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The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.

Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.


see also:

Between Two Revolutions

(From David to Delacroix)



The French Revolution

1789 - 1799


The French Revolution had far-reaching consequences not only for France but for all of Europe as it challenged the fundamental institutions that shaped the political structure of Europe. It was an attempt to establish in common laws the equality of all persons regardless of their origin. The Revolution led by the bourgeoisie had as its goals the abolition of aristocratic rule, a constitution, and intellectual freedom. It stressed social mobility without class barriers ("Let ability win through!") and strove for a moral society, the nation, in which the common good took precedence over self-interests: "Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood!" Radicalism, however, along with outside pressure, transformed at times the rule of virtue into a despotism of its own kind.


The Jacobins verses the Girondists

The issue of a war against the German Empire sparked a struggle for power between the pro-war Girondists and the anti-war Jacobins.


Since the middle of 1792, a struggle for control over the direction of the Revolution had been playing out between the moderate Girondists and the radical clubs of the Cordeliers and 2 Jacobins — named after their meeting place in a monastery in the rue St. Jacob.

The leaders of the Girondists were Jean-Pierre Brissot and the minister of the interior, Jean-Marie Roland. They argued for the war and the export of the Revolution to the rest of Europe. They particularly attempted to check the mob rule of the streets of Paris after the storming of the Tuileries Palace in August 1792. On the radical side stood tribunes of the people.

2 Club of Jacobins, January, 1792


political group, France
also called Brissotin
a label applied to a loose grouping of republican politicians, some of them originally from the département of the Gironde, who played a leading role in the Legislative Assembly from October 1791 to September 1792 during the French Revolution. Lawyers, intellectuals and journalists, the Girondins attracted a following of businessmen, merchants, industrialists, and financiers. Historians have disagreed about whether they truly constituted an organized group, and the term “Girondins” was rarely used prior to 1793. Their opponents often called them Brissotins, after their most prominent spokesman, Jacques-Pierre Brissot.

The Girondins first emerged as harsh critics of the court. Through the oratory of Pierre-Victurnien Vergniaud and Brissot, the Girondins inspired the measures taken against the émigrés and anti-Revolutionary priests in October and November of 1791. From the end of 1791, under the leadership of Brissot, they supported foreign war as a means to unite the people behind the cause of the Revolution.

The Girondins reached the height of their power and popularity in the spring of 1792. On April 20, 1792, the war that they urged was declared against Austria. Earlier, on March 23, two of the group entered the government under King Louis XVI: Étienne Clavière as finance minister and Jean-Marie Roland as interior minister. Roland’s wife, Mme Jeanne-Marie Roland, held a salon that was an important meeting place for the Girondins. But throughout the summer they vacillated in their position toward the existing constitutional monarchy, which was coming under serious attack. The storming of the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792, which overthrew the monarchy, took place without their participation and marks the beginning of their decline, as more radical groups (the Paris Commune, the Parisian working class, and the Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre) came to direct the course of the Revolution.

From the opening of the National Convention in September 1792, the Girondins united in opposition to the Montagnards (deputies of the left, mainly newly elected from Paris, who headed the Jacobin dictatorship of 1793–94). The antagonism between the two groups was partly caused by bitter personal hatreds but also by opposing social interests. The Girondins had strong support in provincial cities and among local government officials, while the Montagnards had the backing of the Paris sansculottes (extreme radical revolutionaries). In the ensuing struggles the Girondins were characterized by political views that stopped short of economic and social equality, by economic liberalism that rejected government control of trade or prices, and, most clearly, by their reliance on the départements as a counterbalance to Paris. Their efforts to reduce the influence of the capital led the Montagnards to brand them as advocates of “federalism” who sought to destroy the unity of the newly formed republic. The trial of Louis XVI (December 1792–January 1793) left the Girondins, some of whom opposed the king’s execution, open to the charge of royalism.

