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4 - Napoleonic Wars Reparations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 October 2023

Simon Hinrichsen
Affiliation:
University of Copenhagen
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Summary

Chapter 4 studies the Napoleonic Wars reparations. France lost the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, ending decades of revolution and counter-revolution. After Napoleons final defeat at Waterloo, France was forced to pay just under 2 billion francs in reparations, around a quarter of output in 1815, over the following five years. With French government revenues of around 700 million francs in 1816, the transfer represented almost three times the annual budget. That was a big transfer, even more so as France faced significant credit constraints because earlier defaults prevented it from tapping sovereign debt markets. Not until 1817 did France manage to borrow large amounts of money, paying back reparations with two years to spare. How did the country manage to pay the large reparations transfer? I argue that France benefited economically from a positive shock to its terms of trade as the war wound down. The French peacetime economy was structurally different in terms of its imports and exports, which had changed during many years of war and blockades.

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When Nations Can't Default
A History of War Reparations and Sovereign Debt
, pp. 86 - 99
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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