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State and Counterrevolution in France

Charles Tilly

Tocqueville almost got it right. In one of his most famous arguments, Alexis de Tocqueville asserted that the administrative centralization most observers attributed to the Revolution of 1789 actually occurred under the Old Regime. The Intendants and other royal officers installed by Louis XIII and his successors had, he thought, almost imperceptibly supplanted a oncedominant aristocracy. They had adroitly erected an effective, centralized structure while edging great lords and parlements out of administration and into mere politics. "If I am asked," wrote Tocqueville,

how it was possible for this part of the old régime to be taken over en bloc and integrated into the constitution of modern France, my answer is that the reason why the principle of the centralization of power did not perish in the Revolution is that this very centralization was at once the Revolution's starting-off point and one of its guiding principles. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that whenever a nation destroys its aristocracy, it almost automatically tends toward a centralization of power; a greater effort is then needed to hold it back than to encourage it to move in this direction. All the authorities existing within it are affected by this instinctive urge to coalesce, and much skill is needed to keep them separate. Thus the democratic revolution, though it did away with so many institutions of the past, was led inevitably to consolidate this one; centralization fitted in so well with the program of the new social order that the common error of believing it to have been a creation of the Revolution is easily accounted for.[1]

Almost right. At the top, French ministers and kings from Louis XIII onward cowed the haughty gouverneurs and grandees who had once administered much of provincial France and had frequently raised the standard of rebellion; great aristocrats became decorative adjuncts of royal officialdom.[2] The crown created a whole class of political entrepreneurs who organized


finances, raised revenues, supplied armies, manipulated royal justice, and controlled access to the sovereign but lacked a base of power separate from their own attachment to the monarchy. The accelerated sale of offices brought into being a tax-dodging rentier nobility that depended for its revenues on the credit and credibility of the state, as the state's exchange of corporate or municipal privilege for loans and grants formed and coopted monopolists.

The Intendants who made the transition from roving troubleshooters to fixed regional administrators under Richelieu and Mazarin spearheaded the process of centralization. In important ways, as Tocqueville thought, that centralized structure provided models and precedents for revolutionary changes. Yet Tocqueville misperceived, or misrepresented, the Old Regime system in two significant ways. First, the aristocracy did not abdicate; nobles old and new occupied dominant positions in the royal apparatus and control; they differed from their predecessors chiefly in suffering much greater supervision by the king's ministers, and in lacking private armies, fortified castles, and large clienteles.

Second, contrary to Tocqueville's monolithic portrayal, the prerevolutionary system remained incomplete; direct royal control generally ceased at the level of the urban region, the administrative, judicial, and fiscal territory assigned to a major city. The généralité, subdélégation , and élection belonged to the royal apparatus, but their officers had only limited power to penetrate communities and households.[3] They had even less in the pays d'Etat , where oligarchic assemblies had survived the royal assault on regional magnates. From that level downward the king's agents had to contend with landlords, priests, monks, municipal oligarchies, parlements, courts, and Estates that wielded considerable power to block royal will.

Indeed, the monarchy's practice of establishing or confirming privileges, monopolies, and offices in return for loans had strengthened the barriers between ordinary individuals and royal policy.[4] Despite hectoring by Intendants and the occasional dispatch of armed force in support of ignored decrees, privileged intermediaries executed—or deliberately failed to execute—royal directives in the light of their own interests. Only during the Revolution did these last barriers fall. With the Revolution's bold supplanting of privileged, chartered, and partly autonomous local authorities, France again led Europe in administrative transformation.

Yet Tocqueville's problem persists: To what extent, how, and with what political consequences, did the revolutionaries of 1789—1799 forward the centralizing effort of the Old Regime monarchy? In pursuing that question, this chapter (1) examines relations between the French Revolution and the longterm mutation of the French state, (2) underscores the critical part played by revolutionary and Napoleonic France in the transformation of European states (especially the transition from indirect to direct rule), and (3) empha-


sizes the connection between resistance to the Revolution and efforts of revolutionary leaders to improvise new forms of government in place of the ones they and their supporters had destroyed. In the process, it also (4) gives reasons for thinking that in the sphere of the state something like a bourgeois revolution did, despite all recent doubts, actually occur.

