CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1The right to vote is neither the first nor the only form of political representation. During the nineteenth century, it had to compete against practices such as pavoisement (the display of flags), illumination, hymn and vivat. These were collective forms of political resolution whose strength and role are difficult to understand today, [1] unless we recall that democracy was initially a form of government by assembly. [2] Its electoralisation explains why pavoisement and other acclamation practices are no longer used today. This leads us to ask: What do these forms of political expression tell us about electoral democracy?

2To this end, socio-historical analysis provides us with valuable insight. In particular, it elucidates how mandate-representation came to distinguish itself from political representation as a whole. [3] Even if many theorists now confuse the two, this distinction can still be observed in Germany, where the language differentiates between die Vertretung (electoral representation) and die Repräsentation (representation through figuration). [4] However, in order to analyse this process, it is necessary to consider certain uses of representation that go far beyond the forms of delegation used by representative government. [5] The competition between the right to vote and these other forms of expression stems from the normalisation of relationships to politics. [6] The better known opposition between the ballot and the bullet has been enshrined in iconography, [7] but other, more inclusive methods also require serious consideration, as they belong to the repertoires of democratic political action. [8]

3The February Revolution is a particularly useful case study, as it exhibited the opposition between representation by the ballot box and representation by acclamation. On 24 February 1848, the Provisional Government presented itself as “the product of acclamation and urgency by the voice of the people and the departmental deputies”. It claimed that this investiture gave it the “right to assure and organise the national victory” even before “the people’s ratification”. [9] In the days that followed, Lamartine described the antagonism between these two modes of legitimisation. To him, the universalisation of suffrage seemed to disqualify what he called “a spontaneous acclamation born of an emotion”. He therefore evoked the “36 million souls who are not here, who have the same right as us to consent, to prefer or to repudiate a given form of institution”. He insisted that “the expression of their sovereign will through universal suffrage” was the “first truth and the only basis for any national republic”.

4The process that incorporated modes of political representation into the general electoral system, a process which I call electoralisation, can be observed in the second half of the nineteenth century. This was when acclamation gave way to an arithmetic mode of representation, in the form of a group of electors, with rules of majority calculation and the translation of “voices” into seats. [10] Two “episodes” (occurring in 1848 and 1909), as Charles Tilly calls them, allow us to analyse this trajectory, after assembling a corpus from the records of flag displays and vivats preserved in the Archives of the Paris Prefecture of Police (APP), the Judiciary series of the French National Archives (BB 18 and BB 30), and a sample collected from the national press (La Presse, La Démocratie pacifique, Le Constitutionnel, La Lanterne, La Libre Parole, Le Salut public). Containing almost 70 cases of criminal convictions occurring during the Second Republic, this database demonstrates the transformation of the conventional forms of representation, particularly visible during the 1909 flag campaign in Paris. A dynamic is consequently revealed: the confinement of acclamatory practices and their subordination to the electoral logic. This process owes much to the Imperial period, which strengthened republican suspicions regarding the plebiscitary use of the “people’s opinion”.

The people’s vivats

5Since ancient Rome, the term acclamationes (from ad and clamare, to cry out) has been used to refer to mass displays of public support or opposition in response to certain political figures or decrees. Naturally, those in power strove to harness these cries to their advantage. One eloquent example was the ritual of the triumph (triumphum), when homage was paid through cries of “Io triomphe!” to the imperator riding his chariot. However, the word was also used to refer to a number of other forms of expression, including whistling, applause, and the throwing of flowers or other objects. In reality, this ritual is still alive and well today. Even in our modern system, it amounts to “voting, by enthusiastic cries, to ratify an election”. [11]

6This notion of acclamatory sovereignty is worthy of scholarly attention, as Nadia Urbinati observes. She views representative democracy as the “informal expression of ‘popular will’”, but refuses to analyse these expressions as such, [12] focusing instead on the co-opting of representation by elected officials and the desacralisation of the “people’s voice”. Yet such a detour takes us to the historical heart of forms of political representation. It allows us to identify a set of rituals separate from parliamentary representation and which legitimise the rise of an invisible power, foreseen on the eve of the French Revolution by Jacques Necker as an opinion “without a treasury, without guards, and without an army” but nonetheless providing “laws for the city, the court and even the kings’ palace”. [13]

7Victor Hugo still viewed acclamatio as an expression of political will. Giving an overview of the various European republics, he described three modes of political selection as equally valid: by voting, by acclamation, and by sortition. [14] Las Cases also reminds us that Napoleon knew how to control the use of acclamation. Was it not “with acclamations, public joy and triumph” that he was carried from the French beaches to the capital, on the eve of the Hundred Days? [15] This meant reconnecting with the foundations of the electoral process, described by Furetière in his famous Dictionnaire when he observed that magistrates and bishops “were once elected by suffrage and public acclamation”. [16]

8In the spring of 1848, sovereignty was still subject to traditional forms of legitimacy, wherein the people’s physical presence provided “the public expression of their will”. [17] Images of banquets, [18] public celebrations, graffiti, flag-waving, urban deliberations, and mass uprisings all make this clear. Even universalised, representative government could not ignore these popular forms of acclamation. [19]

9For example, on 18 April, three days before the first election by universal suffrage, flags were distributed at the Arc de Triomphe for the Fête de la Fraternité. A poster from the Provisional Government announced the celebration’s aim: to “show the world what was in people’s hearts”. [20] This was why, alongside the line infantry, the light cavalry and the National Guard, political detainees, workers from the national workshops, and individuals who had been injured in the February Revolution were also present. Followed by a nocturnal illumination, this “immense demonstration of the people’s strength” [21] was designed to gloss over the cleavages revealed by the protests on 16 April. On this day, some of the revolutionary clubs had protested, demanding the postponement of the election of the Constituent Assembly. The National Guard had to be “called in” to maintain order, for the first time since the February barricades.

Figure 1

“Distribution of the flags (under the Arc de Triomphe, on 20 April 1848)”

Figure 1

“Distribution of the flags (under the Arc de Triomphe, on 20 April 1848)”

The caption refers to a speech made by Minister Arag celebrating the “emblem of the strength and grandeur of the armed people” - an expression to which the participants responded by raising their swords or hats: “We swear it! Long live the Republic!” (Le Moniteur, 21 April). In the picture, Parisians brandish their képis, top hats, and caps on the end of their bayonets: a graphic gesture which aims to embody the vivat in support of the new institutions. According to the Provisional Government, the cry of “Long live the Republic!” should silence those who were “hostile to people” or who called “for division among citizens” (poster published by Le Moniteur on 19 April 1848, lithograph by Bosredon, deposited on 2 June 1848 (19 x 29.8 cm), ref. Vinck 13912, BnF).

10In Distribution des drapeaux (“Distribution of the flags”), the artist depicts this form of representation. He captures a specific moment when the officers’ pledge of allegiance was punctuated by a cry of “Long live the republic!” from the crowd. Unlike many other contemporary works, this image focuses not on the act of allegiance itself, nor on the troops’ perfect order, [22] but on the people’s cries. Acclamation is here portrayed as a founding act.

11On that day in April, workers could voice their acclamations because the Republic was theirs. The print above proves it: workers wearing overalls stand next to men in frock coats, uniforms both old and new can be seen - a sign that the government born of the barricades enjoyed the trust of all people. [23] However, this vivat was far from spontaneous. A delegation had come to see Lamartine several days earlier to determine how this event should unfold. Members of the delegation were told the following:


“The only cry that the generous citizens you represent may voice, the only cry that the members of the Provisional government can accept, is the cry of ‘Long live the Republic!’”

