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Bankers, Socialists and Sephardic Jews in nineteenth-century France
Author: Helen M. Davies

The brothers Emile and Isaac Pereire were among the descendants of the Spanish conversos and Portuguese refugees from auto da fe. They were to become pivotal and sensational figures in nineteenth-century France, their lives and careers a lens through which to re-examine its history. In their relationship to Judaism, in their Saint-Simonianism, their socialism, their partnership, their business practices, their political allegiance, they have been subjects of criticism, comment and analysis by historians and others for over 150 years. This book uses the lives of these individuals to re-examine the history of France in the nineteenth century. It first deals with the 'making' of their grandsons, two Jewish boys born after the Revolution into the close-knit Sephardic community of Bordeaux. Then, it shows how, through Saint-Simonianism, Emile and Isaac Pereire found their vocation as railway entrepreneurs. The economic and financial reforms advocated by Saint-Simon and his followers came to be realised with the coming of rail to France. The book deals with the stage of railway development in France which followed the inauguration of the Paris-St-Germain (PSG) line, the hesitant administrative arrangements, and the insufficiency of investment capital to finance railway development. Next, it addresses the roles and methods of Emile and Isaac Pereire and of their family in what they treated as 'a family business'.

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Helen M. Davies

The brothers Emile and Isaac Pereire were among the descendants of the Spanish conversos and Portuguese refugees from auto da fe. They were to become pivotal and sensational figures in nineteenth-century France, their lives and careers a lens through which to re-examine its history. Emile and Isaac Pereire were major players in the industrialisation of France and in the modernisation of French banking, critical figures in implementing domestic and foreign policy initiatives of government. The Pereires as Jewish success stories and members of France's grande bourgeoisie are thus persons of interest in the historiography of assimilation and acculturation. A biography of Emile and Isaac Pereire must be construed from many different archival sources. While these are summarised in the Select bibliography, the private Archives de la famille Pereire in Paris particularly require comment.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
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A Sephardic childhood
Helen M. Davies

This chapter deals with the two Jewish Boys (Emile and Isaac Pereire) who born after the Revolution into the close-knit Sephardic community of Bordeaux. Sephardic community is a community confronted with the revolutionary decision of emancipation, bringing equality of citizenship and opportunity. For three centuries the port city had sheltered and supported Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal. In the course of three centuries, the Sephardim had established their own community, carving out a valued role within the mercantile infrastructure. A measure of the Jews' confidence and successful integration within the structures of Bordeaux can be seen in the organisation of their own community. The Bordeaux economy began to show signs of recovery, buoyed by a series of excellent vintages of wine. The year following Isaac's birth was one of great danger for the city, the British embargo on neutral shipping effectively sealing Bordeaux to the outside world.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
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Helen M. Davies

This chapter explores how Emile and Isaac Pereire responded to the 'new world', the dramatically new physical environment in which they found themselves. It also explores what impact the new ideas of Saint-Simon had on them and their existing beliefs; and how and what they in turn contributed to conceptualising a radically 'new society'. The Pereires, who had been on the fringes of the Producteur's editorial group and had already participated in informal discussions became more closely involved with the leadership. The Pereires began to publish widely in the Saint-Simonian press, publishing in the Globe alone some seventy-five articles. Indeed Emile Pereire took up journalism full-time. Each responded through his writing to contemporary economic circumstances, comprehending and interpreting the conditions of city workers through the prism of their youthful experience in Bordeaux, empathetic with the victims of economic crises.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
Helen M. Davies

This chapter shows how, through Saint-Simonianism, Emile and Isaac Pereire found their vocation as railway entrepreneurs. It was at the Salle d'Athenee in the autumn that Isaac Pereire gave his four 'Lessons on Industry and Finance' which the Globe printed late in 1831. Isaac Pereire's 'Lessons' show how thoroughly he had mastered complex ideas to paint a broad picture of contemporary society and a vision for its future. As Emile Pereire was preparing to quit the Saint-Simonian movement, Isaac was ordering its uniform: a pair of grey trousers, a pair of blue trousers, and a 'blue costume of the 2nd degree', the whole costing 137 francs. In an article in the Globe, Isaac Pereire immediately addressed the 'Mediterranean system' in the wider context of a languishing and depressed French industrial base, a manufacturing sector crushed by foreign competition.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
Helen M. Davies

