By Kevin McQuillan
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Additional resources for Culture, Religion, and Demographic Behaviour: Catholics and Lutherans in Alsace
Among the bourgeoisie of the towns, the Revolution found fairly broad support. Of special importance in Alsace was the government policy to sell the land held by the Catholic Church and noble emigrants, the biens nationaux. The Church was a substantial landholder under the old regime with the bishop of Strasbourg being the single largest landholder in Lower Alsace. Altogether, the Church probably controlled about one-quarter of the land in what became the Departement du Bas-Rhin (Marx 1970, 57).
With the return of peace and the departure of foreign troops, economic production began to revert to normal levels and the population increased rapidly. Parish registers for the late seventeenth century show an excess of births to which was added a significant number of immigrants. Union with France brought a number of French officials as well as military personnel, though they tended to concentrate in the cities. More substantial was the inflow of Swiss and German immigrants who helped to repeople the countryside.
Many French regions continued to be marked by local dialects well into the nineteenth century (Weber 1976), but the fact that Alsatians spoke a German dialect linked them to Germany's large and growing population and influential culture. French language and culture made noticeable inroads in the nineteenth century, especially in the cities and among the elites. Bilingualism was now the sine qua non of a successful career in politics, administration or commerce. Among ordinary working people, however, and especially in rural areas, the use of French remained limited, to say the least.