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Jacques Necker

portrait by Joseph Duplessis, (Château de Versailles)

Director-General of Finance
In office
29 June 1777 – 19 May 1781
Preceded by Louis-Gabriel Taboureau des Réaux
Succeeded by Jean-François Joly de Fleury
In office
26 August 1788 – 11 July 1789
Preceded by Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne
Succeeded by Louis Charles Auguste Le Tonnelier

Political party Louis XVI
Profession Statesman, Politician, Writer

Jacques Necker (September 30, 1732 – April 9, 1804) was a French statesman of Swiss birth and finance minister of Louis XVI, a post he held in the lead-up to the French Revolution in 1789.

Contents

Early life

Necker was born in the republic of Geneva, [later incorporated with Switzerland in 1815]. His father was a native of Küstrin in Neumark (Prussia, now Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Poland), and had, after the publication of some works on international law, been elected as professor of public law at Geneva, of which he became a citizen. Jacques Necker was sent to Paris in 1747 to become a clerk in the bank of Isaac Vernet, a friend of his father. By 1762 he was a partner and by 1765, through successful speculations, had become a very wealthy man. He soon afterwards established, with another Genevese, the famous bank of Thellusson, Necker et Cie. Peter Thellusson (otherwise known as Pierre Thellusson) superintended the bank in London (his son was made a peer as Baron Rendlesham), while Necker was managing partner in Paris. Both partners became very rich by loans to the treasury and speculations in grain. He also invented paper.

In 1763 Necker fell in love with Madame de Verménou, the widow of a French officer. But while on a visit to Geneva, Madame de Verménou met Suzanne Curchod, who was the daughter of a pastor near Lausanne and who had been engaged to Edward Gibbon. In 1764 Madame de Verménou brought Suzanne to Paris as her companion. There Necker, transferring his love from the widow to the poor Swiss girl, married Suzanne before the end of the year. On April 22, 1766 they had a daughter, Anne Louise Germaine Necker, who became a renowned author under the name of Madame de Staël.

Suzanne Curchod, wife of Jacques Necker

Madame Necker encouraged her husband to try to find himself a public position. He accordingly became a syndic or director of the French East India Company, around which a fierce political debate revolved in the 1760s, between the company's directors and shareholders and the royal ministry over the administration and the company's autonomy. "The ministry, concerned with the financial stability of the company, employed the abbé Morellet to shift the debate from the rights of the shareholders to the advantages of commercial liberty over the company’s privileged trading monopoly." [1] After showing his financial ability in its management, Necker defended the Company's autonomy in an able memoir[2] against the attacks of André Morellet in 1769.

Meanwhile he had made loans to the French government, and was appointed resident at Paris by the republic of Geneva. Madame Necker entertained the leaders of the political, financial and literary worlds of Paris, and her Friday salon became as greatly frequented as the Mondays of Mme Geoffrin, or the Tuesdays of Mme Helvétius. In 1773 Necker won the prize of the Académie Française for a defense of state corporatism framed as a eulogy of Louis XIV's minister, Colbert; in 1775 he published his Essai sur la législation et le commerce des grains, in which he attacked the free-trade policy of Turgot. His wife now believed he could get into office as a great financier, and made him give up his share in the bank, which he transferred to his brother Louis.

Finance Minister of France

In October 1776[3] Necker was made director-general of the finances -- he could not be controller because of his Protestant faith.[4] He gained popularity in regulating the finances by attempting to divide the taille or poll tax more equally, by abolishing the vingtième d'industrie, and establishing monts de piété (establishments for loaning money on security). His greatest financial measures were his usage of loans to help fund the French debt and his usage of high interest rates rather than raising taxes.[5] He also advocated loans to finance French involvement in the American Revolution.[6]

In 1781 France was suffering financially, and since Necker was Director-General, he was blamed for the rather high debt accrued from the American Revolution.[7] While at court, Necker had made many enemies because of his reforming policies. Marie-Antoinette was his most formidable enemy, and she and his other enemies had a great influence over Louis XVI's decision to dismiss Necker in 1781. [8]

Allegorical Portrait of Necker flanked by Commerce and Prosperity (1788-1789)