The Girondins were held responsible for defeats suffered by the army in the spring of 1793 and were made more unpopular by their refusal to respond to the economic demands of the Parisian workers. A popular rising against them in Paris, beginning on May 31, ended when the Convention, surrounded by armed insurgents, ordered the arrest of 29 Girondin deputies on June 2. The fall of the Girondins was caused by their reluctance to adopt emergency measures for the defense of the Revolution and to provide for the economic demands of the Parisian workers, policies that the Montagnards carried out.

Many of the Girondins escaped to the provinces in the summer of 1793 to organize “federalist” uprisings against the Convention. These failed largely for lack of popular support. When the ruling Montagnards instituted the Reign of Terror, 21 of the arrested Girondins were tried, beginning on October 24, 1793, and were guillotined on October 31. After the fall of the Montagnards in 1794, a number of deputies imprisoned for protesting the purge of the Girondins returned to the Convention and were rehabilitated.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Jacobin Club
French political history
byname Jacobins, formally (1789–92) Society of the Friends of the Constitution, or (1792–94) Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Liberty and Equality, or French Club des Jacobins, or Société des Amis de la Constitution, or Société des Jacobins, Amis de la Liberté et de l’Égalité
the most famous political group of the French Revolution, which became identified with extreme egalitarianism and violence and which led the Revolutionary government from mid-1793 to mid-1794.

The Jacobins originated as the Club Breton at Versailles, where the deputies from Brittany to the Estates-General (later the National Assembly) of 1789 met with deputies from other parts of France to concert their action. The group was reconstituted, probably in December 1789, after the National Assembly moved to Paris, under the name of Society of the Friends of the Constitution, but it was commonly called the Jacobin Club because its sessions were held in a former convent of the Dominicans, who were known in Paris as Jacobins. Its purpose was to protect the gains of the Revolution against a possible aristocratic reaction. The club soon admitted nondeputies—usually prosperous bourgeois and men of letters—and acquired affiliates throughout France. By July 1790 there were about 1,200 members in the Parisian club and 152 affiliate clubs.

In July 1791 the Jacobin Club split over a petition calling for the removal of Louis XVI after his unsuccessful attempt to flee France; many of the moderate deputies left to join the rival club of the Feuillants. Maximilien Robespierre was one of the few deputies who remained, and he assumed a position of prominence in the club.

After the overthrow of the monarchy, in August 1792 (in which the Jacobin Club, still reluctant to declare itself republican, did not have a direct role), the club entered a new phase as one of the major groups directing the Revolution. With the proclamation of the republic in September, the club changed its name to Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Liberty and Equality. It acquired a democratic character with the admission of the leftist Montagnard deputies in the National Convention (the new legislature) and also a more popular one as it responded to the demands of the Parisian working and artisan class. Through the early phase of the Convention, the club was a meeting place for the Montagnards, and it agitated for the execution of the king (January 1793) and for the overthrow of the moderate Girondins (June 1793).

With the establishment of the Revolutionary dictatorship, beginning in the summer of 1793, the local Jacobin clubs became instruments of the Reign of Terror. (In 1793 there were probably 5,000 to 8,000 clubs throughout France, with a nominal membership of 500,000.) The clubs, as part of the administrative machinery of government, had certain duties: they raised supplies for the army and policed local markets. Often local government officials were replaced with members of clubs. As centres of public virtue, the clubs watched over people whose opinions were suspect, led the dechristianizing movement, and organized Revolutionary festivals.

The Parisian club was increasingly associated with Robespierre, who dominated the Revolutionary government through his position on the Committee of Public Safety. It supported Robespierre in his attacks on the enemies of the Revolution and helped him resist the growing demands of the discontented workers for a controlled economy. After the fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor, year II (July 27, 1794), the Parisian club, now a symbol of dictatorship and terror, was temporarily closed. It reopened as a centre of opposition to the Thermidorian government, but it was permanently closed on 21 Brumaire, year III (November 11, 1794).

