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The Problem of Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux

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The Problem of Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux Author(s): Richard Munthe Brace Source: The American Historical Review, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Jul., 1946), pp. 649-667 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 31/05/2014 09:57
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The Problem of Breadand the French Revolution at Bordeaux

IN France throughout the eighteenth century, the city of Bordeaux experienced a progressive commercial development. Among the assets contributing to this growth were excellent harbor facilities and the fortunate location for trade with the West Indies. In addition, the vines of St. Emilion, the Medoc, Langon, and surrounding regions produced vintages for which there was great demand. The familles de commerce established large estates and, later in the century, diversified their holdings by investing in the incipient industries of the southwest region. While this practice seemed to be a reasoned hedge against commercially destructive wars with other maritime states, it tended to concentrate wealth in the hands of the mercantile interests. Though the local government taxed capital to alleviate the plight of the working population during periods of unemployment and high bread prices,' more often it was reinvested in the port of Bordeaux, or in industry. Perhaps this evident wealth led Arthur Young to record the prosperity of that city.2 By "city" Young doubtless meant the physical plant including the harbor, and those persons benefiting from mercantile prominence. Surely the oftquoted English observer did not imply that the worker in the shipyard, the rope factory, or the tannery was prosperous. Nor could he have included in his statement the peasant of Guienne who "languished in torpor and misery."' The contrast between the condition of the noblesse de cominerce and that of the workers and peasantry need not be labored.4 Nevertheless, Young was essentially correct in his appraisal. By I787 Bordeaux had outdistanced the other ports of France and considered herself
*The author is associate professor of history in the University of Colorado. I Joseph XV (xvisse siecle),"Revuee'conomiquede Bordeaux, Benzacar, paina Bordeaux "Le
(1905), 8, notes that from August 23, 1783, until the Revolution bread was not sold in Bordeaux at its real price. The price was depressed by subsidies paid to the bakers. 2 Arthur Young, Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, I789, ed. by M. BethamEdwards (London, 1913), pp. 66-70, for observationson Bordeaux. 3 Marcel Marion, "Etat des classes rurales au xviiie siecle dans la generalite de Bordeaux," Revue des etudes historiques, LXVIII ( 902), 451, for the quotation, and I 10, 477. 4 Henri See, Esquisse d'une histoire du re'gime agraire en Europe aux XVIIIe et xlxe si?cles (Paris, 1921), pp. 49-50, for France in general, and p. i8, citing J. Loutchisky, L'etat des classes agricoles en France a' la veille de la Re'volution (Paris, i9i6), pp. 15 ff., for Bordeaux in particular; Marion, in Rev. des 6tudes hist., 477.


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Richard Munthe Brace

the secondcity of the realm.Ships from her quays plied the seveni seas,and domination the profitable of tradewith the Antilles-particularly Martinique and Saint Domingue-was firmly secured.5 duringthe eighteenth Moreover, centurythe Bordelais exportedan ever-increasing amountof wine;6 and after I785they enteredthe lucrative slavetrade.7 That Bordeaux a city of 'luxe was scandaleux" attestedby furtherevidence.Her wealth was reflected the is in creation of the Bordeaux Academy of Letters, Science, and Arts (I7I2); it was apparent in the public works program of Intendant Tourny (I743-I758); and finally the Grand Theater, planned by the architect Louis and opened in I780, brilliantly symbolized the continuing interest of the noblesse de commerce in the artistic life of their city. In contrast with the splendor of the mercantile classes was the poverty of the workers in Bordeaux's embryonic factories and the peasants in the vineyards. During prosperous periods these proletarians shared in some small degree the affluence of those who exploited them. But in times of economic dislocation the people were inadequately prepared to maintain a decent standard of living. Subsistence at any level among the peasantry and industrial proletariat of eighteenth century France was largely dependent on bread. Bread was used as a foundation for la soupe, the basic dietary item of the masses, often consumed thrice daily in the provinces.8Its importance was so great that harvests, heavy flour exportation, interruption of commerce by war, as well as prices and subsidies, were carefully watched.9 The workers' constant clamor for "cheap bread" during the nineteenth century appears honestly inherited from the eighteenth. Throughout France fear of famine was ever present among the underprivileged. See, in reporting agricultural conditions for the country as a whole, cites fourteen years of poor yield between I725 and I789.10 Since inadequate transportationprevented nationalization of the wheat market, more pertinent to the area under consideration is the fact that in the period I708-I789 the generalite of Bordeaux experienced thirty-three bad harvests.1" Furthermore, scarcity was induced in years of good return by the mercantile practice of
5 Thcophile Malvezin, Histoire du commerce de Bordeaux depuis les origines jusqu'a nos jours (Bordeaux, I892), III, 203-205, for some statistics. 8 Aur6lien Vivie, Histoire de la terreura Bordeaux (Bordeaux, I877), I, 4, places wine exportation from the city at I20,000 tons annually during the last years of the reign of Louis XVI. 7 Malvezin, III, 209. 8 Camille E. Labrousse, Esquisse du mouvement des prix et des revenues en France au XVIIIe siccle (Paris, 1933), II, 575. 9 See, p. 50. 10 Ibid., p. 49. 11 Benzacar, in Rev. icon. de Bordeaux,XV, 47.

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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


These agriculof exportinggrainwithoutdue consideration domesticneeds.'2 tural criseshad disturbingeffectson small scale and ruralindustryby preScarcityof grain in Borproblemsfor the workers."3 cipitatingsubsistence deaux was constant during the eighteenth century and is attestedin the supreat reportsof functionaries variouslevels." In spite of the commercial massunrest, macyof the Girondevalley,indigencewas common.Its corollary, from that time until the wavs reportedfrequentlybeforeI783 and constantly outbreak the Revolution.'5 of in A unique factor bearingdirectlyupon subsistence Bordeauxwas the of areasin the vine. By I750 the local intensespecialization the surrounding planting of wheat had been virtuallyabandonedin an effort to devote as Normally,domestic wheat muchacreageas possibleto the renownedgrapes.16 prothe was broughtfrom Le bas-Medoc,"7 single area in the se'ne'chaussee ducing in any quantity, and from Agen, Auch, le Quercy, Brittany,and Normandy.'8 Suppliesoften came from centraland easternEurope,reaching was If the Girondesometimes Britainor the Low Countries.'9 Bordeaux to via of of be provisioned, both the importation wheat and the exportation wine wereessential. A good yearfrom the vine, favorable facilitiesfor domestic transportation and peace (partrade relationships, and foreign commerce,fair reciprocal for ticularlywith Britain) would combine to produceprosperity the commercial families and something above subsistencefor the peasantryand of workers.Examination conditionsin Bordeauxduring the eighteenthcenwere rarely that these ideal circumstances tury resultsin the clearimpression approached. of The infrequency good yieldsfrom the land has alreadybeen discussed,
12 Malvezin, III, 220. 13 Georges Lefebvre,

