Modern history

CHAPTER 9

October 1792 to June 1793

From victory to defeat, the declaration of war against England and Spain, the insurrection in the Vendée, the fall of the Gironde

The extraordinary effects that the French Revolution had abroad arose less from the new methods and conceptions that the French introduced into the conduct of war than from changes in the state and civil administration, in the character of government, in the condition of the people, and so on.

– Clausewitz, On War

Jemmapes, a series of victories

While these tremendous events were happening in Paris, the republican armies followed up Valmy with one victory after another. In the north, after the Austrians raised the siege of Lille, Dumouriez’s army entered Belgium. The decisive battle took place on 6 November 1792. The Austrians had built a fortified position around the village of Jemmapes, a site that Michelet went to see:

The position is not only strong and formidable, but imposing and solemn; it speaks to the imagination, and anyone passing would certainly stop there even if they did not know that its name was Jemmapes. It is a line of hills before Mons, an amphitheatre tipped at either end by two villages, Cuesmes on the right and Jemmapes on the left. Jemmapes rises onto the hill and covers a flank. Cuesmes is less easy to defend, and was supplemented by several ranks of redoubts in successive steps, and in these redoubts were the Hungarian grenadiers. These redoubts and the two villages formed to the right and left as many citadels that had first of all to be taken.1

Dumouriez reported to the Convention: ‘At noon precisely, the whole infantry moved into battalion formation in the blink of an eye, and with great speed and good cheer advanced on the entrenched enemy.’2 After a violent battle, towards two in the afternoon the Austrians ‘retreated in the greatest disarray’, the report says. They had lost 4,000 men and thirteen cannon.

Following the resounding victory of Jemmapes, Brussels, Liège, Antwerp and Namur were all conquered in the month of November. The whole of Belgium was occupied by the republican army.

On all the other fronts as well, victories came thick and fast. In late September, the entry of French troops into Savoy triggered great popular enthusiasm. ‘The march of my army is a triumph. The people of both countryside and towns come running out to meet us, the tricolour cockade is everywhere’, Montesquiou wrote to the Convention on 25 September. A few days later, the army of the Var entered Nice without a battle. On the Rhine, the army commanded by Custine also took the offensive: Speyer, Worms, Mainz and Frankfurt were conquered in the course of October.

Occupations and annexations

What to do with the territories occupied in this way? At the Jacobins, on 12 December, Prieur de la Marne expressed his doubts: ‘The conquest of Brabant is not to our advantage. The Brabantine people are still encrusted with prejudice and fanaticism; so let us beware of continuing a foolish war, one that perhaps the executive power only wants to continue in order to hurl us over a precipice.’3 On 18 November, however, Deutzel had brought to the Convention’s attention a petition from the general council of Berg-Zabern, an enclave of the duchy of Deux-Ponts in the Palatinate: ‘It would be impossible for us to endure any longer the character of slaves, and serve as watchdogs for our tyrant, among the free men by whom we are surrounded … Legislators, declare to the Universe that all peoples who shake off the yoke of despots and desire the protection of the French will be protected and assisted as if French.’4 The next day, under the presidency of Grégoire, the Convention adopted the celebrated decree drafted by La Révellière-Lépeaux: ‘The National Convention declares, in the name of the French nation, that it will extend fraternity and assistance to all peoples that seek to regain their liberty.’5

The first annexation was not long in coming. On 27 November, Grégoire proposed the union of Savoy to France: ‘The National Convention decrees that Savoy will provisionally form an eighty-fourth department under the name of Mont-Blanc.’6 And on 15 December, on Cambon’s report, the assembly voted that: ‘In countries that are or will be occupied by the armies of the Republic, generals shall proclaim there and then, in the name of the French nation, the sovereignty of the people, the suppression of all local authorities, existing taxes or contributions, … of corvées and in general of all privileges.’7

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This was to forget that ‘no one loves armed missionaries’. In one of his Lettres à ses commettants, Robespierre warned once more against a war of conquest, against exporting the revolution: ‘We must not jeopardize the great interests that are common to all men by wounding too strongly the popular affections that cannot for the moment be uprooted.’8 Marat spoke in similar vein: ‘If, as the representatives of the French have declared, France does not want to make conquests, nor interfere in the government of the peoples where they go to bring liberty, what right have their generals to force the Belgians to accept laws they do not want, and that a handful of agitators want to give them?’9

But these voices were scarcely heeded. The attraction of giving France natural frontiers, combined with concern for oppressed peoples, led to enthusiastic acceptance of the expansionist policy of Dumouriez and the Girondins.

The wind changes: the Neerwinden disaster, the treason of Dumouriez, the declaration of war against England and Spain

This enthusiasm, however, would not last long. In just a few weeks (February to March 1793), victories and conquests gave way to disaster. The populations of the occupied territories became recalcitrant. In Belgium, popular assemblies could only be held with army protection, and the Convention’s commissioners reported that, in the case of military reverses, ‘a rebellion to rival the Sicilian vespers would break out against the French throughout Belgium, without Belgian patriots, fearful for themselves, being able to help in any way’. In the Rhineland, in Frankfurt, in the ‘Rauracian republic’ of the Swiss Jura,10 even in Nice, opposition to annexation was expressed ever more openly in the form of attacks, the refusal of assignats, and popular revolts.

In the early months of 1793, the balance of military forces underwent a change. The republican army, which had hitherto enjoyed a numerical advantage, was almost halved when the volunteers, who had legally enlisted for a single campaign, upped and went home en masse. In Paris there was discord at the ministry of war, with Pache being replaced by Beurnonville, an intimate of Dumouriez. On 1 January 1793 a general defence committee had been established, but it was too large and thus ineffective – twenty-four members deliberating strategic questions in public. Soldiers were badly fed, badly dressed, badly led, and the year began with complete disorganization.

This did not prevent the defence committee and the executive council of the war ministry from approving the offensive plan proposed by Dumouriez. While the armies commanded by Miranda and Valence would defend a line on the Roer and the middle Meuse, Dumouriez himself, setting out from Antwerp, would enter Holland across the lower Meuse. To start with, this plan seemed successful. In February, the Dutch fortresses fell one by one without much resistance. But on 1 March, the Austrian troops commanded by Coburg attacked and routed the army of Belgium dispersed along the Roer. Aix-la-Chapelle and Liège were evacuated in terrible chaos, and the siege of Maastricht was hastily lifted. In order to defend Belgium, Dumouriez had to withdraw south and join up with the remaining fragments of Miranda and Valence’s armies, but on 18 March he was crushed by the Austrians at Neerwinden, a disaster that led to the complete evacuation of Belgium. In the same weeks, the Prussians retook Worms and Speyer, and laid siege to Mainz. The left bank of the Rhine was lost, and the war would very soon move onto French territory.

After Neerwinden, Dumouriez – who had already sent a highly insolent letter to the Convention on 12 March – made contact with the enemy commander, Coburg. His plan was to dissolve the Convention, expel the Jacobins, and restore the monarchy according to the 1791 Constitution, with the former dauphin as Louis XVII. The Convention and the general defence committee prevaricated. Finally, on 29 March, four commissioners were dispatched, along with Beurnonville, the minister of war, to discharge and arrest Dumouriez. Instead Dumouriez had them arrested on arrival and handed them over to the Austrians, before trying to convince his army to march on Paris. The volunteers, however, refused to follow him, and, just like Lafayette in August 1792, he went over to the enemy to save his skin.