The Club du Panthéon in 1795 and Club du Manège of 1799 briefly revived the Jacobin spirit, while some local clubs lasted until the year VIII (1799–1800) despite their having been officially banned.

The name Jacobin was also applied to radicals in England and other countries in the period of the French Revolution.

French history
(French: “Mountain Man” ) Main
any of the radical Jacobin deputies in the National Convention during the French Revolution. Noted for their democratic outlook, the Montagnards controlled the government during the climax of the Revolution in 1793–94. They were so called because as deputies they sat on the higher benches of the assembly. Collectively they were also called Le Montagne (“The Mountain”).

The Montagnards emerged as the opponents of the more moderate Girondins in the National Convention in the fall of 1792. Composed of deputies elected from Paris and other cities, the Montagnards depended on the support of the petty bourgeoisie and the sansculottes (extreme radical revolutionaries, initially from the poorer classes of Paris) and were closely associated with the Jacobin Club of Paris. After the overthrow of the Girondins by the popular insurrections of May 31 to June 2, 1793, the Montagnards dominated the Convention, and they composed the majority of the Committee of Public Safety, which in effect ruled France in 1793–94. With the Thermidorian reaction of 1794–95, many of the Montagnards were either executed or purged from the Convention, where they were reduced to a minority group called the crête (the “crest”) and ceased to be influential.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Jacques-Pierre Brissot

Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville

French revolutionary leader
in full Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville

born January 15, 1754, Chartres, France
died October 31, 1793, Paris

a leader of the Girondins (often called Brissotins), a moderate bourgeois faction that opposed the radical-democratic Jacobins during the French Revolution.

The son of an eating-house keeper, Brissot began to work as a clerk in lawyers’ offices, first at Chartres, then in Paris. He had literary ambitions, which led him to go to London (February–November 1783), where he published literary articles and founded two periodicals, which failed. Returning to France, he was imprisoned in the Bastille for pamphlets against the queen and the government but was released in September 1784.

Inspired by the English antislavery movement, Brissot founded the Society of the Friends of Blacks in February 1788. He left for the United States in May, but, when the Estates-General were convened in France, he returned and launched a newspaper, Le Patriote français (May 1789). Elected to the first municipality of Paris, he took delivery of the keys of the Bastille when it had been stormed.

After Louis XVI’s flight to Varennes, Brissot attacked the king’s inviolability in a long speech to the Jacobins (July 10, 1791) that contained all the essentials of his future foreign policy. Elected to the Legislative Assembly, he immediately concerned himself with foreign affairs, joining the diplomatic committee. Brissot argued that war could only consolidate the Revolution by unmasking its enemies and inaugurating a crusade for universal liberty. Although the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre opposed him, war was declared on Austria (April 1792). The early defeats suffered by the French, however, gave fresh impulse to the Revolutionary movement, which Brissot and his friends had meant to check. Having tried in vain to prevent the suspension of the monarchy, Brissot was denounced by Robespierre in the Paris Commune as a “liberticide” on September 1.

No longer acceptable to Paris, Brissot represented Eure-et-Loir in the National Convention. Expelled from the Jacobins (October 12, 1792) and attacked by the Montagnards (extreme Revolutionary faction), he was still influential in the diplomatic committee: his report led to war being declared on Great Britain and the Dutch (February 1, 1793). On April 3, 1793, Robespierre accused him of being the friend of the traitor General Charles-François Dumouriez and of being chiefly responsible for the war. Brissot replied, denouncing the Jacobins and calling for the dissolution of the municipality of Paris. He was not conspicuous in the struggle between the Girondins and the Montagnards (April–May), but on June 2, 1793, his arrest was decreed with that of his Girondin friends. He fled but was captured at Moulins and taken to Paris. Sentenced by the Revolutionary tribunal on the evening of October 30, Brissot was guillotined the next day.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Jean-Marie Roland

Jean-Marie Roland de La Platiere

French scientist
in full Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière

born February 18, 1734, Thizy, France
died November 15, 1793, Bourg-Beaudoin

French industrial scientist who, largely through his wife’s ambition, became a leader of the moderate Girondin faction of bourgeois revolutionaries during the French Revolution.

