Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Temporary Commission of Commune-Affranchie

The Convention's victory in Lyon in 1793 made of the departments of Rhône and Loire "a cultural laboratory" for the implementation of Jacobin revolution throughout France. The Commission temporaire de surveillance républicaine was set up by the Representatives to concentrate revolutionary initiative into a single body and bring into line  the sectional comités de surveillance: it was to ensure that the constituted authorities  "walk with a firm and bold step on the revolutionary road and that all measures for public safety will be promptly and severely accomplished" (decree of 20 brumaire, Year II; 10th November 1793, signed by Fouché, Collot d’Herbois and Sébastien Laporte)

The Commission furnished acts of accusation to the revolutionary tribunal ("Commission révolutionnaire) and was endowed with  sweeping powers of sequestration, taxation and control of markets.

There were twenty members in all, divided into two equal sections, one of which sat in permanent session in Lyon whilst the other provided roving commissioners  empowered to act  in the name of the Representatives in the surrounding towns and countryside. 
Though their office was a civil one, the commissioners reinforced their authority by wearing a flamboyant uniform, with tricolour plumed hat, deerskin breeches, plus "kid gloves à l'espagnole, boots à l'américaine, bronzed spurs, saddle pistols and a hussar's sabre". The citizens of Lyon were even formally forbidden from wearing blue, the revolutionaries' chosen colour. 

According to Takashi Koï, members were drawn exclusively from outside the Lyon area, from Paris and Moulins and their average age was only 33 years.  Half were lawyers, doctors or merchants by profession and none conformed to the artisan or worker background of the stereotypical sans-culotte.  In other words they represented the youthful radical intelligentia of the Revolution. (The judges of the Commission Revolutionnaire were similar in profile;  only Joseph Fernex, who was later lynched, was a native of Lyon).

The commission was presided over first briefly by Gaillard, a friend of Chalier, who committed suicide at the end of 1793, then by Jean-Baptiste Marino, who before the Revolution painted and sold porcelain in the galleries of the Palais-royal. He was said to be a brutal man given to coarse sarcasm (Delandine recounts him quipping to prisoners that they would soon be saved the trouble of shaving, thanks to the "national razor").  Another president, Pascal-Antoine Grimaud, the subject of a biography by Philippe Bourdin, was a former priest and trusted ally of Fouché.

Table of members of the Commission temporaire ,  1793.  Digitised from Lyon Public Library
The Instruction of the Temporary Commission, issued in November 1793,  is one of the iconic documents of the Terror.

The Commission calls for permanent revolution in the name of the "immense class of the poor" against the "bourgeois aristocracy" and the "financial aristocracy", which are identified with the former ruling elite of Lyon.  Sequestration and execution must be delivered to rebels  - priests, nobles, functionaries, but also those who, without being named in the decrees, "cannot love revolution since it is contrary to their prejudices": singled out are the lawyers, charaterised as "running dogs of feudalism".  There can be no exemption from taxation, which is not a matter of mathematical exactitude but demands everything a citizen has over his immediate needs.  A long section, furnished by the pen of Fouché, denounces Christianity and its priesthood.

Revolution is not a matter of externals but a permanent process of moral regeneration: 

"There is no other divinity but the fatherland; the Republican is essentially religious because he is good, just, and courageous;to be truly republican each citizen must experience within himself a revolution equal to that which has changed the face of France"


"Commission temporaire de surveillance républicaine" in  Histoire des tribunaux révolutionnaires de Lyon (1879)

Philippe Bourdin, "La terreur et la mort" Les cahiers de médiologie, 2002/1 (N° 13), p.79-89
See  also, Bruno  Benoît,  Summary and review of Bourdin's, Le noir et le rouge (2000), Cahiers d'histoire [En ligne], 46-1 | 2001  

In 1957 Richard Cobb published a detailed study of the personnel of the Commission, but this article now seems unavailable.

[Richard Cobb, "La commission temporaire de Commune-Affranchie", Reprinted in Terreur et subsistances, 1793-1795, Paris, Clavreuil, 1965, p. 55-94.]

 Letter from the Commission to the comité révolutionnaire of the section de Pierre-Scize, concerning taxation of the rich. December 1793.  L'Atelier numérique de l’histoire.

Order signed by members of the Commission.

Instruction addressed to the Constituted Authorities of the Departments of Rhône and the Temporary Committee of Republican Surveillance  (1793)


The goal of the Revolution is the happiness of the people.

Paragraph I: Concerning the Revolutionary Spirit

The Revolution is made for the people; the happiness of the people is its goal; love of the people is the touchstone of the revolutionary spirit.
It is easy to understand that by "the people" we do not mean that class privileged by its riches which has usurped all the pleasures of life and all its assets from society. "The people" is the universality of French citizens; "the people" is above all the immense class of the poor, that class which gives men to the Patrie, defenders to our frontiers, which maintains society by its labours, embellishes it by its talents, which adorns it and honors it by its virtues.

The Revolution would be a political and moral monstrosity if its end was to assure the happiness of a few hundred individuals and to consolidate the misery of twenty-four million citizens. ...

