The debacle of the assignats

The debacle of the assignats

  • Assignats of one hundred, one thousand and two thousand Francs.

  • Territorial money orders of five hundred, two hundred and fifty, one hundred and twenty-five francs.

  • Chest containing assignats.

  • The shortage of bread ...

    LESUEUR Charles-Alexandre (1778 - 1846)

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Title: Assignats of one hundred, one thousand and two thousand Francs.

Author :

Creation date : 1795

Date shown: 1795

Dimensions: Height 12.5 cm - Width 18.3 cm

Technique and other indications: Assignats of one hundred francs: h.l. 10.5 X 15.2 cm. Filigree, Phrygian cap and equilateral triangle. Dry stamp.

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: AD / IX / 541

Assignats of one hundred, one thousand and two thousand Francs.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Territorial money orders of five hundred, two hundred and fifty, one hundred and twenty-five francs.

Author :

Creation date : 1796

Date shown: 1796

Dimensions: Height 8,8 - Width 23

Technique and other indications: In a medallion, France unrolls a map of its new conquests, these represent the new pledge of the territorial mandates to be issued. Different color assigned to each ticket value.

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AD / IX / 541

Territorial mandates of five hundred, two hundred and fifty, one hundred and twenty-five francs.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Chest containing assignats.

Author :

Creation date : 1796

Date shown: 1796

Dimensions: Height 78 - Width 98

Technique and other indications: Visible inside the case, packages of assignats of ten sous and fifteen sol payable to the bearer. 1792-1793

Storage place: Nantes municipal archives website

Contact copyright: © Nantes municipal archives

Chest containing assignats.

© Nantes municipal archives

To close

Title: The shortage of bread ...

Author : LESUEUR Charles-Alexandre (1778 - 1846)

Date shown: 1795

Dimensions: Height 36 - Width 53.5

Technique and other indications: Gouache on cut and laminated support "La famette du pain, year IV

Storage place: Carnavalet museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo library of the Museums of the City of Paris - Cliché Degraces

Picture reference: 2000 CAR 1243 A / D09072

© Photo library of the Museums of the City of Paris - Cliché Degraces

Publication date: April 2005

Historical context

The Thermidorian reaction

After the fall of Robespierre (July 27, 1794), the abandonment of the controlled economy, of the economic constraints and of the practices of the Terror was part of the Thermidorian line of reaction. But it revives inflation because the state has no other resource.

In April 1795, the production of 3.2 billion new assignats was announced. But, at this time, the assignat remained accepted, at its nominal value, for the payment of taxes and for the acquisition of national domains.

The Management Board sets the ceiling for assignats in circulation at 30 billion. Faced with the difficulties he encountered in getting them accepted, he raised the amount to 40 billion and announced that the presses would then be broken! The assignats board was actually destroyed on 30 Pluviôse Year IV (19 February 1796) in front of a considerable crowd.

The Directory, which however remains dependent on it, tries to launch a new name, the mandate, but it fails like the assignat. In February 1797, it was only worth 1% of its initial monetary value. However, the monetary situation is more or less healthy.

Image Analysis

Assignats of 18 Nivôse Year III (7 January 1795)

Under the Terror, the Assignats and Coins Committee, under the influence of the painter David and the engraver Sergent, had decided to ban from manufacture any ornament that could lend itself to counterfeiting, but in 1795, it returned to the political significance of a readable symbolism. During the issue of 18 Nivôse Year III (7 January 1795), caryatids, caduceus, level and Phrygian cap illustrate the frame of the 1,000-franc note and its watermarks, while the statues of Liberty and Equality s 'impose on the assignat of 2,000 francs. The assignat of 100 francs mentions Agriculture and Printing, Hercules and Vulcan making pikes.

For the first time the name of franc reappears, but the system is still duodecimal, it is that of the pound, and only the name of the monetary unit is changed. Paradoxically, while inflation is on the rise, the Convention patiently pursues normative work to redefine the currency of the Republic in terms of gold and silver, and adopt a more rational decimal system. The law of 28 Thermidor Year III (August 15, 1795) will define the franc, divided into ten decimes of 10 centimes each, as the official monetary unit of the Republic, rather than the gold louis which bears the first name of the fallen king.

