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Vanishing Children Book Review

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Vanishing Children of Paris

Just about everyone has heard the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? Well, in this case sticks and stones do break bones along with words. Rumors can be a very powerful thing, especially in the 18th century in Paris. Nasty rumors caused the population to believe that a secret police ran through the streets abducting children for numerous reasons. These rumors put fear and anger into the population, causing massive and swift riots throughout many sections in Paris." In this essay, I will discuss the events leading to the May 1750 riot, followed by the actual riot itself, and the results of the uprising.

Origins of the 1750 revolt can date back way before 1750. The authorities had a concern with a growing number of vagrants and beggars in Paris. In 1702, it was reported that 9,000 beggars where in Paris. In 1750, it was reported that the number grew from 9,000 to 15,000. Why are vagrants and beggars a problem, and why were the numbers growing?

In 1747-48, famine had stuck several regions throughout France. Many vagrants, beggars, and vagabonds flocked to Paris. These people were looking for work, some wealth, and/or contact with other people. They congregated in public places which provoked anxiety and disapproval. They would bring mischievous games like gambling and stickball. The game were mischievous, because with gambling usually followed with thievery. Stickball was a nuisance, because the ball would smash windows and street lights. It provoked disapproval, and many Parisians believed they had no right to be there. This wasn't by any means a new problem, but the authorities really had no solution. Edicts and ordinances were ineffective to stop the migration. So, the police asserted the operations of selection and discrimination against the unwanted vagrants.

There were problems and solutions with selection and discrimination. Expulsion would only get rid of the unwanted for a short time; they would eventually find their way back to Paris. New powers enabled police to clear the vagrants by charging or imprisoning them, or making them do compulsory work. The thought that they should put them in prison or galleys, but it was extremely unpopular by the Parisians. Another solution was thought up by Naval Inspector, de la Boullaye, who suggested compulsory emigration in 1717. The idea was to send the vagrants to populate and exploit the American colonies. It wasn't just vagrants that were selected to go, but also people guilty of fraud, prostitutes, and juvenile delinquents. In 1719, a declaration was made so judges had the power to send those under sentence of the galleys and prisons to the America instead. A large number of those sentenced where young people. Discrimination was supposed to be exercised, but it was forgotten, and deportation went out of control.

The edict of November 12, 1749, ordered that all beggars and vagrants were to be arrested and locked in prison until the King said otherwise. Lt. General of Police, Berryer, was the man in charge of enforcing the edict. He wanted instant results, and paid his constables for the number of arrests. He told his constables that it was okay with him to arrest children of artisans or bourgeois playing in the squares. He became quickly hated, and thought the public was behind him....he thought wrong. He claimed that he received complaints from parents about their delinquent children all the time, and that he was doing them a favor. The uprising of 1750 was because of his incomprehension of the situation.

Rumors began that police were not only arresting vagrants, but also abducting children. Some parents had said that they had to pay a ransom to get there children back, but no attention was given to this issue until May 1750. Rumors quickly spread throughout Paris that police were disguised as commoners roaming the city abducting children; children of working families and others allowed to roam the streets. There was also rumors that the King and a prince had leprosy, and they required children's blood to bathe in for a cure.

May 1st, was the beginning of this rebellion. Sebastian le Blanc, constable of the watch, arrested 6 out of 20 children playing in the streets. The whole neighborhood was alarmed by this, and soldiers of the gardes francaises opposed the arrest. The watch managed to take the children, but lead to skirmishes between the police and soldiers for days.

May 16th, a vehicle full of archers and a constable were victim of a riot that started because of a woman. The woman cried out that they were looking for a chance to abduct people's children, instantly causing a riot. The police escaped from the crowd and tried to seek refuge in a nearby residence until the watch released them to safety.

The incident was an expression of people's fear, anger, and frustration



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