The Radicalization of the French Revolution

By T. 

In 1789, when the Estates-General was called by Louis XVI, only a small fraction of the delegates selected were members of the Jacobin club. However, by 1793 the most radical Jacobins had established a virtual republican dictatorship. How did this political minority experience such a meteoric rise? How did Revolutionary France transform from a constitutional monarchy into a republican dictatorship? The downfall of the revolutionary republic cannot be explained by any one factor. The execution of Louis XVI, war, political factionalism, and revolutionary fervor can all be attributed to the political gains of the Jacobin club. It is telling that within the National Assembly the extreme wing of the Jacobins would become known as the Montagnard, or the Mountain.

Girondins
The Girondins, Paul DelaRoche (1843). The Girondins were the dominant political faction within the Jacobin club until 1793, when their relative moderation and support for foreign wars led to their increasing unpopularity.

The Flight to Varennes and the Creation of the First French Republic

The end of the constitutional monarchy was critical to the rise of the Jacobins; the monarchy fell largely due to the Varennes flight. On the 20-21st of June 1791 King Louis XVI and his family attempted to flee France to the Austrian Netherlands. With the King’s flight and eventual arrest, debate ensued on whether or not France should remain a constitutional monarchy.

When public papers began printing the king’s declaration explaining his flight (where he denounced many revolutionary decrees) hundreds of political clubs began to be created across France; over 400 houses were affiliated with the Jacobin club. By mid July of that year popular opinion was decisively against the monarch, with only 1 in 6 provinces showing any sympathy towards the King. This is in stark contrast to the previous public opinion immediately after the king’s capture: citizens had been more inclined to believe that the King was ill-advised or kidnapped.

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