Republicans, to be worthy of that name, begin by feeling your dignity.  Hold high your head with pride and let men read in your eyes that you know who you are and what the Republic is.   Do not be mistaken, to be truly republican each citizen must experience within himself a revolution equal to that which has changed the face of France. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in common between the slave of a tyrant and the inhabitant of a free state: the customs of the latter, his principles, his sentiments, his actions must all be new. You were oppressed; you must crush your oppressors. You were the slaves of superstition; you must no longer worship anything except liberty; you must have no other morality than that of nature. You were strangers to military offices; henceforth all Frenchmen are soldiers. You lived in ignorance; to assure the conquest of your rights, you must be instructed. You knew no Patrie [Fatherland], never had its sweet voice echoed in your hearts; today, you must know nothing apart from it; you must see it, hear it, and adore it in everything.

The magistrate is vigilant, the farmer sows his fields, the soldier fights, the citizen breathes only for the Patrie!  Its sacred image mingles in all his actions, adds to his pleasures, rewards him for his pains. Long live the Republic! Long live the people! There is his rallying cry, the expression of his joy, the solace of his sorrows. Any man to whom this enthusiasm is foreign, who knows other pleasures, other cares than the happiness of the people ... any man who doesn't feel his blood boil at the very name of tyranny, slavery, or opulence; any man who has tears to shed for the enemies of the people, who doesn't reserve all his compassion for the victims of despotism, and for the martyrs of liberty, all such men who dare to call themselves Republicans have lied against nature and in their hearts. Let them flee the soil of liberty: they will soon be recognized and will water it with their impure blood.

 The Republic wants only free men within its bosom; it is determined to exterminate all others and to recognize as its children only those who know how to live, fight and die for it. ...

Paragraph III: The Revolutionary Tax on the Rich

The expenses of the war must be defrayed, and the costs of the Revolution met. Who will come to the help of the Patrie in its need if it is not the rich? If they are aristocrats, it is just that they should pay for a war to which they and their supporters alone have given rise; if they are patriots, you will be anticipating their desires by asking them to put their riches to the only use fit for Republicans; that is to say, a purpose useful to the Republic. Thus, nothing can excuse you from establishing this tax promptly. No exemptions are necessary; any man who has more than he needs must participate in this extraordinary assistance. This tax must be proportioned to the great needs of the Patrie, so you must begin by deciding in a grand and truly revolutionary manner the sum that each individual must put in common for the public welfare. This isn't a case for mathematical exactitude nor for the timid scruple which must be employed to apportion the public taxes; it is an extraordinary measure which must exhibit the character of the times which compel it. Operate, then, on a large scale; take all that a citizen has that is unnecessary; for superfluity is an evident and gratuitous violation of the rights of the people. Any man who has more than his needs cannot use it, he can only abuse it; thus, if he is left what is strictly necessary, all the rest belongs to the Republic and to its unfortunate members. ...

Paragraph V : The Eradication of Fanaticism

Priests are the sole cause of the misfortunes of France; it is they who for thirteen hundred years have raised, by degrees, the edifice of our slavery and have adorned it with all the sacred baubles which could conceal flaws from the eye of reason. ...

First of all, Citizens, relations between God and man are a purely private matter and, to be sincere, have no need of display in worship and the visible monuments of superstition. You will begin by sending to the treasury of the Republic all the vases, all the gold and silver ornaments which may flatter the vanity of priests but which are nothing to the truly religious man and to the Being whom he claims to honour. ...

... The Republican has no other divinity than his Patrie, no other idol than liberty. The Republican is essentially religious because he is good, just, and courageous; the patriot honors virtue, respects age, consoles misfortune, comforts indigence and punishes treachery. What better homage for the Divinity! The patriot isn't foolish enough to claim to worship him by practices useless to humanity and bad for himself; he does not condemn himself to an apparent celibacy in order to give himself up the more freely to debauchery. Worthy son of nature and useful member of society, he gives happiness to a virtuous wife and raises his numerous children according to the severe principles of morality and republicanism. ...

Republicans ... be on guard, you have great wrongs to expiate; the crimes of the rebellious Lyonnais are yours. ... Regain then, and promptly, in liberty's way, all the ground that you have lost, and win again by your virtues and patriotic efforts the esteem and confidence of France. The National Convention, the representatives of the people, are watching you and your magistrates; the account that they demand of you will be all the stricter because you have faults to be pardoned. And we, who are intermediaries between them and you, we whom they have charged to watch over you and instruct you, we swear that our glance will not leave you for an instant and that we will use with severity all the authority committed to us and that we will punish as treachery what in other circumstances you might have called dilatoriness, weakness or negligence. The time for half-measures and for beating about the bush is past. Help us to strike great blows or you will be the first to feel them. Liberty or death: reflect and choose.

[Signed by the Commission and approved by the deputies on mission, Collot d'Herbois and Fouché, members of the Committee of Public Safety.]

Temporary Committee of Republican Surveillance in Lyons, in D. I. Wright, ed., The French Revolution: Introductory Documents (Newcastle, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1974), 194-197.

No comments:

Post a Comment