The treatment of foreigners in revolutionary France, 1789-1797.
Rapport, Michael George
Univ. of Bristol, 1997
The French Revolution inherited structures in which foreigners played a role at almost every level in social, economic and administrative life. In the revolutionary conception of the state, only citizens were to be admitted to political rights. This idea challenged the position of foreigners in the army, clergy, administration and state finance, leaving unthreatened only those engaged in economic activity. Diplomatic, political and economic concerns, however, prevented the revolutionaries from following the 'nationalising' implications of their ideology. In the first two years of the Revolution, for example, foreign troops retained their separate units and regulations. Foreign clergy were immune from the decrees which reformed the Gallican Church until the Terror. The pragmatism of the revolutionaries was such that even as the approach and outbreak of war saw an upsurge in xenophobia, different types of foreigners were protected. This treatment contradicted the rhetoric and even the laws against foreigners. What increasingly detern-dned the fate of foreigners was less their nationality than either their usefulness to the Republic or the extent to which they conformed to the increasingly narrow confines of political orthodoxy. Foreign soldiers, artisans, merchants and bankers were protected from legislation against enemy subjects. Foreign patriots suffered less for their nationality than for their political affiliations with opponents of the revolutionary government. Those who could demonstrate active loyalty to the government were sheltered from arrest or expulsion. Three conclusions are mooted. Firstly, the gap between ideology and practice in the treatment of foreigners suggests that revolutionary discourse alone is insufficient to explain revolutionary action. Secondly, circumstances ensured that the revolutionaries could not exclude foreigners from the new civic order. Finally, the distinctions between citizens and non-citizens remained bluffed, implying that the political order established by the Revolution bore as much Ancien R6gime practice as it did modernity.