Imagining Reality: Telling and Retelling the Buzançais Riot of 1847
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In January 1847 a riot erupted in the French town of Buzançais in the department of the Indre after some women intercepted several grain carts passing through town. What began as a classic subsistence movement triggered two days of food rioting and class hostilities. In a key incident, the son of a landowner shot and killed a protester; a crowd then beat the shooter to death. Local elites cowered before the crowds and utterly failed to halt the riot's course. Even the prefect retreated before the angry Buzancéens and found himself forced to requisition more troops from Paris. Disorder soon spread throughout the region: price fixing, assaults on châteaux, and Luddite-style attacks on machines. The July Monarchy mounted a stringent repression including military occupation, highly publicized trials, and unusually severe sentences (three hangings), all designed to discipline both a rebellious populace and cowering local elites.
The riot came to my attention while I was researching another project on the politics of subsistence in France. What struck me as important about Buzançais was not so much that it manifested unique features compared with other riots - although it was more violent than most - but that it captured widespread attention. The French press reported it immediately and covered it more frequently and more thoroughly than the over three hundred other French riots that erupted during the Europe-wide crisis years, 1846-1847.
The disorders drew considerable national attention particularly since what glitter that had ever surrounded the July Monarchy had clearly faded, and its growing opposition sought opportunities to critique the king and his ministers. By the late 1840s in France, faster communication networks, a growing reading population, and an expanding and multivocal print culture combined to widely, rapidly, and graphically disseminate news of crisis and rioting. By reporting on an on-going crisis, the media established the immediacy of the events in ways that distinguished this from earlier crises. Moreover, as Jeremy Popkin has recently argued, "collective violence . . . gave the press the opportunity to demonstrate the existence of mass opposition to the regime" without taking too many political risks.
In this context, the political press zeroed in on the riot in Buzançais. For three months, the story of Buzançais remained in the public arena: as riot and repression in January, then as trial in February, and finally as punishment in March and April. By quickly focusing polemics in the political press, Buzançais facilitated factional critiques of the government and thereby contributed to the debates preceding the Revolution of 1848.
I believe that the fascination with what happened in Buzançais reflected ambiguities inherent in the riot's origins and character. No evidence ever emerged that linked the riot with formal political discourse. Yet, the riot generated a great deal of subsequent political discussion. Indeed, the very absence of formal politics from Buzançais may have made it particularly available for debate.
Buzançais captivated attention because it was both shockingly exceptional and disquietingly familiar. It was exceptional because it erupted in a small, provincial town of a type familiar to Balzac's readers in a part of France not generally known for such disorderliness, yet it signaled unanticipated "modern" class tensions, displayed Luddite-style violence, involved two gruesome deaths, revealed cowering behavior among elites, and provoked severe official repression. But it was also familiar because it resonated with memories of past protest: medieval jacqueries, traditional food riots, and the Revolutionary maximum.
Narrators found the Buzançais riot especially useful for thinking about such contested issues as moral versus political economy, legitimate protest versus crime, the right to existence versus the right to property, the meaning of collective and individual violence, and the proper exercise of authority. Their accounts also revealed contested understandings of community, class, gender, and power relations in July Monarchy France. This paper examines various versions of a particular episode in the riot, compares elements of the narratives about the episode, and hypothesizes about their nature and functions. First, I must give a little background for my story.
On the second day of the riot, a large crowd marched to the town hall where the municipal council and other principal proprietors debated the situation. The crowd demanded not only that the council agree to sell the seized grain at a reduced price but also that everyone with surplus grain agree to distribute it at that same price until the next harvest. Indeed, they forced the mayor, justice of the peace, and eventually over sixty of the town's proprietors to sign what they called an "engagement" that obliged them in writing to the rioters' demands. Those present signed immediately; those not present received a visit from crowds escorting two men who carried the "engagement." Most of those visited signed immediately. However, nine of them hesitated, and rioters responded with physical threats, occasional scuffles, and attacks on houses and their contents.
