the rights of the tithe with the proceeds. At that Pestalozzi's general talking politics becomes plain once more: He does not want that by abolishing injustices new injustices are brought about. He does not think having the interests of the parties in the back of his mind, but always sees the whole social organism.

Pestalozzi's work can not easily be understood and thus was misunderstood by many people, and they called him names like supporter of the "gang of the thieves of the tithe". Because of that Pestalozzi wrote another text, the "Zweites Zehntenblatt" ("Abhandlung über die Natur der helvetischen Zehnten und Bodenzinse und die Unpassendheit aller ihrethalben in der Revolutionszeit genommenen Maßregeln") (second paper about the tithe (Treatise on the nature of the Helvetic tithe and ground interest and on the unsuitability of all measures that were made because of the tithe during the revolution)). In this paper he showed the development of the tithe from the Middle Ages on and conclusively proved how an original duty under private law changed into an unfair public tax and that the buying free must ruin the farmers. At the same rime, however, he saw, how the situation of the new Helvetic Republic catastrophically got worse and the new state was o the brink of ruin. Pestalozzi, however, wanted that the state should be saved and all other aims should be subordinated to this highest aim. Again for him the health of the whole was most important. Because of this Pestalozzi at the end gives an unexpected turn to his treatise: It is true that he clearly states the right of the farmers to be freed of the tithe, but he asks them in an urgent appeal, not to insist in their right at this moment of threat to the state, but, by momentarily doing without their right, to save the native country, that – if one had to grant them their right, now – had to go down. Neither the government nor the people listened to Pestalozzi – and the new state soon went down.