Vergennes, "Memorandum against Necker" (1781)

In 1781, after the failure of two successive finance ministers, Turgot and then Necker, to reform the royal bureaucracy, and after the death of his politically astute first minister Maurepas, Louis XVI turned to a more conservative politician, Count Charles Gravier de Vergennes, to shore up his support at court and with the Parlements. Vergennes was, for several years, quite successful, partly by blaming the monarchy’s woes on the now–departed reformers. In this pamphlet, Vergennes attacks Necker and denies the need for any reforms or limits on royal power.


Sire, I will confine myself to showing how M. Necker and his works must look strange and harmful to all the good administrators of the state.

M. Necker suggests that the state has always hidden statements of finances. He goes on to say that the Kings talked about it only in the preamble of edicts which he suggests have no authority at all by affirming that experienced men do not believe in it anymore. Finally he says that the Finance Minister's moral characteristics have become the Monarch's only guarantee. . . .

I suggest that Your Majesty pay more specific attention to these strange assumptions. It is said that twenty-thousand copies of the report are on the street now. So twenty-thousand French citizens, curious about Your Majesty's business, are told that the King's word means nothing in the preamble of edicts. It is said all over France that experienced men do not believe in the King's word anymore. Also, the Minister's moral characteristics represent the last safety for the State. No, Sire, I am not inspired by a feeling of flattery; nor by M. Necker's character. I am only inspired by an outstanding monarch with integrity. M. Necker has only obtained just and striking criticism on the improper and costly ways he borrowed money. He will not succeed in convincing the French people that he represents your only guarantee.

He will nourish unhappy people's malice by maintaining that a state in disorder does not deserve credit. Nevertheless, I am sure of the French people's patriotism and devotion. If in the last century events wore them out, this new reign has revitalized all feelings. The English example of publishing accounts concerns only a worried calculator and selfish people. To apply it to France is to insult French patriotism. In fact, the French are sentimentalists, confident and entirely devoted to their kings. Everything will be lost in France, Sire, if Your Majesty allows His ministers to imitate the English administration for which Your Majesty's ancestors have shown so many and just aversions. . . .

Without misleading Your Majesty, I affirm that, until now, the state has only been insulted by unhappy people. It is then new in our history when M. Necker tells the party, that he calls public opinion, that, under a good king, a monarchical friend of the people, that the Finance Minister has become the only hope, the only guarantee to the experts who observe the government. M. Necker will not terminate the damage done to the dignity of the throne.

Source: Vergennes, "Mémoire contre Necker" (1781), in J.-L. Soulavie, ed., Mémoires historiques et politiques du règne de Louis XVI, vol. 4 (Paris: 1801), 56–59.