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I. Introduction

When Boucher d'Argis wrote of "these vampires who suck in the last drop of blood of the cadavers to which they attach themselves," [1] he was not addressing the readers of a gothic thriller. Rather, his audience was the French Estates General of 1789 and his topic the reform of local justice. The vampires of whom he spoke were the judicial personnel--judges, procureurs fiscaux, clerks, sergeants, notaries--of seigneurial courts whose cupidity victimized the justiciables (cadavers) of rural France by transforming peoples' attempts to attain justice into interminable charades with the sole purpose of lining the pockets of magistrates and court auxiliaries. Another commentator from 1789 on the French system of local justice argued that if the National Assembly truly desired to restore France's ancient liberties it ought to begin with the destruction of seigneurial justice. Fouqueau de Pussy censured this institution in the harshest terms and especially scorned the person who stood as its quintessence, the procur eur fiscal: [2]

The fiscal procurators exercise an incredible despotism ... (They) are all stewards, confidantes, and proteges of seigneurs. They are tyrants who get the attorneys who oppose their wills fired. Never have justiciables oppressed by lords, their stewards, or their procureurs fiscaux found a defender.

Unlike seigneurial justice, whose personnel invited comparisons with vampires and tyrants, the revolutionary justice of the peace often reaped lavish praise from the observers of the institution of local justice. The representative Thuriot exclaimed to the National Convention in 1793, "The most beautiful institution for which we are indebted to the Constituent Assembly, that which has been the most useful to society, is the institution of the justice of the peace." [3] Several years and a vastly changed political climate failed to diminish the enthusiasm of legislators for the new local judicial order, as seen in the declaration of Regnier to the Conseil des Cinq-Cents that "the greatest institution of the Revolution is the justice of the peace." [4] Similarly, an unsolicited comment by cantonal administrators of Nere to their departmental colleagues in the Year VII lauded both the institution and its present officeholder. "This establishment, which is one of the greatest benefits of our revolution and whose advantages we recognize daily, is currently conferred to a man who combines probity, impartiality, and speed with a genuine desire to fulfill his functions well ..." [5] To be sure, much of the support for the institution was self-congratulatory in nature, coming from legislators, administrators, and judicial personnel with a stake in the Revolution's success. Nonetheless, its sincerity is indisputable; revolutionaries truly believed in the beneficial changes wrought by their creation of the justice of the peace.

What had revolutionaries done to render local justice, once the private domain of lords, their supposedly tyrannical agents, and avaricious practitioners, one of the greatest benefits of the Revolution in their eyes? This paper seeks to answer this question by examining the practice of civil justice under the revolutionary institution of the justice of the peace in the department of Charente-Inferieure, which roughly corresponded to the historical provinces of Aunis and Saintonge. [6] I will commence with a brief treatment of civil justice under seigneurial tribunals, since the comparison with revolutionary civil justice will clarify the reasons why rural dwellers welcomed the new judicial system after 1789. Next, I will explain the institutional arrangements for the revolutionary reorganization of local justice, which will shed light on how legislators sought to satisfy their constituents' demands concerning the adjudication of disputes. The bulk of the paper will then follow revolutionary civil justice in p ractice. Did the Revolution actually fulfill its promise of providing swift, fair, and inexpensive justice, of mitigating the litigious passions of French people, and of protecting rural denizens from the avaricious practices of seigneurs and lawyers? [7] In answering "yes" to this question, my conclusion will suggest not only that changes in local justice altered significantly the relationship between rural society and the state, but also that historians need to reexamine the social impact of the French Revolution.

II. Civil Justice in Seigneurial Tribunals in Aunis and Saintonge

Stated succinctly, seigneurial justice was slow, expensive, and therefore often inaccessible to rural inhabitants of Aunis and Saintonge. [8] The primary explanation for this situation lies in the proliferation of seigneurial tribunals; there existed nearly 500 lords' courts in Aunis and Saintonge, or one tribunal for every 1.25 parishes and 880 inhabitants. Although the plethora of seigneurial courts suggests that they fulfilled admirably a central criterion of quality local justice--proximity to justiciables--in reality the high number of courts was problematic: it increased the stages of appeals that a case might undergo before its final resolution, and it created a swarm of judicial employees whose living stemmed from the court system but whose education and integrity could not be guaranteed by the royal judicial bureaucracy. The cahier de doleance of St. Herie de Mastas summarized clearly the problems presented by an excessive number of diminutive seigneurial courts: [9]

Considering that there exist almost as many different jurisdictions as there are villages, and that it would be difficult to find a judge with a degree who would want to work in such tiny jurisdictions, in which there is no courthouse, where sessions are held perhaps four times per year and where one is obliged to hold them in the cabaret, we think that it would be in the public interest--and in order to accelerate the trials which are slowed there--to unite them to the seigneurial justice of their suzerain. The latter (lord) would be required to have graduates as officers who reside in the chef-lieu of the jurisdiction. It would be interesting to accord to him the competence to judge definitely up to the sum of 50 livres, which would eliminate a multitude of petty trials that parties undertake out of anger and which lead them to their ruin by taking them by appeal to royal seats ...

Many other cahiers denounced the infrequency of court sessions and the absenteeism of judges--complaints easily corroborated by a perusal of the archives of seigneurial justice. In turn, infrequent court sessions prompted several parishes to excoriate seigneurial tribunals for the snail's pace at which it dispensed justice. The inhabitants of Charentenay remonstrated in exasperation that "the most serious and the most pressing" matters lingered for years because of the "imperfection in the exercise of seigneurial justices," where judges residing in distant places rarely appeared in seigneuries to convene the court.[10] Indeed, trials originating from lords' jurisdictions were so lengthy that the district cahier of St. Aigulin solemnly proposed a three year limitation on them as an improvement. [11]

The claims of St. Aigulin were no exaggeration, since 18 cases from Tonnay-Boutonne in 1788-89 required an average of 32 months (with a 16 month median) before their final adjudication. Surviving records for 44 cases from Conac in 1784-1790 show that litigants waited an average of 13 months for a decision, while 41 cases from Jonzac lasted an average of 11 months. [12] To he sure, complicated legal matters often experience lengthy processes of resolution, but even those simple cases hinging on points of fact (rather than on complicated points of law) that ought to have been conducive to celerity still lingered in the courts for time periods ranging from several months to several years. One case involving a shoemaker's request for 9 livres for a pair of boots was so uncomplicated that the "proof" consisted of the plaintiff's oath that he had indeed sold the boots to the defendant. [13] Nevertheless, the lawsuit took ten months of his time. The judge of Conac deemed the quarrel between two cultivators so frivo lous that he threw the case out of court (a rare occurrence when every lawsuit offered the opportunity to make money), but not before the accumulation of eight months of expenses. [14] Of the ubiquitous boundary quarrels between neighbors and proprietors that justices of the peace (Jps) would later adjudicate in a matter of days by going directly to the site of contention, two such cases took three years and twenty months, respectively, at Conac. [15] At St. Seurin d'Uzet, the merchant Jacques Guyon sued Jean-Pierre Georgeon, bourgeois, for defense de passage on January 14,1779; over three years later on May 23, 1782, the judge finally accepted Georgeon's proof that he had been in possession of the right to pass with his wagon and oxen on Guyon's property for thirty years. [16] Louise Vassal's lawsuit against Joseph Guibert for dezistat (a request for Guibert to vacate a property), begun in 1781, was still being pleaded before the judge of St. Antoine du Bois when the Revolution closed that judicial register forever! [17]

According to the cahiers, the slowness of justice caused by royal civil and criminal procedure and the proliferation of petty seigneurial jurisdictions was aggravating enough for the denizens of rural Aunis and Saintonge. But when the same combination conspired to render litigation as expensive as it was time-consuming, it brings into question the accessibility of the legal system and even its legitimacy. According to the ten parishes represented by the district cahier of Saujon, litigation over an object as little as six livres or a simple injury could lead to financial disaster for one party because of the "abusive but very favored practice" of courts employing written procedure. [18] Perhaps the parishioners of the lie d'Elle stated the problem most succinctly, albeit acerbically, when they wrote that "we are ruined as soon as we are obliged to litigate. Is it really necessary to have so much written procedure, to have recourse to so many judges, and for it to cost so much in order to obtain justice?" [19 ]

Again, an examination of several hundred civil cases in seigneurial courts confirms the claims of the cahiers about the high cost of seigneurial justice in this region. Twenty-four cases from Tonnay-Boutonne in 1788-89 had an average cost of 106 livres, while twelve cases from Pons in 1782 accumulated an average of 60 livres in expenses. [20] At a time when a day of artisanal labor was valued at a single livre, such expenses indicate how costly a civil trial could be in seigneurial courts. In fact, the high cost of litigating in lords' tribunals regularly left the expenditures in a case greater than the amount involved in the lawsuit. The source of contention between Francois Fagot and Francois Mulheau, Controlleur des Aydes, was a paltry 2 livres, but the cost of the trial exceeded 35 livres. [21] At Jonzac, an entrepreneur's demand that a day laborer desist from passing on his property cost 55 livres. [22] At Conac, Pierre Foucher sued Jean Delaye for payment of 43 sols, but the expenses amounted to 146 li vres 16 sols. When the merchant Michel Bouliaud filed suit against Jean Martin for repayment of 11 livres, the court assessed the costs at 31 livres. [23] The examples multiply seemingly without end, but clearly even the least complicated cases over minimal amounts threatened litigants with substantial costs.