Only one individual, Eudoxe-Louis-Joseph Chambert, the forty-year-old son of one of the largest property owning families in town, retaliated with violence. When the two men carrying the "engagement" arrived at the Chambert house, they sought his mother, with whom he lived. Chambert advised her to sign. As she signed, another man, Venin, burst into the house to demand money. A servant intervened to stop Venin. As they scuffled Chambert armed himself with a gun. He fired point blank and killed Venin.
Upon hearing the shot, the crowd outside broke into the house and shouts rang out that Chambert had killed Venin. Chambert tried to hide. Enraged rioters ransacked his house looking for him. Chambert finally managed to escape to the main street. But it did not end there. A group caught him and bludgeoned him to death with feet, hammers, pitchforks, and axes. He suffered a brutal death. Scores of people watched, but no one intervened to stop the assault.
In this paper, I will focus on the moment in the riot when Chambert shot Venin. This episode involved uncertain and thus hotly contested elements - about deeds and words, the actors and acted upon, triggers and consequences - that invited leaps of imagination to resolve. For example, no witness survived to describe the final confrontation between the shooter and the victim. Had Chambert fired out of bravery, cowardice, or by mistake, and for what motives? I explore how and why narrators made the choices they did, examine the evidence they marshaled, and analyze the meanings they attributed to their evidence.
The shooting death of the rioter Venin proved an important pivot around which many discussions of the riot revolved, not simply because of its murderous violence but more importantly because of its moral and political implications. Subsistence and labor riots often resulted in violence against property and physical abuse of producers, merchants, or employers, which in turn might provoke aggressive repression by authorities. However, such riots rarely involved violent deaths of either rioters or their targets. Strikingly, Buzançais's rioting produced two corpses, ranking it among a small number of similarly violent riots of that crisis season (Nancy in 1846, Agen, Amanlis, Belabre, and Mulhouse in 1847).
Yet Buzançais attracted more widespread attention, for it generated strong symbols of contested political principles. Each account of Venin's death revealed not just whether the narrator had gotten the "facts right" but also communicated the author's view of the ultimate meaning of the death itself and its relationship to larger political and social questions.
Uncertainty shrouded the event from the start, though of course everyone did concur on a few major points. All agreed that during the Buzançais disturbances a local notable shot a man named Venin and that a portion of the crowd then turned against the notable and killed him. Beyond that the story was murky. Nevertheless, newspapers wasted no time reporting - or elaborating - the version that best suited their political needs. Indeed, most presses never did sort out such elementary facts as whose house the rioters entered or even the exact identity of the man who shot the rioter. They referred to the shooter by many names - as Huart-Chambert, Chambert-Huart, Chambert, or Chambert, fils -  and sometimes called him the proprietor and sometimes the son of the proprietor. Many mentioned his previous military experience. Yet, as I mentioned earlier and as later reports revealed, the shooter turned out to be the middle-aged son of a substantial proprietor. The father lived separated and across town from his wife and son, and the father, not the son, had served in the military. The mother, not her son, functioned as head of household, at least in the eyes of locals. She had already signed the "engagement" before the violence ever started and, it appears, she had done so at her son's behest.
Moreover, no clear picture of Venin emerged in the press. Had he belonged to the group carrying the "engagement" or did he act alone? Had he intended violence against Chambert or was he defending himself? No one ever bothered to report what he did for a living. The press revealed itself aware of the importance of and stakes involved in manipulating the story. They did so when they deferred information, permanently suppressed it, or re-ordered it. Of course, mis-reporting information sometimes resulted from the rush to report news even though editors did not have all the facts, or from reliance on previous faulty reporting. However, by filtering Buzançais through their political prisms, the press generated diverging narratives of the Venin shooting despite the evidence available.
