2017 Zachary Stoltzfus (Florida State University) – Publication of Property: hypothèque and credit mobilisation in modern France
This research concerns credit—the economic lifeblood of both Old Regime and post-Revolutionary France. Specifically, it examines the form of credit predominant to France: land-based credit arrangements in which loans followed the piece of immovable property leveraged as a guarantor, a system known as l’hypothèque. As historians such as Clare Crowston and Michael Sonenscher have shown, credit was vital to all levels of both the Old Regime and Revolutionary economy. The way hypothèque functioned, however, was dramatically altered by the French Revolution. The study hypothesizes that the personal and reputation-based credit of the Old Regime, explored in detail by Crowsten and others, was replaced during the French Revolution by a revamped system of hypothèque-based credit, in which land and the impersonal loans attached to land were grafted into a new transparent legal regime requiring the official registration, publication, and tracking of loans. Studying this process thus promises fundamentally to revise our understanding of the role of credit in Old Regime and post-Revolutionary France, and the long-standing effects of its legal delineation during the French Revolution. My dissertation explores the rise of hypothèque in the Old Regime, the needed development of a new hypothèque system during the French Revolution, the clarification of this new system by the Napoleonic Code, and its significance during the first half of the nineteenth century.
2016 Richard Siegler (Florida State University) – Napoleon and the restoration of the «Octrois»:urban life, finance and consumption in French municipalities, 1789-1815
During the Old Regime, octrois—indirect taxes levied on foodstuffs, beverages, fodder, fuels, and building materials and collected at the gates of cities—were the keystone of municipal finance. After a series of tax riots erupted across France in 1789, the National Assembly was forced to abolish all octrois. Since they were not replaced, their abolition destroyed municipal finance across France. To address the crisis, the Directory initiated the restoration of octrois in 1798. But the process was only just beginning when Napoleon came to power. It was he who finished the task and made the octroi a fundamental institution that would underpin municipal finance and contribute to the shape of urban life until the Second World War. This dissertation explores how the Napoleonic state solved the crisis of municipal finance by reviving and institutionalizing this quintessentially Old Regime tax. In tracing the reestablishment of octrois, this project demonstrates how three big constitutional issues—the relationship of municipalities to the State, the leasing of public power to the private sector, and the power of taxation—impacted ordinary people at the local level. How did people experience the return of a form of taxation against which they had risen in violent revolt less than a decade earlier? In integrating the history of constitutional thought and political concepts with fine-grained local social history, the aim is to show how these changes inflected the character of urban life and the relationship of ordinary people to the State.