The critical military situation did not prevent the Gironde from pursuing their forward flight. On 1 February, Brissot detailed the hostile acts of the English and recommended war against them and their Dutch allies: ‘It is the whole of Europe, or rather the tyrants of Europe, that you now have to combat on land and sea. You have no more allies, or rather, all the peoples are your allies; but these peoples can do nothing for you: they are in chains, and these chains must first of all fall.’11 The Convention followed him and declared war on England and Holland. The vote for war on Spain followed on 7 March, on a boastful report by Barère: ‘One more foe for France is just one more triumph for freedom.’ The first coalition was born.

 

EXCURSUS: ENGLAND AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

In Germany, reactions to the Revolution can be summed up in a very simple contrast: general hostility on the part of the governing classes, but varying degrees of goodwill or even enthusiasm on the part of writers and philosophers such as Kant and Fichte, Hölderlin and Hegel.

The position in England is less well known to French people today, to the point of being sometimes reduced to a historical chauvinism that contrasts the good – the champions of the Revolution, from the chemist Priestley to the poet Wordsworth – and the bad, such as Burke and above all William Pitt, demonized in the phrase ‘Pitt and Coburg’.

During the early phase of the Revolution, until the wars of conquest, the English reaction was largely favourable. Prints and leaflets hailing ‘the overthrow of tyranny’ or ‘the triumph of freedom over despotism’ were everywhere. In 1790, three theatres showed a play entitled Taking the Bastille. For Charles James Fox, the great Whig leader, the Revolution was ‘how much the greatest event that has happened in the history of the world, and how much the best’; for the Welsh philosopher David Williams, it was ‘the most beneficent event since the beginning of humankind’; for Thomas Christie, editor of the influential Analytical Review, ‘the greatest revolution that has happened in the history of humanity’.12 Keenest of all were the Dissenters and the radical Whigs, who had supported the American revolution.

On 4 November 1789, the Rev. Richard Price, a key figure among the Dissenters, delivered a highly political sermon before the members of the Society for the Commemoration of the Revolution of Great Britain (the revolution of 1688):

Behold all ye friends of freedom … behold the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes and warms and illuminates Europe. I see the ardour for liberty catching and spreading; the dominion of kings changed for the dominion of laws, and the dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience.13

It was these contentions that aroused such anger on the part of Edmund Burke, a Whig deputy formerly known for quite progressive positions in support of the American revolution, as well as the revolutions of the Irish and the Poles. His Reflections on the Revolution in France, published on 1 November 1790, was a bestseller, with 20,000 copies sold in six months. This work was above all an attack on the Declaration of Rights, and a warning to the English ruling class: what was happening in France could take place in England, if the members of the elite showed the same complacency as their French counterparts. Burke’s tone was poetic, violently conservative, and sometimes crude:14

In England we have not yet been completely embowelled of our natural entrails; we still feel within us, and we cherish and cultivate, those inbred sentiments which are the faithful guardians, the active monitors of our duty, the true supporters of all liberal and manly morals. We have not been drawn and trussed, with chaff and rags, and paltry blurred shreds of paper about the rights of man.15

Burke’s book triggered an avalanche of hostile reactions, from popular societies such as the London Corresponding Society as well as intellectuals such as Mary Wollstonecraft, whose A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was one of the earliest attacks on Burke; above all from Thomas Paine, whose Rights of Man was also a bestseller and an inspiration for English popular movements for many years to come. In May 1792, however, the British government led by William Pitt struck back with a royal proclamation against seditious writings. Paine escaped prosecution by taking refuge in France, where four departments elected him as their deputy to the Convention (he opted for the Pas-de-Calais). The movement in support of the French Revolution was effectively repressed and had to go underground. The battle was lost, but it had decisively marked English intellectual and political life.

The reorganization of the army, the amalgame, the levy of 300,000 men

With a view to redressing the situation on the frontiers, the Convention took two far-reaching measures on 21 and 22 February 1793: the amalgame, and a levy of 300,000 men.

Until this time, as we have seen, the army was made up of two distinct kinds of unit: battalions of the line (the ‘whites’), in which soldiers enlisted for a long period, and volunteer battalions (the ‘blues’), who signed up for a single campaign. The volunteers received higher pay and elected their officers, whereas those of the troops of the line were appointed by the ministry. This situation made for frequent tension. Dubois-Crancé and the military committee pushed through a decree whose first article provided that ‘there shall no longer be any distinction between the regime of the infantry corps known as regiments of the line and the national volunteers.’ Article 2 said that ‘the infantry shall form into half-brigades each made up of a battalion of former troops of the line and two battalions of volunteers. The uniform of the whole infantry shall be the same.’ And Article 3, that ‘the pay and the war bonus shall be the same for all individuals that make up the French infantry, each according to his rank, with the higher pay taken as the base for each rank.’16 This radical reorganization needed time: the battles of spring 1793 were still fought under the old system, but the amalgame would be decisive for the victories of year II.

The levy of 300,000 men was more problematic. The total number was to be drawn from the departments in proportion to their population. Each departmental contingent was then divided between districts, and these between the communes, which were the actual point of recruitment. Initially, volunteers enrolled on a register. ‘Should voluntary enrolment not produce the number of men set for each commune, citizens are to complement this without delay, and to this end they are to adopt the mode that a majority of them find most appropriate.’17 This contained the germ of endless local squabbles. Furthermore, Article 16 stated: ‘Any citizen called to march to the defence of the patrie … shall be entitled to have himself replaced by a citizen in fit state to bear arms’ – to which was added, on Vergniaud’s proposal, that those who had themselves replaced must arm, equip and clothe at their expense the citizens who replaced them. Later, this substitution option would lead to the decree of a tax on the rich, summoned to take part in defence with their money if not with their bodies.

Establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal and the Committee of Public Safety; representatives ‘on mission’ to the front

The Convention did not confine itself to reorganizing the army. During the critical months of March and April 1793 it took three measures of great significance: the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the creation of the Committee of Public Safety, and the sending of representatives assigned to the armies.

The Revolutionary Tribunal was demanded by the most advanced Paris sections. On 9 March, the deputy for the Bas-Rhin, Bentabole, close at this time to Marat, returned from the Oratoire section to say: ‘A general desire prevails in Paris to rush to the frontiers … We were told that citizens were only unwilling to leave because they perceived that there is no real justice in the Republic, and it was necessary for traitors and conspirators to be punished. They demanded a tribunal one could be sure of.’18 David and Jean Bon Saint-André conveyed the same wish on the part of the Louvre section.

The following day, Vergniaud made clear the Girondin opposition to this project: it would be, he said, ‘an inquisition a thousand times more fearsome than that of Venice. We will all die sooner than consent to it.’19 The discussion became bogged down. At six in the evening, the session was about to adjourn when Danton suddenly took the floor:

I summon all good citizens not to leave their posts! Let this assembly not depart without having pronounced on the public wellbeing! The safety of the people demands great methods, terrible measures … Since some have ventured in this Assembly to recall the bloody days that made any good citizen to groan aloud [someone had shouted: ‘September!’], I will say, for myself, that if a tribunal had then existed, the people, who have been so cruelly reproached for those journées, would not have drenched them in blood; I will say, and I have the assent of all who were witness to those events, that no human power was in a position to stem the outpouring of national vengeance. Let us learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. Let us do what the Legislative Assembly failed to do,let us be terrible so as to dispense the people from being so. Let us organize a tribunal – not well, that is impossible, but the best we can, so that the sword of the Law may be poised over the heads of all its enemies.20

The law passed that evening set up an ‘extraordinary tribunal’ composed of a jury – twelve citizens from the Paris department and the four adjacent ones – and five judges appointed by the Convention. ‘The tribunal shall have a public prosecutor and two substitutes who shall be appointed by the National Convention’ (Article 6). The prosecutor, elected three days later, would be Fouquier-Tinville. He was the key figure in this structure: he could have all those suspected of crimes against the safety of the Republic, except for deputies and generals, arrested and handed over to the tribunal.

