ALMANACS first appeared in France in the 16th century. Essentially apolitical, the traditional almanac evolved in the early days of the French Revolution, when rev olutionaries and counter-revolutionaries used this medium to describe the stormy period. The almanac had become political; ever since the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, every regime used this influential medium to foster its goals. Republican almanacs were banned up until the July Monarchy. The political almanac published annually since the end of the 1830s and sold at extremely low prices, compared to newspaper and book prices, they could reach large segments of urban and rural populations not at all familiar with political literature.
In printing their little books, monarchist, republican and Bonapartist almanac editors competed with the superstitions and tall tales of traditional almanacs that lulled the masses. Considered initially under the July Monarchy as a means of educating the masses politically and increasing their awareness, the almanac became the principal weapon in disputes between monarchists, republicans and bonapartists during the Second Empire.
Because of the electoral potential of universal suffrage extended to males during the February 1848 revolution, each political party tried to mobilize mass support at each legislative election. Freedom of the press also encouraged the publication of almanacs.
The almanac's main characteristic was to link its readers' memories of the French Revolution to each party's proposed political platforms. In this manner revolutionary and counter-revolutionary tradition nourished each party's ideology. The masse s' memories of the Revolution were still vivid, even after fifty years; one can therefore understand why the political almanac exerted such a strong drawing power.
After Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat of December 2, 1851, only almanacs expunged of their political content or those that conveyed the Napoleonic myth were authorized. Thus republican almanacs were banned. Encouraged by its electoral successes in the 1849-1850 period, the republican party succeeded in winning over to its c ause large segments of the French population for the aborted 1852 legislative election.
Multicolored cardboard covered political almanacs are preserved in the French national library and the historical library of the city of Paris. For the 1848-1851 period, there are about three hundred almanacs varying between thirty and three hundred eighty pages. Generally speaking, each almanac's cover and title page was illustrated with revolutionary or counter-revolutionary symbols, a Republican or Gr egorian calendar, images drawn from different episodes of the French Revolution, quotations by past or contemporary figures, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary for the most part, and a political message dating from the Revolution.
Almanac editors presented the political almanac as the only book in the poor man's library, as the only book on the book shelves of most Frenchmen, as the friend and advisor of the working class and as food for thought. Fully conscious of the immense popularit y of the traditional almanac that had become over time part of the furniture, its editors oriented this popular medium of communication toward the political objective of reaching the most numerically important segment of the electorate: urban and rural workers. Editors, therefore, had to adjust to the popular way of life and to take into account three major characteristics of workers: their low level of literacy, the little time available for reading, the small amount of money available to buy the alm anac, which was priced at fifteen to fifty centimes. Despite the financial worry caused by these low selling prices, editors of this medium clung to a winning combination to reach the targeted audience of the masses.
Thus Parisian republican editors during the Second Republic published nearly one million
almanacs which played an important role in raising the level of political awareness among the
Gosselin, Ronald. "89 dans les almanachs parisiens en 1849-1851", in L'Etat de la France pendant la Révolution (1789-1799) Michel Vovelle ed. Paris: La Decouverte, 1988, 512-514.
Grand-Carteret, John. Les almanachs français Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1968.
JGC revised this file (http://www.ohiou.edu/~chastain/ac/almanacs.htm) on February 13, 1999.
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© 1999 James Chastain.