FARM, in the most generally used sense, a portion of land leased or held for the purpose of agriculture; hence "farming" is equivalent to the pursuit of agriculture, and "farmer" to an agriculturist. This meaning is comparatively modern. The origin of the word has perhaps been complicated by an Anglo-Saxon feorm, meaning provisions or food supply, and more particularly a payment of provisions for the sustenance of the king, the cyninges feorm. In Domesday this appears as a food rent: firma unius noctis or diei. According to the New English Dictionary there is no satisfactory Teutonic origin for the word. It has, however, been sometimes connected with a word which appears in the older forms of some Teutonic languages, meaning "life." The present form "farm" certainly comes, through the French ferme, from the medieval Lat. firma (firmus, fixed), a fixed or certain payment in money or kind. The Anglo-Saxon feorm may be not an original Teutonic word but an early adaptation of the Latin. The feorm, originally a tax, seems, as the king "booked" his land, to have become a rent (see F.W. Maitland, Domesday Book and After, 1897, p. 236 ff., and J.H. Round, Feudal England, 1895, p. 109 ff.). The word firma is thus used of the composition paid by the sheriff in respect of the dues to be collected from the shire. From the use of the word for the fixed sum paid as rent for a portion of land leased for cultivation, "farm" was applied to the land itself, whether held on lease or otherwise, and always with the meaning of agricultural land. The aspect of the fixity of the sum paid leads to a secondary meaning, that of a certain sum paid by a taxable person, community, state, etc., in respect of the taxes or dues that will be imposed, or to such a sum paid as a rent by a contractor for the right of collecting such taxes. This method of indirect collection of the revenue by contractors instead of directly by the officials of the state is that known as "farming the taxes." The system is best known through the publicani of Rome, who formed companies or syndicates to farm not only the indirect taxation of the state, but also other sources of the state revenues, such as mines, fisheries, etc. (see Publicani).
In monarchical Europe, which grew out of the ruins of the Roman empire, the revenue was almost universally farmed, but the system was gradually narrowed down until only indirect taxes became the subject of farming. France from the 16th to the 18th centuries is the most interesting modern example. Owing to the hopeless condition of its revenues, the French government was continually in a state of anticipating its resources, and was thus entirely in the hands of financiers. In 1681 the indirect taxes were farmed collectively to a single company of forty capitalists (ferme générale), increased to sixty in 1755, and reduced to the original number in 1780. These farmers-general were appointed by the king for six years, and paid an annual fixed sum every year in advance. The taxes which they collected were the customs (douanes or traites), the gabelle or salt tax, local taxes or octrois (entrées, etc.), and various smaller taxes. They were under the management of a controller-general, who had a central office in Paris. The office of farmer-general was the object of keen competition, notwithstanding that the successful candidates had to share a considerable part of the profits of the post with ministers, courtiers, favourites, and even the sovereign, in the shape of gifts (croupes) and pensions. The rapacity of the farmers-general was proverbial, and the loss to the revenue by the system was great, while very considerable hardships were inflicted on the poorer contributors by the unscrupulous methods of collection practised by the underlings of the farmers. In addition, the unpopular nature of the taxes caused deep discontent, and the detestation in which the farmers-general were held culminated in the execution of thirty-two of them during the French Revolution and the sweeping away of the system.
See also Agriculture, Dairy and Dairy-Farming, Fruit and Flower Farming, etc.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)