Between 1750 and 1850 most European states shifted from indirect to direct rule. Up to the eighteenth century, all but the smallest states generally relied on privileged intermediaries—nobles, priests, municipal oligarchies, officeholders licensed but no more than loosely controlled by the crown—to collect taxes, contract loans, recruit soldiers, administer justice, and carry on the rest of royal business at the local level. Citizens dealt rarely and reluctantly with supervised full-time employees of the national state. Indirect rule included a wide range of social arrangements: the tribute-taking relation of the sultan's court to local headmen in the Ottoman Empire, the holding of judicial, economic, and military power by great landlords in Poland, reliance on a faithful clergy in Sweden, concession of an enormous role in parish and county administration to English gentry and clergy Justices of the Peace, and survival of the Dutch Republic as a federation of fiercely competitive municipalities and their dependencies.[5]

By 1850 most such systems of indirect rule had disappeared from Europe. States had substituted their own officials for the patrons of old, tax farming and similar practices had almost vanished, elected legislatures connected the more substantial citizens to the national government, and census-takers brought royal inquiries to individual households, as national bureaucracies attempted to monitor and regulate whole countries and all their residents. To be sure, landlords and tycoons still wielded disproportionate power and bent the state apparatus to their own ends.[6] But now they used their considerable influence to intervene in an organizationally distinct national state instead of constituting one of its chief components.

More than anything else, the exigencies of war, preparation for war, and payment for war drove the transition from indirect to direct rule. War made the greatest difference because it expanded not only armies and navies but also fiscal administration, supply services, support for veterans, and national debt; those expansions, in turn, inflated the state's demands on its subject populations.[7] As rulers sought to man large national armies and navies by means of conscripts or volunteers from their own populations, and to pay for those armies and navies through domestic taxation, they encountered resistance not only from ordinary people but also from the intermediaries who had been rulers' sometime allies. In striving to overcome both kinds of resistance, monarchs built new administrative hierarchies that bypassed the old and reached into local communities, bargained out agreements that gave ordinary people rewards and rights the state had not previously conceded to them, and established means of monitoring and repression that drew them


willy-nilly into the administration of local life. In Great Britain, for example, the immense effort of the American, French, and Napoleonic wars produced a decisive enlargement of Parliament's powers, and thus indirectly of massed commoners' capacity to lay claims on the national government.[8]

French actions from 1789 to 1815 forwarded the general European transition from indirect to direct rule in two ways: by providing a model of centralized government that other states emulated, and by imposing variants of that model wherever France conquered. Even though many of the period's innovations in French government emerged from desperate improvisations in response to threats of rebellion and bankruptcy, their battle-tested forms endured beyond the Revolution and Empire.

What happened to France's system of rule during the revolutionary years? Before 1789 the French state, like almost all other states, ruled indirectly at the local level, relying especially on priests and nobles for mediation. From the end of the American war, the government's efforts to collect money to cover its war debts crystallized an antigovernmental coalition that initially included the parlements and other powerholders but changed toward a more popular composition as the confrontation between the regime and its opponents sharpened.[9] The state's visible vulnerability in 1788–1789 encouraged any group that had a stifled claim or grievance against the state, its agents, or its allies to articulate its demands and join others in calling for change.[10] The rural revolts—Great Fear, grain seizures, tax rebellions, attacks on landlords, and so on—of spring and summer 1789 occurred disproportionately in regions with large towns, commercialized agriculture, and many roads.[11] Their geography reflected a composite but largely bourgeois-led settling of scores. At the same time, those whose social survival depended most directly on the Old Regime state—nobles, officeholders, and higher clergy are the obvious examples—generally aligned themselves with the king.[12] Thus a revolutionary situation began to form: two distinct blocs both claimed power and both received support from some significant part of the population. With significant defections of military men from the crown and the formation of militias devoted to the popular cause, the opposition acquired force of its own. The popular bloc, connected and often led by members of the bourgeoisie, started to gain control over parts of the state apparatus.

