Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I. - The Origins of Contemporary France: The Modern Regime, vol. I
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CHAPTER I. - Hippolyte Taine, The Origins of Contemporary France: The Modern Regime, vol. I 
The Origins of Contemporary France: The Modern Regime, vol. 1, trans. John Durand (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1890).
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I. The two mainsprings of human action.—The egoistic instinct and the social instinct.—Motives for not weakening the social instinct.—Influence on society of the law it prescribes.—The clauses of a statute depend on the legislator who adopts or imposes them.—Conditions of a good statute.—It favors the social instinct.—Different for different societies.—Determined by the peculiar and permanent traits of the society it governs.—Capital defect of the statute under the new régime.—II. Local societies.—Their principal and distinctive character.—Their type on a small scale.—A dwelling-house in Annecy or Grenoble.—Compulsory association of its inmates.—Its object and limits.—Private in character.—III. Analysis of other local societies, commune, department, or province.—Common interests which necessitate local action.—Two objects in view: care of public roads and means of protection against spreading calamities.—Why collaboration is an obligation.—Neighbors involuntarily subject to a common bond on account of proximity.—Willingly or not each shares in its benefits.—What portion of the expense belongs to each.—Equal advantages for each.—The unequal and proportionate advantages for each in his private expenses, industrial or commercial gains, and in the locative value of his real estate.—Each person’s quota of expense according to his equal and proportionate share in advantages.—IV. Local society, thus constituted, is a collective personality.—The sphere of its initiation and action.—Its relation to the State.—Distinction between the private and the public domain.—V. Case in which the State abdicates.—Anarchy during the Revolution.—Case in which the State usurps.—Régime of the year viii.—Remains of local independence under the ancient régime.—Destroyed under the new régime.—Local society after 1800.—VI. Lists of notables.—Sénatus-consultes of the year x.—Liberal institution becomes a reigning instrument.—Mechanism of the system of appointments and candidatures.—Decree of 1806 and suppression of candidatures.—VII. Quality of municipal and general councilors under the Consulate and the Empire.—Object of their meetings.—Limits of their power.—Their real rôle.—Rôle of the prefect and of the government.—VIII. The institution remains intact under the Restoration.—Motives of the governors.—Excellence of the machine.—Abdication of the administrator.
So long as a man takes an interest only in himself, in his own fortune, in his own advancement, in his own success, he is not interested in anything of much account: all that is of little importance and of short duration, like himself. Alongside of that bark which he steers so carefully there are thousands and millions of others of similar build and of about the same dimensions; none of them are worth much, and his own is not worth more. However well he may have provisioned and maneuvered it, it will always remain what it is, slight and fragile; in vain will he hoist his flags, decorate it, and shove ahead to get the first place; in three steps he has reached its length. In vain will he repair it and handle it carefully; in a few years it leaks; sooner or later it settles down and is about to sink, and with it goes all the labor it has cost him. Is it reasonable to work so hard for this, and is so slight an object worth so great an effort?
Fortunately, for the better direction of his effort, man has other more vast and more substantial objects: a family, a commune, a church, a patrimony, all the associations of which he is or becomes a member, all collective undertakings in behalf of science, education, and charity, of local or general utility, most of them under legal statutes and organized as corporations or even as civil personalities, equally well defined and protected as himself, but more precious and more viable: for they are of service to a large number of men and last indefinitely; some, even, have a secular history, and the length of their past is a presage of the length of their future. In the innumerable fleet of boats which so constantly sink, and which are so constantly replaced by others, they last like the great three-deckers: each man of the flotilla goes on board these large vessels, from time to time, to work them, and the result of his labor is not, as it is at home, futile or ephemeral; it will remain above the surface after he and his bark have disappeared; it has entered into the common mass of work which owes its protection to its mass; undoubtedly the portion he contributes may be worked over again later on; but its substance remains, and often also its form: this or that precept of Jesus, this or that problem of Archimedes rests a definite acquisition, intact and permanently fixed for two thousand years, immortal from the first day.—Consequently, the individual may take an interest, no longer merely in his own bark, but again in some ship, in this or that particular one, in this or that association or community, according to his preferences and his aptitudes, according to attractiveness, proximity, and convenience of access, all of which is a new spring of action, antagonistic to the first one. Powerful as the first one may be, the second sometimes prevails, owing to a soul being very generous or qualified by long and special discipline: out of this issues every sacrifice, the surrender of one’s-self to one’s work or to a cause, the devotion of the sister of charity or of the missionary, the abnegation of the savant who buries himself for twenty years in the minutiæ of a thankless task, the heroism of the explorer who risks himself on a desert or among savages, the courage of the soldier who stakes his life in defense of his flag. But these cases are rare; with the mass of men, and in most of their actions, personal interest prevails against common interest, while against the egoistic instinct the social instinct is feeble. Hence the danger of weakening this. The temptation of the individual to prefer his own bark to the large vessel is only too great; if it is desirable for him to go aboard and work there, he must be provided with the facilities and motives which prompt him to go aboard and do the work; at the very least, he must not be deprived of them. Now, that depends on the State, a sort of central flag-ship, the only one that is armed, and which has all subordinate vessels under its guns; for, whatever the society may be, provincial or municipal, educational or charitable, religious or laic, it is the State which sanctions or adopts its statutes, good or bad, and which, by its laws, tribunals, and police, insures their execution, whether rigidly or carelessly. Therefore, on this point, it is responsible; it must adopt or impose the proper statute, the most suitable social form for strengthening the social instinct, for maintaining disinterested zeal, for the encouragement of voluntary and gratuitous labor.
This form, of course, differs according to different societies; the same constitution is not proper for a church system and a commune, nor for a Protestant church and a Catholic church, nor for a town of one hundred thousand inhabitants and a village of five hundred. Each association has its own peculiar and distinctive characteristics, which grade it according to its kind, according to its spiritual or temporal aims, according to its liberal or authoritative spirit, according to its small or large dimensions, according to the simplicity or complexity of its affairs, according to the capacity or incapacity of its members. These, with it, are efficient and permanent characteristics; whatever the legislator may do, these will remain and will control action. Thus let him, in each case, keep this in mind. But in all cases his office is the same; always, on drawing up or countersigning a statute, he intervenes in the coming conflict between the social instinct and the egoistic instinct; every provision which he enacts will contribute, nearly or remotely, to the final ascendency of the former or of the latter. Now, he is the natural ally of the former, for the former is his indispensable auxiliary. In every work or enterprise of public utility, if the legislator is the external promoter, social instinct is the internal promoter; and on the lower spring becoming weak or breaking, the impulsion from above remains without effect. Hence it is that, if the legislator would accomplish anything, otherwise than on paper, he must, before any other object or interest, concern himself with the social instinct; preserve it, therefore, and humor it; find room for it and its usefulness; let it have full play; derive from it all the service it is capable of rendering, and especially not slacken it or misguide it.—In this respect, any blunder might prove disastrous; and in every statute for each society, for each of the human vessels which gather together and serve as a retinue of individual barks, there are two capital errors. On the one hand, if the statute, in fact and practically, is or becomes too grossly unjust, if the rights and benefits which it confers are not compensated by the duties and obligations it imposes; if it multiplies excessive burdens for some and sinecures for others; if, at last, the burdened individual discovers that he is overweighted beyond his due,—thenceforward he refuses to add to his load voluntarily and with his own consent. Let others, the favored by the statute, the privileged, bear the gratuitous, extra weight. Far from stepping forward and offering his shoulders, he gets out of the way, hides himself, and lightens his load as much as he can; he even rebels when he has a chance, and violently casts off every legal burden, be it tax or due of any kind. Thus did the ancient régime perish. On the other hand, if the statute withdraws the management of the ship from those who are interested in it; if, on this vessel, which belongs to them, it permanently installs a foreign crew, which assumes and exercises all command, then does the owner of a bark, reduced to the humble condition of a mere subject and quiescent taxpayer, no longer feel at home, but in the house of another. Since the intruders exercise all authority, let them have all the trouble; the working of the ship concerns them and not him; he looks on as a spectator, without any wish or idea of lending a hand; he folds his arms, remains idle, and becomes critical.—Against the first defect, the new régime is on its guard. There must be neither the preferred nor the disgraced, neither favors nor exemptions, neither exclusions nor releases, no more malversation, peculation, or robbery, not alone in the State, but elsewhere in any direction,—in the department, in the commune, in the Church, or in educational and benevolent institutions. It excels in practicing distributive justice. The second defect consists in its most secret vice: the legislator having introduced this into all local and special statutes, its effects differ according to different societies; but all these effects converge to paralyzing in the nation the best half of the soul, and, worse still, to leading the will astray and perverting the public mind, transforming generous impulses into evil outbursts, and organizing lasting inertia, ennui, discontent, discord, feebleness, and sterility.
