Charles Alexandre de Calonne

Missing image
Charles Alexandre de Calonne, portrait by Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

Charles Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne (1734 - October 30, 1802) was a French statesman.

Born at Douai of a good family, he entered the legal profession and became successively advocate to the general council of Artois, procureur to the parlement of Douai, master of requests, intendant of Metz (1768) and of Lille (1774). He seems to have been a man of great business capacity and carefree temperament, but thoroughly unscrupulous in political action. In the terrible crisis preceding the French Revolution, when minister after minister tried in vain to replenish the exhausted royal treasury, Calonne was summoned to take the general control of affairs. He assumed office on November 3, 1783.

He owed the position to Vergennes, who for over three years continued to support him; but the king was disliked him, and, according to the Austrian ambassador, his public image was extremely poor. In taking office he found debts of 600 million, and no means of paying them. At first he attempted to obtain credit, and to support the government by means of loans so as to maintain public confidence in its solvency. In October 1785 he recoined the gold coinage, and he developed the caisse d'escompte.

But these measures failing, he proposed to the king the suppression of internal customs, duties and the taxation of the property of nobles and clergy. Turgot and Jacques Necker had attempted these reforms, and Calonne attributed their failure to the malevolence of the parlements. Therefore he called an assembly of notables in January 1787. To them, he exposed the deficit in the treasury, and proposed the establishment of a subvention territoriale, which should be levied on all property without distinction.

This suppression of privileges was badly received. Calonne, angered, printed his reports and so alienated the court. Louis XVI dismissed him on April 8, 1787 and exiled him to Lorraine. The joy was general in Paris, where Calonne, accused of wishing to augment the imposts, was known as "Monsieur Deficit". In reality his audacious plan of reforms, which Necker took up later, might have saved the monarchy had it been supported by the king. Calonne soon afterwards left for England, and during his residence there kept up a polemical correspondence with Necker.

In 1789, when the states-general were about to assemble, he crossed to Flanders in the hope of offering himself for election, but he was forbidden to enter France. In revenge he joined the émigré party at Coblenz, wrote in their favour, and spent nearly all the fortune brought him by his wife, a wealthy widow. In 1802, having again taken up his abode in London, he received permission from Napoleon Bonaparte to return to France. He died about a month after his arrival in his native Alexandre de Calonne es:Charles Alexandre de Calonne fr:Charles Alexandre de Calonne


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