The son of a royal official, Roland became inspector of manufactures in Amiens (1780) and then in Lyon (1784). In February 1780 he married Jeanne-Marie Phlipon, who was 20 years his junior. Over the next decade he wrote a number of books on manufacturing and political economy. Both he and his wife welcomed the outbreak (1789) of the Revolution, which was at first led by moderates.

The Rolands moved to Paris in December 1791; and on March 23, 1792, Roland, because of the influence of his wife and his friendship with Jacques Brissot, was appointed minister of the interior in a cabinet composed mostly of Girondins (as the Brissotins were called). Although he proved an able administrator, Roland came into conflict with King Louis XVI when the king vetoed a decree to establish a national guard camp outside Paris. On June 10, 1792, in a letter drafted by his wife, Roland called upon the king to withdraw his veto. Louis responded by dismissing Roland and most of the other Girondin ministers on June 13; but, when a provisional government was set up after the overthrow of the monarchy on August 10, Roland was again appointed minister of the interior.

As a member of the National Convention (the Revolutionary legislature that convened in September 1792), he vigorously opposed the economic controls advocated by the radical democrats of the Jacobin Club. At the prompting of his wife, he attacked the leading moderate Georges Danton, thereby driving Danton into an alliance with the Jacobin leader Maximilien de Robespierre.

On November 20, Roland discovered the king’s papers in a secret safe in the Tuileries Palace, but, by neglecting to have the papers inventoried before witnesses, he left himself open to the charge that he had destroyed documentary evidence of Girondin collusion with the royalists. He worked to prevent the conviction of Louis XVI on a charge of treason; and on January 23, 1793, two days after the king’s execution, he resigned his ministerial post. During the Jacobin coup d’état (May 31–June 2) that purged the Girondins from the Convention, Roland escaped from Paris, but his wife was arrested. On hearing of her execution, he committed suicide.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


1 Jean-Paul Marat gives a speech

Among these was the leftist social revolutionary Jacques Rene Hebert, mouthpiece of the sans-culotte movement, and also, notably, the friend of the people," 1 Jean-Paul Marat, a radical speaker who described himself as "the eye of the masses."

These radicals created a fermenting, turbulent and violent climate within the city, which was particularly apparent when the slaughter of the enemies of the Revolution in September 1792 ("September Massacres"), was tolerated by Justice Minister Danton. In March 1793, the radicals succeeded in establishing the dreaded Revolutionary Tribunal. In summary trials, they proceeded with extreme severity against actual and supposed enemies of the Revolution. Concurrently, the war on the borders continued.

The arrest of Hebert, who was then freed by the people, and the charge against Marat by the Girondists, precipitated a conflict in which the Girondists were defeated by the Jacobins in June 1793. Shortly thereafter, the representatives of the Departement Gironde were executed or forced to commit suicide. The reign of the Jacobins began and Marat, as the leader of the people, joined them. However, the "friend of the people" was violently stabbed to death in his bath on July 13,1793, by the
Girondist Charlotte Corday d'Armont. The cult surrounding Marat, now the "Martyr of Liberty," became a weapon against all anti-revolutionaries. The revolts against the Jacobin reign, which first broke out in Vendee and in Lyon. led to bloody civil war in some provinces and ruthless verdicts from the victorious Jacobins throughout the whole country.


Believe in Marat, the Almighty

The French Revolution, 1789


I believe in Marat, the almighty, the Creator of freedom and equality, our hope, who strikes terror into the aristocracy, who has gone forth from the heart of the nation and is revealed in the Revolution, who was murdered by the enemies of the Republic, who poured forth upon us the breath of freedom, who has descended into the Elysian Fields, whence he will one day return to judge and condemn the aristocracy.

