The two decades of French rule in the German-speaking Rhineland at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed the dramatic imposition of the sovereign state on a region previously noted for its absence. The successful integration of the new territories into the Republic and Empire depended upon the response of Rhenish elites to the transformation of local government from an accumulation of historical privileges into the lowest administrative tier of the state. Napoleon, more than his revolutionary predecessors, recognized the importance of ‘rallying’ the ‘notables’ in what was a politically inclusive and socially exclusive process. This policy was successful insofar as elites did, in general, rally. Their motivation varied, and the commitment was rarely unconditional. Rhenish notables, long adept at exploiting Old Regime institutions to preserve particular privileges, abused Napoleonic institutions, in order to protect clients and preserve their social position. This helped widen the gulf between the mainly urban notables and the rest of the predominantly rural population, which had fewer legal and institutionalized opportunities for asserting its interests directly. This system of rule proved suited to Rhenish conditions until the rise of party politics in the second half of the nineteenth century.
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