Of course, when litigation or an attempt to obtain justice means financial ruin, a legal system's accessibility diminishes, and the doors of justice remain closed especially to a society's poorer members who have fewer resources to risk on a long and costly trial. By exposing that "the rich drag the poor from court to court, "the inhabitants of both Sainte-Marie and Le Bois acknowledged that French local justice favored those people wealthy enough to intimidate opponents into acquiescence by threatening them with the prospect of a ruinous court case. [24] The district cahier from Barbezieux also recognized serious social repercussions resulting from the excessive degrees of justice "considering that the multiplication of the different jurisdictions is an obstacle preventing the poor from obtaining justice." [25] In a cahier that implicitly indicted seigneurial justice for its inaccessibility to the poor and explicitly cast a dark shadow over its integrity, the inhabitants of Mauze alleged that "it [seigneuri al justice] is the scourge of the countryside and sells too dearly the favors of its protection." [26] Seigneurial justice, in this case, stood as another pillar supporting the French social order against which peasants could not or dared not struggle.

The cahier of Saint-Medard echoed the view--so damning to the quality and integrity of a judicial system--that justice was a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. "What person inhabiting the countryside is unaware of how seigneurial justices encourage among the peaceful cultivators the desire--for a certain sum of money (so rare among us)--to press doubtful or unjust claims?" [27] This passage signifies not only that justice was for sale but that it constituted a game subject to manipulation by the pettifogging practitioners (derogatively called chicaneurs) schooled in its recondite rules.

Indeed, the near-universal dissatisfaction among rural dwellers with chicanery is the dominant theme concerning justice that one can extract from the cahiers of Aunis and Saintonge. Seigneurial jurisdictions, covering several degrees, employing byzantine procedure, dominated by an army of underpaid officers, and often removed from the surveillance of the royal bureaucracy, proved fertile terrain for the artful subterfuge of rural chicaneurs, as witnessed by the parish of Genouille: [28]

Another inevitable evil for the said inhabitants is that which subjects the most insignificant contestation to formalities of justice and degrees of jurisdiction that are ruinous to the parties. The peaceful person prefers his (or her) spoliarion to his ruin. The chicaneur, the swindler commits usurpations with impunity. For an object valued at 20 sols or for a minute slice of land, the parties only receive the [definitive] decision of their differences in a sovereign tribunal located 30 leagues from their parishes. A cause personnelle ends only after being carried to three tribunals. The procedure for the trial, whose expenses are unknown to the parties until after the damage has been inflicted, is a scourge for every person unlearned in law and [possessing only] his credulity and his innocence.

The parish of Ranson linked the ubiquity of chicanery directly to the overabundance of petty seigneurial justices, claiming that "if there were fewer small jurisdictions, there would be fewer chicaneurs, fewer of these country attorneys who would disappear because of a lack of clients." [29]

In essence, these problems surrounding seigneurial courts stood the conception of justice on its head. Instead of an idealized version of the role of justice in a society, in which an accessible and blindfolded Justice impartially weighs the merit of opposing arguments, Seigneurial Justice removed its blindfold to glance at the respective parties' coffers and weighed their ability to purchase "the favors of its protection." [30] Furthermore, instead of ensuring peace and equilibrium in a society by solving disputes in a way that both parties agreed was fair, seigneurial jurisdictions--by multiplying the stages of justice, by rendering it so costly as to threaten its accessibility, and by subjecting it to the cancer of chicanery--actually prolonged disputes, increased their stakes, and rarely instilled a sense that justice had been served. The inhabitants of Marsay attested to this inversion of the role of justice by remonstrating that seigneurial courts were a cause, rather than a forum for the resolution, o f the social tensions that afflicted Old Regime France: [31]

Seigneurial jurisdictions only tend to delay justice, to nourish petty parish squabbles, to obscure the means of defense, to support animosity and resentment, and to encourage a little war between individuals whose worries for cultivation would better serve the state; therefore, the inhabitants of Marsay demand their suppression and the right to bring our contestation to the presidial courts ...

With such a judicial system for the adjudication of their disputes, it is no wonder that eighteenth-century rural French earned a reputation--corroborated by many cahiers as well as the judicial archives--for litigiousness, for lingering social resentment, for endemic violence and revenge. One can argue in fairness that seigneurial justice contributed to the social tensions that afflicted rural France on the eve of revolution. [32]

III. The Creation of the Justice of the Peace

Seigneurial justice was a prominent victim of the "abolition of feudalism" in the revolutionary atmosphere of August 4, 1789. In creating a new institution of local justice in 1790, the revolutionaries conceived of the justice of the peace as the antithesis of the seigneurial judge. Unlike the lord's magistrate, who was a specialist trained in law and a representative of an urban legal culture, French reformers envisioned the juge de paix (Jp) as a mediating amateur whose paramount qualifications were intimate knowledge of the problems of rural dwellers and a sense of fairness instead of familiarity with a body of legal knowledge. Hence, they allowed all men thirty years of age or older who met the eligibility requirements for any other district or departmental administrative position to become a justice of the peace. [33] In contrast to the questionable independence of seigneurial judges who served as employees of their lords and were subject to dismissal, the Jp held his office through the wishes of his fe llow citizens. Because the Jp was a popularly-elected official expected to rule in equity, his experience in rural affairs and the confidence in his probity that he inspired among country dwellers mattered more than his grasp of "the science of forms and of laws ... " [34] These conceptual changes in the magistracy constituted part of the Revolution's attempt to move dispute resolution in the first instance from courts of law to the fields--a move to be understood both literally (since Jps often decided cases at the source of contention) and metaphorically, since adjudication in the fields symbolized for revolutionaries a judicial system dominated by rural inhabitants who loved justice, order, and morality and one far removed from the pestilential and obstructionist atmosphere of Old Regime law courts.

The Revolution's ambitious goal of simultaneously ushering in a new social climate in rural France on the back of a reformed judicial system was not lost on local officials in Charente-Inferieure. In a lengthy discourse to the primary assembly of Tonnay-Charente, the meeting's president, M. Bargaud, revealed to voters the lofty aspirations he held for this new institution: [35]

Gentlemen, you must elect a justice of the peace, that is to say a man destined to stop at the source all dissention among citizens of this canton, and as a consequence one who has almost never given occasion to question his private life, always having been a good friend, a good neighbor, and a man of good mores; who, knowing how to respect the rights of others, sometimes backs off of his own (rights) in order to enjoy the advantage he must procure for his fellow citizens: peace; a man who has only acted with honesty ... and who, as an enemy of trials, has never used that unique tool of base souls--chicanery--which was employed with so much success in the old tribunals by litigants of bad faith ...

Similarly, the mayor of Rochefort went so far as to elevate the Jp to the moral position occupied by the local priest in the Old Regime, for the Jp would embody the values of the new nation and restore social tranquility to rural France: [36]

This new magistracy, one of the greatest benefits of our constitution, will become a type of clergy when exercised by men who will link the purest patriotism to sublime virtues such as courage, beneficence, and the forgetting of self for the happiness of all ... The protecting laws (les lois protectrices) created by the National Assembly have destroyed the abuses of the old ones, and when applied by virtuous and educated men, they will bring peace to families, they will prevent hate and dissention, they will destroy the oppression caused by the barbarous right to crush the weak with gold ...

Although some Jps fell far short of the legislators' lofty ambitions, the preceding passages reflect a deep need and sincere wish to change significantly the nature of local justice in rural France.