A contemporaneous anonymous "Creed"
(July 1793-February 1795)


Jacques-Louis David
The Death of Marat
Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels


Jacques-Louis David
Study of the head for: "The Death of Marat",
pen and ink on white paper pasted on brown paper,
Musée National du Chateau de Versailles.

Jacques-Louis David
The Death of Marat


Jean-Paul Marat was sitting in the bathtub when his last hour struck on 13 July 1793. A teacher of languages, a journalist and a physician, Marat had turned out to be one of the most radical demagogues the 1789 Revolution produced. He spent much time in the tub to find relief from a chronic, itchy rash. He wore compresses on his forehead to relieve headaches from which he also suffered. While he was bathing on that fateful day, he was reading a letter from Charlotte Corday, the great-granddaughter of the playwright Pierre Corneille. The young noblewoman had tried in vain to gain admittance to Marat. Now she had sent him a letter in which she slyly suggested a tete-a-tete. He let her in and she stabbed him. Marat died instantly.

Some contemporaries must have been pleased at the deed. Marat had been a tough customer. He had had 860 gallows erected to deal with his political enemies and had sent over 200,000 of them to the guillotine. His opponents may have considered his death a just revenge. His adherents, however, celebrated him as the martyr of a just cause.

Appointed master of ceremonies at the hero's funeral, painter Jacques-Louis David was a fervent revolutionary and a personal friend of Marat. He obliged by putting Marat's corpse on canvas just as he had had it put on display: with his bare chest and wounds visible. On 15 October 1793 David presented the picture to the National Assembly. It became the symbol of the French Revolution. Copies of it were placed on church altars, smothered under billowing clouds of incense. Even in public offices copies of the painting were supposed to replace Crucifixes and royal portraits. However, before it could get out of hand, the personality cult was stopped by Robespierre's fall and the arrest of Jacques-Louis David. On 10 February the painting was removed from the chamber of the National Assembly. Marat's heart, which had been kept in the Cordeliers Club, was burnt and the ashes scattered in the Montmartre sewer.

Klaus Reichold, Bernhard Graf



Charlotte Corday

Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday d’Armont

French noble
in full Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday d’Armont

born July 27, 1768, Saint-Saturnin, near Séez, Normandy, France
died July 17, 1793, Paris

the assassin of the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.

Descended from a noble family, educated in a convent at Caen, and royalist by sentiment, yet susceptible also to the ideals of the Enlightenment, Corday was living with an aunt in Caen when it became a centre of the “federalist” movement against the National Convention after the expulsion of the Girondins in May–June 1793. Inspired especially by Charles Barbaroux among the Girondin refugees, she left for Paris to work for the Girondin cause.

There Corday solicited an interview with Marat because of the influence of his newspaper over the masses, and on July 13, 1793 she was finally admitted to his presence while he was in his bath. She named dissidents in Normandy; he noted them and assured her that they would be guillotined. She then drew a knife from under her dress and stabbed him through the heart. Arrested on the spot, she was tried and convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal (July 16–17) and forthwith guillotined on the Place de la Révolution.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques Aime Baudry, 1860



Jean-Paul Marat:

"500 or 600 chopped-off heads would have secured peace, liberty and happiness for you.

A misunderstood humanitarianism made your arms lame and hindered you from administering the blows.

It will cost the lives of millions of your brothers."

Portrait of Jean-Paul Marat by Joseph Boze, 1793




Jean-Paul Marat

Jean-Paul Marat

French politician, physician, and journalist

born , May 24, 1743, Boudry, near Neuchâtel, Switzerland
died July 13, 1793, Paris, France

French politician, physician, and journalist, a leader of the radical Montagnard faction during the French Revolution. He was assassinated in his bath by Charlotte Corday, a young Girondin conservative.

