In the second chapter of Part Two of Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami, Georges Duroy's wife turns out to have interesting connections that allow the couple to write newspaper articles that can make or break a politician's career. One day, she tells her husband,

Figure-toi que le ministre de la justice vient de nommer deux magistrats qui ont fait partie des commissions mixtes.


Can you imagine? The Minister of Justice has just appointed two magistrates who were / have been members of the mixed committees.

The contraction "des" suggests that these committees were not just any "mixed committees" but that Duroy's wife (and therefore presumably also Maupassant) had very specific committees in mind. What were these committees (which presumably existed in late 19th-century France) and why would it be a bad idea for the minister to appoint former members of these committees as magistrates?

On the French Wikipedia, the article Commission mixte paritaire is about an institution that was created in the 1950s, and the article Commission mixte internationale is about an organization established by the governments of the United States and Canada, so I appear to be searching in the wrong direction there.

1 Answer 1


The mixed commissions were kangaroo courts set up by the régime of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte after the coup of 1851 to punish suspected Republican sympathisers. The name “mixed” refers to their being composed of both civilian and military judges.

La manque d’armes et de munitions, joint à la terreur imprimée dans la masse par les exéctions sommaires, obligea bientôt le défenseurs de la République à se soumettre, et Bonaparte n’eut plus pour le présent à rédouter aucune opposition. Mais les conspirateurs, le crime une fois consommé, se trouvent face à face avec un inconnu redoutable, l’avenir. Résolu de prévenir, en les écrasant dans l’oeuf, tous les essais de révolte ultérieurs, Bonaparte instituta sur toute l’étendue du territoire des commissions composées mi-partie de magistrats dévoués et mi-partie d’officiers signalés pour leur haine contre la République. Ces commissions «mixtes» devaient rechercher et punir tour ceux qui s’étaient opposés à l’usurpation du président.

Le nombre des condamnations prononcées par ces tribunaux d’exception et les conseils de guerre dépasse 15,000, comme il résulte d’un rapport du préfet de police Maupas. Ces 15,000 victimes du Coup d’Etat peuvent se diviser ainsi: environ 500 condamnés à mort, 250 déportés à Cayenne, 10,000 déportés en Algerie, 1,500 exilés et 1,000 internés dans différents endroits. Ces chiffres parlent d’eux-mêmes et dispensent de tous commentaires.

The lack of arms and ammunition, together with fear instilled in the general population by the summary executions, soon forced the defenders of the Republic to submit, and for the present Bonaparte had no longer to fear any opposition. But the conspirators, if they had once committed the crime, found themselves face to face with an unknown and frightening future. Resolved to prevent, by crushing them in the egg, all subsequent attempts at revolt, Bonaparte created through the whole expanse of territory, commissions composed half of loyal magistrates and half of officers noted for their hatred of the Republic. These “mixed” commissions were required to investigate and punish all those who had opposed the usurpation of the president*.

The number of sentences passed by these emergency tribunals and military courts surpassed 15,000, according to a report from the chief of police Maupas†. These 15,000 victims of the coup d’état could be divided as follows: about 500 sentenced to death; 250 deported to Cayenne‡; 10,000 deported to Algeria; 1,500 exiled; and 1,000 interned in various places. These figures speak for themselves and dispense with all commentaries.

George Lassez (1874), Le verité sur le deux décembre, p. 28. Paris: Chevalier. My translation.

* Bonaparte had been president of the Second Republic, having been elected in 1848 † Charlemagne de Maupas ‡ the prison colony of French Guiana, effectively a death sentence due to harsh discipline and tropical disease

After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, there was controversy over how, or whether, the magistrates of these mixed commissions could be rehabilitated. I’ve quoted Lassez to show the kind of feeling about the commissions that was prevalent among republicans at that time.

Modern historians confirm Lassez’s account, and give similar figures.

The Mixed Commissions represented […] a solution to the problem of harmonizing military and civilian perspectives. These administrative tribunals also enabled the government to formalize repressive measures in departments where the state of siege had not been declared. The commanding general, the prefect, and a procureur in every department would exercise jointly the same discretionary authority to recommend measures of “general security” against moderate Republicans as well as Montagnards, electoral leaders and militants as well as conspirators and rebels. […]

Initiated by the head of the newly created Ministry of Police on February 3 [1852], the commissions were expected to use political rather than legal criteria in their deliberations. […] At the severe end of the spectrum on police controls were deportation to Cayenne, reserved for “especially culpable” men with police records; deportation to an Algerian penal colony; or deportation to an Algerian town where the suspect would reside under police surveillance. An intermediate range of sanctions included explusion from France; temporary exile; and forced residence under police surveillance in a French town assigned by the authorities. […]

Whether they were guilty as charged was quite another matter.

Ted Margadant (1979). French Peasants in Revolt: the Insurrection of 1851, pp. 318–320. Princeton University Press.

  • "explusion" -> "expulsion".
    – Tsundoku
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 17:07

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