Page:The Economic Journal Volume 1.djvu/79

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


Even since the publication by M. de Tocqueville of his France before the Revolution[1] it has been recognized that the prevalence of peasant holdings in France dates back from a much earlier period than the Revolution.

There never was in France at any epoch a peasantry of labourers working for wages like that of England. The peasantry of France were occupiers of land before they were owners, and their peasant proprietorship is in the main the result rather of the abolition or redemption of seignorial dues and rights to which their old holdings were subject than of the purchase of holdings de novo by the peasantry. No doubt there were times in French history when owing to political causes demesne lands of the noblesse were confiscated and put up for sale, and some of these were purchased by the peasantry and added to their holdings. It would not be wrong perhaps to look upon the typical French peasant in earlier times as a sort of copyholder, with a customary holding, like that of the tenant on a mediæval English manor. The difference in experience between the French peasantry and English copyholders has been that the latter from peculiar causes became gradually divorced from the land, while the former stuck to their holdings with much greater tenacity. The French Revolution thus found the land of France in the hands of peasant occupiers and owners. It freed them from the remnants of seignorial control and a multitude of vexatious payments and dues, which were survivals of an ancient manorial system, based, like that of England, anciently upon serfdom. These, long ago obsolete in their motive, were all the more irritating because of their uselessness and their contrariety to the spirit of the times.

The transfer, by the legislation of the Revolution, to the commune of the seignorial rights which were not abolished, was no doubt a popular measure. It was a measure of political

  1. Probably the text On the State of Society in France before the Revolution of 1789, and on the Causes which led to that event (transl. by Henry Reeve), London 1856 is meant - db, 2014-12-25