Let us first consider local society in the province, the department, and the commune; the legislator, for the past ten years, has treated it with violence and disfigured it. On his side, he refuses to open his eyes; preoccupied with theories, he will not recognize it for what it is in reality, a society of a distinct species, different from the State, with its own peculiar aims, its limits marked out, its members prescribed, its statutes drawn up, everything formed and defined beforehand. As it is local, it is founded on the greater or less proximity of its habitations. Thus, to comprehend it, we must take a case in which this proximity is greatest, that of certain houses in some of our southeastern towns, as, for example, Grenoble and Annecy. Here, a house often belongs to several distinct owners, each possessing his story, or apartment on a story, one owning the cellar and another the attic, each enjoying all the rights of property over his portion, the right of renting it, selling it, bequeathing it, and mortgaging it, but all holding it in common for the maintenance of the roof and the main walls.—Evidently, their association is not a free one; willingly or not, each forms a member of it, for, willingly or not, each benefits or suffers through the good or bad state of the roof and the principal walls: therefore, all must furnish their quota of the indispensable expenses; even a majority of votes would not rid them of these; one claimant alone would suffice to hold them responsible; they have no right to impose on him the danger which they accept for themselves, nor to shirk expenses by which they profit as well as himself. Consequently, on the report of an expert, the magistrate interferes, and, willingly or not, the repairs are made; then, willingly or not, both by custom and in law, each pays his quota, calculated according to the locative value of the portion belonging to him.—But here his obligations cease. In fact as in law, the community (of property) is restricted; the associates take good care not to extend this, not to pursue other aims at the same time, not to add to their primitive and natural purpose a different and supplementary purpose, not to devote one room to a Christian chapel for the inmates of the house, another room to an infant school for the children that live in it, and a side room to a small hospital for those who fall ill; especially, they do not admit that a tax may be imposed for these purposes and each of them be subject to a proportional increase of assessment at so many additional centimes per franc. For, if the proprietor of the ground-floor is an Israelite, the proprietor of a room on the second story is a bachelor, the proprietor of the fine suite of rooms on the first story is rich, and has a doctor visit him at the house, these must pay for a service for which they get no return.—For the same reason, their copartnership remains private; it does not form part of the public domain; they alone are interested in it; if the State lends to it its tribunals and officials, it is the same as it is with ordinary private individuals. The State would derange its action and violate it by excluding it or exempting it from common right, by putting it on the administrative rolls, by encroaching on its independence, by adding to its functions or to its obligations: it is not under its tutelage, obliged to submit its accounts to the prefect; it delegates no powers and confers no right of justice, or police; in short, it is neither its pupil nor its agent. Such is the lien which permanent proximity establishes between men; we see that it is of a singular species: neither in fact, nor in law, can the associates free themselves from it; solely because they are neighbors, they form a community for certain indivisible or undividable things, an involuntary and obligatory community. To make amends, and even owing to this, I mean through institution and in the natural order of things, their community is limited, and limited in two ways, restricted to its object and restricted to its members, reduced to matters of which proprietorship or enjoyment is forcibly in common, and reserved to inhabitants who, on account of situation and fixed residence, possess this enjoyment or this property.
All local societies are of this kind, each limited to a certain territory and comprised with others like itself in a more extensive circumscription, each possessing two budgets according as it is a distinct body or member of a larger corporation, each, from the commune to the department or province, instituted on a basis of interests which are involuntarily consolidate.—There are two of these important interests which, as in the Annecy building, do not come within the pale of arbitrary arrangement, which force common action and a distribution of the entire expense, because, as in the Annecy building, they are the inevitable results of physical proximity.—First, comes care for the public highways, by land or by water, river navigation, canals, towing-paths, bridges, streets, public squares, by-roads, along with the more or less optional and gradual improvements which public roads demand or prescribe, such as their laying-out, sidewalks, paving, sweeping, lighting, drainage, sewers, rolling, ditches, leveling, embankments, and other engineering works, which establish or increase safety and convenience in circulation, with facilities for and dispatch in transportation. Next, comes protection against the spread of calamities, such as fires, inundations, contagious diseases, epidemics, along with the more or less optional and remote precautions which this protection exacts or recommends, night-watchers in Russia, dikes in Holland, levees in the valleys of the Po and the Loire, cemeteries and regulations for interment, cleanliness of the streets, ventilation of holes and corners, drainage of marshes, hydrants, and supplies of drinkable water, disinfection of sinks, and other hygienic measures which remove or prevent insalubrity growing out of neighborhood or contact.
All this has to be provided for, and the enterprise, if not wholly and in its developments, at least in itself and in what is necessary, imposes itself, collectively, on all the inhabitants of the conscription, from the highest to the lowest. For, in the absence of a public road, none of them can do his daily work, travel about, or even leave his premises; while transportation ceases and trade is suspended; hence, commerce and other pursuits languish, industry is arrested, agriculture becomes impracticable or fruitless; the fields are no longer cultivated; while provisions, food, including bread,1 everything is wanting; the dwellings becoming uninhabitable, more so than the Annecy houses when the roofs fall in and let in the rain.—On the other hand, for lack of protection against calamities, these obtain full headway: the day arrives when an equinoctial tide submerges the flat ground, when the river overflows and devastates the country to a vast extent, when the conflagration spreads, when small-pox and the cholera reach a contagious point, and life is in danger, far more seriously imperiled than in the Annecy domicile, when its main walls threaten to tumble down.2
Undoubtedly, I can personally accept this miserable condition of things, resign myself to it, and consent, as far as I am concerned, to shut myself up within my own walls, to fast there, and run the risk, more or less imminent, of being drowned, burnt, or poisoned; but I have no right to condemn another to do this, nor to refuse my contribution to a protection by which I am to profit. As to my share of the expense, it is fixed beforehand, and fixed through my share in the benefit: Whoever receives, owes, and in proportion to what he receives; such is an equitable exchange; no society is prosperous and healthy without this; it is essential that, for each member of it, the duties should exactly compensate the advantages, and that the two sides of the scale should balance. In the local community, the care taken of public roads and the precautions taken against natural calamities are of utility in two ways: one, which especially improves the condition of persons, and the other, which especially improves the condition of things. The first is equal and the same for all. The poor man, quite as much as the rich one, needs to go and come and to look after his affairs; he uses the street, pavement, sidewalks, bridges, highways, and public fountains quite as much; he equally benefits by the sweeping and lighting of the public gardens. It may be claimed that, in certain respects, he derives more benefits from all this; for he suffers sooner and more keenly when bad roads stop transportation, arrest labor, and increase the cost of food; he is more subject to contagion, to epidemics, to all physical ills; in case of a fire, the risks of a workman in his garret, at the top of steep, narrow stairs, are greater than those of the opulent proprietor on the first story, in a mansion provided with a broad range of steps; in case of inundation, the danger is more suddenly mortal for the humble villager, in his fragile tenement, than for the gentleman farmer in his massive constructions. Accordingly, under this heading, the poor man owes as much as the rich one; the rich man, at least, owes no more than the poor one; if, each year, the poor man cannot pay but one franc, the rich one, each year, should not pay more than that sum likewise.—The second advantage, on the contrary, is not equal for all, but more or less great for each, according to what he spends on the spot, according to his industrial or commercial gains, and according to his local income. Indeed, the more perfect the public highway is, the more are the necessities and conveniences of life; whatever is agreeable and useful, even distant and remote, more within reach, and at my disposition, in my very hands, I enjoy it to the utmost, the measure of my enjoyment of it being the importance of my purchases, everything I consume, in short, my home expenditure.1 If I am, besides, industrial or in commerce, the state of the public highway affects me more nearly; for my transportation, more or less costly, difficult and slow, depends on that, and next, the receipt of my raw materials and goods, the sale of my manufactures, the dispatch of my merchandise, bought and sold, while the measure of this special interest, so direct and so intense, is the annual sum-total of my business, or, more strictly speaking, the probable sum of my profits.1 If, finally, I own real estate, a house or land, its locative value increases or diminishes according to the salubrity and convenience of its site, together with its facilities for cultivating, selling, and distributing its crops, for its various outlets, for its security against floods and fires, and, after this, to improvements in public transit, and to the collective works which protect both soil and buildings against natural calamities.2 Thus, under this heading, the inhabitant who receives through these services, owes a second contribution, greater or: lesser according to the greater or lesser benefits which he derives from them.