The lawyers, officials, and other bourgeois who seized the state apparatus in 1789–1790 rapidly displaced the old intermediaries: landords, seigneurial officials, venal officeholders, clergy, and sometimes municipal oligarchies as well. "[I]t was not a rural class of English-style gentlemen," declares Lynn Hunt, "who gained political prominence on either the national or the regional level, but rather thousands of city professionals who seized the opportunity to develop political careers."[13] At a local level, the so-called Municipal Revolution widely transferred power to enemies of the old rulers; patriot coalitions based in militias, clubs, and revolutionary committees and linked to


Parisian activists ousted the old municipalities.[14] Even where the old power-holders managed to survive the Revolution's early turmoil, relations between each locality and the national capital altered abruptly. Village "republics" of the Alps, for example, found their ancient liberties—including ostensibly free consent to taxes—crumbling as outsiders clamped them into the new administrative machine.[15] Then Parisian revolutionaries faced the problem of governing without intermediaries; they experimented with the committees and militias that had appeared in the mobilization of 1789 but found them hard to control from the center. More or less simultaneously they recast the French map into a nested system of departments, districts, cantons, and communes, while sending out représentants en mission to forward revolutionary reorganization. They installed direct rule.

Given the unequal spatial distribution of cities, merchants, and capital, furthermore, the imposition of a uniform geographic grid altered the relations between cities' economic and political power, placing insignificant Mende and Niort at the same administrative level as mighty Lyon and Bordeaux.[16] As a result, the balance of forces in regional capitals shifted significantly: In the great commercial centers, where merchants, lawyers, and professionals already clustered, departmental officials (who frequently came, in any case, from the same milieus) had no choice but to bargain with the locals. Where the National Assembly carved departments out of relatively uncommercialized rural regions, the Revolution's administrators overshadowed other residents of the new capitals and could plausibly threaten to use force if they were recalcitrant. But in those regions they lacked the bourgeois allies who helped their confreres do the Revolution's work elsewhere and confronted old intermediaries who still commanded significant followings. In great mercantile centers such as Marseille and Lyon, the political situation was very different. By and large, the federalist movement, with its protests against Jacobin centralism and its demands for regional autonomy, took root in cities whose commercial positions greatly outpaced their administrative rank. In dealing with these alternative obstacles to direct rule, Parisian revolutionaries improvised three parallel, and sometimes conflicting, systems of rule: (1) the committees and militias; (2) a geographically defined hierarchy of elected officials and representatives; (3) roving commissioners from the central government. To collect information and gain support, all three relied extensively on the existing personal networks of lawyers, professionals, and merchants.

As the system began to work, revolutionary leaders strove to routinize their control and contain independent action by local enthusiasts, who often resisted. Using both cooptation and repression, they gradually squeezed out the committees and militias. Mobilization for war put great pressure on the system, incited new resistance, and increased the national leaders' incentives for a tight system of control. Starting in 1792, the central administration


(which until then had continued in a form greatly resembling that of the Old Regime) underwent its own Revolution: the staff expanded enormously, and a genuine hierarchical bureaucracy took shape.[17] In the process, revolutionaries installed one of the first systems of direct rule ever to take shape in a large state.

That shift entailed changes in systems of taxation, justice, public works, and much more. Consider policing. Outside of the Paris region, France's Old Regime state had almost no specialized police of its own; it dispatched the Maréchaussée to pursue tax evaders, vagabonds, and other violators of royal will and occasionally authorized the army to quell rebellious subjects, but otherwise relied on local and regional authorities to deploy armed force against civilians. The Revolutionaries changed things. With respect to ordinary people, they moved from reactive to proactive policing and information-gathering: instead of simply waiting until a rebellion or collective violation of the law occurred, and then retaliating ferociously but selectively, they began to station agents whose job was to anticipate and prevent threatening popular collective action. During the Revolution's early years, Old Regime police forces generally dissolved as popular committees, National Guards, and revolutionary tribunals took over their day-to-day activities. But with the Directory the state concentrated surveillance and apprehension in a single centralized organization. Fouché of Nantes became minister of police in the Year VII/1799, and henceforth ran a ministry whose powers extended throughout France and its conquered territories.[18] By the time of Fouché, France had become one of the world's most closely policed countries.

Going to war accelerated the move from indirect to direct rule. Almost any state that makes war finds that it cannot pay for the effort from its accumulated reserves and current revenues. Almost all warmaking states borrow extensively, raise taxes, and seize the means of combat—including men—from reluctant citizens who have other uses for their resources. Prerevolutionary France followed these rules faithfully, to the point of accumulating debts that eventually forced the calling of the Estates-General. Nor did the Revolution repeal the rules.

