Page images


tigated, were remarkable for sound reason and moderation. He was no fanatic in politics, and understood the character of his nation. Louis XVI., he thought, aimed at a moral impossibility in attempting to retain all his prerogatives, without which the eclat of his office would be lost, while he knew the complaints of his people to be just. To the vacillation incident to this double view of the case, and the consequent indecision of a naturally good heart, he ascribed his course, which abased royalty while making sincere concessions. He believed, too, that the monarch owed his downfall more to injudicious friends than real enemies. The Girondists, he considered, tried the fatal experiment of attempting to reconcile people and court, and were too timid for the first and too advanced for the last; he regarded the irresolution of Lafayette as the flaw in his excellent nature; Danton, Robespierre, and Marat, he viewed as victims of the fiévre revolutionnaire, and, therefore, not to be judged in the same manner as men in a healthful condition. Indeed, he declared that no one could safely predict his own conduct under the influence of great political excitement. "I have,” he said, " made the sad experiment; it is best not to enter the vortex; if you do you are borne on blindfolded." He always insisted that the great results of the French Revolution could have been attained by less terrible means.

He recognized fully the reforms of Napoleon, and, with the acumen of a political economist, watched the growing prosperity of the nation ; but none the less lamented the decadence of freedom with the grief of a patriot. He recoiled from the duplicity of the emperor, and grieved at the subserviency of the senate. What most surprised Lafitte, in Bonaparte, was his fortune; and he deemed his fatal error the attempt to impose on France a continental system wholly incompatible with the age. In a word, he honored Napoleon as a soldier, and despised him as a ruler. The office of the press he seems to have thoroughly appreciated; "j'ai toujours pensé,” he says, “que la presse est dans un état, l'unique moyen de retenir le pouroir dans les bornes de la moderation et de l'empêcher de se livrer a l'arbitraire.

Although, when elected to the Chamber of Deputies, Lafitte immediately took his place on the benches of the opposition, and

[ocr errors]

subsequently attained the presidency of the cabinet, and in 1817 was the only name deposited in the urns of twenty sections of the electoral college, by supporting the reduction of the rents and the creation of the three per cents, he alienated many of his party. Indeed, such was his political eclecticism, that a democratic writer says " he lost his popularity by his monarchical affections,” alluding to his personal attachments to members of the royal family; and a monarchist attributes it to his democratic attachments; thus justifying the inference of his biographer, that he was "too much a man of heart to be a statesman.” In the sphere of his individual ambition, however, — in his financial opinions and career, as well as in the tone of his character, -- Lafitte was remarkably consistent; sagacious, upright, benevolent, and patriotic. He completely refuted the base charge, suggested by partisan animosity, of having sold his vote to the minister; and whatever popular favor he may have lost as the member of a faction, he amply regained as a man. This is evident from the universal sympathy awakened by his loss of fortune, and the confidence and gratitude with which the people rallied to his call when he established his famous Caisse d'escompte, now the memorial of his useful and honorable career. By means of this institution the poorest artisan has a safe and profitable investment for his earnings.

In 1837, having thus settled his affairs and reëstablished his credit, he thus addressed the shareholders : “It is not without emotion that I find myself restored to these labors, and about to crown, with an undertaking worthy of my best efforts, a career in ,

a which I have perhaps done some good. I forget many past mishaps, and all the bitterness of political life, which promised nothing to my ambition, and the burden of which I only accepted from devotion to my country. The future had compensation in reserve for me; and the second of October, 1837

the day on which I resume my business — consoles 'me for the nineteenth of January, 1831—the day on which I left it.” Thus opening a credit to the humbler branches of industry, Lafitte rescued many a victim from the extortions of the usurer.

The financial services of Lafitte in France vividly recall those of Robert Morris in America. At the commencement of the


American Revolution he was more extensively engaged in commerce than any of his fellow-citizens, and was one of the first Philadelphians irretrievably to commit himself in behalf of the colonies at a great pecuniary sacrifice; thus inspiring the same unbounded confidence in his patriotism which his integrity and wisdom had long before gained for him as a man of business. He was on every committee of ways and means appointed by the legislature of his native state, and, from the outbreak of hostilities, devoted all the force of his talents, the influence of his name, his credit and fortune, to his country; and these seldom failed in the hour of need. When his official resources were inadequate he pledged his individual credit. Like Lafitte, he was exposed to misrepresentation, and, like him, triumphed over calumny. All the requisite means for Washington's expedition against Cornwallis were furnished by him; and his own notes, to the amount of four hundred thousand dollars, thus fearlessly given, were all finally paid. While invested, as he long was, with the entire provision, control, and expenditure, of the public finances, the history of his difficulties and expedients would fill a volume. When the imminent danger that originally induced him to accept this responsible office had passed away, he gladly resigned.