Such is local society, with or without the legislator’s permission in itself, and we find it to be a private syndicate, analogous to many others.3 Whether communal or departmental, it concerns, combines, and serves none but the inhabitants of one circumscription; its success or failure does not interest the nation, unless indirectly, and through a remote reaction, similar to the slight effect which, for good or for ill, the health or sickness of one Frenchman produces on the mass of Frenchmen. That which directly and fully affects a local society is felt only by that society, the same as that which affects a private individual is felt only by him; it is a close corporation, and belongs to itself within its physical limits, the same as he, in his, belongs to himself; like him, then, it is an individuality, less simple, but no less real, a human combination, endowed with reason and will, responsible for its acts, capable of wronging and being wronged; in brief, a moral personality. Such, in fact, it is, and, through the explicit declaration of the legislator who constitutes it a civil personality, capable of possessing, acquiring, and contracting, and of prosecuting in the courts of law: he likewise confers on the eighty-six departments and on the thirty-six thousand communes all the legal capacities and obligations of an ordinary individual. The State, consequently, with respect to them and to all collective persons, is what it is with respect to a private individual, neither more nor less; its title to intervene between them is not different. As justiciary, it owes them justice the same as to private persons, nothing more nor less; only, to render this to them, it has more to do, for they are composite and complex; by virtue even of its mandate, it is bound to enter their domiciles in the performance of its duty, to maintain probity and to prevent disorder, to protect there not alone the governed against the governors and the governors against the governed, but again the community, which is lasting, against its directors, who are temporary, to assign to each member his quota of dues or of charges, and his quota of influence or of authority, to regulate the way in which the society shall support and govern itself, to decide upon and sanction the equitable statute, to oversee and impose its execution, that is to say, in sum to maintain the right of each person and oblige each to pay what he owes.—This is difficult and delicate. But, being done, the collective personality is, as much as any individual, complete and defined, independent and distinct from the State; by the same title as that of the individual, it has its own circle of initiation and of action, its separate domain, which is its private affair. The State, on its side, has its own affairs too, which are those of the public; and thus, in the nature of things, both circles are distinct; neither of them should prey upon or encroach on the other.—Undoubtedly, local societies and the State may help each other, lend each other their agents, and thus avoid employing two for one; may reduce their official staff, diminish their expenses, and, through this interchange of secondary offices, do their work better and more economically. For example, the commune and the department may let the State collect and deposit their “additional centimes,” borrow from it for this purpose its assessors and other accountants, and thus receive their revenues with no drawback, almost gratis, on the appointed day. In like manner, the State has very good reason for intrusting the departmental council with the apportionment of its direct taxes among the arrondissements, and the arrondissement council with the same apportionment of direct taxation during the communes: in this way it saves trouble for itself, and there is no other more effectual mode of enduring an equitable assignment; in like manner, again, it does well to have the mayor, rather than anybody else, execute petty public undertakings, which nobody else could do as readily and as surely, with less trouble, expense, and mistakes, with fewer legal documents, registers of civil status, advertisements of laws and regulations, transmissions by the orders of public authorities to interested parties, and of local information to the public authorities which they need, the preparation and revision of the electoral lists and of conscripts, and co-operation in measures of general security. Similar collaboration is imposed on the captain of a merchant vessel, on the administrators of a railway, on the director of a hotel or even of a factory, and this does not prevent the company which runs the ship, the railway, the hotel, or the factory, from enjoying full ownership and the free disposition of its capital; from holding meetings, passing resolutions, electing directors, appointing its managers, and regulating its own affairs, preserving intact that precious faculty of possessing, of willing, and of acting, which cannot be lost or alienated without ceasing to be a personality. To remain a personality, such is the main interest and right of all persons, singly or collectively, and therefore of local communities and of the State itself; it must be careful not to abdicate and be careful not to usurp.—It abdicates in favor of local societies when, through optimism or weakness, it surrenders to them a portion of the public domain; when it throws on them the collection of its taxes, the appointment of its judges and police-commissioners, the employment of its armed forces, when it delegates local functions to them which it should exercise itself, because it is the special and responsible director, the only one who is in a suitable position, competent, well provided, and qualified to carry them out. On the other side, it usurps to the prejudice of local societies when it appropriates to itself a portion of their private domain, when it confiscates their possessions, when it disposes of their capital or income arbitrarily, when it imposes on them excessive expenses for worship, charity, education, and any other service which properly belongs to a different association; when it refuses to recognize in the mayor the representative of the commune and the public functionary, when it subordinates the first of these two titles to the second, when it claims the right of giving or taking away, along with the second which belongs to it, the first which does not belong to it, when in practice and in its grasp the commune and department cease to be private companies in order to become administrative compartments.—According to the opportunity and the temptation, it glides down one declivity or the other, now toward the relinquishment which denotes the resignation of a post, and now toward the meddlesome interference which denotes the interloper.
From and after 1789, the State, passing through intermittent fits and starts of brutal despotism, had resigned its commission. Under its almost nominal sovereignty, there were in France forty-four thousand small States enjoying nearly sovereign power, and, most frequently, sovereignty in reality.1 Not only did the local community manage its private affairs, but again, in the circumscription, each exercised the highest public functions, disposed of the national guard, of the police force, and even of the army, appointed civil and criminal judges, police commissioners,2 the assessors and collectors of taxes, in brief, the central State handed over, or allowed the seizure of the powers of which it ought never to deprive itself, the last of its means by which alone it acts effectively and on the spot, its sword, which it alone should wield, its scales of justice, which it alone should hold, its purse, for it to fill, and we have seen with what harm to individuals, to the communes, and to itself, with what a lamentable series of disastrous results: universal, incurable, persistent anarchy, impotence of the government, violation of the laws, complete stoppage of revenue, an empty treasury, despotism of the strong, oppression of the weak, street riots, rural brigandage, extortions and waste at the town halls, municipal usurpations and abdications, ruin of the highways, and all useful public works and buildings, and the ruin and distress of the communes.1 In contrast with this, and through disgust, the new régime takes the other side, and goes even to the other extreme; the central State, in 1800, no longer a party that has resigned, as formerly, becomes the interloper. Not only does it take back from local communities the portion of the public domain which had been imprudently conceded to them, but, again, it lays its hand on their private domain; it attaches them to it by way of appendices, while its systematic, uniform usurpation, accomplished at one blow, spread over the whole territory, again plunges them all, communes and departments alike, into a chaos in which, under the old monarchy, they would never have fallen.
Before 1789, collective personalities, provincial and communal, still existed. On the one hand, five or six great local bodies, represented by elective assemblies, full of life and spontaneously active, among others those of Languedoc and Brittany, still provided for and governed themselves; the other provinces, which the central power had reduced to administrative circumscriptions, retained, at least, their historic cohesion, their time-honored name, the lament for, or at least the souvenir of, their former autonomy, and, here and there, a few vestiges or fragments of their lost independence; and, better yet, these old, paralyzed, but not mutilated bodies, had just assumed new life, and under their renewed organism were striving to give the blood in their veins a fresh start; twenty-one provincial assemblies, instituted over the entire territory, between 1778 and 1787, and provided with powers of considerable importance, undertook, each in its own sphere, to direct provincial interests. Communal interest, also, had its representatives in the urban or rural communes. In the towns, a deliberative assembly, composed of the leading notables and of delegates elected by all the corporations and communities in the place, formed an intermittent municipal council the same as to-day, but much more ample, which voted and passed resolutions on important occasions; there was a board of management at the head of it, “the town corps,” comprising the various municipal officials, the mayor, his lieutenant, sheriffs, prosecuting attorney, treasurer, and clerk,1 now elected by the deliberative assembly, now the legal purchasers, heirs, and proprietors of their office, the same as a notary or advocate of to-day owns his office, protected against administrative caprices by a royal acquittance, and, for a money consideration, titulary in their towns, the same as a parliamentarian in his parliament, and hence planted in, or grafted upon, the commune like a parliamentarian among his peers, and, like him, defenders of local interests against the central power.—In the village, the heads of families met together on the public square, deliberated in common over common affairs, elected the syndic, likewise the collectors of the taille, and deputies to the intendant; of their own accord, and except with his approval, they taxed themselves for the support of the school, for repairs to the church or fountain, and for beginning or carrying on a suit in court. All these remains of the ancient provincial and communal initiative, respected or tolerated by monarchical centralization, are crushed out and extinguished; the First Consul very soon falls upon these local societies and seizes them in his claws; in the eyes of the new legislator they scarcely seem to exist; there must not be any local personalities for him; the commune and department, in his eyes, are merely territorial circumscriptions, physical portions of the public domain, provincial workshops to which the central State transfers and uses its tools, in order to work efficaciously and on the spot. Here, as elsewhere, he takes the business entirely in his own hands; if he employs interested parties it is only as auxiliaries, at odd times, for a few days, to operate with more discernment and more economy, to listen to complaints and promises, to become better informed and the better to apportion changes; but, except this occasional and subordinate help, the members of the local society must remain passive in the local society; they are to pay and obey, and nothing more. Their community no longer belongs to them, but to the government; its chiefs are functionaries who depend on him, and not on it; it no longer issues its mandate; all its legal mandatories, all its representatives and directors, municipal or general councilors, mayors, sub-prefects or prefects, are imposed on it from above, by a foreign hand, and, willingly or not, instead of choosing them, it has to put up with them.