"Le mouvement

des prix et les origines de la Revolution


Annales historiquesde la Ret'olutionfrancaise,XIV (I937), 327. 14 Benzacar, in Rev. econ. de Bordeaux, XIV, 44-45. 15 Camille L. Jullian, Histoire de Bordeaux depuis les origines jusqu'en 1895 (Bordeaux, d'hommes un le'gitime motif: le besoin de 1895), p. 622, explains, "11y avait a ces nmouvements pain ou l'insuffisancedu salaire." 16 Marion, in Re'. des e'tudeshist., LXVIII, 455. 17 Jean Auguste Brutails, "Contre la vie chere 'a Bordeaux au xviiie si&ele," Revue historique based on a report of Intendant I73, de Bordeaux et du de'partement de la Gironde, XVIII (I925),
Clugny (circa 1776) holds that this area could provision Bordeaux for four months per year if difficulties of transportation could be surmounted. River transport was customary, but the tides in the Gironde estuary proved a barrier. Benzacar (in Rev. econ. de Bordeaux, XIV, 45) writes that in normal years local harvests only produced enough grain to supply the district from one to three months. 18 Benzacar, in Rev. econ. de Bordeaux,XIV, 47-48. 19 Purchases of wheat were made in Danzig, Lilbeck, Bremen, and Hamburg as well as in Russia according to Louis Bachelier, Histoire du commerce de Bordeaux depuis les temps plus recule's jusqu'a2 nos jours (Bordeaux, i863), pp. 215-I6.

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Richard Munthe Brace

and the viticultural crisis in the latter decades of the century must not be discounted.20Closely related are the questions of transportation, commerce, and war and peace. Goods were moved either by overland facilities or by ocean and river carriers. The lack of adequate roads has been considered a more serious obstacle to the well-being of the population in Guienne than the feudal practices.21 One of the historic barriersto the free circulation of grain within France was the prejudice against unrestricted domestic commerce. In spiteof the ordinances i764, 1774, and 1787guaranteeing of exchange grain, of trade in this commodity did not flow.22 On the other hand, the Gironde estuary and the Garonne valley proved great assets in facilitating river and ocean-going transportation. Unfortunately for the overseas trade, "the most important factor in the economic life of Bordeaux,"23peace was needed to attain maximum benefits. But the eighteenth century was not an epoch of peace for France. Further, what wars there were took on a mercantile character, being primarily with England, whose power lay in its maritime strength. During the War of the Spanish Succession Bordeaux suffered acutely from the combination of British sea power and the harsh winter of 1708-I709. The scarcityof bread of all types and wine was reflectedin prices which were fourfold those of previous years.24 Conditions of misery were general within the city, and there was no relief until hostilities were terminated at Utrecht.

An oppositetrend can be observedfrom 17I7 until 1741 when peaceenabled the volume of commerce flowing through the port of Bordeaux to increase by more than four hundred per cent.25This prosperity ended when France became involved in the mid-century wars. Fortunately for Bordeaux, the War of the Austrian Succession was not particularly destructive to commerce with the West Indies; and, until i747, French convoys made the Atlantic run without serious interruption. Tis situation is explained by two factors. Not until I747 did the British organize the Western Squadron, which proved responsible for the naval victories of that year. Secondly, French shippers, by placing their insurance in London, not only escaped the excessive rates prevailing in France but also received
Lefebvre, in Annales hist., XIV, 313. See Marion, in Rev. des e'tudeshist., LXVIII, 209. Efforts were made to employ troops and prison labor on the roads without noticeable success. Ibid., LXVIII, 2II. 22 Lefebvre, in Annales hist., XIV, 307; Louis D. Viala, La question des grains et de leur commerce a Toulouse au xviIus siecle (de 1715 a 1789) (Toulouse, I909), p. I05. Generally this condition seems traceable to inadequate transportationand to localism accentuated by scarcity. 23 Stewart L. Mims, Colbert's West India Policy (New HIaven,1912), p. 239. 24 Malvezin, III, 20-21. 25 Ibid., III, 42, cites the figures: I2,777,698 livres for 1717 and 53,481,533 livres for I741.


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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


28 informationenablingthem to avoid capture! By the last year of the war, however,the merchants Bordeauxwere acutelyawareof the RoyalNavy, of The which successfully blockadedthe West Indiesand the coastof France.27 in Peaceof Aix-la-Chapelle preserved Frenchpossessions the West Indiesand restoredthe commerceon which the port of Bordeauxrelied. overseas tradewas the Seven Considerably more destructive Bordeaux's to Years'War. Even before the conflictwas officiallyrecognizedby the belliIn gerents, in 1755, the port had lost ninety-sixmerchantmen.28 addition, Britainsuccessfully invaded Guadeloupe(I759) and Martinique(February, revenuesfrom these islands to 1762), therebytransferring considerable the in herself.29 This offensivewas matchedby similaroperations Canada,India, of and on the high seas.The net resultof these victorieswas the destruction the commercialedifice of Bordeaux."0 Hardship in differingintensitywas borneby the wage earners the wealthymerchants. Unemployment among and the formergroupwas matched bankruptcies amongthe commercial houses, by and both sufferedfrom breadfamine.Althoughthe chamber commerce of of Guienne protestedthe cessionof Canadaunder the Peace of Paris,it knew of that the economicrecovery Bordeauxwas dependentupon the end of hostilitiesat whatevercost."' prosAfter the SevenYears'War Bordeaux entereda periodof unexcelled perityin which a virtualmonopolyof the commercewith the West Indies

was gained. Most convincing are the figures themselves. The volume of colonial commerce mounted from 22,195,I6I livres in 1750 to 170,828,333 livres in 1770.3 Nearly three hundred merchant ships put out of the harbor yearly. So virile was this aspect of the city's economy that even French participation in the war between Britain and the United States failed to dislocate it, since the initial shipping losses were balanced by the new triangular trade between Bordeaux, the Antilles, and the United States."3Instead of returning directly to France with colonial products, captains from Bordeaux now proceeded to

26 Walter L. Dorn. Competition fot Empire 1740-1763 (New York, I940), pp. I7I-72. Malvezin, III, 46, 306-307, cites the figures showing a reduced volume of trade passing

through Bordeaux. 28 Ibid., III, 47. 29 This good fortune was received with misgivings by the British sugar interests, who soon witnessed the flooding of the London market with cheap Guadeloupe sugars. See Dorn, p. 363, and Frank W. Pitman, The Development of the British West Indies I7oo-0763 (New Haven, p. 34in, for a document revealing the contrast between the price of sugar in Bordeaux 1917), and London in I752-I753. for statistics illustrating the blows administered against Bordeaux's 80 Malvezin, III, 302-21, commerce. 31 Bachelier, pp. 195-201, reproduces the "Lettre de la Chambre de commerce de Guyenne A M. le duc de Choiseul." 32 Malvezin, III, 306-307; Bachelier, p. 203.
33 Bachelier, p. 207.