13This statement illustrates the issue of growing control over acclamation practices. In striving to blend together the workers’ voices and the government’s voice, the Minister of the Interior did not hesitate to redefine the meaning of this form of representation:


“Under the Republic, society and the regular government belong to everyone! By shouting this, you are shouting Long live work! Long live property! Long live the order which makes everything great!” [24]

15The same preparations could be observed for the patriotic songs sung that day by the children of Paris: The Marseillaise and the Chant du départ, for the parade of almost 400,000 people going from the Arc de Triomphe to Bercy. For over twenty kilometres, both public buildings and private homes were covered with lanterns in the three colours of the Republic’s “tricolore” flag. With no representative delegation nor royal intercession, here an acclamatory gathering was used to embody representation. Representation was accomplished through signs, both visual and auditory, designed to render collective agreement perceptible. The scheme was to unite “all the elements of legitimate power scattered throughout society and reorganise them into a concrete form of power”. Several years earlier, François Guizot had already defined the extent of this mechanism:


“What we call representation is nothing more than the means of arriving at this result.” [25]

17It is therefore no coincidence that vivats have long been studied. Those who monitor “public opinion” claim that vivats were a form of political expression. Such was the case on that day in February 1848, when around a thousand people walking from the Pantheon to the Madeleine, and cried out “Long live the Reform, long live Napoleon!” [26] in front of the Vendôme column. The care taken in documenting and interpreting these acclamations attests to their interpretation as the expression of political will. [27] In its original sense, voting literally means giving one’s voice and expressing one’s will. From votum to votivus, linguistic usage bears witness to this interpretation. [28] With census-based suffrage, the ballot box had not yet overtaken the assembly system. The Restoration government, like that of the July Monarchy, feared the spread of such public expression: as if by detaching the people from their “natural” representatives, public expression might sweep away established forms of delegation.

18In 1848, the problem was different: public opinion turned against the government of universal suffrage. In particular, the theme of a republican Napoleon lent itself to the occasion. Songs by Béranger, engravings by Charlet and Raffet, Épinal imagery and the theatre in general popularised this myth. They harkened back to memories of the imperial era – a form of political messianism which the Fête de la Fraternité, three days prior to the first election by universal suffrage, had attempted to counter by reviving the tradition of the vivat. [29] The use of acclamation made up for the absence of electoral representation and, as was observed the next day by Le National, demonstrated the government’s popularity. This approach was immediately exploited to spread the idea that “the government has unanimous support on its side”, and thus to facilitate the decision to establish two cavalry regiments and two infantry regiments in Paris. This was an eminently political act: for almost two months, most Parisian clubs had been demanding that the army be kept out of the capital. The review on 20 April imposed a different agenda. The line infantrymen were to make their triumphant return to the capital. This period of transition would come to an end with the first elections by universal suffrage. Just a few days later, Lamartine would open the first session of the Constituent Assembly with the thunderous declaration: “the Assembly has overtaken sovereignty”.

Acts of sovereignty

19In 1848, how the people could legitimately express themselves underwent a profound transformation. However, the use of pavoisement and acclamation was not eliminated, but merely circumscribed. Once universal suffrage was established, however, acclamation was confined to certain spaces (the chamber, peripheral municipalities) and to certain circles (groups not suspected of socialist, legitimist or Bonapartist affiliations). The definition of a “lawful acclamation” immediately posed a problem. How much space should be granted to such public manifestations of support or opposition? How far could cries and emblems go without becoming seditious? Through its crystallisation of the controversy, the phrase “Long live the democratic and social Republic!” provides valuable insight on this matter. Used during the June Days Uprising, this slogan was rapidly associated with the socialist movement, and therefore viewed as “inciting civil war”.

20A series of letters between the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Justice sheds light on the development of what can only be called a crime of opinion. For the Minister of the Interior, it was a point of doctrine: the Constitution adopted by the new regime recognised “only one form of government: the one and indivisible democratic Republic”. In other words, publicly supporting a government other than the existing legal government meant “inciting its overthrow and revolt”, a crime which the Minister of the Interior thought it “entirely reasonable” to repress. [30] However, the Minister of Justice and President of the Council, in his response dated 16 March 1849, could not hide his discomfort.

21The addition of the adjective “social” to the expression “democratic Republic” was only the “expression of a wish”. The ancient tradition of acclamation erred on the side of caution, arguing that “other protests” were required before an opinion could be deemed an “outrage” or a “criminal attack”. In the public space, the expression of a thought had to manifest itself in behaviour before it could be prohibited. The use of one’s voice could not by itself represent an act of hostility. Otherwise, how could it be differentiated from the use of acclamation? The Minister of the Interior refused to back down on this point. Any amount of tolerance would open the door to socialist propaganda. He thus responded as follows to the magistrates who consulted him:


“We must tolerate only the cries authorised by the Constitution.”

23This call to combat all unauthorised vivats, was a move away from control to outright repression that horrified the Minister of Justice. How could punishments be meted out to individuals in such cases? And what laws could be invoked to restrict the freedom of acclamation? On 14 April 1849, the Caen Court of Appeals raised this issue again. Public disorder forced the Minister of Justice to make some concessions.


“The cry of ‘democratic and social Republic’ clearly manifests an opinion which goes against the Constitution that enshrined the establishment of a democratic Republic, respecting all the social principles that guarantee the rights of the family, property and religion.”

25The demands for a “social Republic” were therefore calls to alter “the principles and rights of society”. [31] Nevertheless, the Minister of Justice could not accept this: he saw it as a legal question, not just a matter of opportunity.

26So he asked the prosecutors to adjust their assessments according to two criteria: one purely social criterion and one circumstantial criterion. The social criterion: an acclamation pronounced by “a literate man who has received an education and possesses some fortune is much more significant … than that voiced by a worker, who in truth most often does not understand its meaning or gravity”. The circumstantial criterion: one must not pay attention to the cries made “outside the cabaret or the reading room”. Such exclamations only became hostile if “produced in conjunction with the clear intention to provoke disorder or attacks against the government”. [32]

27In short, acclamations were underpinned by an entire social structure. For the Minister of Justice, this was precisely what made them dangerous. Vivats pronounced by a few isolated workers were no cause for concern. But when acclamations were produced by men with “faculties”, they could rally people around a cause and reveal a concerted effort against the system. Undeniably, it was the principles of representative government that worked to disqualify this form of representation.

Figure 2

“Barricades in the Faubourg du Temple, 25 June 1848”

Figure 2

“Barricades in the Faubourg du Temple, 25 June 1848”

This photograph is one of the first press shots. It is considered the birth of photo reporting. It shows the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple barricaded. On one of the barricades where the road joins the Rue Saint-Maur, there are two huge flags. When magnified by a scale of ten, one can read the words “democratic and social republic” (daguerreotype by Charles-François Thibault [11.2 C 14.5 cm) donated by M. Luttringer to the Musée Carnavalet in 1934, Musée d’Orsay).

28Writing in 1849, the socialist Louis Ménard had a different interpretation, however. He believed that, on the contrary, the act of sovereignty lay in the vivat itself. Its very presence evoked the “political character of an insurrection”. This process of idealisation stemmed from the fact that the words “democratic and social Republic”, emblazoned on certain flags, had in turn become the workers’ rallying cry and a sort of visual acclamation. Ménard located the origin of this outcome in the mass uprising of 24 June 1848, when “on that day, the people baptised their Republic with the purest of their blood”. [33] From a partisan point of view, there were henceforth two opposing modes of representation.

29For the content of certain vivats to transform them into crimes, they first had to be interpreted. The statements made by the councils of war demonstrated that defining such expressions was a delicate task, however. One insurgent answered the judge with the following:


“I shouted ‘Long live the democratic and social Republic’ because I thought that was what was needed, after the democratic and social Republic was proclaimed on the February barricades.”

31This suggested a form of confiscation operated by the elections.

32When questioned, another insurgent simply allowed the two dimensions to co-exist.


“By democratic, I mean that all citizens are electors, and by social I mean that all citizens have the right to come together to work.”

