Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Revolutionary Succession: Families, Inheritance Law, and the Social Sciences in France, 1789-1815
Authors: Green, Netta
Advisors: Bell, David A
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: French Revolution
History of the Family
History of the Human Sciences
Subjects: European history
Science history
Economic history
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The dissertation explores the fraught debates about inheritance that took place in France from the abolition of primogeniture in 1789 through the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. It demonstrates how the dynamics of the Revolution and its aftermath transformed inheritance into a social-scientific category that could be studied and manipulated based on the needs of the state. Revolutionaries placed the issue of inheritance at the heart of their political, social, and economic visions for post-revolutionary France. For these eighteenth-century actors, thinking about inheritance meant thinking about how society should be ordered, how property should be regulated, and how families should live and prosper. Consequently, each revolutionary period offered different conclusions about the ideal relationship between the state, society, and the family, which in turn shaped the normative inheritance practices they wished to implement. Recently, economists, spurred by the work of Thomas Piketty, have reoriented attention to the significant role of inherited wealth in the formation of modern social inequalities. My dissertation adds a new dimension to this discussion by reconstructing the legal infrastructure, scientific methodologies, and epistemological premises that underpin today’s disputes. At the center of the dissertation stands the triangular relationship between the legal sphere, the social sciences, and ordinary families. First, the dissertation traces the interdependency that was formed between the legal sphere and the new class of social scientists. Subsequently, it explores appeals and petitions made by ordinary people to the state legislature in response to the laws. The dialogue between ordinary families and administrators helped shape the course of family regulation while also becoming a principal means for data collection by legislators and social experts. The fact that the state came to recognize the impact of inheritance on society, politics, and the economy drove the government to develop more ways to monitor familial capital. The data about inheritance amassed by the state, however, did not lead Napoleon’s ministers to support more egalitarian forms of wealth redistribution in the form of inheritance tax. On the contrary, expert-backed state policies after 1795 primarily benefitted wealthy families by allowing them to accumulate wealth across generations. This is reflected in the contradictory regulations contained in the Civil Code, which mandated egalitarian property division within the family while allowing elite families to accumulate unequal sums of wealth. This decision ultimately helped redistribute wealth among affluent families, while increasingly separating them from the rest of the population.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

Files in This Item:
This content is embargoed until 2024-11-22. For questions about theses and dissertations, please contact the Mudd Manuscript Library. For questions about research datasets, as well as other inquiries, please contact the DataSpace curators.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.