Although only a small proportion of the population purchased newspapers, multiple readership was widespread in reading rooms, cafés and at work, and it was recognized that influential opinion-formers were likely to be drawn from the ranks of readers. The attack on the press, designed to limit political debate, which had commenced after the June insurrection in 1848, was intensified following the coup. The catch-all Article 8 of the law of 17 May 1819 could be employed against every ‘outrage against public and religious morality’. The 17 February 1852 decree required prior authorization before a newspaper could appear. Subsequently, warnings delivered to an editor by the bureau de presse at the Interior Ministry led to suspension and ultimately to closure. The object was to make censorship unnecessary by encouraging self-censorship. Officials celebrated the disappearance of most of the newspapers which had previously served as the base of republican organization in the provinces. Special commissaires were also appointed to supervise the domestic book trade as well as the urban street traders and pedlars who distributed cheap and accessible pamphlets and engravings throughout small towns and rural France. A list of approved works was published and transgressors prosecuted. ‘Subversive’ materials were, however, distributed by the postal service established in 1849. The sheer scale of its activity made systematic surveillance difficult, although, according to a confidential report to the Emperor, by 1857 letters were being opened on une vaste échelle.
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