The name Jacobin derives from the Jacobin convent situated near the National Assembly where the radical Breton deputies who had founded a political club at Versailles reestablished themselves after their move to Paris in October 1789. The term Jacobin is generally applied to those militant French revolutionaries who supported the draconian measures taken by the National Convention during the prolonged crisis of the period 1792 to 1794. More broadly, however, it may be applied to the dominant political tendency of the Revolution from 1789 until the closure of the Jacobin Club of Paris on 12 November 1794.
There were four broad phases in the life of this key political organization. The first coincided with the period of the constitutional monarchy, when the club was known as the Societies of the Friends of the Constitution. Fees were high and membership was limited to "patriotic" deputies until the club spread to the provinces: there would be 150 provincial affiliates by the end of 1790.
The second phase was precipitated by the abortive flight of Louis XVI in June 1791. Prominent Jacobins joined more radical clubs in calling for Louis's forced abdication, but most of the members of the National Assembly were concerned with consolidating the state of the Revolution as expressed in the new constitution, and deserted the Jacobin Club for the Feuillants, similarly named after its meeting place in a former convent. The issue of Louis's loyalty, however, was far from resolved.
The outbreak of war in April 1792 made Louis's position untenable, because repeated military defeats and the defection of thousands of noble army officers further convinced public opinion that the king was in league with the enemy through the maleficent influence of the Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette. Louis was overthrown on 10 August and the republic proclaimed by a new, more democratic National Convention in September. Despite the considerable consensus in the Convention, in the autumn and winter of 1792–1793 it tended to divide between Jacobins and their antagonists, the "Girondins." In social and political terms, Jacobins such as Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Jean-Paul Marat were somewhat closer to the popular movement, and the Jacobins' habit of sitting together on the upper-left-hand benches in the Convention quickly earned them the epithet of "Mountain" and an image of uncompromising republicanism, for example, over the fate of Louis XVI.
In the context of the deteriorating military situation in the winter and spring of 1793, most of the uncommitted deputies in the Convention swung behind the Jacobins' emergency proposals. This was the dominant, third phase of the Jacobins' existence. Between March and May 1793 the Convention placed executive powers in a Committee of Public Safety with policing powers vested in a Committee of General Security, and it acted to supervise the army through "deputies on mission." It passed decrees declaring émigrés "civilly dead," providing for public relief, and placing controls on grain and bread prices.
The central objective of the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety, to which Robespierre was elected on 27 July, was to take the emergency measures necessary to defeat internal counterrevolutionaries and the foreign armies on French soil. Only then would the implementation of the Jacobins' democratic constitution of June 1793 be possible. Jacobinism was an ideology in which the language of patriotism, sacrifice, and citizenship—the rule of virtue—was melded with the exigencies of requisitioning and conscription. It had supporters across the country: there were perhaps six thousand Jacob in clubs and popular societies created during the Terror, although many of them were short-lived. From 1793 to 1794 the membership of these clubs came to be dominated by artisans and shopkeepers. The social content of Jacobinism during this most radical phase placed primacy on republican education, social welfare, and an equality of social rights and obligations; above all, however, this heterogeneous group was held together by its commitment to national unity and the survival of the republic.
For the majority of the Convention, however, the goal of the Terror was the attainment of peace, and economic and political controls were accepted as temporary and regrettable impositions to that end rather than for the realization of the Jacobins' sweeping proposals to regenerate society. Once the military crisis had lessened by June, the dominant Jacobins in the Committee of Public Safety found themselves increasingly unable to appeal to the crisis as impelling a continuation of martial law. Robespierre and his associates were removed from power and executed on 9–10 Thermidor Year II (27–28 July 1794). Within a month, about two hundred provincial Jacobin clubs had complained angrily about the unexpected repercussions against all those associated with the Jacobin dominance of the Year II. They were silenced by a bitter social reaction. Active Jacobins were arrested in Paris, Jacobins in provincial towns were assassinated, and the Jacobin Club itself was closed down in November.
