"I Am Not Master of Events" The Speculations of John Law and Lord Londonderry in the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles Larry Neal

Yale Series in Economic and Financial History
Publication date:
24 Jan 2012
Yale University Press
232 pages: 235 x 156 x 22mm
10 b-w illus.
Sales territories:


Two of the greatest financial fiascos of all time took place at the same time and were instigated by two acquaintances, both considered financial geniuses while their fortunes lasted. The Mississippi Bubble was a scheme to refinance French public debt by converting it into public shares in a company to exploit the resources of the Mississippi River (then owned by France), on which John Law at first made a vast fortune and gained sway over French finances.

The South Sea Bubble, launched by Britain to refinance its public debt in turn, was a challenge to both John Law and Thomas Pitt, Jr., Lord Londonderry, his main partner in England. Both men used the complex options and other forms of derivatives available in the stock exchanges of London, Paris, and Amsterdam to try to recoup their respective fortunes.

This book tells the story of these two financial schemes from the letters and accounts of two leading personalities. Larry Neal, a distinguished economic historian, highlights the rationality of each person and also finds that the primitive exchanges of the day, though informal and completely unregulated, actually performed reasonably well.

Larry Neal is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and visiting professor at the London School of Economics.

“With extensive archival research and sophisticated economic analysis, Larry Neal has provided much new information about the financial dealings of that mysterious and controversial financier, John Law, and his key role in the world's first two major international financial bubbles.”—Stanley Engerman, Co-author Time on the Cross.

“ “I am not a master of events…” is an important contribution to our knowledge of the first global financial crisis.  Based on original research into the lives of the leading speculators in the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles, Larry Neal’s volume brings a rich new perspective on how the global bubble unfolded and how the leading speculators of the day made and lost fortunes.   The hubris, brilliance and audacity of Londonderry and Law, as they place massive bets on the economy of nations, is still unmatched – even at the height of the bubbles of today.”— William N. Goetzmann, Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Management Studies at Yale University

“Over the l9th century Great Britain's financial and fiscal systems helped to carry the state to the position of hegemony it occupied for more than a century after the defeat of Napoleon in l815.  This deeply researched and eminently readable study by the world's leading historian of financial systems shows that rise was not without its interludes of seriously disruptive crises emanating (what's new) from the maniacal activities of all too plausible speculators.”—Patrick Karl O'Brien, FBA former president of the British Economic History Society and professor of global economic history at the London School of Economics.

"Larry Neal is the master of financial history. His account of how famous speculators rode the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles strikes gold—Nay, a Regent Diamond."—Marc Flandreau, author of The Glitter of Gold: France, Bimetallism and the Emergence of the International Gold Standard