Women at the Cordeliers
Popular clubs in Paris, unlike electoral assemblies, were not limited to men, at least in the early months of the Republic. One of the most active and radical clubs composed entirely of women, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, collaborated with the Cordeliers and Jacobins in petitioning for aggressive action by the government against what they called "enemies of the Republic,"meaning Girondin deputies, "aristocratic" landowners, "hoarding"peasants, and unpatriotic "speculators," all of whom were accused of placing short–term personal interest and profit over the general goodof all citizens.In the first weeks following the formation of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, the Society’s members cemented advantageous working alliances with well–established, influential revolutionary organizations that shared their demand for a systematic politics of terror against enemies of the Republic—Girondins, aristocrats, hoarders, speculators. Exploiting its members’ earlier affiliations with the Cordeliers Club, delegates joined forces with members of that club and formed a joint deputation to the all–powerful Jacobin Society. In this way, nine days after its formation, the society was able to publicize its petition recapitulating the tactics and goals of terror.
Session of Sunday, 19 May 1793.
A deputation from the Cordeliers Club and the citoyennes ofthe Revolutionary Society of Women is admitted. The oratorannounces a petition drawn up by the members of these twosocieties Joined together and reads this petition, the substance ofwhich is as follows:
"Representatives of the people, the country is in the mostimminent danger; if you want to save it, the most energetic measuresmust be taken. . . . " (Noise).
"I demand," the orator cries out, "the fullest attention."
Calm is restored.
He continues: If not, the people will save themselves. You are notunaware that the conspirators are awaiting only the departure of thevolunteers, who are going to fight our enemies in the Vendée,to immolate the patriots and everything they cherish most. To preventthe execution of these horrible projects, hasten to decree thatsuspect men will be placed under arrest immediately, thatrevolutionary tribunals will be set up in all the Departments and inthe Sections of Paris.
For a long while the Brissots, the Gaudets, the Vergniauds, theGensonnes, the Buzots, the Barbarouxes, etc., have been pointed outas being the general staff of the counterrevolutionary army. Why doyou hesitate to issue charges against them? Criminals are not sacredanywhere.
Legislators, you cannot refuse the French people this great act ofjustice. That would be to declare yourselves their accomplices; thatwould be to prove that several among you fear the light which thetrial investigation of these suspect members would cause toflash.
We ask that you establish in every city revolutionary armies composed of sans-culottes, proportional in size to the population; that the army of Paris be increased to forty thousand men, paid at the expense of the rich at a rate of forty sous a day. We ask that in all public places workshops be set up where iron be converted into all kinds of weapons.
Legislators, strike out at the speculators, the hoarders, and the egotistical merchants. A horrible plot exists to cause the people to die of hunger by setting an enormous price on goods. At the head of this plot is the mercantile aristocracy of an insolent caste, which wants to assimilate itself to royalty and to hoard all riches by forcing up the price of goods of prime necessity in order to satisfy its cupidity. Exterminate all these scoundrels; the Fatherland will be rich enough if it is left with the sans-culottes and their virtues. Legislators! Come to the aid of all unfortunate people. This is the call of nature; this is the vow of true patriots. Our heart is torn by the spectacle of public misery. Our intention is to raise men up again; we do not want a single unfortunate person in the Republic. Purify the Executive Council; expel a Gohier, a Garat, a Le Brun, etc.; renew the directory of the postal service and all corrupted administrations, etc.
A large number of people, the orator cries out, must bear thisaddress to the Convention. What! Patriots are still sleeping and arebusy with insignificant discussions while perfidious journals openlyprovoke the people! We will see whether our enemies will dare showthemselves opposed to measures on which the happiness of a republicdepends.
The President. The Society hears with the keenest satisfaction theaccents of the most ardent patriotism; it will second your effortswith all its courage, for it has the same principles, and it hasevinced the same opinion. Whatever the means and the efforts of ourenemies, liberty will not perish because there will remain forever inthe heart of Frenchmen this sentiment that insurrection is theultimate reason of the people. (Applauded.)
From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795, edited and translated by Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson. Copyright 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press, 150 - 151.