34In any case, this is far from the image peddled by the circulars published by the Ministry of the Interior. In the press, this disparity was even greater. With repression came an increasingly allegorical vision of the democratic and social Republic. Many saw this expression as nothing more than a mask concealing sinister resolutions – “Bread, work, or lead” – or even nameless brutalities: “I have to kill him and fatten myself up” one cobbler allegedly said. Another is said to have claimed that:


“The people have been eating potatoes for long enough; it is their turn to eat chicken and the owners’ turn to work in the national workshops.” [34]

36The immediate effect was that circumstances lost all meaning. The presence alone of an acclamation was enough to prove a criminal intent. To take just one example: Janvion, an art peddler, appeared before the Loiret court of assizes for his “attack on the Constitution” and “offence to the President of the Republic”. In a cabaret in Saint-Firmin-sur-Loire, Janvion had cried out: “Long live the democratic and social Republic!” Was this an act of bravado? In any case, drunkenness and crowds were no longer acceptable excuses. After six weeks of detention, he was sentenced to fifteen days in prison and fined sixteen francs. [35]

37This evolution was unsurprising, however. The establishment of electoral democracy meant that acclamations were increasingly viewed as the expression of conscious and personal convictions, just as blank and invalid ballots were seen as signs of the rejection of democratic civility. [36] The representatives of public order scrutinised every acclamation for its underlying aims, reasons, and intentions, looking for evidence of a contract promising collective action. By individualising each outburst, commissioners and magistrates became increasingly unable to see collective life, the very life from which sprang the practices to which individuals conformed. [37] The question was posed directly after the June Days uprising during the interrogation of Lieutenant Bertrand of the National Guard, a 46-year-old copper smelter.


“On the 23rd, you were part of a group of national guards who met on the Avenue Parmentier and who carried as their banner a flag bearing the words ‘democratic and social Republic’.”

39His answer was laconic:


“Yes, my Colonel, but for us it was not the flag of disorder. So I followed.”

41However, one witness, Pierre Saulnier, a mechanic living on Rue Saint-Ambroise Popincourt, protested:


“When the company met in front of my house, Captain Destéract arrived with 250 men, on Friday 23rd […]. They went to the town hall with a flag, which read ‘Long live the democratic and social Republic!’ which stopped us from joining them.” [38]

43He eventually confessed: his denunciation was based on hostility to the captain, a timberwork entrepreneur in his civilian life. Captain Aimé Destéract had merely acted tactically.


“I thought that this inscription, which I did not see as seditious, would allow us to have some influence over those in charge of the barricades.”

45The court was not convinced: Destéract was sentenced to three years in prison, and the seditious inscription played a large role in his conviction. The councils of war had decided to view it as an act of sovereignty. It was as if, on contact with such a flag, every form of behaviour became part of the political project to which it was seemingly connected: the project to overthrow the Republic.

The bonfire of sedition

46Because it invented universal suffrage, the Second Republic was a regime determined to fight against traditional forms of political representation. It had to cut its ancestral ties with assembly-style deliberation and view individuals as equivalent from a purely arithmetic perspective. As early as 1850, commissioners and prosecutors began to receive instructions: as gatherings were prohibited, any acclamation, however furtive, was viewed suspiciously. Any act, no matter how small, could be considered criminal, imbued with “seditious intention”. There are almost 70 such cases preserved in the archives of appellate court prosecutors. It is astonishing to see how every little sign could be interpreted as a visual form of acclamation and thus considered as a threat to electoral democracy.

47The commissioner of Pontarlier thought he had come across such an act on the road to the village of Doubs: an old, red, woollen shawl measuring around a metre long and 35cm wide, hanging from a tree. The commissioner saw the shawl as a flag with “malicious intent”. [39] If we are to believe the accounts written down by appellate court prosecutors, the “reds” were behind every act. This frame of mind led to an increasingly broad definition of what constituted a crime. A scarlet banner at the top of a poplar amidst vines on the road from Thouars to Doné? A “dangerous insignia”. A police report was written up on 6 April and eight individuals were arrested. One of these individuals was a man called Tubœuf, a wheelwright in Belleville: his crime was sporting a “red cardboard necktie, covered with flowers”. [40]

48Just the colour red was enough to provoke suspicion. On 14 April, thirty young people from the village of Saint-Alcan-d’Ontillé went to the patronal feast in Ecommery, wearing red ribbons around their heads: the scene was immediately condemned as a “source of disorder”. [41] In Draguignan, on 21 May, “caps and bonnets” were targeted by the forces of law and order. The prosecutor was quite certain of the issue.


“My substitute thought that ridicule would serve as justice. Quite the opposite. To their red bonnets, some added a scarlet jacket or a garnet robe, and others trousers of the same colour.” [42]

50Textiles were seen as capable of expressing opinions, and each opinion led to a corresponding behaviour. The phrase appears over and over again: emblems and vivats “illegally occupied” the streets to challenge the government that was “born of the ballot boxes”. While representation uses stand-ins in lieu of a group or an individual, it is also (as historian Carlo Ginzburg observes), in its primary sense, “the public presentation” of those individuals or groups. [43] Under the Second Republic, the two meanings of representation came face to face and provoked a change in the law.

51Initially, article 6 of the decree of 1 August 1848 used “sedition” to mean “any sign or symbol which could propagate the spirit of rebellion or disturb public order”. According to this definition, sedition stemmed not from an object itself, but from its threatening use: as in a crowd calling for a riot. This distinction consequently spared signs like the triangle found on signs for certain shops in Paris and the suburbs. But just one year later, this emblem had become that of the “socialist party”. It was now seen as dangerous and accused of “reawakening sad memories and spreading worry among the peaceful part of the population”. The Ministry’s reasoning was revealing:


“The triangle is not recognised by the government of the Republic and is therefore seditious.” [44]

53The burden of proof was now reversed. It was no longer that which caused trouble which was seditious, but that which was not authorised by the state. In terms of public expression, opinions became criminal merely by entering the public space instead of meekly confining themselves to the voting booth.

54Alarmed by the electoral gains of La Montagne in spring 1850 (especially in Paris, with the election of socialist Eugène Sue), the new majority had changed doctrine. All over the country, crimes of “seditious exhibition” became more frequent. By stepping in, the police helped to transform them into what the press described as a “wave of violence”. There were altercations in dozens of towns: in Saint-Étienne, Montpellier, and Nîmes, as well as in front of the Mont Saint-Michel prison. It was clear that traditional forms of representation had been delegitimised. Public opinion was ordered to cloister itself in the ballot boxes. [45] The Executive Committee made this clear on 14 May 1848:


“The entire people is embodied by the National Assembly. Both power and the law reside there, they are not and cannot be anywhere else.” [46]

56As a result, vivats and emblems were suspected of attracting “crowds”, of encouraging “debate and disorder”. The streets no longer needed assemblies or political soapboxes. With the elections over, citizens were once again merely people to be governed, subjugated by a benevolent state. For the government, the birth of electoral democracy meant that it was necessary to “protect” public opinion: hence the drafting of new laws and the introduction of tougher rules and regulations. Consequently, the notion of “false news” came to refer not only to writing and images, but also to speech itself. Reviewing the law of 17 May 1819 (which set out the common law on this issue), the Ministry was quick to extend its application to speech, with the result that words could become criminal simply because they were uttered in public.

57The law of 29 July 1849 on the press took things even further. It referred to the courts any expression that was hostile to “institutions, property, the family, and the country’s peace”. The president of the Republic was covered by a specific law of “offence against his person”, a measure still present in French law to this day. The strengthening of such laws was justified (without the contradiction being pointed out) by the right to discussion: the very right which was enshrined by electoral democracy. Moreover, it was seen as “firmer and more irresistible compensation” for a “society which governs itself”. [47]

58Admittedly, the new Minister of the Interior, Léon Faucher, was forced to admit that voters had to be surrounded by “all the intelligence required for the exercise of universal suffrage”. But concern for order remained dominant.


“Under the pretext of elections, it is not permitted to preach revolt, to disregard the laws, to spread hatred or disdain for citizens, the government or the republic.”

Representation by plebiscite

60Although, from the summer of 1848, obedience to the state forbade unauthorised cries or inscriptions, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte introduced a new element: he was to be sole arbiter of the people’s will. After his coup d’état in 1851, the anointment of the referendum gave him a plebiscite-type mandate. This delegation, both exclusive and charismatic, urged him to listen to what Achille Fould, the Minister of State from 1852 to 1860, theorised as the “voice of the people and of God”. [48] This phrase was no longer restricted to the domain of voting. The sovereign had to show that he “deserved the country’s trust” [49] by exposing himself to vivats. Trips to the provinces, various ceremonies, troop inspections: Napoleon’s “imperial democracy” claimed to reconcile universal suffrage with these traditional expressions of approval, as if, now that they were institutionalised, the hurdles of acclamation had become his Arc de Triomphe.

