Sans-culottes

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Idealized sans-culotte by Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845). Sans-culotte.jpg
Idealized sans-culotte by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845).

The sans-culottes (French:  [sɑ̃kylɔt] , literally "without breeches") were the common people of the lower classes in late 18th century France, a great many of whom became radical and militant partisans of the French Revolution in response to their poor quality of life under the Ancien Régime . [1] The name sans-culottes refers to their clothing, and through that to their lower-class status: culottes were the fashionable silk knee-breeches of the 18th-century nobility and bourgeoisie, and the working class sans-culottes wore pantaloons, or trousers, instead. [2] The sans-culottes, most of them urban labourers, served as the driving popular force behind the revolution. Though ill-clad and ill-equipped, they made up the bulk of the Revolutionary army during the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars. [3] :1–22

Culottes womans split skirt; earlier, breeches or knickers

Culottes are an item of clothing worn on the lower half of the body. The term can refer to split skirts, historical men's breeches, or women's under-pants; this is an example of fashion-industry words taken from designs across history, languages and cultures, then being used to describe different garments, often creating confusion among historians and readers. The French word culotte is panties, pants, knickers, trousers, shorts, or (historically) breeches; derived from the French word culot, meaning the lower half of a thing, the lower garment in this case.

French Revolution social and political revolution in France and its colonies occurring from 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Ancien Régime monarchic, aristocratic, social and political system established in the Kingdom of France from approximately the 15th century until the later 18th century

The Ancien Régime was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages until 1789, when hereditary monarchy and the feudal system of French nobility were abolished by the French Revolution. The Ancien Régime was ruled by the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties. The term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe. The administrative and social structures of the Ancien Régime were the result of years of state-building, legislative acts, internal conflicts, and civil wars, but they remained and the Valois Dynasty's attempts at re-establishing control over the scattered political centres of the country were hindered by the Huguenot Wars. Much of the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII and the early years of Louis XIV were focused on administrative centralization. Despite, however, the notion of "absolute monarchy" and the efforts by the kings to create a centralized state, the Kingdom of France retained its irregularities: authority regularly overlapped and nobles struggled to retain autonomy.

Contents

The most fundamental political ideals of the sans-culottes were social equality, economic equality, and popular democracy. They supported the abolition of all the authority and privileges of the monarchy, nobility, and Roman Catholic clergy, the establishment of fixed wages, the implementation of price controls to ensure affordable food and other essentials, and vigilance against counter-revolutionaries. [3] [4] The height of their influence spanned roughly from the original overthrow of the monarchy in 1792 to the Thermidorian Reaction in 1794. [2] Throughout the revolution, the sans-culottes provided the principal support behind the more radical and anti-bourgeoisie factions of the Paris Commune, such as the Enragés and the Hébertists, and were led by populist revolutionaries such as Jacques Roux and Jacques Hébert. [1] [5] The sans-culottes also populated the ranks of paramilitary forces charged with physically enforcing the policies and legislation of the revolutionary government, a task that commonly included violence and the carrying out of executions against perceived enemies of the revolution.

Social equality is a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in certain respects, including civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights and equal access to certain social goods and services. However, it also includes concepts of health equality, economic equality and other social securities. It also includes equal opportunities and obligations, and so involves the whole of society. Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of a person's identity. For example, sex, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health or disability must absolutely not result in unequal treatment under the law and should not reduce opportunities unjustifiably.

Popular democracy is a notion of direct democracy based on referendums and other devices of empowerment and concretization of popular will. The concept evolved out of the political philosophy of Populism, as a fully democratic version of this popular empowerment ideology, but since it has become independent of it, and some even discuss if they are antagonistic or unrelated now. Though the expression has been used since the 19th century and may be applied to English Civil War politics, at least the notion is deemed recent and has only recently been fully developed.

House of Bourbon European royal house of French origin

The House of Bourbon is a European royal house of French origin, a branch of the Capetian dynasty. Bourbon kings first ruled France and Navarre in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma. Spain and Luxembourg currently have monarchs of the House of Bourbon.

