Imágenes de páginas

the fur trade with the Indians, another source of anticipated wealth, met with success. English emissaries from the Carolinas had been active in their efforts to excite Indian hostilities against the French, and wherever practicable, had controlled the fur trade, by furnishing goods in exchange at reduced prices. Agriculture, the only resource of lasting prosperity to the country, had been neglected, and Crozat, failing to realize any profits from his efforts in other directions, was unable to meet his liabilities. He had expended 425,000 livres and realized only 300,000, and failing to pay his men, dissatisfaction ensued. Despairing also of being more successful in the future, in 1717, he petitioned the king to have his charter revoked, which was done, and the government reverted solely to the officers of the crown. During his connection with the province, the growth of the settlements was slow, and little was acomplished for their permanent benefit. The greatest prosperity they enjoyed grew out of the enterprise of humble individuals, who had succeeded in establishing a small trade between themselves, the natives and some neighboring European settlements. But even these small sources of prosperity were at length cut off by the fatal monopolies of the Parisian merchant. The white population of the country had slowly increased, and at the time of his departure, that on the Lower Mississippi was estimated at 380, and that of Illinois, which then included the settlements of the Wabash, 320 souls.

Crozat's partner had died the year previous, and was succeeded in his official capacity by Bienville, the former governor. Prior to his installation some French hunters and stragglers had located in the beautiful country of the Nachez, and difficulties arising between them and the Indians, two of the former had been murdered. Bienville repaired to the tribe in question, and after punishing the guilty parties, erected and garrisoned a fort, to prevent the recurrence of similar disturbances in the future. It was built on the site selected 16 years before by his brother, and was called Rosalie, the name of the capital he proposed to build at the same place. This was the origin of the present city of Natchez, the oldest permanent settlement in the Mississippi Valley, south of Illinois.* With the retirement of Crozat, Bienville was succeeded by L'Epinai, who brought with him 50 emigrants and 3 companies of infantry, to reinforce the garrisons of the different posts.

"It seems that Arkansas Post has never been abandoned since Tonti's men erected their cabin there, after his fruitless search for LaSalle's colony, in the spring of 1686.



Louis XIV. had recently died, leaving a debt contracted by wars and extravagance amounting to 3,000,000,000 livres. He was succeeded by his grandson, Louis XV, who, being then only a child five years old, the Duke of Orleans was appointed regent. In the midst of the financial confusion growing out of the efforts of the regent to pay the interest on the overwhelming public debt, John Law presented himself at the French court with a scheme for affording relief. He was the son of an Edinburgh banker, and shortly after the death of his father, wasted his patrimony by gambling and extravagant living. For 3 years he wandered over Europe, supporting himself by gambling and studying the principles of finance. After perfecting his theory he returned to Edinburgh, and published the project of a land bank, which the wits of the day ridiculed by calling it a sand bank, which would wreck the ship of state. Several years afterward he presented his plan to the Duke of Savoy, who told him he was too poor a potentate and his dominion was too small, for so grand a project. He thought, however, that the French people would be delighted with a plan so new and plausible, and advised him to go to France.

According to his theory of banking, the currency of a country is the representative of its moving wealth, and need not, of itself, have an intrinsic value, as in the case of gold and silver, but may consist of paper or any substance that can be conveniently handled. He insisted that the financial embarrassment under which France labored, was not the fault of her rulers, but an insufficiency of currency, and gave England and Holland as examples. The regent, captivated by his views, published an edict in 1716, authorizing Law and his brother to establish a bank with a capital of 6,000,000 livres, the notes of which should be received for taxes, and made redeemable in the coin current at the time they were issued. Three-fourths of the capital consisted of gov ernment securities, and the remainder in specie, Law declaring that a banker deserved death who made issues without means of redemption. The government had already, by arbitrarily redu cing the value of its coin, diminished the debt 1,000,000,000 livres ; but Law's paper being based on the value of coin at the time he made his issues, was without fluctuations, and on this account soon commanded a premium of 15 per cent. The regent was astonished that paper money could thus aid specie and be at a premium, while state bonds were at 78 per cent. discount.