The Committee of Public Safety was created on 6 April to replace the ineffectual general defence committee. The decree presented by Isnard detailed its composition: nine members of the Convention, elected by it for a month and re-eligible, deliberating in secret. Its decisions, ‘signed by the majority of members taking part, which cannot be less than two-thirds, shall be implemented without delay by the provisional Executive Council [the ministers, thereby placed in a clearly subordinate position]. It shall deliver each week a general and written report of its operations and of the situation of the Republic.’21

The first Committee of Public Safety was made up of Dantonists (Delacroix, Bréard, Treilhard) around Danton himself, and men of the Plaine who had rallied to the Montagne (Cambon, Barère, Lindet).22

The representatives of the people on mission to the armies were established first on 9 April then on the 30th. Their job was to check on the operations of the Executive Council agents, the procurement teams, and especially the generals and officers, whom they could dismiss or detain. These full powers were supervised by the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety, to whom they had to send a daily list of their operations. They would be in the front rank – figuratively and often literally – in the campaigns and victories to come.

Start of the Vendée insurrection

The law on the recruitment of 300,000 men would detonate the terrible counter-revolutionary insurrection in the Vendée. It broke out on 11, 12 and 13 March at several points in a region stretching from the Atlantic coast inland towards Cholet and Bressuire. This was the culmination of four years of mounting tension, in which the rural regions south of the Loire had shown by several local revolts their hostility to the political changes, in particular the execution of the king and the deportation of refractory priests.

Peasants armed with farm tools and a few muskets occupied the towns of Montaigu, Mortagne, La Roche-sur-Yon and Cholet with little resistance, along with several smaller centres, disarming the National Guard, executing constitutional priests, massacring the most well-known patriots and then disappearing into the undergrowth. In Machecoul, the massacre continued for several days and left around fifty dead.

At the start of the uprising, the leaders were men of the people, smugglers, ex-soldiers, servants – such as the hawker Cathelineau, the game warden Stofflet, the wig-maker Gaston, the gabelle collector Souchu. The likes of Charette, Bonchamps, d’Elbée and La Rochejaquelein only came on the scene later: ‘When they [the nobles] saw that the rebels fought with a fearlessness of which only fanaticism could render them capable, that they hurled themselves at the republicans’ cannon and routed them, they no longer hesitated to accept the invitations of the peasants and to put themselves at their head.’23

As Charles Tilly has emphasized, this insurrection was not the massive reaction of a ‘backward’ region.24 The towns, valleys and plains were quite favourable to the Revolution. The uprising broke out in the bocage, a landscape of enclosed fields and hedges, narrow sunken lanes, scattered hamlets and isolated farms. There was great tension between the peasants of this bocage and the inhabitants of the towns, who successfully resisted along the coast – Girondins included, as they well knew that the ‘brigands’ did not make fine distinctions. Les Sables-d’Olonne, Pornic and Paimbæuf held their own against the attacks of the peasant insurgents: during the whole course of this war, the ‘Catholic and royal’ armies – as they would soon call themselves – never succeeded in taking a single port that would have allowed them to receive help from England.

As soon as the Convention was informed of the situation, it unanimously passed a law that prescribed the death penalty for anyone ‘known to have taken part in the counter-revolutionary revolts and riots that have broken out or may break out over the question of recruitment, and for all those who have taken or kept the white cockade’.25 But the situation on the frontiers was so critical that it was impossible to detach any substantial force for the Vendée. Against this victorious insurrection, the republican forces consisted essentially of National Guards hastily recruited in the adjacent departments. The Girondin majority on the defence committee did not take the matter seriously. When Mercier du Rocher ‘described [to the committee] the civil war and all its horrors widespread on the territory of the Vendée’, Gensonné replied that ‘he should refrain from such reckless overstatement’.26 This attitude would further weaken the position of the Girondins – already highly compromised by the failure of the war of conquest – in the decisive confrontation that was looming.

The popular movement of February 1793 in Paris

The Girondins’ laissez-faire policy, their refusal to listen to the complaints of ‘brigands’ and ‘anarchists’, aroused the anger of the people, and not only in Paris. The month of February 1793 was marked by a strong movement against free-market economics, and for the fixing of a maximum price on commodities – soon referred to simply as ‘the maximum’.

Already on 13 January, delegates of the forty-eight Paris sections had come to the Convention to demand the compulsory acceptance of the assignat and a ban on exchanging it against gold or silver coin. A few days later, the Paris municipality27 announced an increase in the price of bread, which had been held until then at three sous a pound – much cheaper than previously – thanks to a subsidy paid to the bakers: ‘There is only one way to bring abundance to Paris, which is to pay for flour what it is worth, what our brothers in the departments pay.’28 Immediately, threatening groups formed outside the bakeries, the sections marched to the Hôtel de Ville to protest, and the effervescence grew. On 4 February, the general council of the Commune decided that the price of bread would remain frozen thanks to a tax of 4 million on the rich, on which the Convention granted an advance.

Tension rose on 12 February when a delegation from the forty-eight sections presented itself at the bar of the Convention with a haughty and almost menacing petition:

Citizen legislators, it is not enough to have declared that we are French republicans. The people must also be happy; there must be bread, for where there is no bread there can be no laws, no liberty, no Republic any longer … We have come, without fear of displeasing you, to cast light on your errors and show you the truth … You have been told that a just law on staple provisions is impossible.29 That would be to say that it is impossible to govern states once tyrants are overthrown … No, a just law is not impossible; we have come to you to propose one, and no doubt you will hasten to adopt it!30

The speaker concluded by demanding ten years in irons for any administrator engaging in trade in provisions; a uniform measure for grain across the whole territory of the Republic (the quintal of one hundred pounds), and the prohibition on pain of death of selling a 250-pound sack of wheat for more than twenty-five livres.

The Convention listened in silence, but lost all composure (‘a violent muttering rose from every side of the hall’) when one of the petitioners took the floor ‘in the name of my electors, in the name of all our brothers in the departments …’31 Louvet fumed: ‘Are there two Conventions in France, two national representations? And if the petitioner is the representative of the departments, who then are we, and what are our powers?’

The Montagnards were as irritated as the Girondins, since the petition put all the representatives of the people in the same sack. Marat:

The measures that have just been put to you at the bar are so excessive, so strange, so subversive of all good order, they tend so plainly to destroy the free circulation of grain and excite unrest in the Republic, that I am amazed they should have come from the mouths of men who claim to be reasonable beings and free citizens, friends of justice and peace … I demand that those who have imposed on the Convention in this way be prosecuted as disturbers of the public peace.32

Amid the general commotion on 22 February, women from the Quatre-Nations section, who had come to ask the Jacobins to lend them a hall, had their request rebuffed. The Jacobins were attacked from the platform. The women cried that there were merchants and hoarders among them who were growing rich from public destitution. Billaud-Varenne, in the chair, unable to appease the tumult, was obliged to protect himself. The session was noisily adjourned. On Sunday 24 February, it was a delegation of laundrywomen who appeared at the Convention:

Soon the less wealthy class of the people will no longer be able to afford the white linen that they cannot do without. It is not that the stuff is lacking, it is abundant; hoarding and speculation are what increase its price. Soap, which formerly cost 14 sous a pound, has risen now to 22 sous; what a difference! Legislators, you made the head of the tyrant fall beneath the sword; let the sword of the laws come down on the heads of these public leeches, these men who constantly call themselves friends of the people but who caress the people only the better to smother them.33

The laundrywomen left the hall, shouting: ‘We’ve been adjourned until Tuesday, but we shall adjourn only until Monday. When our children ask us for milk, we don’t adjourn them to the day after tomorrow.’34

Sure enough, the very next day, Monday 25 February, gangs of women, joined rapidly by men, invaded grocer’s shops and helped themselves to soap, brown and white sugar, and candles, paying prices that they themselves fixed. Those grocers who balked at the arrangement were pillaged. The disturbances, which began in the morning in the quartier des Lombards, spread in the afternoon to the whole of the central districts, and flared up again over the next few days.

