Père Duchesne Idealizes the Sans–culottes

The sans–culotte [without the breeches of the wealthy] became the symbol of the committed, patriotic revolutionary everyman. This newspaper article describes the ideal sans–culotte, emphasizing his industriousness as a handicraft worker, his honesty, his simplicity, his willingness to act directly, and above all his commitment to sacrifice for the Revolutionary cause. This description is from a radical newspaper, "Father Duchesne" was, like the sans–culotte, a figure drawn from popular culture: a good–hearted, honest–speaking, hard–working stove repairman who would report to his companions in layman’s terms the strange doings of the wealthy he overheard while in their homes to fix stoves, a luxury item in the eighteenth century.


It really gets under my skin to see a bunch of rascals build castles in the air, sacrifice honor and country, and risk the guillotine in order to become rich. Who is served by this wealth? He who has a lot of gold and houses, does he dine twice? Hell! If we could only read the minds of all the poor devils who have piled sous upon sous to fill their coffers; if we understood the stupors of all these misers who skin fleas in order to get their hides, if you could see them always on their guard, always sleeping with one eye open, scared down to the marrow of their bones by the slightest noise, screaming for mercy when they hear judgments being shouted out against some crooks, tearing their hair out when the rich are forced to loosen the purse strings to help their country, burying their gold, dying of fright at the mere sound of the name of the revolutionary army!

Is there, in the whole world, a worse torture than this? What a damn difference there is between the fate of this pathetic character and that of the honest sans-culotte, who lives from day to day by the sweat of his brow. As long as he has a four-pound loaf in his bread box and a glass of red wine, he's content. As soon as he wakes up, he's as happy as a lark, and at the end of the day, he takes up his tools and sings his revolutionary song, "La Carmagnole." In the evening, after he has worked hard all day, he goes to his section. When he appears there among his brothers, they don't look at him as if he were a monster, and he doesn't see everyone whispering to each other and pointing their fingers at him like a nobleman or a moderate would.

They shake his hand, pat him on the shoulder, and ask him how he's doing. He doesn't worry about being denounced; he is never threatened with raids on his house. He holds his head high everywhere he goes.

In the evening, when he enters his hovel, his wife rushes to greet him, his small children hug him, his dog bounds up and licks him. He recounts the news that he heard at the section. He's as happy as a clam when telling about a victory over the Prussians, the Austrians, or the English. He tells how a traitorous general, a follower of Brissot, was guillotined. While telling his children about these scoundrels, he makes them promise to always be good citizens and to love the Republic above all else. Then he eats dinner with a hearty appetite, and after his meal, he entertains his family by reading to them from Le Grande colère du Père Duchesne [The Great Wrath of Father Duchesne] or La Grande joie du Père Duchesne [The Great Joy of Father Duchesne].

His wife laughs till she's hoarse when listening to him tell about the arguments between his neighbor Jacqueline and the religious zealots whining to the patron saints of the rich. The little rug-rats erupt with joy on hearing the four-letter words I use.

Source: Père Duchesne, no. 313 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1794), 3–6. Translated by Exploring the French Revolution project staff from original documents in French found in John Hardman, French Revolution Documents 1792–95, vol. 2 (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1973), 218–19.