Figure 3

“Representation by plebiscite”

Figure 3

“Representation by plebiscite”

This image shows Napoleon III being cheered on by the people and the army. Hats and flags in the air boost his legitimacy, founded on both the vote and the acclamations of the nation. One banner reads “7,500,000”: the number of votes obtained in the election on 20 December 1851. This unanimous ratification justified the sovereign’s coronation by Napoleon I, descending from the sky on the back of an eagle (Composition signed “A. Constant pinxit”, “Faucon direxit”, “V. Adam and A. Maurin lith.” chine-collé print [48.8 x 36.6 cm]. Printer and publisher A. Beillet, quai de Tournelle 35, ref. Vinck 16278, BnF.)

61Such signs of approval aimed to establish a direct link between the sovereign and his people. The new political regime was therefore plebiscite-based rather than parliamentary. It expressed itself using political signs (the eagle of Roman mythology, the bee of the Merovingian kings), establishing a connection between these signs and a specific form of power. A ruling from 6 January 1852 issued by the police commissioner highlights this association. “Considering that the original meaning of the slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity has been distorted, now taking on an anarchic meaning in the public’s mind”, the ruling ordered that it be removed “from monuments, public buildings, [and] private properties”. Similarly, monograms reading “R.F.” for République Française were replaced on busts, liberty poles and road names cherished by the Republic. It was not so much the content of these emblems that posed a problem, but their claim to “represent”. The same reproach was made of their successors in 1870. On 4 September, the Republic was proclaimed and the insignia of the Empire were removed. Parliamentarianism returned to the forefront. The work of the Second Republic could be reclaimed.

62Although the forms of political legitimacy had changed, the means of control were startlingly similar. In a decree issued on 17 February 1852, the Empire reinstated the legislation it had inherited from the Second Republic: “no drawings, engravings, lithographs, medallions, prints, or emblems of any nature or kind” could be “published, exhibited or sold without prior authorisation from the Minister of the Police in Paris or the prefects in the provinces”. The penalties ranged from between a month to a year in prison, or a fine of between a hundred and a thousand francs. In 1872, surveillance was further refined. The growing distribution of images now made it necessary to specify their dangerous usages, but against a barely altered regulatory background.

63The display and sale of portraits of princes from the fallen families were only authorised if they were “shown in civil dress and as ordinary individuals”. This applied equally to the Count of Chambord, Napoleon III, the Imperial Prince, and the Count of Paris. However, confiscation was recommended when these people appeared “dressed in the trappings of power” or “represented in scenes where they were performing acts of sovereignty”. The image of sovereignty was precisely what was feared in these images. Captions reading “Henri V”, “Napoléon IV” or “Louis-Philippe II” [50] were tracked down as acclamations of sovereignty. The same applied to depictions of the Phrygian cap or the Paris Commune: their presence “would in no way be tolerated” if it incited “political agitation”. [51]

64With the return of the Third Republic, traditional forms of representation only enjoyed very limited freedom. Political ideas had their place in the press, in parliament, in universities, and in electoral platforms, but there were to be no more unauthorised vivats or flag displays. In 1905, Henri des Houx was one of the last to wonder:


“Is the sight of the red flag harder to tolerate than a socialist journal or a speech by M. Vaillant?” [52]

66Comparing the French case to the English monarchy, he was forced to accept that in the one and indivisible Republic, while ideas might be free the means of expressing them in public were not.

67By usurping the state’s official symbols, any political sign was seen as a threat to the unity of the Republic. Now that there was “universal” suffrage, fears grew that the slightest acclamation would provoke a mob. Electoral representation had ultimately come to circumscribe any other form of expression in and of the public space. Consequently, the return of a parliamentary regime at the end of the century only continued this socio-historical trend. Flags and emblems were treated like military insignia. Just like flags flown on the highest tower in the seigneurial towns and castles, they were signs of sovereignty, not the public expression of an opinion. Certain dissident groups argued that the red flag “is not a scrap of cloth attached vertically to a pole; it is the Sign around which we gather, under which we fight, for which we die, which is flown on the ramparts of a fortress, or even on the barricades”. [53]

68It is often said that the Law on the Freedom of the Press of 29 July 1881, inspired by article 11 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen on freedom of opinion, lifted this regulatory arsenal. [54] In reality, however, although for a few months the police had to make do with merely removing flags (and not referring offenders to court), their services would soon be reinstated. Bolstered by the jurisprudence of the courts of assizes, the notion of “disrupting public order” gave the police ample leeway and ensured that once again there was legal support for the elimination of acclamations.

69It was as if, with the return of competitive elections, acclamation once again became a threatening practice. Intended to make the people’s sovereignty visible, it provided a way of expressing opinions other than the solemn ballot. Despite the supremacy of voting, during the Second Empire, this “politics of visual representation” [55] had demonstrated its power. It could galvanise the crowds, because acclamation was still seen as a viable alternative to universal suffrage. At the start of the twentieth century, the collective act of flying a flag was still linked to political representation. After the 1871 controversy regarding the return of the monarchist flag and the sight of Paris draped in white flags; after, too, the turbulence of the Commune and its imposition of the red flag, [56] the return of the tricolore, up until the First World War, gave rise to large-scale organised demonstrations. These rituals oscillated between patriotic expression and ratification, between the framing of public opinion and the celebration of unanimity.

Raising the banner

70The display of flags to represent a jubilant population is a frequent image throughout French political history. [57] For the celebration of the beatification of Joan of Arc in 1909, this practice took an unusual turn, however. Bringing together the monarchist opponents, flags seemed to take over the city. This demonstration of “the popular will” was both collective and individual. [58] It was a visual acclamation that structured broader political participation than that codified by the right to vote. It therefore contrasted sharply with electoral representation. Flying the colours of Saint Joan of Arc was far from the expected behaviour of electors expressing themselves secretly and in isolation. This form of expression boldly revealed itself to the public eye as if to defy the norms of representation – which were masculine, anonymous and neatly accounted for. As a result, this political ritual offers a way to measure the extent to which, a quarter of a century after the return of parliamentary democracy, acclamation remained confined to radical illegitimacy when compared to the voting booth. In France, the citizen’s voice had become subordinate to the general opinion expressed by elections. Above all, the advent of electoral democracy helped to reinforce state interventionism, so that competition between political expressions was supplanted by the state-organised use of ballot boxes.

71During the monarchist celebration of Joan of Arc in 1909, the logic of the majority was touted to discredit the practice of pavoisement. The flag was seen as nothing more than a ballot form waved in public. La Lanterne, an anti-Bonapartist and anticlerical newspaper, readily drew this comparison. The map of flags across Paris would only overlap with that of the “reactionary vote”, it claimed: a few days after the beatification of the saint in Rome, this argument hoped to destabilise the public. In this perspective, the call to the flag only rallied a few aristocratic neighbourhoods that were hostile to the Republic. The monarchist and Catholic right wing claimed, on the other hand, that it had raised “the people’s banner” all over France.

72The authorities were called upon to investigate, an unprecedented phenomenon during the rest of the century. They produced a list of the people who had publicly joined in the celebration of Joan of Arc. The list contained 5,446 names, with matching addresses, floor numbers, and for half of the individuals, even their professions. The administrative categories acknowledge that, like voting by a show of hands, the display of flags could represent not just the city or the soul of the people, as traditional forms of acclamation had, but represent individuals who consequently had to be counted and identified, as in an election tally. [59]

73This survey was conducted at the request of the President of the Council, Georges Clemenceau, by the first research brigade, the so-called “political brigade”. [60] This decision was harshly criticised by the nationalist press. [61] The census-style approach conflicted with the purely visual interpretation, “a determination based on the evidence of one’s eyes”. [62] This is described by a note from the police commissioner’s office. Initially, the banners to be hung on 18 April for the beatification of Joan of Arc were of no interest:


“The president of the Council does not care and we can leave them to it.” [63]

Figure 4

The electoralisation of acclamation

Figure 4

The electoralisation of acclamation

At the bottom of this anonymous wood carving is a caption: “To make a map of Paris indicating the arrondissements which displayed flags for the Blessed [Joan of Arc], I just had to copy the one from the last election: the shaded areas are the reactionary neighbourhoods.” (La Lanterne, 25 May 1909, p. 4, BnF).

