Citoyenne Lacombe’s "Report to the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women Concerning What Took Place 16 September at the Jacobin Club"

Claire Lacombe, an actress and one of the leaders of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, published a pamphlet to counter charges made against her and the club. By September 1793 the revolutionary government had begun to harass the leaders of the club.


Chabot: " . . . [in text] This is the moment to tell the whole truth about these allegedly revolutionary women. I'm going to lay bare for you the intrigues that stir them up, and I promise you'll be shocked. I know what risks you run when you embitter a woman, and all the more so when you embitter a large number of them, but I'm not afraid of their intrigue or their remarks of their threats.

A few days ago I was summoned by the head of these women, Citoyenne Lacombe, who asked me what we had in mind for the former Mayor of Toulouse. I answered that I was shocked that she would petition on behalf of a former noble, a man who had had patriots thrown into prison. She retorted that he gave bread to the poor. Ah, I replied—but that's how counterrevolution is hatched. Finally, she threatened me with the full censorship of the Revolutionary Women if I, along with the Committee of General Security, didn't order his release. I admit that I let out a swear word, and I left.

The next day she appeared at my house again to repeat what she said the day before, the same thing. Madame Lacombe—I just can't consider her a citoyenne—confessed to me that she wasn't so much concerned about Monsieur de Ray [the Mayor of Toulouse] as about his nephew. I—who am accused of allowing myself to be led about by women—told her: "I will never do for them [women] what men make you do, and all the women in the world will never get me to do anything but what I want to do for the Republic." Madame Lacombe then treated me to the most reactionary [Feuillant] remarks. She claimed that one didn't keep men in prison like that; that Revolution or no Revolution, they had to be questioned within twenty-four hours, released if they were innocent, and sent to the guillotine at once if they were guilty—in short, all the remarks that you hear aristocrats mouthing all the time when we arrest one of their friends. It's because I like women that I don't want them to be forming a body apart and calumniating even virtue. They've dared attack Robespierre, calling him Monsieur Robespierre [aristocratic form]. I ask that you take forceful measures against the Revolutionary Women to check this crazy mania that's seized them. I ask that they purge themselves of all the schemers they're protecting in their midst and that they be mandated by letter to do it."

I answered the most patriotic Monsieur Chabot. First of all it is true that I had him called out of the Jacobins on Friday, the thirteenth of this month. Here is the speech I held forth with; it is a bit different from the one which he put into my mouth.

"Chabot, I am here to ask you to do a favor to yourself, to yourself . . . [in text], not me. What's at issue is the Mayor of Toulouse, whom you removed from office three months ago along with two administrators. I have learned that these latter two have been ordered back in, and as the Mayor was removed on the same grounds, I was surprised to learn that this was a victim whom you reserved the right to sacrifice. Therefore, I am here to ask you, for yourself, to give him the same justice that his colleagues obtained. Either he is guilty along with them, or, along with them, he is innocent."

"He is guilty," Chabot answered. "He had patriots imprisoned, seventeen of them in Toulouse." "I will not believe it," I said, "until you give me palpable proofs." "Besides," he said, "he is rich enough to live in Paris." "I know," I told him, "that his having a fortune is charged against him as a crime, but it is true nonetheless that he has used it only to succor the unfortunate since the Revolution. He is cherished by all the people of Toulouse. That is how the aristocrats behave to deceive the people. They do them good."

"Besides," he retorted, raising his voice, "he is a nobleman." "There is the best proof you could give me of his innocence," I told him, "because as he was not removed on account of his nobility, you are making a big war horse out of him. I say to you, as a true Republican Woman, that if you do not give him the justice that is due him, I will go to the bar of the National Convention to obtain it for him". . . .

"You are a women's society," he replied, "which wants to get involved in [public] affairs, and you're being misled." I repeated my first answer, that "neither cajoleries nor assignats would ever tempt the Revolutionary Women. We are interested only in the oppressed, and I look upon the Mayor as a victim you felt like sacrificing. That is so true that you have had offers made to his nephew, whom you know is a fine patriot and who, from the time of his uncle's disgrace, has not left him for a single instant. I tell you that in order to destroy the uncle all the more easily, you have had positions offered to him [the nephew] three times in order to get him away from Paris and in this way deprive the uncle of the only consolation left to him. Is this the way men should comport themselves towards their fellows? I dare to assure you that if you don't give the Mayor the justice he has a right to expect, I'll argue for it myself at the bar of the Convention, and we'll see whether you have the right—you powerless dictator—to sacrifice patriots while you give preferential treatment to counterrevolutionaries every day. I warn you that if I go before the bar [of the Convention] I will tell some truths that will not be to your advantage.