On the first day, those responsible for maintaining order in the capital were overwhelmed. Santerre, commander of the National Guard, was not in Paris. Pache, who had been elected city mayor a few days before, along with Chaumette, the Communeprocureurand his deputies Hébert and Réal, attempted to harangue a crowd of women on the rue de la Vieille-Monnaie, but they could not make themselves heard. Pache tried hard to convince the general council of the Commune to sound the alarm and call in armed National Guards, but the council confined itself to sending a few of its members into the sections to restore calm.

The crackdown did not begin until the 26th. Santerre had 80,000 National Guards at his disposal when the alarm was finally sounded. His orders to them were clear: ‘The provisional commander-general commands all citizens to take up arms and oppose the violation of property. That is the law and that is their oath. To arms, citizens! Defend the property of our brothers, those on the frontiers and those at home. Arrest any who betray their oath and deliver them to justice.’35 The Jacobins, for their part, were much opposed to the fixing of prices and feared that the disturbances would hinder the sale of national properties36 and drag the country into civil war. They played a major role in ending this Paris uprising that Robespierre portrayed as ‘an intrigue hatched against the patriots themselves’.

For many historians, including Jaurès and Mathiez, the movement of February 1793 was led by ‘a numerous and powerful party’, that of the Enragés.37 This view is no longer defensible today (see Excursus, p. 247 below). It now seems certain that the February events were a spontaneous popular movement in which some of the Enragés certainly played a role, but without having been its collective ringleaders.

A fight to the death between Gironde and Montagne

During the decisive months of spring 1793, when the defeats in Belgium, the treason of Dumouriez, the uprising in the Vendée and the food crisis threatened the very existence of the Republic, the confrontation between the Gironde and the Montagne ceased to be an an oratorical joust and became an implacable struggle.

On 1 April, in a dramatic session of the Convention, Lasource, still riding high on the Girondin side, made very serious accusations against Danton. He attacked him for not having dismissed Dumouriez earlier, and for being part of a royalist conspiracy: ‘If there was a plan to restore the monarchy, and Dumouriez was at the head of this plan, what was needed for its success? Dumouriez had to be kept on, as Dumouriez was necessary. Well then, I examine what your commissioners did. Danton arrives, and you will all remember that, far from speaking against this general, he praised him in no uncertain terms.’38 Danton counter-attacked as follows:

You who proudly decreed the death of the tyrant, rally against the cowards (gesturing to indicate the members of the right) who wished to spare him; close your ranks, call on the people to gather in arms against the enemy abroad and to crush the enemy within, and by the firmness and constancy of your character confound all those wretches, aristocrats, Moderates (still addressing the far left and sometimes indicating with a gesture the members on the right side), all those who have slandered you in the departments. No further compromise with them … I have retrenched into the citadel of reason, I shall emerge with the cannon of truth, and I shall pulverize those wretches who have sought to accuse me.39

On 5 April, the Jacobins went on the offensive. In an address to the affiliated societies, they demanded that the Girondins’ mandates be revoked: ‘Yes, the counter-revolution is in the government, in the National Convention; it is here that criminal delegates hold the threads of the intrigue they have spun with the horde of despots who are coming to murder us.’ The address called for petitions to be sent from all sides, manifesting ‘the explicit wish for the instant recall of all the faithless members who betrayed their duties in not voting for the death of the tyrant, and above all those who led so many of their colleagues astray. Those delegates are traitors, royalists, or incompetents.’40

The first signature on the text was that of Marat, at this time president of the Jacobins club. On 12 April, at the Convention, during an unusually aggressive session in which Pétion demanded that Robespierre ‘be branded with the hot iron that the ancients used to make imposters known’, and Marat and Pétion called one another scoundrels, Guadet read the first lines of the Jacobins’ address signed by Marat: ‘Friends, we are betrayed! To arms, to arms!’, which led to violent tumult on almost all the Assembly benches. Cries of ‘À l’Àbbaye! À l’Abbaye!’ were heard from all sides. The following day, an act of accusation against Marat was passed on a roll call by 226 votes to ninety-three, with forty-seven abstentions. Supported by the Paris Commune, by several sections, and by the clubs in the provinces, he was accompanied to the revolutionary tribunal by an immense crowd. Triumphantly acquitted on 24 April, he was crowned with flowers and carried back to his deputy’s seat on the shoulders of sans-culottes.

The Paris sections did not wait for this verdict to strike a new blow against the Gironde. On 22 April, delegates from thirty-five of the forty-eight sections, accompanied by the municipality, accused twenty-two of the Girondin deputies before the Convention: ‘The general assembly of the sections of Paris, after discussing at length the public conduct of the deputies of the Convention, has decreed that the following have openly betrayed the trust of their electors’ – there followed the list of twenty-two deputies, whom the accusers called upon to ‘withdraw from these precincts’.41

The Girondins responded by demanding the subjection of all Convention deputies to the verdict of the people meeting in the primary assemblies, but Vergniaud himself dismissed this idea, which risked leading to civil war. The Gironde based its counter-offensive on the more moderate Paris sections and the departmental assemblies. In a Lettre aux Parisiens published towards the end of April, Pétion called on men of order to stand firm: ‘War is being stirred up between those who have and those who have not, and you are doing nothing to prevent it. A few intriguers, a handful of factious men, are laying down the law to you, drawing you into violent and unconsidered measures, and you do not have the courage to resist … Parisians, emerge at last from your lethargy and make these noxious insects retreat into their lair.’42 In Paris, however, the sections controlled by the sans-culottes were too many and well organized for this appeal to make much impression.

The Montagne heeds popular demands over provisions

These agitated weeks saw a steady evolution in the position of the Montagne, and particularly of the Jacobins, on the economic question. They had previously been very divided – several of them being opposed to authoritarian regulation and particularly the fixing of prices, presented as a measure inspired by Pitt – but they now drew nearer to the positions supported by the Paris sans-culottes. Their ‘liberal’ convictions were certainly undermined by the reports of commissioners sent to the provinces. One such, Bon Saint-André, on mission in the Lot and the Dordogne, wrote to Barère on 26 March:

People everywhere are tired of the Revolution. The rich hate it; the poor lack bread, and are persuaded to direct their anger against us. Even the popular societies have entirely lost their energy … We spare no effort to replenish people’s spirits, but we are speaking to corpses … It is absolutely imperative to give the poor the means to live, if you want them to help you complete the Revolution. We believe that a decree ordering a general requisition of all grain would be very useful, especially if it is supplemented by an arrangement establishing public granaries from the surplus held by individuals.43

While waiting for the laws they demanded, the deputies posted in the provinces ordered inventories and requisitions to supply the markets, and prohibitions on removing grain from the departments in their charge.

