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The Promise and Peril of CreditWhat a Forgotten Legend about Jews and Finance Tells Us about the Making of European Commercial Society$
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Francesca Trivellato

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691178592

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691178592.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM PRINCETON SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.princeton.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Princeton University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PRSO for personal use.date: 25 September 2021

Between Usury and the “Spirit of Commerce”

Between Usury and the “Spirit of Commerce”

Chapter:
(p.128) 6 Between Usury and the “Spirit of Commerce”
Source:
The Promise and Peril of Credit
Author(s):

Francesca Trivellato

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691178592.003.0007

This chapter focuses on two moments: the reworking of the meaning of the legend of the Jewish invention of bills of exchange by Montesquieu in the 1740s and the debates on emancipation that occurred during the last quarter of the century. The discursive and political contexts in which the legend was evoked account for the vastly different meanings that it acquired at those two moments. Montesquieu praised Jews for forging new credit instruments that benefited everyone because he assumed that Jews inhabited a society of status that kept them in a subordinate position. When equality emerged later in the century as a concrete possibility, Jewish commercial and financial dexterity was once again perceived as a threat rather than a boon to state and society. While Montesquieu drew a sharp line between commercial credit and usury, the two were conflated once again during the emancipation debates, as they had been in Cleirac's commentary.

Keywords:   bills of exchange, Jews, Montesquieu, Jewish emancipation, credit instruments, equality, commercial credit, usury

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