Political Caricature in 18th and 19th Century France

Political Caricature in 18th and 19th Century France

Political caricature in 18th and 19th century France faced a variety of challenges as censorship suppressed the views of political cartoonists.

The circulation and reception of political caricature underwent a cycle of repression and liberalization throughout every predominant government in France between 1789 and 1881.  Three basic themes summarize the reason for and the effects of censorship of political caricature in nineteenth-century France.  Every form of government – monarchy, empire, or republic – feared the potential power of political caricature.  Their fear resulted in an attempt to control and restrain printed imagery.  Second, the application of censorship fluctuated according to the political climate.  During periods of relative stability, censorship laws were liberalized or eliminated.  A contentious political climate, however, resulted in extremely repressive measures designed to quell the influence of political caricature.  Lastly, the nature of caricature reflected the political climate and the degree of governmental regulation.  Caricature themes often shifted from political to social during periods of censorship.  Caricaturists began to fight against government repression through clever graphic strategies, such as including satirical political allusions within otherwise benign drawings.

French governments in the nineteenth century consisted of either a single ruler or a small ruling class, and suppressing dissension of citizens was a perilous task.  Only a small, wealthy section of the population made up the influential group of citizens within the July Monarchy, resulting in a general disregard for the impoverished majority.  The vastly outnumbered authorities developed several methods of controlling the general population, of which their greatest invention was censorship of political caricature.  Caricature overcame the illiteracy of the lower classes, enabling even the lowest levels of society to become involved in political and social matters.  Caricature became widely accessible to all levels of society, and the government feared an uprising of the class who suffered the most from government actions:  the uneducated, disadvantaged laborers.    

The Fitz-James amendment of 1820, proposed during The Restoration, put further restrictions on the distribution of caricatures.  It stated that no printed drawing may be published, displayed or sold without prior authorization from the government (105).  The proposal allowed the government to control all graphic depictions, not just political caricatures.  Complaints against the amendment claimed the government had grossly exaggerated the impact of harmless drawings and had broadened its authority to the point where there was no longer a limit on their actions.  The bill of 1820 contributed to almost sixty years of censorship.   

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