The Maximum

In September 1793 the Convention furthered its role as the guarantor of the basic right to subsistence of all citizens by instituting price maximums on all essential consumer goods, especially foodstuffs, and on wages paid in the production of those goods. The Maximum was to remain in effect, at least theoretically, until the end of 1794 and thereafter would remain for historians evidence that the "revolutionary government" was concerned with more than merely executions, but with enlarging the meanings of "virtue" and "fraternity" to include a concern for the material well–being as well as political rights of all citizens. Yet the gradual abandonment of price controls, as politicians faced pressure from producers, suggested hypocrisy to many contemporaries.


29 September 1793

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.

Source: John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 499–500.