Early scientific work
Marat, after obscure years in France and other European countries, became a well-known doctor in London in the 1770s and published a number of books on scientific and philosophical subjects. His Essay on the Human Soul (1771) had little success, but A Philosophical Essay on Man (1773) was translated into French and published in Amsterdam (1775–76). His early political works included The Chains of Slavery (1774), an attack on despotism addressed to British voters, in which he first expounded the notion of an “aristocratic,” or “court,” plot; it would become the principal theme of a number of his articles.

Returning to the Continent in 1777, Marat was appointed physician to the personal guards of the comte d’Artois (later Charles X), youngest brother of Louis XVI of France. At this time he seemed mainly interested in making a reputation for himself as a successful scientist. He wrote articles and experimented with fire, electricity, and light. His paper on electricity was honoured by the Royal Academy of Rouen in 1783. At the same time, he built up a practice among upper-middle-class and aristocratic patients. In 1783 he resigned from his medical post, probably intending to concentrate on his scientific career.

In 1780 he published his Plan de législation criminelle (“Plan for Criminal Legislation”), which showed that he had already assimilated the ideas of such critics of the ancien régime as Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was corresponding with the American Revolutionary leader Benjamin Franklin. More serious, perhaps, was Marat’s failure to be elected to the Academy of Sciences. Some historians, notably the American Louis Gottschalk, have concluded that he came to suffer from a “martyr complex,” imagining himself persecuted by powerful enemies. Thinking that his work refuted the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton, he joined the opponents of the established social and scientific order.

In the first weeks of 1789—the year that saw the beginning of the French Revolution—Marat published his pamphlet Offrande à la patrie (“Offering to Our Country”), in which he indicated that he still believed that the monarchy was capable of solving France’s problems. In a supplement published a few months later, though, he remarked that the king was chiefly concerned with his own financial problems and that he neglected the needs of the people; at the same time, Marat attacked those who proposed the British system of government as a model for France.

Attacks on the aristocracy
Beginning in September 1789, as editor of the newspaper L’Ami du Peuple (“The Friend of the People”), Marat became an influential voice in favour of the most radical and democratic measures, particularly in October, when the royal family was forcibly brought from Versailles to Paris by a mob. He particularly advocated preventive measures against aristocrats, whom he claimed were plotting to destroy the Revolution. Early in 1790 he was forced to flee to England after publishing attacks on Jacques Necker, the king’s finance minister; three months later he was back, his fame now sufficient to give him some protection against reprisal. He did not relent but directed his criticism against such moderate Revolutionary leaders as the marquis de Lafayette, the comte de Mirabeau, and Jean-Sylvain Bailly, mayor of Paris (a member of the Academy of Sciences); he continued to warn against the émigrés, royalist exiles who were organizing counterrevolutionary activities and urging the other European monarchs to intervene in France and restore the full power of Louis XVI.

In July 1790 he declared to his readers:

Five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom, and happiness. A false humanity has held your arms and suspended your blows; because of this millions of your brothers will lose their lives.

The National Assembly sentenced him to a month in prison, but he went into hiding and continued his campaign. When bloody riots broke out at Nancy in eastern France, he saw them as the first sign of the counterrevolution.

Activities in the National Convention
In 1790 and 1791 Marat gradually came to the view that the monarchy should be abolished; after Louis XVI’s attempt to flee in June 1791, he declared the king "unworthy to remount the throne" and violently denounced the National Assembly for refusing to depose the king. As a delegate to the National Convention (beginning in September 1792), he advocated such reforms as a graduated income tax, state-sponsored vocational training for workers, and shorter terms of military service. Though he had often advocated the execution of counterrevolutionaries, Marat seems to have had no direct connection with the wholesale massacres of suspects that occurred in the same month. He had opposed France’s declaration of war against antirevolutionary Austria in April, but, once the war had begun and the country was in danger of invasion, he advocated a temporary dictatorship to deal with the emergency.