During the peak of their influence, the sans-culottes were seen as the truest and most authentic sons of the French Revolution, held up as living representations of the revolutionary spirit. During the height of revolutionary fervor, such as during the Reign of Terror when it was dangerous to be associated with anything counter-revolutionary, even public functionaries and officials actually from middle or upper-class backgrounds adopted the clothing and label of the sans-culottes as a demonstration of solidarity with the working class and patriotism for the new French Republic. [2]

Reign of Terror period during the french revolution

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, is the label given by most historians to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.

French First Republic republic governing France, 1792-1804

In the history of France, the First Republic, officially the French Republic, was founded on 22 September 1792 during the French Revolution. The First Republic lasted until the declaration of the First Empire in 1804 under Napoleon, although the form of the government changed several times. This period was characterized by the fall of the monarchy, the establishment of the National Convention and the Reign of Terror, the Thermidorian Reaction and the founding of the Directory, and, finally, the creation of the Consulate and Napoleon's rise to power.

But by early 1794, as the bourgeois and middle class elements of the revolution began to gain more political influence, the fervent working class radicalism of the sans-culottes rapidly began falling out of favor within the National Convention. [2] It wasn't long before Maximilien de Robespierre and the now dominant Jacobin Club turned against the radical factions of the National Convention, including the sans-culottes, despite their having previously been the strongest supporters of the revolution and its government. Several important leaders of the Enragés and Hébertists were imprisoned and executed by the very revolutionary tribunals they had supported. [2] The execution of radical leader Jacques Hébert spelled the decline of the sans-culottes, [2] and with the successive rise of even more conservative governments, the Thermidorian Convention and the French Directory, they were definitively silenced as a political force. [3] :258–259 After the defeat of the 1795 popular revolt in Paris, the sans-culottes ceased to play any effective political role in France until the July Revolution of 1830.

The term political radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary or other means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.

Revolutionary Tribunal Tribunal during the French revolution

The Revolutionary Tribunal was a court instituted by the National Convention during the French Revolution for the trial of political offenders. It eventually became one of the most powerful engines of the Reign of Terror.

Jacques Hébert 1757-1794 French journalist and politician

Jacques René Hébert was a French journalist, and the founder and editor of the extreme radical newspaper Le Père Duchesne during the French Revolution. He was a leader of the French Revolution and had thousands of followers as the Hébertists ; he himself is sometimes called Père Duchesne, after his newspaper.

Appearance

(left) Sans-culotte, compare figures wearing culottes right. Sansculottes.jpg
(left) Sans-culotte, compare figures wearing culottes right.

The distinctive costume of typical sans-culottes featured: [2]

Carmagnole song

"La Carmagnole" is the title of a French song created and made popular during the French Revolution, accompanied by a wild dance of the same name that may have also been brought into France by the Piedmontese. It was first sung in August 1792 and was successively added to during the revolutionary events of 1830, 1848, 1863–64, and 1882-83. The authors are not known. The title refers to the short jacket worn by working-class militant sans-culottes, adopted from the Piedmontese peasant costume named for the town of Carmagnola.

Phrygian cap soft conical cap with the top pulled forward

The Phrygian cap or liberty cap is a soft conical cap with the apex bent over, associated in antiquity with several peoples in Eastern Europe and Anatolia, including Phrygia, Dacia, and the Balkans. In early modern Europe it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty through a confusion with the pileus, the felt cap of manumitted (emancipated) slaves of ancient Rome. In artistic representations it signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty.

Sabot (shoe) wooden shoe associated with rural workers in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium

A sabot is a clog from France or surrounding countries such as Belgium or Italy. Sabots are whole feet clogs.