75However, once the extent of the flag display from 14 to 16 May was announced, the government changed its position. Vast police surveillance was organised. The nationalist revival threatened the regime, especially since the leagues in Paris had the upper hand. [64]

76Beatified by Pope Pius X, Joan of Arc was celebrated in the capital with a call to display flags and place flowers at the foot of statues of the heroine. These acts were meant to “combine evangelical and patriotic virtues”. Although after the Great War Raymond Poincaré led the centre-right to establish a national celebration in honour of Joan of Arc, in 1909 it was mainly the monarchist opposition who participated in pavoisement. This celebration was constructed as an “anti-14th July”. The republican press, particularly La Lanterne and Le Temps, tried its hardest to downplay the phenomenon as nothing more than a “certain demand” due to “a certain league of the Action française”. [65]

77The police investigation showed this to be untrue. Many other groups were “represented”. The work of the brigadiers and inspectors provides evidence of this: they were not interested in determining the conditions behind the decision to participate in the pavoisement, but rather in measuring the extent of the phenomenon and its distribution by street and arrondissement. The deployment of the flag, be it the tricolore or the colours of Joan of Arc, was investigated, but – and this should be emphasised – first and foremost as a form of political participation. Each building façade was seen as a group defined by individual acts and professional traits. Visible flags became observable units, which stemmed from the interaction between behaviour and attitude. This was no coincidence.

78During this period, the discipline of scientific psychology was gaining traction. Under the guidance of Henri Piéron, who introduced Anglo-American behavioural science to France, [66] new electoral science began to develop around a set of new categories. André Siegfried drew from these new scientific insights in his famous Tableau politique de la France de l’Ouest sous la Troisième République (“Political Portrait of Western France under the Third Republic”). The data collected looked not at the visual effect of pavoisement (the number of windows with flags in them, or the number of banners hung outside), or at the organisations involved (a now abandoned line of investigation), but rather at the head of the household in each apartment that displayed a flag. [67] Those who hung flags were seen as open-air voters, hence the information that could be garnered from the list of names and streets when presented in a table.

79The first observation to be made is that the arrondissements mobilised were indeed those dominated by Catholic institutions and an aristocratic population. These neighbourhoods were the fashionable parts of Paris: 70% were in the 7th and 8th arrondissements, followed by the 6th, and to a lesser degree the 16th and 17th arrondissements. Almost 90% of the sample was situated in these five arrondissements, with the remaining 10% spread across the remaining fifteen. These neighbourhoods had wealthy inhabitants who had left the central areas to avail themselves of the luxurious Haussmann buildings in the northwest of the city. The table also reveals an overwhelming proportion of the rentier class (56%). This category came in far ahead of religious personnel (8.62%). Normally a rather vague category, the notion of the rentier class is clearly defined in this case. Almost half of the names listed contain a nobiliary particle, and the price of the rents in the streets in which these families were concentrated provides further evidence of status. Here, a “rentier” really does refer to a wealthy noble, descendants of nobles of the robe and the sword who had chosen to use their homes to display their faith.

80Upon closer examination, we can see that these elites were characterised by strong spatial segregation: they were clustered in the most prestigious areas of Paris, far from the working class neighbourhoods in the east. In the 8th arrondissement, flags were displayed primarily in the Champs-Élysées neighbourhood (Avenue Montaigne, Avenue d’Antin and Avenue Marceau), the Faubourg du Roule neighbourhood (Avenue de Friedland, Rue de Berri) and the Madeleine neighbourhood (Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Rue du Cirque). These are historic areas, conferred eminence by their proximity to the Louvre and the Tuileries. In the Europe neighbourhood (8th) or the 9th arrondissement, pavoisement was less widespread: these areas formed a buffer with more socially mixed neighbourhoods (Rochechouart and Faubourg Montmartre). In the 16th arrondissement, the distribution was even more polarised: only the north was represented. The Chaillot and Porte Dauphine areas were heavily represented, but not the more heterogeneous Auteuil and La Muette neighbourhoods. The former had become urbanised first, which explained the greater presence of the fashionable denizens of the Belle Époque. The construction of private homes along Avenue du Bois de Boulogne (now Avenue Foch), Avenue Victor-Hugo and Avenue Kléber attracted those who sought space, luxury and distance from the lower classes.


Socio-professional group and place of residence of individuals displaying flags in May 1909 in honour of Joan of Arc, according to a survey by the Paris Police Prefecture

A B C D E F G H I J K Information on Total % 1st 5 14 8 7 20 2 9 6 25 2 98 98 1.7 2nd 1 5 1 3 14 1 7 6 9 6 53 53 0.92 3rd 1 5 1 1 1 3 12 12 0.2 4th 1 9 6 5 11 2 11 9 15 1 70 70 1.21 5th 4 5 9 12 12 4 7 10 31 3 97 102 1.77 6th 42 9 19 4 7 2 2 85 503 8.75 7th 2 27 1 10 1 57 25 401 11 23 558 2,244 39.05 8th 19 1 1 15 15 23 257 2 5 338 1,778 30.94 9th 5 2 5 1 3 6 12 1 2 37 89 1.54 10th 1 5 2 3 8 1 3 2 25 25 0.43 11th 2 1 1 3 2 9 9 0.16 12th 2 3 1 3 9 9 0.16 13th 1 2 1 1 2 7 1 15 17 0.29 14th 1 3 5 19 11 7 9 7 42 2 3 109 119 2.07 15th 2 1 1 5 3 3 3 2 20 20 0.35 16th 11 11 12 8 6 12 23 262 3 12 360 368 6.4 17th 2 6 9 12 11 6 8 15 129 4 6 208 210 3.65 18th 2 3 3 2 2 1 3 16 17 0.29 19th 1 1 1 3 3 0.05 20th 0 Total 18 157 61 82 144 31 183 141 1,209 37 59 2,122 5,746 % 0.85 7.4 2.87 3.86 6.78 1.46 8.62 6.64 56.97 1.74 2.78 100

Socio-professional group and place of residence of individuals displaying flags in May 1909 in honour of Joan of Arc, according to a survey by the Paris Police Prefecture

Key: A = workers, journeymen; B = shopkeepers, small craftsmen; C = family domestic employees, coachmen, maids, workhands; D = employees, civil servants; E = storekeepers, merchants, representatives; F = students, artists/painters; G = religious personnel (school principals, ecclesiastics); H = liberal professions (lawyer, notary, etc.); I = property owners; J = publicists, politicians, high-ranking officials; K = others.
Figure 5

The arrondissements of Paris at the time of the celebration of Joan of Arc in May 1909

Figure 5

The arrondissements of Paris at the time of the celebration of Joan of Arc in May 1909

Source: Archives of the Prefecture of Police (APP), Ba1534.

81The same bias could be seen in the 7th arrondissement: early adoption of neighbourhoods like Les Invalides and Église Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin by the rentier class could be explained by their proximity with the former royal palaces on the right bank. There was therefore a higher concentration of flag displays in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, Paris’s most aristocratic neighbourhood. There were also a few pockets of activity in the 17th arrondissement; again, these did not occur just anywhere but were distributed across the southern area, closer to the sought-after neighbourhoods of the 8th and 16th arrondissements. La Plaine Monceau was therefore the most attractive neighbourhood (Avenue de Wagram, Boulevard Malesherbes, Avenue de Villiers).

82A political context corresponded to this social geography. In Paris, since the beginning of the Third Republic, the aristocratic elites had taken refuge in a sort of private sociability. Pavoisement gave the elites a way to display themselves as the dominant group. Of course, the police survey only recorded heads of households who were willing to hang flags: in other words, those individuals for whom revealing their “intransigent” right wing affiliation had little cost. This activist world was organised around a few hundred families, along with their domestic and commercial dependencies. [68] The openly Catholic elite saw itself as being in internal exile. Excluded from political responsibility, they were faced with a regime that they loathed. In their eyes, parliament had driven away religious congregations, weakened apostolic institutions, and fought against the pope. They viewed the regime as composed of sectarian men who had reduced Catholicism to a private affair, thus explaining the virulent attacks on its institutional role.

