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Department

towns, france, parishes, communes, commune, troops and municipal

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DEPARTMENT (or in French DEC P A RTEM ENT), a territorial division of France, introduced by the States-General in the reign of Louis XVI.

A commune is the smallest territorial division in the present system of France. In the rural districts and in the smaller towns a commune may be considered as equivalent in area and population to our ordinary parishes, or to the townships into which our more extensive parishes are divided. It is only in respect of area and population that we compare the com munes of France with our own parishes: the two divisions were made for different purposes, the parish being an ecclesias tical division, which existed in France as well as in England, while the commune was for civil or military purposes. There is moreover this difference, that while our larger towns and cities (especially those whose extent and importance are of an ancient date, such as Norwich, Exeter, Bristol, or York) consist of several parishes, the larger towns of France, with the exception of Paris, form but one com mune. The term commune, which is nearly equivalent to corporation, is of ancient date. When Louis VI. (le Gros) sought to raise from the towns of the royal domain a burgher militia as a sub stitute for the troops of his rebellions and disorderly vassals, and in order to form an alliance between the crown and the commons by sheltering the latter against feudal oppression, he formed the freemen inhabiting the towns into communaut6s (in the Latin of the middle ages commu nitates) or corporations, gave them power to raise troops from among themselves, and conferred upon a municipal body, constituted for the purpose, an authority over these troops similar to that which had been exercised over the baronial levies by the great lords themselves, and by their subordinates, the counts, or governors of towns, the viscounts, castel lans, &c. These are not to'be regarded as the first municipal corporations which had existed in France. Under the Roman dominion there were many ; but during the distracted reigns of the later Carlo vingian princes, these corporations had mostly, if not entirely, become extinct. The militia of the towns was designated in the Latin of the middle ages communise (communes), communitates parochiarum (the commonalties of the parishes), or burgenses (the burghers or burgesses).

Where the town consisted of several parishes the troops were formed into smaller bodies according to their parishes, and marched into the field in those divi sions, the parochial clergy accompanying their respective parishioners, not tojoin in the conflict, but to discharge their spiritual duties of' preaching to them, con fessing them, and administering religious rites to the dying. Some communes con sisted of a number of small towns united under one corporation charter. In pro cess of time the greater barons followed the example of the king, in order to be come independent of their vassals, among whom the like insubordination existed as among the vassals of the king.

The municipal officers were generally designated Scabini or Echevins, and the principal of them bad the title of Major or Maire (Mayor). The communes en joyed many rights and exemptions ; they fortified their respective towns, and were, in fact, so many municipal republics scat tered over the kingdom, constituting the most substantial bulwark both of the pub lic liberty and the rights of the crown against the encroachments of the nobility. As, however, the regal power gained strength, the influence and importance of the communes declined. Their militia came into disuse when the kings of the race of Valois began to form a standing army ; and upon various causes or pre texts many of the incorporated towns lost their charters, and returned under the jurisdiction of their feudal lords. (For the history of the communes see Raynouard, Sint. du Droit Municipale en France, 1829.) Under the present system of provincial organization the whole of France, the country as well as the towns, is divided into communes. As the plan has been to assimilate the divisions for civil and eccle siastical purposes, we believe that the communes may in the rural districts and the smaller towns be regarded as ecclesi astically equivalent to our parishes. Each has its church and its curd or clergyman. Some have also succursales or chapels of ease. The larger towns have several churches.

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