The Walls that Talk: Political Graffiti in 1877

By Susanna Barrows

Graffiti was one of the most visible forms of popular resistance to President MacMahon’s revocation of Jules Simon’s republican government on 16 May 1877, to the naming of a prime minister from the minority monarchist party, and to the dismissal of the Chamber of Deputies. For the five months of this foundational political crisis and ensuing election campaign, presidential posters and those of official candidates were crossed out, torn down, soiled or written on with ironic expressions. Messages of mockery, conveying humour of a scatological or pornographic bent, were engraved with knife blades or drawn on the walls of many cities in France, especially Paris. Through this form of protest, which was iconoclastic in its content and sometimes in its style, a democratic political culture is unveiled that was profoundly anchored in the working class, in Paris and elsewhere, both geographically and sociologically.

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