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Richard Munthe Brace

Americanportswherethey took on tobacco home.Despitethis prosperity, for violent weatherand poor distributionwere responsible bread shortages for in I766 and 1773.

The signing of the Anglo-Frenchtreaty of commercein 1786 injected anotherfavorableelement into the commerciallife of Bordeaux. marked A increasein the exportof Frenchwines was the importantresult.In the eight months following the application the accordLondon alone increasedher of demandfor the wines of Franceby 20,000 barrels.84 Though this additional market was divided among the wine-producing areasof France,the lion's share fell to Bordeaux.Consumptionof Bordeauxwines in England-primarilyLondon-advanced from 480 tons in I786 to 2,127 tons in 1787,85 and a similarsituationprevailedwith regardto eaux-de-vie. It is not surprising the vintners, that wholesalers, shippers Bordeaux and of were elated with the treaty. Considerably enthusiasticwere the entreless preneurswhose embryonicindustriessufferedin competitionwith English of factories.An exampleof protestis furnishedby the bottle manufacturers Bordeaux. Spokesmen this industrywere quick to observethat the twelve for per cent protectionfurnishedby the treatyallowed the English producera in Seen in this light, the comthirtyper cent advantage the Frenchmarket.86 mercialpactwith Englandwas responsible the industrial in for retrenchment Bordeaux,which, by the winter of 1788-1789, resultedin heavy unemployment. Doubly severewas the predicament these joblessBordelaisbecause of pricesfor necessitieswere the highest experienced eighty years.Local inin sacrificed the interestsof the vine and commerce. to dustrywas temporarily In defenseof the policy it may be noted that the i786-I792 periodwas the most brilliantin the centuryfor the commerceof Bordeaux. By the autumn of I788 the chief concernof the Bordelaiswas not comimminentas a resultof the mercebut ratherthe breadcrisiswhich appeared poorharvest.The degreeof popularinterestin this subjectcan be appreciated when certain careful studies of workers'budgets are borne in mind. The resultsof these indicatethat betweenfifty and sixty per cent of the French of worker'sfood budget was devotedto the purchase breadduringthe I785the figureis estimated havereached to Moreover, eighty-eightper I789period.37 Were this last statementprojected over a greatertime span,it cent in 1789."8
34 Fransois Dumas, Etude sur le traite de commerce de 1786 entre la France et l'Angleterre p. I6I, citing Dupont de Nemours' defense of the treaty. Dupont employed (Toulouse, I904), figures furnished by the chamber of commerce of Bordeaux. 85 Malvezin, III, 58; Bachelier, p. 2I0. 36 Dumas, p. I5o, citing Archives Nationales, B7, 546. 37 Labrousse,II, 593, 596.

hist.,XIV,3I5. Lefebvre, Annales in

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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


somewhat Restrictedto 1789 and amelioirated might imply mass starvation. it by private and public relief,39 suggests malnutritionand a high rate of diseaseand mortalityamong the lower classes. In the presenceof the developingfamineof I788 the workersof Bordeaux (both employedand unemployed)were in a greatlyinferiorpositionto that of the captains commerceand their subordinates. of Further,since the urban its proletariat was largely inarticulate, plight is not acutelyreflectedin the Even had the sourcesto which the historiancustomarily directsattention.40 lower classesbeen articulate,there were other barrierssufficientto prevent Nevertheless,the conflictexisted.By i793 it was publicationof their case.41 openly expressedin politicalalignmentswithin the chief city of Bordeaux. That these issues were not born of the Revolutionbut were deeplyplanted in in the Old Regimebecomesapparent the problem subsistence Guienne as of beforethe Revolution studied. is By July, 1789,the acute wheat shortagein France was mirroredin "the cyclical,and seasonalprice."42 highest point in the rise of long durational, The politicalfever in Pariscoincidedwith this economicdistress.Conditions
89 Camille Bloch, L'assistance & l'e'tat en France 2 la veille de la Revolution (Paris, I 908), p. 355, for evidence of some public relief in Bordeaux in I788. 40 The general cahiers of the se'ne'chausse'e Bordeaux (and also for the larger area encomof passed by the ge'neraliteof Bordeaux) in general sustain this opinion. Most often the condition of the agrarian and city workers was considered from the viewpoint of the returns from the soil or the factory, rather than from the humanitarian side. However, in the third estate cahier of the Bordeaux (se'ne'chausse'e) suppressionof fetes is requested in the interests of food production, Jerome Mavidal and Emile Laurent, eds., Archives parlementairesde 1787 2 I86o (Paris, i86775), Ser. I, vol. II, 405. Further each parish was asked to care for its poor, ibid., II, 404. Petitions for improvement in existing roads and for constructionof new highways appear in ibid., II, 400, 404. Nevertheless the impression is strong that the interests of the upper middle class were dominant in formulating this cahier, the full text of which is in ibid., II, 397-4.05, with correctionsby Beatrice Hyslop, A Guide to the General Cahiers of 1789, with Texts of Unedited Cahiers (New York, I936), p. i66. See also Armand Brette, Recueil de documents relatifs 2 la convocation des of Etats Ge'ne'raux 1789 (Paris, I894-I9I5), IV, 237 et seq. for the ge'ne'ralite' Bordeaux. de 41 The question of the value of the general cahiers is discussed thoroughly in Hyslop, pp. 48io6. The general cahiers are appraisedas representingfaithfully "dominant opinion." Ibid., p. 84. In the city of Bordeaux "dominant opinion" would seem to be the opinion of the noblesse de commerce. An interesting letter written by Paul Nairac, a Bordelais who later sat in the National Assembly and became a Jacobin, is preserved in Brette, IV, 235-36. Nairac calls attention to inequalities in representation in preliminary assemblies. "Nairac, negociant a' Bordeaux, signale

