George J. Ames '37:   Financier and   Philanthropist
Those Were the Days,   My Friend!


Roar, Lion Roar!

Nicole Marwell '90
Mignon Moore '92
Joshua Harris Prager   '94
Cristina Teuscher '00

Talking 'Bout a Revolution

Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship, which was published to high praise in February, marked the fourth book by Professor Isser Woloch '59 on Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Woloch, who was a senior adviser for the recent PBS documentary Napoleon, joined the Columbia faculty in 1969. He became a full professor in 1975 and was named Moore Collegiate Professor in 1998. Woloch tells CCT that this will be his last monograph on this era, his primary research focus for nearly 40 years. These excerpts from his books - Jacobin Legacy (1970), The French Veteran from the Revolution to the Restoration (1979), The New Regime (1994), which won the Leo Gershoy Award from the American Historical Association, and Napoleon and His Collaborators - illustrate the scope of Woloch's research on the ideologies and institutions of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.


Isser Woloch '59
Isser Woloch '59

Columbia Forum

• Talking 'Bout a Revolution
Class Act: The Invention of Tradition
Lifting the Veil


By many standards, Neo-Jacobinism was not cohesive. A collection of local groups in urban or quasi-urban settings, it represented no single economic, regional, ethnic, or class interest. Affiliated only through the informal ties of the democratic press, the new clubs boasted neither a centralized party apparatus nor any recognized national leaders. Moreover, there was available to the Neo-Jacobins no distinctive body of inherited doctrine or single document that could unite them in an explicit public position. But Neo-Jacobins did share a persuasion: "a broad judgment of public affairs informed by common sentiments and beliefs." And in articulating this persuasion they were attempting to reopen significant questions about the republic's future.

Obviously, the attitudes of sans-culottes, former Montagnard functionaries, and bourgeois journalists varied in certain particulars and implications. In 1793, such differences had been of capital importance, setting the Paris sections against the Paris Jacobin Club. At some future date (especially with the rise of an industrial proletariat), differences would again loom large, causing democrats to fragment into more clearly defined and conflicting groups. But in the aftermath of revolution and reaction, Neo-Jacobinism stood as a minimal synthesis of democratic aspirations, which tentatively drew together middle-class Jacobins and politically conscious sans-culottes. No matter how much their interests and motivations varied, they shared a commitment to certain values, and a disposition to view certain issues in similar ways.

From JACOBIN LEGACY: THE DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT UNDER THE DIRECTORY by Isser Woloch. Copyright © 1970 Princeton University Press.


The treatment and compensation of soldiers wounded and disabled in the revolutionary wars was the fundamental veterans issue after 1792. On the day the Convention approved the provisional admission of wounded volunteers and regulars into the Invalides, Prieur de la Marne rose to observe that some of these soldiers had suffered the amputation of one or even two limbs. They ought to have special compensation based on the severity of their wounds, he argued, and this idea was sent to the military committee for consideration. Cambon then commented that the question of proportionality between recompense for soldiers and for superior officers ought to be reexamined at the same time. "In other words, I propose that we cut down on generals' pensions and others that are luxurious, in order to augment the soldiers'. New standards must be instituted to assure a recognized equality among citizens who have been equally useful to the Republic." This too was sent to the committee, and in these suggestions of Prieur and Cambon lay the seeds of far-reaching innovations.

Prieur's idea was obviously appealing, and the committee moved quickly to implement it. While the May 1792 law was to remain in force for all other cases, the committee proposed a new scale of pensions for volunteers and regulars who were wounded and unable to resume service. For the first time, the principle was introduced of graduated recompense according to the seriousness of the disability rather than by rank or by length of service. The actual benefits proposed at this time, however, were relatively modest, scarcely surpassing the equivalent of a full retirement pension that Wimpffen had proposed for wounded soldiers back in 1790:

Loss of a leg or seriously wounded in a leg - 274 livres a year.

Loss of an arm or hand, or seriously wounded therein - 365 livres.

Loss of two limbs or the use thereof - 500 livres.

(A serious wound was defined as "wound which renders that part of the body unable to be used.") The Convention reacted to the proposal with considerable interest, some deputies seeking to postpone decision and propose various amendments. But the Convention decided to approve the idea of special recompense for mutilés de la guerre de la liberté, while leaving possible adjustments of the rates and questions of eligibility to further deliberations by the military committee....