At the beginning, an effort was made to put in practice the constitutional principle proposed by Sieyès: power in future, according to the accepted formula, must come from above and confidence from below. To this end, in the year ix, the assembled citizens appointed one-tenth of their number, about 500,000 communal notables, and these, likewise assembled, appointed also one-tenth of their number, about 50,000 departmental notables; the government selected from this list the municipal councilors of each commune, and, from this second list, the general councilors of each department. The machine, however, is clumsy, difficult to set going, still more difficult to manage, and too unreliable in its operation. According to the First Consul, “It is an absurd system, mere child’s play, ideology; a great nation is not organized in this fashion.”1 At bottom,2 “he does not want notables accepted by the nation. In his system, he is to declare who the notables of the nation shall be and stamp them with the seal of the State; it is not for the nation to present them to the head of the State stamped with the national seal.” Consequently, at the end of a year, he becomes, through the establishment of electoral colleges, the veritable grand-elector of all the notables; he has transformed, with his usual address, a liberal institution into a reigning instrumentality. Provisionally, he holds on to the list of communal notables, “because it is the work of the people, the result of a grand movement which must not prove useless, and because, moreover, it contains a large number of names . . . offering a wide margin from which to make good selections.”1 He brings together these notables in each canton, and invites them to designate their trusty men, the candidates from which he will choose municipal councilors. But, as there are very few cultivated men in the rural districts, “nearly always it is the old seignior who would get himself designated”;2 it is essential that the hand of the government should not be forced, that its faculty of choosing should not be restricted; thus, the presentation of municipal councilors of that category must cease, there must no longer be any preliminary candidates; now, according to the sénatus-consulte, this category is a large one, for it comprises all communes of less than five thousand souls, and therefore over thirty-five thousand municipal councils out of thirty-six thousand, whose members are appointed arbitrarily, without the citizens whom they represent taking any part in their nomination. Four or five hundred average or large communes still remain, in which, for each municipal post, the cantonal assembly designates two candidates between whom the government chooses. Let us see this assembly duly installed and at work.
Its president, as a precautionary step, is imposed upon it, appointed in advance by the government, and well informed as to what the government wants; he alone controls the police of the chamber and the order of all deliberations. On opening the session, he draws a list from his pocket, which list, furnished by the government, contains the names of one hundred of the heaviest taxpayers of the canton, from whom the assembly must select its candidates; the list lies spread out on the table, and the electors advance in turn, spell the names, and try to read it over. The president would not be very adroit and show but little zeal did he not help them in reading it, and if he did not point out by some sign, a tone of the voice, or even a direct word, what names were agreeable to the government. Now, this government, which has five hundred thousand bayonets at command, dislikes opposition: the electors know it, and look twice before expressing any counter opinion; it is very probable that most of the names suggested by the government are found on their ballots; were only one-half of them there, these would suffice; of the two candidates proposed for each place, if one is acceptable that one will be elected; after making him a candidate the government insures his becoming titulary. The first act of the electoral comedy is played, and it is not long before no trouble whatever is taken to play it. After January, 1806, by virtue of a decree which he has passed himself, Napoleon is the only one1 who will directly fill every vacancy that occurs in the municipal councils; henceforth these councils are to owe their existence wholly to him. The two qualities which constitute them, and which, according to Sieyès, are derived from two distinct sources, are now derived from only one source. Only the Emperor can confer upon them both public confidence and legal power.
The second act of the comedy begins; this act is more complicated, and comprises several scenes which end, some of them, in the appointment of the arrondissement councils, and others in that of the council-general of the department. We will take only the latter, the most important;2 there are two, one following the other, and in different places. The first one3 is played in the cantonal assembly above described; the president, who has just directed the choice of municipal candidates, draws from his portfolio another list, likewise furnished to him by the prefect, and on which six hundred names of those who pay the heaviest taxes in the department are printed; it is from among these six hundred that the cantonal assembly must elect ten or twelve members who, with their fellows, chosen in the same way by the other cantonal assemblies, will form the electoral college of the department, and take their seats at the chief town of the prefecture. This time again, the president, who is the responsible leader of the cantonal flock, takes care to conduct it; his finger on the list indicates to the electors which names the government prefers; if need be, he adds a word to the sign he makes, and, probably, the voters will be as docile as before; and all the more because the composition of the electoral college only half interests them; this college, unlike the municipal council, does not touch or hold any of them on their sensitive side; it is not obliged to tighten or loosen their purse-strings; it does not vote the “additional centimes”; it does not meddle with their business; it is there only for show, for simulating to their eyes the absent people, for presenting them with candidates, thus playing the second electoral scene just the same as the first one, but at the chief town of the prefecture by new actors. They too, these figurants, are led by a head conductor, appointed by the government, and who is responsible for their behavior, “a president who has in sole charge the police of their assembled college,” and must direct their voting. For each vacancy in the council-general of the department, they present two names; certainly, almost without any help, or the slightest suggestion, they will divine the suitable names. For they are quicker of comprehension, more open minded, than the backward and rustic members of a cantonal assembly; they are better informed and better “posted,” they have visited the prefect and know his opinion, the opinion of the government, and they vote accordingly. It is certain that one-half, at least, of the candidates whom they present on this list are good, and that suffices, since the candidates who are nominated are double the number of the vacancies. And yet, in Napoleon’s eye, this is not sufficient. For the nomination of general councilors,1 as well as that of municipal councilors, he suppresses preliminary candidature, the last remnant of popular representation or delegation. According to his theory, he is himself the sole representative and delegate of the people, invested with full powers, not alone in the State, but again in the department and commune, the prime and the universal motor of the entire machine, not merely at the center, but again at the extremities, dispenser of all public employments, not merely to suggest the candidate for these and make him titulary, but again to create directly and at once, both titulary and candidate.
Observe the selections which he imposes on himself beforehand; these selections are those to which he has tied down the electoral bodies. Being the substitute of these bodies, he takes, as they do, general councilors from those in the department who pay the most taxes, and municipal councilors from those most taxed in the canton. On the other hand, by virtue of the municipal law, it is from the municipal councilors that he chooses the mayor. Thus the local auxiliaries and agents he employs are all notables of the place, the leading land-owners and largest manufacturers and merchants. He systematically enrolls the distributors of labor on his side, all who, through their wealth and residence, through their enterprises and expenditure on the spot, exercise local influence and authority. In order not to omit any of these, and be able to introduce into the general council this or that rich veteran of the old régime, or this or that parvenu of the new régime who is not rich, he has reserved to himself the right of adding twenty eligible members to the list, “ten of which must be taken from among citizens belonging to the Legion of Honor, or having rendered important services, and ten taken from among the thirty in the department who pay the most taxes.” In this way none of the notables escape him; he recruits them in his own fashion and according to his necessities, now among men of the Revolution whom he does not want to see discredited or isolated,1 now among men of the old monarchy whom he wants to rally to himself by favor or by force. Such is the Baron de Vitrolles,1 who, without asking for the place, becomes mayor of Versailles and councilor-general in Basses-Alps, and then, a little later, at his peril, inspector of the imperial sheepfolds. Such is the Count de Villèle, who, on returning to his estate of Morville, after an absence of fourteen years, suddenly, “before having determined where he would live, either in town or in the country,” finds himself mayor of Morville. To make room for him, his predecessor is removed and the latter, “who, since the commencement of the Revolution, has performed the functions of mayor,” is let down to the post of assistant. Shortly after this the government appoints M. de Villèle president of the cantonal assembly. Naturally the assembly, advised underhandedly, presents him as a candidate for the general council of Haute-Garonne, and the government places him in that office.—“All the notable land-owners of the department formed part of this council, and the Restoration still found us there seven years afterwards. General orders evidently existed, enjoining the prefects to give preference in their choice to the most important land-owners in the country.” Likewise, “Napoleon everywhere takes the mayors from the rich and well-to-do class”; in the large towns he appoints only “people with carriages.”2 Many of them in the country and several in the towns are legitimists, at least at heart, and Napoleon knows it; but, as he says, “these folks do not want an earthquake”; they are too much interested, and too personally, in the maintenance of order.3 Moreover, to insure his government appearing to advantage, he needs people that are decorative; now it is only these who can be so gratis, make a figure without salaries, at their own expense, in themselves and on the spot. Besides, they are the most intelligent, the best able to supervise accounts, to examine article by article the budgets of the department and commune, to comprehend the necessity of a road and the utility of a canal, to offer pertinent observations, to proclaim wise decisions, to obey orders as discreet and useful collaborators. All this they will not refuse to do if they are sensible people. In every régime it is better to be with the governors than with the governed, and in this case, when the broom is wielded from above and applied so vigorously and with such minutiæ to everybody and everything, it is well to be as near the handle as possible.
