Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Colbert, Jean Baptiste (1619-1683), a French statesman, born at Rheims, where his father was a merchant. Able and ambitious, and withal unscrupulous, he obtained a post in the war office at twenty, and became the private secretary of Le Tellier, the secretary for war, who was a connection by marriage. In 1647 he received the confiscated goods of an uncle; in 1648 he married a rich wife, and in 1649 he became a councillor of state. When Mazarin was driven from Paris in 1651 by the influence of the Conde faction, Colbert was the appointed agent to keep the Cardinal posted upon what passed in Paris, and made use of his position not only to obtain rich rewards and appointments for himself and his family, but also to gain the confidence of Mazarin, who entrusted him with affairs of great moment. Colbert was already forming his ideas of financial reform, and drew up a memorial to Mazeirin, setting forth the fact that only a small proportion of the taxes reached the king, and drawing attention to the extortions of the superintendent Fouquet, who was his own nominee. Fouquet discovered Colbert's action, and became his bitter enemy in consequence. Upon the death of Mazarin in 1661 Colbert came into great prominence, and in nine years was supreme in all but war. His first idea was to bring about a financial and fiscal reform as the first step to restoring the country's greatness, and in this he was seconded by the young king, Louis XIV. The first step was to arrest Fouquet, who was banished; the next to punish the defaulting officers and fraudulent creditors of the State, and to vest the control of finances in a royal council with the king as president, but of which Colbert was the moving spirit. He introduced many reforms in taxation, protected industry and encouraged inventors, and gave a great impetus to foreign trade. His elaborate regulation of processes of manufacture, however, was much resented by the commercial world, and his policy stimulated that "individualist" reaction against government interference which is seen in the economic literature, French and English, of the last century. But his greatest achievement was to establish the French marine both of war and of commerce, and he was not very scrupulous as to the means he employed to bring about his ends. He also did much to advance art, literature, and science, and as superintendent of public buildings did much to improve and beautify Paris. He did not, meantime, neglect his own interests, and he died a millionaire. But all his efforts were neutralised by the vast demands for money to carry on the king's wars, and a few years after relieving the country of some of its taxes, he was obliged to heap on more; and the king's favour for his great rival, Louvois, is said to have had much to do with bringing him to a comparatively early death.