83Forming a counter-society (as the socialists had done during the Second Republic), this “reactionary” right used pavoisement to carry out a form of apostolate, a strategy that they would continue to exploit until the Union sacrée (Sacred Union) movement at the start of the First World War. Among those who displayed flags, some were members of the old nobility, such as the Count of Sabran-Ponteves who, in an open letter published in La Libre Parole, pleaded with the conservative newspapers to call “in large print” for people to hang flags “with a rigorous and daily demand”. Other names had a connection with the history of the French kingdom: the Counts of Clermont-Tonnerre, Salignac-Fénelon and Castelbajac, as well as French dukes of Broglie, Brissac and Gramont. This elite by birth, wealth, and heritage claimed to be restoring “French values”. [69]

84As a social group, they were openly in favour of Catholic traditions, hierarchy, loyalty to the king, and good taste. They were joined by some elements of the Bonapartist and conservative circles, such as the Schneider family (Avenue Marceau), the composer Meyerbeer, former minister De Marcère (Avenue Montaigne), Baron Rothschild (Rue de Penthièvre), and French Academy member Émile Faguet (Rue Monge). Such a list somewhat conceals the real driving force behind participation in pavoisement, in particular the associative network which orchestrated the displays.

85It is worth remembering that the call for mobilisation came from three organisations: Action Française, Action libérale populaire (The People’s Liberal Action) and the League of Patriots. It was relayed by an “intransigent” web of Catholic institutions, notably movements like the Ligue des femmes françaises (LFF - League of French Women), created in 1901 by Madame Jean Lestra, and the Ligue patriotique des Françaises (LPDF - Patriotic League of French Women), founded in 1902 by the Baronesses Brigode and Reille. [70] The role of female activism should not be overlooked. [71] Flags were also displayed in libraries, youth clubs, kindergartens, and schools, all under the purview of the diocese, as well as in monarchist and conservative press offices and headquarters. Certain structures were less visible, although just as important. In a report dated 22 August 1907, the police commissioner told the President of the Council about the actions of the Fédération Jeanne-d’Arc. Its convention, held on 30 May, had united “all the people and all the female institutions of the faith”. Its president was Monseigneur Foucault, Bishop of Saint-Dié, and its vice-president was Alfred Baudrillard, rector of the Catholic Institute.

86Revealingly, it was claimed that flags represented voting by acclamation. Within these structures, the parliamentary system was harshly judged, as were “party politics” more broadly, a form of delegation considered to contradict “the nearly reconciled popular spirit” (La Croix). [72] They generally supported the the head of state’s right of dissolution. In this context, pavoisement was seen as an act undertaken by the “natural” leaders who wished to represent a different Paris, while simultaneously displaying their rank and loyalty to their heritage. [73]

A display of convictions

87The pavoisement of 1909 was therefore influenced more by social relationships than by phenomena of imitation or learning. Fashioned by several groups, it was based on powerful ties of domesticity and dependency. This organic dimension nuances the theory of captive or passive celebrators, whose behaviour was entirely controlled by the elites’ recruitment campaign. While pavoisement became an emblem of political opinion, the practice primarily externalised familial attitudes. It limited itself to a gaze which, far from the relationships of pure exteriority embodied when electors express themselves in the booth, echoed throughout a street or a neighbourhood. In that regard, visual acclamation marked its distance from the representation of electoral democracy. In fact, there were many ways of fashioning or displaying a flag. To take just one example, on 18 April, on the fifth floor of a building on the Boulevard Pasteur at the corner with the Rue de Vaugirard, one banner attracted attention in particular. It measured one metre by fifty centimetres. It was white with golden fleurs-de-lis, and in the middle was a palm frond with a shield; on either side were tricolore flags. According to the police, its monumental appearance “caused some disputes this morning”. [74]

88The trait emphasised by the organisers was always joyous spontaneity. The press constantly repeated these words, as if there had to be a visual form of enthusiasm. “Enthusiasm” is no longer an element of enquiry for the social sciences. Today, its meaning is reduced to a sort of excitement with abstract connotations. [75] At the start of the century, however, enthusiasm had an entirely different significance. “Enthusiasm” was the watchword of all acclamatory practices, since it designated “divine transportation”, or “divine possession” (from the Greek enthousiasmos, derived from entheos, in God), as if for its partisans the vox populi retained some element of the religious.

89In their eyes, flags in favour of Joan of Arc formed a border between legal Paris and legitimate Paris. They made the public space visible by contesting the exclusive link that universal suffrage had formed with representative government since 1848. The French language still bears a trace of this: the verb pavoiser means to decorate a place with flags – but it also means to manifest great joy, as if the colours of the tricolore flag or of Joan of Arc did not just decorate doors and windows, but represented a kind of triumph. The flag-filled road was like an assembly. Vivats, signs on display, as well as patriotic songs and flags: these collective acts all belonged to a kind of sovereignty that had been marginalised by representative government. [76]

90And yet, acclamation practices that use flags still stir up nostalgia, as if the theme of the people’s enthusiasm filling the streets remained alive to this day. It reappears after every major political crisis. However, it is necessary to distinguish between the state flag and the flag displayed at home. Although tricolore flags have adorned public buildings since the French Revolution, they only began to be widely displayed in the windows of homes, particularly in poorer areas, following the dawn of the Third Republic. Encouraged by low-cost industrial production, the domestic use of the flag has become an instrument of legitimacy in its own right. But it now moves between two different repertoires: celebration and voting, “public spirit” and electoral opinion. It even drifts between two types of meaning: social conformity and political conviction.

91Drawing up a sociological history of these acclamatory representations is not intended to breathe new life into this social experience. The material history is there instead to distance the inferences on which this history is based, be it between the individual and the people, the street and the city, or the private and the public. The ground of historical explanation is firmer than that of literary hermeneutics. Treading it allows us to discover that the flag-filled street is in no way a spontaneous act. Nor is it the product of contagious enthusiasm or of an institution. Collective effervescence does exist, but it is prepared by an event and spread through the work of mobilisation.

92Although hagiographic accounts unfailingly end with the words “everywhere there was nothing but flags, banners, garlands, insignia, flowers, greenery, lanterns, and electric blooms”, this is just used to create the lofty image of a people assembling. In the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau could still assert that:


“As soon as the people are lawfully assembled as a sovereign body, the whole jurisdiction of the government ceases, the executive power is suspended […] because where the represented are, there is no longer any representative.” [77]

94Since the parliamentarisation of the state, things have changed. Power now comes from the “capacity of men to exercise it”. This expression justifies elective delegation by ensuring that “power does not stay, in law, where it no longer lies in reality”, [78] as if this delegation stripped the delegator of all responsibility, or even of all sovereignty at least until the next ballot. [79] We can see that these words express a more general evolution.

95In France, representation by acclamation was long pitted against ballot box democracy. [80] However, some continued to support it up until the advent of General de Gaulle. At one point disdained by his electors, de Gaulle used acclamation to combat the parties of the Fourth Republic. During his travels, he looked at “all the hats and arms in the air, all the fixed gazes”. He saw this kind of gesture as “a statement from the multitude to him at a decisive moment”. [81] To de Gaulle, this political ritual still seemed to link authority with popularity, but awakening what some would call a promise and others would call a spectre: the bypassing of parliamentary democracy by a ballot-less election.


