Front Page Titles (by Subject) 84.: THE MUNICIPAL INSTITUTIONS OF FRANCE EXAMINER, 13 FEB., 1831, PP. 98-9 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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84.: THE MUNICIPAL INSTITUTIONS OF FRANCE EXAMINER, 13 FEB., 1831, PP. 98-9 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE MUNICIPAL INSTITUTIONS OF FRANCE
This article was occasioned by the discussion of the municipal reform law, already frequently alluded to by Mill (see, e.g., Nos. 57 and 76). It is headed as title and printed in the “Political Examiner.” Described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘The Municipal Institutions of France’ in the Examiner of 13 Febry. 1830 [sic]” (MacMinn, p. 15), it is listed as title and marked with square brackets in the Somerville College set.
debates of great interest and importance are now taking place in the Chamber of Deputies, on the proposed municipal law. Our daily journalists, being altogether unaware of the importance of this as of almost every other topic beyond the range of every-day conversation, allow the public to remain utterly unacquainted, both with the debates themselves, and with the facts necessary to understand them. We shall briefly state the nature of the existing municipal institutions of France, and of the alterations proposed to be made in them by the present Bill.
France is divided into departments, and each department into arrondissements. Each arrondissement is likewise divided into cantons; but of this last subdivision it is unnecessary to say any thing further in this place. Below the canton, there remains only the division into communes or townships, consisting of a town or village, with the lands appertaining to it.
At the head of each department is a prefect, at the head of each arrondissement a sub-prefect, and at the head of each commune a mayor. The prefect and the sub-prefect are the delegates of the executive, the subordinate agents or instruments of the general government; and are therefore, very properly, named by the Crown. The mayor has also to perform various duties, judicial and administrative, which are delegated to him by the general government, but he is considered as the representative, not so much of the Crown as of the commune; appointed, not so much to take care that the commune performs its duties, as to see that it obtains its rights; and is therefore supposed to be, and generally is, one of the principal inhabitants of the place. Nevertheless, under the odious system of centralization introduced by Napoleon, and carried still farther by the restored Bourbons, the principle of which was to annihilate every atom or vestige of power not emanating from the central government, the mayors as well as the prefects and sub-prefects are named by the executive.1 In all communes exceeding, we believe, 3,000 inhabitants, they are appointed directly by the Crown; where the population is below that number, by the prefect of the department.
In addition to the prefect, the sub-prefect, and the mayor, there are also bodies, consisting of from twenty to thirty of the principal inhabitants or thereabouts, and termed, conseils généraux de département, conseils d’arrondissement, and conseils communaux or municipaux. These bodies are not boards, sitting constantly, but a kind of local parliaments, holding a session of about a fortnight once every year, and meeting for special purposes at any other time, if called together by the prefect, the sub-prefect, or the mayor, respectively. The duties of these councils are to determine what rates shall be levied for the local purposes of the department, the arrondissement, and the commune, and to what objects they shall be devoted; to audit the accounts of the preceding year; and to assess on each inhabitant of the department his proper share of the direct taxes of the department; for the chambers only determine upon certain general data what sum shall be paid by each department on account of each tax (impôt foncier, impôt mobilier, and portes et fenêtres). The departmental council afterwards shares out this demand among the several arrondissements, the council of each arrondissement among the several communes, and the council of each commune among the inhabitants.
Such are the functions of the various local councils. Their nomination emanates exclusively from the executive. They are named in every case by the Crown, or its delegate and representative, the prefect. Such were the liberties of France under the restoration! and yet there are slaves, both in this country and in France, who aver that the charter of 1814 was faulty by not giving sufficient power to the Crown!
The present bill, which originated with the Chamber of Deputies, not with the ministry, relates to the mayors, and the communal councils, exclusively, and has for its object, not to make any change in their functions, but to alter the mode of their nomination. There is a crying demand for a law for the former of these purposes, as the functions of the councils comprehend but a small proportion of that large part of the business of government, which can be most conveniently and unexceptionably performed by local representative bodies. But any extension of their powers would be pure evil, while they continue, as at present, to be named by the government: for if any part of the people’s business is to be transacted by persons, in the selection of whom they have no voice, it is better that it should be done at Paris, by the ministers and the Chamber, who are at least under the influence of the opinion of a larger public, and who are supposed to be controlled and restrained by the nation whom they profess to represent.
