Jacques Necker (1732-1804) was Louis XVI’s director-general of finance three times, from 1776 to 1781, from 1788 to 1789, and from 1789 to 1790.
Jacques Necker was born on September 30, 1732, in Geneva, Switzerland, to Charles Frederick Necker, a lawyer from Custrin, Prussia, and his wife Jeanne Gautier. In 1747, Jacques was sent to Paris where he worked as an accountant in a bank owned by his father’s friend. In 1764, he married Suzanne Curchod, a young Swiss girl, with whom he had a daughter, Anne Louise Germaine Necker; his daughter would eventually become a famous writer known as Madame de Staël. In 1766, Necker became director of the French East India Company, which was a commercial enterprise founded in 1664. Since the company was not able to maintain itself financially, it was abolished in 1769.
In 1776, Necker was named France director-general of finance. Although he gained popularity in regulating the finances by attempting to divide the direct land tax on the French peasantry and capitation tax more equally, Jacques Necker’s greatest financial measures were his usage of loans to help fund the French debt and his usage of high interest rates rather than raising taxes. He also advocated loans to finance French involvement in the American Revolution. In 1781, he was dismissed by the King as director-general of finance, since he had been blamed for the high debt accrued from the American Revolution.
In 1788, as France had been struck by both economic and financial crises, Necker was called back and appointed director-general of finance again to stop the deficit and to save France from financial ruin. Nevertheless, his actions could not stop the French Revolution as he set to work to arrange for the summons of the Estates-General of 1789. Although Necker advocated doubling the representation of the Third Estate to satisfy the people, he failed to address the matter of voting; rather than voting by head count, which is what the people wanted, voting remained as one vote for each estate. Necker’s dismissal on July 11, 1789, made the people of France incredibly angry and provoked the storming of the Bastille on July 14.
Louis XVI was forced to recall him as director-general of finance on July 19. However, it was a time of severe crisis and Necker could not understand the need of such extreme measures as the establishment of paper money issued by the National Assembly to keep the country quiet. Necker stayed in office until 1790, but his efforts to keep the financial situation afloat were ineffective. He resigned that year amid chaos and moved to Coppet, a town in Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1804.