Law of the Maximum

December 10, 2013 | | Comments Off on Law of the Maximum

Under the Committee of Public Safety, many new ideas came to be, such as the Cult of Reason, the new calendar, and the Law of the Maximum. The Law of the Maximum is, essentially, a price ceiling on consumer goods. It was put in effect to show that the government was concerned about the people and did more than commit executions.

Articles of the Law

1. The articles which the National Convention has deemed essential, and the maximum or highest price of which it has believed it should establish, are: fresh meat, salt meat and bacon, butter, sweet oil, cattle, salt fish, wine, brandy, vinegar, cider, beer, firewood, charcoal, coal, candles, lamp oil, salt, soda, sugar, honey, white paper, hides, iron, cast iron, lead, steel, copper, hemp, linens, woolens, stuffs, canvases, the raw materials which are used for fabrics, wooden shoes, shoes, turnips and rape, soap, potash, and tobacco. . . .

7. All persons who sell or purchase the merchandise specified in article 1 for more than the maximum price stated and posted in each department shall pay, jointly and severally, through the municipal police, a fine of double the value of the article sold, and payable to the informer; they shall be inscribed upon the list of suspected persons, and treated as such. The purchaser shall not be subject to the penalty provided above if he denounces the contravention of the seller; and every merchant shall be required to have a list bearing the maximum or highest price of his merchandise visible in his shop.

8. The maximum or highest figure for salaries, wages, manual labor, and days of labor in every place shall be established, dating from the publication of the present law until the month of September next, by the general councils of the communes, at the same rate as in 1790, plus one-half.

9. The municipalities may put in requisition and punish, according to circumstances, with three days’ imprisonment, workmen, manufacturers, and divers laborers who refuse, without legitimate grounds, to do their usual work. . . .

17. During the war, all exportation of essential merchandise or commodities is prohibited on all frontiers, under any name or commission whatsoever, with the exception of salt.


In 1793, France was still in a state of Revolution, and fighting with Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, and Spain.  The government continued to function during the economic crises through a series of loans, bonds and tax increases and increasingly larger amounts of paper money issuance in a vain attempt to stimulate the economy.  The state of the country was only worsened by food shortages, which resulted from bad harvest.  Though most of the blame rested on farmers, unwilling to sell their crops at market, below cost of production.  However, the shortages were more widely blamed on speculators, hoarders, and price gougers.

The General Maximum was written with an eye towards businessmen who were profiting from the demise of the French economy. However, in practice, the law targeted local shopkeepers, butchers, bakers and farmers—the merchants who were profiting the least from the economic crisis.With the General Maximum, the Convention offered the people someone to blame for their hunger and poverty. Furthermore, due to the Law of Suspects, when a citizen informed the government about a merchant who was in violation of the law, he had done his civic duty.




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