Life of Jacques Bonhomme, Printer (1819–1865)

The Life of Jacques Bonhomme, Printer (1819–1865)

Created: Sunday, 27 March, 2016
Revised: 28 June, 2017


Frédéric Bastiat often used the figure of "Jacques Bonhomme" in his economic sophisms to provide a classical liberal foil to other characters who espoused conservative, protectionist, or socialist views. [2] In Bastiat’s stories Jacques Bonhomme’s trade varied, sometimes he was a wine maker (like Frédéric Bastiat himself in ES2.10 “The Tax Collector”), at other times he was a carpenter (ES2.3 “The Two Axes”), or a shop keeper, most famously as the shop keeper whose window got broken by his son in What is Seen and What is Not Seen (1850). “Jacques Bonhomme” also made an appearance during the 1848 Revolution on two separate occasions as the voice of Bastiat and his companions when they launched revolutionary street magazines in February/March[3] and June/July[4] which were designed to appeal to ordinary Parisian workers who took to the streets to oppose the régime. It is hard to tell if this was Bastiat’s creation or that of the other members of his group (such as Gustave de Molinari) as the articles were unsigned. But I suspect it was Bastiat who had developed a great fondness for the French everyman personified by JB. In this account we made the character of Jacques Bonhomme the same age as Gustave de Molinari (born 1819) but made him a skilled worker in the printing industry rather than a journalist in order to explore the life of a working class man in Paris rather than the more unusual life of an intellectual.

“Jacques Bonhomme” first made an appearance during the revolution in March with the publication in La République française of two “petites fiches” supposedly written by “Jacques Bonhomme”.[5] These were designed as flyers or leaflets which could be handed out in the streets to passers-by or posters which were designed to be plastered on the walls of Paris. They were written and handed out on the streets of Paris on or just before March 12, 1848, only two weeks after the fall of the Monarchy and the proclamation of the Second Republic and when key policies of the new state were being discussed by the Provisional Government. In “The Immediate Relief of the People,” Bastiat speaks directly to “the People” using the familiar “tu” form but inserts an aside where he speaks as Jacques Bonhomme:

You are being told: “You have not enough to live on; let the State add what is missing.” Who would not wish for this if it were possible?
But alas, the tax collector’s coffers are not the wine pitcher of Cana.

In “A Disastrous Remedy” Bastiat as Jacques Bonhomme again speaks to the people warning them that they are being duped by socialist promises that the workers can be made better off by paying them subsidies out of the taxes they themselves are paying. It is clear that Bastiat in March was already thinking along the lines of his theory of the “The State” which would appear again in a draft form in June when Jacques Bonhomme the man would offer his readers a money prize for the best definition of the State.[6]

Jacques Bonhomme disappeared for a few months while Bastiat stood for election to the Constituent Assembly in April (successfully) but returned again in June when he was resurrected not just as a character or voice for Bastiat’s free market ideas but as his own revolutionary street magazine, appropriately named Jacques Bonhomme.[7] In the four issues which were published the articles are written as if Jacques Bonhomme was an eyewitness who was reporting on what he had seen on the streets, and commenting on political events as if he were a worker like all the other “Jacques Bonhommes” who were marching, protesting, and rioting against the troops. The articles which appear in the four issues of the street magazine Jacques Bonhomme are written from a rather strange perspective; they are partly in the first person of “Jacques” and partly in the third person where it is reported what Jacques thinks, has seen, or has done. Sometimes an unidentified third party asks Jacques what he thinks and it is reported what he says as if he were being directly quoted. Jacques appears to be a living person who is an eyewitness to the events of February and March 1848, but also seems to be the personification of the French people as he relates his experiences of suffering under various governments throughout history and his participation in several previous French Revolutions. It appears that for the 4 or 5 weeks of the magazine’s existence in June 1848 Bastiat had temporarily become the fictional character “Jacques Bonhomme” and that fiction had come to life, or at least temporarily.