Robespierre’s speeches during the month of April 1793 reflect his growing radicalization.44 On the 6th, he said at the Jacobins: ‘Let us pass beneficent laws that will tend to bring food prices into line with the earnings of the poor.’45 And on the 8th, again at the Jacobins:

You have everything you need in the laws to exterminate our enemies legally. If there are aristocrats in the sections, expel them. If liberty needs rescuing, proclaim the rights of liberty and put your whole energy into it. You have an immense people of sans-culottes, utterly pure and vigorous, who cannot leave their work; have them be paid by the rich … I ask the sections to raise an army large enough to form the kernel of a Revolutionary Army that will draw all the sans-culottes from the departments to exterminate the rebels … I ask the Commune of Paris to support with all its power the revolutionary zeal of the people of Paris. I ask the Revolutionary Tribunal to do its duty, and punish those who in recent days have blasphemed against the Republic.46

Starting on 25 April, the Convention debated the principle of a maximum on grain prices, which was finally passed on 4 May on Thuriot’s proposal. It was also decided to conduct a census of grain across the whole territory of the Republic. The administrative bodies were empowered to force cultivators and landowners to supply the markets. The measure was vigorously opposed by Vergniaud and Buzot, but Lullier, the procureur-syndic of the Paris department, received an ovation when he retorted: ‘The choice is between the magistrates of the people and the rich hoarders, the dealers in grain, who simply take advantage of the freedom of trade to snatch from the people their means of subsistence.’47

The approaching dénouement, the Commission of Twelve, Isnard’s speech against Paris

Matters were coming to a head. On 17 May, Desmoulins presented at the Jacobins his ‘Histoire des Brissotins ou Fragment de l’histoire secrète de la Révolution’, in which he accused the Girondins of being ‘almost all upholders of the monarchy, accomplices of the treasons of Dumouriez and Beurnonville, controlled by the agents of Pitt, d’Orléans and Prussia, and having sought to divide France into twenty or thirty federative republics, or rather to upset it so that there would no longer be a republic at all.’48

The following day, in the course of a stormy debate in the Convention, Guadet attacked the Paris authorities, ‘greedy for both money and domination’. He proposed two measures: ‘1) The authorities of Paris shall be revoked. The municipality shall be temporarily replaced within twenty-four hours by the presidents of the sections. 2) The substitute deputies shall meet at Bourges as soon as can be arranged, but can only take up their functions on the certain news of the dissolution of the Convention.’49 Barère disagreed (‘If I wanted anarchy, I would support this proposal’), but he criticized the policies of the Commune, ‘exaggerating or commuting laws as it pleases’, and proposed the creation of a twelve-man commission ‘charged with examining the decisions taken by the Commune in the last month’.50

The Girondins, who still held a majority in the Convention, had almost exclusively their own supporters chosen for this task. On 24 May, the Commission of Twelve, primed for combat, ordered the arrest of Hébert (for a virulent article that had appeared in Le Père Duchesne the day before), Varlet,51 and finally Dobsen, the president of the very active Cité section. It went on to demand the records of all decisions made in the last month by the Paris sections, as a prelude to legal action against section members. It ordered an investigation of Chaumette and Pache, and had a decree passed that gave it de facto control of the Paris armed forces.

These measures did not remain unchallenged. On 25 May, delegates from the general council of the Commune appeared before the Convention: ‘We hereby denounce the assault committed by the Commission of Twelve on the person of Hébert, the substitute Commune procureur … The general council will defend his innocence to the death. It asks you to reinstate a magistrate who is estimable for his civic virtues and intellectual gifts.’ Isnard, presiding, asserted that ‘the Convention will not tolerate a citizen remaining in chains if he is not guilty’, before launching into a diatribe that did much to inscribe his name in history:

Listen to these truths I am telling you: France has placed the site of national representation in Paris, and Paris must respect this. If ever the Convention were debased; if ever, by one of those insurrections that have repeatedly surrounded the National Convention since 10 March, and of which we have always been the last to be warned by the magistrates – if, I say, by these ever recurring insurrections there should be an attack on the national representation, I declare to you in the name of France (cries of ‘No, no’ from the far left), I declare in the name of the whole of France, Paris would be destroyed; it would not be long before people were searching the banks of the Seine to see if this city had ever existed.52

The turmoil in Paris was racheted up by Isnard’s speech. The following day, 26 May, the Club of Revolutionary Republican Women Citizens, led by Claire Lacombe, demonstrated in the streets to demand the liberation of Hébert.53 In the evening at the Jacobins, Robespierre, hitherto a supporter of stifling the Girondins by legal means, spoke up for insurrection: ‘The moment has arrived: our enemies are openly oppressing the patriots; in the name of the law, they seek to plunge the people back into misery and slavery … I invite the people to rise in the National Convention in insurrection against all corrupt deputies.’54 True, this proposal was ambiguous, as what precisely was an insurrection ‘in the National Convention’? But the essential thing is that the word ‘insurrection’ was used.

On 27 May, Thuriot took aim at Isnard, who was still presiding: ‘In what century are we living, then, if such a man presides; if the president of the National Convention, an incendiary rather than a regulator, appears to be grasping a torch designed to inflame the departments against Paris? … This is too much perfidy, I demand that the president step down.’55

The same evening, in fact, Isnard was replaced by Hérault de Séchelles. Delegations from the Paris sections followed one another to the bar, all demanding the release of the imprisoned patriots. The delegates and citizens in this procession gradually overflowed the benches reserved for petitioners and began to occupy the deputies’ benches, until around midnight the Convention voted for the liberation of Hébert and the two other accused men, as well as the dissolution of the Commission of Twelve.56

On 28 May, the Cité section – whose president, Dobsen, had just been released from prison – summoned all the Paris sections to the Évêché. On the 30th, this revolutionary assembly organized the insurrection: it had the barriers of the customs wall closed, appointed Hanriot as general commander of the Paris armed forces, and established an insurrection committee of nine members including Varlet and Dobsen. The department joined the movement by organizing, on Lullier’s proposal, a general assembly of all the Paris authorities at the Jacobins. The insurrection committee decided to sound the tocsin at first light the following day.

31 May and 2 June 1793: fall of the Gironde

Around six in the morning, commissioners from thirty-three sections entered the Hôtel de Ville. Dobsen, who had chaired the revolutionary assembly at the Évêché, addressed the Commune as follows: ‘The people of Paris, whose rights have been injured, have come to take the necessary measures to preserve their liberty. They rescind the powers of all the established authorities.’57 The Commune accepted, aware that it was unable to lead the revolutionary action that was needed: Chaumette requested the general council to hand back its powers to the sovereign people. To unanimous shouts of Vive la République!, the dismissed council withdrew. Then Dobsen, still presiding, declared the reinstatement of the mayor, the Commune procureur and his deputies, as along with the general council, but in the name of the sovereign people. The reappointed Commune was thus released from its legal shackles, and the council became the revolutionary general council.58

At noon the alarm gun was fired, despite opposition from the Pont-Neuf section who pointed out that according to the law – since the September massacres – this required an order from the Convention. The Convention met in the afternoon, to the sound of the tocsin and the general alarm.

This was an agitated session, to say the least. Thuriot moved that the Commission of Twelve, ‘which is the plague of France, be abolished immediately, that seals be affixed to its papers, and that the Committee of Public Safety should make a report on all of this.’ Danton supported the proposal: ‘Yes, your commission has merited popular indignation. It has put magistrates of the people in chains simply because they combatted, in the press, that spirit of moderationism that France intends to kill in order to save the Republic.’59

In the tumult, and amid a hail of insults, a deputation from the Commune’s provisional general council managed to make itself heard. It demanded: 1) the formation of a central Revolutionary Army made up of sans-culottes, funded by a tax on the wealthy at a rate of forty sous per day; 2) a decree of accusation against the twenty-two deputies designated by the Paris sections and by the great majority of the departments, as well as against the members of the Commission of Twelve (and the ministers Clavière and Lebrun); 3) that the price of bread be fixed at 3 sous a pound in every department, this reduction to be achieved by additional taxation of the rich; 4) the establishment throughout the Republic of workshops to make weapons, so that all sans-culottes might be armed, funded by a loan of a 1,000 million livres to be immediately apportioned; 5) the dismissal of all nobles occupying higher ranks in the armies of the Republic.60

Then a delegation from the Paris department came to the bar, with Lullier as its spokesman. ‘We demand justice for a terrible insult directed at the nation. We are speaking of the political sacrilege proffered by Isnard in the sacred temple of the laws … You will avenge us for Isnard and Roland, and all impious men, against whom public opinion is clamouring.’