Also in 1781 Necker published his most influential work: the Compte rendu au roi. In the Compte rendu Necker summarizes governmental income and expenditures, giving the first-ever public record of royal finances. It was meant to be an educational piece for the people, and in it he expressed his desire to create a well-informed, interested populace.[9] Before, the people had never considered governmental income and expenditure to be their concern, but now armed with the Compte rendu, they became more proactive. This birth of public opinion and interest plays an important role in the French Revolution. The statistics given in the Compte rendu were completely false and misleading, as Necker wanted to show France in a strong financial position when the reality was much worse. He "cooked the books", hiding the crippling interest payments that France had to make on its massive £520 million in loans (largely used to finance the war in America) as normal expenditure. When he was criticized by his enemies for the Compte rendu he made public his 'Financial Summary for the King', which appeared to show that France had fought the war in America, paid no new taxes and still had a massive credit of £10 million of revenue.[10]

In retirement he occupied himself with literature, producing his famous Traité de l'administration des finances de la France (1784). He also spent time with his only child, his beloved daughter, who in 1786 married the ambassador of Sweden and became Madame de Staël. In 1787 Necker was banished by the lettre de cachet 40 leagues from Paris for his very public exchange of pamphlets and memoirs attacking his successor as minister of finance, Calonne. Yet in 1788 the country had been struck by both economic and financial crises, and Necker was called back to the office of Director-General of Finance to stop the deficit and to save France from financial ruin.[11]

Necker in the Revolution

In France. Britain. Freedom. Slavery (1789), James Gillray caricatures the triumph of Necker (seated, on left) in 1789, comparing its effects on freedom unfavorably to those of Pitt in England.

Necker was seen as the savior of France while the country stood on the brink of ruin, but his actions could not stop the French Revolution. Necker put a stop to the rebellion in the Dauphiné by legalizing its assembly, and then set to work to arrange for the summons of the Estates-General of 1789. He advocated doubling the representation of the Third Estate to satisfy the people. But he failed to address the matter of voting — rather than voting by head count, which is what the people wanted, voting remained as one vote for each estate. [12] Also, his address at the Estates-General was terribly miscalculated: it lasted for hours, and while those present expected a reforming policy to save the nation, he gave them financial data. This approach had serious repercussions on Necker's reputation; he appeared to consider the Estates-General to be a facility designed to help the administration rather than to reform government.[13]

Necker's dismissal on 11 July 1789 made the people of France incredibly angry, which induced the king to recall him. He was received with joy in every city he traversed, but in Paris he again proved to be no statesman. Believing that he could save France alone, he refused to act with Mirabeau or Lafayette. He caused the king's acceptance of the suspensive veto, by which he sacrificed his chief prerogative in September, and destroyed all chance of a strong executive by contriving the decree of November 7, by which the ministry might not be chosen from the assembly. Financially he proved equally incapable for a time of crisis, and could not understand the need of such extreme measures as the establishment of assignats in order to keep the country quiet. Necker stayed in office until 1790, but his efforts to keep the financial situation afloat were ineffective. His popularity had vanished, and he resigned with a broken reputation.[14]

Retirement

Not without difficulty he reached Coppet Commugny, near Geneva, an estate he had bought in 1784. Here he occupied himself with literature, but Madame Necker pined for her Paris salon and died soon after. He continued to live on at Coppet, under the care of his daughter, Madame de Staël, and his niece, Madame Necker de Saussure. But his time was past and his books had no political influence. A momentary excitement was caused by the advance of the French armies in 1798, when he burnt most of his political papers. He died at Coppet on April 9, 1804.

His daughter was to become a prominent figure in her own right and a leading opponent of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Places named after Jacques Necker

Notes

  1. ^ Kenneth Margerison, "The Shareholders’ Revolt at the Compagnie des Indes: Commerce and Political Culture in Old Regime France" in French History 20. 1, pp 25-51. Abstract.
  2. ^ Réponse au Mémoire de M. l'Abbé Morellet, sur la Compagnie des Indes,
  3. ^ M. Adcock, Analysing the French Revolution, Cambridge University Press, Australia 2007.
  4. ^ Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York: Random House, 1989), 95.
  5. ^ Donald F. Swanson and Andrew P. Trout, “Alexander Hamilton, 'the Celebrated Mr. Neckar,’ and Public Credit,” The William and Mary Quarterly 47, no. 3 (1990): 424.
  6. ^ Nicola Barber, The French Revolution (London: Hodder Wayland, 2004), 11.
  7. ^ George Taylor, review of Jacques Necker: Reform Statesman of the Ancien Regime, by Robert D. Harris, Journal of Economic History 40, no. 4 (1980): 878.
  8. ^ Taylor, Jacques Necker: Reform, p. 877f.
  9. ^ Schama, Citizens, 95.
  10. ^ M. Adcock, Analysing the French Revolution, Cambridge University Press, Australia 2007.
  11. ^ Jacques Necker
  12. ^ Georges Lefebvre, The French Revolution: From its Origins to 1793, trans. Elizabeth Moss Evanson (London, Routledge Classics, 2001), 100.
  13. ^ Schama, Citizens, 345–46.
  14. ^ Furet and Ozuof, A Critical Dictionary,288.