The banker's influence being now irresistible, he proposed his famous Mississippi scheme, which made him a prominent actor in the history of Louisiana and Illinois. The vast resources of Louisiana still filled the imaginations of French statesmen with visions of boundless wealth. The want of success which had hitherto attended the efforts of D'Iberville and Crozat, was still insufficient to produce in the public mind more sober views. The story of its vast mineral deposits was soon revived; ingots of gold, the products of its supposed mines, were exhibited in Paris. and the sanguine French court saw in the future of the province an empire, with its fruitful fields, growing cities, busy wharves, and exhaustless mines of gold and silver, pouring its precious freights into the avenues of French commerce. No sooner, therefore, had Crozat surrendered his charter, than others appeared, eager to enter this vast field of adventurous enterprise. Accordingly, in 1717, an organization was effected under the auspices of Law, known at first as the Western Company. Among the privileges conferred on it may be mentioned the right exclusively to control the commerce of the province for a period of 25 years; to make treaties with the Indians, and wage war against them in case of insult; to open and work all mines free of duty; to cast cannon; build ships of war, levy troops and nominate the governors and those who were to command them, after being duly commissioned by the king. To further encourage the company, he promised to give them the protection of his name against foreign powers, presented them the vessels, forts, munitions and merchandise surrendered by Crozat, and, during the continuance of the charter, exempted the inhabitants of the province from tax, and the company from duty.*

The stocks of the company consisted of 200,000 shares of 500 livres each, to be paid in certificates of state indebtedness. Thus nearly 1000,000,000 of the most depreciated of the public stocks were immediately absorbed, and the government became indebted to a company of its own creation, instead of individuals, for this amount. By means of Law's bank, the interest on this portion of the public debt was promptly paid, and, as the result, it immediately rose from a great depreciation to a high premium. Any person, therefore, who had invested 100 livres in state bonds, which he could have done at one-third of the value written on their face, could now realize their enhanced worth. Large fortunes were thus speedily acquired, though the union of the bank with the risks of a commercial company were ominous of its future destiny.

But humanity abounds in hope, and men, acting in large combinations, gather courage from the increase of their numbers. How far their anticipations were realized in the case under consideration, will appear in the sequel. All France was now infatuated with the glory of Louisiana, and imagined the opulence which it was to acquire in coming ages, already in their grasp. Law's bank wrought such wonders, that new privileges were conferred on it daily. It was permitted to monopolize the tobacco trade, was allowed the sole right to import negroes into the French colonies, and the exclusive right of refining gold and silver. Fi nally, in 1717, it was erected into the Royal Bank of France, and

*Martin's Louisiana,

shortly afterward the Western Company merged into the Company of the Indies, and new shares of its stocks were created and sold at immense profits. In addition to the exclusive privileges which it already held, it was now granted the trade of the Indian seas, the profits of the royal mint, and the proceeds of farming the royal revenue of France. The government, which was absolute, conspired to give the highest range to its credit, and Law, says a cotemporary, might have regulated at his pleasure the interest of money, the value of stocks, and the price of labor and produce. A speculating frenzy at once pervaded the whole nation. The maxim which Law had promulgated, that the "banker deserved death who made issues of paper without means of redemption," was overlooked or forgotten. While the affairs of the bank were under his control, its issues did not exceed 60,000,000 livres, but on becoming the Bank of France, they at once rose to 100,000,000. Whether this was the act of Law or the regent, we are not informed. That he lent his aid to inundate the whole country with paper money, is conceded, and perhaps dazzled by his former success, he was less guarded, and unconscious that an evil day was fast approaching. The chancellor, who opposed these extensive issues, was dismissed at the instance of Law, and a tool of the regent was appointed in his place. The French parliament foresaw the danger approaching, and remonstrated in vain with the regent. The latter annulled their decrees, and on their proposing that Law, whom they regarded as the cause of the whole evil, should be brought to trial, and, if found guilty, be hung at the gates of the Palace of Justice, some of the most prominent officers of the parliament were committed to prison. Law, alarmed for his safety, fled to the royal palace, threw himself on the protection of the regent, and for a time escaped the popular indignation.

He still devoted himself to the Mississippi scheme, the shares of which rose rapidly. In spite of parliament, 50,000 new shares were added, and its franchises extended. The stock was paid in state securities, with only 100 livres for 500 of stock. For these new shares 300,000 applications were made, and Law's house was beset from morning till night with eager applicants, and before the list of fortunate stockholders could be completed, the public impatience rose to a pitch of frenzy. Dukes, marquises and counts, with their wives and daughters, waited for hours in the streets before his door, to know the result; and to prevent being jostled by the blebeian crowd, took apartments in the adjacent houses, the rents of which rose from 100 to 1200, and, in some instances, to 1600 livres per annum. Induced by golden dreams, the demand for shares was so great it was thought best to increase them 300,000 more, at 500 livres each; and such was the eagerness of the people to subscribe, that, had the government ordered three times that number, they would all have been taken.

