Cover image for The Jacobin Republic Under Fire: The Federalist Revolt in the French Revolution By Paul R. Hanson

The Jacobin Republic Under Fire

The Federalist Revolt in the French Revolution

Paul R. Hanson


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ISBN: 978-0-271-02281-9

$30.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-05844-3

272 pages
6" × 9"
5 maps

The Jacobin Republic Under Fire

The Federalist Revolt in the French Revolution

Paul R. Hanson

“[The Jacobin Revolution Under Fire] is a solidly researched, imaginatively conceived, and well-written contribution to the study of the Revolution and the Federalist revolt. . . . Hanson has made an interesting point about differing views on sovereignty, and his book has merit. I would certainly recommend it to academic and public libraries that have any depth at all on the French Revolution.”


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One of the central questions of the French Revolution is what happened to the country from the time the monarchy collapsed in the summer of 1792, when the prospects for popular democracy seemed brightest, to the Terror of 1793–94, when the Committee of Public Safety ruled by fiat and repression. A key moment during this interim period was the so-called Federalist Revolt, when four provincial cities—Caen, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Marseille—rebelled against the more radical revolutionaries in Paris, threatening to plunge France into civil war. Over the years some very good work has been published on the Federalist Revolt, but no one has attempted an overarching study of the event in over a century. It is time for a major work of synthetic interpretation, and this is what The Jacobin Republic Under Fire offers.

The revolt pitted federalist rebels from the provinces, known as Girondins, against the republican Montagnards (also known as Jacobins) who dominated the National Convention in Paris. The four federalist cities never succeeded in creating a unified resistance to Paris, but the revolt had a substantial impact on revolutionary politics. In July 1793 Maximilien Robespierre joined the Committee of Public Safety, at which time the Montagnards moved decisively to quell the provincial rebels—the first major act of the Terror. Hanson presents a general narrative of the events as well as a pointed analysis that ultimately seeks to identify what, exactly, divided Girondins from Montagnards. According to Hanson, the conflict arose over the question of popular sovereignty: Who are the sovereign people, and how are they to exercise their sovereignty?

“[The Jacobin Revolution Under Fire] is a solidly researched, imaginatively conceived, and well-written contribution to the study of the Revolution and the Federalist revolt. . . . Hanson has made an interesting point about differing views on sovereignty, and his book has merit. I would certainly recommend it to academic and public libraries that have any depth at all on the French Revolution.”
“Hanson’s interpretive synthesis, a careful mixture of narrative and thematic chapters, will be appreciated by non-specialists.”
“Hanson’s book provides a useful synthesis of material that is often neglected or skimmed over in the telling of the story of the French Revolution. The bibliography of archival, primary, and secondary sources should prove especially beneficial to those interested in research on the French Revolution, while the departmental maps offer helpful visual aids to understanding the political events and situations under discussion. This book will be a welcome addition to my library.”
“One of the virtues of Hanson’s book lies in the skillful interweaving of local political tensions that served as the foundation for revolt and the national political crisis that triggered the outbreak. . . . Overall, through, this well-written and accessible book is timely as a synthesis of recent scholarship, engaging as a complex narrative of fascinating events, and, because it examines the federal revolts through the prism of a debate over sovereignty, important as an interpretation.”

Paul R. Hanson is Professor of History and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Butler University. He is the author of Provincial Politics in the French Revolution (1989) and the forthcoming Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution.


List of Maps



1. Girondins on Trial

2. Girondins versus Montagnards

3. Revolt in the Provinces

4. The Federalist Program

5. The Local Context of Federalism

6. Contemporary Perspectives on the Revolt

7. Prelude to the Terror


Appendix: Demands of the Central Committee

of Resistance to Oppression




More than twenty years have passed since my first trip to France to do research on the French Revolution, but I still remember vividly a conversation in the Calvados archives, where I had gone to learn more about the federalist revolt in Caen. As a young, inexperienced historian I frequently had questions about archival citations or eighteenth-century handwriting, and more often than not I turned to Monsieur Le Petit, a gentle and amiable archivist whose family had lived in Normandy for generations. He answered my questions patiently, sometimes more than once, and eventually asked me just what I was working on. When I told him that I hoped to write a history of the federalist revolt in Caen he offered a simple but deeply felt observation: ‘‘It is too bad that the Girondins did not win.’’

