Necker, Jacques (1732–1804)
Necker was born and died at Geneva. His character was an unusual mixture of qualities rarely united in one individual. A very able and honest banker, he established a house of the highest standing at Paris – Thélusson, Necker & Co. – and rapidly accumulated a large fortune; satisfied with the wealth he had acquired, he retired from business at the age of forty to devote himself to politics and literature. He believed himself possessed of sufficient capacity to lead the political world, and that at a moment when it was in the utmost disorder. Dexterous in the use of expedients, and but slightly burdened with theory, he flattered himself that he would eclipse Turgot, whose inferior he was, especially in grasp of principle. His first work, the Eloge de Colbert, received a prize from the French Academy in 1773, he then wrote De la législation et du commerce des grains (1775), which, dogmatic in style and opposed to the views of Turgot, had considerable success, and even contributed to the fall of that minister (19 May 1776). On Turgot’s successor, de Clugny, dying, 30 October 1776, Taboureau des Reaux was appointed to succeed him, and compelled to accept Necker as his coadjutor. This led to his resignation 1 July 1777, when his duties were handed over to Necker under the title of Directeur-général des finances. Though acting as Contrôleur-général, he was not granted that title, as this would have admitted him to the council of state, and he was a protestant. In this, his first essay in finance, Necker showed marked ability, diminishing the expenses, simplifying the machinery of the administration, and, through his connection with the great Bank, obtaining exceptionally favourable terms for the treasury. The tide of public opinion began now to set in the direction of the convocation of the Etats Généraux. In 1781 Necker’s famous Compte Rendu au Roi appeared, addressed rather to the public than to the head of the state. His popularity increased; the success of his report, the first of its class, though incomplete, was great. The condition of the finances of the country was improved, but an unexpected result occurred. Cabals were roused against him, perhaps fomented by Necker’s extraordinary vanity and his folly in mixing praises of his wife, whose salon was celebrated, with his official reports. The court became hostile, and in 1781 he was compelled to resign. But the weaknesses of the best-known of his successors, Calonne, caused the public to think with regret of the fallen minister, and the publication of De l’administration des finances de la France (1784), contributed to strengthen his popularity. This work, like those which Necker had written previously, is marked by an absence of general principle; it was declamatory and exaggerated in style, but valuable to those who would study how the finances of France were managed in the last days of the old régime.