du dans une lettre, non date'e,l'inegalite'des dtputations re'sultant mode adopte'pour les assemblies de corporations;d'apres le Tableau des corporationsde Bordeaux joint 2 cette lettre, 112 corporations d'arts et me'tiersproprement dites, comptant au total 3,308 personnes, nommeraient 123 electeurs, tandis que 22 corporationsdu commerce ('y compris celle des boturgeoisvivant noblement'), composees de s,856 personnes, nommeraient 47 electeurs." 42 The quotation is from Beatrice Hyslop, "Recent Work on the French Revolution," American Historical Review, XLII (1942), 495, in discussing the work of Labrousse.This was the case The widespread nature of the for prices in general in twenty-seven of the thirty-two ge'ne'ralites. crisis can be appreciatedwhen it is contrasted with the crise celebre of I770 when the cyclical Labrousse,I, 154. See ibid., II, 640-4I for remarks maximum was attained in eleven ge'ne'ralite's. on wheat prices. In the main the conclusions of Labrousse are corroborated in H. Hauser, Rechercheset documents sur l'histoire des prix en France de 1500 a I8oo (Paris, 1936), though the long introduction points out the pitfalls of price studies.

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Richard Munthe Brace

roughly to those in the countryat large. Wheat in Bordeauxcorresponded The neighwas priced higher than at any previoustime in the century.43 As boring city of Toulouse laboredunder a similarhandicap.44 in northern France,the burdenwas felt directlyby the industrialworkersand peasants. The strain upon the former in Bordeauxwas somewhateased by the previously mentionedpracticeof subsidizingthe price of breadduring periods In of emergency.45 spite of this policy,however,the actualprice paid by the of than in I788.46The scarcity consumerwas three livres more per boisseau by induced primarilyby the unfortunateharvest,was accentuated bread,"7 of excessivepurchases wheat Within the city of Bordeaux faulty distribution. and flour by persons who could afford to hoard took place, and similar effectson both price with disastrous in are practices reported the countryside and supplyof bread.48 within the ranksof the urbanand agrarian A psychology fearprevailed of workers. One consequenceof this state of mind was the abortiveattack planned in August, 1789,against Bordeaux'sBastille, ChateauTrompette, where clandestinesupplies were purportedlystored.Among the peasantry that wordwas spread the areafacedstarvation.49 The ninety electorsof Bordeaux,since July, I789,the municipalgovernment, attemptedto curb the anxiety.Notices were printedpointingout that mills wereprovidedwith moreflourthan couldbe consumed the neighboring by the population.To forestalla march of the hungry, the city officialsof At expense.50 this time breadto the needyat community distributed Bordeaux of to same authorityorganizeda censorship preventpublication rumors the which might adverselyaffectthe publicpeace.In October,1789, the circulaBenzacar,in Rev. e' Bordeaux, XIV, 54, 82. holds the I789 price the highest since I715 and earlier for Toulouse. 44Viala, pp. II4-I7 April was the peak month. 45 See note I above. Lefebvre, in Annales hist., XIV, 3I4, records that an effort was made to regulate the price of bread for workers at Bourbourg in the future district of Bergues. 46The difference was between I7 livres, I9 sols (1789), and I4 livres, I7 sols (1788). Benzacar,in Rev. e' Bordeaux, XIV, 87. et 47 Brette, IV, 365, quoting Mcmoire apologetique potr les officiers de se'ne'chal presidial de la ville de Dax, servant de reponse 2 la requete presenteeau parlement par les officiers nmtnicipaux de la meme ville (Dax, 1789), deposited in Archives Nationales under Ba, 36, reportsa famine in de Dax, ge'ne'ralitc Bordeaux (later department of Landes), in 1789. A parenthetical remark in the same document adds: "Les boulangers refusent de prendre le ble'achete'2 Bordeaux a cause de son odeur." 48 Registre de l'Assemblee des quatre-vingt-dix electeurs, July 28, 1789, Archives Municipales de Bordeaux (hereafterabbreviated"A.M.B."), D. 216, No. 29. 49 Chateau-TrompetteI789-An II, rapport des volontaires des regiments patriotiques, Aug. i6, 1789, ibid., H. iI, No. I. 60 Arrete des quatre-vingt-dix electeurs de la ville de Bordeaux, July 29, I789, Bibliotheque Municipal de Bordeaux, fonds Delpit (hereafter abbreviated "B.M.B., f. Delpit"), Carton 7,



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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


tion of a pamphletentitledWill WeHaveBread? proscribed General was by Duras,commandant the citizenarmyof Bordeaux.51 of This concernfor publicorderfound the thirteenregimentsof the citizen armyof Bordeauxdiscussingthe breadproblem.RegimentSainte Eulalie52 askedpermission search to chateaux, storehouses, granaries the environs and in for hiddensuppliesof wheat.This unit recommended reduction grainand of flourexportsto the coloniesuntil local needshad been satisfied. From regiment Saint Seurincame the suggestionfor a dailyinspection weightsand of measures the bakeries. in Noting the keen interestof the militaryin civic questions,the municipal governmentof Bordeauxrequestedassistance from the citizen army in investigatingbreadprices.A committeecomposedof citizen soldiersaccepted this responsibility, and it was not long before a controlledexperimentin was breadmaking in operation. Twelve different typesof flourwere used,and the amountof breadproducedwas checkedagainstcosts.53 final report The A expressed opinionthatthe bakers the were exploitingthe consumers. reduction in price was stronglyrecommended. "We were completelyconvinced, Sirs, that the bakerswere making a huge profit."54 this suggestionwas But not taken seriouslyby the ninety electors,a group in which the mercantile interestswere dominant.The result of the experimentwas a childish disagreementbetween the town administration and the committee-the investigators being reproached producingI2I units of bread when police for and regulation courtdecreehad fixed the outputof one bushelat II5 units."5 In the rural areas,as in Bordeaux,there were clearindicationsof bread scarcity duringthe autumnof I789. That fearof faminegrippedthe peasantry and townspeoplewas attestedby the frequent riots in the market places. was of Creon,a villagetwentymiles southeast Bordeaux, the sceneof raiding; and pillage reachedsuch a state that it becamenecessaryto supervisethe A in sellingof grainand flour.5" similarsituation prevailed St. Martindu Bois
51 Michel Lheritier, Les dbrbuts la revolution 2 Bordeaux d'apres les tablettes manuscritsde de PierreBernadau(Paris, I 9 I 9), p. 99. B.M.B., Col52 Adresse du regiment de Sainte-Eulalie a l'armee patriotique, Jan. i6, I790, Units of the citizen army of Bordeauxwere organized by and lection Bernadau,XII, unnumnbered. named after parishes. 53 Arrete des quatre-vingt-dix electeurs des communes de Bordeaux, Nov. I2, 1789, ibid., f. Delpit, Carton ii, No. 2I2. For an explanation of bread types in Bordeaux before the Revolution see Brutails,in Rev. hist. de Bordeaux,XVIII, I70-72. 54 Compte rendu au conseil militaire de l'armee nationale de Bordeaux, des essais faits sur les farines les nuits du I9 au 20, du 2I au 22 octobre, et le jour du 5 novembre I789, Nov. 15, 1789, B.M.B., f. Delpit, Carton io, No. I94. 55 Ibid. 56 Correspondancedes go electeurs avec les municipalites, Aug. 19, 1789, A,M.B., D. 22It
No. 6i.