Now Monsieur Le Petit could be expected to believe that history matters—he was after all an archivist. But he cared about the defeat of the Girondins not because he was an archivist (his specialty, in fact, was in early modern civil records), but rather because he was a Frenchman. Moreover, his comment suggested not only that the political struggles of the French Revolution still mattered, but also that the victory of the Montagnards over their Girondin opponents was not a foregone conclusion. Indeed, in Monsieur Le Petit’s view, had the Girondins prevailed in their struggle with the Montagnards in 1793, the first French republic might have endured much longer.

Some fourteen years later, having written that first book, I had another conversation that reminded me of the enduring relevance of the French Revolution. In 1992 I traveled in Russia with a group of Butler University faculty, on a study tour related to a comparative world cultures course that we all taught together. Just one year before Boris Yeltsin had succeeded Mikhail Gorbachev in power, and the Soviet Union was in the process of falling apart. Our final stop was St. Petersburg, where one morning we met with members of the city council. I was not looking forward to what I expected to be a rather boring session involving the ritual exchange of formulaic greetings and souvenir pins. I could not have been more wrong. We did get pins (I still treasure mine!), but our conversation with four members of the St. Petersburg municipal council was fascinating, and as we sat with them in a room of the Maryinski Palace, redolent with its own rich history, I felt as if I could as easily have been back in the 1790s in Paris or Marseille.

The four deputies, like their forebears in the French National Convention, were all young and all men, but they represented diverse groups and interests. One was a liberal socialist, one a computer specialist, another an environmental activist, and the fourth ardently devoted to the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church. There were 500 deputies on the St. Petersburg municipal council, and as with the members of the National Convention, 750 in number, these men often felt overwhelmed by the difficulty of accomplishing anything in so large an assembly, even as they felt exhilarated by the opportunity to enact real change in their city. They were faced by enormous, concrete problems, but they also confronted more abstract issues of political theory: ‘‘Are we,’’ one asked us, ‘‘the representatives of our constituents, or have we been elected to vote our conscience as free agents?’’ Another observed, ‘‘In the midst of so many crises, it is a good thing that the people are at present apathetic, or we would all be out on our ears.’’ The Girondins should have been so lucky, I thought. Parisians were scarcely apathetic in 1793, and most of the Girondin leaders met their fate on the guillotine.

As with my earlier exchange with Monsieur Le Petit, this conversation reminded me that revolutionary politics still matter in the world today. Revolutions are moments when people claim their most fundamental rights and proclaim the principle of popular sovereignty. This was true of the French and American revolutions of the eighteenth century, and it was true of the revolutions that swept across central and eastern Europe in 1989. But despite the assertion of the American founding fathers, those rights and that principle are neither self-evident nor universal. In particular, the nature, the extent, and the practice of sovereignty have always been hotly contested, as they were in 1792–93.

In this book I argue that the contestation of sovereignty was the essential issue that divided French revolutionaries in 1792 and 1793 and that very nearly plunged the country into civil war during the months of the federalist revolt. This was scarcely the only pressing concern before the young republic: the foreign war, the fate of the king, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, the policy toward èmigrè nobles—these were all divisive issues within the National Assembly and throughout France. But underlying the bitter debates and divisions over these issues lay the most fundamental of political questions: Who are the sovereign people and how are they to exercise that sovereignty?

