1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Desmarets, Nicolas

DESMARETS, NICOLAS, Sieur de Maillebois (1648–1721), French statesman, was born in Paris on the 10th of September 1648. His mother was the sister of J. B. Colbert, who took him into his offices as a clerk. He became counsellor to the parlement in 1672, master of requests in 1674 and intendant of finances in 1678. In these last functions he had to treat with the financiers for the coinage of new silver pieces of four sous. After Colbert’s death he was involved in the legal proceedings taken against those financiers who had manufactured coins of bad alloy. The prosecution, conducted by the members of the family of Le Tellier, rivals of the Colberts, presented no proof against Desmarets. Nevertheless he was stripped of his offices and exiled to his estates by the king, on the 23rd of December 1683. In March 1686 he was authorized to return to Paris, and again entered into relations with the controllers-general of finance, to whom he furnished for more than ten years remarkable memoirs on the economic situation in France. As early as 1687 he showed the necessity for radical reforms in the system of taxation, insisting on the ruin of the people and the excessive expenses of the king. By these memoirs he established his claim to a place among the great economists of the time, Vauban, Boisguilbert and the comte de Boulainvilliers. When in September 1699 Chamillart was named controller-general of finances, he took Desmarets for counsellor; and when he created the two offices of directors of finances, he gave one to Desmarets (October 22, 1703). Henceforth Desmarets was veritable minister of finance. Louis XIV. had long conversations with him. Madame de Maintenon protected him. The economists Vauban and Boisguilbert exchanged long conversations with him. When Chamillart found his double functions too heavy, and retaining the ministry of war resigned that of finance in 1708, Desmarets succeeded him. The situation was exceedingly grave. The ordinary revenues of the year 1708 amounted to 81,977,007 livres, of which 57,833,233 livres had already been spent by anticipation, and the expenses to meet were 200,251,447 livres. In 1709 a famine reduced still more the returns from taxes. Yet Desmarets’s reputation renewed the credit of the state, and financiers consented to advance money they had refused to the king. The emission of paper money, and a reform in the collection of taxes, enabled him to tide over the years 1709 and 1710. Then Desmarets decided upon an “extreme and violent remedy,” to use his own expression,—an income tax. His “tenth” was based on Vauban’s plan; but the privileged classes managed to avoid it, and it proved no better than other expedients. Nevertheless Louis XIV. managed to meet the most urgent expenses, and the deficit of 1715, about 350,000,000 livres, was much less than it would have been had it not been for Desmarets’s reforms. The honourable peace which Louis was enabled to conclude at Utrecht with his enemies was certainly due to the resources which Desmarets procured for him.

After the death of Louis XIV. Desmarets was dismissed by the regent along with all the other ministers. He withdrew to his estates. To justify his ministry he addressed to the regent a Compte rendu, which showed clearly the difficulties he had to meet. His enemies even, like Saint Simon, had to recognize his honesty and his talent. He was certainly, after Colbert, the greatest finance minister of Louis XIV.

See Forbonnais, Recherches et considérations sur les finances de la France (2 vols., Basel, 1758); Montyon, Particularités et observations sur les ministres des finances de la France (Paris, 1812); De Boislisle, Correspondance des contrôleurs-généraux des finances (3 vols., Paris, 1873–1897); and the same author’s “Desmarets et l’affaire des pièces de quatre sols” in the appendix to the seventh volume of his edition of the Mémoires de Saint-Simon.  (E. Es.)