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Richard Munthe Brace

where inhabitants were afraidto buy suppliesbecausethey were often stolen betweenthe marketand their homes.)7To curb excessesin the lattertown, Bordeauxand Libourneeach sent a brigadeof cavalry.Similar protective arrangements were negotiatedbetween Bordeauxand most of the smaller communities within the old province Guienne. of These reciprocalrelationships between citizen armies in the Southwest were an important factor in preventing excesses in I789 and I790. Their very existence reflected temporary political stability in municipal and departmental government. Through the efforts of the ninety electors of Bordeaux and the general council of the department of Gironde"8-both bodies were dominated by the noblesse de commerce`59-a semblance of public confidence was restored after July, I789. An attempt was made to provide cheap and free bread for the jobless, distribution being supervised in Bordeaux (until I791) by the cures.60Further contributing to recovery was a good harvest in the year I790, the continuation of foreign commerce in the Gironde valley due to conditions of peace, and the fact that the assignats had not yet depreciated to a point where they complicated foreign exchange. In contrast to the last year of the absolute monarchy and the cycle which was to follow the summer of i79i, the National Assembly period (I789-I79I) may be considered economically stable. This stability in Gironde was maintained under the guidance of the upper bourgeoisie, who, by virtue of circumstances favorable to economic prosperity, were in a position to popularize their newly acquired political leadership. By the winter of I79I subsistence again posed a serious problem. Summer predictions that the harvest would be mediocre proved optimistic. Particularly disastrous was the vine yield for the year. Translated into terms of bread, this spelled hardship inasmuch as credits from the wine industry usually covered grain purchases.6"To continue to subsidize the price of bread under these changed conditions was a heavy, perhaps crushing, burden for the taxpayers of the Southwest. Yet pressure on them increased as the accomplishments of the Revolution of I789 receded into the past and appeared remote and incom1789,

57 Lettre des quatre-vingt-dix electeurs 'a M.M. composant l'assemblee nationale, Nov. 21, ibid., D. 2I8, No. I7. 58 The departmental system came into being after passage of the law of December I4, 1789.

"Gironde" was hewed from the old gourcrnement of Guienne and Gascony or from the generalite'(more accuratelythe intendancy) of Bordeaux. The boundariesof the departmentwere smaller than either of these earlier divisions, though they came closest to those of the intendancy. 59 A close study, made by the author, of the occupations and interests of the membership of the ninety electors and departmentalcouncil has emphasized strongly this conclusion. 60 Benzacar, in Rev. econ. de Bordeaux, XV, 42. Similar policies and results are reported in Toulouse by Viala, p. 66, in these words, "Pendant les derniers mois de 1789, Toulouse parait calme. Cette tranquillite fut due en partie aux bles achetes par la ville." 61 Benzacar, in Rev. e' Bordeaux, XIV, II3, I17.

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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


interestsand the workerswas of plete. Dissatisfaction the lessercommercial exposed when control of the citizen army of Bordeauxpassed to a less general was a "respectable" group.Courpon, commoner, electedcommanding scion,the duc de Duras.Though no directrelationto succeedthe aristocratic ship can be tracedbetweenthe two events,shortlyafterward(July 24, I791) bread made the headlines anew when a riot developedin the center of Bordeaux.Insurgentshad enteredseveralbakeriesaroundPlace Dauphine (Place Gambettain I940) and had discoveredmoldy bread in the cellars. were quick to provoke Exhibitingthis evidenceto a crowd,the malcontents violence.62 municipalgovernmentlater claimedtherewas no proof that The the inferiorfood was for sale and hinted the riotershad carriedthe evidence The into the bakeries.63 divergentview thatbreadwas of poor qualityas well by as overpriced was more generallyheld. This opinionwas reinforced sucin ceedingdevelopments Gironde. The outbreakof war againstAustriaand Prussiain April, 1792, put an Although another additionalstrain upon the resourcesof the department. economiclife to a greaterextent, contestwith Englandmight have disrupted the loss of CentralEuropeas a sourceof wheat and the effectsof requisitioning men and equipmentwere soon felt. By the end of I792 some eight thoufrom Gironde;and while bakerswere extended sand men had been recruited and a form of occupational armorers, certain defermentalong with printers, farmerswere not.64 food decreased. The supplyof available professional men, Upon the cities,where the breadshortagewas alreadyonerous,fell the extra while they burdenof supplyingand lodging recruitsfrom the countryside The in were being trainedfor active service.65 counterpart the ruraldistricts laborwhich doubtlesscontributed the poor to was a shortageof agricultural scarce the Southwest. in harvestof I792. Wheatand breadbecameexceedingly
The municipal and departmental authorities took frantic measures to alleviate this shortage, but their efforts were not noticeably successful. Commissioners were dispatched to neighboring departments in search of wheat, and eihhteen thousand bushels were reported procured.66Inasmuch as this
62 Avis aux citoyens, July 24, 179I, B.M.B., f. Delpit, Carton 26, No. 503; Histoire de Bordeaux. Documents. Recueil de documents originaux imprimees et manuscrits et des notes d'histoire locale, ranges dans l'ordre chronologique, par Aurelien Vivie, A.M.B., Collection Vivie, No. 226.

Adresse aux citoyens, sur les attroupemens . . . a Bordeaux . . . lue a la Societe des Amis

de la Constitution, July 26, 1791, B.M.B., f. Delpit, Carton 27, No. 532. Archives Departementalesde la Gironde (hereafter 64 Extrait de la loi de 6 septembre 1792, abbreviated"A.D.G."), Ser. L, M/G. 65 Arrete du conseil general du departement de la Gironde, concernant une nouvelle levee de 5900 volontaires, Sept. 17, 1792, A.M.B., H. 2, No. 40. Lettre au citoyen 66 Registre de correspondancede la municipalite de Bordeaux 1792-1793. Boyer-Fonfrede a Paris, Oct. 13, 1792, ibid., D. 142, No. 26B.