The petitioners, along with a crowd of citizens, entered the hall amid applause from the stands. They ‘mingled fraternally with the members of the Montagne’. Vergniaud protested: ‘The National Convention cannot deliberate in its present state. I ask it to go and join the armed force that is on the square and place itself under its protection.’ He left, followed by a number of members, but returned a few minutes later.

Then it was Robespierre’s turn to speak. He supported the dissolution of the Twelve, and criticized the Girondin project of protecting the assembly by an armed force. Vergniaud interrupted him: ‘Conclude, then!’

Robespierre:

Yes, I shall conclude, and against you; against you who, after the revolution of 10 August, sought to send those who made it to the scaffold; against you who have constantly called for the destruction of Paris; against you who tried to save the tyrant; against you who conspired with Dumouriez; against you who bitterly pursued the very patriots whose heads Dumouriez demanded; against you whose criminal vengeance has provoked the very cries of indignation that you want to make a crime on the part of your victims. Well! My conclusion is a decree of accusation against all the accomplices of Dumouriez, and all those designated by the petitioners.61

Finally, the Convention decreed the abolition of the Commission of Twelve, but took no position on the decree of accusation against the twenty-two.

In the evening, at the Jacobins, Billaud-Varenne reported as follows on a journée that had finished ambiguously:

I have just come from the Convention … I believe, in view of the audacity of the conspirators, that the patrie has not been saved. I do not understand how the patriots were able to leave their posts without decreeing an act of accusation against the ministers Lebrun and Clavière. The insurrection was directed against the counter-revolutionaries on the right, and it follows that it should not end until they are all destroyed.62

During the night of 1–2 June, the insurrection committee and the Commune ordered Hanriot to ‘surround the Convention with a respectable armed force, so that the leaders of the faction can be arrested within the day should the Convention refuse to accept the demands of the citizens of Paris’. In the morning, the Tuileries were surrounded by National Guards, and by thousands of workers from the faubourgs. Cannon were aimed at the palace.

The atmosphere in the Convention was more than tense. At one point, Lanjuinais shouted out to Legendre: ‘Come and throw me off the platform, then! (Violent protests from the Montagne) How can you ensure the freedom of the national representation, when a deputy comes up to me at this bar and says: “Until we put an end to scoundrels like you, this is how we shall continue to behave”?’63

Amid the cacophony, a deputation from the insurrectional Commune came to demand the arrest of the twenty-two members: ‘The crimes of the factious members of the Convention are known to you, we have come one last time to denounce them. Decree right away that they are unworthy of the nation’s trust. Place them under arrest.’64 The petitioners marched out, shouting ‘Aux armes!’

Barère then suggested inviting the members in question to voluntarily resign from their posts for a set period. Isnard accepted, in fairly dignified language: ‘I will not wait for the decree to be emitted, I hereby suspend myself, and return to the class of ordinary citizens.’ Lanthenas and Fauchet echoed him, but Lanjuinais, with typical valiance, objected: ‘A sacrifice must be freely made, and you are not free. The Convention is under siege; cannon are pointed at this palace; we are forbidden to stand at the windows; muskets are loaded. I therefore declare that I cannot emit an opinion at this moment, and shall remain silent.’ Barbaroux agreed: ‘Do not expect me to resign. I swore to die at my post, and I will keep my oath.’65

The discussion was interrupted by deputies protesting the order given by Hanriot not to let anyone leave the assembly precincts. Hérault de Séchelles, who was presiding, led a solemn exit from the Convention to try to break the encirclement. But all around thepalace they were met by bayonets. The only response Hérault received from Hanriot was ‘Gunners, to your positions!’

The humiliated members returned to the hall to hear the closing words pronounced by Couthon, in a spirit of cruel irony:

Citizens, all members of the Convention must now be reassured of their liberty. You have gone toward the people, and everywhere you have found them kind, generous, and incapable of infringing the safety of their mandatories, but indignant against the conspirators … I demand an act of accusation against the twenty-two denounced members, but given that opinion is so strongly against them, I propose they be placed under arrest in their own homes, along with the members of the Commission of Twelve and the ministers Clavière and Lebrun.66

The decree was passed, and the session adjourned at ten in the evening.

So ended the third great moment in the ascending phase of the Revolution, the third ‘revolution in the revolution’. The elimination of the Girondins was necessary: even Michelet, whose sympathies were with them, recognized this: ‘The Girondin policy, in the early months of 1793, was impotent and blind; it would have spelled the loss of France.’67 But the events of 31 May to 2 June were different from the two previous revolutions, those of 14 July 1789 and 10 August 1792. The people had attacked the Bastille and the Tuileries in a spontaneous impulse, whereas this time the popular movement was encased in a parliamentary revolution with some of the features of a coup d’état. And indeed the fall of the Girondins was not greeted by great displays of popular joy, as the previous revolutions had been.

 

EXCURSUS: THE ENRAGÉS; WOMEN IN THE REVOLUTION

Enragés is a term of contempt, as used for example by Brissot in Le Patriote français; ‘The character of these enragés [rabid ones] is to carry their popular doctrine to extremes … Enragé: False friend of the people, enemy of the Constitution.’68

Describing the popular movement of February 1793 in Paris, Mathiez and Jaurès, as we have seen, ascribe a major role to the ‘party of the Enragés’. Jaurès: ‘A kind of social party formed, seeking to bring economic problems to the fore’; Mathiez: ‘The party that demanded the fixing of prices, the party of the Enragés, whose leaders were Varlet and Jacques Roux’.69 It is quite odd that these great historians should have used the word ‘party’; they were obviously aware that nothing existed at this time that could be properly described as a party. In my view, their use of the term signals a kind of hesitation as to what to call the Enragés. At all events, these did not form a party.70 First of all, there were only three of them – Roux, Varlet and Leclerc – a bit short in terms of membership. And these three did not form any real group: they certainly knew one another, their paths crossed, they sometimes found themselves together in current struggles, but they did not start anything in common, whether a paper, a manifesto, or an organization. As Guillon writes, ‘the Enragés did not form a group of conspirators meeting to decide on actions to be undertaken.’71 And when they left the political stage (to anticipate somewhat), they each left independently, rather than marching together to the scaffold like the ‘factions’ of year II.