Why had these questions not been resolved in the years between 1789 and 1793? Or, put differently, why did they become so central, so inescapable, in the spring and summer of 1793? There are short answers to each of these questions. To the first, the answer is that the delegates to the Estates-General did everything they could to avoid the issue of popular sovereignty in 1789. They did not even think of themselves as ‘‘deputies’’ or ‘‘representatives’’ at first—they were delegates sent by traditional corporate bodies, and even when they

broke decisively with that tradition they spoke of the ‘‘nation,’’ not the ‘‘people,’’ as sovereign. The short answer to the second question is that the king was deposed, tried, and executed between August 1792 and January 1793, and this chain of events forced the revolutionaries to confront more directly the vexing issue of just who within the nation might legitimately exercise sovereignty.

This book, which is in some sense a long answer to the second question, focuses on the struggle between Girondin and Montagnard deputies within the National Convention in the months following the fall of the monarchy, and on the tumult in the provinces that accompanied that struggle and then escalated into open revolt after the leading Girondin deputies were expelled from the National Convention in early June 1793. I will argue, however, that the federalist revolt was not simply a response to the expulsion of the Girondin deputies in Paris but was rather the culmination of a political conflict that raged in a number of provincial cities, most notably Lyon and Marseille, throughout this same period. Local and national politics came together at this time in a particularly dynamic fashion, more so than at any other moment in the Revolution. Local politics, by which I chiefly mean municipal politics, asserted a profound influence on national politics, ranging from the leading role that the Marseille volunteers played in the assault on the Tuileries palace in August 1792, to the well-chronicled impact of Parisian radicalism on debate within the National Convention, to the lesser-known fact that a violent upheaval in Lyon preceded by two days the insurrection in Paris on May 31, 1793, that led to the proscription of the Girondins. It was at the level of local politics that the legitimacy of popular sovereignty could be most forcefully proclaimed, and also where it was most hotly contested. The Girondin deputies, as is generally well known, were for the most part products of provincial politics, but it should be noted that this was true for many of the leading Montagnards as well. When these men debated just who the ‘‘sovereign people’’ were or should be, they thought not only of the militants of the Paris crowd, the sans-culottes, but of their constituents back home. It was a debate rooted not only in abstract political theorizing, but in the very concrete political experience of the first four years of the Revolution.

Specialists and serious students of the French Revolution will already be familiar with the course of events in those early years, but the general reader will likely appreciate a brief overview so that the conflict of 1793 can be placed in its proper context. No one could anticipate in spring 1789 what lay ahead for France in the next four years, although nearly everyone realized that the country was in crisis: a crisis characterized by a slumping economy, two poor harvests in succession, a nearly bankrupt royal treasury, and a political impasse that rendered traditional monarchical solutions to such problems impractical. King Louis XVI thus resorted to the extraordinary measure of convening the Estates-General for the first time in 175 years. All male subjects of the realm were called upon to participate in the election of delegates to the Estates-General and to contribute to the drafting of grievance lists, to share with the king and his ministers their thoughts about the problems confronting France. This unprecedented call set in motion the political mobilization of the entire nation.

The delegates who went to Versailles represented one of the three traditional orders, or estates, of the French kingdom: the First Estate, composed of the clergy; the Second Estate, composed of the nobility; and the Third Estate, composed of everyone else. The Third Estate, being more numerous, sent twice as many delegates as the first two, but there was disagreement over how the estates should deliberate at Versailles—together or separately—and over how they should vote—one vote per order or one vote per delegate. These disagreements produced a stalemate, and little was accomplished for some six weeks.

Then, quite dramatically, on June 17 the bulk of the Third Estate, joined by a number of liberal nobles and clergymen, pledged to meet as a body and declared themselves the National Assembly. Three days later, finding themselves locked out of the Third Estate’s meeting hall, they swore the famous Tennis Court Oath, declaring that wherever they might gather, there the nation would be represented. This was a revolutionary moment, and some of the conservative noblemen and bishops, recognizing its implications, soon departed, asserting that they had not been elected as deputies of the nation, but rather as delegates to the Estates-General, and therefore had no further business at Versailles. The king, for his part, publicly accepted the fait accompli in a royal session on June 23, but at the same time he took measures to thwart the initiative of the Third Estate. Royal troops were called to the vicinity of Paris, and on July 11 Louis dismissed his finance minister, Jacques Necker, a favorite of the people.

