"There Are No Slaves in France": The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime

By Sue Peabody | Go to book overview

Perhaps because the customary basis of the Freedom Principle in Paris was tenuous, Lemerre quoted at length from the seventeenth-century Parisian lawyer Antoine Le Maistre, who claimed that France's traditional affiliation with freedom was inextricably linked to its role as a Christian nation: "'The God of the Christians,' said this celebrated lawyer [ Le Maistre], 'is the God of liberty. By taking the form of servant, he lifted us from servitude; he broke our chains; he made us to walk with our head held high. . . . This kingdom is not that of France but that of Jesus Christ.'" 47 Le Maistre was, perhaps not coincidentally, author of a pamphlet defending Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, the abbé of Saint-Cyran, from accusations of Jansenism. The vision of France as a Christain nation with a special link to the principle of freedom is thus consonant with Jansenist teachings, if not inspired by them. 48

Lemerre's emphasis on French customary law and his celebration of France's supposed tradition of liberty as a Christian nation is thus consistent with both Gallican and Jansenist positions. Though Roman civil and Catholic canonical precedents could be seen to support the introduction of slavery to France, Gallican and Jansenist sympathizers apparently decided to resist these traditions as external to an indigenous French celebration of the principle of liberty. 49


Conclusion

Based on Lemerre's report, Joly de Fleury and de Chauvelin, the keeper of the seals, decided that the Parlement of Paris should not register the Edict of October 1716. They informed the count of Toulouse, who had drafted the legislation, of their opinion, and he did not insist on its registration, perhaps because he did not think that the presence of slaves in the landlocked region around Paris would ever amount to very much and, in any event, was not worth a public controversy. 50

The fact that the Edict of 1716 was never registered by the Parlement of Paris created a legal limbo for slaves who came to Paris or other cities within the parlement's jurisdiction. The matter of the law's legitimacy would remain unresolved for several decades, but for the present the ambiguity was ignored.

-22-

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"There Are No Slaves in France": The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Slavery in France 11
  • Conclusion 22
  • 2 - The Case of Jean Boucaux V. Verdelin 23
  • Conclusion 39
  • 3 - The Impact of the Declaration of 1738: Nantes, La Rochelle, and Paris 41
  • Conclusion 54
  • 4 - Notions of Race in the Eighteenth Century 57
  • Conclusion 70
  • 5 - Crisis: Blacks in the Capital, 1762 72
  • Conclusion 87
  • 6 - Antislavery and Antidespotism: 1760-1771 88
  • Conclusion 105
  • 7 - The Police Des Noirs, 1776-1777 106
  • Conclusion 119
  • 8 - Erosion of the Police Des Noirs 121
  • Conclusion 134
  • Epilogue 137
  • Notes 141
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 201
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