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Richard Munthe Brace

was windfallwould supplythe city only for a limitedtime, a communication representatives the Convention, in sent to Boyer-Fonfrede, of Bordeaux's one No requestingconsideration the problemin Paris.67 relieffrom the capital of is reported.Even if wheat had been availablein the needed quantity,it is couldhavecontinuedto distribute bread doubtfulwhetherthe localgovernors below cost. In light of the poor yields from the land, the decline in comconditions generally, merce,and the inflation, which resultedin unprosperous Finally, the politicalleadership of the subsidyformulaneededrevaluation.68 Girondefaced a dilemma:it could not affordto maintainthe subsidyprounableto continuein officewithout that policy. gram, yet it appeared the Hope of increasing supplyof breadin 1793was dashedby the declaration of war againstBritain (Februaryi) and Spain (March7). In February was and the department askedfor 6,o6onew recruits,69 in Marchan additional 2,000 men were sent to Vendee to quell the civil war raging in that department.70 Not only was Gironde drainedof men, but since war was being waged in the Pyrenees,great quantitiesof supplieswere siphonedoff for and scarce, pricesmountedsteadily, nearbyarmies.Breadbecameincreasingly between Januaryand while the assignatfell from fifty-fiveto twenty-seven
Ibid. Benzacar, in Rev. e'con. de Bordeaux, XIV, I I 8, describes this situation in Bordeaux (circa 1792) as follows: " 'La ville ne peut plus faire de sacrificespour vendre le pain au-dessous du prix de revient,' on en est reduit au projet de vendre la maison commune." The following table of successive paper money values in the department of Gironde, uncovered in B.M.B., f. Delpit, Carton 42, No. 827, by the author, gives an impressionof the decline of the assignat in Gironde. This table agrees generally with the chart for France as a whole published in Louis Gottschalk, The Era of the French Revolution (Boston, I929), p. I64. The general study considers the devaluation of assignats approximately ten points (base ioo) lower in December, 1792, than the local estimate reproducedhere. Agreement is closer for the year 1793.

(i oo-Base) 179I I792 1793

January February March April

89.5 89.75


55 53-75

1794 41


I795 21.5 19.5

89 83.75 82.75 84.25 8I.25 8I.75 8I.75 79.5 73.75


47 44.75 37 27 28.5 32
30.5 41.25 51.75

37.5 35-25


June July August
September October


59.5 6I.5 6I 66.5 66.5 69 65.5

35.5 32.5
30.25 27.75

26.25 28.5

69 Moniteur (Paris, I847-50), Feb. 26, 1793. 70 A.M.B., Collection Vivie, No. 227; M. Brives-Cazes, "Expedition en Vendee de deux nationale des bataillons de la garde nationale de Bordeaux (mars-aott 1793)," Actes de l'acade'mie

sciences, belles-lettres et arts de Bordeaux, 3d ser. (I885), PP. 9-I2.

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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


July, 1793.7'During the second week of March, the hungry of Bordeaux marchedupon the maisoncommune. Supportingtheir sectionsand clubs, the peoplejoinedin the battleof bread.7" It was in the sectionsof Bordeauxthat the questionof providingbread for the city and department mostobjectively was discussed. During the spring of i793, these politicalgroupsrepresented publicopinion in Bordeauxmore adequatelythan had the citizen army earlier.The latter had been closely controlledby the successfulbourgeoisiewhile the sections expressedsuch divergentviews as might come from districtsvarying between the bourse and the areasinhabitedby day laborers. From the latter,numerouspetitions suggestingways to relievethe breadshortagewere presented the city and to made by departmentaladministrations. Typical was the recommendation sectionSans Culottesafter severalof its membershad found breadfor sale "havingsuch a disagreeable odor [and] . . . so strongthat one could not eat 73 it for fear thatits poorqualitywould causeillness." SansCulottesaskedcity officials deliverhigh gradeflourand wheat to bakersof known integrity.74 to Such action was expectedto provide enough bread for the populationof Bordeaux a reasonable at price;but the scarcity flourand the depletedstate of of the local treasury madethis proposal, many others,impracticable. and Unfortunately problemof furnishingbreadfor Bordeaux I793 was the in bound to the larger issues of revolutionand war. To these can be traced reducedagriculturalproductionand closed supply arteries,and the social to unrestwhich actedas a continualbarrier the solution.Of moreimmediate concernto the local officialswas the poor yield in Hautes Pyreneesand the rebellionin Vendee and Deux Sevres,other wheat producingdepartments of of on which Gironderelied.Also, free transport the smallquantities wheat becausemunicipalities which could be collectedwas hampered "high-jacked" from one anotherwithout qualm. Against this practiceBordeauxprotested to the Convention.Later, communications explaining why that city had The Bordelaiswere practical adoptedthe same tacticswere sent to Paris.75 recognizedby 1793 that the sensitivebalance people!Being so, they probably
71 The figures are from the chart given in note 68 above. B.M.B., f. Delpit, Carton 42, No. 827. 72 Registre des deliberations du conseil general de la commune, Mar., 1793, A.M.B., D. 102, Bordeaux was divided into twenty-eight sections in I79I for purposes of adminisNos. I26-3I. tration. Each unit adopted a Revolutionary name, and by I 793 sectional meetings discussed municipal and national issues. 73 Deliberation de la section Sans Culottes, Mar. 9, I793, ibid., I. 58, No. 2. 74

du Seance I9 avril1793, ibid.,I. 58, No. 4.

On both these points see Registre de correspondancede la municipalite procureur-syndicdu district, May 20, I793, ibid., D. 143, No. 134.