And what is still better, they will volunteer, especially at the beginning, if they have any feeling; for, at least during the first years, one great object of the new government is the re-establishment of order; in the local as well as in the general administration, it is well-disposed and desires to mend matters; it undertakes the suppression of robbery, peculation, waste, calculated or involuntary usurpations, fanciful ideas and projects, negligence, and bankruptcy. “Since 1790,”1 says the First Consul to the minister of the interior, “the 36,000 communes represent, in France, 36,000 orphans . . . . girls abandoned or plundered for ten years by their municipal guardians, appointed by the Convention and the Directory. In changing the mayors, assistants, and councilors of the commune, scarcely more has been done than to change the mode of stealing; they have stolen the communal highway, the by-roads, the trees, and have robbed the Church;1 they have stolen the furniture belonging to the commune and are still stealing under the flabby municipal system of the year viii.” All these abuses are followed up and punished;2 the robbers are obliged to restore and will steal no more. The budget of the commune must be annually prepared,3 like that of the State, with the same method, precision, and clearness, receipts on one side and expenses on the other, each section divided into chapters and each chapter into articles, the state of the debits and date of each debt, the state of the assets and a tabular enumeration of distinct resources, available capital and unpaid claims, fixed income and variable income, certain revenue and possible revenue; in no case must “the calculation of presumable expenditure exceed the amount of presumable income.” In no case must “the commune demand or obtain an extra tax for its ordinary expenses.” Exact accounts and rigid economy, such are everywhere indispensable, as well as preliminary reforms, when a badly kept house has to be transformed into one which is kept in good order; the First Consul has at heart these two reforms and he adheres to them. Above all there must be no more indebtedness; now, more than one-half of the communes are in debt. “Under penalty of dismissal, the prefect is to visit the communes at least twice a year, and the sub-prefect four times a year.4 A reward must be given to mayors who free their commune of debt in two years, and the government will appoint a special commissioner to take charge of the administration of a commune which, after a delay of five years, shall not be liberated. The fifty mayors who, each year, shall have most contributed to bringing their commune into a liberated condition, or into one of the available resources, shall be summoned to Paris at the expense of the State, and presented in solemn session to the three consuls. A column, raised at the expense of the government and placed at the principal entrance of the town or village, will transmit to posterity the mayor’s name, and, besides, this inscription: ‘To the guardian of the commune, a grateful country.’ ”
Instead of these semi-poetic honors adapted to the imaginations of the year viii, take the positive honors adapted to the imaginations of the year xii, and the following years, brevets and grades, decorations of the Legion d’Honneur, the titles of chevalier, baron, and count,1 presents and endowments,—the rewards offered to the representatives of local society, the same as to the other functionaries, but on the same condition that they will likewise be functionaries, that is to say, tools in the hands of the government. In this respect, every precaution is taken, especially against those who, forming a collective body, may be tempted to consider themselves a deliberative assembly, such as municipal and general councils, less easily handled than single individuals and, at times, capable of not being quite so docile; none of these can hold sessions of more than fifteen days in the year; each must accept its budget of receipts and expenses, almost complete and ready made, from the prefecture; in the way of receipts, its powers consist wholly in voting certain additional and optional centimes, more or less numerous, at will, “within the limits established by law”;2 again, even within these limits, its decision can be carried out only after an examination and approval at the prefecture. There is the same regulation in regard to expenses; the council, indeed, municipal or general, is simply consultative; the government delegates the mayor, sub-prefect, or prefect, who prescribes what must be done; as the preliminary steps are taken by him, and he has constant direction of the local council for two weeks, and finally the right of confirmation, he controls it, and then, for eleven months and a half, having sole charge of the daily and consecutive execution of its acts, he reigns in the local community. Undoubtedly, having received and expended money for the community, he is accountable and will present his yearly accounts at the following session; the law says1 that in the commune, “the municipal council shall listen to and may discuss the account of municipal receipts and expenses.” But read the text through to the end, and note the part which the law, in this case, assigns to the municipal council. It is the part of the chorus in the antique tragedy: it belongs to the piece and listens, approves, or blames, in the background and as subaltern; whether indorsed or blamed by it, the principal personages in the piece remain principals, and act as they please; they grant or dispute over its head, independently, just as it suits them. In effect, it is not to the municipal council that the mayor renders his accounts, but “to the sub-prefect, who finally passes them,” and gives him his discharge; whatever the council may say, the acquittance is valid; for greater security, the prefect, if any councilor proves refractory, “may suspend from his functions” a stubborn fellow like him, and restore in the council the unanimity which has been partially disturbed.
In the department, the council-general must likewise “listen” to the accounts for the year; the law, owing to a significant omission, does not say that it may discuss them. Nevertheless, a circular of the year ix requests it “to make every observation on the use of the additional centimes” which the importance of the subject demands, to verify whether each sum debited to expenses has been used for the purpose assigned to it, and even “to reject expenses, stating the reasons for this decision, which have not been sufficiently justified.” And better still, the minister, who is liberal, addresses a systematic series of questions to the general councils, on all important matters,1 “agriculture, commerce, and manufactures, asylums and public charities, public roads and other works, public instruction, administration properly so called, state of the number of population, public spirit and opinions,” collecting and printing their observations and desires. After the year ix, however, this publication stops; it renders the general councils too important; it might rally the entire population of the department to them and even of all France that could read; it might hamper the prefect and diminish his ascendency. Henceforth, it is the prefect alone who replies to these questions, and of which the government gives an analysis or tables of statistics;2 then, the publication of these ceases; decidedly, printing always has its drawbacks—manuscript reports are much better; local affairs are no longer transacted outside the bureaux, and are managed with closed doors; any report that might spread outside the prefect’s cabinet or that of the minister, is carefully toned down or purposely stifled, and, under the prefect’s thumb, the general council becomes an automaton.
Treating directly with the direct representatives of the Emperor, it regards itself as with the Emperor himself. Weigh these few words—in presence of the Emperor; they are of incalculable weight in the scales of contemporaries. For them, he has every attribute of Divinity, not only omnipotence and omnipresence, but again omniscience, and, if he speaks to them, what they feel far surpasses what they imagine. When he visits a town and confers with the authorities of the place on the interests of the commune or department, his interlocutors are bewildered; they find him as well informed as themselves, and more clear-sighted; it is he who explains their affairs to them. On arriving the evening before, he calls for the summaries of facts and figures, every positive and technical detail of information, reduced and classified according to the method taught by himself and prescribed to his administrators;1 during the night he has read all this over and mastered it; in the morning, at dawn, he has taken his ride on horseback; with extraordinary promptness and accuracy, his topographical glance has discerned “the best direction for the projected canal, the best site for the construction of a factory, a harbor, or a dike.”2 To the difficulties which confuse the best brains in the country, to controverted questions which seem insoluble, he at once presents the sole practical solution; there it is, ready at hand, and the members of the local council had not seen it; he makes them touch it with their fingers. They stand confounded and agape before the universal competence of this wonderful genius. “He’s more than a man,” exclaimed the administrators of Dusseldorf to Beugnot.3 “Yes,” replied Beugnot, “he’s a devil!” In effect, he adds to mental ascendency the ascendency of force; we always see beyond the great man in him the terror-striking dominator; admiration begins or ends in fear; the soul is completely subjugated; enthusiasm and servility, under his eye, melt together into one sentiment of impassioned obedience and unreserved submission.4 Voluntarily and involuntarily, through conviction, trembling, and fascinated, men abdicate their freedom of will to his advantage. The magical impression remains in their minds after he has departed. Even absent, even with those who have never seen him, he maintains his prestige and communicates it to all who command in his name. Before the prefect, the baron, the count, the councilor of state, the senator in embroidered uniform, gilded and garnished with decorations, every municipal or general council loses the faculty of willing and becomes incapable of saying no, only too glad if not obliged to say yes “against the grain,” to enter upon odious and disagreeable undertakings, to simulate at one’s own expense, and that of others, excessive zeal and spontaneous abnegation, to vote for and hurrah at patriotic subscriptions of which it must contribute the greatest portion and for supplementary conscriptions1 which seize their sons that are exempt or bought out of service.2 It allows itself to be managed; it is simply one of the many wheels of our immense machine, one which receives its impulsion elsewhere, and from above, through the interposition of the prefect.—But, except in rare cases, when the interference of the government applies it to violent and oppressive schemes, it is serviceable; fixed in position, and confining itself to turning regularly and noiselessly in its little circle, it may, in general, still render the double service demanded of it in the year ix, by a patriotic minister; according as Chaptal then defined the general councils, fixing their powers and competency, they exist for two purposes and only two:3 they must first “insure to the governed impartiality in the assessment of taxes along with the verification of the use of the latest levies in the payment of local expenses,” and next, they must, with discretion and modesty, “obtain for the government the information which alone enables it to provide for the necessities of each department and ameliorate the entire working of the public administration.”