Actively supported by the Parisian people both in the chamber and in street demonstrations, Marat quickly became one of the most prominent members of the Convention. Attacks by the conservative Girondin faction early in 1793 made him a symbol of the Montagnards, or radical faction, although the Montagnard leaders kept him out of any position of real influence. In April the Girondins had him arraigned before a Revolutionary tribunal. His acquittal of the political charges brought against him (April 24) was the climax of his career and the beginning of the fall of the Girondins from power.

On July 13, Charlotte Corday, a young Girondin supporter from Normandy, was admitted to Marat’s room on the pretext that she wished to claim his protection, and she stabbed him to death in his bath (he took frequent medicinal baths to relieve a skin infection). Marat’s dramatic murder at the very moment of the Montagnards’ triumph over their opponents caused him to be considered a martyr to the people’s cause. His name was given to 21 French towns and later, as a gesture symbolizing the continuity between the French and Russian revolutions, to one of the first battleships in the Soviet navy.

The Death of Marat, by French artist and member of the Jacobin Club Jacques-Louis David, was painted just days after the murder. Called the “Pietà of the Revolution” (in reference to Michelangelo’s sculpture) and widely considered David’s masterpiece, the painting is frequently reproduced for its historical and artistic value.

Jean Vidalenc

Encyclopaedia Britannica




The Sans-culottes

The sans-culottes ("without kneebreeches") saw themselves as true revolutionaries. They rejected the wigs and kneebreeches of the aristocracy and were recruited from the ranks of wage-earners and urban proletariats who fought early on and in the foremost ranks. The journal that served as their voice was the "Pere Duchesne" of the social revolutionary J.-R. Hebert.

Early depiction of the tricolour in the hands of a sans-culotte during the French Revolution.
The sans-culottes, wearing iconic Phrygian caps and tricolor cockades.





French revolution
French sans-culotte ("without knee breeches")
in the French Revolution, a label for the more militant supporters of that movement, especially in the years 1792 to 1795. Sansculottes presented themselves as members of the poorer classes or leaders of the common people, but during the Reign of Terror public functionaries and educated men also adopted the label to demonstrate their patriotism.

The distinctive costume of the typical sansculotte was the pantalon (long trousers) in place of the culotte (silk breeches) worn by the upper classes, as well as the carmagnole (short jacket) and the red cap of liberty. Jacques-René Hébert’s popular newspaper, the Père Duchesne, did much to spread the image of the sansculotte: a woodcut on the front page of each issue showed a man in Revolutionary costume, holding a musket and smoking a pipe.

The influence of the sansculottes declined sharply after Hébert’s execution in March 1794. The defeat of the desperate popular uprisings of Germinal and Prairial, year III (spring of 1795), marked the end of their public role.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Jacques-René Hébert

Jacques-Rene Hebert

French political journalist
pseudonym Père (“Father”) Duchesne

born November 15, 1757, Alençon, France
died March 24, 1794, Paris

political journalist during the French Revolution who became the chief spokesman for the Parisian sansculottes (extreme radical revolutionaries). He and his followers, who were called Hébertists, pressured the Jacobin regime of 1793–94 into instituting the most radical measures of the Revolutionary period.

Born into a bourgeois family, Hébert settled in Paris in 1780. For the next 10 years he lived in poverty. He greeted the outbreak of the Revolution (1789) with enthusiasm; and in 1790 he launched his career as a journalist by writing a series of ribald, sacrilegious political satires, adopting the pen name le père Duchesne (a popular comic figure). His newspaper Le Père Duchesne first appeared in November 1790 and soon became one of the most successful newspapers of the French Revolution. Although Hébert at first focused his editorial wrath on the aristocracy and clergy, he launched a virulent campaign against King Louis XVI in the spring of 1792.

