Jacobins

Jacobins (jăkˈəbĭnz) [key], political club of the French Revolution. Formed in 1789 by the Breton deputies to the States-General, it was reconstituted as the Society of Friends of the Constitution after the revolutionary National Assembly moved (Oct., 1789) to Paris. The club derived its popular name from the monastery of the Jacobins (Parisian name of Dominicans), where the members met. Their chief purpose was to concert their activity and to secure support for the group from elements outside the Assembly. Patriotic societies were formed in most French cities in affiliation with the Parisian club. The members were, for the most part, bourgeois and at first included such moderates as Honoré de Mirabeau. The Jacobins exercised through their journals considerable pressure on the Legislative Assembly, in which they and the Feuillants were (1791–92) 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, which the majority, including the Brissotins (see under Brissot de Warville, Jacques Pierre) sought. 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. In the National Convention, which proclaimed the French republic, the Jacobins and other opponents of the Girondists sat in the raised seats and were called the Mountain. Their leaders—Maximilien Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just, among others—relied mainly on the strength of the Paris commune and the Parisian sans-culottes. After the fall of the Girondists (June, 1793), for which the Jacobins were largely responsible, the Jacobin leaders instituted the Reign of Terror. Under Robespierre, who came to dominate the government, the Terror was used not only against counterrevolutionaries, but also against former allies of the Jacobins, such as the Cordeliers and the Dantonists (followers of Georges Danton). The fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794) meant the fall of the Jacobins, but their spirit lived on in revolutionary doctrine. The movement reappeared during the Directory and in altered form much later in the Revolution of 1848 and in the Paris Commune of 1871.

See I. Woloch, Jacobin Legacy: The Democratic Movement under the Directory (1970); M. L. Kennedy, The Jacobin Club of Marseilles (1973); Kennedy, The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution (2 vol., 1982–88).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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