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of etiquette which had been for ages preserved inviolable by the social distinctions of the Parisian hive, and which till then had been able to distinguish its cells, and prevent their contents from mingling, were broken through in their most tender places, by the extraordinary confusion that was thus produced. The doors of the peerage were opened to let in the rich tradesman who had speculated in Mississippi stock. The regent talked of creating a new order of nobility, who uld derive their titles from the Indian principalities which they laid claim to. There is an anecdote told by a French historian of noble birth, which we repeat, in utter scorn, we confess, of the little economy of etiquette whose validity it was meant to enforce; but which serves to illustrate very well the social revolutions which were thus put in motion. A Toulouse tradesman, who had hit upon a lucky moment in the market, determined to provide himself with a complete service of plate, and consequently went to a goldsmith, and purchased, at a venture of 400,000 livres, the whole amount that was exposed in his shop. His wife, to whom the new purchases were imme. diately sent in order to prepare them for a supper which he was medi. tating, was not versed in the distinctions of plate in general, and especially of the remarkable specimens which thus chanced to be collected together; so that when she proceeded, in arranging the table, to apply each article to its proper use, she was at great loss to discover the purposes to which some of them could be employed. Unfortunately, the lot comprehended a complete church service, which had just been cast as a pious offering for a cathedral then in progress, and the natural consequence was, that the sugar was piled up in a censer, while the soup was held in one of the basins which were originally intended for the reception of holy water.
But it cannot be supposed that the founder of the system, who had nursed it under its early difficulties, and who was thoroughly acquainted with its resources, could have been blinded by the splendor of its sudden success. Mr. Law made use of his influence with the government, which was then entirely in his hands, to procure the promulgation of edicts which strike us at once with surprise, at its own despotism, and of his power. An order of council was issued as early as February, 1720, forbidding every person, and even every community, secular or religious, to keep by them more than 500 livres in specie. The balance between the issues and the specie of the bank being once destroyed, she was compelled to resort to the most ruinous sacrifices in order temporarily to sustain her credit. The notes in the market have been estimated, and it seems with justice, as high as six thousand millions of livres, or about eleven hundred millions of dollars. The funds of the company became wholly insufficient to support so terrible a weight, and even if the gold and silver in the king. dum could have been collected in a mass, it would have been able to meet only about one third of their emissions. But even when the fact of the utter insolvency of the bank must have been clear to all who recollected that gold and silver alone formed the standard of the realm, the infatuation continued to a degree that raised the stock, when it was on the brink of destruction, to a pitch unequalled in its history. By the bolstering edicts which were issued by the council, and which required that payments in specie should be restricted to sums as low as 100 livres in gold, and 10 livres in silver-which declared bank notes to be ever invariable, but which kept the standard of the coin in continual fluctuation and which ordered that all rents, customs, and taxes, should be paid in notes, and
threw the whole weight of the law in their favor—the people were forced, under the severest penalties, to receive the paper, if they would not buy the stock of the institution. The government had entered into a solemn plan to liquidate the national debt in what manner it could; and as the debt had been assumed by the bank, the only difficulty was to shift the ownership of the bank from the crown to the people. It was to this object that the compulsory edicts of 1720 were directed. The regent stood whip in hand at the Bastile, and significantly pointing to its dungeons, forced into the hands of the crowds who were passed in review before him, the
paper which was to transfer like magic the debt which was resting on his royal ward, to the people over whom he was to govern. The trap was success. ful; and between the 27th of February, and the 1st of April
, 1720, 300 millions of livres were paid in specie into the bank, in exchange for its notes. On the 1st of May succeeding, the emission of notes was stopped, and in a little while after, a conclusion was put to the reimbursement of the national creditors through their means; and the government securities which had been previously granted out, having thus been supplanted by the new currency, were withdrawn and cancelled. The policy was now complete. The bank had been bolstered up till royal assistance could no longer support it; and now, when its office was accomplished, the prop was to be suddenly withdrawn, and a ruin occasioned which mocked at the former sufferings of that unhappy country.