It is interesting that Molinari also used stories to popularize economic ideas, typically in conversations between individuals with very different views about free markets and free trade, but he never used the character of Jacques Bonhomme which seems to be Bastiat’s preference. Molinari used the faceless figure of “The Economist” to present the free market position along with various other foils such as a “Conservative,” a “Socialist,” or a “Protectionist.”[8]

In this story I have made Jacques Bonhomme a skilled printer, in the style of Bastiat, who lived and worked in Paris. He was the same age as Molinari (born in 1819) and lived through the revolution of February 1848 and the rise of Emperor (Louis) Napoléon III. But, whereas Molinari lived an unusually long life (dying in 1912 at the age of 92, having outlived all his friends and colleagues from the 1840s), Jacques Bonhomme lived only the average life span for men of his time, namely 46–47 years. However, like Frédéric Bastiat’s character Jacques Bonhomme, our Jacques Bonhomme also espoused free trade and classical liberal views partly because of his own life experiences and partly because he worked for the liberal publishing firm Guillaumin which was at the centre of liberal economic and political affairs for several decades. By working for Guillaumin he absorbed many of the ideas expressed in the books he worked on, such as ideas about free trade, free markets, and peace. Many working class printers became intellectually and politically engaged as a result of their work in type-setting and printing books with political material. One of the best examples of this was the left-wing anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) whom the economists respected even if they disagreed with his conclusions. Bastiat was to engage Proudhon in a famous debate in 1849–50 over the legitimacy of profit, interest, and rent[9] and so in some measure JB is modeled on Proudhon.

Jacques Bonhomme’s life as a printer was thus closely interwoven with the lives of liberals like Frédéric Bastiat and Molinari as well as the tumultuous events of the period. Here is his story …

The Life of Jacques Bonhomme, Printer (1819–1865)

In order to get an idea of what life was like for an ordinary working person in Paris in the late 1840s we need to go beyond the lives of Molinari and Bastiat which were quite unusual. Bastiat was a moderately wealthy landowner who paid enough in direct taxes (especially on land) to qualify not only to vote (200 fr. per annum) but also to stand for election (500 fr p.a.) which he did a couple of times but not successfully until the Revolution. He was one of the literally 1% which ruled France during the July Monarchy. Molinari worked as a journalist for several publications and thus did not have a regular income but he could have made a reasonable living (we don’t know because none of his letters or other personal records survive), but certainly not enough to be allowed to vote. Therefore we have constructed a typical example of a working class man who worked in the printing industry in Paris as our example. We have named him “Jacques Bonhomme” for obvious reasons. He couldn’t vote either or join a political. group, like all the other working class people in France at the time.

Jacques Bonhomme may well have been born in the countryside and sent to work in Paris, perhaps staying with a relative while he was an apprentice. Three quarters of the French population (approx. 36 million in 1848) were engaged in agricultural work and the average small family farm (consisting of 4 people) and growing a crop like wheat or rye produced an annual family income of about 500 fr.[10]

Paris was a large city of just over 1 million people (London had 1.9 million) and was the major industrial area in the country. Paris-based industry (mostly located on the right bank of the Seine river) produced an annual output of 4.46 billion fr. with the following industries producing the most: clothing (241 m. fr. with 90,064 workers), food (227 m. fr. with 10,428 workers), construction (145 m. fr. with 41,603 workers), furniture (137 m. fr. with 36,184 workers), precious metals and jewelry (135 m. fr. with 16,819 workers), “Articles de Paris” (luxury goods) (129 m. fr. with 35,679 workers), textiles (106 m. fr. with 36,685 workers), metal working (104 m. fr. with 24,891 workers), chemical industry (75 m. fr. with 9,737 workers), carriages, saddlery and military equipment (52 m. fr. with 13,754 workers), printing, engraving, and publishing (51 m. fr. with 16,705 workers), animal skins and leather (42 m. fr. with 4,573 workers), woodworking and basketry (20 m. fr. with 5,405 workers). About 65,000 businesses employed a total of 343,000 people on an average wage of 3 fr. 80 c. per day. About one third were women (112,891) and about 6% (19,000) were young apprentices.[11]

After receiving an elementary school education from the local commune at the age of 12 (c. 1831) Jacques Bonhomme would have entered a three year apprenticeship with a printer, in his case a printer who did most of his work for the classical liberal publishing firm Guillaumin. He would have been at school when the Bourbon monarchy fell in July 1830 and was replaced by King Louis Philippe. The printing industry was concentrated in the 10th and 11th arrondissements on the left bank of Seine on the western and southwestern side of the old part of the city. Jacques Bonhomme would probably have lived with the printer receiving little or no pay but room and board for the duration of his apprenticeship which would have ended when he was about 15 (1831–34).