Such is the spirit of the institution and such is its form. After 1814 and 1815, after the fall of the Empire and the Restoration, the institution subsists and remains as it was before in form and in spirit: it is always the government which appoints and directs all the representatives of local society, in the department, in the commune, and in the intermediate circumscriptions, the prefect, sub-prefects, mayors and assistants, the councilors of the department, of the arrondissement, and of the commune. Whatever the ruling power may be it is repugnant to any change; never does it voluntarily restrict itself in its faculty of bestowing or withholding offices, authority, consideration, influence, or salaries, every desirable and every desired good thing; as far as it can, it retains these in its own hands to distribute them as it pleases, and in its own interest to bestow them on its partisans and to deprive its adversaries of them, to attract clients and create minions. The four thousand offices of prefect, sub-prefect, and councilors of the prefecture, department, and arrondissement, the four hundred thousand offices of mayor, assistants, and municipal councilors, and added to these, the innumerable salaried employments of auxiliary or secondary agents, from the secretary-general of the prefecture down to the secretary of the mayor, from the scribes and clerks of the prefecture and sub-prefecture down to the staff of the municipal police and of the octroi in the towns, from the city or department architect down to the lowest road-surveyor, from the watchmen and superintendents of a canal or harbor down to the field-guards and stone-breakers or the highway, directly or indirectly, the constitutional government disposes of them in the same fashion as the imperial government, with the same interference in the most trifling details and in the most trifling affair. Commune or department, such local society remains under the second régime what it was under the first one, an extension of the central society, an appendix of the State, an adjunct of the great establishment of which the seat is at Paris. In these adjuncts, controlled from above, nothing is changed, neither the extent and limits of the circumscription, nor the source and hierarchy of powers, nor the theoretic framework, nor the practical mechanism, not even the names.1 After the prefects of the Empire come the prefects of the Restoration, the same in title and uniform, installed in the same hotel, to do the same work, with equal zeal, that is to say, with dangerous zeal, to such an extent that, on taking leave of their final audience, on setting out for their department, M. de Talleyrand, who knows men and institutions profoundly, gives them, as his last injunction, the following admirable order: “And, especially, no zeal!”—According to the recommendation of Fouché, “the Bourbons slept in the bed of Napoleon,” the bed of Louis XIV., but larger and more comfortable, widened by the Revolution and the Empire, adapted to the figure of its latest occupant, and enlarged by him so as to spread over the whole of France. When, after twenty-five years of exile, one returns home, it is pleasant to find such a bed in the house ready made, taking down and remaking the old one would give double trouble; moreover, in the old one, one was less at his ease; let us profit by all that rebels and the usurper have done that was good. In this particular, not alone the king, but again the most antiquated of the Bourbons are revolutionists and Bonapartists; despotic traditionally, and monopolists through their situation, they accept with no regrets the systematic demolition effected by the Constituent Assembly, and the systematic centralization instituted by the First Consul. The Duc d’Angoulême, when, in 1815, he was paraded about the country, among the bridges, canals, and splendid roads of Languedoc, on being reminded that these fine works were formerly executed by the “États” of the province, dryly replied: “We prefer the departments to the provinces.”1
With the exception of a few antiquarian and half-rustic royalists, nobody objects; there is no thought of reconstructing the machine on another plan; in sum, nobody is dissatisfied with the way it works. It works well, most effectively; under the Restoration as under the Empire, it renders to those who are interested the service demanded of it; it goes on providing better and better for the two grand objects of local society, care for the public highways and protection against natural calamities. In 1814, its net results are already admirable and do it credit—reparation of the ruins accumulated by the Revolution,2 the continuation and completion of former projects, new and striking enterprises, dikes against the sea and the rivers, basins, moles, and jetties in the harbors, quays, and bridges, locks and canals, public edifices, 27,200 kilometres of national roads and 18,600 kilometres of departmental roads,3 without counting the district roads just laid out; all this done regularly, exactly, and economically,4 by competent functionaries, employed and superintended, who at first through fear are compelled to be prudent, and then through habit and honor have become honest accountants; there is no waste, no underhand stealings, no arbitrary charges; no sum is turned aside between receipts and expenses to disappear and be lost on the road, or flow out of its channel in another direction. The sensitive taxpayer, large or small, no longer smarts under the painful goad which formerly pricked him and made him jump; local taxation, annexed to the general tax, is found to be reformed, lightened, and duly proportioned; like the principal, the “additional centimes” are an equitable charge, graduated according to the sum of net revenue; like the principal, they are assessed according to the assumed sum of this net revenue by the councils of the arrondissements among the communes, and by the communal assessors among the inhabitants; they are collected by the same collector, with the same formalities, and every taxpayer who thinks himself taxed too heavily finds a court of appeal in the council of the prefecture, before which he can make his claim and obtain the release or reduction of his quota. Thus no crying iniquity exists, nor keen suffering; on the other hand, there are the infinite conveniences and daily enjoyment of possessions, the privation of which, to the modern man, is equal to the lack of fresh, pure air, physical security and protection against contagion, facilities for circulation and transport, pavements, light, the salubrity of healthy streets purged of their filth, and the presence and vigilance of the municipal and rural police; all these benefits, the objects of local society, are due to the machine which works with little cost, without breaking down or stopping for any long time, as lately under the Republic, and without any extortion and clashing, as in the times of the ancient régime. It works by itself, almost without the help of the parties interested, and which, in their eyes, is not its least merit; with it, there is no bother, no responsibility, no elections to attend to, no discussions to maintain, no resolutions to pass; there is only one bill to be settled, not even a specified bill, but a surplus of centimes added to each franc, and included with the principal in the annual quota. Such is the lazy proprietor whose formalistic, exact, and somewhat slow intendants, but punctual and capable, relieve of the care of his property; he may dismiss the head steward of his domain in a fit of ill-humor, but, if he changes his stewards, he does not change the system; he is too accustomed to it, and his indolence demands it; he is not tempted to take care and trouble on himself, nor is he qualified to become his own intendant.
And what is worse, in the present case the master has forgotten that he is the owner of his domain, he hardly remembers that he is a personality. Whether large or small, department or commune, local society has no longer the consciousness of being a natural body, composed of involuntarily united members with common interests; this sentiment, already weakened and drooping at the end of the ancient régime, is lost under the multiplied attacks of the Revolution and under the prolonged compression of the Empire; during twenty-five years it has suffered too much; it has been too arbitrarily manufactured or mutilated, too frequently recast, and made and unmade.—In the commune, everything has been upset over and over again, the territorial circumscription, the internal and external system, all collective property. To the forty-four thousand municipalities improvised by the Constituent Assembly, there succeeded under the Directory six or seven thousand cantonal municipalities, a sort of local syndicate, represented in each commune by a subaltern agent, and then, under the Consulate, thirty-six thousand distinct and permanent communes. Sovereign at the start, through the improvidence and abdication of the Constituent Assembly, the communes become, in the hands of the Convention, so many timorous subjects surrendered to the brutality of perambulating pachas and resident agas, imposed upon them by Jacobin tyranny; then, under the Empire, a docile herd governed in a correct way from above, but possessing no authority of their own, and therefore indifferent to their own affairs and utterly wanting in public spirit. Other more serious blows affect them still more deeply and acutely. Through a decree of the Legislative Assembly, in every commune where a third of the inhabitants demand a partition of the communal property, the commune is stripped, and its time-honored patrimony is set off in equal lots, in portions according to families or per head, and converted into small private holdings. Through a decree of the Convention, the whole of the communal fortune, its debts and assets, are swallowed up by the public fortune and engulfed along with that in the sale of real property, in the discredit of the assignats, and in the final bankruptcy. After this prolonged process, communal property, even when disgorged and restored by the exchequer, is not what it was before; once out of the monster’s stomach, the remains of it, dismembered, spoilt, half-digested, are no longer held sacred and inviolable; a settlement of accounts intervenes; “there are a good many communes,” says Napoleon,1 “whose debts have been paid and whose property was not sold; there are many others whose property has been sold and whose debts are not paid. . . . . The result is that many pieces of property in certain communes are not considered reputable.” Consequently, he first deprives these of one-tenth of their income from land, and then one-quarter of the produce of their extra cuttings of timber,2 and finally, their capital, the whole of their real property,3 estimated at three hundred and seventy millions; in exchange, he gives them one hundred and thirty-eight millions in the rentes; the loss to them as well as the gain to him, is thus two hundred and thirty two millions, while the sale of communal properties at auction, begun in 1813, continues under the Restoration in 1814, 1815, and even in 1816. A human community treated in this way for one quarter of a century, ceases to be a personality, and becomes a mere material object; on the strength of this, its members have come to believing that things are as they are and cannot be otherwise.