The French used their own new system as a template for the reconstruction of other states. As revolutionary and imperial armies conquered, they attempted to build replicas of that system of direct rule elsewhere in Europe. Napoleon's government consolidated the system and turned it into a reliable instrument of rule.[19] The system survived the Revolution and Empire in France and, to some degree, elsewhere; Europe as a whole shifted massively toward centralized direct rule with at least a modicum of representation for the ruled.

Resistance and counterrevolutionary action followed directly from the process by which the new state established direct rule. Remember how much change revolutionaries introduced in a very short time. They eliminated all


previous territorial jurisdictions, consolidated many old parishes into larger communes, abolished the tithe and feudal dues, dissolved corporations and their privileges, constructed a top-to-bottom administrative and electoral system, imposed expanded and standardized taxes through that system, seized the properties of emigrant nobles and of the church, disbanded monastic orders, subjected clergy to the state and imposed on them an oath to defend the new state church, conscripted young men at an unprecedented rate, and displaced both nobles and priests from the automatic exercise of local leadership. All this occurred between 1789 and 1793.

Subsequent regimes added more ephemeral changes such as the revolutionary calendar and the cult of the Supreme Being, but the early Revolution's overhaul of the state endured into the nineteenth century and set the pattern for many other European states. The greatest reversals concerned the throttling of local militias and revolutionary committees, the restoration of or compensation for some confiscated properties, and Napoleon's Concordat with the Catholic church. All in all, these changes constituted a dramatic, rapid substitution of uniform, centralized, direct rule for a system of government mediated by local and regional notables. What is more, the new state hierarchy consisted largely of lawyers, physicians, notaries, merchants, and other bourgeois.

Like their prerevolutionay counterparts, these fundamental changes attacked many existing interests and opened opportunities to groups that had previously had little access to state-sanctioned power—especially the village and small-town bourgeoisie. As a result, they precipitated both resistance and struggles for power. Jean-Pierre Jessenne's study of Artois (the department of Pas-de-Calais) uncovers a moderate version of the transition.[20] It reveals a region where before the Revolution nobles and churchmen held a little over half of all land as against a third for peasants, where 60 to 80 percent of all farms had fewer than 5 hectares (which implies that a similar large majority of farm operators worked part-time for others), where a quarter of household heads worked primarily as agricultural wage-laborers, where taxes, tithes, rents, and feudal dues took a relatively low 30 percent of the income from leased land, and where a fifth of rural land went on sale with the revolutionary seizure of church and noble properties—in short, where agricultural capitalism was well advanced by 1770.

In such a region, large leaseholders (fermiers) dominated local politics, but only within limits set by their noble and ecclesiastical landlords. The Revolution, by sweeping away the privileges of those patrons, threatened the leaseholders' power. They survived the challenge, however, as a class, if not as a particular set of individuals: many officeholders lost their posts during the struggles of the early Revolution, especially when the community was already at odds with its lord. Yet their replacements came disproportionately from the same class of comfortable leaseholders. The struggle of wage-


laborers and smallholders against the coqs de village that Georges Lefebvre discovered in the adjacent Nord was less intense, or less effective, in the Pasde-Chalais. Although the larger farmers, viewed with suspicion by national authorities, lost some of their grip on public office during the Terror and again under the Directory, they regained it later and continued to rule their roosts through the middle of the nineteenth century. By that time, nobles and ecclesiastics had lost much of their capacity to contain local powerholders, but manufacturers, merchants, and other capitalists had taken their places. The displacement of the old intermediaries opened the way to a new alliance between large farmers and bourgeoisie.

Jessenne tells us nothing about the political process by which direct rule descended on revolutionary France. For that, we must turn to such studies as Colin Lucas's vivid portrayal of Terrorist Claude Javogues, agent of the Revolution in his native department of the Loire.[21] Javogues was one of those ordinary people, cast into extraordinary circumstances by the Revolution, whose careful portrayal Richard Cobb has long urged on historians. Javogues stood higher on the ladder of wealth and power than Cobb's tailors and housemaids—he was a member of the Convention—but without the Revolution he would surely have ended his life in comfortable provincial obscurity. His close kin were lawyers, notaries, and merchants in Forez, a region not far to the west of Lyon. The family was on the ascendant in the eighteenth century, and Claude himself was a well-connected thirty-year-old avocat at Montbrison in 1789.