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    On the fact that electoral democracy no longer gives any institutional role to public space, see Bernard Manin, Principes du gouvernement représentatif (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1995), 8.
  • [2]
    John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (London: Simon & Schuster, 2009). The author considers that this representation is born of “the democratic ideal to protect the weak and to empower people everywhere” (855).
  • [3]
    On the origin of this distinction, see Axel Weipert (ed.), Demokratisierung von Wirtschaft und Staat-Studien zum Verhältnis von Ökonomie, Staat und Demokratie vom 19. Jahrhundert bis heute (Berlin: NoRa Verlag, 2014).
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    For further information, see Hasso Hofmann’s socio-historical synthesis, Repräsentation. Studien zur Wort-und Begriffsgeschichte von der Antike bis ins 19. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2003 [1st edn 1974]).
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    On this “plurality of meanings” explored by political theory and conceptual history, see the issue of Raisons politiques edited by Samuel Hayat and Yves Sintomer on “La representation politique”, 50, May 2013.
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    Peter Aelst, Stefaan Walgrave, “Who is that (wo)man in the street? From the normalisation of protest to the normalisation of the protester”, European Journal of Political Research, 39, 2001, 461-86.
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    Olivier Ihl, “L’urne et le fusil. Sur les violences électorales lors du scrutin du 23 avril 184”, Revue française de science politique, 60(1), 2010, 9-35. For a different contextualisation of this issue, see Jeff Wm. Justice, “Of guns and ballots: attitudes towards unconventional and destructive political participation among Sinn Fein and Herri Batasuna supporters”, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 11(3), 2005, 295-320.
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    On this notion, see Charles Tilly, “Les origines du répertoire de l’action collective contemporaine en France et en Grande-Bretagne”, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, 4, October 1984, 89-108. For a reading that focuses more on the socio-history of the vote, see “Retour critique sur les répertoires de l’action collective (XVIIIe-XXIe siècle)”, Politix, 81, 2008, 181-202.
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    Le Moniteur universel, 25 February 1848. [Translations from French language sources are by the translatorof this article unless an alternative English-language source is given.]
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    On the formats and formalisms which progressively came to surround electoral competition in nineteenth-century France, see Yves Déloye and Olivier Ihl, L’acte de vote (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008). On the importance of the Second Republic in this matter, see Samuel Hayat, Quand la République était révolutionnaire. Citoyenneté et représentation en 1848 (Paris: Seuil, 2014).
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    Article on “Acclamation”, in Richard Rose (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Elections (London: Macmillan, 2000, 2). Quotation back-translated from French.
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    Nadia Urbinati, Representative Democracy. Principles and Genealogy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 10. Quotation back-translated from French.
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    Jacques Necker, De l’administration des finances de la France (Paris: n. p., 1784).
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    Victor Hugo, Le Rhin. Lettres à un ami (Paris: Hetzel, 1842), vol. III, 144.
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    Count Emmanuel-Dieudonné de Las Cases, Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, ou Journal où se trouve consigné, jour par jour, ce qu’a dit et fait Napoléon durant dix-huit mois (Paris: 1823), vol. II, 575.
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    See Isaac Kramnick, “An Augustan debates: notes on the history of the ideas of representation”, in James R. Pennock, John W. Chapman (eds), Representation (New York: Atherton, 1968), 83-94.
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    Michèle Riot-Sarcey, introduction to the issue on “La souveraineté populaire: expériences et normalisations en Europe (1800-1848)”, Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle, 42, 2011, 7-17 (8).
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    For a recent synthesis, see Vincent Robert, Le temps des banquets. Politique et symbolique d’une génération (1818-1848) (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2010).
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    Joshua Cohen, “Deliberation and democratic legitimacy”, in Alan P. Hamlin, Philip Pettit (eds), The Good Polity. Normative Analysis of the State (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 17-34.
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    This poster (République française. Proclamation au peuple, à la Garde nationale et à l’Armée, ref. Vinck 13903) must be considered in connection with the Provisional Government meeting of 18 April, during which the decision was made to produce it. See Comité national du centenaire de 1848, Procès-verbaux du Gouvernement Provisoire et de la Commission du pouvoir exécutif (24 février-22 juin 1848) (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1948), 160.
  • [21]
    Odilon Barrot, Mémoires posthumes (Paris: Charpentier et Cie, 1875), vol. II, 137.
  • [22]
    Nor on the monumentality of the Arc de Triomphe facing 250,000 men from the legions, battalions and squads in ten to twelve lines, as in Jean-Jacques Champin’s, Fête de la Fraternité à l’arc de triomphe de l’Étoile. Défilé après la distribution des drapeaux 20 avril 1848 (1848, Musée Carnavalet, oil on paper with canvas backing, 31 x 44cm).
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    Under the July Monarchy, the “King of the French” inspected the National Guard in the same hope. See Mathilde Larrère, “Ainsi paradait le roi des barricades: les grandes revues royales de la garde nationale à Paris”, Le mouvement social, 179, 1997, 9-31.
  • [24]
    Le journal de Toulouse, 23 April 1848.
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    François Guizot, Histoire des origines du gouvernement représentatif en Europe (Paris: Librairie académique Didier), 1851, 95.
  • [26]
    AN, BB/30/296, report by Police Commissioner (préfet de police) Delessert, 22 February 1848. See also André-Jean Tudesq, “La légende napoléonienne en France en 1848”, Revue historique, 218, 1957, 68-85.
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    Article on “Vox populi”, Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle by Pierre Larousse, cited by Michel Poizat, Vox populi, vox dei. Voix et pouvoir (Paris: Métailié, 2001), 241.
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    Claude-Marie Gattel, Dictionnaire universel de la langue française, avec la prononciation, les étymologies, les synonymes, un relevé critique et raisonné des fautes échappées aux écrivains les plus célèbres, etc. (Paris: Chamerot, 6th edn, 1841), vol. 1, 840.
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    On the practice of royal acclamations, see Richard A. Jackson, Vivat Rex. Histoire des sacres et couronnements en France, 1364-1825 (Paris: Ophrys, 1984).
  • [30]
    AN, BB/18/1481, letter from the Minister of the Interior to the Minister of Justice, 10 March 1849.
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    AN, BB/18/1481, letter from the Minister of Justice to the prosecutor of the Court of Caen, 18 April 1849.
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    AN, BB/18/1481, letter from the Minister of Justice to the prosecutor of the Court of Caen, 18 April 1849.
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    Louis Ménard, Prologue d’une Révolution, février-juin 1848 (Paris: Au Bureau du Peuple, 1849), 222. On this debate, but in the context of the 1930s, and with a different political gesture from the antifascist Left, see Gilles Vergnon, “Le ‘poing levé’: du rite soldatique au rite de masse. Jalons pour l’histoire d’un rite politique”, Le mouvement social, 212, 2005, 77-91.
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    These examples are taken from Jacques Rougerie’s address, “Le pouvoir de la rue au XIXe siècle”, at the conference held at the Petit Palais on 3 October 2008 as part of the series on “Paris manif’: les mouvements de rue à Paris du Moyen Âge à l’époque contemporaine”.
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    AN, BB/18/1481, Orleans court of appeals, prosecutor’s report, 23 October 1849.
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    Olivier Ihl, Yves Déloye, “Des voix pas comme les autres: votes blancs et votes nuls aux élections législatives de 1881”, Revue française de science politique, 41(2), 1991, 141-79; and more recently David F. Damore, Mallory M. Waters, Shaun Bowler, “Unhappy, uninformed, or uninterested? Understanding ‘none of the above’ voting”, Political Research Quarterly, 65(4), 2012, 895-907.
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    On the classic problem of electoral hermeneutics, see Gary King, A Solution to the Ecological Inference Problem. Reconstructing Individual Behavior from Aggregate Data (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).
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    L’Estafette, 12 February 1848.
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    AN, BB/18/1481, report of the prosecutor of Besançon, 4 December 1849.
  • [40]
    AN, BB/18/1481, report by the prosecutor of Poitiers, 9 April 1850.
  • [41]
    AN, BB/18/1481, report by the prosecutor of Mans, 17 April 1850.
  • [42]
