The crowd attacked enemies and lionized friends, such as the journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Swiss-born, Marat was a ne'er-do-well scientist who had attempted much but achieved little in the old regime. The Revolution opened up an opportunity that he seized by publishing his explosive newspaper, L'Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People). A staunch supporter of the rights of working people, Marat argued that sovereignty ought to belong to the nation. Communities ought to exercise very careful control over their representatives, whose powers ought to be heavily restricted.

In Marat's political imagination, the poverty of the artisans had removed them from greed, which left them not only pure, but highly intelligent. As a propagandist, Marat was without peer; as a politician, he had few direct successes. Yet the Girondins feared and loathed him and tried to expel him from the Convention in the spring of 1793. Their failure exposed their lack of popular support and led to a radical backlash, culminating in the coup of 31 May–2 June, an event in which Marat played a leading role by naming those deputies who should be arrested. For a few weeks thereafter, confined by a debilitating skin disease to his bathtub, Marat pressed the most radical causes of the Revolution in particularly vitriolic fashion in the Ami du Peuple until Charlotte Corday assassinated him. Thus martyred, Marat became for many an unblemished revolutionary hero who embodied the Revolution's virtues and whose wounds could be invoked to justify the violence of the Terror against its domestic enemies. By contrast, opponents of the Mountain and of the sections represented Corday as the virtuous martyr who dedicated herself to her people's salvation.

Radicals found another great hero in "the Incorruptible" Maximilien Robespierre, who from the very beginning of the Estates-General had spoken for popular causes. During the Terror, he took the leading role in the government as the commanding presence on the Committee of Public Safety, from which he dominated the Convention and successfully fought off challenges from the left and right, until his execution on 9 Thermidor.

Popular political culture also generated a number of antiheroes, generally social types rather than particular individuals. After a brief period of immense personal popularity, Louis XVI was represented in increasingly abstract and scornful terms. Well after the assassination of the former King, known as "Citizen Capet," the "aristocracy" remained a particularly hated word in the revolutionary lexicon, connoting more broadly all political opponents of "the people," not just those designated as "heretofore nobles," who themselves also came in for scorn. Finally, the clergy served regularly as a target of radical attacks, as vaguely anticlerical sentiments voiced in 1789 became outright antipathy. Widespread clerical resistance to the Civil Constitution was taken to be proof of indifference and even opposition to the cause of the Revolution and the people. By the most radical phase of the Revolution, popular political leaders were attacking not just refractory priests, but the entire church establishment, as well as Christianity in general.

Although popular political activists expressed multiple goals, which shifted over time, the impact of "the people" on the Revolution had become clear by the fall of 1793—it had overthrown the monarchy, propelled its allies (the Mountain) into power in the Convention, and helped instigate the Terror and the Law of Suspects. In part, these actions had an economic goal: the Maximum was enacted in the fall of 1793 to limit prices and to prevent unfair profiteering while ensuring the provisioning of Paris and of the armies. After all, the high price of bread had surely been a powerful motivation for Parisian workers to become politically active in 1789, and they remained intensely suspicious of unfair merchant profits. Moreover, radicals found immoral the idea that "speculators," "profiteers," and "hoarders" could pursue personal interest amid the crisis of the Revolution and forsake the high ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Such a redefinition of public morality found its spokesperson in Robespierre, who wanted to ensure that the new government would be a "republic of virtue." In the late winter of 1794 he was willing to go so far as to enforce this virtue through the Terror, if necessary.

By 1794 even the Mountain had begun to doubt the efficacy of price controls, and all French revolutionary regimes after Thermidor would consistently toe the line of economic liberalism. Nevertheless, popular politics clung to the view that limiting profits and prices was an essential part of the revolutionary program, as is clear from the popular uprising of the spring of Prairial, Year III (May 1795), which occurred after the fall of Robsepierre. By this time, the balance of power had shifted away from Parisian artisanal activists, however, and the uprising was rapidly and forcefully repressed by the central government.

The world was shocked by the swiftness and strength with which radicalism emerged in the first years of the Revolution. Interestingly, it is not so surprising that throughout the two centuries that have elapsed since then, labor has remained mainly arrayed on the political left. But was this an inevitable circumstance of the French Revolution? Could Parisian workers, tied as they were to service and consumer industries, not have been more loyal to the rich, who could pay them well? Self-interest might have pushed them in a direction entirely different from the one they took. In the event, circumstances conspired to give the popular classes of Paris an inordinate amount of political influence at a time of ferment in the nation's history. The vision of these most idealistic, perhaps truest believers in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, might best be understood not as a utopian dream or violently resentful opposition to property owners, but as a nascent and imperfectly formed, but broad and vibrant, theory of an open and democratic society.

THE CLUBS DEFENDED

A CLUB IN ACTION

THE CLUBS CONDEMNED

THE CLUBS MOCKED

MARAT CONDEMNED

ASSASSIN AND VICTIM

ROBESPIERRE IN THE PRESS

ROBESPIERRE'S LEGACY

KING VILLIFIED IN SONG

HATRED OF MONARCHY

FEAR OF ARISTOCRATIC POLITICS

NOBLES OUT OF PLACE

VILLIFYING THE CHURCH

CLERGY RIDICULED

THE TERROR IN OPERATION

ECONOMIC POLICY

ROBESPIERRE'S POLITICS

WOMEN'S ACTIVISM REMAINS STRONG

CONTINUING REPRESSION

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