At that point Monsieur Chabot composed himself, turning towards me with his hypocritical air, and fixing me with his cockroach eyes, he said: "Do you want that? Okay, I'll have the report drawn up tonight, and tomorrow the Mayor can leave, only he'll no longer be Mayor. We'll send him to his place of residence, because if we send him to Toulouse, the people would reelect him. I can't deny that he accomplished an infinite amount of good for the people, and besides, he has some excellent qualities, but he has too much influence at Toulouse. He mustn't go back there". . . .

I continue with the meeting of the Jacobins. . . [in text] Bazire says: . . . [in text] "And I am also all sickly, as you see me here, I have tangled with the Revolutionary Women." (There is laughter.) Renaudin says, "Do not laugh, this can turn out to be more serious than you think." Bazire: "I will explain myself. The other day, seven to eight Revolutionary Women came to the Committee of General Security to demand the liberty of a man named Sémandy. It [the deputation] was informing itself concerning the reasons for his detention so that if he were not guilty, justice might be obtained by having him released by the Tribunal, which must take cognizance of [this situation]—all of which is quite different [from what Bazire alleged]. He lies when he dares to say that our commissaires asked him for permission to visit all the prisons in order to inform themselves about the reasons for the prisoners' arrests so as to be able to force their release should they deem this appropriate . . . [in text]. The Revolutionary Women know the LAW, and it is only in conformity with it [the law] that we would have come to the aid of oppressed patriots . . . [in text]. He lies with the shameless audacity natural to him when he says that our commissaires called him a sucker. The Revolutionary Women know the meaning of words too well to have addressed such an insignificant one to Monsieur Bazire. I would like to believe that he latched onto it out of modesty.

You lie, Monsieur Bazire, when you dare to say that our commissaires called Robespierre "Monsieur." We keep watch over all public figures. And far be it from us to confuse Citizen Robespierre with the Bazires of the day. Be careful, Robespierre. I noticed that those accused of having lied believe they can sidestep the denunciation by accusing those who denounce them of having spoken ill of you. Be careful lest those who are forced to wrap themselves in your virtues also pull you with them over the precipice. As for you, Monsieur Bazire, the big war horse which you've built out of the word "Monsieur" Robespierre, which you've placed in the mouths of our commissaires, proves nothing except that you are a miserable liar. . . .

And finally, we are accused of being counterrevolutionaries. The request is made that I be brought before the Committee of General Security. Following several motions, one more extravagant than the other, to destroy the Society of Revolutionary Women—because it must be destroyed, no matter what the price—the proposal was made that the papers at my house be sealed. But Monsieur Chabot, who until then had treated me as one of the chiefs of the counterrevolutionaries, was so convinced that he had been nothing more than a base calumniator that he didn't hesitate to say that this last proposition was a trap set for the Jacobin Society; that if, when the seals were lifted, they found only patriotic papers at my place, it would be easier for me to justify myself; but that he held me to be a counterrevolutionary and that it was necessary that I be imprisoned immediately. The orders of Monsieur Chabot were not followed point by point, but three guards were sent to me in the gallery—all the more indecent, as there were only women in this gallery. So there I was, seated in the middle of them, placed under arrest in the presence of four thousand people. I told one of the guards that if he had orders to take me somewhere, he could let me know; that I was ready to submit to the laws. He told me that it was not time yet; that we had to stay there. As I had nothing to reproach myself with, it was not surprising that my face showed the calm of innocence. Who will believe it? This very calm attracted the grossest insults. I heard someone say, "Look at this new Corday. What a front she puts up; nothing can unsettle such people." To console me, one of the guards said to me, "It's sad to sleep in prison." "Why sadder for me than for others? I will add but one more to their number."

Source: From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795, edited and translated by Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson. Copyright 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press, 187–194.