Law, John

, usually known by the name of the projector, was born at Edinburgh, in April 1671; and on the death of his father, who was a goldsmith or banker, inherited a considerable estate, called Lauriston. He is said to have made some progress in polite literature, but his more favourite study was that of financial matters, | banks, taxes, &c. and he was at the same time a man of pleasure, and distinguished by the appellation of Beau Law. Having visited London in 1694, his wit and accomplishments procured him admission into the first circles, and he became noted for his gallant attentions to the ladies. One of his intrigues having involved him in a quarrel with a Mr. Wilson, a duel took place, and Mr. Law killed his antagonist. He was then apprehended, and committed to the king’s-bench prison, from which he made his escape, and is supposed to have retired to the continent.*


A reward of 501. was offered in the London Gazette of Jan. 37, 1694-5, in which he is described as aged twenty-six, “a black lean man, about six feet high, large pock-holes in his fare, big high nose, speech broad and loud.” Nichols’s Leiceatershire, vol. III. in which are some curious particulars of Mr. Law.

In 1700, however, he returned to Edinburgh, as he appears in that year to have written his “Proposals and reasons for constituting a Council of Trade,” which, although it met with no encouragement from the supremo judicature of the kingdom, procured him the patronage of some noblemen, under which he was induced in 1705, to publish another plan for removing the difficulties the kingdom was then, exposed to by the great scarcity of money, and the insolvency of the bank. The object of his plan was to issue notes, which were to be lent on landed property, upon the principle, that being so secured, they would be equal in value to gold and silver money of the same denomination, and even preferred to those metals, as not being liable to fall in value like them. This plausible scheme being also rejected as an improper expedient, Mr. Law now abandoned his native country, and went to Holland, on purpose to improve himself in that great school of banking and finance. He aftewards resided at Brussels, where his profound skill in calculation is said to have contributed to his extraordinary success at play.

On his arrival at Paris, his mind was occupied with higher objects, and he now presented to the comptrollergeneral of the finances under Louis XIV. a plan which was approved by that minister, but is said to have been rejected by the king because “he would have nothing to do with a heretic.” After, however, a short residence in Sardinia, where he in vain wanted to persuade Victor Amadeus to adopt one of his plans for aggrandizing his territories, he returned to Paris on the death of Louis XIV. and was | more favourably received. He gained the confidence of the regent to such a degree, that he not only admitted him to all his convivial parties, but nominated him one of his counsellors of state. France was at this time burthened with an immense debt, which Law proposed to liquidate, by establishing a bank for issuing notes secured on landed property, and on all the royal revenues, unalienably engaged for that purpose. This scheme was approved of, but the conjuncture being thought unfavourable, he could only obtain letters patent, dated May 30, 1716, for establishing a private bank at Paris, along with his brother and some other associates. This scheme promised success, and the bank had acquired great credit, when it was dissolved in December 1718, by an arbitrary arret of the regent, who, observing the great advantages arising from it, and perceiving also that the people were growing fond of paper money, resolved to take it into the hands of government.

Mr. Law, however, was named director-general of this royal bank, and branches of it were established at Lyons, Rochelle, Tours, Orleans, and Amiens. In 1720, he began to develope his grand project, so well known to all Europe, under the name of the Missisippi scheme. This scheme was no less than the vesting the whole privileges, effects, and possessions of all the foreign trading companies, the great farms, the profits of the mint, the general receipt of the king’s revenue, and the management and property of the bank, in one great company, who thus having in their hands all the trade, taxes, and royal revenues, might be enabled to multiply the notes of the bank to any extent they pleased, doubling or even trebling at will the circulating cash of the kingdom; and by the greatness of their funds, possessed of a power to carry the foreign trade, and the culture of the colonies, to a height altogether impracticable by any other means. This monstrous and impracticable monopoly was approved of by the regent, who issued letters patent for erecting the “Company of the West,” to which he granted at the same time, the whole province of Louisiana, or the country on the river Missisippi, from which the scheme took its name. That part of America having been represented as a region abounding in gold and silver, and possessing a fertile and luxurious soil, the actions or shares were bought up with | great avidity; and such was the rage for speculation, that the unimproved parts of the colony were actually sold for 30,000 livres the square league.