The first attempts of the company at colonization in Louisiana, were attended with careless prodigality. To entice emigrants thither, the rich prairies and the most inviting fields were granted to companies which sought principalities in the valley of the Mississippi. An extensive prairie in Arkansas, bounded on all sides by the sky, was granted to Law, where he designed to plant a colony, and he actually expended a half million of livres for that purpose. From the representations of the company, New Orleans

became famous in Paris as a beautiful city before the work of cutting down the canebrakes, which covered its site, had been commenced. Kaskaskia, then mostly a cantonment of savages, was spoken of as an emporium of the most extensive traffic, and as rivaling some of the cities of Europe in refinement, fashion and religious culture. In fine, to doubt the wealth of Louisiana was to provoke anger. Law was now in the zenith of his glory, and the people in the zenith of their infatuation. The high and the low, the rich and the poor, were at once filled with visions of untold weath, and every age, set, rank and condition were buying and selling stocks.

The effect of this speculation on the public mind and manners was overwhelming. The laxity of public morals, bad enough before, now became worse, and the pernicious love of gambling dif fused itself through society and bore down all public and nearly all private virtue before it. While confidence lasted, an impulse was given to trade never before known. Strangers flocked to the capital from every part of the globe, and its population increased 305,000 souls. Beds were made in kitchens, garrets and even stables, for the accommodation of lodgers. Provisions shared the general advance, and wages rose in the same proportion. An illusory policy everywhere prevailed, and so dazzled the eye that none could see in the horrizon the dark cloud that announced the approaching storm. Law, at the time, was by far, the most influential man in the realm, while his wife and daughters were courted by the highest nobility and their alllance sought by ducal and princely houses.

Suspicions, however, soon arose; specie was demanded and Law became alarmed. The precious metals had all left the kingdom, and coin for more than 500 livres was declared an illegal tender.

[NOTE. A cobbler, whe had a stall near Law's office, gained near 200 livres per day by letting it, and finding stationery for brokers and other clients. A humpbacked man, who stood in the street, as the story goes, gained considerable sums by loaning his back as a writing desk to the eager speculators. Law, finding his residence too small, exchanged it for the Place Vendome, whither the crowd followed him, and the spacious square had the appearance of a public market. Booths were erected for the transaction of business and the sale of refreshments. The boulevards and public gardens were forsaken, and the Place Vendome became the most fashionable lounge for partics of pleasure. The Hotel d'Suson was taken, and its fine garden, ornamented with fountains and statuary, was covered over with tents and pavilions for the accommodation of stock jobbers, and each tent being let at 500 livres per month, made a monthly revenue of 250,000 livres. Peers, judges and bishops thronged the Hotel de Suson, and officers of the army and navy, ladies of title and fashion, were seen waiting in the ante-chamber of Law, to beg a portion of his stock. He was unable to wait ou onetenth part of the applicants, and every species of ingenuity was employed to gain an audience. Peers, whose dignity would have been outraged if the regent had made them wait half an hour for an interview, were content to wait 6 hours for the purpose of seeing the wily adventurer. Enormous fees were paid to his servants to announce their name, and ladies of rank employed the blandishments of their smiles. One lady in particular, who had striven in vain many days to see Law, ordered her coachman to keep a strict watch, and when he saw him coming. to drive against a post and upset her carriage. This was successfully accomplished, and Law, who witnessed the apparent accident, ran to her assistance. She was led to his house, and as soon as she thought it advisable, recovered from her fright, apologized for the intrusion, and confessed the stratagem. Law was a gallant, and could no longer refuse, and entered her name on his book as the purchaser of some stock. Another lady of rank, knowing that Law dined at a certain time, proceeded thither in her carriage and gave the alarm of fire, and while everybody was scampering away, she made haste to meet him; but he, suspecting the trick, ran off in the opposite direction. A celebrated physician in Puris had bought stock at an unfavorable time, and was anxious to sell out. While it was rapidly falling, and while his mind was filled with the subject, he was called on to attend a lady who thought herself unwell. Being shown up stairs, he felt the lady's pulse, and, more intent upon his stocks than the patient, exclaimed: "It falls; good God! it falls continually.' The lady started, and ringing the bell for assistance, said: "O, doctor, I am dying, I am dying; it falls! "What falls ?" inquired the doctor, în amazement, "My pulse. my pulse," said the lady; "I am dying!" Calm your fears, my dear madam," said the doctor, "I was speaking of the stocks I have been so great a loser, and my mind is so disturbed that I hardly know what I am saying."]

« AnteriorContinuar »