The notes in the country, according to the estimate most favorable to the bank, were at least double in value of the specie, and as the crisis was already passed, and a run was commencing at its counter, a council was called for the purpose of deciding whether further aid should be ex. tended. Louis XV. was still in his minority; and the Duke of Orleans, who had held since the accession the regency, had obtained entire possession of the regal power. Stained with every crime which a prince of the blood can commit, he labored still under the suspicion of having been the murderer of three dauphins, and his royal ward was the only obstacle between himself and the throne; the courtiers were prepared each morning to hear and acquiesce in a tale like that which was told by the obsequious attendants of King John, after the death of his brother's child. But the Duke of Orleans had seen that the crown of the murdering king had rested uneasily on his head, and he consoled himself, since he could not take the life of his royal nephew, to at least lay waste his heritage. There were collected around the regent counsellors, who, in principle at least, were rivals of their master. Cardinal du Bois, the most profligate of the servants of the church, in a day when profligacy was a title to her honors, was, like Fouché, the master of the art of police control, though unlike Fouché, he remained faithful to the prince who raised him from obscurity. But Cardinal du Bois placed the regent's aggrandizement as the sole aim of his ministry; and in defiance of the laws of providence, in disdain of the rights of the people, scrupled not to connive at the most unnatural crimes which might gratify his master's passion, or execute the most scan. dalous oppressions which his master's ingenuity could contrive. The minister had remained the firm supporter of the Mississippi scheme as long as it answered the regent's purposes, but as soon as its object was over, he learned to change his countenance, and in conformity with the orders he had privately received, to prepare in council the ruin which in secret had already been concerted. 'Mr. Law, who as comptroller-general had a
seat in the council, brought forward at the meeting, which the position of the bank had thus rendered necessary to be called, a series of propositions which he declared would be sufficient to place her on a substantial basis. How should she be enabled to meet the extraordinary run to which she was about to be subjected ? It was then that expedients were suggested, which, we venture to say, can have no equals in the history of financial legis. lation for their crudeness or their pernicious tendency. It was proposed by Mr. Law, that by an edict which it should be made death to transgress, the standard of gold and silver in the kingdom should be doubled, so that estimating the paper to amount to double the specie, they could thus be equal. ized in value. He supported his proposition by reference to the arbitrary customs of the realm, by which the king was authorized, whenever it became expedient to raise taxes or lower provisions, to suddenly raise or lower as it might be the value of the common standard. Such a step was necessary to the bank, for without some such equalization, she could not maintain herself another month; and when she sank, she would drag with her the new-born prosperity of the state. But the royal counsellors felt little inclined to listen to such advice. They knew that sooner or later the scheme was over, and they were not anxious to prolong it, when it had answered their purposes. Cardinal du Bois proposed, as if in mockery of Mr. Law's suggestion, that the amount of the iwo currencies should indeed be equalled, but that it should be done, not by raising the specie, but by lowering the notes. The cardinal's advice prevailed ; and on the 21st of May, 1720, was published a royal edict, which lowered the stock and notes of the company, by a series of gradual but rapid reductions, to pre. cisely one half their former value.
Before a day was passed, the whole fabric of the Mississippi Scheme, like one of those beautiful snow castles which are raised in the northern countries, to be the hunting lodge of an emperor as he passes, was melted and vanished. The man with a million of its paper in his pocket, might have laid himself on his princely couch, to awake to the life of a pauper. The note holders, stunned in the midst of their intoxication, thronged to the bank, and found it guarded by soldiers. If they pressed in fury to its doors, they were driven back by pikes. In the distance, at the end of the long avenue that was stretched out before them, they could see through the windows the clerks transacting their usual business, with their mammoth books before them, and their chests by their sides. For a moment the note holders thought that there might be some momentary error, which would soon be wiped out that the military were there to protect against some imaginary evil, and that in a little time the doors would
open. The doors in a little time did open, but it was to receive the investigators whom the government had appointed to seal its papers, and stop its payments forever.
When the countrymen from the adjacent villages brought their produce into the city on the next morning, they found that the circulating medium was entirely at a stop. Specie had already vanished from the market, and the notes by which it had been succeeded, which had become in fact the basis on which business was conducted, were acknowledged by the government which protected, and the bank which issued them, to be comparatively worthless. The capitalist, whose rent-roll was crowded with wealth, might meet the merchant whose stores were filled with commodities, without either of them being able to pitch on a medium of exchange,
by which the wants of both could be supplied. The regent issued an edict, which revoked the former enactments against the circulation of gold and silver, but it was easier to drive the precious metals from the market than to force them back again. Specie was given out, as far as was consistent with the resources of the treasury, to the commissaries of the different sections of Paris, who were required to give it in change for small notes that should be presented to them by such as were in greatest necessity of relief. On the 10th of June, an arrangement was entered into by which the bank was enabled to pay its notes of the denomination of ten livres, which in fact constituted a very small proportion of its circulation ; on the 11th, it was announced that notes of 100 livres, if singly presented to the counter by single individuals, would be received ; and the 12th and 13th of the same month were fixed for the payment of the notes in ques. tion. On the days which were mentioned, the poor and the rich seemed to have crowded with one accord about the doors of the bank. Men who held large qantities of the notes in demand, and who by the qualification of the enactment, could only in their individual capacity present a single one to the counter, hired prize-fighters and banditti to act as their proxies on the occasion. The park before the bank resembled the precincts of a camp. . The guards in front of the doors managed that very few should be admitted, in order that the press inside might not lead to confusion; but such an arrangement was by no means pleasing to those who were encamped without. Stones were thrown by the more clamorous of the note holders, and in return the soldiers on guard fired into the mob with considerable effect. But the little army, who consisted principally of vete rans of the prisons, or peasants who had become infuriated by want, were by no means discouraged by the thinning of their ranks, and holding their notes before them, like standards which were to inspire them in their march, they pressed forward in a dense troop into the place of those who were admitted into the banking-house, or those who were trodden under foot. No less than twenty persons were suffocated in one morning alone, according to the official statement, which excluded of course the victims of the cruelty of the armed police. To those who are accustomed to expend their sympathies on the atrocities that marked the conclusion of the French revolution, the consideration may be of some advantage, that at its commencement, under the most exhausting and complete despotism which ever had been established, there was a tragedy of governmental fraud and governmental blood-thirstiness exhibited, act by act, which may rival the most passionate excesses which were afterward displayed.