References

  • Jacques Necker. Bibliography of Necker's publications.
  • Jacques Necker. Chronology at University of Pennsylvania.
  • Barber, Nicola. The French Revolution. London: Hodder Wayland, 2004.
  • (French) Bredin, Jean-Denis. Une singulière famille: Jacques Necker, Suzanne Necker et Germaine de Staël. Paris: Fayard, 1999 (ISBN 2-213-60280-8).
  • Furet, Francois, and Mona Ozuof. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1989.
  • Lefebvre, Georges. The French Revolution: From its Origins to 1793. Translated by Elizabeth Moss Evanson. London: Routledge Classics, 2001.
  • Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Random House, 1989.
  • Swanson, Donald F, and Andrew P. Trout. “Alexander Hamilton, the Celebrated Mr. Neckar,’ and Public Credit.” The William and Mary Quarterly 47, no. 3 (1990): 422-430.
  • Taylor, George. Review of Jacques Necker: Reform Statesman of the Ancien Regime, by Robert D. Harris. Journal of Economic History 40, no. 4 (1980): 877-879.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JACQUES NECKER (1732-1804), French statesman, finance minister of Louis XVI., was born at Geneva in Switzerland. His father was a native of Custrin in Pomerania, and had, after the publication of some works on international law, been elected as professor of public law at Geneva, of which he became a citizen. Jacques Necker had been sent to Paris in 1747 to become a clerk in the bank of a friend of his father, M. Vernet. He soon afterwards established, with another Genevese, the famous bank of Thellusson & Necker. Thellusson superintended the bank in London (his grandson was made a peer as Lord Rendlesham), while Necker was managing partner in Paris. Both partners became very rich by loans to the treasury and speculations in grain. In 1763 Necker fell in love with Madame de Vermenou, the widow of a French officer. But while on a visit to Geneva, Madame de Vermenou met Suzanne Curchod, the daughter of a pastor near Lausanne, to whom Gibbon had been engaged, and brought her back as her companion to Paris in 1764. There Necker, transferring his love from the widow to the poor Swiss girl, married Suzanne before the end of the year. She encouraged her husband to try and make himself a public position. He accordingly became a syndic or director of the French East India Company, and, after showing his financial ability in its management, defended it in an able memoir against the attacks of A. Mosellet in 1769. Meanwhile he had made interest with the French government by lending it money, and was appointed resident at Paris by the republic of Geneva. Madame Necker entertained the chief leaders of the political, financial and literary worlds of Paris, and her Fridays became as greatly frequented as the Mondays of Madame Geoffrin, or the Tuesdays of Madame Helvetius. In 1773 Necker won the prize of the Academie Frangaise for an eloge on Colbert, and in 1775 published his Essai sur la legislation et le commerce des grains, in which he attacked the free-trade policy of Turgot. His wife now believed he could get into office as a great financier, and made him give up his share in the bank, which he transferred to his brother Louis. In October 1776 Necker was made finance minister of France, though with the title only of director of the treasury, which, however, he changed in 1777 for that of director-general of the finances. He did great good in regulating the finances by attempting to divide the taille or poll tax more equally, by abolishing the "vingtieme d'industrie," and establishing monts de piete (establishments for loaning money on security). But his greatest financial measures were his attempt to fund the French debt and his establishment of annuities under the guarantee of the state. The operation of funding was too difficult to be suddenly accomplished, and Necker rather pointed out the right line to be followed than completed the operation. In all this he treated French finance rather as a banker than as a profound political economist, and thus fell far short of Turgot, who was the very greatest economist of his day. Politically he did not do much to stave off the coming Revolution, and his establishment of provincial assemblies was only a timid application of Turgot's great scheme for the administrative reorganization of France. In 1781 he published his famous Compte rendu, in which he drew the balance sheet of France, and was dismissed from his office. Yet his dismissal was not really due to his book, but to the influence of Marie Antoinette, whose schemes for benefiting the duc de Guines he had thwarted. In retirement he occupied himself with literature, and with his only child, his daughter, who in 1786 married the ambassador of Sweden and became Madame de Stael. But neither Necker nor his wife cared to remain out of office, and in 1787 Necker was banished by "lettre de cachet" 40 leagues from Paris for attacking Calonne. In 1788 the country, which had at the bidding of the literary guests of Madame Necker come to believe that Necker was the only minister who could "stop the deficit," as they said, demanded Necker's recall, and in September 1788 he became once more director-general of the finances. Throughout the momentous months which followed the biography of Necker is part of the history of the French Revolution. Necker put a stop to the rebellion in Dauphine by legalizing its assembly, and then set to work to arrange for the summons of the states general. Throughout the early months of 1789 he was regarded as the saviour of France, but his conduct at the meeting of the states general showed that he regarded it merely as an assembly which should grant money, not organize reforms. But as he had advised the calling of the states general, and the double representation of the third estate, and then permitted the orders to deliberate and vote in common, he was regarded as the cause of the Revolution by the court, and on July 11 was ordered to leave France at once. Necker's dismissal brought about the taking of the Bastille, which induced the king to recall him. He was received with joy in every city he traversed, but at Paris he again proved to be no statesman. Believing that he could save France alone, he refused to act with Mirabeau or La Fayette. He caused the king's acceptance of the suspensive veto, by which he sacrificed his chief prerogative in September, and destroyed all chance of a strong executive by contriving the decree of November 7, by which the ministry might not be chosen from the assembly. Financially he proved equally incapable for a time of crisis, and could not understand the need of such extreme measures as the establishment of assignats in order to keep the country quiet. His popularity vanished when his only idea was to ask the assembly for new loans, and in September 1790 he resigned his office, unregretted by a single Frenchman. Not without difficulty he reached Coppet, near Geneva, an estate he had bought in 1784. Here he occupied himself with literature, but Madame Necker pined for her Paris salon and died in 1794. He continued to live on at Coppet, under the care of his daughter, Madame de Stael, and his niece, Madame Necker de Saussure, but his time was past, and his books had no political influence. A momentary excitement was caused by the advance of the French armies in 1798, when he burnt most of his political papers. He died at Coppet in April 1804.