By the present bill, the municipal councils are to be elected by the most highly-taxed inhabitants of the commune, in a number amounting on the average to about one-thirtieth part of the population.2 The mayors are to be named as heretofore, by the King or the prefect, but they must be selected from among the municipal councillors.3 The mayor is to retain his functions for three years, the members of the council for six, one half going out every three years, but being immediately re-eligible.4
The debates on the bill afford a tolerable foretaste of those on the approaching electoral law,5 and it might be added, of those in our own House of Commons on the bill for Parliamentary Reform.6 The popular party contend that the suffrage for the local councils ought to be extended to all who are rated for direct taxes, and are able to read and write. They say, that the proposed law will throw the powers of the local councils in the smaller communes entirely into the hands of landed proprietors, who, though a numerous class in France, will yet, if invested with a monopoly of power, exercise it for their separate interests; and will, in particular, make it their grand object to throw the local expenses off the land, and levy them by octroi, or taxes on raw produce imported into the town or village, which obviously fall, with enormously disproportionate weight, upon the poorer classes, and those who have nothing to support them but their labour. This would be a monstrous evil. It is admitted that in a new country, rent, not being the result of labour, is the most proper fund from which the necessities of the state can be supplied: in France this has already been done to a large extent, and to undo it would be a mere confiscation of the earnings of the productive and industrious, to put into the pockets of a class which in France, we admit, is also for the most part productive and industrious, that which it has in no respect earned.
In answer to this are brought forward all the stale common-places, which are heard whenever a demand is made for irresponsible power; that men of considerable property are alone fit for managing any of the affairs of the public, they alone having a stake in the country, and being the exclusive possessors of intelligence. These insolent assumptions, which we fear mankind will be condemned to hear for a considerable time longer, were refuted by the speakers on the popular side, with an ability and soundness which we wish we could expect to see equalled in our own Honourable House next month. We rejoice at the proofs afforded by these debates of the growing strength of the popular party in the nation. Three highly esteemed deputies, MM. Marchal, Thouvenel, and Gaëtan de la Rochefoucault, who had never belonged to the extrême gauche, have made able and energetic speeches, in which they ally themselves expressly and in the strongest manner with the popular cause.7 The speech of M. Daunou, and that of M. Isambert, were excellent.8
As usual, the party which calls itself moderate, had all the intemperance to itself. It is astonishing to us how the popular leaders find patience to bear up, without any attempts at retaliation, against the reproaches heaped upon them every day by an insolent and corrupt oligarchy, whose shameless greed of places and dignities has equalled or surpassed anything previously known even in the worst times of the Restoration.
[1 ]See No. 57, n5.
[2 ]Titre I, Chap. ii, Sect. 1, Art. 11.
[3 ]Titre I, Chap. i, Art. 3.
[4 ]Titre I, Chap. i, Art. 4, and Chap. ii, Sect. 1, Art. 17.
[5 ]See No. 72, n3, for the details of this law.
[6 ]Mill is referring to the impending debate on “A Bill to Amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales,” 1 William IV (14 Mar., 1831), PP, 1830-31, II, 197-218, which was defeated in Committee on 21 Apr. For subsequent Bills leading to 2 & 3 William IV, c. 45 (7 June, 1832), the First Reform Act, see Nos. 107, n2, and 174.
[7 ]Pierre François Marchal (1785-1864), a deputy from 1827, joined the 221 and supported Louis Philippe; his speech on the municipal government bill (29 Jan.) is in Moniteur, 1831, pp. 206-7. Pierre Sébastien Barthélemy Thouvenel (1782-1831), a doctor, also a deputy from 1827, one of the 221 and a supporter of Louis Philippe; his speech of 31 Jan. is ibid., pp. 227-8. Marquis Frédéric Gaëtan de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt (1779-1863), a moderate constitutionalist, who also was a deputy from 1827, one of the 221 and a supporter of Louis Philippe, favoured the abolition of slavery but not the new Electoral Law. His speech of 1 Feb. is ibid., p. 223.
[8 ]For the speeches of Daunou (31 Jan.) and Isambert (1 Feb.), see ibid., pp. 215-16 and 228-9.