The final phase of the Jacobin tendency during the French Revolution was its afterlife, as former Jacobins sought both to avoid reprisals and to keep alive the hopes that the republic would again become democratic and socially radical. In the south and west, up to two thousand Jacobins were killed by "white Terror" gangs: the victims were often purchasers of nationalized property, and many of them were Protestants. Only sporadically, as in the national elections of 1798, was there a resurgence in support for the Jacobin project; it was rather in the militant republicanism of the nineteenth century that Jacobinism was to find louder echoes.
Desan, Suzanne. " 'Constitutional Amazons': Jacobin Women's Clubs in the French Revolution." In Re-creating Authority in Revolutionary France, edited by Bryant T. Ragan Jr. and Elizabeth A. Williams, 11–35. New Brunswick, N.J., 1992.
Furet, François, and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, Mass., 1989.
Gough, Hugh. The Terror in the French Revolution. Basing-stoke, U.K., 1998.
Gross, Jean-Pierre. Fair Shares for All: Jacobin Egalitarianism in Practice. Cambridge, U.K., 1997.
Jones, Colin. The Longman Companion to the French Revolution. London, 1988.
Kennedy, Michael L. The Jacobin Club of Marseilles, 1790–1794. Ithaca, N.Y., 1973.
——. The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution: The First Years. Princeton, N.J., 1982.
——. The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution: The Middle Years. Princeton, N.J., 1988.
——. The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution, 1793–1795. New York, 2000.
Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. 1941. Reprint, with a new preface by the author, Princeton, N.J., 1989.
Patrick, Alison. The Men of the First French Republic: Political Alignments in the National Convention of 1792. Baltimore, Md. 1972.
JACOBIN CLUBS, activist political clubs that appeared in the cities of the United States in the years from 1793 to 1795. The first club began in Paris under the name Club Breton, in October 1789: it met in a Dominican, or Jacobin, convent in the Rue St. Honoré. The Jacobin clubs gained increasing influence in the French Revolution after France declared itself a republic in 1792. Led by Maximilien Robespierre in 1793, the clubs helped support the most radical phase of the French Revolution. The French Jacobins believed in universal equality among citizens, the freedom of the individual, and universal brotherhood. By July 1794 the Paris Jacobin club was closed after the Jacobin leaders associated with Robespierre lost power. In November 1794 the clubs were suppressed.
The first American club began in Philadelphia in 1793. Some of the members were skilled craftsmen, others were merchants and professionals, and many were prominent intellectuals. Their membership overlapped with the Democratic Society of Philadelphia. Similarly, the Jacobin Club of Charleston, South Carolina, over-lapped with the Republican Society there. The Charleston Club had connections through the prominent Huguenots in that city to other sympathizers with the French Revolution in the West Indies and in France. The Jacobin clubs in the United States sought to promote the broad aims of the French Revolution, including democracy and support for the French government against the European monarchies warring against it. Initially, their aims were popular in the cities, but after American disillusionment with the French minister Edmond Charles Genêt, the influence of the Jacobin clubs waned.
By 1795 the clubs had largely disbanded. "Jacobinism," however, had become a loaded epithet in American political rhetoric, used by Federalists to target not only radical democrats but also any follower of Thomas Jefferson, or any member of the Democratic Republican Party. The word "Jacobin" as an epithet still appeared occasionally in American conservative journals in the 1820s, a generation after the Jacobins in France had become politically moribund.
Kennedy, Michael L. "A French Jacobin Club in Charleston, South Carolina, 1792–1795." South Carolina Historical Magazine 91 (1990): 4–22.
———. The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.
J. A. Cannon
The term was applied to the Dominicans in Old French from their church in Paris, St Jacques (Latin, Jacobus), near which they built their first convent; the latter eventually became the headquarters of the French revolutionary group.
A. Dominican (friar), orig. from the convent near the church of Saint-Jacques (L. Jacōbus) in Paris XIV;
B. member of a political club established at Paris 1789 near the old Jacobin convent XVIII. — (O)F. Jacobin — medL. Jacōbīnus.