The “Company of the West,” of which Law was of course director-general, in pursuance of his scheme, undertook the farm of tobacco at an advanced rent of upwards of two millions of livres; they soon after engrossed the charter and effects of the Senegal company, and in May 1719, actually procured the grant of an exclusive trade to the East Indies, China, and the South-sea^, with all the possessions and effects of the China and India companies, which were now dissolved on the condition of liquidating their debts. The price of actions soon rose from 550 to 1000 livres each. On July 25th, the mint was made over to this company, which now assumed the name of “The Company of the Indies” for a consideration of fifty millions of livres, and on Aug. 27, following, they also obtained a lease of the farms, for which they agreed to pay three millions and a half of livres advanced rent. Having thus concentered within themselves, not only the whole foreign trade and possessions of France, but the collection and management of the royal revenues, they promised an annual dividend of 200 livres per share, in consequence of which the price of actions rose to 5000 livres, and a rage for the purchase of their stock seems to have infatuated all ranks in the kingdom. The whole nation, clergy, laity, peers, and plebeians, statesmen, and princes, nay even ladies, who had, or could procure money for that purpose, turned stock-jobbers, outbidding each other with such avidity, that in November 1719, after some fluctuations, the price of actions rose to above 10,000 livres, more than sixty times the sum they originally sold for.

Our projector had now arrived at an unexampled pitch of power and wealth; he possessed the ear of the duke of Orleans; he was almost adored by the people, and was constantly surrounded by princes, dukes, and prelates, who courted his friendship, and even seemed ambitious of his patronage. Such was the immensity of his property, that he bought no less than fourteen estates with titles annexed to them, among which was the marquisate of Rosny, that had belonged to the great duke of Sully, the minister and friend of Henry IV. About this period too, a free | pardon*


It is said in the work quoted in the preceding note, that he found means to pacify the surviving relations of Mr. Wilson, by the payment of not less than 100,000l. This appears some what improbable; but we ought prhaps, to recollect that there was a time, a short one, indeed, when Mr. Law could command greater sums.

for the murder of Mr. Wilson was conveyed to him from England, while Edinburgh, proud of having produced so great a man, transmitted the freedom of the city in a gold box.

The only obstacle to his advancement to the highest offices in the state being soon after removed by his abjuration of the protestant religion, he was declared comptroller-general of the finances on Jan. 18, 1720. But after having raised himself to such an envied situation, he at length fell a sacrifice to the intrigues of the other ministers, who, playing upon the fears of the regent, induced him to issue an arret on May 21, 1720, which, contrary to sound policy, and even to the most solemn stipulations, reduced the value of the company’s bank notes one half, and fixed their actions or shares at 5000 livres. By this fatal step, which seems to have been taken in opposition to the opinion and advice of the comptroller-general, the whole paper fabrick was destroyed, and this immense speculation turned out to be a mere bubble. The consternation of the populace was soon converted into rage; troops were obliged to be stationed in all parts of the capital to prevent mischief; and such was the depreciation of this boasted paper money, that 100 livres were given for a single louis-d’or. Law with some difficulty made his escape to Brussels, and of all his wealth and property, retained only the salary of his office, through the friendship of the duke of Orleans.

After waiting for some time, in expectation of being recalled to France, he travelled through part of Europe, and at length, in consequence of an invitation from the British ministry, arrived in England in Oct. 1721, was presented to the king, George I. and afterwards hired a house in Conduit-street, Hanover-square, where he was daily visited by people of the first quality and distinction. In 1722 he repaired once more to the continent, and concluded the chequered course of his life at Venice, in March 1729, in the fifty-eighth year of his age. He was at this time in a state little removed from indigence. Various opinions have been entertained respecting the merit of his | project, but it seems generally agreed that if it had not been violently interrupted by the regent’s arret, it was too insecure in its principles to have been permanent. His family estate of Lauriston is still in the possession of his descendants, one of whom, the eldest sou of John Law de Lauriston, governor of Pondicherry, was one of the officers who perished in the unfortunate voyage of De la Perouse, and was succeeded as the head of the family, by general Lauriston, known in this country as the bearer of the ratification of the preliminaries of the short-lived peace between Great Britain and France in 1802. 1


Hist, of the Parish of Cramond, 1794, 4to. Private Life of Louis XV. translated by Justamond. Voltaire’s S.ecle de Louis XV. —Dict. Hist. Nichols’s Leicestershire, vol. III.