Colbert, Jean Baptiste


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Colbert, Jean Baptiste

(zhäN bätēst` kôlbĕr`), 1619–83, French statesman. The son of a draper, he was trained in business and was hired by Cardinal MazarinMazarin, Jules
, 1602–61, French statesman, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, b. Italy. His original name was Giulio Mazarini. After serving in the papal army and diplomatic service and as nuncio at the French court (1634–36), he entered the service of France
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 to look after his financial affairs. On his deathbed, Mazarin recommended Colbert to King Louis XIV, who made him comptroller general of finances (1665). Colbert helped to procure the downfall of the superintendent of finances, Nicolas FouquetFouquet or Foucquet, Nicolas
, 1615–80, superintendent of finance (1653–61) under King Louis XIV of France. His loyalty to Cardinal Mazarin during the Fronde helped to secure his position.
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, for mismanagement. As Louis XIV's minister, Colbert scaled down the public debt by repudiating some obligations and reducing the value of others and set up a system of accounts in order to keep the government within its income. His efforts to make taxes more equal had little success in the face of localism and tradition. Colbert's aim was to make France economically self-sufficient. One of the most successful practitioners of mercantilismmercantilism
, economic system of the major trading nations during the 16th, 17th, and 18th cent., based on the premise that national wealth and power were best served by increasing exports and collecting precious metals in return.
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, he encouraged the growth of industry through subsidies and tariff protection, rigidly regulated the qualities and prices of manufactured and agricultural products, tried to break down trade barriers within France, initiated a vigorous road-building program, and restricted the use of natural resources. In 1669 he was made secretary of state for naval affairs. He constructed shipyards, arsenals, and harbors, among them Brest and Rochefort, and began the construction of a large navy as a first step in the development of commerce and colonization. Colbert contributed significantly to the splendor of Louis XIV's reign by patronizing the arts and sciences. He founded the Academy of Sciences and the Paris Observatory and promoted the French Academy. His efforts at economy were soon menaced by the extravagance of the king, and the opening of Louis XIV's wars began the decline of Colbert's power and the ascendancy of the marquis de LouvoisLouvois, François Michel Le Tellier, marquis de
, 1641–91, French statesman, minister during the reign of King Louis XIV. After 1654 he was associated in office with his father, Michel Le Tellier, and from 1666 he functioned as war minister, officially replacing his
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. It was Colbert's commercial policy, however, that, by challenging Dutch commercial strength, contributed to the Dutch WarDutch Wars,
series of conflicts between the English and Dutch during the mid to late 17th cent. The wars had their roots in the Anglo-Dutch commercial rivalry, although the last of the three wars was a wider conflict in which French interests played a primary role.
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 of 1672–78. To meet military expenses, Colbert was obliged to resort to increased taxation, the sale of offices, borrowing, and the anticipation of future revenues. His new taxes caused serious disturbances. Despite his unpopularity at the time of his death, Colbert was later ranked among the greatest of French statesmen.

Bibliography

See E. C. Lodge, Sully, Colbert and Turgot (1931, repr. 1970); C. W. Cole, Colbert and a Century of French Mercantilism (1939).

Colbert, Jean Baptiste

 

Born Aug. 29, 1619, in Reims; died Sept. 6, 1683, in Paris. French statesman. The son of a wealthy merchant.

In 1651, Colbert entered the service of Cardinal Mazarin; then, recommended by the cardinal to King Louis XIV, he went into government service. Colbert uncovered abuses by the superintendent of finances, N. Fouquet, bringing about Fouquet’s resignation and trial. Colbert quickly established his career: he became a member of the Supreme Council in 1661, superintendent of buildings in 1664, superintendent of trade in 1665, controller general of finance in 1665, and secretary of state and minister of the navy in 1669; he concentrated management of France’s internal policies almost totally in his own hands.

Colbert’s economic policy, Colbertism, was one of the varieties of mercantilism. He sought to increase state revenue primarily by promoting a favorable balance of payments through creating manufactures, encouraging industry, increasing the export of industrial goods and the import of raw materials, and reducing the import of foreign-made finished products. At Colbert’s insistence, a special judicial chamber was instituted in 1661 to investigate cases of financial abuse. (The fines and property confiscations that were adjudged by it added more than 100 million livres to the treasury by 1665.) In 1667 he introduced a new customs tariff, which raised duties on foreign merchandise. At Colbert’s initiative monopolistic trading companies were organized for foreign trade, mainly for colonial trade (the West India, East India, Levantine, Senegalese, and other companies). He promoted the improvement of roads and the digging of canals (for instance, the Languedoc Canal [Canal du Midi] in 1666–81). Under Colbert the navy increased from 18 vessels in 1661 to 276 in 1683. Concerning himself with the development of industry, Colbert left the interests of agriculture in the background. The taille (direct tax on peasant lands) was lowered somewhat, but indirect taxes—the gabelle (salt tax) and the tobacco tax—were sharply increased and a stamp duty was collected.

Colbert’s policies caused a series of peasant revolts (1664, 1666–69, 1670, 1674–75), which were brutally suppressed. Colbert strove to increase central authority. All administrative power in the provinces was turned over to intendants, and the rights of the parlements (royal tribunals) were curtailed. Colbert founded the Academy of Inscriptions and Literature (under the name “Little Academy”) in 1663, the Academy of Sciences (”Royal Academy of Sciences”) in 1666, the Royal Academy of Music in 1669, and the Royal Academy of Architecture in 1671. In 1667, Colbert became a member of the Académie Française.

WORKS

Lettres, instructions et mémoires, vols. 1–8. Paris, 1861–82.

REFERENCES

Barshchevskaia, N. E. “Promyshlennaia politika Kol’bere.” Nauch. zap. Voroshilovgradskogo ped. in-ta, 1940, no. 1.
Porshnev, B. F. “Narodnye vosstaniia vo Frantsii pri Kol’bere.” In the collection Srednie veka, no. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Farrère, Cl. J.-B. Colbert. Paris, 1954.
Mongrédien, G. J.-B. Colbert. Paris, 1963.
Sargent, A. J. The Economic Policy of Colbert. New York [1968].

A. I. KOROBOCHKO

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