Research Subjects: Government & Politics


 

Source

 

The Finances of France in 1799

Introduction

Transcribed, with notes, by Tom Holmberg

François D’Ivernois (1757-1842) was a printer, lawyer, economist and historian from Geneva.  Exiled from Switzerland, in 1784 he published anonymously An Historical and Political View of the Constitution and Revolutions of Geneva in the Eighteenth Century. D'Ivernois hoped to start a colony of Swiss clock makers near Waterford, but the lack of interest by the British government doomed the scheme. Returning to Geneva in 1790, by 1792 d'Ivernois, a liberal opponent of the Revolution, was again living in exile in London. A naturalized British citizen and knighted by the King, d'Ivernois served as a British agent, corresponding with contacts in France and producing anti-French propaganda for the government (the German publicist Friedrich von Gentz, at the urging of the British, produced a German translation of d'Ivernois' study of French finances). Malthus observed of the book, "Sir Francis d'Ivernois, who had certainly a tendency to exaggerate, and probably has exaggerated considerably, the losses of the French nation, estimates the total loss of the troops of France, both by land and sea, up to the year 1799, at a million and a half." In 1813 d'Ivernois advised the British government on issuing special paper currency to be used by the Allied armies fighting Napoleon. D'Ivernois returned to Switzerland in 1814 and was appointed the Swiss representative to the Congress of Vienna and later as a Conseiller d'Etat.

The Directory had inherited a dire financial situation; the treasury was empty, taxes seriously in arrears and a poor harvest meant starvation in many departments.  Though the Directory never successfully solved its financial problems it initiated many reforms, which were eventually going to move the country in the right direction, as well as other more controversial reforms.  The Directory passed four important tax laws, the quatre vielles, a tax on land, on movable property, the patente, and a tax on doors and windows.  The assignats were replaced by another paper currency based on the national properties, the mandats. The Directory took a hard-line on tax evasion.  They went so far as to even attempt to collect back taxes dating to the ancien régime.

 In the an VII Finance Minister Ramel-Nogaret balanced the budget by "consolidating" two-thirds of the national debt.  The deficit of an VI of 250 million francs was reduced by an VII to only 67 million by means of "Ramel liquidation."  A Forced Loan (19 Thermidor) from the wealthy and the Law of Hostages (24 Messidor) authorizing the detention of the relatives of émigrés, rebels and nobles in those departments "in a disturbed condition."  A levée en masse and requisitioning, both unpopular, were announced.

The elections of 1799, like the election of 1798, saw the return of many Jacobin members.  The Director J.-F. Reubell was replaced by the abbe Siéyès and J.-B. Treilhard was forced out and replaced by L.-J. Gohier.  In the legislative coup of Prairial the Directors P.-A. Merlin de Douai and L.-M. La Revellière-Lepeaux were replaced by P. Roger-Ducos and Gen. J.-F. Moulin.

Source:

d'Ivernois, Francis. Historical and Political Survey of the Losses Sustained by the French Nation in Population, Agriculture, Colonies, Manufactures, and Commerce, in Consequence of the Revolution and the Present War: To Which is Added, a Supplement. London: Printed for J. Wright, 1799. [A translation of Tableau historique et politique des pertes que la révolution et la guerre ont causées au peuple français, published in London, 1799.]

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series August 2003

 

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