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land, at a period of great financial distress, is made to realize the importance of credit, its moral as well as pecuniary basis, when he hears the character and means of all the prominent bankers in the world freely canvassed in some obscure nook of the earth, only connected perhaps with the civilized world by this very recognition of pecuniary obligation.
It is at such crises, bringing home to his own consciousness the vast and complicated relations of money to civilized life, that the individual becomes aware of the extensive social utility of those principles of financial science to which perhaps, in less hazardous exigencies, he has given but listless attention. The same broad views of the subject are forced upon a nation's mind in the junctures of political existence, and all great revolutions alternate from the battle-field and the cabinet to the treasury, — the state of public and private credit being, as it were, a scale that truly suggests the condition of the body politic, - like the pulse of a nation's life. Besides its attraction as a study of character, therefore, the life of one of the most illustrious of modern financiers possesses great incidental interest; and its unadorned facts yield the most impressive illustration of the relation of money to society and government.
The vicinity of the Pyrenees and the Bay of Biscay renders Bayonne a favorable site both for inland and foreign trade; and her commerce with Spain on the one side and her lucrative fisheries on the other, as well as the large amount of ship-timber* annually exported to Brest and other parts of France, amply vindicate her claim to commercial privileges, which are still further secured by the enterprise of the Gascon character. That it is an excellent mercantile school is evident from the proverbial success of her inhabitants elsewhere.
It was from this old city that a youth of twenty, breaking away from bis mother's tearful embrace, one night in the year 1787, departed for Paris, with no guarantee of a prosperous experience except that derived from an ingenuous disposition, enthusiasm, ready intelligence, and great natural cheerfulness. He became a clerk to the banker M. Perégaux; and soon after, by his own obvious merit, book-keeper, then cashier, and finally the exclusive director and indispensable man of business of the estab
lishment. Such was the origin of Jacques Lafitte's career. The qualities which thus advanced him in private life soon inspired public confidence, and gradually led to his honorable and progressive activity in the national councils. Financial ability of a high order, combined with noble traits of character, thus identified him with the best interests of his country, and enrolled his name among her most efficient and illustrious citizens. One of ten children, his first object was to provide for his family, which he did with characteristic generosity. In 1809 the son of the poor carpenter of Bayonne was the president of the Chamber of Commerce, regent of the Bank, and master of a princely fortune. Thenceforth we trace his agency, more or less distinctly, in the wonderful series of events that succeeded the first revolution; now providing funds for a royal exile, now coming to the rescue of a bankrupt nation, and again lying wounded on his sofa, advising, ordering, and invoking the chief actors in the events of the three days in July, - his court-yard a barrack, and his saloon an impromptu cabinet, where a provisional government was organized and Louis Philippe proclaimed.
It was standing between Lafitte and Lafayette that the new king first ventured to show himself to the people. For many years the patriot-broker was the centre of a gifted society, the arbiter of pecuniary affairs, the coadjutor of monarchs and men of genius, of the working classes and political leaders. Surrounded by luxury, he never became indolent; with absorbing duties, he atoned by study for a neglected education; the possessor of immense wealth, he never forgot the responsibility it involved; a zealous partisan, and of so conciliatory a temper as to have the reputation of caprice in opinion, he preserved unbroken a moral consistency that won universal respect.
To this special insight of a financier Lafitte added genuine public spirit; he fully realized the social claims incident to his wealth and financial knowledge; and accordingly never hesitated to sacrifice personal interest to the general welfare, whenever circumstances rendered it wise and benevolent so to act. When governor of the Bank of France, he relinquished his salary of a hundred thousand francs in its favor, on account of the poverty of the institution; in 1814, when the directors assembled, after the entrance of the foe into Paris, to raise funds, he proposed a national subscription, and munificently headed the list. When the allies were at the gates of the city, he steadily refused to endanger the credit of the bank by a forced loan; and, to avert the horrors of civil war, placed two millions of his own property in the hands of the Minister of Finance. After the events of the three days, he resigned his coffers to the provisional government : his hotel was the rendezvous of the chief actors, his party installed Lafayette at the head of the troops, and it was he that sent word to the Duke of Orlcans to choose between a crown and a passport, and subsequently caused him to be proclaimed.