Four years later, Javogues was a hard-drinking, irascible, vociferous représentant en mission sent home to help organize the defeat of rebel Lyon and to reestablish the supremacy of the Republic in the newly created department of the Loire, whose capital was St. Etienne. The anonymous reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement (unmistakably, and inimitably, Richard Cobb himself) summed up Lucas's portrait of Javogues as agent of the Terror:

Here was this blustering bellâtre , foaming and roaring up and down his native Department, even biting people, the veins sticking out of his enormous, bulllike forehead, shaggy eyebrows, a revolutionary giant, nearly always with food in his mouth, frightening women out of their wits, pinching their bottoms and making coarse references to the size and spaciousness of part of the female anatomy, apparently living in an almost permanent state of rage.[22]

The Convention dispatched this raging bourgeois bull to the Loire in July 1793 and recalled him in February 1794. During those six months, Javogues relied heavily on his existing connections, concentrated on repression of the Revolution's enemies, acted to a large degree on the theory that priests, nobles, and rich landlords were the enemies, neglected and bungled administrative matters such as the organization of food supply, and left behind him a reputation for arbitrariness and cruelty.


Yet Javogues and his co-workers did, in fact, reorganize local life. In Lucas's account, we learn about clubs, surveillance committees, revolutionary armed forces, commissars, courts, and représentants en mission . We see an almost unbelievable attempt to extend the direct administrative purview of the central government to everyday individual life. We recognize the importance of popular mobilization against the Revolution's enemies—real or imagined—as a force that displaced the old intermediaries. We therefore gain insight into the conflict between two objectives of the Terror: extirpation of the Revolutions' opponents and forging of instruments to do the work of the Revolution. We discover again the great importance of control over food as an administrative challenge, as a point of political contention, and as an incentive to popular action.

Contrary to the old image of a unitary people welcoming the arrival of long-awaited reform, local histories of the Revolution make clear that France's revolutionaries established their power through struggle, and frequently over stubborn popular resistance. Most of the resistance, it is true, took the form of evasion, cheating, and sabotage rather than outright rebellion; it employed what James Scott calls "weapons of the weak."[23] Where the fault lines ran deep, however, resistance consolidated into counterrevolution: the formation of effective alternative authorities to those put in place by the Revolution. Counterrevolution occurred not where everyone opposed the Revolution, but where irreconcilable differences divided well-defined blocs of supporters and opponents.

France's South and West, through similar processes, produced the largest zones of sustained counterrevolution.[24] The geography of executions under the Terror provides a reasonable picture of counterrevolutionary activity. The departments having more than 200 executions included: Loire Inférieure (3,548), Seine (2,639), Maine-et-Loire (1,886), Rhône (1,880), Vendée (1,616), Ille-et-Vilaine (509), Mayenne (495), Vaucluse (442), Rhône (409), Pas-de-Calais (392), Var (309), Giroride (299), and Sarthe (225). These departments accounted for 89 percent of all executions under the Terror.[25] Except for the Seine and the Pas-de-Calais, they concentrated in the South, the Southwest and, especially, the West. In the South and Southwest, Languedoc, Provence, Gascony, and the Lyonnais hosted military insurrections against the Revolution, insurrections whose geography corresponded closely to support for federalism.[26] Federalist movements began in the spring of 1793, when the Jacobin expansion of the foreign war—including the declaration of war on Spain—incited resistance to taxation and conscription, which in turn led to a tightening of revolutionary surveillance and discipline. The autonomist movement peaked in commercial cities that had enjoyed extensive liberties under the Old Regime, notably Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Caen. In those cities and their hinterlands, France fell into bloody civil war.


In the West, guerrilla raids against republican strongholds and personnel unsettled Brittany, Maine, and Normandy from 1791 to 1799, while open armed rebellion flared south of the Loire in parts of Brittany, Anjou, and Poitou beginning in the fall of 1792 and likewise continuing intermittently until Napoleon pacified the region in 1799.[27] The Western counterrevolution reached its high point in the spring of 1793, when the Republic's call for troops precipitated armed resistance through much of the West. That phase saw massacres of "patriots" and "aristocrats" (as the proponents and opponents of the Revolution came to be called), invasion and temporary occupation of such major cities as Angers, and pitched battles between armies of Blues and Whites (as the armed elements of the two parties were known).