    AN, BB/18/1481, report by the prosecutor of Aix, 23 May 1850.
  • [43]
    Carlo Ginzburg, “Représentation: le mot, l’idée, la chose”, Annales: économies, sociétés, civilisations, 46(6), 1991, 1219-34 (1220).
  • [44]
    Letter from the Minister of the Interior to the Minister of Justice, 8 October 1849.
  • [45]
    This referred to four people in the town of Vinon charged for displaying a red flag, “that sign which disturbs public peace”. They had just been punished, with two of them sentenced to four months in prison (prosecutor’s report, 18 December 1850).
  • [46]
    Procès-verbaux du Gouvernement provisoire…, 258.
  • [47]
    AN, BB/18/1481, report by the Minister of the Interior, 6 September 1849.
  • [48]
    “Discours sur les récompenses au Salon”, Le Moniteur, 27 July 1852.
  • [49]
    Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, “Discours de l’Empereur à l’ouverture de la session législative au palais des Tuileries, le 19 janvier 1858”, OEuvres de Napoléon III, vol. V: Discours, proclamations, messages, 1856-1869 (Paris: Plon et Amyot, 1869), 50.
  • [50]
    AN, F/18/2363, circular from the police commissioner, 25 November 1872.
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    On this ban, see Bernard Tillier, La Commune de Paris, Révolution sans images? Politique et représentations dans la France républicaine (1871-1914) (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2004).
  • [52]
    Le Matin, 5 March 1905. The title of the article is “La liberté des emblems”. The pseudonym refers to Henri Durand-Morimbeau (1848-1911), journalist and man of letters.
  • [53]
    Le Drapeau rouge. Organe révolutionnaire, anarchiste, international, 14 June 1883.
  • [54]
    APP, Db/363, legislation on flags.
  • [55]
    These words are taken from Michèle Martin, Images at War. Illustrated Periodicals and Constructed Nations (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 43.
  • [56]
    Maurice Dommanget, Histoire du drapeau rouge, des origines à la guerre de 1939 (Marseille: Le mot et le geste, 2006 [1st edn 1967]).
  • [57]
    On the birth of this gesture in the nineteenth century, see Olivier Ihl, “La rue pavoisée: une acclamation républicaine de la souveraineté”, in Robert Belot (ed.), Tous Républicains ! Origine et modernité des valeurs républicaines (Paris: Armand Colin, 2011), 107-24.
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    On the growing individualisation of “the conscience of the city itself”, captured here through the study of literary works, see Karlheinz Stierle, La capitale des signes. Paris et son discours (Paris: Éditions de la MSH, 2001).
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    This development would also affect demonstrations in the streets. See Patrick Champagne, “La manifestation: la production de l’événement politique”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 52-53, 1984, 19-41.
  • [60]
    APP, Ba 1534, list by arrondissement and neighbourhood of people who displayed flags for the Joan of Arc celebrations, July 1909.
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    On 17 July 1909, La Libre Parole denounced “a police investigation against Catholics”, whilst on the same day L’écho de Paris made reference to the scandal that citizens were “no longer permitted to put flags in their windows in honour of the purest of our glories, without immediately becoming suspects”. Meanwhile, L’Action française ran headlines on the “flag plot”.
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    On these modes of political representation, see Alain Garrigou, “La construction sociale du vote. Fétichisme et raison instrumentale”, Politix, 6(22), 1993, 5-42 (10ff).
  • [63]
    APP, Ba 1534, note from the office of the Prefecture of Police dated 17 April, recounting a telephone conversation at 9:50 in the morning with Mr. Roth, at the Minister of the Interior’s office. According to the latter, it was best to stick to the traditional procedure: watching and monitoring the “Camelots du Roi”, who were planning to hold a “protest” in front of the Joan of Arc statue on the Place du Panthéon.
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    Eugen Weber, “Le renouveau nationaliste en France et le glissement vers la droite, 1905-1914”, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 5(2), 1958, 114-28.
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    La Lanterne, 19 April 1909.
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    Born in Paris in 1881, Henri Piéron became chair of sensory physiology at the Collège de France. His notable publications include a highly successful volume with Édouard Toulouse and Nicolas Vaschide: Technique de psychologie expérimentale (Paris: Doin, 1904). On the role of this scientific figure, see Jean Piaget, “Henri Piéron: 1881-1964”, The American Journal of Psychology, 79(1), 1966, 147-50.
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    The “file” was sent to the President of the Council and Minister of the Interior on 19 July by the police commissioner. “I have the honour of sending to you, as you requested, the lists by arrondissement of those who hung flags at their homes for the celebration of Joan of Arc.” From 21 May, the police commissioner and head of the mobile brigade was able to send the lists for the first five arrondissements to the General Director of Research (APP, Ba 1534).
  • [68]
    On the implantation of this social milieu, see Anne-Martin Fugier, La vie élégante ou la formation du Tout-Paris, 1815-1848 (Paris: Fayard, 1990).
  • [69]
    Cyril Grange, Les gens du Bottin mondain, 1903-1987. Y être, c’est en être (Paris: Fayard, 1996).
  • [70]
    See Jacqueline Roux, À l’étendard de Jeanne. Les fédérations diocésaines de jeunes filles (1904-1945) (Paris: Cerf, 1995); Bruno Dumons, “Stratégies féminines dans la France catholique du début du siècle: la Ligue des femmes françaises et la Ligue patriotique des Françaises, 1901-1914”, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, 73, January-February 2002, 39-50.
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    Magali Della Sudda, “La politique malgré elles: mobilisations féminines catholiques en France et en Italie (1900-1914)”, Revue française de science politique, 60(1), 2010, 37-60.
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    The basis of this can be found in a recent synthesis: Jacques Dalarun, Gouverner c’est servir. Essai de démocratie médiévale (Paris: Alma, 2012).
  • [73]
    Éric Mension-Rigau, Aristocrates et grands bourgeois (Paris: Plon, 1994), ch. 8 “Une excellence offerte en modèle”, 481ff.
  • [74]
    APP, Da 61, municipal police report of 8 April 1909.
  • [75]
    This was before literary usage made the word a simple “exaltation causing a person to act with joy and admiration”. On the semantic shift of this form of adhesion, see Helen Wodehouse, “The value of social psychology”, International Journal of Ethics, 23(1), 1912, 50-9.
  • [76]
    For a broad overview of these non-electoralised voting practices, see Olivier Christin, Vox Populi. Une histoire du vote avant le suffrage universel (Paris: Seuil, 2014). On the effect of voting equipment in this process, see Olivier Ihl “L’urne électorale: formes et usages d’une technique de vote”, Revue française de science politique, 43(1), 1993, 30-60.
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    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses, ed. Susan Dunn and Gita May (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 220.
  • [78]
    François Guizot, Des moyens de gouvernement et d’opposition dans l’état actuel de la France, introduction by Claude Lefort (Paris: Belin, 1988 [1st edn 1821]), 126.
  • [79]
    For an inspired critique by James Bryce and Georges Gallup on the lexicon and the pre-eminence of elections, see James Fishkin, “Toward deliberative democracy: experimenting with an ideal”, in Stephen L. Elkin, Karol Edward Soltan (eds), Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 279-90.
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    This is the meaning of the distinction that Benjamin Constant makes between the liberty of the Ancients and that of the Moderns, which is thought to have generated the need for the representative system: “an organization which helps a nation rely on a few individuals to do what it cannot or does not want to do itself”. Benjamin Constant, “Discours prononcé à l’Athénée royal de Paris en 1819”, De la liberté chez les modernes. Écrits politiques, texts selected, compiled and annotated by Marcel Gauchet (Paris: Hachette, 1980), 512.
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    Charles de Gaulle, Mémoires de guerre. Vol. 2: L’Unité: 1942-1944 (Paris: Plon, 1956), 294.

The right to vote is neither the first nor the only form of political representation. Over the course of the nineteenth century in France its predominance was challenged by practices and representations of pavoisement – bunting, illuminations, anthems, and cheers – whose density and significance are retrospectively difficult to grasp. Democracy was first and foremost an assembly government. Elections then overshadowed flags and cheers as expressions of political support. This article offers an understanding of what these “old” forms of political representation can teach us about electoral democracy. Taking a socio-historical perspective, it shows how elected representation distinguished itself from political representation in general, and how ballots prevailed over bravos.

Olivier Ihl
A university professor specialising in historical sociology, Olivier Ihl is a member of the PACTE research unit. He teaches at Sciences Po Grenoble. His recent publications include (edited, with Gilles Guglielmi) Le vote électronique (Paris: LGDJ/Lextenso, 2015). He has also published (with Yves Deloye) L’acte de vote (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008); and Le mérite et la république. Essai sur la société des émules (Paris: Gallimard, 2007). For a more extensive profile, see <>.
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