To implement their reconceptualization of justice under Jps, revolutionary legislators focused on three factors that highlight the distinctive nature of the new institution. First, justices of the peace were popularly-elected and state-salaried magistrates. On one hand, the election of Jps signified that they enjoyed a modicum of justiciables' trust and was crucial to the establishment of the institution's legitimacy. On the other hand, the receipt of a state salary removed the temptation to prolong cases that proved so irresistible to impecunious officials under the Old Regime; the remuneration of Jps remained completely independent of the cases they adjudicated. Second, revolutionary legislators limited the jurisdiction of justices of the peace to seven categories of disputes. [37] Essentially, they restricted the Jps' powers to those cases amenable to resolution through fairness, good sense, and visiting the site of contention (particularly simple debts, boundary disputes, and verbal quarrels), rather tha n following rigorously prescribed legal forms. The distinction between cases requiring a verification of facts (cases before non-specialist Jps) and those requiring an interpretation of law (cases handled by legal specialists in district courts) was central to the new system of local justice. Third, civil procedure under the Jps was altered radically to protect "the truth" from the manipulation of lawyers and the morass of legal formalities. Most importantly, revolutionary laws forbade the appearance of lawyers and written testimony from cases before the Jp. In addition, the new procedure countenanced on-site inspections and questioning of witnesses in an effort to speed up and decrease the cost of civil justice.

IV. The New Style of Justice

The best means of attaining a sense of both the Jps' activity as well as the new style of justice is to follow these magistrates in action. For cases in which parties agreed on the facts concerning the object of contention, Jps and their unpaid, elected assistants (assesseurs) offered immediate decisions. If litigants differed in their stories, Jps often accepted a defendant's oath as grounds for dismissing a suit if it did not lend itself to further investigation. For cases requiring further information, Jps often ordered an immediate visit to the source of contention where they could make their own assessments (in disputes over passages, property boundaries, and so forth), speak to witnesses (but without taking depositions), or listen to the advice of "experts." At other times, the Jp requested the plaintiff to document a claim with a title, a bill of lading, or an account book. The style of local justice, then, emphasized procedural simplicity and celerity in its minimization of paperwork and in the Jps' freedom from prescribed restraints in arriving at decisions. [38]

Besides the simple and expeditious nature of local justice under the new magistracy, the judicial archives also give evidence of the important conceptual shift towards equity and conciliation in official dispute resolution. [39] In 1793 at Jonzac, the cultivateur Brivet claimed that the locksmith Allongue owed him 40 livres for the sale and delivery of wine, although Brivet had lost a signed purchase order. Allongue admitted that he had received the wine but lamented that he misplaced his receipt of payment for the goods. Confronted with "the impossibility of knowing the facts," the Jp and his auxiliaries, instead of referring to laws that placed the burden of proof on the plaintiff, ordered Allongue to pay Brivet 20 livres--a decision that could not be appealed. [40] In a similar case from Cozes, the widow Marie Chevallier inherited a purchase order worth 116 livres for the sale of a boat to Jean Genereau. [41] Jean did not deny the debt, but he stated that responsibility for payment fell on his brother Ant oine, a mariner who had taken de facto possession of the boat. In light of the brothers' continued disagreement over the issue, the Jp made them split the cost of the boat. Again, in La Rochelle a municipal officer sued a woman over "reparations for violence," while the woman countersued for "excesses committed." [42] Instead of taking the depositions of many witnesses and then assessing blame, which under seigneurial justice might have led to an expensive trial and possibly a lengthy appeal, the Jp listened to their respective versions of the story, chided them for mutual provocation, and sent them home. Significantly, no financial incentive existed to allow the pursuit of probably spurious cases.

None of the preceding decisions was liable to please everyone; on the contrary, each risked upsetting nearly every party involved. But they signalled the Revolution's commitment to a more conciliatory justice at the local level, and conciliation means getting people to back off of their presumed rights. To be sure, Jps' decisions often assigned right and blame. After all, a debt is simply a debt and is not amenable to conciliation; it must be paid. Yet even in these cases Jps endeavored to convince litigants to be more flexible and conciliatory in demanding their rights. In the canton of La Rochelle, for example, the harsh winter of 1791 produced scores of cases in which creditors sought payment for having furnished bread or flour to customers. Instead of merely condemning the defendants to fulfill their obligations, the Jp Leconte almost always succeeded in working out a payment schedule--a debt of 39 livres would be repaid in three installments of 13 livres from 1792 to 1794. Significantly, both Leconte an d the Jp of Marennes, Marquard, convinced creditors to avoid requests for interest payments in these schedules. In return for the debtor's immediate recognition of the debt and a partial repayment, the creditor accepted the delayed fulfillment of the obligation and relaxed his or her claim to collect interest. Another of Leconte's preferred tactics was to substitute labor for cash payments. On January 17, 1791, the laboureur Belineaud filed a suit for 50 livres against the vigneron Turpeau. Leconte stated:" ... With the consent of the plaintiff, we have ruled that the payment will be made by means of one day of labor per week that he (Turpeau) will give to said plaintiff..." [43]

Finally, Jps sometimes employed moral suasion to convince parties to accept their judgments even in cases far outside their jurisdiction, thereby saving litigants the time, money, and bitterness accompanying a formal lawsuit in a district court. When this moral suasion worked, it was almost always for disputes over which the parties appeared voluntarily before the Jp, a signal that they were already predisposed to avoiding a long trial. On January 15, 1793 the Jp of Jonzac, Sauvaistre, settled two disputes beyond his competence after the parties promised "to put up with (s'en passer par) and submit to our (the Jp's) decision." [44] At La Rochelle in January of 1791 the vigneron Rolland and the laboureur Cerclet voluntarily sought Leconte's judgments in two disputes, one for 411 livres and the other for 29 years' arrears of a rente of 25 livres per year, both large sums exceeding the jurisdiction of the justice of the peace. Leconte wrote concerning the latter case: [45]

After having remarked to the parties that the sum sought by the plaintiff and the principal of the rente greatly exceed our jurisdiction, they said they wanted a decision and would leave things to us (s'en rapporter a nous) ... Having equally asked Rolland if he had some document, paper, or title upholding his claim ... (he responded) that he had no such thing; only that he knew in his soul and in his conscience that he, Rolland, spoke the truth; to which Pierre Cerclet responded that he was ready to take an oath that he owed Rolland nothing.

Leconte released Cerclet from his adversary's demands.

Although such decisions were not legally binding until notarized as contracts, the extraction of promises from the litigants, whose voluntary appearance signalled both their good faith and their respect of the Jp's authority, often sufficed to bind them morally to a decision. Importantly, all cases in which adjudication was sought voluntarily were handled without expenses. Thus, even though Rolland might still take his case to a district civil court, he received before the Jp a free indication of how he might expect to do there. Under seigneurial jurisdictions, Rolland's options would have been to pursue a long and expensive lawsuit or, fearing this, to harbor his resentments or to take revenge on Cerclet. Under the new system, all of these options still existed, but the presence of the justice of the peace provided for a quick, cost-free and official designation of right. As such, it most likely limited Rolland's claim to take justice into his own hands. The revolutionary system of local justice, of course, could not solve France's social problems, but at least now it did not exacerbate them.

V. The Length and Cost of Civil Justice under Juges de paix

In his proposal for the revolutionary institution of the justice of the peace, the deputy Thouret informed the Constituent Assembly that adjudication under Jps would literally be without cost if two parties arrived before this magistrate voluntarily (which often occurred) and did not require the delivery of a judgment. [46] In any event, Thouret hoped, simple cases in which litigants arrived after a summons and that required nothing besides the perusal of an account book or the verification of a debt's authenticity would cost only 3 livres. The most complex cases under a Jp's jurisdiction, those necessitating the questioning of witnesses, the opinions of experts, and/or the visit to the place of contention, could scarcely exceed 10 livres, in Thouret's opinion.