Historians have not disputed what happened in the West—especially south of the Loire—for fifty years or more. Even the militantly anticlerical Alphonse Aulard, writing eight decades ago, had the main sequence right:

The Vendean, Breton, and Angevin peasantry did not at first rise in support of royalty, but in support of their clergy and against military service. Strongly attached to their priests, they were opposed on general grounds to the application of the civil constitution of the clergy, and had attended the Masses of non-juring priests at farm-houses, in chapels, or in the forest . . . . Between March 10th and 15th a rising took place, to cries of Pas de milice! No enlistment! and almost immediately there was a cry for their former priests. It was these priests who stirred the peasantry to anger, and presided over the first acts of civil warfare, and the first massacres of republicans.[28]

Aulard's imputation of motives now seems naive, and no recent historian has so baldly stated the idea of the priests as agitators, but students of the Vendée still see that they must explain first the popular response to the Civil Constitution and then the reaction to the levée en masse of March 1793. Since the 1960s, furthermore, we have had a relatively clear idea of who participated on both sides, and when. The real controversies have concerned three issues: (1) whether similar class alignments set off revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries in the regions of sustained insurrection south of the Loire and in those of scattered but persistent Chouannerie (guerrilla warfare) to the north, (2) fundamental causes of the counterrevolution, and (3) intentions of the principal actors. On those important scores, alas, little is settled: If the old ideas of a gigantic counterrevolutionary plot led by nobles and of a peasantry blindly loyal to king and country have almost disappeared from serious accounts, historians still disagree vigorously over sufficient causes and deep intentions.

As it happens, the bicentennial-bound French have recently been debating the counterrevolution in a new light. A remarkable book by Reynald Secher, ominously titled Le génocide français [Genocide Among the French], has thus labeled the repression of the successive counterrevolutions


that broke out in the regions south of Nantes and Angers between 1793 and 1795.[29] "Genocide" means that the French state deliberately undertook to extirpate an entire people. Laurent Ladouce summarizes the terms in which Secher's book has entered public discussion:

Many "progressive" thinkers and historians still approve or justify the antireligious fervor of the revolutionaries. They are thus challenged by a recent discovery made by a 32-year-old historian, Reynald Secher. Secher presented a remarkable doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, subtitled "The Franco-French Genocide." His thesis demonstrates that the inhabitants of the Vendée region, after they surrendered to the Republic armies in 1793, were systematically exterminated in 1794 by order of the convention led by Robespierre. About 117,000 civilians—including women and children—were massacred, in order that the "race" of Vendeans be obliterated as a hindrance to the progress of the Revolution.[30]

Ladouce further remarks that when Secher appeared on the literary television show Apostrophes , his critics "did not deny what was contained in his book. They argued that the terrifying facts he exposed in his book were the logical and almost inevitable result of The Reign of Terror."[31]

If Secher had in fact established the massacre of 117,000 civilians, he would indeed have forced all historians of the counterrevolution to amend their analyses. As one of the author-critics who appeared on that fateful television broadcast with Reynald Secher, however, I deny both that we conceded his facts and that he has established them by means of precise reasoning and solid documentation. Michel Vovelle comments bitterly on the controversy:

A whole literature is forming on "Franco-French genocide," starting from risky estimates of the number of fatalities in the Vendean wars: 128,000, 400,000 . . . and why not 600,000? Despite not being specialists in the subject, historians such as Pierre Chaunu have put all the weight of their great moral authority behind the development of an anathematizing discourse, and have dismissed any effort to look at the subject reasonably.[32]

Clearly Secher's claims deserve close attention.

What did Secher do? First he completed a thoughtful, modest Third Cycle thesis (rough equivalent of an American Ph.D.) about the revolutionary experience of his own village, La Chapelle-Basse-Mer, not far northeast of Nantes.[33] In the published version of the thesis, he adopted arguments I had proposed twenty-five years before, and others had confirmed since then: that conflicts within communities generalized into a region-wide confrontation of an antirevolutionary majority based in the countryside with a prorevolutionary minority having particular strength in the cities; that the split began to form with the application of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and the oath to support it, in 1790–1791; that from then on local conflicts grew ever


graver and alignments more sharply defined, with the choice between priests who rejected and those who accepted the ecclesiastical oath providing the most salient issue; that the conscription of March 1793, with the attendant question of military exemptions for Republican officials and National Guard members, broadened the antirevolutionary coalition and brought the young men into action.[34]