But the paper continued in undiminished circulation, notwithstanding the measures which were taken to recall it. That the government had no se. rious intention of paying specie for their notes is now very clear, though they certainly were able to do so to a large extent. As a means of buy. ing up their obligations far more profitably than could have been done by their actual liquidation, there were constituted in June, 1720, twenty-five millions of perpetual annuities, at the rate of forty years purchase; and four millions of annuities on lives, at twenty-five years purchase, for which notes would be received. Under such, and similar means, it was supposed that the paper would be rapidly drawn in ;. but anxious as were the people to get rid of their notes, they hesitated to part with them at so unjust a sacrifice. On the 15th of August, the regent took the step which was intended to perfect the system, and an edict was issued which declared that
the notes of 10,000 and 1,000 livres should have no currency, except for the purchase of annuities or bank accounts; and by an edict which followed immediately after, their circulation was prohibited on all conditions after the 1st of November, 1720. The alternative remained, either to part with the notes at a ruinous sacrifice, or to postpone thern to a period when the faith of the government was pledged to make them of no value whatever. There were many who preferred the latter; and as the government in that respect at least continued faithful, they found themselves stripped entirely of their ancient property, and reduced to the shadowy estate which was afforded by a few slips of paper.
We shall pass over the succeeding edicts, both in relation to the East India Company, and to the bank itself, which were directed exclusively to the perfecting of the details of the scheme which the government had so adroitly managed. A large portion of the debt which had been contracted by Louis XIV., had been shifted, by the juggling of a foreign adventurer, to the shoulders of the nation, from those of the king himself. A commission, or visa, was established to take into consideration the de. mands of the state creditors, who proceeded to receive and digest the claims against the state, and to present them, after they had been reduced within tangible limits, to the regent for liquidation. The government placed itself in the position of an insolvent trader, who was unable to pay his debts, and assigned his whole interest in his estate to others, who had stipulated to obtain for him a release upon his entire surrender. The visa occupied itself not so much in hearing, as in higgling with the state creditors. A merchant who had lent his fortune in a former reign to feed the warlike ambition of the king, when he presented the scrip which had been given to him in evidence of his title, was taken aside, and plied with all considerations of pecuniary advantage or personal safety, to induce him to compound the debt. It was the king's grace that conceded the payment of any part of the demand, and the creditor should remain satisfied with the generous boon. Eight hundred clerks were employed in subjecting the claims to the operation of the new ordeal. In the course of a few months the claims wers reduced within limit, and the debt due by the king diminished more than forty millions of livres yearly. In less than a single year the Mississippi Scheme had achieved the stupendous task of clearing one half of the obligations of the crown, by means which impoverished the nation in their execution. More than 500,000 persons are said to have been reduced from wealth to want by the depreciation of the stock of the bank, and the dishonor of its notes. The victim of the Mississippi Scheme might look to the replenished coffers of the govern. ment, or the disencumbered estates of the princes of the blood, with the consciousness that it had been through his own destruction that their revenues had been built up. Private fortunes had been melted together by wholesale, to create the estate of a minister or a favorite, like the ordinary coins which are drawn from the usual purposes of circulation, and are brought together in one great mass, to form a splendid, but unnecessary article of plate. The grounds of Chantilly, which had been mortgaged, and even alienated in part, during the misfortunes of the family, were re. covered by the Duke of Bourbon, through the means which his successful speculations afforded, and built up in magnificence suitable to the condition of the most princely house of Europe. An English gentleman, by the name of Gage, amassed so immense à fortune, that, in defiance of the