Napoleon Series Discussion Forum

Genevans' Acceptance of Military Conscription

Military Conscription - A Yardstick of the Genevans' Acceptance of the Napoleonic System of Government
Alice C. Offord
European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire Volume 7, 2000 - Issue 1 Pages 7-31


When Geneva was annexed by France in 1798, it was granted exemption from conscription. However, after the failure of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, the exemption was deemed to have lapsed, and conscription began. Hitherto unpublished material in the Geneva State Archives sheds light on the population's reaction to conscription. Of particular value were the minutes of the various notaries who dealt with the 'Actes de remplacement', by which a person called to the colours could present a paid substitute. 'Societes de remplacement' grew up, in which the families of men liable to be called up contributed money to be used to pay for replacements for those whose names were actually drawn for conscription. The sources available give useful insights as to how these societies functioned, and of the ambivalent attitude of the French authorities towards them. Surprisingly for a region with a long tradition of independence and only recently placed under foreign occupation, there is little evidence that avoidance of conscription reached, or even came close to, systematic civil disobedience, let alone sedition. Equally unexpected was the finding that not all persons replaced were of higher social standing, and that not all the replacements were of lower social standing.