These measures alarmed the citizens of Paris, who mobilized both in defense of their city and in defense of what was already being referred to by some as ‘‘the Revolution.’’ On July 14, a crowd of some eighty thousand marched across Paris from the Invalides hospital to the Bastille, ultimately storming the old royal prison and fortress and killing its unfortunate governor, Bernard-Renè- Jordan Delauney. The king responded by restoring Necker to office and accepting the transformation of the Estates-General into the National Assembly.

July 14 was the first occasion in the Revolution when crowd violence played a decisive role in major political developments, but it would not be the last. On October 4–5, after Louis XVI balked at signing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and refused to sign legislation ordering the confiscation of church property and the abolition of privilege, a large crowd of market women marched to Versailles. Angered by the recent increase in bread prices, they met with the king, accosted the queen and her guards, and eventually escorted the royal family back to Paris, where they took up residence in the Tuileries palace. From this point forward there were those, even among the revolutionaries themselves, who grew gravely concerned about the influence of popular violence, or at least the threat of violence, on political debate. Many of the deputies to the National Assembly recognized, however, that without the violence of the crowd the king would have been able to stymie the reforms that they so ardently desired. At what point, though, they worried, would continued violent protest come to jeopardize the gains of the Revolution and threaten to cast French society into a permanent state of social disorder? As we shall see, this was a concern that dominated public debate in 1792–93.

A great deal was accomplished during the first two years of the Revolution. The deputies of the National Assembly, also known as the Constituent Assembly, worked tirelessly to create a more rational administrative structure for the realm, to resolve the financial crisis of the royal treasury, and to draft a written constitution for the kingdom. The administrative map of France was redrawn, and a hierarchical network of departmental, district, and municipal councils was created, although it was left unclear whether or not these new councils were to play a political as well as an administrative role. All of these local councils were to be elected, not appointed. But whereas the elections to the Estates-General had effectively been by universal manhood suffrage, the Constituent Assembly divided the citizenry into two groups: active citizens, essentially male property owners, who voted; and passive citizens, women and the propertyless, who did not. Sovereignty was to be limited under the constitutional monarchy.

The most pressing problem before the Constituent Assembly was the royal debt, and as already noted, this was to be eliminated by the confiscation of church property, the sale of which at public auction would generate the revenue to repay royal creditors. This proposed solution created new problems, however. Because of the loss of the church’s revenue-producing properties, the clergy were to be paid by the state, making them, in the eyes of the deputies, the equivalent of civil servants. The Constituent Assembly therefore drafted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which among other things required all clergy to swear an oath of loyalty to the nation, the king, and the law. This proved to be an enormously divisive measure, not only among the clergy (about half of whom refused to swear the oath) but for the nation at large. Louis XVI, a very devout man, approved the legislation with great reluctance.

Louis was also deeply troubled by the legislation abolishing privilege, including the status of nobility. All men were to be seen as equal asserted the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Many aristocrats were understandably offended by this, and some chose to leave France, as did some of the refractory priests who had refused to swear the civil oath. Revolutionaries regarded these èmigrès as traitors and called for the confiscation of their property. But Louis refused to take resolute action against them, raising suspicions in the minds of some that the king was conspiring with those èmigrès and with other monarchs of Europe in a counterrevolutionary plot. The king’s flight to Varennes, in June 1791, seemed to confirm those suspicions.

Louis XVI and his family were apprehended near the French border and

returned to Paris under the escort of the National Guard and several deputies

from the Constituent Assembly. Their reception in Paris was, to say the least, a

chilly one. Several points merit emphasis here in regard to this perplexing episode.

First, before leaving Paris, Louis XVI had left a note denouncing the recently

drafted constitution (which, in his view, imposed unwarranted limitations

on the powers of the king), as well as the subversive influence of the Jacobin

clubs. The most powerful of the Jacobin clubs, which met in Paris, included a

number of deputies in its ranks and functioned, some argued, as a kind of

shadow parliament. By 1791 a network of affiliated clubs had already begun to

spread across France, and there was much debate, both in Paris and the provinces,

about whether or not the Jacobin clubs (or any such clubs for that matter)

had a legitimate role to play in the new political order.