Thus Lafitte thrice gave a safe direction to the chaotic elements of revolution, and came bravely and successfully to the rescue of his country in great emergencies. Nor was his action in behalf of individuals less noble and prompt. When Louis XVIII. was exiled, he sent the royal fugitives four millions of francs; when the Duke of Orleans offered large though doubtful securities to various commercial houses in vain, Lafitte accepted them at par value, uncertain as they were. When Napoleon departed for St. Helena, Lafitte became the repository of the remainder of his fortune; when General Foy experienced a reverse of fortune, and imprudently sought relief in stock speculations, the generous banker confidentially arranged with his broker to enrich the brave and proud officer, and, when he died, subscribed a hundred thousand francs for the benefit of his family. These are but casual instances of his private liberality. It was a habit as well as principle with him to afford pecuniary relief whenever and wherever real misfortune existed; to cherish, by the same means, industry, letters, art, and benevolent institutions, with a judgment and delicacy that infinitely endeared his gifts. It is not surprising that both people and rulers were, at times, impelled by grateful sympathy to recognize the noble spirit of such a financier; - that the Emperor Alexander placed a guard at his door when his liberty was threatened by the invaders ;— that Napoleon expressed his confidence by saying, as he left the remnant of his fortune in his hands, “I know you did not like my government, but I know you are an honest man;" and that France herself, when his own fortune was wrecked by his devotion to the bank and the country, was moved at the remembrance of his sacrifices, would not permit the first asylum of the revolution to be sold, and, by a national subscription, redeemed it for Lafitte.
It is, however, to be regretted that he ever interested himself actively in politics, except as they were directly related to his peculiar sphere. When called upon to bring financial means to the aid of government or people, in their exigencies of civil life, we have seen his exemplary wisdom, integrity, and generous spirit; when he addressed the Chambers upon any question of debt, credit, loans, or currency, his superior intelligence and practical genius at once won respectful attention; his lucid and able reports, while governor of the bank, indicate his accurate knowledge of the principles of public credit; the remarkable speeches in which he revealed a project for resuscitating the nation's treasury,— the originality of his ideas, his colloquial eloquence, and the manner in which he made a dry subject, and even figures themselves, interesting and comprehensive, — amply prove his remarkable adaptation to the domain of social economy and political action he illustrated. Appointed by the king in 1816 as one of the Committee of Finance, with the Duke of Richelieu at its head, he contested the system of forced loans as identical with bankruptcy. In 1836 he demanded the reimbursement of the five per cents. His theory was founded essentially on the conviction that the way to diminish the burdens of the people is to diminish the expenses of the state.
Had Lafitte thus strictly confined himself to the subject of which he was master, it is probable he would have escaped, in a great degree, the blind prejudice of his opponents. As it was, however, his career as a deputy, to the view of an impartial spectator, reflects honor upon his character. Here, as in private life, he was eminently distinguished by moral courage. occasion he boldly proposed the impeachment of ministers. During the hundred days he was one of the intrepid minority that sought to preserve France from a second invasion. In opposing the system of forced loans, his noble hardihood induced the king to invest him with the legion of honor. "I have," he said to the Duke of Richelieu, his most formidable antagonist on this occasion, “ bound myself to speak my mind; if the plan I propose is
salutary, it is for the king to decide whether he will sacrifice the Chambers to France, or the country to the Chambers."
On the celebrated twenty-eighth of July, accompanied by bis friends, he traversed the scene of hostilities to the Carousel, — the quarters of Marshal Marmont,- and adjured him to put a stop to the carnage.
"Military honor," said the commander of Paris, "consists in obedience.” “Civil honor,” replied the brave deputy,
consists in not slaughtering the citizens to destroy the constitution.” At the funeral of Manuel he arrested with his eloquence the outbreak between the military and the people. He was in the front rank of the defenders of the charter, the stanch advocate of the freedom of the press; and, when he saw the revolution of July approaching, effectually and at great personal risk strove to make it as useful and bloodless as the nature of things would permit. “My conscience,” he said, "is without reproach. I founded, it is true, a new dynasty, but I found something in it legitimate. Posterity will judge me. I hope the loyalty of my intentions will find me grace in the eyes of history. I never deceived any one. My principles never changed. I believed in 1830 that France could only be republican through monarchy. I was wrong, and I repent with all my heart.”
For half a century he defended the rights of the people, and never ceased to preach moderation, but “a moderation compatible with liberty and national honor."
In the war of opinion and the strife of party Lafitte suffered the inevitable caprices of popular favor. Even his opponents, however, considered what they deemed his faults to arise from the strength of his affections, rather than the perversion of his will. His official life ruined his private fortunes; and the bitterness of his disappointment at the apparent inefficacy of the revolution in which he had taken so prominent a part, may be inferred from the memorable fact that he ascended the tribune, and, with much solemnity, asked pardon of Heaven for having contributed to its
IIe seems at last to have become thoroughly aware of the limits of his natural vocation, and expressed himself as content when, free once more from the trammels of state, he began to retrieve his fortunes as a banker.
The views of Lafitte, however, on all subjects which he inves