Hébert became an influential member of the Cordeliers Club, and as a representative to the Revolutionary Commune he helped plan the popular insurrection that overthrew the monarchy on August 10, 1792. In the ensuing autumn the Hébertists had Notre-Dame Cathedral turned into a Temple of Reason and had some 2,000 other churches converted to the worship of Reason. In December Hébert was elected assistant procurator-general of the Commune, which had become the governing body of Paris. By that time Hébert had also joined the Jacobin Club. The Jacobin deputies waged a fierce campaign against the moderate Girondin faction in the National Convention, which convened in September 1792. In this struggle Hébert made his newspaper a mouthpiece of the sansculottes: he demanded the death sentence for the king, the elimination of the Girondins, and the establishment of a Revolutionary government. Hébert was a leader of the sansculotte crowds that forced the Convention to expel the leading Girondist deputies on June 2, 1793.

Hébert’s supporters organized the massive demonstrations of Parisian workers (September 4–5) that forced the Convention to inaugurate a state-controlled economy and institute the Reign of Terror. He strongly supported the anti-Christian campaign of the autumn of 1793, which sought to destroy Roman Catholic institutions in France.

When the Committee of Public Safety, the Convention’s executive body, had consolidated its power by early 1794, however, it came to regard Hébert and his extreme left-wing followers as dangerous. The Jacobins’ right wing, under Georges Danton, attacked the extremism of the Hébertists, and the Committee’s chief spokesman, Maximilien Robespierre, joined battle with both factions. While a food shortage was stimulating popular discontent, Hébert on March 4, 1794, persuaded the Cordeliers Club to call for a popular uprising. The sansculottes did not respond, however, and on March 14 the Committee of Public Safety had Hébert arrested. He and 17 of his followers were guillotined 10 days later. His execution cost the government the support of the sansculottes and contributed to the collapse of the Jacobin dictatorship in July 1794.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Armed revolutionary

Women in the Revolution

Women from all levels of society saw the Revolution as an opportunity for political participation.

 Marion Roland de la Platiere, a member of the bourgeoisie and the wife of the Girondist minister of the interior, hosted a salon for supporters of the revolution in Paris.

From the start, for example during the storming of the Bastille, women were to be found in the front ranks of the revolutionary masses.

They were ridiculed by their opponents as "soldiers in skirts" but played a significant role in the French Revolution, particularly in the sans-culotte movement.

Manon Roland de la Platiere



Jeanne-Marie Roland

Jeanne-Marie Roland de La Platière

French politician
in full Jeanne-Marie Roland de La Platière, née Jeanne-Marie Phlipon, byname Manon Phlipon

born March 17, 1754, Paris, France
died November 8, 1793, Paris

wife of Jean-Marie Roland, who directed her husband’s political career during the French Revolution, greatly influencing the policies of the moderate Girondin faction of bourgeois revolutionaries.

Jeanne-Marie Phlipon was the daughter of a Paris engraver. Brilliant and cultured, she absorbed the democratic ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other 18th-century French philosophers. In 1780 she married Roland. The couple settled in Paris in 1791, and Mme Roland’s salon quickly became a meeting place for the group of bourgeois republicans (later called the Girondins) led by Jacques Brissot. Although she was at first on friendly terms with the radical democrat Maximilien de Robespierre, one of the leaders of the Jacobin Club, she broke with him in late 1791.

Mme Roland directed the activities of her husband after he became minister of the interior under King Louis XVI in March 1792, and she drafted the letter of protest from Roland to the king that led to Roland’s dismissal from the ministry on June 13. The special object of her hatred, however, was Georges Danton, who overshadowed her husband on the provisional executive council formed after the overthrow of the monarchy (August 10, 1792). By having her husband attack Robespierre and Danton before the National Convention (the Revolutionary legislature that convened in September 1792), she alienated Danton from the Girondins and widened the split between the Jacobin and Girondin factions.

She was arrested on the outbreak (May 31, 1793) of the Jacobin-inspired insurrection that led to the expulsion (June 2) of the leading Girondins from the Convention. During her five-month imprisonment she wrote her memoirs, Appel à l’impartiale postérité (“Appeal to Impartial Posterity”). Just before she was guillotined, she uttered the famous words “O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!”

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