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

By Sue Peabody | Go to book overview
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8
Erosion of the Police des Noirs

Almost as soon as the Police des Noirs was signed into law, it ran into obstacles. One of the most extensive critiques of the new law was a report by Le Moyne, commander of the marine in Bordeaux, to Chardon, head of the commission who drafted the law and was now in charge of implementing it. 1 Sympathetic to the concerns of French colonists, Le Moyne challenged the fundamental basis of the law: the exclusion of individuals from France on the basis of race. He objected to the way that the Police des Noirs lumped together blacks free by birth, freedmen, and slaves, without regard to wealth or gradation of skin color. Pointing out that many successful colonists had through years of intermarriage made it possible to "all but forget their origin," Le Moyne drew attention to the fact that many now owned property in Europe, sending their children to France to be educated. "Is it prudent to bring them closer to this kind of slavery?" he wondered. 2 In response to Le Moyne's suggestions for improving the law (which, taken together, would have created vast loopholes, severely undermining the law's effectiveness), Chardon gently but firmly turned down the commander's proposals, reminding him that all of its provisions must be strictly enforced. 3

As we shall see, Sartine and his subordinate Chardon ran into more than mere criticism as they attempted to implement the provisions of the Police des Noirs. Numerous efforts to shore up and extend the Police des Noirs during the decade prior to the Revolution ultimately failed because of provincial resistance, professional rivalry, and ineptitude.

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