The second point worth emphasizing is that after his return to Paris, Louis XVI accepted the constitution that he had so recently denounced and pledged to uphold it. Barely one year later he was deposed for allegedly reneging on that pledge. Louis was particularly concerned that under the new constitution he enjoyed only a ‘‘suspensive’’ rather than an ‘‘absolute’’ veto over legislation, which seemed to leave him in a secondary position to the National Assembly. This was an awkward position indeed for a man who had once ruled as an absolute monarch. It raised in a fundamental way the question of where sovereignty lay.

A third important point here is that in the weeks following the king’s return to Paris, a schism developed within the Jacobin club. Moderate deputies broke away from the Jacobins to form a rival club, known as the Feuillants. Their position, simply put, was that the Revolution should come to an end and the nation should rally behind a constitutional monarch and a political order dominated by property owners. That position was challenged by a growing popular movement in Paris that favored the declaration of a republic and the dethronement of Louis XVI. The Cordeliers club, to the left of the Jacobins, circulated a petition to that end, but on July 17, 1791, a rally on the Champ de Mars ended in violence, and this, along with the king’s acceptance of the new constitution, brought a temporary end to the radical movement and strengthened the hand of moderates. The fear of popular violence and calls for political moderation will be consistent themes throughout this study.

A Legislative Assembly, to be elected under the new system that distinguished between active and passive citizens, convened in fall 1792. Under a proviso put forward by the young deputy Maximilien Robespierre, the members of the Constituent Assembly were not eligible to stand for reelection, so the Legislative Assembly was composed of men new to national politics. Robespierre, who had not been a leading figure in the Constituent Assembly, gained prominence out of office as a journalist, a leader in the Jacobin club, and an activist in Paris municipal politics. Among the deputies of the new Legislative Assembly, the moderate Feuillants dominated at first, but their leadership was soon challenged by a group known initially as Brissotins, after their leading voice, Jacques Brissot. He was joined by a group of eloquent orators from the

department of the Gironde, most notably Pierre Vergniaud. With this influx of new talent, the group eventually came to be known as Girondins. These deputies were committed to some form of representative democracy, to the implementation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and to active opposition to France’s enemies abroad, especially the Austrian monarchy, suspected by many of supporting the plots of èmigrè aristocrats.

The Brissotins pushed for a declaration of war against Austria, which they achieved in April 1792, convinced that this would rally the nation to the revolutionary government and force the king to reveal his true loyalty. The war, however, went badly, as Robespierre had warned it would, and the setbacks on the battlefield seemed to polarize the nation. In particular, the flagging war effort rendered more problematical Louis XVI’s continued refusal to deal harshly with the èmigrè nobles and refractory priests, both groups now seen as actively supporting the forces of counterrevolution. When Louis dismissed his Brissotin ministers in June 1792 for publicly questioning his loyalty to the nation, an active movement to depose the king was rekindled in Paris.

The first eruption of that movement, on June 20, was unsuccessful, and that failed insurrection brought a host of letters from departmental administrations, and even some provincial Jacobin clubs, declaring their support for the king and their opposition to violent protest. Unfazed by those letters, the militants of Paris redoubled their efforts and increased their organization so that on August 10 a disciplined assault on the Tuileries palace, led by the Marseille volunteers, forced the king’s abdication. The collapse of the monarchy once again placed

the debate over sovereignty squarely before the French people and their representatives.

We will follow that debate closely in the chapters that follow, as it played itself out both in Paris and the provinces, but let us sketch out its main contours here. The most prominent voices were those of Vergniaud and Robespierre. Robespierre, from his position in the Jacobin club, had openly advocated insurrection

against the monarchy and later described August 10 as a triumph of ‘‘the people.’’ Vergniaud, who presided over the Legislative Assembly on the eve of August 10, turned away a petition from the section assemblies of Paris calling for the king’s ouster, claiming that the sections of Paris represented only a portion of the people of France.