From THE FRENCH VETERAN FROM THE REVOLUTION TO THE RESTORATION by Isser Woloch. Copyright © 1979 The University of North Carolina Press.


The New Regime, by Isser Woloch

By 1791, influential deputies inscribed primary education on the Revolution's long-term agenda, and by 1793 others catapulted it to a central position in republican ideology. The destruction of the Church's corporate autonomy and traditional roles created something of a vacuum. As the parish clergy became employees of the state under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 and the refractory or non-juring clergy its enemies, responsibility for education at all levels came into question. This was not to say that primary schooling would necessarily become secularized, or that Catholicism would be driven from the classroom. It meant that in this domain, as in the matter of poor relief, the state might readily become the arbiter of policy, as against the Church or local society.

But more was involved than filling a vacuum. Education quickly assumed an unparalleled ideological and instrumental importance. The revolutionaries came to regard universal primary schooling as the hallmark of a progressive nation and as a key to the future prospects of the French people. And how could it be otherwise if, as they believed, 1789 had produced a sharp break in the continuity of French history - a rupture in beliefs and institutions superimposed for the time being on a hesitant, traditional society that had to be led forward into a new era? Revolutionaries, of course, expected primary schools to impart skills such as literacy and numeracy (instruction), but also to inculcate morality and citizenship (education). Primary schools for the young, in tandem with new symbols, images, and public festivals for all citizens, constituted a revolutionary "pedagogy" that would gradually wean the French people from its ignorance and prejudices, and inculcate new civic values. The revolutionary passion for national integration, for spreading norms and institutions uniformly across France, also shaped discussion of education, as well it might considering the disparities in literacy...between regions, social groups, town and country, male and female.

Shortly before the National Assembly dissolved itself at the end of September 1791, Talleyrand presented the first major legislative proposal to refashion the entire structure of French education. Though by no means the centerpiece of his plan, elementary schools constituted the base of an institutional pyramid whose secondary schools, universities, and research institutes would serve different purposes and through which youths of appropriate qualification might ascend....

Even before the advent of the republic in 1792, universal primary schooling became a commonplace, consensual goal. The Jacobin Convention subsequently enshrined the idea in its new Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1793 along with the right to public assistance: "Education is the need of everyone," it stated, thus resolving a question that had perplexed Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire. "Society must do everything in its power to favor the progress of public reason and to put education within the reach of all citizens."

From THE NEW REGIME: TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE FRENCH CIVIC ORDER, 1789-1820s by Isser Woloch. Copyright © 1994 W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by arrangement with W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


"Injurious remarks" or "seditious statements" constituted a peculiar problem of public order for the Napoleonic regime. With the cult of personality created almost overnight by Brumaire, with so much power and prestige concentrated in Bonaparte's hands, French citizens knew better than to take that name in vain publicly. But when obstreperous individuals had their tongues loosened by drink, anything could happen, and it was not uncommon for tirades against the first consul to fill the air. Local authorities then found themselves dealing with the kind of mess that the blacksmith Jean Fortin of Beauvais created for himself when, in a drunken rage, he shouted: "Bonaparte, he's a wretch [gueux], a scoundrel [fripon], who deserves the guillotine." Upon learning of the incident, the Grand Judge (minister of justice) ordered Fortin transported to Paris for an interview. Since local testimonials spoke of a hard-working artisan and family man, prone to drunken outbursts but "decidedly incapable of any seditious acts," the minister eventually released him, no doubt in a chastened state of mind.

Napoleon and his Collaborators, by Isser Woloch

From small-town mayors or justices of the peace to departmental prefects, government commissioners at the criminal tribunals, public prosecutors, and investigating magistrates, various officials had to deal with such cases in which personal freedom and threats to the integrity of the regime seemed to clash. Public imprecations against Bonaparte, even during drunken binges, could not be dismissed lightly. Yet substantial discretion existed in assessing the gravity or harmlessness of a given incident, and whether it ought to be treated with rigor or leniency. In particular, officials had to consider whether they risked enlarging the damage by pushing such cases into the open forums of criminal justice. Trial and punishment might well be a good local deterrent to potential troublemakers, but they could also bring embarrassing publicity, undercut the regime's aura of popularity, and even bring ridicule down around Napoleon.