Above the commune, nearly dead, is the department, completely dead; here local patriotism is stamped out at the beginning by the destruction of the provinces. Among so many political crimes and other outrages committed by the Revolution against France, this is one of the worst; the Constituent Assembly has broken up perfected groupings, the accumulated work of ten centuries, historic and powerful names, each of which aroused enthusiasm in thousands of breasts and cemented together thousands of wills, centers of spontaneous co-operation, firesides warm with generous feeling, zeal, and devotion, a practical school of high political education, an admirable theater for available talent, noble careers open to legitimate ambition, in short, the small patrimony whose instinctive cult forms the first step out of egoism and a march onward toward thoughtful devotion to the large patrimony. Cut apart by geometrical shears, and designated by an entirely new geographical term, small sections of the province became so many factitious agglomerations of juxtaposed inhabitants, human assemblages without any soul; and, for twenty years, the legislator fails to communicate to them that semblance of one, the judicial quality of which it disposes; it is only after 1811 that the departments arrive at civil proprietorship and personality: this dignity, besides, the State confers only to disburden itself and to burden them, to impose expenses on them which hardly concern them but which do concern it, to compel them in its place to support the costly maintenance of its prisons, police quarters, courts of justice, and prefectorial mansions; even at this late date, they are not yet, in the eyes of jurisconsults or before the Council of State, incontestable proprietors and complete personalities;1 they are not to be fully qualified in this sense until the law of 1838.
Local society, accordingly, proves abortive over the whole twenty-six thousand square leagues of territory; it is simply a legal figment, an artificial grouping together of neighbors who do not find themselves bound and incorporated together by neighborhood; in order that their society might become viable and stimulative would require both commune and department to have in mind and at heart the following idea, which they no longer entertained: “We are all here together in the same vessel, which vessel belongs to us and we form its crew. We are here to manage it ourselves, with our own hands, each according to his rank and position, each taking his part, little or big, in doing his own work.”
Rocquain, “L’État de la France au 18 Brumaire (report by Fourcroy, pp. 138, 166): “A lot of wheat worth 18 francs at Nantes costs an equal sum for its cartage to Brest. I have seen carters plodding along, seven or eight in a line, each with six or eight strong horses dragging their vehicles and alternately helping each other, their horses hauling their carts out of ruts into which they had got stuck. . . . . In many places, I saw with sorrow, carts and wagons leaving the high-road and traversing, in spaces from 100 to 200 yards wide, the plowed ground, when each made his own road. . . . . The carters sometimes make only three or four leagues from morning to night.”—Hence, a dearth of provisions at Brest. “We are assured that the people have long been on half-rations, or even quarter rations.”—And yet, “There is now in the river, at Nantes, from four to five hundred boats loaded with grain; they have been there for months, and their number increases daily. Their cargoes are deteriorating and becoming damaged.”
Ibid., preface and summary, p. 41 (on the dikes and works of protection against inundations at Dol in Brittany, at Fréjus, in Camargue, in Lower Rhine, in Nord, in Pas-de-Calais, at Ostende and Blankenberg, at Rochefort, at La Rochelle, etc.). At Blankenberg, a gale sufficed to carry away the dike and let in the sea. “The dread of some disaster which would ruin a large portion of the departments of the Lys and of the Escaut kept the inhabitants constantly in a state of frightful anxiety.”
Hence the additional centimes to the tax on doors and windows, the number of which indicates about the rate of rent. Hence also the additional centimes to the personal tax, which is proportionate to the rent, this being considered as the most exact indication of domestic expenditure.
Hence the communal “additional centimes” to the tax on business licenses.
Hence the “additional centimes” to the land tax.
Syndicates of this kind are instituted by the law of June 25, 1865, “between proprietors interested in the execution and maintenance of public works: 1st, Protection against the sea, inundations, torrents, and navigable or non-navigable rivers; 2d, Works in deepening, repairing, and regulating canals and non-navigable water-courses, and ditches for draining and irrigation; 3d, Works for the drainage of marshes; 4th, Locks and other provisions necessary in working salt marshes; 5th, Drainage of wet and unhealthy ground.”—“Proprietors interested in the execution of the above-mentioned works may unite in an authorized syndical company, either on the demand of one or of several among them, or on the initiative of the prefect.”—(Instead of authorized, we must read forced, and we then find that the association may be imposed on all interested parties, on the demand of one alone, or even without any one’s demand.)—Like the Annecy building, these syndicates enable one to reach the fundamental element of local society. Cf. the law of September 26, 1807 (on the drainage of marshes), and the law of April 21, 1810 (on mines and the two owners of the mine, one of the surface and the other of the subsoil, both likewise partners, and no less forcibly so through physical solidarity.)
See “The Revolution,” vol. i., passim.
Two kinds of police must be distinguished one from the other. The first is general and belongs to the State: its business is to repress and prevent, outside and inside, all aggression against private and public property. The second is municipal, and belongs to the local society: its business is to see to the proper use of the public roads, and other matters, which, like water, air, and light, are enjoyed in common; it undertakes, also, to forestall the risks and dangers of imprudence, negligence, and filth, which any aggregation of men never fails to engender. The provinces of these two police forces join and penetrate each other at many points; hence, each of the two is the auxiliary, and, if need be, the substitute of the other.
Rocquain, “l’État de la France au 18 Brumaire,” passim.
Raynouard, “Histoire du droit municipal,” ii., 356, and Dareste, “Histoire de l’administration en France,” i., 209, 222. (Creation of the posts of municipal mayor and assessors by the king, in 1692, for a money consideration.) “These offices were obtained by individuals, along with hereditary title, now attached to communities, that is to say, bought in by these,” which put in their possession the right of election.—The king frequently took back these offices which he had sold, and sold them over again. In 1771, especially, he takes them back, and, it seems, to keep them forever; but he always reserves the right of alienating them for money. For example (Augustin Thierry, “Documens sur l’histoire du tiers État,” iii., 319), an act of the royal council, dated October 1, 1772, accepts 70,000 francs from the town of Amiens for the repurchase of the instalment of its magistracies, defining these magistracies, as well as the mode of election according to which the future incumbents shall be appointed. Provence frequently bought back its municipal liberties in the same fashion, and, for a hundred years, expended for this purpose 12,500,000 livres. In 1772, the king once more established the venality of the municipal offices: but, on the Parliament of Aix remonstrating, in 1774, he returned their old rights and franchises to the communities.—Cf. Guyot, “Répertoire de jurisprudence” (1784), articles, Echevins, Capitouls, Conseillers.
Thibaudeau, p. 72 (words of the First Consul at a meeting of the Council of State, Pluviose 14, year x).
Roederer, iii., 439 (Note of Pluviose 28, year viii), 26, 443. “The pretended organic sénatus-consulte of Aug. 4, 1802, put an end to notability by instituting electoral colleges. . . . The First Consul was really recognized as the grand-elector of the notability.”
Thibaudeau, 72, 289 (words of the First Consul at a meeting of the Council of State, Thermidor 16, year x).
Ibid., p. 293. Sénatus-consulte of Thermidor 16, year x, and act of Fructidor 19, year x.
Decree of January 17, 1806, article 40.
Aucoc, “Conférence sur l’administration et le droit administratif,” §§ 101, 162, 165. In our legislative system the council of the arrondissement has not become a civil personality, while it has scarcely any other object than to apportion direct taxes among the communes of the arrondissement.
Sénatus-consulte of Thermidor 16, year x.
Decree of May 13, 1806, title iii., article 32.
