After launching the War of 1812, confident that the American politicians would renew his bank’s charter, Nathan turned his attention to Europe. He was anxious to send Napoleon to Russia. Like his father, he believed that more gold bullion was needed if the number of central banks, and hence the number of democracies, was to grow. It was crucial to accumulate as much gold as possible while waiting for the USA to become a coast-to-coast country and for the US dollar to become as good as gold. The problem in 1812 was that gold mining was still in its infancy, and that exploiting alluvial gold deposits was very much a problem. However, it just so happened that the most advanced mining engineering school in the world was in Paris. L’École des Mines de Paris founded in 1783 had developed the latest techniques for extracting alluvial gold, and this gave Nathan the wherewithal to carry out his plan.
In 1803, alluvial gold had been discovered on the western slope of the Urals in Russia, and it was well known that the Tsar wanted to keep it a secret, for he didn’t want the serf population to start a gold rush. In 1810, Nathan who was setting the world price for gold bullion out of the City in London, was well aware of that situation. Therefore, he would get Ouvrard to contact Talleyrand who in turn would encourage Napoleon to go and force Tsar Alexander to open the country to private gold mining. Napoleon would take a corps of engineers with him, and once Alexander was forced into accepting, that elite corps would be dispatched to the Urals in order to launch and supervise mining operations. Of course, as an incentive, Napoleon was to keep all the proceeds from the sale of the mined gold. Nathan would open a Russian bank and buy all the gold as it was being produced. Nathan would give the Tsar his royalties on the one hand, and buy the gold by sending letters of exchange in pounds to Napoleon in Paris. The gold would then find its way to Nathan’s vaults in the City. Napoleon and the Tsar would get the paper, and Nathan would get the gold.
Napoleon started the Russian campaign in June, 1812, and he was heading into a Russian winter which made no sense. A lot of people wonder to this day why he went. After major losses, he entered Moscow, but the retreating Russian Army had burned and stripped the city of supplies. It was a deadly place to be for a starving army. He could easily have gone on to Saint Petersburg to defeat Tsar Alexander and winter his troops in that city, but he chose to stay in Moscow for a whole five weeks instead. Napoleon was obviously waiting for an answer from the Tsar, to whom he had issued an ultimatum regarding opening the country to gold mining. After likely receiving assurances from Tsar Alexander that it would be done, Napoleon decided to spare Saint Petersburg, and took off as fast as he could for France, but not before dispatching to the Urals a contingent of 22 000 men headed by engineers from l’Ecole des Mines de Paris. If Napoleon then took the same direct way back to France, knowing full well the countryside was totally devastated by the passing of his army on the way to Moscow, and that winter was around the corner, it was because he was in a hurry to reap the benefits of the campaign and was willing to gamble. Napoleon made it OK, but his army wasn’t so lucky. Winter set in early, and his army was completely annihilated.
Later that year, the Russian senate issued an act authorizing subjects and private companies to mine for gold and silver ores providing they pay royalties to the Severnaya Kazna National State Bank. As expected, numerous private mining companies with Russian names started mining operations, and the country’s gold output was as much as 2 tons during the first year of activity. Financing research and development in gold mining technology and buying the gold produced at the price set by Nathan in the City would become the modus operandi for all time.
Meanwhile, in Judengasse, Mayer’s health was failing. Upon receiving the bad news, Nathan duly rushed to Frankfurt, and was at his father’s bedside when he died on September 19, 1812. One can only wonder if the War in America declared on June 18, 1812, happening at the same time Napoleon was starting his Russian Campaign, didn’t adversely affect Mayer’s health. Did he think Nathan was in too much of a hurry? Did he think too many people were being killed needlessly in the name of gold? Or was 68 considered a ripe old age for the times? No matter, the greatest man who ever lived passed away in almost total anonymity in the ghetto where he was born.
One thing is certain, Gutle must have reminded Nathan of the absolute necessity for discretion and anonymity so dear to his father. In London, Nathan had been doing exactly the opposite of what Mayer had always done. By not keeping a low profile while running the greatest financial dynasty of all time, Nathan was running counter to the founder’s wishes.
However, Nathan’s 4-year-old son Lionel also attended his grandfather’s funeral. Fortunately, Gutle bonded instantly with her grandson, and when he took over the reins of power after his father’s death in 1836, Gutle was still living in Judengasse. She died much later, in 1849, and Lionel visited the old woman he loved as often as he could. Gutle had a great influence on him, for under his direction, the dynasty built by Mayer slowly went back to keeping a low profile, to the point where most people today wonder if it ever really existed. Nonetheless, Nathan’s bank in the City still fixes the daily price of gold for the whole world and does so in US dollars.