In the Côte d'Or, for example, "injurious remarks" hurled in a drunken rage included the common taunt that the first consul's real name was not Bonaparte but Bonneatrappe. Yet the government's commissioner to the department's criminal tribunal had to admit that he was stumped. "I do not see any law that covers this case," wrote the commissioner to the Grand Judge. Moreover, he sensibly opined, "The remark in question is more fitting to be scorned than to give rise to a trial. But since you wish that he be punished, I beg you to indicate to me the law that can be applied to him." It would appear that the minister too was at a loss, since he eventually authorized the case to be dropped. But that would be a misleading conclusion. For the accused had already been subjected to a period of discretionary extralegal detention, which in itself constituted a form of punishment. This course had much to recommend it, as explained by the commissioner to the criminal tribunal in the Isère, where a similar case was pending. Two inebriated men in a café had "vomited imprecations against the First Consul, calling him a usurper, tyrant, and scoundrel." The accused could be indicted and sent to trial, observed the official, but this "procedure might arouse public curiosity, and possibly awaken malevolence and serve to stimulate wickedness. To avoid the publicity that this kind of trial would bring about, might I not limit myself simply to holding him in prison?" Or as a colleague in the Moselle put it a few years later in a comparable case: "The seditious proposals espoused by this man... might well call for a measure of haute police [extra-judicial detention] rather than a criminal trial."

Preventive detention under the doctrine of haute police became the response of choice in such situations, and even in far graver cases of seditious behavior, where the law was murky and difficult for effective prosecution, or where the regime wished to avoid unwelcome publicity. Both Fouché (minister of police in 1800-02 and again in 1804-10) and Regnier (Grand Judge after 1802, as well as acting police minister in 1802-04) routinely ordered or countenanced preventive detention. Regnier, for example, resolved the troublesome case of Berthet in that fashion. "Fueled by wine," Berthet had declared that he far preferred Pichegru and Moreau (generals both under indictment for treason), who were just as well suited to rule as Bonaparte; he invited a companion to drink to the health of Generals Pichegru and Moreau, and upon his refusal, turned on him with obscene insults. Instead of allowing the case to go forward, Regnier directed that the accused simply remain in detention, and then ordered his release two months later. Fouché frequently resorted to the same procedure, as in another case where a man got into a drunken brawl with local gendarmes and compounded his offense by hurling epithets at the emperor and calling him "Bonneatrappe." The investigating magistrate in Painboeuf was inclined to let the matter go because of the drunkenness, but Fouché felt otherwise. "I have decided that he should remain in prison par mesure de haute police for two months, and that he be placed under special surveillance in his commune after his release."

Allowing a drunken loudmouth to cool off in jail for a day or two might have been a benign measure, but an open-ended preventive detention lasting several months could be devastating. Thus Chuffrat, a plumber in Lille arrested for "injurious remarks" against the first consul, after languishing in jail for almost two months, bitterly protested over the destruction of his livelihood and the humiliation of being "confounded with the dregs of society." After the Grand Judge finally ordered his release, the departmental commissioner cautioned Chuffrat "to display proper respect to this hero that the universe admires!" Piecq, a boatman from Condé, was not as fortunate. During a drunken binge he had called the emperor "Bonneatrappe," and allegedly denounced him "for killing off the French people, for seeking to ruin the whole world in order to satisfy his ambitions - but if he ever runs into him one day, the affair will soon be finished." As Piecq moldered in jail between January and March 1809 under the doctrine of haute police, his wife pled for his release, claiming that her husband was utterly distraught over what he had done. "Each day he is pining away and seems now to be a dying person," she wrote. It turned out she did not exaggerate, for Piecq died in custody.

From NAPOLEON AND HIS COLLABORATORS: THE MAKING OF A DICTATORSHIP by Isser Woloch. Copyright © 2001 by Isser Woloch. Reprinted by arrangement with W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Columbia Forum
  • Talking 'Bout a Revolution
Class Act: The Invention of Tradition
Lifting the Veil


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