Both Vergniaud and Robespierre were elected as deputies to the new national assembly, known as the National Convention, made necessary by the de facto collapse of the constitutional monarchy created by the constitution of 1791. Pointing to the glorious triumph of the people on August 10, Robespierre and others insisted that those elections be by universal manhood suffrage, and this was in fact adopted, both nationally and locally. Even as those elections were being conducted, however, violence erupted once again in Paris. Responding to ominous reports from the battlefront, militants invaded the prisons and executed some thirteen hundred prisoners, supposed fifth-column sympathizers of the advancing Prussian and Austrian forces.

The September massacres, as they came to be known, shocked the nation and revived fears among the propertied classes of mob violence and anarchy. Vergniaud and his supporters denounced the perpetrators of the violence, including Robespierre, and demanded that they be brought to justice. The Montagnards, so-called because they occupied the highest seats in the National Assembly, described the violence as regrettable but necessary, linked the September violence to the August 10 insurrection, and characterized the prison executions as a kind of people’s justice. Over the coming months, every major issue before the National Convention—the trial of the king, the debate over a new constitution, the conduct of the foreign war—would be touched by this ideological dispute. The Girondins, appealing to the rule of law, saw in the prison massacres a weapon to be directed against their Montagnard/Jacobin opponents. The Montagnards countered that attack by defending the ‘‘good people of Paris’’ and appealing to the ideal of popular sovereignty. The Girondins’ response to this was to insist that provincial Frenchmen were a part of the people, too, and that in any case it had not been the ‘‘good’’ people of Paris who had invaded the prisons in September.

On one level, the opposition between Montagnards and Girondins can be seen as a struggle between the champions of the Paris sans-culottes on one hand and the champions of provincial France on the other. It was easier for the Montagnards to mobilize their Parisian supporters, however, than for the Girondins to mobilize provincial France, and on June 2, 1793, yet another Parisian insurrection ousted the Girondin leaders from the National Convention. Many departmental administrations protested this proscription of the Girondins, and

four provincial cities—Caen, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Marseille—rebelled against Paris and the Montagnard-dominated Convention. This ‘‘federalist revolt’’ very nearly plunged France into civil war, but the federalist leaders (mostly departmental administrators) could not generate popular support for a march on Paris, and the movement never constituted a serious threat to the central government. This is more apparent today than it was at the time. The federalist rebels did everything they could to exaggerate their numbers in order to gain new allies, and the government used those exaggerated claims as justification for an increase in the power and authority of the central government. In July 1793 Robespierre joined the Committee of Public Safety, the group of twelve men who would serve as the executive branch of government for the next year. Its first task was to quell the provincial rebellions. The repression of the federalist revolt, particularly in the city of Lyon, would mark the first manifestations of the Terror in France. Roughly 10 percent of the Terror’s victims were charged with the crime of federalism.

The Committee of Public Safety, citing the internal rebellion and the foreign war, never implemented the democratic constitution that the deputies of the National Convention passed in late June 1793 and the voters of France endorsed later that summer. The Montagnards, ruling in the name of the people, never allowed the people to rule themselves. In July 1794 the Terror claimed Robespierre as one of its final victims, and in the Thermidorian reaction that followed, many of the Girondin deputies who had survived the Terror returned to office, as did their supporters in the provinces. The September massacres, and the threat of crowd violence, became once again a focal point in political debate, and a number of prominent ‘‘terrorists’’ were tried and executed or deported. The rule of law, a vengeful law, was now established. The window of opportunity for popular democracy had seemingly passed.

