Le Chapelier Law

In the spring of 1791, as the National Assembly worked on political and social reforms, workers in Paris took economic matters into their own hands by staging a series of strikes and demonstrations against their employers. To many deputies, most prominently Isaac–René–Guy Le Chapelier, the workers were still thinking in terms of a guild concept, and they were acting on a collective rather than an individual basis. Thus Le Chapelier found their demands for higher wages contrary to what he claimed were the new principles of the Revolution. To prevent continued associations of workers based on such economic interests, he introduced a measure (passed into law on 14 June 1791) that historians remember by his name, the "Le Chapelier law." It barred craft guilds and would bar trade unions until 1884.


The Le Chapelier Law (14 June 1791)

Article 1. In that the abolition of any kind of citizen's guild in the same trade or of the same profession is one of the fundamental bases of the French Constitution, it is forbidden to reestablish them under any pretext or in any form whatsoever.

Article 2. Citizens of the same trade or profession, entrepreneurs, those who have set up shop, workers and journeymen of any skill may not, when assembled, appoint a president, secretaries, or trustees, keep accounts, pass decrees or resolutions, or draft regulations concerning their alleged common interests.

Article 3. All administrative or municipal bodies are forbidden to receive any address or petition in the name of an occupation or profession, or to make any response thereto. Additionally, they are enjoined to declare null and void whatever resolutions have been made in such manner, and to make certain that no effect or execution be given thereto.

Article 4. It is contrary to the principles of liberty and the Constitution for citizens with the same professions, arts, or trades to deliberate or make agreements among themselves designed to set prices for their industry or their labor. If such deliberations and agreements are concluded, whether accompanied by oath or not, they will be declared unconstitutional, prejudicial to liberty and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and will be null and void. Administrative and municipal bodies shall be required to declare them as such. The authors, leaders, and instigators who provoked, drafted, or presided over these agreements shall be charged by the police and at the request of the communal attorney will be fined 500 livres, suspended for a year from the enjoyment of all rights of active citizenship, and barred from admittance to the primary assemblies.

Article 5. All administrative and municipal bodies are forbidden, even if the members are using their own names, to employ, admit, or allow to be admitted to their professions in any public works, those entrepreneurs, workers, or journeymen who have provoked or signed the said deliberations or conventions, unless, of their own accord, they have presented themselves to the registrar of the police court to retract or disavow them.

Article 6. If the said deliberations or convocations, posted placards, or circular letters contain any threats against entrepreneurs, artisans, workers, or foreign day-laborers working there, or against those accepting lower wages, all authors, instigators, and signatories of such acts or writings shall be punished with a fine of 1,000 livres each and imprisoned for three months.

Article 7. Those who use threats or violence against workers who are taking advantage of the freedoms granted to labor and industry by constitutional law shall be subject to criminal prosecution and shall be punished to the fullest extent of the law, as disturbers of the public peace.

Article 8. All assemblies composed of artisans, workers, journeymen, day-laborers, or those incited by them against the free exercise of industry and labor, belonging to any kind of person and under all circumstances mutually agreed to, or against the action of police and the execution of judgments rendered in such connection, as well as against public auctions and adjudications of various enterprises, shall be considered seditious assemblies, and as such shall be dispersed by the guardians of the law, upon legal warrants made thereupon, and shall be punished to the fullest extent of the laws concerning authors, instigators, and leaders of the said assemblies, and all those who have committed assaults and acts of violence.

Source: John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 165–66. (Slightly retranslated)