1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agent

AGENT (from Lat. agere, to act), a name applied generally to any person who acts for another. It has probably been adopted from France, as its function in modern civil law was otherwise expressed in Roman jurisprudence. Ducange (s.v. Agentes) tells us that in the later Roman empire the officers who collected the grain in the provinces for the troops and the household, and afterwards extended their functions so as to include those of government postmasters or spies, came to be called agentes in rebus, their earlier name having been frumentarii. In law an agent is a person authorized, expressedly or impliedly, to act for another, who is thence called the principal, and who is, in consequence of, and to the extent of, the authority delegated by him, bound by the acts of his agent. (See Principal and Agent; Factor, &c.)

In Scotland the procurators or solicitors who act in the preparation of cases in the various law-courts are called agents. (See Solicitor.)

In France the agents de change were formerly the class generally licensed for conducting all negotiations, as they were termed, whether in commerce or the money market. The term has, however, become practically limited to those who conduct transactions in public stock. The laws and regulations as to tourtiers, or those whose functions were more distinctly confined to transactions in merchandise, have been mixed up with those applicable to agents de change. Down to the year 1572 both functions were free; but at that period, partly for financial reasons, a system of licensing was adopted at the suggestion of the chancellor, l’Hôpital. Among the other revolutionary measures of the year 1791, the professions of agent and courtier were again opened to the public. Many of the financial convulsions of the ensuing years, which were due to more serious causes, were attributed to this indiscriminate removal of restrictions, and they were reimposed in 1801. From that period regulations have been made from time to time as to the qualifications of agents, the security to be found by them and the like. They are now regarded as public officers, appointed, with certain privileges and duties, by the government to act as intermediaries in negotiating transfers of public funds and commercial stocks and for dealing in metallic currency. See Stock Exchange: France.)

In diplomacy the term “agent” was originally applied to all “diplomatic agents,” including ambassadors. With the evolution of the diplomatic hierarchy, however, the term gradually sank until it was technically applied only to the lowest class of “diplomatic agents,” without a representative character and of a status and character so dubious that, by the regulation of the congress of Vienna, they were wholly excluded from the immunities of the diplomatic service. (See Diplomacy.)