I would agree with Monsieur Le Petit, my archivist friend, that 1792–93 represented a missed opportunity for the young French republic, although I am not sure that I agree with him that France would have been better off under Girondin rule. It is my view that the federalist revolt and the events leading up to it present us with an unusual opportunity to see revolutionary politics not just through the filter of national rhetoric, but through provincial rhetoric and actions as well. It is the one point in the Revolution where national and local politics came together in a most striking fashion. The struggle between Montagnards and Girondins may in some sense have pitted Paris against the provinces, but it was not only the Parisian sans-culottes who called for popular sovereignty. Nor was the federalist revolt simply a reaction to the proscription of the Girondins. It grew out of a longstanding struggle over sovereignty that was waged both in word and in practice in cities throughout France, a struggle that came to a head precisely at the moment that the battle between Girondins and Montagnards reached its crisis point in the capital. What was at stake was no less than the future of the French republic, a future that was determined not just by ideology, but by social and political antagonisms as well.

There have been many accounts or studies of the struggle between Girondins and Montagnards, and in recent years each of the federalist cities has been the focus of a monograph. It has been more than one hundred years, however, since Henri Wallon wrote the only history of the federalist revolt, and no one has attempted an overarching study of both the conflict within the National Convention and the revolt in the four principal federalist cities. That is the task that I undertake in this volume. It is a work of interpretation and synthesis, drawing on the research of a great many historians as well as on my own archival investigations. It presents a narrative account of these complicated events as well as, I hope, some persuasive analysis.

The book begins with the words of the most prominent Girondin leader, Pierre Vergniaud. Many years ago Michael Sydenham argued that our understanding of the Girondin deputies was largely a product of Jacobin propaganda, generated after the Girondins had been ousted from the National Convention. Mindful of that admonition, I wanted to let the Girondins speak for themselves, in dramatic fashion, by presenting their own defense at their trial in 1793. But their Jacobin prosecutors, fearful of the eloquence of the Girondin orators, silenced them at their trial. So I have turned instead to a letter that Vergniaud wrote to two of his accusers, and later to the notes that Vergniaud jotted while awaiting trial in prison. We hear as well, in Chapter 1, from the Girondins’ accusers, and I will sketch briefly the outlines of the federalist revolt in the provinces.

Having begun at the end of the story, I then turn to the beginning and in Chapter 2 examine the roots of the Girondin-Montagnard conflict within the National Convention. That conflict endured some eight to nine months, paralyzing the work for which the deputies had been sent to Paris. Standing like bookends at either end of that struggle were two insurrectionary upheavals—the August 10, 1792, assault on the Tuileries palace, and the May 31, 1793, journèe by which the Parisian sans-culottes forced the proscription of the leading Girondins. In the interim, three other dramatic events shaped the political debate within the Convention: the September massacres, the trial of Louis XVI, and the impeachment of Jean-Paul Marat. In Chapter 2 I will examine each of those events and their impact on the evolving debate over sovereignty.

That debate ended in violence, at least the threat of violence, in Paris, but Chapter 3 begins instead with a violent upheaval in Lyon that occurred on May 29, two days before the march on the National Convention. The Lyon insurrection reminds us that the provinces did not always wait to follow the Parisian lead while it also makes clear that the Montagnards and their allies did not have a monopoly on violent protest. The May 29 revolution in Lyon was a victory for supporters of the Girondins, and their proscription from the Convention just days later placed the political triumph of the Lyonnais rebels in immediate jeopardy. This chapter examines both of these late May insurrections and then turns to the revolt against the proscription of the Girondin deputies in each of the four federalist cities. The emphasis here will be to establish clearly the chain of events in early June 1793.

General histories of the Revolution have customarily given the federalist revolts short shrift, leaving readers to think of them as disjointed and ineffectual at best, or openly counterrevolutionary at worst. My aim in Chapter 4 is to challenge that view by analyzing the federalist program. The failure of the federalist cities to unify was a key factor in their defeat, but there were serious efforts to join the federalist departments together, and the manifestos and declarations of the various federalist centers make it possible to speak of a federalist program. Theirs was not a truly ‘‘federalist’’ vision—they did not advocate a federated republic as their opponents charged. But they did hold Paris in suspicion and they advocated a political system that would value order over mobilization of the populace. They were not counterrevolutionaries, at least not for the most part, but the federalist rebels did put forward a vision of a republic quite different from that advocated by the Parisian sans-culottes or presented by the Jacobin constitution of 1793.

