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Bonapartism and Revolutionary Tradition in France: The federes of 1815.

During the Hundred Days a national movement erupted in France which has come to be known as that of the federes. Reminiscent of, and inspired by, the republican movement to save the revolution in 1793, this movement signed up thousands who were prepared to fight to support Bonaparte, and, ironically, republican values. Alexander attempts to show, first, how it emerged in three centres, Rennes, Dijon, and Paris, and, second, how the movement developed generally in France. He is more successful in achieving the first than the second. His discussion of the Midi is flawed: the bagarre of Nimes was not a persecution of the Catholics by the Protestants in 1790, but precisely the reverse (p. 85). "Apparently Provence was not uniformly royalist" (p. 252), is certainly true, if naive: constant conflict in Bouches-du-Rhone, Var, and, particularly in the Comtat, in the years from 1789 to 1815, revealed that the population was split between royalists and republicans. An even more complicated situation existed in Gard where religious differences exacerbated political rivalries, especially in the Cevennes. When the terrorists of the left caused trouble it was only a matter of time before the terrorists of royalism retaliated, tit for tat. Therefore, Alexander's discussion of the Midi and other regions of France outside his three main centres is questionable.

Surviving rosters of members enable Alexander to examine the vocations and residences of many of them. The main problem he encountered in statistical summation of this data was one familiar to all of us who have tried it: trying to define class boundaries. Many of the members of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and of other faubourgs were obviously artisans; indeed the area back of the new opera house, including Quinze-Vingts, remains full of cabinet makers and other artisans working in the ancient luxury furniture business. I am not convinced, as is Alexander, that most of the federes from this area were from the "working class" as opposed to the "middle class." However, he has enough evidence to show that some federations were more strongly representative of the liberal professions, wholesale merchants and other elevated occupations. His whole discussion of the social breakdown of the different federations is weakened because of failure to more adequately describe his occupational categories. What he does show is that most federations of 1815 resembled the memberships of the clubs of 1790 to 1792, the members of the Marseilles sections of 1793, and were, consequently, quite respectably middle class in composition. Others, he also correctly indicates, resemble the membership of some of the sans-culotte sections in Paris in 1793: partly middle class and partly borderline, upper-lower dass.

Alexander also notes that the federations differed from one another, depending upon the local conditions from which they emerged, and hints that the revolutionary past of each community had something to do with the 1815 phenomenon. But here emerges a major weakness; he tries to maintain that the federes were primarily Bonapartist, but intent upon securing some of the blessings of republicanism. As he notes, howevere, the support of some of these enthusiasts was embarrassing to Napoleon himself. The crux of the problem is, then, who constituted the supporters of Napoleon during the Hundred Days, and were they the same who became members of the opposition during the Second Restoration, helping to pave the way for the 1830 Revolution? Alexander believes that the federes of 1815 did, in fact, provide the backbone for the subsequent opposition to the monarchy. But, by his own admission, many of the federes of 1792 and 1793 were no longer around by 1815; doubtless many members of the 1815 federations were no longer around by 1830. There simply is not enough proof to indicate any continuity either before 1815 or after that year. His remarks suggesting the survival of the movement by 1830 are tentative, in any case, and might well convince others to explore the membership in revolutionary organizations in more detail.

Perhaps a more fruitful interpretation would be to suggest that republicanism as a movement was the constant phenomenon, born in 1792, elevated, if divided internally, in 1793, and present even in the most repressive days of the Empire. Certain old Jacobins, such as Omer Granet of Marseilles, were precisely the kind of survivors that Fouche was looking for in An VIII when he was compiling lists of possible prefects for his new master, Napoleon. Granet, opportunist republican of 1792, faithful follower of Robespierre until 9 Thermidor, immediate opponent of Robespierre afterward, prominent in Marseille local government during the Directory, and official of Napoleon in the Consulate, became a leading federe of 1815. Perhaps he had a practical vision of France such as that of Foucht or Talleyrand. Such men governed France under most regimes after 1792 and tried to steer between the twin dangers of left-wing terrorism and royalism. Some joined the federations of 1815 and others did not but what they did in that year might be considered only episodic.

Participation of less important persons, including small businessmen, former officers, and artisans of various types may well have depended in 1815 on basic complaints of a declining economy, or the end of military vocations, or collective fear of the return of King and Altar. As Alexander indicates, the coalition of such diverse people with such diverse motives was ephemeral and soon collapsed when the Bourbons returned again. Many people in France by 1815 were doubtless indifferent to politics, having a surfeit of it for so long.

Probably the Hundred Days and the political associations which emerged during that time and afterward, have to be considered as chapters in a continuing history of French republicanism. If this interpretation is correct, then many of the problems Alexander has in trying to show that the federes were either bonapartists with a populist inclination or republicans with a willingness to put up with Napoleon because alternatives were less palatable, cease to have much importance. To leading republicans such as Granet of Marseilles or de Barral of Grenoble, the values they believed in surmounted any current political affiliation they might have had to make in order to survive.
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Author:Johnson, Hubert C.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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