The Democratic Sphere Communications with the French National Assembly's Committee of Research,1789-1791
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On 28 July 1789 the National Assembly established the Committee of Research as a mechanism through which it could identify threats to its existence from amongst its large correspondence. In the time it was active, the committee received thousands of letters from across France. In the early 1990s the archivist Pierre Caillet wrote a thorough inventory and a general synthesis of the communications which further opened them up as a resource that could provide insight into popular reponses to various themes. What was missing though was a comprehensive analysis of the letters that presented them as a single revolutionary practice. From clubs to newspapers and more recently elections, there has been a renewed effort amongst histories of the Revolution to recapture the democratic practices that flourished in 1789. But writing directly to the state has as yet not been added to these elements that supported popular involvement in the Revolution. These voices provide a fascinating insight into revolutionary enthusiasm and the channels of communication that existed between the state and its citizens in the period 1789 to 1791. This thesis looks at the major themes of the archive: subsistence, religion and counter-revolution as well as the practice of denunciation and the changing character and role of the Committee of Research itself. What emerges is a picture of a democratic sphere through which people presented their visions of the new regime. At the same time the letters also indicate that a process of institutional entrenchment was underway. An examination of how these two forces interacted with each other may go some way towards understanding why the Revolution developed in the way that it did.
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