Newspapers on the political left eschewed detailed narratives and concentrated instead on the context of social polarization: the insensitivity of rich landowners and misery among the common people. For example, on 17 January the Fourierist newspaper La Démocratie pacifique sketched the acts: "grain pillaged, forced sales . . . the devastation of several mills, and blood spilled." The next issue told a brief story with an accompanying message:
When the trial began, the Démocratie pacifique warned that the prosecution would manipulate both evidence and narrative to turn the Venin/Chambert episode to its advantage. Thus it could withhold even the smallest extenuating circumstance from those who had retaliated against Chambert:
Even months later, the worker newspaper L'Atelier similarly underscored the power the prosecution had exercised in controlling the riot's narrative. It denounced the refusal of the tribunal to recognize the significance of the fact that Chambert, not the people, had fired first. It declared that:
Etienne Cabet's communist newspaper Le Populaire worried even more about the political spin the July Monarchy had imposed on the Buzançais riot. The authorities had originally sought evidence of communist influence and, despite finding none, asserted it anyway. The procureur-général insisted that rioters had "put in action communist doctrines," but the newspaper sought to distance itself from such accusations. Following the sentencing and executions, an article in early May put the Venin/Chambert episode in play by offering its own narrative:
Indeed, the newspapers on the political left had to some extent all rushed to deplore popular recourse to excessive violence and to distance their causes from it. This strategy derived in part from a cautious response to looming government sanctions. The September 1835 Press Laws had limited freedom of the press and punished endorsement of violence. However, their denunciation of the rioting rested on deeper foundations. Although the left-wing press tried to contextualize what happened at Buzançais, the riot proved too undisciplined to endorse. As Jill Harsin has recently emphasized, working-class radicals tried to legitimize what they did as formally political and not driven by material interests, even need. They generated a code of (masculine) self-discipline for themselves that left no room for disorderly, irrational behavior. Venin looked more like a crazed criminal than a rational, respectable worker. Their discomfort with such violence encouraged them to focus less on the episode itself than on what it forewarned.
Newspapers sympathetic to the July Monarchy and its minister Guizot reported versions that also denounced rioters as the "dangerous classes" but left no room to justify rioter behavior. The official newspaper Le Moniteur universel reported this version:
The Journal des débats, an Orleanist newspaper, presented a lively narrative that focused on the defense of the rights of property, linked specifically with brave citizenship. It recounted that when rioters asked him to sign the "engagement" to lower prices and provision the market regularly:
The radical republican opposition newspaper La Réforme quoted accounts offered by the Moniteur and the Journal des débats. Nevertheless, its commentary proved more sympathetic. It argued that misery served as an "extenuating circumstance" for the accused and supported this contention by printing the summaries pronounced by the defense at the trial: "I respect the memory of M Chambert, but I permit myself to say that if he had better considered his actions (which I hasten to say was his right), if he hadn't killed Venin, his house and his belongings would have been respected." La Réforme also found the "Troubles de Buzançais" useful evidence for castigating the July Monarchy for failing to act responsibly to assure the people subsistence. It declaimed against the government's "social lesson" to France reflected in its court's exemplary repression of "a few heads stupefied by ignorance, carried away by misery," whose case represented for the country the "horrible duel" between "hunger and the law."
At the local and departmental level, one newspaper actually waged a small skirmish with another over the episode. Only two days after the rioting had subsided, a self-declared "apolitical" (but obviously Orléanist) newspaper, the Affiches de Châteauroux began with an honest admission that it had limited information. But nevertheless it elaborated yet another narrative. The newspaper recounted attacks on other proprietors and then turned to the Chambert affair:
As these examples have shown, the press refracted the disorder through political prisms and selected the language most appropriate for its presentation. The Left (of the socialist or republican sort) sought sympathy for the starving poor and indicted the government and landed elites for failing to respond quickly, sufficiently, and compassionately. The government of Guizot and its affiliated newspapers defended property, free circulation, and a grain trade that protected proprietors from low prices (the échelle mobile); these papers therefore castigated the people and exonerated Chambert.