If the three denominations bear dry stamps, visible by transparency, only the assignat of 2 000 F is provided with an "identical stamp", a process which, by the coincidence of two similar stamps, applied dry or inked on both sides of the cut, aims to check the falsification.

Thin and shiny, the fiduciary paper of the 100-franc assignat is reinforced with horizontal bands in the center.

Territorial mandates: new currency, new failure

The territorial mandate differs from the assignat by the possibility that it offers its holder to acquire a national property without auction if it is exchanged within three months at the rate of 22 times the net income of 1790 for land or 18 times that income for built properties.

While waiting for the making of the warrants, the law of 26 Ventôse Year IV decides the immediate issuance of promises of warrants. The Directory gives currency to these denominations of 25 to 500 francs. Simplified and unique in shape, they are available in different colors, depending on the amount, and are decorated with a medallion of France unrolling the map of its recent military conquests. Because these constitute the new pledge of fiduciary money: thanks to them, an influx of metal from Belgium and Italy is added to the national assets. The money orders, which will all be 5 francs, will take up this stripped-down presentation.

Assignats crate

Monetary disorganization is spreading across France. In Nantes, concrete testimony remains of the tide of assignats which flooded the country: following a petition from Citizen Mouton, treasurer of the municipality of Nantes who asked to "be authorized to deposit in such an administrative office which will be indicated to him the sum of 351,476 francs and 77 centimes in assignats and 4,075 francs 22 centimes in promises of mandates ”, these values ​​rendered null by the law which abolished paper money (February 1797) are deposited, then remitted at the office of the town hall on 12 Germinal year XI.

Gouache by Lesueur

These small scenes are part of a series of 64 revolutionary gouaches from the Carnavalet Museum. The artist, Jean-Baptiste Lesueur (1748-1826), cut them out to place them on their base, with the aim of undoubtedly constituting a small street theater. A few give a straightforward account of life in Paris as famine rages and the state multiplies the issuance of assignats. During the terrible winter of Year III and the following year, soup kitchens were set up to save the poor from starvation. The merchant, with a pocket full of devalued assignats, sells her soup to the sans-culotte as to the ragged annuitant. "And didn't [sic] want it," the caption says.

The passage from Perron to Paris, near the Palais-Royal, which became Palais-Égalité, was a place of traffic throughout the Revolution. These rentiers, ruined by the payment of their annuities in worthless assignats, are now without resources and, driven by hunger, come to sell their remaining silverware.

Interpretation

As a result of the financial crisis, the Management Board is reduced to going through the demands of the financiers. They are paid in national property sold at a low price. A series of scandals brings the regime into disrepute. Demonetized by a universal refusal before being by law, the assignat caused misery and ended his mad adventure with the deflation of 1797.

The Directory's policy of conquest can be explained in part by the constant need to fill the public treasury with war contributions imposed on defeated countries.

When the assignats adventure officially ends, the Revolution will have multiplied by 20, in seven years, the volume of means of payment. Seven years of paper money created a new France. Politically, they discredited the Republic and the revolutionary personnel, but the sale of national goods at low prices created a vast class of 1,200,000 citizens fiercely hostile to the return of the king, who could call into question their acquisition. The state, for its part, has taken advantage of currency depreciation to significantly reduce its debt.

The French of the XIXe century will retain a tenacious mistrust of paper money from this dramatic period.

  • assignats
  • Directory
  • finances
  • national property

Bibliography

Philippe de CARBONNIERES, Lesueur's revolutionary Gouaches, Paris, Paris-Museums-Nicolas Chaudun Publishing, 2005. Anne FORRAY-COALIER, At the time of the Merveilleuses. Parisian society under the Management Board and the Consulate, Paris, Paris-Museums Publishing House. Jean LAFAURIE, Assignats and paper money issued by the State in the 18th century, Paris, Golden Leopard, 1981. René SEDILLOT, History of the franc, Paris, Éditions Sirey, 1979.Jeanne VEYRIN-FORRER and Alain MERCIER, "Contribution to the iconographic study of assignats", in Print News, July-August 1989.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "The debacle of the assignats"


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