Mercier, The New Paris: "Sections"

With the founding of the Republic, the forty–eight sectional assemblies of Paris declared themselves in "permanent session" so they could exercise constant vigilance over the Convention and over political events in general. In addition to their local administrative and judicial powers, the sections served as important forums for radical voices, such as Hébert and Marat. Those in the sections spoke of themselves as sans–culottes ("without breeches") and considered themselves the most committed and sincere revolutionaries of all—and thus responsible for ensuring the virtue and patriotism of all others. To this end, the sections planned the great "journées" (day–long demonstrations), such as that of 31 May–2 June, designed to pressure the Commune and Convention to adopt ever more radical positions and thus to push the Revolution forward. In this article from his periodical The New Paris, Louis–Sébastien Mercier describes the sections with a mixture of mockery (of their self–importance) and respect (of their power to mobilize the people).


History will be hard pressed to describe the insolent imprecations of a crowd of misfits in the sections calling loudly for disorder and extermination. They created the council of the Commune, from where everything that extravagance and human deprivation could imagine as most vile and atrocious poured out everyday against the citizens of Paris who had any means of existence whatsoever. They fought there, hitting each other with chairs, but never coming to final blows. These wretches, after a few debates between themselves, reunited to make the Convention victorious. All of their secret meetings tended to perpetuate revolutionary atrocities. The petitions that originated in these secret meetings were so ridiculous and so seditious that Isnard, President of the Convention, strained and exhausted by the din of the sections, declared in the name of France that if anyone attempted to question the inviolability of the Convention amidst the citizens of Paris, then someday someone would come to the banks of the Seine looking for the site where this city once existed. You cannot image the roar that arose from all the conspirators at this strongly worded statement. From then on, no other words were heard in Paris except "The Convention wants to destroy the capital." The Jacobins seemed to share the fury of the people in the sections. Hébert became the patriot par excellence, a good magistrate. Marat's halo shone even more. The Commission of Twelve was dissolved, and that served as the signal for total anarchy. Fearful, Garat, the Minister of the Interior, sided with these villains, affirming that all was calm and that no conspiracy existed. . . and all the while daggers were being sharpened! Hébert, had been released from prison, which was a real triumph for this group of seditionists, and a sure harbinger of the death, or banishment, of his enemies. When he arrived, the lower classes showered him with coronets and civic awards that he took and modestly draped over the busts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Brutus. . . . After having arrested three of four seditionists charged with crimes, the Commission of Twelve was covered with disgrace, the majority of its members dragged to the scaffold, and the others escaping death only by hiding in caverns, in the woods, or fleeing to a foreign country. The revolution of 31 May [–2 June 1793] avenged a hoard of killers.

There were always three or four foreigners, and as many crooks, among the audacious commissioners of the sections, ever ready to declare that Paris was in a state of insurrection against tyranny.

All of Paris was under arms, but without knowing for what reason. Municipal sashes were seen all through the faubourgs, or inviting them to march in the name of the sovereign people. [Commander of the National Guard] Hanriot had cannons moved here, there, and everywhere. The cannons were moved, brought back, and brought out again the next day when the Mountain section, screaming and shouting, had decreed that the sections of Paris had earned the recognition of their countrymen.

To play such games on such a day was certainly a sad display, but it was to become an never-ending source of terrible calamities for all of France.

With all the inhabitants of a city as enormous as Paris called to arms, the Commune then had the audacity to overrun all authority, and after having given it a try, became, to everyone's great surprise, a formidable power. The Mountain section then became advisors to the Commune . . . . They only came to the Convention to betray it and dissolve it, and what was even worse, to slander it, in that they had compelled the Convention itself to praise the 31st of May in such a way that the departments, forever being fooled, were in total ignorance of what was going on in Paris.

Source: Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Le Nouveau Paris, 6 vols. (Paris: Fuchs, Ch. Pougens et Ch. Fr. Cramer, Libraires, 1798–99), 1:129–32.