Role of Political Clubs on Frnech Revolution
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The revolution begun in 1789 with the meeting of the states general. Soon later the Bastille was stormed (till this day French celebrate it as their national holiday), the king was executed and a new constitution was written up. By 1799, end of the revolution, a new time had come not just for the French government, but for all. The revolution was to have an astonishing impact on world affairs, and its effect can be directly seen today. What french political clubs existed at the time and what part did they play during the course of that revolution? One by one I will try to answer this question by looking at how each political party influenced the events and what mark did they leave after themselves. Towards the end I will combine the individual information stated under the heading of each club in order to really understand the impact of these conglomerates.
Before we start it is important to first define what a political club really is. According to source  it is an organized group with a leader at its helm. It contains a political program that targets specific social groups. It’s aim is to rise to power and to enforce that program. The article also underlines the importance of the french revolution to the way we understand politics today. It recognizes that the division on left and right wing originates exactly from that period. The importance of clubs during the French revolution can be summed up by the words of historian Alan Woods “The basic cell of the Revolution, especially in Paris but also in the provinces, was the club and the secret society. It is impossible to understate the importance of organizations like the revolutionary clubs, whose model was the Jacobin Club (“The Society of the Friends of the Constitution”) in Paris. Here the masses came to debate the burning issues of the day, to listen to the most popular leaders, to cheer and hiss, to argue&emdash;to decide. Through the medium of their clubs, the masses put pressure on the elected deputies in the National Assembly; they mobilized public opinion; they acted as a focal point to channel discontent”.
Founded in 1790 it served as a political base for Danton and Marat. Interestingly women had an prominent role in the club, serving important functions. The group notably popularized the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”. Following Marat’s assassination the club was led by Jacques René Hebert and it drifted to the extreme left. One of the key ideas of the new leader was to form a revolutionary army. In the summer of 1791, the Cordeliers had a key role in the making of the constitution. In the summer of 1791 Delegates met with a crowd on the Champ de Mars, but the crowd was dispersed by the National Guard. Subsequent repression focused on the club. Restored to prominence by 1792, the Cordeliers were at the heart of the movement that overthrew the monarchy on August 10th. The Cordeliers also played an important role in the expulsion of the Girondins from the National Convention in 1793. In March 1794, the club was purged by the Jacobins. The club then submitted to the oppressors, and only a few members continued to meet until the spring of 1795, but by this point the club had little influence.
Formed in 1789 together with the Cordeliers represented the left wing. The club had considerable influence on the legislative Assembly, in which they and the Feuillants were the chief factions. They sought to limit the powers of the king, and many of them had republican tendencies. The group split on the issue of war against Europe. A small minority opposed foreign war and insisted on reform. This group of Jacobins grew more radical, adopted republican ideas, and advocated universal manhood suffrage, popular education, and separation of church and state, although it adhered to orthodox economic principles.
Members of the club included Mirabeau-a renowned orator, Abbé Sieyès (author of “What is the Third Estate?”, a later member of the Directory, conspirator with Napoleon during the Coup of 18 Brumaire, the original Second Consul during the Consulate, and then president of the Senate), Antoine Barnave (one of the most influential orators of the Revolution), Louis de Saint-Just (close friend to Maximilien Robespierre and a member of the Committee of Public Safety) and Joseph Fouché (who would later become Napoleon’s Minister of Police). However The most prominent figure of this club has to be Maximillien Robespierre- the leader and founder of the club, and the man responsible behind the reign of terror. As soon as the Jacobins dominated the political scene with the backing of the Paris Mob and commune the so called reign of terror begun (more bellow). The fall of Robespierre meant the fall of the Jacobins, but their spirit lived on in revolutionary doctrine.