The records of the justices of the peace of Charente-Inferieure support Thouret's optimistic scenario about the cost of litigating before the new magistrates. In a random sample of 60 cases from Marennes in 1791, the expenses of 47 judgments survive. [47] Of those 47 judgments, 21 cases cost a mere 3 livres 6 sols, while another 13 cost 3 livres 15 sols (as noted previously, the value of one day's labor was assessed at 1 livre in 1789). Only 3 cases involved expenses exceeding 5 livres, with the most expensive trial generating 7 livres 19 sols in court costs. A case of trouble de possession, which included a preparatory judgment ordering the plaintiff to prove his case with witnesses, cost 6 livres 4 sols. Importantly, 4 cases were absolutely free, since they involved the reconciliation of parties who presented themselves voluntarily before the justice of the peace despite the fact that the source of contention stood outside his jurisdiction. [48] Sixteen cases from Brizambourg in 1792 averaged just under 4 livres in litigation expenses. [49] Thirty-six cases adjudicated by the Jp of Jonzac in 1792 averaged 5 livres per decision. [50] The most expensive case cost 19 livres and included an original judgment in which the defendant defaulted, an appeal of the original decision, followed by a visit to the damaged cherry trees in contention and the interrogation of 6 witnesses. Such sums were unlikely to frighten country dwellers from subjecting their disputes to official channels of justice, nor would they ruin the parties financially.

To compare the average cost of a case under revolutionary justices of the peace to that under seigneurial tribunals is, in a sense, like comparing apples and oranges given the vastly greater jurisdiction of the seigneurial courts. [51] But the direct comparison of the expenses of similar cases under both systems of justice demonstrates clearly how inexpensive civil disputes became under Jps. At Brizambourg's seigneurial court in 1788 a conflict over the sale and delivery of 20 livres of wine cost 26 livres; under the Jp of Brizambourg in 1792 a conflict over the sale and delivery of 60 livres of wine cost under 3 livres. [52] In the same jurisdiction in 1787, a merchant's victorious request that a cultivator cease passing with his cattle resulted in 45 livres in court expenses. When two cultivators from Brizambourg litigated before the Jp for the exact same reason in 1792, the case was adjudicated for 8 livres. [53] At Jonzac in 1788, an entrepreneurs demand of defense de passer against a day laborer somehow cost 55 livres despite the fact that the defendant defaulted. A request of defense de passer from Jonzac in the Year II in which the defendant did not default generated under 8 livres in expenses, which included the calling of witnesses. [54]

As striking as the preceding examples of the inexpensive nature of civil justice are, perhaps the greatest benefit of civil justice under the Jps for people of the French countryside was the speedy termination of disputes. Quick trials, besides the obvious advantage of allowing cultivators and workers to dedicate their time to more productive endeavors, contribute greatly to the individual's peace of mind as well as society's tranquility by rectifying injustices quickly and returning things to their rightful relationship. The longer the status of someone's property, honor, or enjoyment of rights is in question and the longer it takes for a dispute to see its resolution through official and accepted channels, the greater the likelihood that the conflict will escalate, possibly into violence.

The importance of a conflict's quick resolution highlights the data on the length of time it took Jps to adjudicate cases in revolutionary Charente-Inferieure. In Jonzac, for example, the Jp issued a total of 147 civil judgments in 1792. [55] Of those 147 judgments, 24 were preparatory, meaning that a case's definitive termination awaited the presentation of some form of proof, the interrogation of witnesses or the examination of the contentious site. The remaining 99 cases [56] witnessed the following judgments: one case was thrown out of court; 6 cases were forwarded to the appropriate jurisdictions; 8 cases ended in the parties' conciliation; and 84 cases received adjudication on the spot. Combining definitive judgments with conciliations, 92 out of 123, or 75%, of disputes ended the very day the litigants entered the office of the justice of the peace in Jonzac. At Ars-en-Re, the figures are even higher, as the Jp adjudicated 99 of 111 cases on the spot in 1791 and 58 of 64 cases on the spot in 1792. [57 ] it is not a stretch of the imagination to remark that a peasant could expect to witness the resolution of a grievance the day he or she stepped into the Jp's spartan office. Even those cases not judged immediately by justices of the peace almost always experienced their definitive adjudication within a week or two, and the researcher would be hard pressed to discover a case before the Jps of Charente-Inferieure not judged definitively within a month. In an extremely rare case from Jonzac requiring 3 sessions--the initial appearance of the parties on 8 germinal in which they stated their cases, the second in which witnesses testified for the litigants, and the third on 20 germinal in which the magistrate visited the disputed terrain--the Jp still took less than two weeks to issue a decision. [58]

Speedy and inexpensive justice under Jps, though certainly a desideratum of rural French people, was meaningless if the decisions of the new magistrates failed to terminate disputes. Thus, it is important to inquire about the quality of justice under Jps. If the decisions of Jps left a large number of litigants dissatisfied and intent on appealing, then the new institution of local justice risked being insignificant at best and at worst an annoying waste of time and money. Under such circumstances, the revolutionary institution would have resembled conspicuously the system of local justice it was intended to replace and would have suffered from the absence of legitimacy in the eyes of justiciables. After all, one of the most notable complaints about seigneurial justice was that the nearly-universal practice of appeals tendered lords' courts a lengthy and costly, yet ultimately useless, obstacle to a conflict's final resolution.

Although determining the "quality" of justice is a difficult and inexact endeavor, at least one important piece of evidence suggests that the decisions of Jps satisfied most litigants, signifying that these magistrates did in fact put an end to the disputes before them. From 5 December 1791 through 18 March 1793 the District Tribunal of Marennes adjudicated 1,222 cases, including 153 cases on appeal. [60] Of those appealed cases, only 15 originated injustices de paix. Considering that in the single canton of Marennes the Jp issued close to 300 civil decisions in 1791, the fact that only 15 civil decisions were appealed from 7 cantons in a 16 month period testifies to the effectiveness of Jps in terminating disputes. [61] Impressively, only 1 appelant came from the canton of Marennes despite the whirlwind of activity from that Jp, and not a single litigant challenged a decision of the Jp from Chateau d'Oleron, Bernard. For the most part, then, rural dwellers accepted the decisions of their local magistrates, which suggests that quick and inexpensive justice did not compromise quality. [62]

The most tangible result of fast and inexpensive justice was that few people, regardless of their social status, were dissuaded from seeking redress of their grievances or from defending themselves before justices of the peace. The mother lode of evidence that would have demonstrated most obviously the accessibility of the new tribunals of local justice--i.e. a massive, downward shift in the social status of plaintiffs from 1788 to 1791--proved elusive in the face of archival lacunae. But several more indirect, albeit still weighty, pieces of evidence point to the same conclusion. First, the habit at defaulting among defendants, which was so marked in seigneurial courts because of the fear of the costs associated with hiring a lawyer and the time requirements of litigating, ceased under justices of the peace. This meant that, whereas previously plaintiffs could often intimidate their opponents into submission by initiating a lawsuit, defendants could now appear in court and defend themselves against complain ts. Hence, the use of litigation as a form of social control stopped, which returned justice to its true function: to weigh the competing claims of equal parties. Defendants in seigneurial courts routinely defaulted in well over 50% of cases, but only 45 of 279 (16%) civil decisions were issued by default at La Rochelle in 1791.63 Tellingly, whereas 77% of cases ended in default in the seigneuries de Re in 1776, only 28% of defendants defaulted at Ars-en-Re in 1791 and 1792. [64] People who had previously complained about "never peacefully possessing what is ours," [65] whether because civil lawsuits were interminable or even too risky to undertake in the first place, could now rest assured that they could protect their rights and property in a court of law.

Second, the proliferation of civil cases in 1791 signalled the opening of official channels of justice to people who had once been wary of taking their disputes to court. The Jps of both Marennes and La Rochelle adjudicated close to 300 civil cases in that year--quite remarkable feats. Whereas Jonzac's seigneurial judge had rendered 8 decisions in 1765, 9 in 1771, 10 in 1776, 8 in 1785, and 7 in 1788, the Jp of Jonzac issued 144 judgments in 1792 and another 125 in the Year II. [66] More significant than the figures themselves is the fact that very few of the cases decided by seigneurial judges would have fallen under the jurisdiction of the justice of the peace. In other words, those same cases that Jps adjudicated by the dozens if not the hundreds never appeared on the dockets of seigneurial courts. For example, according to the register of sentences from the comte of Jonzac, only one case in 1785 and 2 cases in 1786 in that jurisdiction would have fallen into the Jp's area of competence. [67] Thus, the re volutionary period witnessed the opening of justice to those simple disputes--especially broken commercial conventions among humble people involving minor sums--that had once remained outside official courts. In a sense, the year 1791, which witnessed an explosion in the number of justiciables seeking the services of the new local magistrates, represents the quenching of rural dwellers' thirst for justice.

