Controversy surrounding applicants for shares

Applications for large shareholdings were few; only 48 buyers purchased more than 200 shares (i.e. 100,000 Francs or more). The name at the top of the list of applicants was that of Prince Jérôme Napoléon, who had been appointed protecteur (patron) of the Universal Company of the Suez Maritime Canal. The second entry on the list was that of the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Said Pasha. The other shareholders came from all walks of life: engineers, magistrates, professors, doctors, clerics, lawyers, officers, civil servants, merchants and labourers, "everyone who reads, reflects, rules, teaches, prays, produces, saves, acts, fights, works", wrote Ferdinand de Lesseps. A coach driver informed him proudly,

    "Sir, I am one of your shareholders; three of us grouped together to buy two shares!"

Like Prime Minister Palmerston, who announced that "Insignificant folk are being talked into buying insignificant shares," English newspapers took every opportunity to ridicule this small-scale shareholding:


    "Most of the applicants for shares are café waiters, who have been duped by their press, and grocer's clerks... Many of the clergy have fallen victim and three thousand street-porters have collected together their pennies to buy shares. The whole business is nothing but robbery inflicted on simple folk who have allowed themselves to be taken in, for not a single penny will ever be collected in tolls from a canal which it is impossible to build."

These few lines quoted from The Times were taken up by other English newspapers. It was in response to the contemptuous suggestions of one of them, The Globe, that a French newspaper, La Patrie, wrote:

    "The English rag estimates at no less than three thousand the number of street-porters in particular, and it gently scolds these humble folk, these simpletons who have collected together their pennies to buy shares. If street-porters, café waiters and grocer's clerks have taken out shares, where is the harm in that, o Globe? Is the money of these plebeians worth less than that of an English nobleman? Your aristocratic scorn is too much and, for business men, your logic is quite flawed. You are blinded by rage and you seek, albeit in vain, to deny the evidence. The facts take it upon themselves to argue the case for those whom you attack with your habitual arrogance.

    In one year, the freshwater canal from the Nile to Lake Timsah will be completed, and it will be possible to turn extensive areas of land settled on the Company to profit. The land of Goshen will recall its ancient fertility. In two years, at the latest, the connection between the two seas will be open.

    Oh well! Once our grocers and street-porters have brought such a project to fruition, you will perhaps acknowledge that it is not advisable to hold the aspirations of small shareholders and the contribution from not-so-well-lined purses in contempt. Come on, do try from now on to overcome your bad temper and to pass a fairer and more supportive judgment on a project which is of interest to all mankind."