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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Trudaine sent in his resignation


opinion was favorable to M. Necker, his promotion was well received; it presented, however, great difficulties: he had been a banker, and hitherto the comptrollers-general had all belonged to the class of magistrates or superintendents; he was a Protestant, and, as such, could not hold any office. The clergy were in commotion; they tried certain remonstrances. "We will give him up to you," said M. de Maurepas, "if you undertake to pay the debts of the state." The opposition of the church, however, closed to the new minister an important opening; at first director of the treasury, then director-general of finance, M. Necker never received the title of comptroller-general, and was not admitted to the council. From the outset, with a disinterestedness not devoid of ostentation, he had declined the salary attached to his functions. The courtiers looked at one another in astonishment. It is easy to see that he is a foreigner, a republican, and a Protestant," people said. M. de Maurepas laughed. "M. Necker," he declared, "is a maker of gold; he has introduced the philosopher's stone into the kingdom."

This was for a long while the feeling throughout France. "No bankruptcies, no new imposts, no loans," M. Turgot had said, and had looked to economy alone for the resources necessary to restore the finances. Bolder and less scrupulous, M. Necker, who had no idea of having recourse to either bankruptcy or imposts, made unreserved use of the system

of loans. During the five years that his ministry lasted, the successive loans he contracted amounted to nearly five hundred million livres. There was no security given to insure its repayment to the lenders. The mere confidence felt in the minister's ability and honesty had caused the money to flow into the treasury.

M. Necker did not stop there: a foreigner by birth, he felt no respect for the great tradition of French administration; practised in the handling of funds, he had conceived as to the internal government of the finances theories opposed to the old system; the superintendents established a while ago by Richelieu had become powerful in the central administration as well as in the provinces, and the comptroller-general was in the habit of accounting with them; they nearly all belonged to old and notable families; some of them had attracted the public regard and esteem. The new minister suppressed several offices and diminished the importance of some others; he had taken away from M. Trudaine, administrator of gabels and heavy revenues (_grosses fermes_), the right of doing business with the king; M. Trudaine sent in his resignation; he was much respected, and this reform was not approved of. "M. Necker," people said, "wants to be assisted by none but removable slaves." At the same time the treasurers-general, numbering forty-eight, were reduced to a dozen, and the twenty-seven treasurers of marine and war to two; the farmings-general (of taxes) were renewed with an advantage to the treasury of fifteen millions. The posts at court likewise underwent reform; the courtiers saw at one blow the improper sources of their revenues in the financial administration cut off, and obsolete and ridiculous appointments, to which numerous pensions, were attached, reduced. "Acquisitions of posts, projects of marriage or education, unforeseen losses, abortive hopes, all such matters had become an occasion for having recourse to the sovereign's munificence," writes M. Necker. "One would have said that the royal treasury was bound to do all the wheedling, all the smoothing-down, all the reparation; and as the method of pensions, though pushed to the uttermost (the king was at that time disbursing in that way some twenty-eight millions of livres), could not satisfy all claims or sufficiently gratify shameful cupidity, other devices had been hit upon, and would have gone on being hit upon, every day; interests in the collection of taxes, in the customs, in army supplies, in the stores, in many pay-offices, in markets of every kind, and even in the furnishing of hospitals, all was fair game, all was worthy of the attention of persons often, from their position, the most above any business of the kind."

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