Montagnard influence

The working class was especially hurt by a hail storm which damaged grain crops in 1788, which caused bread prices to skyrocket. [6] While the peasants of rural France could sustain themselves with their farms, and the wealthy aristocracy could still afford bread, the urban workers of France, the group that comprised the sans-culottes, suffered. In the city, division grew between the sans-culottes and these wealthy aristocrats; the former had a particular hostility “towards those with large private incomes.” [7]

The faction known as the Montagnards expressed concern for the working classes of France. [8] When the National Convention met to discuss the fate of the former king Louis XVI in 1792, the sans-culottes vehemently opposed a proper trial, instead opting for an immediate execution. The moderate Girondin faction voted for a trial, but the radical Montagnards sided with the sans-culottes, deeming that a trial was not necessary, and won with a slim majority. Louis XVI was executed on January 17, 1793. [9]

The demands of the sans-culottes did not stop with the execution of the King, and the Montagnards worked hard to fulfill their mounting orders. This increased pressure from the radical masses exacerbated the ideological split between the Montagnards and the Girondins, and tensions began to grow within the Convention. [10] Eventually, by May of 1793, the Montagnards worked with the National Guard -- which was, at this time, mostly sans-culottes -- to depose many of the Girondin deputies. Jeremy Popkin writes, “[the Montagnards and the sans-culottes] surrounded the Convention, and two days later the intimidated assembly suspended twenty-nine Girondin deputies. The defeated Girondin leaders fled to the provinces. The Montagnards were left in control of the Convention, which itself was clearly at the mercy of whoever could command the armed sans-culottes battalions.” [11] Now, whoever was in control of France’s destiny had to answer to the sans-culottes, who “effectively exercised legislative power” in situations of unrest. [12] Otherwise, they would risk a similar uprising and their own exile, or possibly even execution. This political shift towards radicalism would soon turn into the Reign of Terror.

Reign of Terror

The mass violence of the sans-culottes created a lasting impact on the Reign of Terror. These revolutionaries allied themselves most readily with those in power who promised radical change. The sans-culottes believed in a complete upheaval of the government, pushing for the execution of any that were considered corrupt by the leaders, even going as far as wanting “the enemies of the republic [to] hang-main and the guillotine to stand like the first patriots, the finisher of the law.” [13] The support of the sans-culottes could be used as a political weapon to get rid of enemies of the Revolution. The key to Robespierre’s Terror lay in their willingness and ability to mobilize. Thus, the Committee leaders used speeches to gain their support. In a speech On the Principles of Political Morality. [14] Robespierre proclaimed: “It has been said that terror was the mainspring of despotic government. Does your government, then, resemble a despotism? Yes, as the sword which glitters in the hands of liberty's heroes resembles the one with which tyranny's lackeys are armed.” Robespierre expressed a desire for liberty that the sans-culottes admired. They pushed the Committee for radical changes and often found a voice with Robespierre. Their desperate desire for immediate changes and their aptitude for violence made the sans-culottes a necessary group in implementing the Terror.

Legacy

The popular image of the sans-culotte has gained currency as an enduring symbol for the passion, idealism and patriotism of the common man of the French Revolution. [15] The term sans-culottism, sans-culottisme in French, refers to this idealized image and the themes associated with it. [15] Many public figures and revolutionaries who were not strictly working class styled themselves citoyens sans-culottes in solidarity and recognition. [2] However, in the period immediately following the Thermidorian Reaction the sans-culottes and other far-left political factions were heavily persecuted and repressed by the likes of the Muscadins. [2]

The French Republican Calendar at first termed the complementary days at the end of the year Sansculottides ; however, the National Convention suppressed the name when adopting the Constitution of the Year III (1795) and substituted the name jours complémentaires ("additional days"). [2]

