The new era of the press at the start of the Revolution

The new era of the press at the start of the Revolution

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Title: Press event, detail of the National Almanac for 1791.

Author : DEBUCOURT Philibert Louis (1755 - 1832)

Creation date : 1790

Date shown: 1790

Dimensions: Height 46.6 - Width 38.2

Technique and other indications: Color aquatint. Drawn and engraved by Ph. L. de Bucourt, of the Royal Academy of Painting. Dedicated to the Friends of the Constitution. Sold by the author.

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

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

Picture reference: AE / II / 3706

Press event, detail of the National Almanac for 1791.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: November 2004


The new era of the press at the start of the Revolution


Historical context

Freedom of expression at the start of the Revolution

From 1789, events aroused an insatiable thirst for news. The Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, by instituting freedom of expression, triggered an exceptional flowering of newspapers which was immediately perceived as one of the great novelties of the period. Until August 10, all beliefs are expressed in a climate of unlimited freedom.

Publishing a newspaper was profitable at the start of the Revolution. All attend the Society of Friends of the Constitution, which sits in a former Jacobin convent.

Gazettes with a larger circulation do not exceed a circulation of a few thousand copies, but they nevertheless reach the broad masses of the people because reading aloud in small circles develops spontaneously. Reading the newspapers animates the provincial societies, feeds the correspondence with that of Paris and allows the Jacobins to irrigate revolutionary ideas these affiliated clubs which are multiplying in all the departments.

Image Analysis

The "news papers"

Located at the bottom of the Wall Almanac engraved and sold by Philippe Louis Debucourt for the year 1791, this small scene constitutes one of the most precious testimonies of everyday life at the start of the Revolution.

A vendor sells newspapers by auction and by number. This new distribution method makes it possible to meet demand by keeping pace with events, whereas newspapers were only sold by subscription under the Ancien Régime.

All of these "news papers" look the same as they are printed on the same coarse white rag paper and are made of sheets, most often folded into quarters or eights, sometimes with colored covers. None reach the folio size, but some are very small, in-12 or in-16. Undoubtedly fascinated by this surge, Debucourt made legible a good number of these titles which were only a few weeks or a few months old. Some will become very famous, others will cease to appear in 1791. All will be faced with the obligation of taking a political position.

The first newspapers aimed to report on the work of the Constituent Assembly and appear to readers as an extension of it. Such are The French Patriot de Brissot, with a circulation of 10,000 copies in 1790, the Universal Journal or the Revolutions of the Kingdom from Audouin and The National and Common Assembly of Paris by Perlet.

Others begin to comment on the debates, such as The friend of the people de Marat - half hidden on the inventory by the cockades which symbolize the Nation and appeared the day after July 14, 1789 - or his imitator, The People’s Speaker by Martel and Fréron. In this case, the journalist is often both director and editor, sometimes a printer. More than a real newspaper, the publication then becomes a periodical pamphlet.

More moderate are The Chronicle of Paris de Millin et Noël, one of the best-written dailies in the capital in which Condorcet contributes, and The Courrier de Paris in the 83 departments, new headline in Antoine Gorsas’s diary, which became republican after the king’s flight in June 1791. The Friend of the Revolution. Philippique to the representatives of the nation, to the national guards and to all French people is due to a printer, Champigny, who wants to explain Liberty and the benefits of the Assembly to his fellow citizens. Extreme left newspaper, on the contrary, The national Mercure by Louise de Kéralio and François Robert made rapid progress during this period thanks to the advertising of free numbers to Jacobin clubs.

In this effervescence, counterfeits are frequent - we know of fourteen for The Postilion published by Calais and twenty for the Evening newspaper by Étienne Feuillant!

Two real news journals appear to be the precursors of the modern newspaper by their team organization: The Journal of the Friends of the Constitution, which began to appear in November 1790 under the direction of Choderlos de Laclos, published the correspondence of the Jacobin clubs in the provinces. The French Courier, founded by Poncelin de la Roche-Tilhac, objective at first, will take an increasingly conservative attitude.

Official publications of the Assembly are obtained from the same stall: it has thus decided to publish The Address of the Revolutionary Society of London, chaired by Lord Stanhope, received on July 14, 1790 as a testimony of the sympathy aroused abroad by the Revolution at its beginnings. The Decree on the issuance of new assignats of September 28, 1790, held by the merchant, transforms these into real paper money; the "advanced" press and Mirabeau, through their speeches, then supported this decision, the consequences of which they could not measure.

Next to a libel of Anarcharsis Cloots appear papers, no doubt unofficial, on the problems of the day: the national goods coming from the clergy, the imminent sale of which will trigger a colossal agrarian revolution, and the beginnings of the emigration revealed by List of former nobles.

The non-revolutionary leaves, ostensibly thrown to the ground as "unpatriotic" such the Paris Gazette de Du Rozoi, are as despised as a bishop's mandate, by which the censorship of the Church was exercised under the Ancien Régime, and as the writing of Calonne, former Controller General of Finance, already completely discredited at this date as an emigrant.


The politicization of opinion

The new society born of the Revolution lives in freedom of expression. The "news papers" give an account of the problems of the end of the year 1790: the Assembly is grappling with the financial question, national property and assignats, and with the beginnings of emigration. A visible sign of the new times, the press is changing ways of thinking. Through it the politicization of opinion takes place.

In the long period when they went from 90 affiliated clubs in the provinces in August 1790 to nearly 800 in 1793, the Jacobins maintained considerable links with the press which they controlled or which received their proclamations.

  • Constituent Assembly
  • Jacobinism
  • Marat (Jean-Paul)
  • hurry
  • national property
  • Calonne (Charles-Alexandre de)
  • Choderlos de Laclos (Pierre Ambroise)
  • Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen
  • freedom of press
  • public opinion
  • freedoms


Jacques GODECHOT,General history of the French press,flight. 1, Paris, 1969. Michael KENNEDY,Jacobin clubs and the press under the National Assembly, 1789-1791in Historical review, 1980, pp. 49-6. Albert SOBOUL,Historical Dictionary of the Revolution,Paris, PUF, 1989.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "The new era of the press at the start of the Revolution"

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