Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 November 2009
When I began work on this project several years ago the study of elections was, to borrow the words of François Furet, ‘a poor relation of revolutionary historiography’. Despite the vast amount of time and ingenuity devoted to the franchise and voting during the French Revolution, electoral issues were attracting little attention from scholars, who were otherwise engaged with ideological and cultural matters. Once the development of citizenship was placed on the historical agenda, however, the revolutionary apprenticeship in democracy began to excite much more interest; elections finally began to receive the consideration they deserve. Patrice Gueniffey, a pupil of Furet, has recently published the first monograph on the electoral history of the Revolution and a research group devoted to pursuing the subject further has started to meet on a regular basis in Paris. I may have set out as something of a lone researcher in this area, but I soon encountered a host of fellow-travellers along the way, to whom I owe an enormous debt.
At first sight it seems curious that a country which not only pioneered democratic elections in the modern world, but also initiated their scientific study, should have overlooked this vital phase of its own past for so long. Some early soundings were taken under the aegis of Alphonse Aulard, in the wake of the first centenary of the Revolution and the consolidation of the Third Republic. The elections to the Estates General of 1789 stimulated a good deal of research, as did the creation of the National Convention in 1792 and the constitutional referenda of 1793 and 1795.