Decree against Profiteers
In July 1793, faced with a restive populace angered by continuing shortages of food in Paris, the Convention followed the lead of the sections in blaming the high price of bread on "profiteers" in the countryside, who were taking advantage of their fellow citizens by charging abnormally high prices for grain. This decree, the first of a series of such condemnations by the Convention, responded to the notion that manipulation of the marketplace for the purpose of self–enrichment was contrary to morality and to law because it harmed fellow citizens and thus undermined the liberty of all.
26 July 1793
1. Monopoly is a capital crime.
2. Those who keep out of circulation essential merchandise or commodities, which they buy and hold stored in any place whatsoever without offering them for sale daily and publicly, are declared guilty of monopoly.
3. Those who cause essential commodities and merchandise to perish, or willfully allow them to perish, likewise are declared monopolists.
4. The essential commodities and merchandise are: bread, meat, wine, grain, flour, vegetables, fruit, butter, vinegar, cider, brandy, charcoal, tallow, wood, oil, soda, soap, salt, dried, smoked, salted, or pickled meat and fish, honey, sugar, hemp, paper, worked and unworked wool, hides, iron and steel, copper, clothing, linen, and generally all stuffs, as well as the raw materials used in their manufacture, excepting silk goods.
5. During the week following the proclamation of the present decree, those who have on hand, in any place whatsoever in the Republic, any of the merchandise or commodities designated in the preceding article, shall be required to make a declaration thereof to the municipality or section in which the store of the said commodities or merchandise is situated. The municipality or section shall have the existence thereof verified, as well as the nature and quantity of the items contained therein, by a commissioner whom it shall appoint for such purpose. The municipalities or sections are authorized to grant him an indemnity on behalf of the operations with which he is charged, which indemnity shall be determined by a decision made in a general assembly of the municipality or section.
6. The verification completed, the owner of the commodities or merchandise shall declare to the commissioner, on the summons made to him therefor and issued in writing, whether he wishes to offer the said commodities or merchandise for sale, in small lots and to all comers, three days, at the latest, after his declaration. If he consents thereto, the sale shall be held in such manner, without interruption or delay, under the supervision of the commissioner appointed by the municipality or section.
7. If the owner will not or cannot hold said sale, he shall be required to submit to the municipality or the section a copy of the invoices of prices pertaining to the merchandise verified as present in the store. The municipality or section shall give him an acknowledgment thereof, and shall then charge a commissioner with holding the sale thereof, according to the manner above indicated, fixing the price so that the owner may receive, if possible, a commercial profit according to the invoices communicated. If, however, the high price of the invoices makes such profit impossible, the sale thereof shall take place, nevertheless, without interruption, at the current price of said merchandise; it shall also take place, in the same manner, if the owner is unable to produce any invoice. The amounts resulting from the proceeds of such sale shall be remitted to him as soon as it is finished, the expenses incurred being first deducted from said proceeds.
8. One week after publication and proclamation of the present decree, those who have not made the declarations prescribed thereby shall be considered monopolists, and, as such, punished with death; their property shall be confiscated, and the commodities or merchandise which constitute a part thereof shall be placed on sale as indicated in the preceding articles.
9. Those convicted of making false declarations, or of countenancing substitutions of names of persons or property relative to warehouses and merchandise, likewise shall be punished with death. Public functionaries, as well as the commissioners appointed to effect the sales, who are convicted of abusing their offices to protect monopolists, also shall be punished with death.
John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 469–71.