Finally, the occasional proposals to reform the justice of the peace in the revolutionary decade stemmed from many legislators' and jurists' belief that justice was too accessible under the new institution. [68] In an effort to frustrate habitual litigants and to prevent apparently insubstantial disputes from wasting magistrates' time, some legislators suggested a diminution in the number of justices of the peace. Although such proposals raised questions about the benefits of accessible justice, they underscore the fact of the accessibility of justice under the new institution. [69]

VI. The Minimization of Stakes

An analysis of a typical case of usurpation of property from the canton of Arsen-Re in the Year IV demonstrates the significance of revolutionary changes to local justice. [70] In a summons issued on 3 frimaire, Charles Bourgeois constrained three cultivators--Benjamin Lebon, Etienne Deniot, and Charles Lagord--to appear before the Jp in order to have them condemned to cease reclamation of a marsh property Bourgeois claimed from an inheritance. The parties gathered before the Jp, Jean-Baptiste Ventijol, and his assessors on 5 frimaire, but remained opposed in their respective dires. Unable to render a decision under such circumstances, Ventijol scheduled a visit to the "lieux contentieux" for 11 frimaire. Reassembled on that day with the four litigants and four assesseurs, [71] the Jp explained the sequence of procedures leading to the decision:

We proceeded with the visit and recognition of the property in dispute; we listened to their presentations and examined the title presented to us by Citizen Bourgeois, granted by the will of Francois Marie Bourgeois, his father ... After having walked around and examined the property ... we realized that the territory ... appears entirely foreign to his (Bourgeois') title, since the property spelled out in his lease comprises 1581 arpents but would be at least 2085 arpents including the disputed area ... We also observed that the portion of property taken by Lebon and the others has always been uncultivated as far as we could tell, which gives us reason to believe that the plaintiff's father never regarded this portion as a property included in that land conceded to him by the aforementioned title. And after all these considerations, we, justice of the peace, joined by the assessors signing below, declare Citizen Bourgeois unfounded in his claim of restitution ...

Largely because of the procedural informality of revolutionary civil justice, a not-insignificant conflict between four proprietors was resolved within eight days of the original summons. The beauty of justice in the fields, or sur les lieux contentieux, rested in more than just the rhyme; it allowed a Jp, accompanied by unpaid but often expert assessors, to adjudicate a case quickly, inexpensively, [72] and seemingly fairly. Bourgeois may have been disappointed in the decision, but at least he was not ruined, nor had he wasted several years of his time.

The function of adversarial civil litigation is to declare a winner and a loser in a dispute, to determine whose rights have been violated by ascertaining the truth surrounding a case (through the collection of facts) and applying the relevant laws. As such, any decision is bound to disappoint the losing party. But the rendering of a civil decision often does not signal the end of a dispute if the parties cling to the belief that the process of adjudication was unfair. Persisting in the idea that the judicial process is unjust, parties frequently execute justice themselves, with subsequent enormous consequences for social order.

Consistent with the nature of adversarial litigation, most revolutionary civil disputes did end with a winner and a loser (although Jps did try to find some middle ground). However, unlike lawsuits under the Old Regime, which entailed serious investments of time and money, cases under justices of the peace witnessed their resolution quickly, inexpensively, and perhaps most importantly, in a manner that the parties deemed fair. Hence, a Jp's legal decision involved minimal anxiety for litigants, it could scarcely ruin the losing party, and it tended to finalize the outcome of the dispute-a phenomenon appropriately labeled "the minimization of stakes." Prior to 1789 a lawsuit often constituted a veritable declaration of war in a dispute-an attempt to destroy or intimidate one's opponent--and a maximization of the stakes involved in a conflict. With the inception of the revolutionary institution, a lawsuit, rather than an "upping of the ante," represented a desire to protect one's rights, to restore things to t heir proper relationship. Thus, one witnesses a journallier in the canton of La Rochelle suing for 40 sols (a highly unlikely occurrence under seigneurial justice) probably not from a burning hatred of an adversary but rather to claim legitimate wages due to him. [73]

The minimization of stakes was nowhere more evident than in cases of slander or libel (injures verbales or reparations d'honneur) before justices of the peace. In seigneurial courts, the involvement of lawyers in such cases led to the submission of voluminous legal briefs and exaggerated claims of injury in order to demand massive, often outrageous, damages. In turn, the accompanying expenses and investment of time conspired to turn a minor verbal dispute, perhaps precipitated by a fit of anger or bout of drinking, into an affair with important consequences for a family or a neighborhood. Under justices of the peace, cases of slander usually ended quietly with a public apology, the restoration of aggrieved honor, a small fine whose proceeds went to the poor, and a warning to avoid recidivism. The paltry expenses encouraged apologies, and the civil procedure offered no opportunity for a party of bad faith to manipulate the legal process.

At Jonzac in 1793, for example, Marie Heard sued Pierre Chefnorry for reparations d'honneur and asked for 50 livres in damages and the publication of a favorable decision. [74] The case ended that very day when Chefnorry, accused of calling Heard a bitch and une vilaine, admitted that "(I) had the weakness to utter the alleged offences, but (I) repent and offer my very humble apologies ... "Heard, "having declared that she didn't want to consume Chefnorry with expenses," agreed with the Jp's request that she forego damages and accept the public exhibition of a single copy of her adversary's apology. Chefnorry then paid the 25 sols in expenses. At Ars-en-Re in 1791, the merchant Joseph Amelineau sued Magdeleine Lapeau for accusing him of urinating on her wall. [75] He won his case, but the Jp rightly saw no reason to award damages; Lapeau apologized and paid 2 livres for the expenses. The next year in Ars-en-Re Michel Panchevre and Hughes Lamatte, representing the municipal officers of les Portes, denounced t he fille Homeneau for the "atrocious injury" of having called them coquins. [76] Their complaint demanded that "she be punished according to the rigor of the law," which included a call for 50 livres in damages. In her defense, Homeneau admitted using the insult in question, but she protested that she had directed it to the workers who were installing a window in a building owned by her mother (who rented it to the commune of les Portes). According to Homeneau, a misunderstanding ensued when she reacted with an epithet to the high price of the window, since the communal officers thought she had referred to them. She then affirmed publicly her respect for the communal authorities. The Jp accepted her story without the verification of witnesses but fined her 3 livres for using improper and indecent terms in front of the municipality. In this example, who won and who lost? The case is typical of how Jps handled verbal quarrels: the plaintiff received satisfaction in the form of a verification of respectability, yet the defendant was not punished excessively for a first offence. This defusing of quarrels was a hallmark of the civil adjudication practiced by revolutionary justices of the peace.

VII. Conclusion

To say that all French citizens after 1790 used the system of civil justice to defend their rights is, at first glance, to flirt with a platitude. After all, the purpose of civil justice is to provide an objective, outside forum for the protection of rights, the fulfillment of contracts, and the restoration of proper relationships in society. But the significance of revolutionary local civil justice becomes readily apparent when juxtaposed to seigneurial civil justice. To the inhabitants of rural Aunis and Saintonge prior to 1789, the purpose of civil justice was only too clear. First, justice appeared to be a source of income for the many professionals involved. From the attorney who encouraged people to press their claims in court to the clerk who wrote in exaggeratedly large letters to inflate the cost of a writ to the magistrate who expected generous epices for a judgment, the process of adjudication seemed inverted under the Old Regime, with litigants serving to line the pockets of legal magistrates. Fu rthermore, a lawsuit did not simply represent the desire to have one's rights restored. It sometimes constituted an act of vindictiveness, since a plaintiff could, by filing a suit, require an enemy to invest in a quartet an amount of time and money vastly disproportionate to the value of the object in question. Under such circumstances, the system of justice aggravated, rather than resolved, the disputes that plagued rural France. Finally, as rural inhabitants knew all too well, lords and other elites used the justice system as a form of social control, with the threat of a lawsuit often sufficing to enforce compliance with one's will. [77]

The inaccessibility of civil justice under seigneurial tribunals pointed to the necessity of other means of solving disputes, optimistically through the informal mediation of a respected community member or even the entire community itself, or, pessimistically, through violence. [78] In both cases, the state stood far removed from the rural community and the operation of these informal channels of justice. After 1789, the existence of an accessible magistrate to whom parties entrusted the resolution of their conflicts signified the triumph of official justice and helped lay the groundwork for the penetration of the state into rural areas. [79] As a public, elected forum to which rural dwellers willingly submitted their conflicts over rights and contracts and where litigants experienced the reality of equality before the law, the institution of the justice of the peace was a schoolhouse of modern citizenship. [80]

Of course, such a conclusion about the triumph of official justice seemingly supports Tocqueville's famous argument that the revolutionary upheaval of 1789 essentially disguised the continuity of the growth of the central authority. [81] But Tocqueville never produced his volume on the French Revolution, so a study of rural justices of the peace--one of the most crucial intersections where the French state encountered the mass of rural dwellers--helps illuminate the dynamics of the state's penetration of the countryside. [82] This successful penetration was not simply the product of imposition by force from above, but rather resulted from the responsiveness of legislators to the needs of rural denizens for quick and inexpensive justice. [83]

Although Tocqueville stressed the continuity between the Old Regime and the French Revolution, an examination of local justice across the chronological divide of 1789 serves as a reminder that there was a real revolution, with a real social impact, and even real benefits. [84] Rural dwellers who had once "carried their rights with their clubs and their knives" [85] altered their behavior and now submitted their quarrels to justices of the peace, an important mediator between the state and the rural community.

