René-Louis de Voyer de Paulmy, Marquis d'Argenson (18 October 1694 – 26 January 1757) was a French statesman.
D'Argenson, the eldest son of Marc-René de Voyer de Paulmy d'Argenson, was a lawyer, and held successively the posts of councillor at the parlement (1716), maître des requêtes (1718), councillor of state (1719), and intendant of justice, police and finance in Hainaut. During his five years’ tenure of the last office he was mainly employed in provisioning the troops, who were suffering from the economic confusion resulting from John Law’s system and the aftermath of the Mississippi Bubble.
D'Argenson returned to court in 1724 to exercise his functions as councillor of state. At that time he had the reputation of being a conscientious man, but ill-adapted to intrigue, and was nicknamed "la bête". He entered into relations with the philosophers, and was won over to the ideas of reform. He was the friend of Voltaire, who had been a fellow-student of his at the Jesuit college Louis-le-Grand, and frequented the Club de l'Entresol, the history of which he wrote in his memoirs. It was then that he prepared his Considérations sur le gouvernement de la France, which was published posthumously by his son.
D'Argenson was also the friend and counsellor of the minister Germain Louis Chauvelin. In May 1744 he was appointed member of the council of finance, and in November of the same year King Louis XV chose him as secretary of state for foreign affairs, his brother, Marc-Pierre, Comte d'Argenson, being at the same time secretary of state for war. France was at that time engaged in the War of the Austrian Succession, and the government had been placed by Louis XV virtually in the hands of the two brothers. The marquis d’Argenson endeavoured to reform the system of international relations. He dreamed of a "European Republic", and wished to establish arbitration between nations in pursuance of the ideas of his friend the abbé de Saint-Pierre. But he failed to realize any part of his projects. The generals negotiated in opposition to his instructions; his colleagues laid the blame on him; the intrigues of the courtiers passed unnoticed by him; whilst the secret diplomacy of the king neutralized his initiative. He concluded the marriage of the Louis, the Dauphin to Maria, a daughter of King Augustus III of Poland, but was unable to prevent the election of the Francis, Grand-Duke of Tuscany as Holy Roman Emperor in 1745.
On 10 January 1747 Louis XV thanked d'Argenson for his services. He then retired into private life, eschewed the court, associated with Voltaire, Condillac and d’Alembert, and spent his declining years in working at the Académie des Inscriptions, of which he was appointed president by the king in 1747, and revising his Mémoires. Voltaire, in one of his letters, declared him to be "the best citizen that had ever tasted the ministry". He died on 26 January 1757.
D'Argenson left a large number of manuscript works, of which his son, Marc Antoine René, Marquis de Paulmy, published the Considérations sur le gouvernement de France (Amsterdam, 1764) and Essais dans le goût de ceux de Montaigne (Amsterdam, 1785). The latter, which contains many useful biographical notes and portraits of his contemporaries, was republished in 1787 as Loisirs d’un ministre d’état. D'Argenson’s most important work, however, is his Mémoires, covering in great detail the years 1725 to 1756, with an introductory part giving his recollections since the year 1696. They are, as they were intended to be, valuable "materials for the history of his time". There are two important editions, the first, with some letters, not elsewhere published, by the marquis d’Argenson, his great-grand-nephew (5 vols., Paris, 1857 et seq.); the second, more correct, but less complete, published by J. B. Rathery, for the Société de l’Histoire de France (9 vols., Paris, 1859 et seq.). The other works of the marquis d’Argenson, in MS., were destroyed in the fire at the Louvre library in 1871.
D'Argenson married and had a son:
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