At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when France was under Napoleonic rule, the Paris Stock Exchange was a sensorial overload. Bodies pushed together, spilling into the streets, sweating, shouting, making fortunes or losing everything in an instant. The sounds could not be muffled by the sand on the floor. Often referred to as no more than a ‘gambling den’, the Paris Stock Exchange was now the site of capitalist revival following the Revolution.
In his gripping paper, Tyson Leuchter painted a vivid picture of a new financial system deeply intertwined with society and state in the early 1800s. If the Paris Stock Exchange had closed its doors momentarily during the Revolution, it would become firmly rooted in the turn of the century as landed wealth was being transformed into mobile property. With a scarcity of credit, a society still mostly focussed on agriculture and a leader mistrustful of public borrowing, this was somewhat unexpected, Leuchter points out. And public debt – which had improved a bit on Napoleon’s coup – knew mostly slight or near flat growth in this period. Yet the Stock Exchange was present everywhere: in the emotions, visual culture, popular culture and gender relations of the time. Fortunes came and went, making and breaking lives, whilst moral outcries or controversies were never far. At the heart of this were discussions amongst politicians, not least advisors to Napoleon, arguing that the Paris Stock Exchange was not merely about dangerous gambles but about new relationships between state and society, between a government and its subjects. The legal system had to quickly adapt to the new scenarios which emerged, and eventually public debt became conceptually, legally and politically legitimised. So even if criticisms and moral outrage mounted against what seemed to be an immoral site and habit, French citizens bought in, speculation flourished and the Paris Stock Exchange survived. After Napoleon’s death, it soared.
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, therefore, was a period of financial transformation revealing the new relations between citizens and states. By exploring how these new relations were debated and disputed, how they materialised and the limits of these materialisations, Leuchter brings finance to the heart of the emotional, cultural and political upheavals of this period. We really look forward to his book.
Tyson Leuchter is an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. He received his doctorate in History from the University of Chicago in 2017. His dissertation, “The Most Sacred Right of All: Property, Public Debt, and Law at the Paris Stock Exchange, 1793-1825,” examines one of the key institutions of nineteenth-century financial capitalism. It focuses on political discourse, theoretical and legal debates about the moral rightness and economic utility of public debts and speculation, and the legal travails of the Paris stockbrokers. These recurring disputes over the Exchange, Leuchter argues, illuminate the implantation of financial capitalism in a discursive context otherwise hostile to it. His work has previously appeared in the journals Modern Intellectual History and La Révolution Française, with a chapter forthcoming in Property Rights in Contemporary Governance (SUNY Press). Currently, he is preparing a book manuscript.