But if revolutionary improvements in local justice changed the relationship between the state and rural society, could they also have changed relationships within society? Clearly, one can only infer the psychological shifts associated with the more easily documented changes in behavior. Still, it is not unreasonable to believe in the power of institutions to influence or change social relations. If, as the cahiers of Aunis and Saintonge indicated, the poor administration of local justice under the Old Regime exacerbated or even provoked social tensions in rural France, then revolutionaries appear justified in believing that justice expedited swiftly and inexpensively by a popularly-elected member of the rural community would result in improved peasant relations. Witness the testimony of Camille Billion who, thirty-five years after the inauguration of the justices of the peace, affirmed the importance of the institution to rural social relations: "... This institution, through its useful and moral aim (and) by the success that it has obtained, has become a habit, a social need ... 'Let's go to the justice of the peace' is today an appeal to order, an invocation to reason." [86]

This study of local justice challenges a main tenet of revisionist historiography of the French Revolution, summarized in the following passage of Simon Schama's popular and erudite book, Citizens: "The drastic social changes imputed to the Revolution seem less clear-cut or actually not apparent at all ... The modernization of French society and institutions seem to have been anticipated by the reform of the 'old regime."' [87] Such revisionist thought not only seeks to minimize the historical significance of the French Revolution, but in doing so it also portrays the events from 1789 to 1815 as essentially a bloody and illiberal political drama. Undeniably, revisionist historiography has rescued our understanding from the overly schematic, Marxist-Jacobin view of the Revolution as the triumph of a capitalist bourgeoisie, and it should also be applauded for counseling a cautious approach to the revolutionaries' rhetoric about making a complete break with the past. However, the revisionists' denial of importa nt social changes attributable to the Revolution and their portrayal of the modernization of Old Regime society and institutions may be as overly schematic as the views they challenged. In the realm of local justice at least, rural dwellers did experience a marked break with the past that resulted in portentous changes for rural society and its relations with the state. Perhaps the French Revolution was a revolution after all.


The author wishes to thank Marc Forster, Isser Woloch, Kathleen Kete, and Cynthia Bouton for comments on earlier versions of this article.

(1.) Boucher d'Argis, Cahier d'un magistrat du Chatelet sur les justices seigneuriales (Paris, 1789), p. 30.

(2.) Fouqueau de Pussy, Idees sur l'administration de la justice dans les peties villes et bourgs de France pour determiner la suppression des juridictions seigneuriales (Paris, 1789), P. 42, 45. The position of fiscal procurator combined the duties of a public party responsible for the community's interests, such as prosecuting criminals and protecting the interests of minors by appointing guardians, with those of a seigneurial fiscal agent. In the latter capacity the procureur fiscal ensured that inhabitants paid their seigneurial dues and generally respected the rights and honors to which the lord laid claim.

(3.) Le Moniteur universel, v. 16, p. 591, 8 June 1793.

(4.) Moniteur, v. 26, p. 718, 23 frimaire IV.

(5.) Archives Departementales de Charente-Maritime (hereafter ADCM) L 158 (brumaire VII). The comment was part of the canton's response to a departmental inquiry into the political situation in various localities. That it was unsolicited is undeniable since neither the Jp nor local justice was a rubric included in the inquiry (such rubrics were esprit public, fetes, instruction, etc.). Furthermore, this comment about the Jp was not simply a matter of the canton sycophantically telling the department what it wanted to hear, since the cantonal response was otherwise harsh in its criticism of local roads, the lack of public education, and the mediocre public esprit.

(6.) Despite revolutionaries' belief that the institution of the justice of the peace served as the crucial foundation for France's reformed judicial system in rural areas, most historians have relegated the institution to the realm of inconsequentiality. Among the few studies on rural justices of the peace are A. Crubaugh, Balancing the Scales of Justice: Local Courts and Rural Society in Southwest France, 1750-1800 (University Park, PA, forthcoming); J. Bart, "La justice de paix du canton de Fontaine-Francaise l'epoque revolutionnaire," Memoires de la societe pour l'histoire du droit et des institutions des anciens pays bourgognons, v. 26 (1965): 193-216; D. Bouguet, "La sociabilite conflictuelle dans le canton de Loches d'apres les archives de la justice de paix (1790-an III)," Histoire moderne et contemporaine, t. 1, fasc. 2 (1986): 159-170; A. Belton-Ruget, "L'infrajudiciare institutionalisee: les justices de paix des cantons ruraux du district de Dijon pendant la Revolution," in B. Garnot, ed., L'infraj udiciaire du Moyen Age l'epoque contemporaine. Actes du colloque de Dijon, 5-6 octobre 1995 (Dijon, 1996); and C. Coquard and C. Durand-Coquard, "Societe rurale et Revolution: l'apport des actes de deux justices de paix de l'Allier (1791-fin de l'an VI)" (these de doctorat, Universite de Bourgogne, 1998). The latter is essentially a "total history" of a small region derived from the records of justices of the peace. See also J. L. Debauve, La justice revolutionnaire dans le Morbihan, 1790-1795 (Paris, 1965). Isser Woloch recognizes the importance of this institution in his work but has few in-depth studies from which to draw. See his The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820s (New York, 1994). On Parisian justices of the peace, see R. Andrews, "The Justices of the Peace of Revolutionary Paris, September 1792-November 1794 (Frimaire Year III)," Past and Present 52 (August 1971), and G. Metairie, La monde des juges de paix de Paris, 1790-1838 (Paris, 1994).

(7.) The "avaricious practices of seigneurs and lawyers" and the inadequacies of civil, criminal, and feudal justice under seigneurial tribunals in general constitute the focus of Part I of Crubaugh's study cited in note 6 above.

(8.) The most thorough studies of seigneurial justice focus largely on legal doctrine and jurisprudence rather than on questions about the social impact of the institution's operation. In fact, few works that comment on seigneurial tribunals contain detailed analyses of civil justice, so it is difficult to know if my assessment is applicable to the rest of France. The most important studies of seigneurial justice include A. Giffard, La justice seigneuriale en Bretagne aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles (Paris, 1902); H. Bataillon, Les justices seigneuriales du bailliage de Pontoise a la fin de l'Ancien regime (Paris, 1942); P. Lemercier, Les justices seigneuriales de la region Parisienne de 1580 a 1789 (Paris, 1933); P. Villard, Les justices seigneuriales dans la Marche (Paris, 1969); and A. Combier, Les justices seigneuriales du bailliage de Vermandois sous I'Ancien regime (Paris, 1897). Zoe Schneider's recent work on justice in Normandy is also very important. See "The Village and the State: Justice and the Local Courts in Normandy, 1670-1740," (PhD dissertation, Georgetown University, 1997). John Markoff surveys the literature on seigneurial justice in The Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords, and Legislators in the French Revolution (University Park, PA, 1996), p. 111-118.

(9.) ADCM C 263bis (7).

(10.) ADCM C 267, parish of Charentenay.

(11.) ADCM C 260bis, district of St. Aigulin.

(12.) ADCM B 5553 baronie de Tonnay-Boutonne; B 2282 comte de Conac; B 3070, B 3076, B 3081, B 3087, B 3088 comte de Jozac. These figures are taken from the approximately 500 civil cases that served as the basis of this study of seigneurial courts.

(13.) ADCM B 3076, comte de Jonzac, 2 March 1771.

(14.) ADCM B 2282, August 1776. The parties shared the expenses.

(15.) ADCM B 2282, January 1774 and January 1775.

(16.) ADCM B 2438.

(17.) ADCM B 4766. The register's last entry was in August 1789.

(18.) ADCM C 260bis.

(19.) ADCM C 267, parish of lie d'Elle, senechaussee of La Rochelle.

