Clubs for the People

By creating a fictional man named Jacques who must go to his workshop every day so he can support his family, yet who also wants to do his patriotic duty by following political events, the Révolutions de Paris, in this article that appeared in late 1790, calls upon the government to create and to support popular political clubs. The purpose is to ensure that the most patriotic elements of the "people" (and not just wealthy and well–educated professionals) can have their say in the course of the Revolution.


Jacques’ little stall is situated almost across from the house of the Jacobins in the Rue St.-Honoré. He has noticed the crowds of people who arrive there around dusk. He asked what everyone was doing in that house, and at that particular time, three or four times a week. This is what he was told:

Three or four times a week, twelve to fifteen hundred citizens make a point of meeting in the library of the former convent. There, for four or five hours, they discuss, think, absorb sound principles, and take precautions against pseudo-patriots. . .in a word they make themselves worthy of the liberty which we have won.

Jacques, who has both spirit and good sense, then said to himself, "How fortunate they are in there, to be able to set aside three or four hours out of their day to better themselves! What have I done that I should be condemned to a job which takes up all my time? I feel that I could become, like anyone else, not a better patriot (for I am as good a patriot as any of them) but more enlightened, less easily fooled. Alas! I can’t think about that. My first duty is to my children. Looking after them is the chain which binds me to this wall. I must waste my talents on a monotonous and thankless task. My whole life will thus pass in the shadow of ignorance while every day I see the light of education pass before my eyes without ever shining upon me. When I hear about the events that trouble my country I become excited and impassioned. Taken in by rumors and exaggerated stories I take the side of this or that person because I have neither the time nor the guidance necessary to amend my ideas and channel my patriotism. I must blindly follow those who represent me, and for this reason they get their own way with their constituents, three-quarters of whom are no better educated than I am. How cruel it is not to be able to fruitfully enjoy the blessing of liberty without taking advantage of it. That liberty in which I played no small role on 14 July!". . .

We need clubs for the people. Let every street in every town, let every hamlet have one. The primary assemblies are too formal and too infrequent to take their place. The people need clubs that are fixed and free, where there are not too many people, and where they can be at ease. These clubs should be without regulations or titled officials, because such things detract from liberty in a way, waste too much time, and engender the feeling that the group comes before the country. . . .

The Jacobin club is already very useful. Clubs for the people’s use, simply organized and unpretentious, would be of the greatest benefit. Let an honest artisan call together some of his neighbors to his house. Let him read the decrees of the National Assembly by the light of a lamp paid for by all those present. Let him add his own reflections to the reading, or those of some of his attentive neighbors. At the end of the meeting listen as he cheers up his audience, startled by one of Marat's articles, by a reading spiced with the patriotic swear-words of the Père Duchesne. . . .

It is most surprising that some wealthy citizens cannot be found who are good enough patriots to offer their houses as a place to which the people of the district could come on Sundays and holidays, instead of wasting their time in taverns. In this way they could catch up on events and make themselves familiar with the principles of the Constitution. If private houses are not available, couldn't the people take over some of these churches that the suppression of the religious orders and canons have made vacant? It is said that a working-class club has already been formed in the house of the Capucins in the Rue St.-Honoré. It is a club such as this that should be set up in every section of the big cities. In the country, the porches of the parish churches, or even the churches themselves, could be devoted to this. These buildings could only become more respectable.

Source: Les Révolutions de Paris, no. 73 (27 November–4 December 1790), 401–6.