The printing industry was heavily regulated by the government because of the question of censorship. The government did not want criticism of its policies and they did not want subversive ideas, whether liberal or socialist, from being spread in newspapers or books. Under Napoleon the number of printers was limited to 80 and this still remained in effect. The industry was regulated by the police who enforced the censorship laws. A common practice was the use of “caution money” which publishers had to put up before something could be printed and which would be confiscated in they infringed the law. The standard fine for infringing the law was 125 fr. [12] Many printers set up their business outside the city limits, e.g. in Batignolles, in order to escape close police supervision.

Once he had graduated Jacques would have begun earning less than 3 fr. per day (probably being being paid on a daily basis), worked 6 days a week for 10–12 hours per day, and lived in a small room in a building not far from the printer’s shop. Since he lived in an older and poorer part of the city he would have lived in a single room on an upper floor of a building (the ground floor was most desirable and the upper floors were cheaper to rent). There was no running water but the city provided water at public fountains to which he had to walk to get his daily needs. An open sewer or drain went down the middle of the street, although the city was gradually upgrading to gutters at the sides of the roads. Nevertheless outbreaks of cholera did occur as in the summer of 1849 which took the life of the young Mauritian-born economist Alcide Fonteyraud. Some streets in more prosperous areas were gas lit.

After a few years Jacques might have been able to move onto a yearly agreement with the possibility of eventually earning the industry average in the printing industry of 4 fr. 18 c. per daty which was quite high compared to the lowest rates which were earned in the textile industry of 3 fr. 34 c. per day. If he worked at printing books, say for the Guillaumin publishing firm (which began in 1838 when Jacques Bonhomme was 19 years old), typographic printers earned on average 4 fr. 43 c. per day. Jacques Bonhomme could have earned an annual income of 1,275 fr. with probably a 1 month layoff in the slow winter months of January or February (the “dead season” for the printing industry). Since workers in the printing industry had the highest average literacy rates of any sector of 97% (the lowest was in textiles 73%) he probably read and understood the material he was setting up for printing and may well have absorbed some of the liberal economic ideas of the Guillaumin firm. On the other hand, he probably had friends in the industry who worked for printers who published books and magazines by socialists such as Victor Considerant and Louis Blanc which would have led to interesting discussions about politics in the bar after work.

Concerning some of his living expenses, the national government imposed indirect taxes on many items of everyday consumption such as salt, sugar, and alcohol. In addition the city of Paris imposed its own taxes on staples like bread produced within the city limits, so that the price of a 2 kg (4.4 lb) loaf of bread fluctuated between 50c. and 87.50 c. Since the bakery industry was strictly regulated by the government as a “corporation” or guild, the number of bakers was limited and the government set the price of loaves of bread in order to prevent rioting if the price rose too much as it did in 1847 when floods and a poor harvest reduced the supply of grain and a loaf cost 97 c.).[13] On other everyday items the national government imposed taxes on tobacco (the manufacture of which was a state monopoly), alcohol, and the sending of letters.

The city of Paris also imposed an entry tax (or octroi) on consumer goods entering the city walls to pay for the costs of maintaining roads, drains, lighting, and other public infrastructure. All people and vehicles entering the city were inspected and taxes had to be paid on goods such as wine, beer, food (except for flour, fruit, milk), firewood, animal fodder, and construction materials.[14] The inner ring of octroi tax walls which surrounded the older part of Paris was built in the 1780s at the request of the private tax-collecting agency, the “Fermiers Généraux” (Farmers General) in order to make tax collection easier and restrict the smuggling of goods into the city. These were not torn down until 1859. In Jacques Bonhomme’s day there was a thriving industry just outside the city’s octroi walls providing food, drink, and entertainment at lower, tax-free prices than were available within the city.

Jacques Bonhomme would not have belonged to a trade union because the formation of unions was banned under the law. Now and again workers would attempt to form a union to negotiate with their employers (who were technically banned from forming associations but the law was not enforced upon them). Soon after Molinari arrived in Paris in 1841 one of his first jobs as a journalist for Le Courrier français was to cover the trial of a group pf carpenters who were arrested and changed with attempting to form a union. They were sentenced to five years in jail. As an ordinary worker Jacques Bonhomme had to carry with him a “livret d’ouvrier” (workers passbook) which listed his place of employment and was signed and stamped by the police. He had to produce this upon demand or he could be arrested for vagrancy.