Rioting in Buzançais and elsewhere underscored the pressing nature of issues simultaneously under debate in the Chamber of Peers and Chamber of Deputies, which included questions of government intervention in the grain trade, public assistance, and the reorganization of the National Guard in the provinces. As riots erupted all over France, both houses debated a free trade agreement with England, voted for incentives to import grain into the country, and increased resources for struggling charity workshops and food distributions to the poor. The first page of many newspapers discussed the more general problems raised by these issues, while subsequent pages reported on Buzançais and elsewhere. Sometimes Buzançais even made the front page as evidence to support arguments in the larger debate.
Thus, the political press made the Buzançais jacquerie the focus of more and more national attention. The Gazette du Berri admitted that "the name of the city of Buzançais, as a result of such deplorable events, has had a great effect: all eyes are fixed on us, all mouths want to tell of our misfortunes." The press had found in Buzançais a useful synecdoche for the social, economic, and political tensions that exploded during the crisis years, and it exploited the ambiguities surrounding the riots themselves, pitting claims for social justice against those of property and public order.
Despite differences in political orientation, most government and opposition newspapers shared some similar perspectives on the Venin shooting. For the opposition on the right and government parties, conflating Venin's presence in the Chambert house with those who came to present the "engagement" criminalized both behaviors, linking Venin's disorderly demands for assistance with demands emanating from the crowd grounded in the right to existence. Associating Venin's behavior and the crowd's retaliation with memories of the revolutionary maximum and the Terror (in fact at one point the Journal des Débats called rioters "septembriseurs") further served to terrify property owners who might then more eagerly endorse government efforts to suppress demands from the left. Criminalizing food riots served the interests of property owners, a group particularly attracted to law and order issues. In fact, several commentators suggested links between events in Buzançais in January 1847 and a previous riot of November 1846 in Tours, which newspapers also argued had ties to Cabet's communist movement and the revolutionary traditions of Auguste Blanqui. In this light, food riots threatened to lead to the abolition of property.
Moreover, focusing on the heinousness of the acts and the wild, uncontrolled behavior of the masses of rioters deflected attention away from what, to the July Monarchy forces of order, may have proved the two most disquieting aspects of the affair: the breakdown of any ability to enforce order and the lack of solidarity among elites. The inaction of authority, with the exception of one brave gendarme, is one of the most notable features of the riot. Indeed, the central government found itself on the defensive from accusations of a lack of preparedness for an economic crisis as well as for domestic disorder from many of its supporters in the two Chambers. At the local level, the whole affair smacked not only of cowardice, but also of an absence of both public spirit and bourgeois class solidarity.
For the opposition on the Left, while conflation of both acts carried certain dangers, it also proved compelling. On the one hand, linking the group carrying the "engagement" with Venin's behavior highlighted the unruly, dangerous, violent potential of the desperate poor and sounded a warning to the government. On the other hand, such a link also associated the "people" - considered inherently good - with violent murderers. No surprise, then, that the left opposition newspapers generally elided the details and carefully deplored violence. Such a dilemma encouraged left opposition journalists to omit the gory details of the riot and focus on the larger context and issues.
The Venin-Chambert episode also generated a critique of July Monarchy justice. The newspaper L'Atelier worried not only about who controlled the narrative, but also about the audience for it: the jury. It observed that "the government tried the accused before juries composed of the very men who, just before, had trembled for their properties." Démocratie pacifique had also asked pointedly: "Didn't the procurer général put the accused in the most perilous of situations, when he brought them before a jury of proprietors who were perhaps linked by tight affective ties to M Chambert?"
By the end of May 1847, attention turned to other events and ultimately to the 1848 Revolution itself. However, by then the political press had made rich use of Buzançais as a symbol around which it could organize debate of the issues that concerned it: the economy, justice, and the social question. The memory of the riot, however, did not fade quickly.
With the Revolution of 1848 memories of Buzançais resurfaced. After hearing the news of the abdication of Louis-Philippe on 25 February 1848, the demonstrators in Limoges called for the release from prison of the Buzançais incarcerees as part of a series of revolutionary demands. The provisional committee charged with departmental administration acceded on 29 February by issuing a "pardon in the name of the French people." By April most of the others detained in other prisons had also received pardons on the grounds that the Limoges example called for similar responses elsewhere. "The Republic should not have two weights and measures," wrote the Commissioner of the department of the Indre to the Minister of Justice.