AuTHORITIES

Memoires sur la vie prive'e de M. Necker (Paris and London, 1818), by his daughter, Madame de Stael-Holstein, and the Notice sur la vie de M. Necker (Paris, 1820), by Auguste de StaelHolstein, his grandson, published in the collection of his works edited by the latter in1820-1821(Paris, 15 vols.). The bibliography of his works is as follows : - Reponse au memoire de M. l'Abbe Morellet (1769); E loge de J. B. Colbert (1773); Essai sur la legislation et le commerce des grains (1775); Compte rendu au roi (1781); De l'ad ' ministration des finances de la France (3 vols., 1784); Memoire en reponse au discours prononce par M. de Calonne (1787); De l'importance des opinions religieuses (1788); Sur l'administration de M. Necker, par lui-meme (1791); Du pouvoir executif dans les grands etats (2 vols., 1792); Refiexions sur le proces de Louis XVI. (1792); De la revolution francaise, several editions, the last in 4 vols. (1797); Cours de la morale religieuse (1800); Dernieres vues de politique et de finance (1802); Manuscrits de M. Necker, published by his daughter (1804); Suites funestes d'une seule faute, published after his death. See also Le Salon de Madame Necker, by the Vicomte d'Haussonville (2 vols., 1882), compiled from the papers at Coppet; Ch. Gomel, Les Causes financieres de la revolution francaise (Paris, 1892); and for contemporary tracts and pamphlets M. Tourneux, Bibl. de l'histoire de Paris pendant la revolution (vol. iv., 1906); also (for the earlier ones) Collection complete de tous les ouvrages pour et contre M. Necker, avec des notes critiques ... (3 vols., Utrecht, 1781).

(H. M. S.; J. T. S.*)


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