From the 1750s onwards France witnessed an increasing use of the concept of reciprocity (réciprocité). This essay describes the intellectual and political contexts that gave rise to the call for the establishment of ‘horizontal’ relations between sovereign nations; that is, relations based on respect for reciprocity in the areas of customs and navigation rights. In the hope that France might emulate the economic success of Britain, a group of intellectuals, administrators and diplomats (prominent among them Daniel Trudaine, Véron de Forbonnais and Dupont de Nemours) challenged the practice of subordinating commercial interests to dynastic ones, and used the concept of reciprocity to update both diplomatic and administrative practices. The campaign to create conditions of real reciprocity in the sphere of international trade went hand in hand with a plan for the reform of the French economy, which required ‘horizontal’ social relations; i.e., relations based on mutual recognition rather than subordination.
Keywords: Reciprocity, commercial treaties, "new science du commerce", Daniel Trudaine, Véron de Forbonnais, Vincent de Gournay, Dupont de Nemours