In fact, Buzançais remained available for re-telling and re-ordering. As much as its meaning divided contemporaries, it would reappear in political discourse, the press, literature, visual culture, historical narratives, local spectacle, and pedagogy: in the 1860s, in 1880, 1919, 1925-1926, and yet again more frequently from the 1970s to the present. But that is a story for another day.
On the crises of 1846-1847 in Europe, see John Post, The Last Great Subsistence Crisis in the Western World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977); Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France (1848-1850) (New York: International Publishers, Inc., 1935); Charles Tilly, Louise Tilly and Richard Tilly, The Rebellious Century, 1830-1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975). The contours of this crisis in France are now well known: skyrocketing food prices, unemployment, and violent rioting followed in the wake of bad harvests, uneven development, and dislocations in distribution caused by insufficient transportation networks and a government reluctant to intervene decisively to relieve suffering. Hundreds of riots erupted throughout the country. Most rioters demanded food and ways to secure it at affordable prices; others sought redress of labor grievances; a few expressed profound class hatreds; and still others manifested a combination of motives. On the crisis of 1846-1847 in France, Ernest Labrousse, ed., Aspects de la crise et de la dépression de l'économie française au milieu du XIXe siècle, 1846-1851 (La Roche-Guyon: Imprimerie Centrale de l'Ouest, 1956); Philippe Vigier, La Vie quotidienne en province et à Paris pendant les journées de 1848,1847-51 (Paris: Hachette, 1982); Roger Price, The Modernization of Rural France: Communications Networks and Agricultural Market Structures in Nineteenth-Century France (London: Hutchinson, 1983); Nicolas Bourguinat, Les Grains du Désordre: L'Etat face aux violences frumentaires dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle (Paris: EHESS, 2002).
For assessments of the mounting critiques of the July Monarchy see Pierre Rosanvallon, Le Moment Guizot (Paris: Gallimard, 1985); David Pinkney, Decisive Years in France, 1840-1847 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); James Livesey, "Speaking for the Nation: Radical Republicans and the Failure of Political Communication in 1848," French Historical Studies 20:3 (1997): 459-80; Jo Burr Margadant, "Gender, Vice, and the Political Imaginary in Postrevolutionary France: Reinterpreting the Failure of the July Monarchy, 1830-1848," American Historical Review 104:5 (Dec. 1999): 1461-96; and Jill Harsin, Barricades: The War of the Streets in Revolutionary Paris, 1830-1848 (New York: Palgrave, 2002).
The newspaper editors took advantage of the more liberal press laws of the July monarchy despite the renewal of more restrictive press laws after 1835. On the press in this period: Claude Bellanger, Jacques Godechot, Pierre Guiral, and Fernand Terrou, Histoire générale de la presse française, 3 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972); J.-P. Aguet, "Le Tirage des quotidiens de Paris sous la Monarchie de Juillet," Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte X (1960): 216-86; Hippolyte Castille, Les Journaux et les journalistes sous le règne de Louis-Philippe (Paris: F. Sartorius, 1858); Irene Collins, The Government and the Newspaper Press in France, 1814-1881 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959); and Jeremy Popkin, Press, Revolution, and Social Identities in France, 1830-1835 (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2002). Since the fall of Napoleon, the press had reported food rioting in France more freely. The crises of 1816-1817, 1829-1830, 1839-1840 had focused press attention. However, that of 1846-1847 received even more press coverage. My point is not that the press did not report other riots, but that Buzançais received special attention. Moreover, the coverage it did receive gives me a particular opportunity to explore the various ways the press could manipulate such a narrative.