Federalist republicanism was not simply a reaction to Parisian radicalism, nor a loyal following of Girondin leadership. The politics of the federalist rebels grew as well, perhaps most importantly, out of the crucible of local politics, and Chapter 5 focuses on local contexts. Just as Chapter 2 explored the roots of the Girondin-Montagnard conflict, in Chapter 5, I seek to trace the evolution of local politics in the four federalist cities from the early years of the Revolution up to 1793. The emphasis is on 1792–93 when the definition of sovereignty was changed due to the events of August 10. The introduction of universal manhood suffrage in the fall elections of 1792 altered the composition of municipal councils across France, nowhere more dramatically than in Lyon and Marseille. Moderates felt threatened by the newly elected Jacobin councils, and they mobilized their allies and supporters to unseat those councils in spring 1793, claiming at the time the mantle of popular sovereignty. When, in the name of the people, the Parisian sans-culottes ousted the Girondin deputies from the National Convention on June 2, the moderates in Lyon and Marseille saw their own recent victories placed in immediate jeopardy. Thus, the local and national conflicts were very much intertwined. We will see that the same was true in both Caen and Bordeaux, though in somewhat less dramatic fashion.

The pronouncements of the Jacobins in Paris and the federalists in the provinces both tended to exaggerate the threat represented by their opponents to the safety of the republic. In Chapter 6, I attempt to look beyond that rhetoric to assess, through letters and private reports, the range of contemporary perspectives on the federalist revolt. How threatened did Parisians feel by the federalist calls for a march on Paris? How persuaded were the people of the provinces that the federalist rebels spoke on their behalf? This chapter seeks to present some of the voices of those rarely listened to and seldom heard.

The federalist revolt collapsed fairly quickly in most quarters, and its gravity was exaggerated by the Jacobins in Paris. Yet it cannot be denied that the repression of the federalist revolts marked the first manifestations of the Terror in France. No city suffered more during the Terror than Lyon, and in Bordeaux and Marseille as well the guillotine claimed hundreds of victims in the wake of the federalist upheaval. In Chapter 7, I will examine the dynamics of that repression, focusing in particular on the role of the representatives on mission but also considering the more positive measures taken by the National Convention to quell the rebellion, most notably the drafting of a new constitution. The constitution of 1793, the most democratic of the Revolution, held considerable promise for the young republic, tragically never realized. It was never enacted, replaced in 1795 by a far more conservative document. But from Gracchus Babeuf in 1796 to Louis Blanc in the mid-nineteenth century, the constitution of 1793 remained an inspiration for French republicans.

Having begun the book with the words of Pierre Vergniaud, I conclude with words from Robert Lindet, one of the accusers to whom Vergniaud addressed his public letter in summer 1793. No one did more than Lindet to try to avert the tragedy of the federalist revolt. Sent by the Committee of Public Safety to Lyon in June 1793, he reported back in his letters that there were many good republicans in that city, and that the differences between Lyon and Paris could be peacefully resolved. Later that summer Lindet led an "army of pacification" to Caen, and the repression of the revolt in that city was almost bloodless. In Lyon, by contrast, nearly two thousand of those ‘‘good republicans’’ were eventually executed. Robert Lindet, certainly one of the most remarkable of the French revolutionaries, later defended the Terror against its Thermidorian detractors. Although he did not deny its excesses, neither did he see it as the simple product of ideology. Unlike most of the revolutionaries, whether Girondin or Montagnard, Lindet seemed capable of overcoming deeply felt political divisions. But in spite of his defense in 1794 of the regime of the Committee of Public Safety, one suspects that Lindet would not have denied that in the name of popular sovereignty the Montagnards had overseen the stifling of participatory democracy. In this lay the real tragedy of the federalist revolt and the Terror that followed.

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