This chapter describes the railway development in France, the inauguration of Paris-St-Germain (PSG), the hesitant administrative arrangements accompaning the concessions of the State's role, and the insufficiency of investment capital to finance railway development. The Pereires' developing partnership was placed under great pressure from the start. Their satisfaction with the inauguration of the PSG rail line had been marred by the sudden death a month earlier of Isaac's wife Laurence at the age of twenty-five, leaving Isaac with two small sons, Eugene and Georges. Saint-Simonian Paulin Talabot had been pursuing Chevalier's 'Mediterranean system' as actively as the Pereires, though from a different direction. Railways were among the most immediate of the public infrastructure attacked by the workers. While the Pereires' railway interests survived the riots and fires which followed, they lost heavily. Railway stations were looted and vandalised.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
Helen M. Davies

The Credit Mobilier was a powerful instrument in the expansion of French capitalism, the lynch-pin which facilitated a revolution in banking and heavy industry. It provided capital to fuel the needs of a resurgent rail industry which emerged under the Second Empire. The Second Empire was a politically fluid period which demanded skilful navigation. The Emperor aside, the Pereires were dealing with political figures whose towering ambitions and subtly diverse political allegiances and agendas created a hazardous path. Emile and Isaac Pereire had earlier proposed to duc de Persigny about a bank focused on investment in public works. These investments are to provide capital to complete the railway network, add value to associated industries and lower interest rates in the rail industry. The Pereires' support for new financial institutions was matched by the promise of new financial instruments for which they used the Credit Mobilier as a platform.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
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Helen M. Davies

Emile Pereire was never in doubt that he and Isaac Pereire would enter business together. Family business was the norm in Sephardic Bordeaux when the Pereires were growing up. An element of Saint-Simonian vocabulary which remained constant in Isaac Pereire's rhetoric, for example, was the concept of 'association'. Luc Marco describes how the Pereires used the finance function to pioneer innovative approaches to company management, maintaining fixed capital at a minimum and circulating capital at a constant level. The Pereires recognised that education alone was insufficient to prepare their sons for the responsibilities they might assume, and actively encouraged them to augment their studies with practical experience. At the most profound level their businesses depended on trust, the core of which lay between Emile and Isaac. Trust extended to many former Saint-Simonian colleagues who were associated with Pereire businesses.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
Helen M. Davies

Within a half century the Pereires had gone from poverty in the Jewish quarter of Bordeaux to enormous wealth and luxury among the grande bourgeoisie of Paris. The experience of the Pereire family, privileged and wealthy, inconsistent in its religious devotion or affiliation, sheds light on the rapid changes in Jewish community life which occurred in nineteenth-century Western Europe. As leaders of industry, the Jewish Saint-Simonians had attracted anti-Semitic vitriol from an early time and the Pereires' prominence reinforced and invigorated prejudice. Modesty and simplicity were said to have characterised their private lives and manners, but the Pereires' public face was impressive. The private sphere they built around them thus sustained Emile and Isaac Pereire, the family providing them with the social and emotional space and support necessary to maintain their considerable enterprises.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire
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Helen M. Davies

On the Credit Mobilier's tenth anniversary in 1862, Isaac Pereire recalled to shareholders the vicissitudes they had overcome during their first decade, including wars, bad weather, poor harvests, financial and commercial crises. By 1866, when the Pereires' companies were starting to feel the pinch anyway, their customary capacity to respond quickly to events was impaired and the fragility of their own personal resources to maintain the grasp on their businesses became apparent. Despite the prominent role, Emile and Isaac Pereire had played in the early days of rail in France, by the 1860s in a number of cases they had come off second best. The Pereires were forced to consider their options in promoting and defending their business interests. The collapse of the Credit Mobilier brought a schism with other board members who, running for cover, argued the relative responsibilities for the calamity between themselves, the Pereires and Salvador.

in Emile and Isaac Pereire