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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

3 - Political Equality and Nationalist Opposition in the French Empire


At the request of the Italians, [Livius Drusus] promised to put forward once again legislation on the subject of citizenship, because this is what they most wanted, and they thought that by this single thing they would immediately become masters instead of subjects ... Drusus too was killed during his tribunate ... and the Italians, learning of Drusus’s fate and of the excuse for sending these men into exile, considered it intolerable for those who were politically active on their behalf to be treated in this way any longer, and as they saw no other method of realizing their hopes of gaining Roman citizenship, decided to secede from the Romans forthwith and make war on them to the best of their ability.

– Appianus (1996, 20–22), The Civil Wars 43–31 BC, Book 1, Chapters 35–38.

Chapter 2 argued that the demands for political equality made by colonial subjects were qualitatively different from nationalist demands: proponents of political equality sought inclusion in the French system and access to political power, whereas nationalists demanded separation on behalf of a distinct, sovereign people. This chapter takes the distinctiveness of these objectives as given, and examines the relationship between them. Conventional accounts of the colonial period treat the quest for political equality as a rehearsal for the nationalist mobilization that followed. Movements for equality built organizational capacity and strengthened opposition to colonial rule, which was then fully realized in the form of movements for independence. In this view, demands for equality lead to demands for independence; they are the first stage of the nationalist movement. As Chapter 2 discussed, one reason both movements are understood to be manifestations of nationalism is the (sometimes implicit) conviction that demands for political equality would eventually morph into nationalist demands for separation. This logic implies a uniform prediction: political equality movements should give way to nationalist movements.