(20.) ADCM B 5553, baronie de Tonnay-Boutonne; B 3845, sirerie de Pons.

(21.) ADCM B 3070, comte de Jonzac, 1 June 1765.

(22.) ADOM B 3088, 7 September 1788. The cost of the case, which began in June of 1786, must have been devastating to ajournallier.

(23.) ADCM B 2282, comte de Conac, January 1776 and 5 September 1774, respectively. The plaintiffs in all of these examples were well-to-do, which underscores the point that only wealthy members of rural society risked litigating when justice was so expensive. As Robert Forster discovered in his study of the Saulx-Tavanes family, the lord (or any wealthy litigant) enjoyed a distinct advantage in any legal battle because of his ability to handle the cost overhead. See The House of Saulx-Tavanes: Versailles and Burgundy, 1700-1830 (Baltimore, 1971), p. 78.

(24.) ADCM C 267 (62) parish of Ste. Marie and (39) Le Bois. The similarly worded cahiers suggests that one served as the model for the other.

(25.) ADCM C 260bis. The cahier of St. Pierre pres Surgeres lamented the predicament of litigants from La Gravelle, whose wild goose chase in search of justice took them from La Gravelle to Cire, from Cire to Surgeres, then on to Benon, and finally to a royal court at the Presidial of La Rochelle, from where it might proceed to the Parlement of Paris. "In such a case among two competing parties," the inhabitants of St. Pierre asked rhetorically, "Which of the two will succeed in quieting the other? Will it be the most just or the most contentious?" ADCM C 267 (73).

(26.) ADCM C 267 (52), parish of Mauze.

(27.) ADCM C 267 (70), parish of St. Medard.

(28.) ADCM C 263bis, parish of Genouille.

(29.) ADCM C 263bis, parish of Ranson.

(30.) One might object that I have anachronistically thrust a modern conception of justice onto a hierarchical and inegalitarian society with its corresponding conception of distributive justice that treated equals equally and unequals unequally. I think this objection is met by distinguishing between a bias in the law and a bias in the application of the law.

(31.) ADCM C 267 (50), parish of Marsay.

(32.) For the most recent and thorough analyses of the cahiers, see J. Markoff, The Abolition of Feudalism; and J. Markoff and G. Shapiro, Revolutionary Demands: A Content Analysis of the Cahiers de Doleance of 1789 (Stanford, 1998).

(33.) Archives parlementaires, v. 18, p. 105. The basic legislation pertaining to the justice of the peace was laid out in the laws of 16-24 August 1790 (on the new judicial order), 14 October 1790 (on the procedure before Jps), and 19 July 1791 (on the police correctionnelle).

(34.) Discourse of Thouret, 24 March 1790, Archives parlementaires, v. 12, p. 346.

(35.) ADCM L 127 (elections), 31 October 1791.

(36.) ADCM L 604 (elections--Rochefort), 21 January 1791.

(37.) The categories, defined by the laws of 16-24 August, 1790, were: 1) causes personelles et mobilieres (debts, rentes, broken commercial conventions), to 50 livres without appeal and to 100 livres on appeal; 2) cases concerning damages done by humans or animals to fields, harvests, or produce; 3) usurpations of land, trees, etc. and boundary disputes; 4) repairs by renters to houses and farms; 5) indemnification to proprietors by leaseholders for failure to cultivate or for allowing property to deteriorate; 6) disputes over the payment of wages to workers or domestics and the fulfillment of obligations between masters and employees; 7) cases of verbal threats, libel, slander, and physical assault not pursued by the authorities of criminal justice.

(38.) In this emphasis on equity and the drift from legal positivism, readers may see similarities between the revolutionary justice of the peace and Kadi justice described by Max Weber. Of course, the Jp's authority derived not from his religious position but rather from his status as a trusted, elected community official.

(39.) So great was the revolutionaries' emphasis on, if not apotheosis of, conciliation that they required every litigant regardless of the value of a case to undergo mediation in a bureau de paix et de conciliation prior to bringing a suit to a district civil court. In rural areas, the bureau de paix was composed of the Jp and his assesseurs In other words, although Jps served as judges in the 7 categories of disputes listed in note 37 above, they were mediators in almost every civil suit. On the functioning of the rural bureaux de paix, see Crubaugh, Chapter 7.

(40.) ADCM L 829 (182).

(41.) ADCM L 1411.1, 21 fructidor VI.

(42.) ADCM L 894, canton of La Rochelle, 1791. This is not to imply that Jps always ordered a splitting of the object in contention. Rather, these examples demonstrate the wide latitude given to the Jp to operate from a sense of fairness rather than from strict legal forms.

(43.) ADCM L 894, La Rochelle; L 842, Marennes, 1791. These good intentions of Jps could backfire, since the devaluation of the assignat sent creditors back to the courts to demand payments in hard currency or in kind.

(44.) ADCM L 829. Such activity differed from that of Jps' work on the bureaux de conciliation because here they offered judgments, not attempts at mediation. In other words, parties did not want a settling of their differences, they sought a determination of who was in the right.

(45.) ADCM L 894, canton of La Rochelle, 4 January 1791.

(46.) Archives parlementaires, v. 19, p. 605.

(47.) ADCM L 842. The Jp handled over 300 civil cases in 1791.

(48.) Three cases for the regulation of accounts involved sums over 100 livres; the object of the fourth case was the use of a marsh.

(49.) ADCM L 796 (3).

(50.) ADCM L 826 (2).

(51.) Unlike the limited jurisdiction of justices of the peace, seigneurial courts handled almost all civil cases with the exception of litigation over the king's patrimony, benefices, and recognition of the royal seal.

(52.) ADCM B 2812 & L 796 (3), 2 September, 1788 & 18 September 1792. Of course, the cases are not exactly alike, and one may have involved witnesses. But the point is that they are similar enough--both over a simple debt stemming from the sale and delivery of wine--to highlight how the procedural differences resulted in vastly different costs.

(53.) ADCM B 2811 & L 796 (3), 3 August 1787 & 25 October 1792.

(54.) ADCM B 3088 & L 826 (2), 7 September 1788 & 3 sans-culottides II.

(55.) ADCM L 825.

(56.) The calculations, although not obvious at first, are quite simple: 147 total judgments minus 48 decisions for the 24 cases with preparatory judgments (such cases had a preparatory and then a definitive judgment in the registers, or a total of 48 decisions) leaves 99 other cases.

(57.) ADCM L 786 & L 787. Here, the quickness of adjudication benefited from the practice of requesting that litigants appear with their proof at the initial court appearance, which obviated preparatory judgments that called or the interrogation of witnesses or the presentation of evidence. These figures reflect the nature of the cases before the Jp, the overwhelming majority of which involved debts or broken commercial conventions. Although one might be tempted to argue that the immediate adjudication of cases points to the high incidence of defaulting (since a judge could, and often did, issue a judgment by default after requiring the plaintiff's oath to the veracity of his or her claim), the records do not support this assertion. Only 37 of 111 cases were judged by default in 1791, and only 13 of 64 in 1792.

(58.) ADCM L 826 (2).

(59.) ADCM L 894, La Rochelle, 1791;L 837, Marans, 1791; L 793.3, Brizambourg, 1792; L 786 & 787, Ars-en-Re, 1791 & 1792; L 825, Jonzac, 1792; L 1411.1, Cozes, an VI; L 842, Marennes, 1792; L 867, Marennes, an II & an VI.

(60.) ADCM L 479, L 480 & L 481.

(61.) The district of Marennes included 7 cantons, each of which had its Jp. I do nor know the total number of cases adjudicated by the Jps in the district of Marennes, but a very conservative estimate of 50 cases per canton would total 600 cases per year when added to the 300 from Marennes, or approximately 800 cases over a 16 month period. To be sure, the law forbade appeals for causes personnelles et mobilieres under 50 livres. By including cases from June to December of 1791, the number of appealed civil decisions from justices of the peace to the district of Marennes was only 17 for the 22 month period covering June 1791 through March 1793.

(62.) If the reelection of justices of the peace indicates satisfaction with the new magistrates, it is worth noting that 41 of 52 Jps in Charente-Inferieute won reelection in 1792. I suspect that most of those 11 new Jps filled open seats rather than defeated incumbents with whom rural dwellers were dissatisfied. For example, in the district of Saintes, 6 of 9 Jps won reelection, while 2 of the 3 new magistrates won open positions. Only 1 incumbent was defeated. Ephemerides du departemente de la Charente-Inferieure (La Rochelle, 1793).