His resemblance to Lafitte was increased by a natural urbanity, vigor of action, broad views, rigid justice, strict method, and also by the eventual loss of his own fortune, and the establishment of an excellent system of finance. He founded the Bank of America, the first institution of the kind in that country, upon principles the utility of which time has fully proved. In patriotic zeal, and in the respect of his illustrious contemporaries, he also offers a parallel to the renowned French banker. He was the friend of Washington, and justly regarded as "the soul of the financial concerns” of the nation. “No one,” it has been said, “parted more freely with his money for public or private pur

meritorious nature." When Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury, no statistics of the country had appeared ; her resources were only surmised; and, after holding the office for five years, he left it at an unprecedented height of reputation. By these two acute and zealous patriots the foundation of American prosperity was laid; and the identity of their opinions with those

[ocr errors]


of a

of Lafitte is remarkable. "The whole business of finance, they thought, “was comprised in two short but comprehensive sentences. It is to raise the public revenue by such modes as may be most easy and most equal to the people, and to expend it in the most frugal, fair, and honest manner.'

The personal tastes of Jacques Lafitte were characterized by the same moderate tone. He loved elegance, and surrounded himself with all those brilliant resources that wealth so abundantly supplies in the French metropolis; but they did not enervate or bewilder his mind; he continued his daily toil with unremitted zeal; casting aside, however, with the greatest facility, the severe concentration of the financier, to mingle, with the abandon of the joyous south, at his own splendid fêtes, with the brave, the wise, and the lovely. Even his literary predilections were characteristic; he ignored the romantic and loved the classic writers of his country, while the bonhommie and patriotismn of Beranger made him a favorite guest at his reünions, and he knew Molière by heart. His first discourse as deputy made a great impression, both on account of its style and ideas. It is curious that the sensation, if we may so call it, of wealth, is so independent of its possession. Lafitte declared that he never felt himself rich except when his appointments, under Perégaux, reached the sum of three thousand francs; an indirect but striking proof of his consciousness of the relations to society incident to fortune. His credulous faith in the integrity of others presents a striking contrast to his sagacious insight as regards affairs. When the Duke of Orleans said to him, “What shall I do for you when I am king ?” his reply was, “ Make me your fool, that I may tell you the truth ; " yet he entertained such implicit confidence in the promises of the royal candidate, that he received his embrace upon his accession with fraternal trust. Calm, serene, industrious as a financier, generous and honest as a man, gay and kindly as a companion, after forty years of riches and honor, Lafitte found himself poor and unpopular; and perhaps no portion of his career is more suggestive of energy of character and elasticity of temper than the last epoch, wherein he retrieved both his fortune and his glory.

The power of money, thus illustrated, as a means of political


and social influence, is not less obvious in ordinary experience. Recall the scene of morbid excitement, and its infinite probable consequences, which a single midnight hour offers at Frascati's ; " the hard-eyed lender and the pale lendee" visible on the Exchange; the serene unity of life achieved by the philosopher satisfied with the freedom from care incident to a mere competency when attended by intellectual resources; the " weary hours" of the millionaire ; the exalted aspect of human nature in the person of the man of fortune whose means are rendered absolutely subservient to taste and philanthropy; the comfort of households upheld by honest industry; the sublime results of genius when exempted from want and the baffled spirit of the persecuted debtor ; the absorption of time, intellect, and feeling, in sordid pursuits ; — let the imagination follow to their ultimate issues the various incidental fruits of these several conditions upon the individual and society, and we have a glimpse of the vast agencies involved in the use and abuse of money.

From the Bureaux du Monte de Pieté to the halls of a national bank, from the luxurious saloon to the squalid hovel, from the dashing spendthrift to the wretched miser, through all the diagnoses of usury and beneficence, we can trace the fluctuations of human passions and the assertion of human character in their most vital development. Accordingly, it is impossible to over-estimate the value of wisdom, integrity, and kindness, in pecuniary affairs. A high example in this regard is of boundless practical worth ; and there is no social interest so universal and significant as that which relates to the acquisition, distribution, and maintenance of wealth. The morals and science of finance, rightly understood, embrace the principles of all ethics.

The unfortunate compliances” which marred the unity of his political life; the indifference that settles on the public mind in regard to a fallen minister; the bitterness of partisan hostility, and the capricious alienation of popular favor, were all forgotten in tearful and affectionate memories, when, on the night of the 26th of May, 1843, it was announced in Paris that Lafitte was no more. He died as he had lived, amid noble and generous thoughts, affectionate ministrations, calm resolutions, and holy sentiments. The immense procession that followed to

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »