A Show of Hands for the Republic

May 2014
12 black and white, 8 line illustrations
322 pages
9x6 in
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe
ISBN: 9781580464796
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS013000, HIS031000

A Show of Hands for the Republic

Opinion, Information, and Repression in Eighteenth-Century Rural France

Jill Maciak Walshaw

A fresh perspective on rural responses to the French Revolution, using sedition investigations to reveal how villagers took their place on the political stage.
In the French village of Segonzac in 1796, weaver Thomas Bordas spoke out during a municipal ceremony. Frustrated by how stifling the politics of the Revolution had become, he proposed a show of hands: who wants a republic, and who wants a king? Soon after, he was arrested and charged with attempting to reestablish the monarchy.
Drawing on archival sources ranging from village council minutes and reports of government spies to investigations into sedition and seditious speech, A Show of Hands for the Republic provides a new account of the politicization of the French peasantry from the early eighteenth century through the Revolution. Jill Maciak Walshaw demonstrates here that villagers were well-informed and outspoken on political issues. In addition, though the political authorities characterized peasants as ignorant and easily manipulated, Walshaw shows that the ruling elite also carefully monitored and suppressed their opinions, revealing a contradiction in the governing practices of the state.
By documenting the lively political forum that existed in eighteenth-century rural France, this study challenges not only the bourgeois nature of the public sphere, as defined by Jürgen Habermas, but also the notion that it was predominantly urban. A Show of Hands for the Republic presents a fresh understanding of rural political culture, one in which villagers responded to revolutionary change with their own agenda and came to play a new role on the political stage.

Jill Maciak Walshaw is assistant professor of history at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

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Table of Contents

La France Profonde? News and Political Information in the Village
From Émotion Populaire to Seditious Words: Rural Protest in the Ancien Régime
Bringing Them into the Fold: The Struggle against Ignorance and Dissent in the French Revolution
"Long Live Louis XVII": The Prosecution of Seditious Speech during the French Revolution
Tricksters, Dupes, and Drunkards: Truth and Untruth in the Search for Rural Political Opinion


This book . . . is a very considerable achievement that will have durable value. . . .It is a beautifully and carefully produced volume that does credit to the fine contents. JOURNAL OF MODERN HISTORY

[Walshaw's] book is a lively guide to the issues and her new evidence is instructive and also tantalizing. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

Walshaw's book is meticulously researched, with evidence gathered from eight different departmental archives in different areas of France. She treats her sources with care, recognizing the difficulty in drawing conclusions about peasants from sources produced and/or mediated by government officials. H-NET Reviews

Walshaw's study makes important and original contributions to ongoing debates on rural politicization, peasant participation in the Revolution and counter-Revolution, and the nature of the eighteenth-century public sphere. --Jeremy Hayhoe, professor of history, Université de Moncton

A Show of Hands for the Republic offers an excellent overview of French rural society and the changing dynamics between center and periphery in the eighteenth century. Walshaw's careful analysis of prosecutions for seditious speech in southwestern villages supplies fresh insights into peasant responses to the Revolution and, just as important, the state's increasing awareness of peasant agency. --Liana Vardi, professor of history, University at Buffalo, SUNY

[A] valuable book that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how the Revolution was received and communicated in the countryside and how certain villagers expressed their political opinions in an enlarged public sphere. Walshaw should be congratulated for a fine and detailed study of rural politicization in the eighteenth century. H-FRANCE

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