Girondins or otherwise called Gerondists were a slightly less radical political club. Even though they encouraged the revolution they tried to carry it out at a calmer and slower rate. They were against the execution of the king, however they did not manage to persuade other clubs to their ideas. During the revolutionary assembly they engaged into personal rivalry against the Jacobins and Cordeliers, which eventually led to their downfall. Their main achievement was persuading the others to declare war on Austria. Unfortunately with Dumouriez’s treason, who deflected to the Austrians, they’re position considerably fell. Important figures include Thomas Paine- An influential member of the American revolution and Claude Fauchet- a Revolutionary bishop and one of the leaders of the storming of the Bastille. After constant attacks from opposition they’re main leaders were arrested and eventually executed, consequently the club was disabondoned.
Emerged in 1791, after the breaking up of the Jacobins on those who agreed on the dethronement of the king and on those who refused it. Feulliants, led by Barnav and Duport advocated constitutional monarchy and tried to preserve the revolution, but with an existing king. Their main beliefs included freedom of press, freedom of speech, belief in the right of man and citizen, and the right to vote based on possession of land. Notable members include Dr. Guillotine- the inventor of the easy killing machine, used on far to many occasions during the revolution and Jean Sylvian Bailly- president of the Third Estate, leader of the gathering at the Tennis Court, and the first mayor of Paris. All Their members were often associated with royalty and Aristocracy. Eventually their political views were overshadowed with those of a more radical tendency, eg. those of the Jacobin club, leading to their extinction.
At the time of the revolution many clubs existed and at some point they were more influential than at others. Nonetheless they too had an impact on revolutionary affairs. Many of these smaller clubs often derived their names from their leaders such as Dantonists or Robesspierrists. A prominent club called Enrages, who after spats with the Jacobins re-appeared under the name Hebertists, were another radical political group. Their movement was atheistic and counter- Christian. Though the club was popular it did not have strong political influence. Other interesting clubs include the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. A group set up from the female part of the sans-culotte, unfortunately existed only for a short period of six months. Fraternal Society of One and the Other Sex was another small club set up under regulations that it is to be rules by two men and 2 women.
Historians may often argue on what was the main cause of the revolution offering different interpretations such the Marxisct or Revisionist approach. However no one undermines the role of political clubs as the ones who carried out that revolution. Everything that happened during this time was directly influenced by their leaders. The life of the political clubs was the life of the revolution. It is hard to define what each club did individually, as all ideas revolved around one another. For that reason it is easier to look at the parties as a whole and not each in particular. Even though at many times they acted against each other, in a sense they completed one another with different views and alternatives. Together they wrote up the French constitution, guillotined the king and got rid of Absolute Monarchy.
The National Assembly was able to pass some of the most prominent acts to date such as the declaration of human rights, which resulted in the abolishment of feudal rights, economic documents such the maximum price act and social acts such as those concerning measurements. They served as base for future democracy promoting concepts such the freedom of speech and freedom of press and demonstrated the importance of women by allowing them to step into political life. For the first time in history people were allowed to not only choose the political ideas presented to them but directly influence the country affairs. By influencing one another they were able to declare war on Austria and rule the country according to their ideas. They revolutionized religious ideas purging the Roman Catholic church. They even changed time, by forming a new calendar.
After the parties brawl for power, which was eventually one by The Jacobins, came the period of Terror. A single party was able to rule France. Robespierre, the so called “Incorruptible” was the head of the country. With the ever present fear of conspiracy and betrayal within the absolute ruler’s mind he quickly started purging all opposition and anyone suspected of being against the revolution. Next, in 1795, came the directory which was then succeeded by Napoleon Bonaparte- consequently ending the revolution. The prophecy of Vergniaud was to become fulfilled “Beware, lest a revolution, like Saturn, devour it’s own children, one by one”. Girondins, Hebertists, Dantonists, and finally Jacobins, with Robespierre, were all eventually sacrificed
Historia Francji, Jan Baszkiewicz, 1974
France a short history of it’s literature and art from earliest times to the present, Henry Dwight Sedgwick,1930
A short history of France, Sir J.A.R. Marriot