Over the next few months, the parliamentary leadership faced constant criticism from the more radical faction of deputies in the Convention (known as "the Mountain" because they sat in the higher seats, to the left of the rostrum), as well as the radical press and sans-culottes in the sectional assemblies. The Mountain included Jacobins and members of other important clubs. In early 1793 several divisive decisions cost the Girondins much of their following in Paris: their opposition to the execution of the King, their support for General Charles-François Dumouriez (who defected to the enemy), their efforts to stabilize the currency by slowing the resale of confiscated lands, and their opposition to regulating grain markets to bring down bread prices in the capital. On each measure, the Mountain proved unrelentingly critical in its speeches and press, until finally, on 31 May 1793, the people of Paris—led by the Cordelier Club and other radical orators who had inspired many sectional assemblies—broke the deadlock by surrounding the Convention's meeting hall and demanding the expulsion of the Girondins. Even though the radicals in the Convention hesitated before complying with such extra-parliamentary direct violence, they offered no real resistance. After three tense days, the crowd succeeded in shifting leadership in the Convention to the more radical deputies.

The radicals' direction of the government gave new strength and force to the popular movement in Paris, as the militants in the sections now perceived themselves to be responsible for saving the Republic from its enemies, both foreign and domestic. The Convention's deputies took a different view, worrying that the continual tumult in the streets could render the country ungovernable. Yet they could do little to address this concern because of the continuing threat of civil and foreign wars. Only after that peril diminished could the Mountain begin to deal with the enormous influence of the Parisian popular movement. In late 1793–94 the leaders of the Convention (organized in a "Committee of Public Safety") silenced their most active popular supporters in Paris. The Committee arrested and executed such radical club leaders as Jacques-René Hébert and Jacques Roux and shut down the sections that had provided the organizational basis for the sans-culottes. Even so, Maximilien Robespierre and his collaborators on the Committee of Public Safety remained popular with Parisian artisans and laborers, although the workers became increasingly disillusioned and disorganized and less able to function as a powerful political force. Finally, on 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), capitalizing on a split within the ruling Committee of Public Safety, former supporters of the executed revolutionary orator Georges Danton and radicals disappointed with current directions in the committee persuaded the Plain to reject Robespierre's strident advocacy of judicial terror as a means of ruling the country and acted to depose the Mountain. Robespierre and his followers no longer could look for a mobilization of sans-culottes in the streets or for the press to intimidate their foes into silence. The artisans would rise again during the revolutionary decade, but never to the same degree and certainly not with the same success as before.

Popular political activism consisted of more than just the great journées (day-long demonstrations), of course; workers attended sectional and club meetings. Whereas the earliest "clubs" had drawn educated professionals to debate leading questions of the day, the sections were more popular and activist bodies. Although the Parisian sections exercised only limited power at first, they gained considerable strength as centers of dissent, which made successive revolutionary legislatures fear them. During the Revolution's most radical months, from September 1793 to July 1794, when the Committee of Public Safety controlled the Convention, the sections of Paris declared themselves in "permanent session" and assumed local administrative direction of the Terror, exercising political and juridical functions at the neighborhood level. To encourage participation by workers, the radical leaders of the Convention—at Danton's behest—paid people a stipend to attend sectional assemblies. Only in late 1793 did the Convention reverse course and seek to weaken these bodies.

In these dramatic months, sans-culottes also had their own clubs and participated in such formerly bourgeois clubs as the Jacobins and especially the Cordeliers, which became leading voices for artisans and provided a direct link between the working people of Paris and the Mountain's deputies in the Convention. In the early years of the Revolution, clubs also provided an important venue where women—excluded throughout the period from full citizenship rights—could participate in Revolutionary politics. When the Convention acted to limit popular radical political activism in late 1793, however, it repressed women's clubs with particular ardor. Contemporary views of popular participation in clubs varied, with supporters defending them as instances of popular democracy and as schools of constitutional procedure and critics attacking them as artificial and divisive centers since they distracted the people from their true allegiance to the "nation."








1 2 3 4