(63.) ADCM L 894.

(64.) ADCM B 2149 (106 total cases), L 767 & 787 (175 cases).

(65.) ADCM C 260bis, cahier of parish of Conlonge.

(66.) ADCM B 3070, B 3076, B 3084, B 3087, B 3088, L 825, & L 826 (2). Of course, the canton of Jonzac would have included several former seigneurial jurisdictions (not just the comte of Jonzac), so one ought to multiply the number of cases judged prior to 1789 by a factor of, say, 6 or 7 (allowing for 1 seigneurial court for every 1.5 communes). On the other hand, the jurisdiction of seigneurial courts was vastly more extensive than that of Jps, which means that they ought to have adjudicated signficantly more cases than their revolutionary counterparts. The fact that, given toughly the same territory, Jps handled many more cases than seigneurial judges despite having jurisdiction over only a fraction of the latters' cases lends weight to the argument for the accessibility of justices of the peace.

(67.) ADCM B 3087. This fact explains the hesitance to compare directly, or to give too much weight to a direct comparison of, the civil cases before seigneurial and revolutionary courts of local justice. To compare the time and length of cases tells one little when the nature of cases differs.

(68.) See the discussion in I. Woloch, The New Regime, p. 318-319. Undoubtedly, much of the hostility came from legal professionals and reflected their disdain for amateurs.

(69.) My view is that access to justices of the peace was nor harmful because the cases ended quickly and with minimal costs. Hence, the accessibility of justice contributed to the rapid resolution of disputes but without straining the finances of litigants or distracting them from their ordinary business. Paradoxically, the institution of the justice of the peace increased litigation but probably decreased litigiousness.

(70.) ADCM L 788 (5 & 11 frimaire IV).

(71.) Normally, only two assessors assisted a Jp. The other two probably accompanied Ventijol in this instance because of their surveying expertise.

(72.) The decision does not list the expenses, which would have been greater than for most cases under justices of the peace because they would have included payment for the voyage of the Jp, his clerk, and four assessors (for upkeep of their horses, the equivalent of mileage allowances today) as well as the cost of the summons and the paper. Still, the cost would have been greatly inferior to that of the same case under the Old Regime: no fees for lawyers, no written depositions, no payments to expert witnesses, no epices for the judge, no stream of legal documents resulting in massive paper costs. Even if the expenses had been listed for the case, the devaluation of the assignats would have made the figures difficult to interpret.

(73.) ADCM L 894, 13 March 1791.

(74.) ADCM L 829, 30 October 1793.

(75.) ADCM L 786 (109).

(76.) ADCM L 787 (59).

(77.) Crubaugh, Chapter 3.

(78.) Informal or extra-judicial dispute resolution is an important but somewhat elusive topic. S. Reinhardt's justice in the Sarladais, 1770-1790 (Baton Rouge, 1991) and J. Dewald's Pont St. Pierre 1389-1789: Lordship, Community and Capitalism in Early Modern France (Berkeley, 1987) both argue for the existence of such a network of informal justice in Old Regime France. But O. Hufton, in "Le paysan et la loi au XVIIIe siecle," Annales: economies, societes, civilisations 38 (1983): 679-701; and N. Castan injustice et repression en Languedoc l'epoque des lumieres (Paris, 1980) suggest that violence was a widespread means of dispute resolution in an age where the state remained a distant entity and when official channels of justice proved inaccessible to most rural justiciables. And J.-J. Clere argues that informal mediation in civil cases "was not a widespread practice among our (French) ancestors." See "L'arbitrage revolutionnaire: apogee et declin d'une institution (1790-1806)," Revue de l'arbirrage (1981): 4.

(79.) In his study of Old Regime justice, S. Reinhardt posits the existence of three competing systems of justice: popular justice, in which communities and individuals regulated their own affairs through private vengeance, unofficial arbitration, and informal collective sanctions; seigneurial justice, a semi-official system in which the lord and seigneurial agents strove to maintain the social hierarchy; and royal or official justice, in which state agents sought to enforce the King's Law. During the Revolution, official justice may be seen as that in which official magistrates enforced the laws of a central authority. See Justice in the Sarladais, 1770-1790.

(80.) G. Bossenga has recently pleaded for historians to examine how the Revolution contributed to the formulation of a new conception of citizenship. She argues that "democratic citizenship created a new basis for the legitimacy of the state." See her review article, "Rights and Citizens in the Old Regime," French Historical Studies 20 (Spring 1997): 217-243.

(81.) Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, trans. S. Gilbert (Garden City, NY, 1955).

(82.) I. Woloch's The New Regime has admirably filled this (post 1789) void in Tocqueville's argument.

(83.) No vulgar apologist of state power, I emphasize the importance of distinguishing between state growth in the realm of civil justice and in the repression of crime. On the latter, see H. Brown, "From Organic Society to Security State: The War on Brigandage in France, 1797-1802," Journal of Modern History 69 (December 1997): 661-695.

(84.) Much recent research has focused on the resistance to a revolutionary elite in rural areas. D. Sutherland offers the most comprehensive statement of such resistance in France, 1789-1815: Revolution and Counter-revolution (Oxford, 1985). C. Jones complains that after reading Sutherland "one gains the impression that nine-tenths of French society in the 1790s was objectively counterrevolutionary." See "Bourgeois Revolution Revivified: 1789 and Social Change," in C. Lucas, ed., Rewriting the French Revolution (Oxford, 1991), p. 77. My study might indicate in part why the Revolution was accepted in Charente-Inferieure. On the Revolution in this region, see J.-M. Augustin, La Revolution francaise en Haut-Poitou et pays charentais (Toulouse, 1989) and C. Laveau, Le monde rochelais des Bourbons a Bonaparte (La Rochelle, 1988). This is not to deny the significance of those issues, such as conscription and the disruption of religious practices, for example, that resulted in the ambivalence or outright hostility of peasants toward the state. On the subject of how peasants gained and lost by revolutionary policies, see P. Jones, The Peasantry in the French Revolution (Cambridge, UK, 1988), especially Chapter 8, "The Balance Sheet."

(85.) Cited in O. Hufton, "Le paysan et la loi en France au XVIIIe siecle," Annales: economies, societes, civilisations 38 (1983): 679-701.

(86.) C. Billion, Des juges de paix en France, ce qu'ils sont, ce qu'ils devraient etre, (Lyon, 1824), p. 1. Billion's emphasis. One of the most successful and long-lasting of revolutionary institutions, the justice of the peace lasted until 1958 when it was replaced by the juge d'instance.

(87.) S. Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York, 1989), p. xiv. "Revisionists" or "post-revisionists" tend to eschew social history, resulting in the present triumph of "political culture" in French Revolutionary historiography. On revisionism, see W. Doyle, Origins of the French Revolution 2nd ed., (London, 1990), p. 7-40. The most ambitious interpretations of the Revolution as the result of dynamics in political culture are F. Furet and M. Ozouf, eds., A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, trans. A. Goldhammer, (Cambridge, MA, 1989); K. M. Baker, Inventing the French Revolution (Cambridge, UK, 1990); and K. M. Baker et al, eds., The French Revolution and the Creation of Modem Political Culture 4 vols. (Oxford, 1987-94). Some recent scholarship shows increasing signs of discontent with the neglect of social issues in the French Revolution. See not only C. Jones (n. 84 above), but also J. Markoff, The Abolition of Feudalism, T. Tackett, Becoming a Revolutionary: The Deputie s of the French National Assembly and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Culture (1789-1790) (Princeton, 1996), and J-P. Gross, Fair Shares for All: Jacobin Egalitarianism in Practice (Cambridge, UK, 1997). J. Censer reviews the current state of the field in "Social Twists and Linguistic Turns: Revolutionary Historiography a Decade after the Bicentennial," French Historical Studies 22 (Winter 1999): 139-67. Rather than wishing to return to the halcyon days prior to the "linguistic turn" and the concomitant rise of political culture, I only suggest that the triumph or rejection of revolutionary political culture must be understood in terms of peoples' social experience. The Revolution was not merely logomachy; its values, policies, and institutions had implications for the time, property, and social relations of the French. For a different view of how the "social" relates to the "linguistic," see J. Smith, "No More Language Games: Words, Belief, and the Political Culture of Early Modern France," American Histori cal Review 102 (December 1997): 1413-1440.
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Author:Crubaugh, Anthony
Publication:Journal of Social History
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Date:Dec 22, 2000

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