Secher illustrated these widely accepted points with copious quotations from the archives, interpreted them as establishing the incomprehension and ideologically driven zeal of revolutionary authorities, and ended with a decisively negative balance sheet for the Revolution. He described the bloody repression of counterrevolutionary La Chapelle-Basse-Mer but did not pronounce the fateful word "genocide." Aside from taking a distinctly antirevolutionary tone and stressing the defense of threatened religion somewhat more than other recent historians, Secher cast his village study in conventional terms.

With Le génocide français , Reynald Secher took a more daring line. Le génocide , his thesis for the Doctorat d'Etat, began with a generalization of the standard arguments to the whole region of counterrevolution south of the Loire, the departments of Vendée, Sèvres, Inférieure, and Maine-et-Loire. Although La Chapelle-Basse-Mer served him repeatedly as a reference point, Secher illustrated the arguments with wide citations of national and regional archives. (My confidence in Secher's scholarship faltered, however, when I noticed that, with minor changes of wording and without citation of my work, he had copied at least two passages, including the references to archival sources, from my earlier book. Clearly someone should check Secher's other claims to have consulted the archives.)[35] Even his graphic account of repression, with Republican armies burning, smashing, and killing as they marched from village to village, however, drew on sources that were widely known to historians of the Vendée a half-century ago. Maniacal Carrier, who drowned boatloads of suspected counterrevolutionaries in the Loire, and ruthless Turreau, whose "infernal columns" of Republican troops undertook to level the whole region, have long burdened narratives of the counterrevolution.

Secher broke with conventional historiography, nevertheless, in assessing the damage done by revolutionary repression. On the basis of almost no evidence, Secher portrayed the prerevolutionary Vendée as more prosperous than the rest of France—the better to emphasize the devastation wrought by war and repression. He then used dubious methods to estimate the losses of population and housing attributable to the counterrevolution and its repression. In La Chapelle-Basse-Mer , he had established the minimum number of fatalities by using a parish register in which the local priest listed 421 residents (of a population of about 3,230 in 1792) killed by Republican forces between 1793 and 1797, and had argued from the trend in registered births


between 1789 and 1800 that the total loss of population was actually on the order of 700 to 770.[36] For housing losses, Secher used a procedure that inflated the value, if not the number, of missing houses.

Le génocide generalized those procedures. For housing, Secher used claims residents filed in 1810–1811 to receive compensation from the government for dwellings destroyed during the counterrevolution. An applicant stated the dwelling's value before its razing, reported whether it had been rebuilt, and gave its present value if rebuilt. In an unstated number of communes spread across the counterrevolutionary region, Secher implausibly took the claimed predestruction value as his measure of financial losses and used the total number of houses existing at the time of the claims (fifteen to eighteen years after the counterrevolution's height) as a base for calculating the proportion of all housing destroyed. By these doubtful means he estimated that the counterrevolutionary region lost 18 percent of its dwellings and 19 percent of its housing value.[37]

For population loss throughout the region, Secher counted the total number of births recorded in the parish registers of an unstated number of communities distributed across four departments in 1780–1790 and 1801, computed an annual average, multiplied it by twenty-seven, then subtracted the later figure from the earlier. The procedure relies on three unjustifiable assumptions: (1) a constant birth rate of about thirty-seven per thousand population, (2) no net migration, (3) a net population loss entirely due to excess deaths in the counterrevolution and its repression. In France as a whole, fertility began a sharp decline around 1790.[38] Best estimates of crude birth rates in the four departments actually run:[39]



















Thus the region as a whole had fertility levels that were declining, and lower than those of France as a whole, during the later years of the Revolution. Most likely they were already declining during the 1790s.