The oldest of the trio was Jacques Roux (forty-one in 1793). Arriving in Paris in 1790, he became vicar of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, the main church in the Gravilliers, the section where a large part of his political life would be conducted, and he was also a member of the Cordeliers club. Varlet (twenty-nine in 1793) was a clerk with the postal service, which ensured him a regular income and enabled him to publish pamphlets at his own expense. After 10 August, as we have seen, he parked a platform on wheels outside the Tuileries on the Terrasse des Feuillants, from where he harangued passers-by and denounced the misdeeds of ‘senatorial despotism’ (today we would say ‘parliamentarianism’). Leclerc (twenty-three in 1793) had travelled to Martinique at a very young age, where he saw slavery close up, then spent time in Lyon, where he undoubtedly met people of extreme views such as Lange and Hidins. Sent to Paris by the Lyon Jacobins, he addressed the Paris club on 13 May 1793, pressing it to establish ‘a popular Machiavellianism’. In July he took up the old title of Marat’s paper L’Ami du peuple, attacking in it the new Committee of Public Safety: ‘It is a nine-headed Capet in place of the old one.’72

Notwithstanding the diversity of their characters and trajectories, and despite the absence of common action, the Enragés did display a convergence of ideas.73 It was on the economy and the provisions question that they attacked first of all, demanding a clampdown on hoarding and speculation, and the setting of a maximum price on all products of basic necessity. In the address that Jacques Roux delivered to the Cordeliers, then to the Convention, we read:

Liberty is only a vain phantom when one class of men can starve the other with impunity. Equality is only a vain phantom when the rich use their monopoly to exercise a right of life and death over others. The republic is only a vain phantom when the counter-revolution is daily manipulating the price of food, which three-quarters of the citizens cannot afford without shedding tears.74

The Enragés – especially Varlet – were Rousseauians, champions of a radical democracy: a mandate was imperative, and deputies should be recallable at any time by their electors.

By way of these ideas, they were interpreters of the popular movement, sometimes its inspirers, but very rarely its leaders – only individually and at particular moments, such as Varlet with the insurrection committee at the Évêché. Their role was important but limited, which does not prevent them from being the darlings of today’s far left and of that portion of revolutionary young people who take any interest in the French Revolution. This infatuation is easy to understand: direct democracy and the subordination of economics to politics are hotter topics today than the cult of virtue, and for many, the personalities of Roux, Varlet and Leclerc are more attractive than those of Robespierre and Saint-Just, tainted by the exercise of power.

Of all the women who came to the fore during the Revolution, the two who have inspired the most books, plays and films are Marie-Antoinette and Charlotte Corday. Next, but far behind, come certain women remarkable for their beauty or originality: Manon Roland, Olympe de Gouges, or Théroigne de Méricourt, the ‘Liège amazon’. The rest, the women of the people, the anonymous ones, are often grouped under the term tricoteuses, almost as stigmatizing as pétroleuses for the women of the 1871 Paris Commune. To be sure, everyone remembers that it was the women of Paris who went to Versailles in October 1789 to seek ‘the baker, the baker’s wife and the baker’s boy’. Overall, however, the role of women in the Revolution remains vague, and is often dealt with in a few lines even by the best historians.

But women were present in the great revolutionary journées, and often in the front line. When Lafayette and Bailly fired on the people peacefully assembled on the Champ-de-Mars, on 17 July 1791, women were numerous among the victims. On 10 August, Claire Lacombe – the leading figure of the Club of Revolutionary Republican Women Citizens – distinguished herself so valiantly during the assault that the fédérés awarded her a civic crown. The agitation of sans-culotte women was an essential element in the popular movement that led to the insurrections of 31 May and 2 June 1793.75

As from 1791, women were admitted to the Société Fraternelle des Deux Sexes, which met at the Couvent des Jacobins in a hall situated beneath that of the famous Club. (Marat: ‘the women’s club that providence seems to have placed beneath that of the Jacobins to make up for its faults …’). They received membership cards, and took part in discussions and voting. Out of the six secretaries, the statutes laid down that two had to be women. This was where many women activists took their first steps – among them Pauline Léon and Claire Lacombe, who would soon go on to lead the Club of Revolutionary Republican Women Citizens. The Société Fraternelle was close to the Cordeliers club, where women could also speak. In May 1791, the two clubs jointly established a Comité Central des Sociétés Fraternelles, and after Varennes, Cordeliers and patriots of both sexes led a joint campaign for the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.76

On 6 March 1792, women presented an ‘Adresse individuelle à l’Assemblée nationale par des citoyennes de la capitale’, written by Pauline Léon, that claimed the right for women to arm themselves with pikes, pistols and muskets, and to train in using them. This was a way of demanding citizenship for women:

If, for reasons that we cannot conceive, you refuse our just demands, women whom you have raised to the rank of citizens by granting this title to their menfolk, women who have enjoyed the first fruits of liberty, who have conceived the hope of bringing free men into the world, and who have sworn to live free or die; such women will never consent to give birth to slaves, they will sooner die.77

Around this time, Pétronille Machefer, a street vendor who wrote tracts under the name La Mère Duchesne, exclaimed: ‘Let us prove to men that we can equal them in politics. We shall denounce everything that is contrary to the Constitution and above all to the rights of women, and we shall teach them that there is more spirit and activity in a woman’s little finger than in the whole body of a fat layabout like my very dear and faithful husband, Père Duchesne.’78

The Club of Revolutionary Republican Women Citizens was officially founded on 10 May 1793.79 Two days later, its spokeswoman delivered an address at the Jacobins: ‘We have decided that all women, from the age of eighteen to fifty, will form an army corps and sport the tricolour cockade. We shall make a collection to arm those sansculotte women who do not have the means to equip themselves with weapons. We want the only bonnet worn by women to be that of liberty.’80 Bentabole, from the chair, replied that ‘the society is impressed by the heroic courage you display, and will engage all its brothers to second your generous efforts’.

The membership of this club – which varied from 150 to 200 – came from diverse backgrounds. The leaders had a good level of education, but members also included street vendors, poor wage-earners, genuine sans-culotte women who were often illiterate. Nor was the club politically homogeneous, though it was united in supporting the action that would end by eliminating the Girondins. There was a lively antagonism between those who supported Montagnard positions and others closer to the Enragés – the latter discernible in a petition read at the Jacobins on 19 May:

Strike the speculators, the hoarders and the egoistic merchants. There is a terrible plot to have the people die of hunger by raising the price of food to frightful levels. At the head of this plot is the mercantile aristocracy of an insolent caste that seeks to equate itself with royalty and seize all wealth by raising the prices of basic necessities as high as its greed dictates. Exterminate all these scoundrels.81

There clearly were relations between the club and the Enragés, but the women were careful to maintain their independence. Their position towards Jacques Roux ranged from support to sharp criticism. Théophile Leclerc was the closest to the club, since he would marry Pauline Léon, one of its founders. On 26 August, he published an impassioned exhortation in his L’Ami du peuple: ‘By your example and your speeches, arouse republican energy and reinvigorate patriotism in hearts that have grown lukewarm!’82

In the wake of some confused incidents, however, in which the revolutionary republican women were accused – not without reason – of seeking to impose the tricolour cockade and red bonnet on all women, the male revolutionary leaders eventually decided that the club had gone too far. On 9 Brumaire of year II (30 October 1793), Amar, in the name of the Committee of General Security, presented a decree forbidding ‘clubs and popular societies [of women] under whatever name’. In his report, he maintained that ‘women have little capacity for high conceptions and serious meditations … They are disposed, by their [biological] organization, to an exaltation that would be harmful in public affairs, and the interests of the state would soon be sacrificed to whatever the vivacity of passion might produce in the way of distraction and disorder.’83 The decree was passed, at a moment coinciding with the loss of influence of the Enragés. The republican women citizens appeared before the Convention on 15 Brumaire to protest the decree, but had to withdraw precipitately ‘amid booing and jeering’. The end of the Club of Revolutionary Republican Women Citizens was part and parcel of the restoration of order in the autumn and winter of 1793.

 

1Michelet, Histoire, vol. 2, p. 82.

2A. P., vol. 53, p. 326.

3Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 4, p. 572.

4A. P., vol. 53, p. 461.

5Ibid., p. 474.

6Ibid., p. 498.

7A. P., vol. 55, p. 74.

