This study examines the transition from seigneurial justice prior to 1789 to the revolutionary institution of the justice of the peace in order to assess the impact of the French Revolution on rural society. It argues that seigneurial justice was slow, costly, and largely inaccessible to rural denizens of Aunis and Saintonge. Hence, peasants often resorted to violence in the resolution of their quarrels. After 1789 rural dwellers had the opportunity to submit their disputes to trusted, elected justices of the peace who adjudicated cases quickly and inexpensively. Because of revolutionary reforms, above all, people in rural French society experienced the reality of equality before the law and came to accept the primacy of the state in the resolution of disputes. This study of an important institution, hitherto neglected by historians, illuminates the process by which the state penetrated rural areas just as it sheds light on the meaning of modern citizenship. Above all it challenges recent revisionist historiography by suggesting that the revolution did indeed have important social repercussions.

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pp. 327-350
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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