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Jacques Necker

Necker, Jacques (zhäk nĕkĕrˈ) [key], 1732–1804, French financier and statesman, b. Geneva, Switzerland. In 1750 he went to Paris and entered banking. He rose rapidly to importance, established a bank of his own, and became a director of the French East India Company. As a writer, Necker opposed the then fashionable physiocrats and free traders; his eulogy on Jean Baptiste Colbert was lauded (1773) by the French Academy, and his Essai sur la législation et le commerce des grains (1775) criticized the free trade in grains advocated by A. R. J. Turgot. In 1776, Necker, who had previously aided the government with loans, was made director of the treasury; in 1777 he was made director-general of finances. He did not have the title controller general, because he was a foreigner and a Protestant. The salon of his wife, Suzanne Necker, exerted considerable influence. By measures of reform and retrenchment and by borrowing at high interest to finance the colonial cause in the American Revolution, he sought to restore the nation's financial position and gain popular confidence. In 1781 he published his Compte rendu, which stated that the government was in a sound financial position. He then demanded greater reform powers and was opposed by the comte de Maurepas, who resented his increased influence. He resigned and retired to St. Ouen. There he wrote the Traité de l'administration des finances de la France (1784). Returning to Paris in 1787, Necker was soon exiled from the city for having engaged in public controversy over financial policy with Charles Alexandre de Calonne. In 1788, Louis XVI recalled Necker as director-general of finances and minister of state. The populace acclaimed him, and he concurred with the recommendation that the States-General be summoned and reforms introduced. When his enemies at court again secured his dismissal in 1789, the populace, on July 14, stormed the Bastille in the first outbreak of violence of the French Revolution; Necker was once more recalled. His final resignation came in 1790. His last years were spent at "Coppet," his Swiss estate. His daughter, Germaine de Staël, wrote La Vie privée de M. Necker (1804), and his grandson edited a collection of his writings (1820–21).

See also R. D. Harris, Necker: Reform Statesman of the Ancient Regime (1979) and Necker and the Revolution of 1789 (1986)

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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