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A Show of Hands for the Republic

A Show of Hands for the Republic: Opinion, Information, and Repression in Eighteenth-Century Rural France

Jill Maciak Walshaw
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    A Show of Hands for the Republic
    Book Description:

    In the French village of Segonzac in 1796, weaver Thomas Bordas spoke out during a municipal ceremony. Frustrated by how stifling the politics of the Revolution had become, he proposed a show of hands: who wants a republic, and who wants a king? Soon after, he was arrested and charged with having attempted to bring about a counterrevolution. Citing hundreds of similar incidents of "seditious speech," Jill Maciak Walshaw demonstrates that eighteenth-century French villagers were well-informed and outspoken on political issues. This study, set in the southwestern regions of Guyenne and the central Pyrenees, reveals the contradiction at the heart of state-village interaction: authorities viewed peasants as ignorant and apolitical, or else reactionary and easily led astray, yet carefully monitored and suppressed their opinions. 'A Show of Hands for the Republic' redefines how we understand peasant politicization, arguing that the characterization of rural views as conservative or backward-looking is mistaken. Villagers acted politically, in ways reflective of local character and grounded in their experience of local politics. The pivotal decade of the Revolution left a legacy in the countryside that went beyond a superficial and short-lived exposure to national affairs: it brought a meeting of political cultures, and confirmed that rural public opinion had become a force to be reckoned with. Jill Maciak Walshaw is Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-840-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    On a brisk morning in February 1796, Thomas Bordas, an illiterate weaver from the village of Segonzac in the Dordogne, stood in the cold, listening to the president of the local administrative council deliver a long, elaborate, and—quite frankly—uninteresting speech. The speaker took pains to praise the hard work of the Parisian deputies who had recently completed the Constitution of the Year III, exalting the French Republic and its most recent government, the Directory. Bordas suspected that the presentation was drawing to a close when it came time for those assembled to swear an oath of loyalty to...

  7. Chapter One La France Profonde? News and Political Information in the Village
    (pp. 22-57)

    When the English agronomist Arthur Young traveled through the French countryside on the eve of the French Revolution, he was aghast at what he perceived as an insufficiency of news circulating in rural areas. Arriving at Thierry-sur-Marne on July 4, 1789, Young wrote that he wished to see a newspaper “in a period so interesting to France,” but that not one was to be found. “Here are two parishes, and some thousands of inhabitants, and not a newspaper to be seen by a traveler, even in a moment when all ought to be in anxiety. What stupidity, poverty, and want...

  8. Chapter Two From Émotion Populaire to Seditious Words: Rural Protest in the Ancien Régime
    (pp. 58-88)

    The argument that country dwellers held political opinions in the eighteenth century scarcely needs to be made. People have always thought about and talked about the issues that affect them personally. And those opinions may well have been informed ones: villagers received plenty of news and information from the outside world, either via administrative channels (throughintendantsandsubdéléguésto village municipal councils and local parish priests) or informal ones (including reported news, rumor, and individuals’ statements of their opinions and ideas). Informal channels long antedated the Poste du roi and continued in this period as a major means of...

  9. Chapter Three Bringing Them into the Fold: The Struggle against Ignorance and Dissent in the French Revolution
    (pp. 89-131)

    As a general rule, rural communities did not expect to be pleased to hear from the authorities. Rarely were deliveries of official correspondence good news: more often, they contained information about obligations—particularly taxes—and other administrative details. The news that went out in August of 1788, however, was a major exception: Louis XVI announced that a meeting of the Estates General would commence on May 1, 1789. In preparation for this event, every community in the country was to draw up a list of grievances and complaints—thecahiers de doléances—to address “the needs of the state, the...

  10. Chapter Four “Long Live Louis XVII”: The Prosecution of Seditious Speech during the French Revolution
    (pp. 132-171)

    The revolutionary elite responded to evidence of rural lassitude and dissent with preventive solutions and reactionary explanations. If the deputies of the National Assembly professed difficulty understanding why the good farmers of the nation were wary of political change, they wasted little time in addressing the problem. To counteract the ignorance they perceived to be the underlying issue, some deputies struck committees to ensure that decrees were arriving in the provinces, while others discussed translating them for regions where French was not everyone’s mother tongue. Members of the Assembly frequently pointed to the improvement of roads and the augmentation of...

  11. Chapter Five Tricksters, Dupes, and Drunkards: Truth and Untruth in the Search for Rural Political Opinion
    (pp. 172-206)

    Faced with reports of verbal dissent emanating from all points of the nation, revolutionary authorities responded by specifying the circumstances under which counterrevolutionary talk could be prosecuted in the courts. Initially, and long before the fall of the monarchy, legislators simply substituted the concept of nation for that of king in the crime oflèsemajesté, creating a supreme court, the Haute Cour nationale, to deal with a form of treason now referred to aslèse-nation. The concept was in fact not new: a form oflèse-majestéagainst the public good had been described in earlier centuries, but the Haute Cour...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-218)

    On July 20, 1816, Pierre Maze, a middle-aged farmer and part-time tile maker, sat in the interrogation room at theprévôtalcourt in Périgueux. The discomfort he felt was not because of the summer heat, nor the arduousness of the journey that had brought him there: his home in the place known as Planèze, part of the village of Neuvic, was only a few hours’ ride along the Isle river valley from the administrative capital of the department of the Dordogne. Rather, his anxiety stemmed from the fact that he was about to be questioned on two dangerous charges: inciting...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-266)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-298)
  15. Index
    (pp. 299-308)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-309)