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Fictional Attack by "Terray" on Turgot (1781[?])


In the 1780s, following the fall of the reform–minded Turgot and Necker ministries, traditionalists felt certain that they had seen the last of the crass, pro–commerce ideas that these men and their supporters had promoted. In this pamphlet, Turgot personally is mocked by an author writing as if he were the abbé Terray, who had preceded Turgot as finance minister; the fictional "Terray" takes Turgot to task for thinking that he was justified in promoting such drastic changes on his own rather than deferring to his social betters, such as the noble magistrates of the Parlements and the aristocrats in the King’s entourage.


THE party, Sir, which twelve months ago raised you to the administration, amused us with the most lofty presages of your future operations. They said, it is not intrigue, and it is not chance, which has raised this man to office, it is his personal merit. Far different from those who have gone before him, he will dedicate his attention to doing what the duties of his position require not to keeping his place as long as he can. The system of his predecessor will not be his. He is a man of genius, who will find his own agents while developing a plan based on his principles, which will alleviate oppression, diminish the taxes, and revive agriculture and commerce.

The public has now patiently waited for a whole year, expecting the execution of these promises. I could, however, if I pleased, compose an interesting and instructive volume of the faults you have committed; first against the French financial well-being; and second, against the principles of a sound statesman and a good politician.

More fortunate at your accession to office than I was, I left you nothing but good deeds to perform; the ill was completed before you took office. I had established an equilibrium between receipts and expenditures. I left the royal coffers amply replenished. You had nothing to do but to receive. All then that remained for you was to invent the best means of relieving the public burdens, which you decided that I had increased beyond all just proportion to the ability of the subject or the necessities of the King. When you came into office, you found the state without a system, and your predecessors shifting at random from day to day as they could.

What is it you have done? Given yourself over body and soul to a sect which has elected you their chief. You act only as they dictate, and you see only with their eyes. Their doctrines of administration are a tissue of ignorance, narrow views, and sophistry. The principles of their system are groundless and mistaken; the injury, therefore, that they do in office, and the mischiefs they inflict on the people of France, are continually growing more formidable. You have weakened the love of his subjects towards the best of kings. You have involved your sovereign, without his being aware of it, in a chaos of errors, from which you can never extricate him.


Jean-Louis Soulavie, Historical and Political Memoirs of the Reign of Lewis XVI from His Marriage to His Death, Translated from the Six Volumes..., vol. 3 (London: G. and J. Robinson, 1802), 431-438.

How to Cite This Source

"Fictional Attack by "Terray" on Turgot (1781[?])," in World History Commons, [accessed October 3, 2023]