Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII.: HOW THE CAPITAL OF FRANCE HAD ACQUIRED MORE PREPONDERANCE OVER THE PROVINCES, AND USURPED MORE CONTROL OVER THE NATION, THAN ANY OTHER CAPITAL IN EUROPE. - The Old Regime and the Revolution
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CHAPTER VII.: HOW THE CAPITAL OF FRANCE HAD ACQUIRED MORE PREPONDERANCE OVER THE PROVINCES, AND USURPED MORE CONTROL OVER THE NATION, THAN ANY OTHER CAPITAL IN EUROPE. - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution 
The Old Regime and the Revolution, trans John Bonner (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1856).
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HOW THE CAPITAL OF FRANCE HAD ACQUIRED MORE PREPONDERANCE OVER THE PROVINCES, AND USURPED MORE CONTROL OVER THE NATION, THAN ANY OTHER CAPITAL IN EUROPE.
IT is not situation, or size, or wealth which makes some capital cities rule the countries in which they stand; that phenomenon is caused by the prevailing form of government.
London, which is as populous as many a kingdom, has, up to this time, exercised no sovereign control over Great Britain.
No citizen of the United States ever supposes that New York could decide the fate of the American Union, nor does any citizen of the State of New York fancy that that city could even direct state affairs at will; yet New York contains as many inhabitants today as Paris did when the Revolution broke out.
Moreover, Paris bore to the rest of the kingdom the same proportion, so far as population was concerned, during the religious wars as it did in 1789; yet it was powerless at the former period. At the time of the Fronde, Paris was nothing more than the largest French city; in 1789 it was France.
In 1740 Montesquieu wrote to a friend, “France is nothing but Paris and a few distant provinces which Paris has not yet had time to swallow up.” In 1750 the Marquis de Mirabeau, a man of chimerical views, but occasionally profound in his way, said of Paris without naming it, “Capitals are necessities, but if the head grow too large, the body becomes apoplectic and wastes away. What will the consequence be if, by drawing all the talent of the kingdom to this metropolis, and leaving to the provincials no chance of reward or motive for ambition, the latter are placed in a sort of quasi dependence, and converted into an inferior class of citizens?” He adds that this process is effecting a silent revolution by depopulating the provinces of their notables, leading men, and men of ability.
The foregoing chapters have explained pretty fully the causes of this phenomenon; the reader’s patience may be spared their repetition here.
The Revolution did not escape the notice of government, but it only viewed the fact in its bearing on the capital, whose rapid increase seemed to presage increased difficulties of administration. Numerous royal ordinances, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, endeavored to check its growth. The monarchy steadily concentrated in Paris all the national life of France, and yet desired to see Paris remain small. People were forbidden to build new houses, or were bound to build them in the most costly manner, in the worst localities. But each successive ordinance admitted that, notwithstanding its predecessors, Paris had increased steadily. Six times did Louis XIV. exert his omnipotent will to check the expansion of the city, but each effort was a failure; the capital expanded in spite of decrees. Its power swelled even more rapidly than its volume, which was due less to its own exertions than to events beyond its walls.
For, simultaneously with its extension, the local franchises of the rural districts were fading away, all symptoms of independent vigor were vanishing, provincial characteristics were being effaced, the last flicker of the old national life was dying out. Not that the nation was growing sluggish; on the contrary, it never knew a more active time; but the only mainspring of movement was at Paris. One illustration, chosen out of a thousand, may make this plainer. I find reports to the minister on the book business, in which it is stated that, during the sixteenth and at the beginning of the seventeenth century, there were large printing-offices in many provincial cities, but that now there are no printers to be found, and no work to be done. Yet it is not to be questioned but there were far more books printed at the close of the eighteenth century than during the sixteenth. The secret is, simply, that mind had ceased to radiate from any point but the centre; Paris had swallowed up the provinces.
This preliminary revolution was fully accomplished before the French Revolution broke out.
The famous traveler, Arthur Young, left Paris a few days after the assembling of the States-General, and before the capture of the Bastille; he was struck with the contrast between city and country. In Paris, all was activity and noise; political pamphlets appeared in such quantities that ninety-two were counted in one week. “I never saw such a fever of publishing,” said he, “even at London.” Outside of Paris he could find nothing but inertia and silence; no pamphlets, and but few journals. The provinces were roused and ready to move, but not to take the initiative; when the people met, it was to hear the news from Paris. Young asked the people of each city what they purposed doing. “Their answer was always the same, ‘We are but a provincial city; you must go and see what they are going to do at Paris.’ These people,” he adds, “dare not hold an opinion till they know how it is received at Paris.”
Surprise has been expressed at the remarkable ease with which the Constituante assembly destroyed at a blow provinces in some cases older than the monarchy, and parceled out the kingdom into eighty-three distinct sections, as if it had been virgin soil in the New World. Europe was not prepared for any such act, and viewed it with surprise and horror. “This is the first time,” said Burke, “that men have so barbarously torn their country to pieces.” It did look as though they had torn living bodies, but in reality they had only dismembered corpses.
At the very time that Paris was becoming all-powerful, another noteworthy change was taking place within its borders. It had long been a city of trade, business, and pleasure; it now became an industrial and manufacturing city. This change gave it a new and formidable character.
It had long been inevitable. Even in the Middle Ages Paris had been the most industrious, as it was the largest city of the kingdom; latterly, the distance between it and its rivals had increased. Arts and industrial energy followed the government. As Paris became more and more the arbiter of taste, the only centre of power and of art, the focus of national activity, the manufacturing life of the country gradually concentrated itself there.
Though I place, in general, but little reliance on the statistical tables of the old regime, I believe it may be safely asserted that during the sixty years which preceded the French Revolution, the number of workmen at Paris was more than doubled, though the whole population of the city during the same period only increased one third.
Independently of these general causes, peculiar motives attracted mechanics from all parts of France to Paris; and when they came, they lived mostly together, and ultimately monopolized whole wards. The burdens laid on mechanics by the fiscal policy of the government were lighter at Paris than in the provinces; nor was it so easy any where as there to obtain the freedom of a trade-company. Residents of the suburbs of Saint Antoine and of the Temple enjoyed peculiar privileges in this respect. Louis XVI. enlarged still further the prerogatives of the Saint Antoine suburb, in the design of collecting an immense number of operatives there, or, as that unfortunate monarch phrased it, “being desirous of showing a new mark of our favor to the workmen of the Saint Antoine suburb, and relieving them from burdens which are alike injurious to their interests and to the freedom of trade.”
Toward the period of the Revolution the number of factories, manufactures, and blast-furnaces had become so great at Paris as to alarm the government. Industrial progress had aroused strange fears in the mind of officials. A decree of council in 1782 declares that “the king, fearing lest the rapid increase of factories should lead to so large a consumption of firewood as to deprive the city of its proper supply, prohibits the establishment of new works of this kind within fifteen leagues of the capital.” No one suspected the real danger to be apprehended from the agglomeration of workmen.
It was thus that Paris became the mistress of France, and thus that the army that was to master Paris was mustered.
It is generally admitted nowadays, I believe, that administrative centralization and the omnipotence of Paris have had much to do with the fall of the various governments we have had during the last forty years. I shall have but little difficulty in proving that the ruin of the old monarchy was in a great measure due to the same causes, and that they exercised no small influence in bringing about that revolution which was the parent of all the others.