Lettre au

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Richard Munthe Brace

to necessaryto bring prosperityto the mercantilecaptainsand subsistence dislocated. the workersand peasantshad been irrevocably of was The result of these circumstances that many inhabitants Gironde were withoutbreadfor extendedperiodsduringApril and May in i793. The ruralpopulationfared no betterthan the city dwellers;indeed,in some districtsthe completeabsenceof wheat and flour sent the residentsflockingto and Bordeaux. There they often spentdayswaitingbeforethe bakeries, their effortswere rarelyrepaid.In otherinstancesthe rewardwas expensivebread So was unfit for consumption.76 desperate the food situationat this time that to took extrememeasures obtainprovithe generalcouncilof the department was sions.On one occasiona cargodestinedfor Senegaland Cayenne illegally A authority.77 unloaded in Bordeauxupon the order of the departmental by the was ratherlame rationalization offered:becauseof delaysoccasioned blockade,the flourinvolvedwould certainlyhave spoiledbeforereachingits destination.78 A more plausibleexplanationfor action of this type, as well as for the continuingbread shortagein Bordeaux,is to be found in the deteriorating relations between the National Conventionand the city. The battle for political controlbetween the Mountainand the Girondinswaged in Paris in during the springof 1793 had potent implications the south.In Bordeaux administrations supportedthe Girondins. the municipal and departmental Mountainiststrengthcame from the working class districtswithin the city and environs but, until the summer of 1793, had been unable to control The coupd'6tat to municipalpoliticsor to electits candidates the Convention. executed by the Mountain in Paris (May 3i-June 2, I793) smashed the Girondin party. The local officialswho were partisansof Boyer-Fonfrede, in Gensonne,and Vergniaud-Girondindeputiesincarcerated Paris-refused In to recognize the liquidation of that party.79 contrast,the sections of Bordeaux unsympathetictoward the mercantileinterests that dominated politics,viewed the changeas a victoryof the firstmagnitude.But what was in betweenthe coupd'itat and the breadshortage the Gironde? the connection could expectno assistance from the centralgovSimply this: the department ernmentin solving the subsistence problemunless eventsof May 3i-June 2
76 77 78

Ibid., Collection Vivie, No. 227. Ibid. This document records the illegal unloading of the ships La Nourrice and Hercule Registre de correspondancede la municipalite 1793.

on May3, I793. May20,

Lettre au procureur-syndicdu district,

7r Details on the federalist uprisings are available in Richard Brace, "Bordeaux'sOpposition I61-76. to Dictatorship in 1793," journal of Modern History, XIV (1942),

ibid.,D. I43, No. 134.

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Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux


were accepted.No action was taken by Bordeauxand that Girondistcenter was placedundera blockadeby the Convention. AlthoughMountainists had earlierbeen accusedof fomenting the bread problemin Bordeaux, their activitieswere far less comprehensive than those undertaken the Conventionafter June, i793.80 In the months which folby lowed, Paris waged a double-barreled attack upon the city. Breadwas the Convention's weapon;and Bordeaux's supplies,paltryas they had been,were systematically interrupted. Simultaneously, working-class the sectionsof the recalcitrant were encouraged rebel againstthe municipaland departcity to mentalauthorities. Representatives missionwerethe agencythroughwhich on the blockade was applied.During the summerof I793, severalteamsof these Yzabeau and emissariesfrom Paris visited Bordeaux.To representatives Baudot,who arrivedon August ig to arguethe case of the Convention,fell Inasmuchas they were the responsibility conductingthe final operations.81 of houndedby supporters the local government, of Yzabeauand Baudotset up headquarters La Reole, a town approximately miles to the southeast. in fifty From this pointd'appui patrolswere maintainedto interceptgrain convoys destinedfor Bordeaux.82 successof this maneuverwas unquestionable, The and the diminishedbreadsupplyplacedheavierpressure upon the municipal aidministration. that the city officialscould do was to throw themselves All uiponthe mercyof neighboringtownships."Citizens,send us bread,120,000 souls are within our walls besidesthose in the environs. . . help us, do not reduceus to desperation."88 When the Bordelaiswere sufficientlyhungry and their governorsdison creditedfor their inabilityto providebread,the representatives mission with those sectionsfavoring the Convention.With the cocommunicated operationof this discontentedlocal faction, Yzabeau and Baudot hoped to was engineera municipalcoupd'etat. hastenthat event a correspondence To in openedbetweenthe emissaries La Reole,writing underthe nameof "Citizen Leave,"and a memberof sectionFranklin,the sans-culotte, "Charles."84 The plan which developedthroughthis exchangeof lettersdepended heavily of tiponproperexploitation the breadshortage the conventionels. "Accordby ing to what Leave writes it appearsthat you preparesomethingvery vigorA.M.B., Collection Vivie, No. 227. Rapport de ce qui s'est passe 'a Bordeaux a l'arrivee . . . des representans du peuple, Baudot et Ysabeau. Extrait du journal du citoyen Ysabeau, August, 1793, B.M.B., Carton 39, No. 77I; Rapport de ce qui s'est passe 'a Bordeaux pendant le sejour des representansdu peuple, Baudot & Isabeau. Redige par Baudot, August, 1793, ibid., Carton 40, No. 78I. 82 A.M.B., Collection Vivie, No. 229. 83 Ibid. This plea was written on Aug. i8, 1793.

80 81

Ibid., No.


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Richard Munthe Brace

do ous.... Whateveryou undertake, not do it without wheat. That commodityis the sole meansof your support."85 go supporters to great length to placethe Not only did the Convention's for responsibility the acute bread shortageupon the governing officialsin Bordeaux, they indicatedthat the centralgovernmentcould furnishadebut suppliesof breacl.They promiseda two million franc gift from the quate Those sectionsloyalto Paris Conventionto be used for relievingthe scarcity. That this grant was never receivedby were to administerthis relief fund.86 political the Bordelaisis not strangeconsidering Mountain's the beleaguered i8, But skill.87 the gesturehad the desiredresult;and on September 1793, the sectionsof Bordeauxdeputizedby the Conventionmarchedupon the HotelDirectlythe neiwadministraofficials. the de-Villeand displaced pro-Girondin tion was installed,a dispatchwas rushedto Yzabeauat La Reolesuggesting thathe forwardflourconvoys.88 on the the Still distrusting Bordelais, representatives missiondelayedshipment of wheat and flouruntil they were certainthat the city was willing to with the Convention.Not until a month later, on October i6, co-operate When the walls were symbolically wvouldthe missi risk entryinto Bordeaux. Tallien, a new emissaryfrom Paris, summed up the conquestof breached, Thus breadproveda by Bordeauxas being accomplished "fearand flour."89 control in useful weapon in the hands of the Conventionfor establishinig

Until December, 1793, Bordeauxexperienceda military regime under on General Brune, who dischargedthe orders of representatives missioll with the Yzabeauand Tallien. When the city gave evidenceof co-operating government,General Brune was recalled,leaving the repreRevolutionary problem.Their chief task on sentatives missionto cope with the subsistence wvas applythe Law of the Maximum. to
29, the Strictly speaking lawof September

knownas theLawof the

Maximum,did not concernitself with wheat or bread,since commercein grainshad been regulatedthe previousMay. At this time the pricewas fixed between on in each department the basisof the averageprice (mercuriales)
85 Correspondance entre le sans-culotte, Charles et citoyen "Leave" auipres des deputis de la convention d La Reole, Aug. 29, 1793, A.D.G., Ser. L, M/G. 86 Les representans du peuple . . . en seance 'a La Re'ole, aux citoyens composant les sections . . ., Sept. 6, 1793, A.M.B., I. 69, No. 68. 87 However, those same sections of the city were highly inconsistent. While lauding the generosity of the Convention, they criticize(d the local a(dministration for attempting to solve the problem by subsidy. 88 A.M.B., Collection Vivie, No. 230. 89 Ibid.

