1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Calonne, Charles Alexandre de
CALONNE, CHARLES ALEXANDRE DE (1734–1802), French statesman, was born at Douai of a good family. He entered the profession of the law, and became in succession advocate to the general council of Artois, procureur to the parlement of Douai, master of requests, then intendant of Metz (1768) and of Lille (1774). He seems to have been a man of great business capacity, gay and careless in temperament, and thoroughly unscrupulous in political action. In the terrible crisis of affairs preceding the French Revolution, when minister after minister tried in vain to replenish the exhausted royal treasury and was dismissed for want of success, Calonne was summoned to take the general control of affairs. He assumed office on the 3rd of November 1783. He owed the position to Vergennes, who for three years and a half continued to support him; but the king was not well disposed towards him, and, according to the testimony of the Austrian ambassador, his reputation with the public was extremely poor. In taking office he found “600 millions to pay and neither money nor credit.” At first he attempted to develop the latter, and to carry on the government by means of loans in such a way 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 Necker had attempted these reforms, and Calonne attributed their failure to the malevolent criticism of the parlements. Therefore he had an assembly of “notables” called together in January 1787. Before it 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 by the privileged notables. Calonne, angered, printed his reports and so alienated the court. Louis XVI. dismissed him on the 8th of April 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 firmly seconded by the king. Calonne soon afterwards passed over to England, and during his residence there kept up a polemical correspondence with Necker on the finances. In 1789, when the states-general were about to assemble, he crossed over to Flanders in the hope of being allowed to offer himself for election, but he was sternly forbidden to enter France. In revenge he joined the émigré party at Coblenz, wrote in their favour, and expended 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 to return to France. He died on the 30th of October 1802, about a month after his arrival in his native country.
See Ch. Gomel, Les Causes financières de la Révolution (Paris, 1893); R. Stourm, Les Finances de l’ancien régime et de la Révolution (2 vols., Paris, 1885); Susane, La Tactique financière de Calonne, with bibliography (Paris, 1902).