The French Revolution— Volume 2

Author: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine


Ordinary practices of the Jacobin dictatorship. - The stationary companies of the clubs. - Their personnel. - Their leaders.

This is roughly the type of government which spring up in every commune of France after the 10th of August; the club reigns, but the form and processes of its dictatorship are different, according to circumstances. — Sometimes it operates directly through an executive gang or by lancing an excited mob; sometimes it operates indirectly through the electoral assembly it has had elected, or through the municipality, which is its accomplice. If the administrations are Jacobin, it governs through them. If they are passive, it governs alongside of them. If they are refractory, it purges them,[22] or breaks them up,[23] and, to put them down, it resorts not only to blows, but even to murder[24] and massacre.[25] Between massacre and threats, all intermediaries meet, the revolutionary seal being everywhere impressed with inequalities of relief.

In many places, threats suffice. In regions where the temperament of the people is cool, and where there is no resistance, it is pointless to resort to assault and battery. What is the use is killing in a town like Arras, for instance, where, on the day of the civic oath, the president of the department, a prudent millionaire, stalks through the streets arm in arm with Aunty Duchesne, who sells cookies down in a cellar, where, on election days, the townspeople, through cowardice, elect the club candidates under the pretense that "rascals and beggars" must be sent off to Paris to purge the town of them![26] It would be labor lost to strike people who grovel so well.[27] The faction is content to mark them as mangy curs, to put them in pens, keep them on a leash, and to annoy them.[28] It posts at the entrance of the guard-room a list of inhabitants related to an émigré; it makes domiciliary visits; it draws up a fancied list of the suspected, on which list all that are rich are found inscribed. It insults and disarms them; it confines them to the town; it forbids them to go outside of it even on foot; it orders them to present themselves daily before its committee of public safety; it condemns them to pay their taxes for a year in twenty-four hours; it breaks the seals of their letters; it confiscates, demolishes, and sells their family tombs in the cemeteries. This is all in order, as is the religious persecution,

* with the irruption into private chapels where mass is said,

* with blows with gun-stocks and the fist bestowed on the officiating priest,

* with the obligation of orthodox parents to have their children baptized by the schismatic curé,

* with the expulsion of nuns, and

* with the pursuit, imprisonment and transportation of unsworn ecclesiastics.

But if the domination of the club is not always a bloody one, the judgments are always those of an armed man, who, putting his gun to his shoulder, aims at the wayfarers whom he has stopped on the road. Generally they kneel down, tender their purses, and the shot is not fired. But the gun is cocked, nevertheless, and, to be certain of this, we have only to look at the shriveled hand grasping the trigger. We are reminded of those swarms of banditti which infested the country under the ancient regime;[29] the double-girdle of smugglers and receivers embraced within twelve hundred leagues of internal exciseduties, the poachers abounding on the four hundred leagues of guarded captaincies, the deserters so numerous that in eight years they amounted to sixty thousand, the beggars with which the prisons overflowed, the thousands of thieves and vagabonds thronging the highways, quarry of the police which the Revolution let loose and armed, and which, in its turn, from being prey, became the hunters of game. For three years these strong-armed prowlers have served as the hard-core of local jacqueries; at the present time they form the staff of the universal jacquerie. At Nîmes,[30] the head of the Executive Power is a "dancing-master." The two leading demagogues of Toulouse are a shoemaker, and an actor who plays valets.[31] At Toulon,[32] the club, more absolute than any Asiatic despot, is recruited from among the destitute, sailors, harbor-hands, soldiers, "stray peddlers," while its president, Sylvestre, sent down from Paris, is a criminal of the lowest degree. At Rheims,[33] the principal leader is an unfrocked priest, married to a nun, aided by a baker, who, an old soldier, came near being hung. Elsewhere,[34] it is some deserter tried for robbery; here, a cook or innkeeper, and there, a former lackey The oracle of Lyons is an ex-commercial traveler, an emulator of Marat, named Châlier, whose murderous delirium is complicated with morbid mysticism. The acolytes of Châlier are a barber, a hair-dresser, an old-clothes dealer, a mustard and vinegar manufacturer, a clothdresser, a silk-worker, a gauze-maker, while the time is near when authority is to fall into still meaner hands, those of "the dregs of the female population," who, aided by "a few bullies," elect " female commissaries," tax food, and for three days pillage the warehouses.[35] Avignon has for its masters the Glacière bandits. Arles is under the yoke of its porters and bargemen. Marseilles belongs to "a band of wretches spawned out of houses of debauchery, who recognize neither laws nor magistrates, and ruling the city through terror."[36] — It is not surprising that such men, invested with such power, use it in conformity with their nature, and that the interregnum, which is their reign, spreads over France a circle of devastations, robberies, and murders.


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Chicago: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, "IV.," The French Revolution— Volume 2, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The French Revolution—Volume 2 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed March 23, 2019,

MLA: Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe. "IV." The French Revolution— Volume 2, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The French Revolution—Volume 2, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 23 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Taine, HA, 'IV.' in The French Revolution— Volume 2, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The French Revolution—Volume 2, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 March 2019, from