Review by Kenneth Margerison, Southwest Texas State University, for H-France, May 1999.
Simply stated, Revolutionary Demands is a remarkable book. Gilbert Shapiro and John Markoff have spent over thirty years analysing the entire body of general cahiers drafted by the French nobility and the third estate in the electoral assemblies of the principal bailliage assemblies on the eve of the Estates General of 1789. They have also analysed a representative sample from the parish cahiers published in the "Official Series" of the Commission de recherche et publication des documents inédits sur l'histoire économique de la Révolution française. Although clerical and urban cahiers are not included in the study, the authors have assembled an enormous body of data upon which to base their analyses. The authors have already made this archive available to scholars, and they hope to produce transportable versions with accompanying software in the near future.
The structure of the book is certainly unique. Almost one-third of the text is devoted to the theory and practice of content analysis and to its application in studying the cahiers. Most of the actual analyses of the cahiers themselves are presented in the form of previously published essays by Shapiro and Markoff, but there are also contributions by Timothy Tackett and Philip Dawson. The authors clearly intend their work to appeal to two somewhat distinct audiences. The first is the body of social scientists who, apparently, are still struggling to create a satisfactory method of analyzing the content of a large body of textual material. Shapiro and Markoff believe they have created such a methodology, and they take great pains to demonstrate its superiority over the alternatives. The second audience, of course, is composed of historians of late eighteenth-century France. Although the authors recognize that many in the latter category may opt not to read the theoretical portions of the book, familiarity with the methodology considerably enhances the reader's understanding of their work. Almost certainly the authors hope that this introduction into content analysis will spur other historians to use their data archive or to undertake the study of other bodies of textual sources.
From the standpoint of social science, one of Shapiro and Markoff's great achievements is the creation of a data base of coded information drawn from the cahiers de doléances of 1789. Their method of establishing such a data base was to employ a number of trained coders to read the cahiers and assign specific codes to each grievance. The coders were also charged with determining the action that the drafters sought for each grievance and identifying the assembly which produced the cahier. The authors created four categories of codes ranging from the most general to the highly specific plus a fifth category to identify the action demanded. Thus, for example, a grievance might be identified as dealing with government (coded G) and more specifically taxation (coded TA) in the category of indirect taxes (coded IN) concerned with the salt tax, the gabelle (coded GA). If the grievance called for the abolition of the gabelle, the coder would add the code AB. The advantage of the system is the precision with which the coder could record a code for each grievance. As a result, the coders assigned over 1,200 combinations of codes to the specific grievances in the analysed cahiers. Coders also had a means of recording grievances that fit none of the predetermined categories, and they employed a method for making whatever qualifying remarks they thought appropriate. Obviously this system required superb accuracy on the part of the coders, but Shapiro and Markoff ran a number of tests which verified the validity of the method.
The coding of this sample of the cahiers and the subsequent tabulation (which appears as an appendix of the book) of the frequency of these grievances is a major breakthrough for historians. Ever since Beatrice Hyslop undertook her study of the cahiers in 1934, historians have used various methods to determine the content of a broad sampling of these fascinating documents.(1) With the exception of Hyslop's coding of the general cahiers, most studies have focused on regional cahiers or a limited national sampling.(2) However, all these previous studies have severe methodological limitations. The data gathered by Shapiro and Markoff provides historians, for the first time, with a complete and accurate tabulation of the contents of all the general cahiers of the third estate and the nobility and a representative sampling of the contents of the parish cahiers. The authors have also developed sophisticated computer programs to manipulate the coded material. Timothy Tackett's use of their archive to demonstrate the level of hostility to the clergy among urban elites in the west verifies the value of their work for other historians. The chapters of the last third of the book provide examples of various ways that the material can be manipulated to provide answers to some of the thornier problems that have bedevilled historians since the nineteenth century.
What are the major demands the authors found in the cahiers? The greatest preponderance of grievances concerned taxation in general and indirect taxes in particular. However, the dissatisfaction with the system of taxation varied considerably among the three categories of cahiers. Complaints about taxation characterized 66% of the peasant grievances but only 43% of the third estate and 36% of the nobility. Surprisingly, the droit de contrôle, the tax on the official registration of documents which imposed burdens on all levels of society, was the most frequently criticized of all taxes. However, more cahiers at the parish level complained about the gabelle (43%) than the droit de contrôle (35%). More striking was the attention given to constitutional issues in the general cahiers of the third estate and the nobility. For example, the cahiers of both the nobility (95%) and the third estate (86%) demanded regular meetings of the Estates General, but only 21% of the parish cahiers made a similar demand. The French peasantry in 1789 were clearly more concerned with issues directly affecting their economic well-being than those reestablishing the representative institutions of the realm.
The parish cahiers demonstrate the level of complaint against the seigneurial system. In The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution Alfred Cobban asserted that the cahiers rarely condemned the seigneurial system. Shapiro is able to demonstrate, to the contrary, that over 70% of the peasant cahiers contained grievances against the seigneurial system and 84% of third estate cahiers sought the abolition of specific seigneurial institutions. Markoff reveals that peasants were willing to indemnify the holders of seigneurial rights in specific cases where a monetary value could be accurately assigned, and he suggests that this may have been why the deputies in the Constituent Assembly believed peasants would be willing to indemnify their lords for the loss of seigneurial rights after the abolition of feudalism on August 4, 1789.