In 1839 when he turned 20 Jacques Bonhomme was conscripted into the French Army for seven years bringing his occupation as a printer to a halt. To maintain a force of 429,490 men (at an annual cost of about 400 million fr.) the military had to conscript about 80,000 men each year in order to get the 60,000 new soldiers it needed to replace those being “liberated” from the service each year. There were some exemptions and one could pay for a substitute to take your place. Jacques Bonhomme did not qualify for an exemption as neither he nor his family had the 1,500 to 2,000 fr. needed to pay for a substitute. In 1839 299,896 young men were liable to be called up, of which 64,672 were conscripted (22%) and 909 (1.4%) young men refused (i.e they were “insoumis” or “draft dodgers”).[15]

He was probably stationed in Paris and worked on building the fortified wall around Paris which was the brain-child of the conservative politician Adolphe Thiers. Construction began in 1841 and was completed by 1844 at a cost of 142 million fr. It surrounded the city with a new wall 55 km long, 10 meters high, with a deep ditch and sloping glacis outside the wall which stretched for 250 meters. It was built largely by using conscript soldiers like Jacques. Outside the “Thiers wall” was a system of 16 free-standing forts which completed the “embastillisation of Paris.” Jacques Bonhomme would have been one of 50,000 soldiers stationed in the city.[16] The inner circle of octrois gates were only dismantled in 1859 when he was 40. The larger miltary wall would not be dismantled until 1920s, some 100 years after his birth.

While in the army Jacques Bonhomme would have earned considerably less than his relatively well-paying job as a printer. An ordinary foot soldier was given 47 c. per day of which he had to pay 32 c. for his food and equipment, which left him 15 c. for his own use (about 55 fr per annum). A captain in the infantry, on the other hand, was paid 2,760 fr. per annum. A junior lieutenant earned closer to what Jacques Bonhomme had earned as a printer - 1,590 fr. p.a.[17] Jacques Bonhomme probably bought black market tobacco and alcohol to save money.

When he was discharged from the army in 1846 (aged 27) he had lost 7 years of his life (about 15% of his life expectancy of 46–47 years) and 9,000 fr. in lost wages as a skilled worker in the printing industry. It is possible that he would have returned to the industry he knew and continued to work there for another 20 years or so until he died at the age of 46 in 1865. It is possible that Jacques Bonhomme had come across political ideas in the army as well as at his work at the printers producing books for Guillaumin. Socialists had been active in appealing to soldiers and he may well have met socialist agitators in some of the bars and goguettes (singing societies) just outside the octroi wall. He would also have sung the liberal songs of Béranger and possibly heard of Bastiat’s large meetings being organized across the city in favour of free trade. If he had been able to get his job back working for the Guillaumin publishing firm he might have been able to afforde a copy of Bastiat’s second collection of Economic Sophisms which appeared in january 1848 and sold for 1 fr in a special popular edition. He might even have worked on printing them in late 1847 as well as printing the French Free Trade Asscociation’s magazine Le Libre-Échange.

Jacques Bonhomme would also not have belonged to a political party as these too were banned. If individuals gathered in bars to talk about politics their meetings might be broken up by the police. One way around this was to go to special bars called “goguettes” where singing societies gathered. Some poets like Béranger made a living writing political songs mocking the king or the Church and praising Napoléon. Some of these songs had alternate words (a political version and an innocent, non-political version) which could be sung if the police entered the goguette. Jacques Bonhomme may well have gathered with his friends in goguettes to sing these songs.