Thibaudeau, ibid., 294 (Speech of the First Consul to the Council of State, Thermidor 16, year x). “What has become of the men of the Revolution? Once out of place, they have been entirely neglected: they have nothing left; they have no support, no natural refuge. Look at Barras, Rewbell, etc.” The electoral colleges are to furnish them with the asylum they lack. “Now is the time to elect the largest number of men of the Revolution; the longer we wait, the fewer there will be. . . . . With the exception of some of them, who have appeared on a grand stage, . . . . who have signed some treaty of peace, . . . . the rest are all isolated and in obscurity. That is an important gap which must be filled up. . . . . It is for this reason that I have instituted the Legion of Honor.”
Baron de Vitrolles, “Mémoires,” preface, xxi. Comte de Villèle, “Mémoires et Correspondance,” i., 189 (August, 1807).
Faber, “Notice sur l’intérieur de la France” (1807), p. 25.
The following document shows the sense and aim of the change, which goes on after the year viii, also the contrast between both administrative staffs. (Archives Nationales, F 7, 3219; letter of M. Alquier to the First Consul, Pluviose 18, year viii.) M. Alquier, on his way to Madrid, stops at Toulouse and sends a report to the authorities of Haute-Garonne: “I was desirous of seeing the central administration. I found there the ideas and language of 1793. Two personages, Citizens Barreau and Desbarreaux, play an active part then. Up to 1792, the first was a shoemaker, and owed his political fortune simply to his audacity and revolutionary frenzy. The second, Desbarreaux, was a comedian of Toulouse, his principal rôle being that of valets. In the month of Prairial, year iii, he was compelled to go down on his knees on the stage and ask pardon for having made incendiary speeches at some previous period in the decadal temple. The public, not deeming his apology sufficient, drove him out of the theater. He now combines with his function of departmental administrator the post of cashier for the actors, which thus brings him in 1200 francs. . . . . The municipal councilors are not charged with lack of probity: but they are derived from too low a class and have too little regard for themselves to obtain consideration from the public. . . . . The commune of Toulouse is very impatient at being governed by weak, ignorant men, formerly mixed in with the crowd, and whom, probably, it is urgent to send back to it. . . . . It is remarkable that, in a city of such importance, which provides so large a number of worthy citizens of our sort of capacity and education, only men are selected for public duties who, with respect to instruction, attainments, and breeding, offer no guarantee whatever to the government and no inducement to win public consideration.”
“Correspondance de Napoléon,” No. 4474, note dictated to Lucien, minister of the interior, year viii.
Cf. “Procès-verbaux des conseils généraux” of the year viii, and especially of the year ix. “Many of the cross-roads have entirely disappeared at the hands of the neighboring owners of the land. The paved roads are so much booty.” (For example, Vosges, p. 429, year ix.) “The roads of the department are in such a bad state that the land-owners alongside carry off the stones to build their houses and inclose what they fall heir to. They encroach on the roads daily; the ditches are cultivated by them the same as their own property.”
Laws of February 39, March 9, 1804, and of February 28, March 10, 1805.
Laws of July 23, 1802, and of February 27, 1811.
“Correspondance de Napoléon,” No. 4474 (note dictated to Lucien).
Decree of March 1, 1808: “Are counts by right, all ministers, senators, councilors of state for life, presidents of the Corps Legislatif, and archbishops. Are barons by right, all bishops. May become barons, after ten years of service, all first presidents and attorney-generals, the mayors of the thirty-six principal towns. (In 1811, instead of 36, there are 52 principal towns.) May also become barons, the presidents and members of the department electoral colleges who have attended three sessions of these colleges.”
Decree of Thermidor 4, year x.
Law of Pluviose 28, year viii.
“Procès-verbaux des conseils généraux” of the years viii and x. (The second series, drawn up after those propounded by the minister Chaptal, is much more complete and furnishes an historical document of the highest importance.)
“Statistiques des préfets (from the years ix to xiii, about 40 volumes).
Beugnot, “Mémoires,” i., 363.
Faber, ibid., 127.—Cf. Charlotte de Sohr, “Napoleon en 1811” (details and anecdotes on Napoleon’s journey through Belgium and Holland).
Beugnot, i., 380, 384. “He struck the good Germans dumb with admiration, unable to comprehend how it was that their interests had become so familiar to him and with what superiority he treated them.”
Beugnot, ibid., i., 395. Everywhere, on the Emperor’s passage (1811), the impression experienced was “a kind of shock as at the sight of a wonderful apparition.”
Thiers, “Histoire du Consulat et l’Empire,” xvi., 246 (January, 1813). “A word to the prefect, who transmitted this to one of the municipal councilors of his town, was enough to insure an offer from some large town and have this imitated throughout the empire. Napoleon had an idea that he could get towns and cantons to offer him troops of horse, armed and equipped.”—In fact, this offer was voted with shouts by the Paris municipal council and, through contagion, in the provinces. As to voting this freely it suffices to remark how the annexed towns voted, which, six months later, are to rebel. Their offers are not the least. For instance, Amsterdam offers 100 horsemen, Hamburg 100, Rotterdam 50, the Hague 40, Leyden 24, Utrecht 20, Dusseldorf 12.—The horsemen furnished are men enlisted for money; 16,000 are obtained, and the sum voted suffices to purchase additionally 22,000 horses and 22,000 equipments.—To obtain this money, the prefect himself apportions the requisite sum among those in his department who pay the most taxes, at the rate of from 600 to 1000 francs per head. On these arbitrary requisitions and a great many others, either in money or in produce, and on the sentiments of the farmers and landed proprietors in the South, especially after 1813, cf. the “Mémoires de M. Villèle,” vol. i., passim.
Comte Joseph d’Estourmel, “Souvenirs de France et d’Italie,” 240. The general council of Rouen was the first to suggest the vote for guards of honor. Assembled spontaneously (meetings are always spontaneous), its members pass an enthusiastic address. “The example was found to be excellent; the address was published in the Moniteur, and sent to all the prefects. . . . . The councils were obliged to meet, which generously disposed of other people’s children, and very worthy persons, myself first of all, thought that they might join in this shameful purpose, to such an extent had imperial fanaticism fascinated them and perverted consciences!”
Archives nationales (state of accounts of the prefects and reports of the general police commissioners, F 7. 5014 and following records.—Reports of senators on their senatoreries, AF, iv., 1051, and following records).—These papers disclose at different dates the state of minds and of things in the provinces. Of all these reports, that of Roederer on the senatorerie of Caen is the most instructive, and gives the most details on the three departments composing it. (Printed in his “Œuvres complètes,” vol. iii.)
The reader will find in the Archives nationales, the fullest and most precise information concerning local administration and the sentiments of the different classes of society, in the correspondence of the prefects of the first Restoration, of the hundred days, and of the second Restoration from 1814 to 1823 (Cf. especially those of Haute-Garonne, the Rhine, Côte d’Or, Ain, Loiret, Indre-et-Loire, Indre, Loire-Inférieure and Aisne.) The letters of several prefects, M. de Chabroe, M. de Tocqueville, M. de Remusat, M. de Barante, are often worth publishing; occasionally, the minister of the interior has noted with a pencil in the margin, “To be shown to the King.”
M. de Villèle, ibid., i., 248.
Rocquain, “l’État de la France au 18 Brumaire,” reports of the councilors of state sent on missions, p. 40.
De Feville, “La France économique,” 248 and 249.
Charles Nicolas, “Les Budgets de la France depuis le commencement du xixe siècle.” In 1816, the four direct contributions returned, in principal, 249 millions, and, in additional centimes, 89 millions only. For a long time the additional centimes applied to the local service and voted by the department or by the commune are not many and do not exceed 5 per cent. of the principal.
Pelet de la Lozère, “Opinions de Napoléon au Conseil d’Etat,” p. 277 (Session of March 15, 1806).—Decree of March 16, 1806, and of September 15, 1807.
Ibid., 276. “To those who objected that a tax could only be made according to law, Napoleon replied that it was not a tax, since there were no other taxes than those which the law established, and that this one (the extra assessment of a quarter of the produce of timber) was established by decree. It is only a master, and an absolute master, who could reason in this way.”
Law of March 20, 1813. (Woods, meadows, and pasture-grounds used by the population in common are excepted, also buildings devoted to public use, promenades, and public gardens.)—The law takes rural possessions, houses and factories, rented and producing an income.—Thiers. xvi., 279. The five per cents at this time were worth 75 francs, and 138 millions of these gave a revenue of 9 millions, about the annual income derived by the communes from their confiscated real property.
Aucoc, ibid., §§ 55 and 135.