The media sources consulted for this paper are mostly the national press: L'Atelier, Le Constitutionnel, La Démocratie pacifique, Gazette des Tribunaux, L'Echo français, Esprit public, Journal des débats, Le Moniteur universel, Le National de 1834, La Patrie, Le Populaire, La Presse, La Réforme, La Ruche populaire, La Quotidienne, Le Siècle, Journal quotidien, politique et littéraire, L'Univers. Neither the department of the Indre and its capital, Châteauroux, nor the more regional capital, Bourges, ever generated the rich media resources found in such provincial capitals as Lyon or Marseille. The provincial press included: Affiches de Châteauroux, L'Eclaireur de l'Indre, La Gazette du Berri, Journal de l'Indre, Journal d'Indre-et-Loire.
The authorities initially tried to link the riot to the machinations of Cabet's communists: "The pillage and devastation that occurred with so much rage and savagery are the workings of communist doctrines." Lettre du procureur général de la cour royale de Bourges (22 Jan. 1847), Archives Nationales [hereafter AN] BB19 37. But he ultimately concluded that no "conspiracy" existed.
I define a "narrative" as a sequence of propositions used to recount events that themselves occurred in a particular temporal sequence. For a recent discussion of narratives see David Herman, "Introduction" in Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis, ed. David Herman (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1997).
For secondary sources that discuss the Buzançais riot in some detail, see Yvon Bionnier, Les Jacqueries de 1847 en Bas-Berry (Châteauroux, Imprimerie Badel, 1979), 44-64, 98-99, 136-37; Solange Gras, "La crise du milieu du XIXe siècle en Bas-Berry," 2 vols. (thèse de 3e cycle, Université de Paris X-Nanterre, 1976); Price, 179; Vigier, 35-53; Bourguignat, 9-11, 446-50. I have also consulted archival material on this riot (and most others from the period). For Buzançais, specifically, in the Archives historiques de la guerre see: E5 155, E5 158. In the AN see: BB17 A 148; BB19 37; BB20 138; BB21 502 B; BB24 327-347. In the Archives Départementales [hereafter AD] de l'Indre see: M 2565-69; 2 U 70-71; 3 U 1 549. In the AD Cher see: 2 U 338.
There are other important pivots: the grain shipment interception that triggered the riot, an attack on another bourgeois following the Venin shooting, and on a bourgeoise handing out charity a day later. I look at these in my larger study.
The father had served in the gendarmerie at a fairly high rank. See the attempt to get all this straight by the Journal de l'Indre and the Gazette du Berri 30 (Sunday, 17 Jan. 1847) as discussed below. The national press never bothered to try.
Ibid. It linked the riot itself to Lyon in 1834: "Ever since the great Lyonnais insurrections, [the government] has known or should know that the great worker ideal, to which he aspires and which he pursues sometimes by risking his life, is secure work, work guaranteed against unemployment and well enough remunerated to suffice for his basic needs." By February, the newspaper even warned that "the details of brutality, of revolting ferocity are also an instruction for the government . . . by reading in them the history of the Great Revolution, why doesn't the bourgeoisie ask itself: The nobility and clergy were punished for having neglected the education of the people, the middle class, now reigning, should apply itself to making sure that it doesn't merit the same reproach."
On the newspaper L'Atelier see Roger Magraw, France, 1815-1914: The Bourgeois Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 100-105, and especially Armand Cuvillier, Un Journal d'ouvriers: L'Atelier, 1840-1850 (Paris: Editions ouvrières, 1954).
Harsin, Barricades. See also Christopher Johnson, Utopian Communism in France: Cabet and the Icarians, 1839-1851 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974); William Sewell, Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980); and Jacques Rancière, The Nights of Labor: the Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France, trans. John Drury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989).
These reports and editorials seem to reflect a prevailing notion that associated misery with criminality: Louis Chevalier, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes in Paris during the first half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Frank Jellinek (London: H. Fertig, 1973); Gordon Wright, Between the Guillotine and Liberty: Two Centuries of the Crime Problem in France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); and Thomas J. Cragin, "Cultural Continuity in Modern France: The Representation of Crime in the Popular Press of Nineteenth-Century Paris" (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1996).