When the Revolution broke out in February 1848 Jacques Bonhomme, at the age of 28 or 29, could well have taken to the streets with the other protesters, perhaps with a gun he had kept from his military service, attracted by the promise of freedom of speech and association, the cutting of the indirect taxes on food and other staples, the right to form unions, and the toppling of the corrupt and out of touch régime of King Louis Philippe and François Guizot. He might have joined those who threw up hundreds of barricades across the streets of Paris in February to block the progress of the troops who had been ordered by the régime to crush the revolt. The soldiers on horseback were defeated by the barricades in February and the régime fell allowing the creation the Second Republic. Now that censorship had collapsed Jacques Bonhomme was free to read the hundreds of journals and pamphlets which flooded the streets or adorned the walls of the city He could now attend the political clubs which also sprang up in their hundreds across the city, where for the first time in his life he could speak his mind on political topics without fear of the police intervening. Jacques Bonhomme may well have attended the political club, "le Club de la liberté du travail" (Club for the Freedom of Working), set up by Bastiat and his friends to defend the liberal idea of the liberty of working against the attacks of the socialists inspired by Louis Blanc’s idea of a government funded right to a job for all workers. No doubt he had vigorous arguments with his fellow printers (or the most literate and politicised of skilled workers) in the bars after work about the policies of the new government. he may have espoused liberal and free trade views against the socialist views of his fellow workers.

Because of the economic downturn which followed the upheaval of the February Revolution Jacques Bonhomme’s job was probably affected with sackings and lay offs, or at best a reduced working week, so he might well have suffered some difficult months. When rioting broke out again on the streets of Paris in June, with the building of yet more street barricades, Jacques Bonhomme could well have seen Bastiat and Molinari on the streets handing out their revolutionary street journal entitled Jacques Bonhomme, the title of which would no doubt have amused him. The troops (this time acting on the orders of the new republican government) used their artillery and new street fighting tactics to destroy the uprising in a few days. But several thousand were killed or injured and 10s of thousands were arrested. If Jacques Bonhomme had been on the streets in June with the protesters he may well have been killed or arrested, tried, and then deported for his revolutionary activities.

Jacques Bonhomme also might also have died in the cholera epidemic which swept the poorer districts of Paris in the summer of 1849 killing 19,184 people, 1,600 of which lived in the 10th and 11th arrondissements where Jacques Bonhomme worked). Contaminated water from the government public water fountains may have helped spread the disease.[18] Life expectancy at that time was about 40–41 years so his life might have come to an end in 1859, but since he lived beyond his early years he may well have lived to be 46–47 before he died of a heart attack or some other disease. Frédéric Bastiat died in December 1850 at the age of 49 from suspecterd throat cancer before he could finish his treatise on economics which Jacques Bonhomme was probably working on in the Guillaumin print shop getting it ready for release in January 1850. Another key person in the Guillaumin network of classical liberals, Charles Coquelin, was roughly the same age as Bastiat and was the editor of the enormous Dictionnaire de l'économie politique project dropped dead from a heart attack while working on volume 2 in 1852 at the age of 50.

After 1849 when Jacques was in his thirties he was in the most productive period of his life. he may have been well off enough at this time to get married and have a child (perhaps born in 1850). His wife might have worked in the textile or clothing industry (the biggest employer in Paris at that time) or she might have been able to get a job in one of the new “department stores” which were beginning to appear. Jacques at the Guillaumin print shop would have been working on big new Dictionnaire de l'économie politique project which appeared in 1852–53 or possibly on the 1st edition of Frédéric Bastiat’s Complete Works (1854–55).

It is possible that Jacques had voted for Louis Napoléon for president of the Second Republic in the December 1848 election as he got overwhelming popular support against the other main contender General Cavaignac (whom Bastiat had supported as the lesser of two evils), who had led the crackdown on political opposition after the June Days uprising and had been in charge during the period of martial law which had been declared afterwards. If Jacques had had more radical political views these would have been forced underground during the crack down on political gatherings and the censorship. So hee and any other politically interested printers would have returned to the goguettes as they had done before the 1848 revolution.

But let us hope he had absorbed some of the liberal ideas he came across while working in the print shop which published Guillaumin’s books, and that he lived long enough to have read about the signing of the Cobden-Chevalier free trade treaty of 1860 which fulfilled Frédéric Bastiat’s hopes and dreams for free trade in France, and to work on printing the second and enlarged edition of Bastiat’s Oeuvres Complètes which Guillaumin published in 1863–64; or perhaps even Molinari’s second edition of the Cours d’économie politique which was also published that year.

Jacques Bonhomme may well have dropped dead in the print shop at the age of 46 in 1865 from a heart attack or other disease, leaving behind a wife and a couple of children aged 15 and under. It is not known how much in savings he would have left them and how they would have supported themselves in his absence. The young children would have been apprenticed or sent out to work in their early teens like other children of their social class and generation. But this is another story.