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Bread atnd the French Revolution at Bordeaux


i, January and May I, I793. This pricewas to be reducedby one tenthon each 3, month throughAugust I, I793.90 On September 1793, the Consucceeding

vention amended the previous legislation by fixing the price of "good quality wheat" at fourteen livres a quintal. The best flour was to be sold at twenty livres per quintal, and a transportation charge of five sous per lieu de poste was granted." A law of September I7, I793, confirmed the price of choice wheat and flour and fixed the price of the inferior cereals.92These decrees formulated the legal maximum on grains and prescribed the conduct of producers and bakers until August 25, i794, at which time the maximum on first grade grains was retained, but the price of second quality cereals was increased.93It was, then, this collective body of legislation which the represen-tativesoni mission at Bordeaux attempted to enforce. But the administration of the Law of the Maximum was not entrusted simply to the representatives on mission. They were responsible to the subsistence committee, meeting in Paris under the chairmanship of Robert indet, the liaison for the committee of public safety.94In Bordeaux, assisting the representativeson mission, were delegates from the twenty-eight sections and a subcommittee of the Directoire du District.95What was the record of this administrative edifice in dealing with subsistence in Bordeaux? The Terror inherited a chronic subsistence problem in Bordeaux. Misery continued, though it was somewhat abated, during the course of the Terror; and for several years after Thermidor there were no signs of improvement. Indeed, to appraise this policy of the Revolutionary government fairly, it may be observed that subsistence was dealt with more effectively in Bordeaux during the Terror than at any time between 1793 and I796. Thlis conclusion

does not overlookTallien's reportto the Convention(on March ii,


that the inhabitants of Bordeaux received a daily ration of a half pound of poor quality bread over an eight month period.96Nor does it minimize his personal experience of eating bread made from dog grass (chiendent).Y Tallien's account need not be taken to imply that the representativeson mis90 M1oniteur, May 6, 1793.

91 Ibid., Sept. 5, 1793.
92 Ibid., Dec. 22, lhe price per quintal of rye and wheat mixture was twdve livres; 1793. first quality rye was ten livres; barley wvas nine livres; buckwheat and bran were seven livres; hay was six livres. 93 Ibid., Aug. 28, 1794. The price of a quintal of rye and wheat mixture was raised from twelve to thirteen livres.

Robert R. Palmer, T lvere Who Rtiled (Princeton,





in Rev. e'con. de Bordeaux, XV, 34. 96 Moniteutr, Mar. I5, 1794. 97 This grass seems to be Agropyron repens, commlllonly known as quitch grass or dog grass, containing little nutritional valtie.

'5 Benzacar,

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Richard Mun the Brace

they were extremelyenergetic, sion in Bordeauxwere lax. On the contrary, but the obstaclesagainst which they laboredwere colossal.Requisitioning enforcinga fixedprice,and rationingof grain,flour,bread,and some produce, on forty other items were more easily accomplished paperthan in practice. were stubbornly thesemeasures difficult, To make theirproblemincreasingly and resistedby the farmers,the businessmen, a largepart of the consuming public.Inflationhad taken place at a greaterrate than prices,as fixedby the maximum, increased;and in the hope of piercing the ceiling Bordeaux merchantswere disposedto sell above controlledprice or to withholdtheir goodsfrom the market.98 To check black market operationsthose entrustedwith enforcing the maximumin Bordeauxinvoked severepenalties.In additionto the rather and fines providedin the original laws regulating innocuousconfiscations on flour,and bread,the representatives mission and production saleof cereals, Also, the fines up to one million livresagainstoffendingmerchants. assessed latterwere forcedto exchangelettersof crediton foreign marketsfor assigin Of nats.99 course,the final sanctionagainst"ne'gotiantisme" forms more was government the guillotine. to destructive the systemof the Revolutionary at enoughin Bordeaux, least However,that machinewas employedsparingly and Lyon. In spite of this rigorouspolicy of enforceby contrastwith Paris and consumeroften resultedin a situation ment, collusionbetweenproducer wherebread,and otherfoodstuffs,broughtthe pricepeoplewould pay. Each petty offendercould not be broughtto the guillotine since the manpower for requirements the armiesof France took priorityeven over the Revolutionarytribunal! in The difficulties Bordeauxin the Year II cannot be tracedto the Law of the Maximum,the chief weaknessof which appearsto have been that, and given the times,it could not be enforced.Instead,the generalinstability chaos of the period lend much excuse to the failure of the Revolutionary governmentto maintain economic equilibrium.Neither private enterprise nor publiccontrolseemedcapableof functioningeffectivelyunderthe stress of revolution and war. The record of the Revolutionarygovernment in than that of Louis XVI's adminisBordeauxwas no more or less impressive trators,or of the noblessede commerce,dominant in the municipal and betweenI789 and the summerof I793. echelonsof government departmental
James M. Thompson, The French Revolution (New York, 1945), pp. 524-25. 9 Malvezin, III, 296-97; Benzacar, in Rev. econ. de Bordeaux, XIV, 126. It is my strong impression that these fines were high, not to compensatefor inflation as much as to make examples of offending merchants and as a source of income. The representativesboasted of the wealth they took out of Bordeaux.

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Bread and the French Revolutioni at Bordeaux


Neither Louis'sofficials the noblessede commercehad to cope with the nor European coalitionat full tide. When this responsibility addedto the others is of the Revolutionary government recordis not unimpressive. continue its To to the comparison, this instancewith the attemptsof the Thermidorians in deal with subsistencein Bordeaux,the Revolutionarygovernment'ssubsistenceprogramappearsoutstandingwhen consideredagainst the policies of the lastyearof the Convention which witnessed repealof the maximum the (December24, I794) and Franceplungedinto an inflationary spiral.To illustrate pointin moredetail: fromJulyI9, I795, to September I795, eight this i, million livres were spent on grain purchasesin Bordeaux.In the Year IV (September, I795-September, the daily cost ran 349,500 livres.The I796) degreeof inflationmay be gauged when these figuresare placedagainstthe Whateverthe shortcomings weekly chargeof ten thousandlivres in I790.1OO of the maximum,its advantages over the uncontrolled inflationof I794-I796 areclear.

Ibid., XV, 43.

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