Analysis

According to Sally Waller, part of the sans-culottes mantra was "permanent anticipation of betrayal and treachery". [16] The members of the sans-culottes were constantly on edge and fearing betrayal, which can be attributed to their violent and radical rebellion tactics. [17] Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm observes that the sans-culottes were a "shapeless, mostly urban movement of the labouring poor, small craftsmen, shopkeepers, artisans, tiny entrepreneurs and the like". [18] He further notes they were organised notably in the local political clubs of Paris and "provided the main striking-force of the revolution". [18] Hobsbawm writes that these were the actual demonstrators, rioters and constructors of street barricades. However, Hobsbawm maintains, sans-culottism provided no real alternative to the bourgeois radicalism of the Jacobins; [18] from Hobsbawm's Marxist perspective, the ideal of the sans-culottes, which sought to express the interests of the 'little men' who existed between the poles of the bourgeois and the proletarian, was contradictory and ultimately unrealizable. [18]

The Marxist historian Albert Soboul emphasized the importance of the sans-culottes as a social class, a sort of proto-proletariat that played a central role in the French Revolution. That view has been sharply attacked by scholars who say the sans-culottes were not a class at all. Indeed, as one historian points out, Soboul's concept has not been used by scholars in any other period of French history. [19]

Modern colloquial usage

Ironically, given its origin as a term to describe men's breeches, the term "culottes" in French is now used to describe women's underpants, an article of clothing that has little or no relation to the historic culottes. The term "sans-culottes" has been used colloquially to mean not wearing underpants. [20]

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 Sansculotte. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Chisholm, Hugh (1911) Sans-culottes. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 1911). This saying meant "ordinary patriots without fine clothes", and referred to the fancy clothes that famous patriots wore. They wore pants with cuffed, rolled up bottoms.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Soboul, Albert (1972). The Sans-Culottes: The Popular Movement and Revolutionary Government, 1793–1794. New York: Doubleday. ISBN   0-691-00782-9 . Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  4. Darline Levy (1981) Women in Revolutionary Paris 1789–1795 (University of Illinois Press, August 1, 1981). Translated by Harriet Applewhite, Mary Johnson. Pg 144. Quotation:
    The sans-culottes (...) campaigned for a more democratic constitution, price controls, harsh laws against political enemies, and economic legislation to assist the needy.
  5. Patrice Higonnet (1998) Goodness beyond Virtue: Jacobins during the French Revolution (Harvard University Press, October 25, 1998). Pg 118. Quotation:
    In the summer of 1793 the sans-culottes, the Parisian enragés especially, accused even the most radical Jacobins of being too tolerant of greed and insufficiently universalist. From this far-left point of view, all Jacobins were at fault because all of them tolerated existing civil life and social structures.
  6. Jeremy D. Popkin, A Short History of the French Revolution. (London: Routledge, 2016), 22.
  7. Albert Soboul, The Sans-culottes: The Popular Movement and Revolutionary Government 1793-1794. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton U.P., 1980), 10.
  8. Popkin, A Short History, 68.
  9. Popkin, A Short History, 64.
  10. Popkin, A Short History, 66.
  11. Popkin, A Short History, 67.
  12. Soboul, The Sans-culottes, 97.
  13. The Appearance, Predictions and Advice of the Devil, to the National Convention of France, in the Month of Nov. 1793.Taken from the Sans Culottes Gazette. (London: N.p, 1793).
  14. Maximilien Robespierre, "On the Principles of Political Morality" (speech, Paris, February 1794), Internet History Sourcebooks, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1794robespierre.asp.
  15. 1 2 Sansculottism. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.
  16. Waller, Sally. "How Significant was the Part Played by the Crowd and the Sans Culottes?" France in Revolution, 1776–1830. Oxford: Heinemann, 2002. 162. Print.
  17. Soboul, Albert (1980). The Sans-culottes: The Popular Movement and Revolutionary Government, 1793-1794. Princeton University Press. ISBN   0691007829.
  18. 1 2 3 4 Eric Hobsbawm 'The Age of Revolution' (St Ives, 1962; repr. 2008), p.84
  19. Paul R. Hanson (2009). Contesting the French Revolution. John Wiley. pp. 95–96.
  20. "sans-culotte", Passons de la sans-soutif de l'Upper East Side à la sans-culotte de Times Square, And from no bra on the Upper East Side ... ... to no panties in Times Square.

Further reading