In a region where fertility was beginning to decline significantly, where thousands fled the turmoil, and where marriage frequencies almost certainly dwindled, all three of Secher's assumptions cast doubt on his results' validity. They attribute the region's entire population loss to massacre and then inflate that loss by underestimating the population at the period's end. They fail, finally, to make any allowance for deaths inflicted by counterrevolutionaries. By means of these faulty procedures, Secher estimated that "117,257 people disappeared between 1792 and 1802–14.38 percent of the population."[40] Pierre Chaunu then glossed the estimate as "120,000 dead in a fiftieth of the [French] territory during about eighteen months" and con-


cluded that "A desperate rebellion provoked by the attempt to force these people to serve a profane cause . . . led to the premeditated genocide of a people."[41] He thus froze a series of analytic errors into an ostensible historical fact. According to a recent review of the Revolution's cost:

Estimates of the number of vicitims vary sixfold: At least 100,000, at most 600,000. The 117,000 dead mentioned by Reynald Secher included only the departments of the Vendée militaire . The highest number comes from Pierre Chaunu, speaking as a master demographer . . . and including Blues and Whites, those dead by sword, hunting rifle or military gun, victims of illness and of famine in that burned-out country, people summarily executed, and those who died from wounds when no one could treat them: civil wars are inexorable.[42]

The author, René Sédillot, then opts for a "median" estimate of 400,000. A mistaken interpretation has entered history—at least as argued by critics of the Revolution.

Let me be clear: At times, both "patriots" and "aristocrats" deliberately massacred defenseless civilians in the Vendée. The Terror claimed more lives in Inférieure than in any other department.[43] The Convention's agent Carrier did, in fact, write from Nantes that "90 of the people we call refractory priests were locked up in a boat on the Loire. I have just learned, and the news is quite certain, that they all died in the river."[44] From January to May 1794 the "infernal columns" of General Turreau did, indeed, march through the counterrevolutionary zone burning, looting, smashing, and shooting. Thousands died in the Vendée. No one disputes those facts. The questions concern whether destruction occurred on the scale that Secher argues, whether the facts justify the term genocide , whether the very logic of the Revolution required the degree of destruction that actually occurred, and whether France would have been better off without the Revolution. My own answer to each of these questions is no. But any answer rests on a set of moral and political judgments that are inherently contestable.

Without attempting to arrive at definitive answers to the probing questions, we can see that the West's counterrevolution grew directly from the efforts of revolutionary officials to install a particular kind of direct rule in the region: a rule that practically eliminated nobles and priests from their positions as partly autonomous intermediaries, that brought the state's demands for taxes, manpower, and deference to the level of individual communities, neighborhoods, and households, that gave the region's bourgeois political power they had never before wielded. In seeking to extend the state's rule to every locality, and to dislodge all enemies of that rule, French revolutionaries started a process that did not cease for twenty-five years. In some ways, it has not yet ceased today.

In these regards, for all its counterrevolutionary ferocity, the West con-


formed to France's general experience. Everywhere in France, bourgeois—not owners of large industrial establishments, for the most part, but merchants, lawyers, notaries, and others who made their livings from the possession and manipulation of capital—were gaining strength during the eighteenth century. Throughout France, the mobilization of 1789 brought disproportionate numbers of bourgeois into political action. As the revolutionaries of Paris and their provincial allies displaced nobles and priests from their critical positions as agents of indirect rule, the existing networks of bourgeois served as alternate connections between the state and thousands of communities across the land. For a while, those connections rested on a vast popular mobilization through clubs, militias, and committees. Gradually, however, revolutionary leaders contained or even suppressed their turbulent partners. With trial, error, and struggle, the ruling bourgeoisie worked out a system of rule that reached directly into local communities and passed chiefly through administrators who served under the scrutiny and budgetary control of their superiors.

This process of state expansion encountered three huge obstacles. First, many people saw opportunities to forward their own interests and settle old scores open up in the crisis of 1789. They either managed to capitalize on the opportunity or found their hopes blocked by competition from other actors; both categories lacked incentives to support further revolutionary changes. Second, the immense effort of warring with most other European powers strained the state's capacity at least as gravely as had the wars of Old Regime kings. Third, in some regions the political bases of the newly empowered bourgeois were too fragile to support the work of cajoling, containing, inspiring, extracting, and mobilizing that revolutionary agents carried on everywhere; resistance to demands for taxes, conscripts, and compliance with moralizing legislation occurred widely in France, but where preexisting rivalries placed a well-connected bloc in opposition to the revolutionary bourgeoisie, civil war frequently developed. In these senses, the revolutionary transition from indirect to direct rule embodied a bourgeois revolution and engendered a series of antibourgeois counterrevolutions.

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