Markoff argues that all levels of society were open to change in the spring of 1789 even though there was little agreement as to what that change might entail. In general the cahiers demanded reforms, and there were very few requests, with the exception of 13% of the noble cahiers asking for the maintenance of the seigneurial system, for institutions to remain unchanged. The peasant cahiers in particular expressed considerable ill will toward the Old Regime. The nobility were extraordinarily concerned with constitutional issues such as the organization and authority of the Estates General, the establishment of personal liberty, the maintenance of private property, and the financial accountability of the government. The third estate, on the other hand, was less concerned with issues regarding the nature and limitation of government and more interested in issues related to its place in society and its commercial activities. Therefore, third estate cahiers demanded vote by head in the Estates General, the abolition of internal customs duties, and careers open to talent in the military. Based on the clear distinction between noble and third estate cahiers, Markoff concludes that "the agenda of the Nobility reminds us, perhaps startlingly so, of the degree to which the French Revolution was the work of aristocrats " (p. 382), a view which affirms the conclusions of other recent scholarship.(3)
Shapiro and Markoff manipulate their data to reveal the levels of consensus within the three groups of cahiers. At the parish level there was little consensus on the agenda to be pursued, but in those areas where the parishes addressed the same concerns there was strong agreement on demands to be made. Conversely, the third estate and noble cahiers registered greater consensus on the agenda to be undertaken than on the actions necessary to end the problems. The authors also measure the relationship between the frequency that grievances appeared in cahiers with the level of agreement within groups regarding redress. Only the third estate registered a high level of agreement on the necessary actions to take regarding these frequently discussed grievances. Shapiro and Markoff conclude that this relative consensus within the third estate was a product of the national debate which had preceded the drafting of the cahiers. While the nobility had certainly participated in this debate, they had been unable to establish any agreement on agenda because of their ambivalence on certain issues like privilege. Assessing the levels of the greatest disagreement between the third estate and the nobility, the authors cite the issues of the organization of the Estates General, the seigneurial regime, miscellaneous economic issues, and criteria for mobility.
Markoff, using sophisticated statistical methodology, measures the noble and third estate agreement or disagreement in the cahiers by examining the influence of urbanization, royal centralization, intellectual stimulation, commercial activity, and the presence of economic crisis at the bailliage level. He concludes that there is more homogeneity between noble and third estate cahiers in areas characterized by strong royal centralization and vibrant economic activity. Bailliages with less agreement between the orders were in the pays d'états, which had less centralization, and in areas with less economic vitality. No single variable determined the level of agreement or disagreement, but opportunities for ennoblement seem to have little influence on the level of agreement obtained. Furthermore, areas experiencing economic crisis exhibited higher levels of agreement between the estates perhaps indicating that the elites found common ground in the midst of social upheaval. On a related subject Shapiro and Philip Dawson argue that in towns with ennobling offices, the demands of the bourgeoisie were more radical than in towns without such offices. Using statistical arguments, they concluded that this radicalism was not a result of the difficulty of obtaining these offices, but was a byproduct of resentment against their simple existence.
Convinced that the cahiers offer valuable insights into pre-revolutionary public opinion, Shapiro and Markoff believe that they have developed the methodology for extensive exploration of them, and they present their readers with examples of how this data can be used. In the process they demonstrate a deep historical understanding of the cahiers with which they are working, the issues at stake in early 1789, and the meaning of these documents to the individuals who drafted them. Their findings, in contrast to most monographic studies, do not support a central thesis or develop a specific theme. The results of their work on the cahiers have more the character of a series of small studies on a large body of information. The cahiers provide an ideal subject for the methods of content analysis. Each cahier consisted of a list of demands which can be catalogued or coded. Most of the demands did not require a great deal of elaboration, and, unlike published materials of the pre-revolutionary period, they did not contain long political discourses based on a wide variety of ideological components which would be difficult if not impossible to code.
Despite the thoroughness and intelligence with which the authors have undertaken their study, a content analysis of this sort cannot answer all the questions surrounding the cahiers of 1789, a reality clearly recognized by the authors. For instance this methodology could not take into account local political struggles which might significantly alter the character of grievances, such as the loss of control by the urban representatives from Troyes of their bailliage assembly or the dispute between the local négociants and the glass manufacturers in Metz over the creation of a national tariff.(4) Nor could such analysis reveal that the rural communities of the Gironde--engaged in a long-standing rivalry with the city of Bordeaux--had little influence on the final form of the grievance list of their bailliage.(5) Regarding the establishment of consensus between the nobility and the third estate, the codes ignore the attempts of Parisian members of the Society of Thirty, who were determined to create a union of orders in the Estates General, to influence directly the drafting of the noble and third estate cahiers in a number of bailliages.(6)
The recognition of the limitations of content analysis in no way demeans the usefulness of this methodology for studying the cahiers of 1789. Shapiro and Markoff have provided historians with a wealth of new information about these important pre-revolutionary documents. Their creation of a data archive and the software to manipulate it will provide opportunities for other historians to analyse the cahiers in new and exciting ways. The authors' imaginative use of the data in their own studies of the cahiers demonstrates new methods of looking at old problems. In short, the publication of Revolutionary Demands signifies an extraordinary achievement on the part of the authors, and it opens the door to the further exploration of this rich collection of source material so important for the study of the French Revolution.
Southwest Texas State University