Jean Baptiste Colbert

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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


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].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Jean Baptiste Colbert, the mercantilist, who served as the King's minister of finance for 25 years, just ignored the physiocrats and guided France with his policies to become a great power that rivaled England.
It is no secret that this was taken to new heights under Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert (Controler Generale des Finances), whose enthusiasm and determination to build up France's economic health focused on building exports and entailed implementing a policy of squeezing maximum output - even if it meant treating factory workers like cannon fodder.
(1) On Torcy see: John Rule, "A Career in the Making: The Education of Jean Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Torcy," French Historical Studies, 19 (Fall 1996), pp.
Usually, legislators make tax choices along the lines of Jean Baptiste Colbert, a 17th-century finance minister of France's Louis XIV, who said: "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing."
When bourgeois-minded Jean Baptiste Colbert took over as controleur general under Louis XIV.
Two things made a canal finally achievable: the determination of Jean Paul Riquet, a businessman from Beziers, and the vision of Jean Baptiste Colbert, controleur generale to the Sun King, Louis XIV.
But Fouquet flatters to deceive and is undone by his boring accountant rival Jean Baptiste Colbert (Stephen Boxer), who persuades Louis and his overbearing mother Anne (Barbara Jefford) that Fouquet is all bad.
Also on This Day: 1350: The Spanish fleet wasdefeated by Edward II at Winchelsea; 1619: Birth of French statesman Jean Baptiste Colbert, founder of the French navy; 1782: HMS Royal George sank at Spithead with the loss of more than 900 lives; 1882: The Ashes were first mentioned when the Sporting Times published an 'obituary' for English cricket;1947: Birth of racing driver James Hunt; 1982: Death of Swedish film actress Ingrid Bergman on her 77th birthday.
Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, once remarked that the art of taxation was plucking the goose with a minimum of complaint from the bird.
While we recognize the political imperative that underlies the art of taxation (in Jean Baptiste Colbert's words, plucking the greatest amount of the goose's feathers with the least amount of hissing), we believe the process for examining the alternatives to GST should be returned to a higher plane.
Jean Baptiste Colbert, a minister of finance to King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France reportedly once told the monarch's chief minister, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, that the "art of taxation in advanced economies may well consist in plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing".