The son of a lawyer, he entered the civil service and was employed successively at the French embassy in Lisbon, in the administrative department of the duc de Broglie's army, as commissary in San Domingo from 1767 to 1774, and, after his return to France, as commissary-general of the marine. In 1776 he was entrusted to carry out plans of colonization in French Guiana, but was superseded in 1779.
On his return to France he was well received at court, and the execution of his plans in Guiana was assured. He became intendant of the port of Toulon, and in 1789 was returned to the Estates General, where he soon became well known as a defender of the monarchical principle. He emigrated to England in September, 1792, but shortly afterwards sought in vain permission to return to assist in the defense of Louis XVI.
His name was erased from the list of emigres in 1801 by Napoleon; upon his return in 1803, he was sent to Antwerp as commissioner-general and maritime prefect to supervise the erection of defence works, and the creation of a fleet. He entered the council of state for the navy in 1810. Having offended the emperor by his criticism of the campaign in Russia, he was disgraced and left office in 1812. At the Restoration, Louis XVIII made him minister of the navy.
The most important documents for his domestic and colonial policy are a Collection de ses opinions à l'Assemblée Nationale (3 vols., 1791-1792); and Collection de mémoires et correspondences officielles sur l'administration des colonies et notamment sur la Guerre française et hollandaise (5 vols. 1802).