Although the Journal des débats reporters may have "prided themselves" on getting first hand information, this narrative relied largely on creative imagination, and, in this case, the "source" was the Journal de l'Indre discussed below. Collins, 89.
See the following issues: La Réforme (Sunday, 17 Jan. 1847), (Monday, 18 Jan. 1847) and (Tuesday, 19 Jan. 1847). It particularly targeted the laws governing importation of grain, then under debate in the Chambers.
The printed report is "Rapport sur les événements accomplis dans la ville de Buzançais les 13, 14, 15 janvier 1847 et les jours suivants," AD Indre M 2565. The Gazette du Berri also published the text.
They criticized the press "that had wrongly recounted that the pillage was the result of the assassination of M Louis Chambert, but while the unfortunate man succumbed to the infamous, murderous blows, four houses had already been pillaged and several others involved." Ibid.
By mid-January, most newspapers referred to the riot in Buzançais as a jacquerie (peasant war). I have found the first reference to this in official correspondance: Lettre du premier avocat général à Châteauroux sous le couvert du procureur du roi, M Raynal, à M le Garde de Sceaux (17 Jan. 1847), AN, BB19 37: "I have received unanimous opinion that in these serious events there is something of a new jacquerie. [Formal] politics are completely foreign to these events. Rather, they have a local character; but far from being less serious, their local character is, perhaps, even more dangerous." The national press appears to have picked up the reference from the Journal de l'Indre, which on 20 January declared: "Insurrection continues. Rioting and pillaging propagate from canton to canton. We are in the presence of a veritable jacquerie."
Colin Lucas has observed with regard to food riots that "property owners became more uncomprehending and more quickly frightened of the crowd." "The Crowd and Politics in France," Journal of Modern History 60 (Sept. 1988): 430.
In fact, as I argue elsewhere, aspects of the post-riot repression (including the trial itself) sought to reform elites and local authorities as much as the rioters. As Jeremy Popkin has often asserted, the press served as "important sites for the construction of social and cultural identities," Popkin, 9. See also the exciting recent work on the making of the bourgeoisie: David Garrioch, The Formation of the Parisian Bourgeoisie, 1690-1830 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996); Carol Harrison, The Bourgeois Citizen in Nineteenth-Century France: Gender, Sociability, and the Uses of Emulation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Sarah Maza, The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie: An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750-1850 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
Démocratie pacifique 51 (Sunday, 28 Feb. 1847). Even the government eventually recognized that it had acted too harshly. Already in August 1847, Louis-Philippe's Ministry of Justice reduced sentences for many rioters caught in the subsistence movements that the crisis engendered. Unlike after previous episodes of food rioting from the Revolutionary period to the eruption of 1816-17, the government did not issue a general amnesty law, but rather asked the courts to review each case and propose reductions or pardons for those condemned for participation in food riots. These the Ministry considered on a case-by-case basis. Circular letter from the Ministre de la Justice (7 Aug. 1847); Tableau des condamnés dans le ressort de la Cour Royale de Bourges pour crimes ou délits se rattachant à la cherté des subsistances, qui ont paru dignes d'être proposés à la clémence de Sa Majesté pour des remises, réductions ou commutations de peines, AN, BB24 327-47.
Lettre du comité chargé de l'administration provisoire du département de la Haute-Vienne au ministre de la Justice (29 Feb. 1848), AN, BB24 327-47. See discussion in Alain Corbin, Archaïsme et modernité en Limousin au XIXe siècle (1845-1880), 2 vols. (1975; Limoges: PULIM 1998), 2:763-64.
Lettre du Commissaire du gouvernement près le département de l'Indre au ministre de la justice (n.d., 1848), AN, BB24 327-47. The pardons are recorded in the Report of 14 April 1848. Even those sentenced to forced labor sought clemency. Although it took some longer than others, all, even those sentenced for life, were eventually released. For example, after repeated pleas by the rioter Arrouy and his family, the Third Republic government finally released him on 2 March 1873.