  1. The first use I can date is ES2.12 “Le sel, la poste et la douane” (Salt, the Postal Service and the Customs Service) (May 1846) which has a discussion between Jacques Bonhomme and John Bull about postal reform. There are three other undated uses in ES2 which probably date from 1847: ES2.3 “The Two Axes”, ES2.10 “The Tax Collector,” and ES2.13 “The Three Magistrates.”  ↩

  2. La République française  ↩

  3. Jacques Bonhomme  ↩

  4. “Variétés. Petites affiches de Jacques Bonhomme. I. Soulagement immédiat de peuple” (The Immediate Relief of the People) and “II. Funeste remède” (A Disastrous Remedy), in Le Libre-Échange, 12 March 1848, 2nd Year, no. 17, p. 84. These were also reprinted on the same day in Bastiat’s short-lived street magazine La République française which he and some friends handed out on the streets of Paris in late February and March (“Funeste remède” in La République française, mardi 14 mars 1848, p. 1, signed “F. Bastiat”). They will be included in Liberty Fund’s edition of ES3 (forthcoming in vol. 3).  ↩

  5. FB The State (June 1848)  ↩

  6. Jacques Bonhomme. Editor J. Lobet. Founded by Bastiat with Gustave de Molinari, Charles Coquelin, Alcide Fonteyraud, and Joseph Garnier. It appeared approximately weekly with 4 issues between 11 June to 13 July; with a break between 24 June and 9 July because of the rioting during the June Days uprising. The first issue was a single page only on “papier rose” designed to be posted on the wall. Online at <>.  ↩

  7. GdM conversations.  ↩

  8. FB Proudhon debate 1850  ↩

  9. Moreau de Jonnès, “Conditions & salaires des classes agricoles en France,” Annuaire de l’économie politique (1851), pp. 368–84.  ↩

  10. Chambre de Commerce de Paris [Horace Say], Statistique de l’Industrie a Paris résultant de l’enquête. Faite par la Chambre de commerce pour les années 1847–1848 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1851). “Chap. XXII. 13e Groupe - Imprimerie, Gravure, Papeterie” pp. 187–94. Summarised by H. Say in Annuaire de l’économie politique (1852), pp. 217–30.  ↩

  11. “C.S.” “Imprimerie” DEP, vol. 1, pp. 414–15.  ↩

  12. Annuaire d’éc.pol. (1856) “Prix du pain, à Paris,” p. 301–2.  ↩

  13. Horace Say, Paris, son octroi et ses emprunts (Paris: Guillaumin, 1847).  ↩

  14. François Arago, Sur les Fortifications de Paris (Paris: Bachelier, 1841) and Études sur les fortifications de Paris, considérées politiquement et militairement (Paris: Pagnerre, 1845). Michel Chevalier, Les fortifications de Paris, lettre à M. Le Comte Molé (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1841) and Cours d’Économie politique fait au Collège de France par Michel Chevalier (Bruxelles: Meline, Cans, 1851), vol. 2, “Douzième leçon. Concours de l’armée française aux travaux des fortifications de Paris,” pp. 183–96. First ed. 1844.  ↩

  15. François Arago, Sur les Fortifications de Paris (Paris: Bachelier, 1841) and Études sur les fortifications de Paris, considérées politiquement et militairement (Paris: Pagnerre, 1845). Michel Chevalier, Les fortifications de Paris, lettre à M. Le Comte Molé (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1841) and Cours d’Économie politique fait au Collège de France par Michel Chevalier (Bruxelles: Meline, Cans, 1851), vol. 2, “Douzième leçon. Concours de l’armée française aux travaux des fortifications de Paris,” pp. 183–96. First ed. 1844.  ↩

  16. Tapiès, p. 340.] “Du Ministère de la Guerre en France,” pp. 327–66, in La France et l’Angleterre ou statistique morale et physique de la France comparée à celle de l’Angleterre, sur tous les points analogiques; par Le Cher. F. de Tapiès (Paris: Guillaumin, 1845).  ↩

  17. “Note sur le choléra asiatique à Paris en 1849,” Annuaire d’éc. pol. (1851), p. 249  ↩