8Robespierre, Lettre à ses commettants, 5 February 1793, Œuvres complètes, vol. 5, p. 265.

9Journal de la République française, no. 77, 18 December 1792.

10Where Le Porrentruy had been annexed, and turned into the department of Mont-Terrible.

11A. P., vol. 58, p. 112.

12Gregory Claeys, The French Revolution Debate in Britain, London: Palgrave, 2007, p. 8.

13Cited by Mark Philip, ‘Britain and the French Revolution’, bbc.co.uk/history.

14His abrupt change of political camp led to doubts about his mental health. Thomas Jefferson noted: ‘The French Revolution astonishes me less than the revolution of Mr Burke.’

15Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France [1790], Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 86.

16A. P., vol. 59, p. 64.

17Article 11 of the decree, A. P., vol. 59, p. 87.

18A. P., vol. 69, p. 2.

19Ibid., p. 60.

20Discours de Danton, pp. 100–1. My emphasis.

21A. P., vol. 61, pp. 373–4.

22The nine being completed by Delmas and Guyton-Morveau.

23Mercier du Rocher, administrator of the Vendée department, cited by Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 5, p. 348.

24Charles Tilly, The Vendée: A Sociological Analysis of the Counter-Revolution of 1793, Chicago: University of Michigan Press, 1964.

25A. P., vol. 60, p. 331.

26C. L. Chassin, Études documentaires sur la Révolution française. La préparation de la guerre de Vendée, 1789–1793, vol. 3, p. 515. Cited by Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 5, p. 363.

27The municipality was the Paris executive, as distinct from the Commune’s general council.

28Mathiez, La Vie chère, p. 115.

29This probably refers to Saint-Just’s speech on provisions.

30A. P., vol. 48, p. 475. My emphases. Mathiez detects here the hallmark of Jacques Roux.

31The fédérés who had remained in Paris after 10 August, and those who had arrived in September to man the departmental guard, had formed themselves into a Comité des Défenseurs Réunis des Quatre-vingt-quatre Départements. This committee had sent delegates to bring the petition.

32A. P., vol. 58, pp. 475–6.

33A. P., vol. 59, p. 151.

34Les Révolutions de Paris, no. 190, 23 February to 2 March 1793.

35Le Moniteur, 1 March 1793, vol. 15, p. 575.

36[These were properties confiscated from the clergy. See p. 108 above. – Translator]

37Mathiez, La Vie chère, p. 145.

38A. P., vol. 61, p. 52. It is true that Danton’s role in this affair is unclear. For Mathiez, always anti-Danton, he was in league with Dumouriez. What is certain is that Danton supported Dumouriez for too long, no doubt convinced that only this general was capable of leading the army to victory.

39Ibid., pp. 58–9.

40Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 5, p. 126.

41A. P., vol. 62, p. 132. The twenty-two were Brissot, Guadet, Vergniaud, Gensonné, Grangeneuve, Buzot, Barbaroux, Salle, Birotteau, Pontécoulant, Pétion, Lanjuinais, Valazé, Lehardy, Hardy, Louvet, Gorsas, Fauchet, Lanthenas, Lasource, Valady and Chambon.

42Cited by Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 5, p. 419.

43Ibid., pp. 159–60.

44It was not a complete U-turn: Robespierre had already supported Dolivier’s ‘antiliberal’ proposals in autumn 1792.

45Robespierre, Pour le bonheur et pour la liberté, p. 221.

46Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 5, p. 179.

47A. P., vol. 64, p. 598.

48Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 5, p. 193.

49A. P., vol. 65, p. 46.

50Ibid., p. 47.

51On Varlet, see Excursus, p. 247 below.

52Le Moniteur, vol. 16, p. 479.

53On this club, see below, p. 250.

54Robespierre, Œuvres complètes, vol. 9, pp. 526–7.

55Le Moniteur, vol. 16, p. 493.

56The commission was re-established very temporarily the next day, the vote having been considered irregular: it was not clear whether the measures had been voted by the deputies alone, or whether petitioners had also taken part.

57Le Moniteur, vol. 16, p. 517.

58For Daniel Guérin, Dobsen’s action was a manoeuvre designed to counter the influence of the Enragés on the insurrection movement (La Lutte de classes, vol. 1, pp. 120–1).

59A. P., vol. 65, p. 642.

60Ibid., p. 652.

61Ibid., p. 655.

62Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 5, p. 217.

63A. P., vol. 65, p. 699.

64Ibid., p. 700.

65Ibid., p. 704.

66Ibid., p. 707.

67Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution française, vol. 2, p. 443. He goes on: ‘Personally, the Girondins were innocent. They never sought to dismember France. They did not have any dealings with the enemy.’

68Le Patriote français, 10 May 1792, cited by Claude Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, 1792–1793, les écrits des Enragé(e)s, Paris: Éditions IMHO, 2009, p. 10. As well as this work, I have drawn here on Maurice Dommanget, Enragés et curés rouges en 1793, Jacques Roux, Pierre Dolivier, Paris: Éditions Spartacus, 1993; Morris Slavin, The Left and the French Revolution, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995, and Guérin, La Lutte de classes.

69Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 5, p. 207; Mathiez, La Vie chère, vol. 1, p. 134. Marx was not far from the same idea when he wrote: ‘The revolutionary movement which began in 1789 in the Cercle social, which in the middle of its course had as its chief representatives Leclerc and Roux, and which finally with Babeuf’s conspiracy was temporarily defeated …’ (The Holy Family, in MECW, vol. 4, p. 119).

70Florence Gauthier, personal communication.

71Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, p. 23.

72L’Ami du peuple, no. 7, 4 August 1793. Cited after Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, p. 67.

73And they were, too, generally reviled en bloc. Marat: ‘These intriguers are not content to be the factotums of their representative sections, they busy themselves from morning to night introducing themselves into all the popular societies, influencing them and finally becoming the great doers. Such are the three noisy individuals who have taken over the Gravilliers section, the Fraternal Society and that of the Cordeliers: I mean little Leclerc, Varlet, and Abbé Renaudi who calls himself Jacques Roux’ (Le Publiciste de la République française, 4 July 1793).

74Cited in Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, p. 96. This text deserves to be called the ‘manifesto of the Enragés’, since Roux, Varlet and Leclerc were all present for once at the 22 June session of the Cordeliers club, and spoke with common purpose.

75The following notes are based on Dominique Godineau, Citoyennes tricoteuses, les femmes du peuple à Paris pendant la Révolution française, Paris: Alinéa, 1988; Martine Lapied, ‘Une absence de révolution pour les femmes?’, in Biard (ed.), La Révolution française, une histoire toujours vivante; Marie Cerati, Le Club des citoyennes républicaines révolutionnaires, Paris: Éditions sociales, 1966; Guillon, Notre patience est à bout. The last of these contains biographical notes on the leading figures of the club, and on the Enragés with whom they were in contact.

76Godineau, Citoyennes tricoteuses, pp. 116–7.

77Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, p. 116.

78Cerati, Le Club des citoyennes, pp. 12–13. My emphasis.

79Le Moniteur, vol. 16, p. 362: ‘Several women citizens presented themselves at the secretariat of the municipality and, to conform to the municipal police law, they declared their intention to meet together and form a society in which only women would be accepted. The aim of this society is to discuss the means of frustrating the plans of the enemies of the Republic. It will take the name Société Républicaine Révolutionnaire and will meet in the library of the Couvent des Jacobins, rue Saint-Honoré.’ The club subsequently moved into an outbuilding (the ‘charnel house’) of Saint-Eustache.

80Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, p. 118.

81Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 5, p. 198.

82Guillon, Notre patience est à bout, p. 139.

83A. P., vol. 78, p. 51.

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