Women at the Cordeliers   (1793)

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 good of 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 of the Revolutionary Society of Women is admitted. The orator announces a petition drawn up by the members of these two societies Joined together and reads this petition, the substance of which is as follows:

"Representatives of the people, the country is in the most imminent danger; if you want to save it, the most energetic measures must 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 not unaware that the conspirators are awaiting only the departure of the volunteers, who are going to fight our enemies in the Vendée, to immolate the patriots and everything they cherish most. To prevent the execution of these horrible projects, hasten to decree that suspect men will be placed under arrest immediately, that revolutionary tribunals will be set up in all the Departments and in the Sections of Paris.

For a long while the Brissots, the Gaudets, the Vergniauds, the Gensonnes, the Buzots, the Barbarouxes, etc., have been pointed out as being the general staff of the counterrevolutionary army. Why do you hesitate to issue charges against them? Criminals are not sacred anywhere.

Legislators, you cannot refuse the French people this great act of justice. That would be to declare yourselves their accomplices; that would be to prove that several among you fear the light which the trial investigation of these suspect members would cause to flash.

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 this address to the Convention. What! Patriots are still sleeping and are busy with insignificant discussions while perfidious journals openly provoke the people! We will see whether our enemies will dare show themselves opposed to measures on which the happiness of a republic depends.

The President. The Society hears with the keenest satisfaction the accents of the most ardent patriotism; it will second your efforts with all its courage, for it has the same principles, and it has evinced the same opinion. Whatever the means and the efforts of our enemies, liberty will not perish because there will remain forever in the heart of Frenchmen this sentiment that insurrection is the ultimate reason of the people. (Applauded.)

SOURCE:   From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795, edited and translated by Darlene Gay Levy, Harriet
                  Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson. Copyright 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the
                  University of Illinois, pp. 150-151.