- The Jacobin Republic under Fire: The Federalist Revolt in the French Revolution
Historian Paul Hanson opens his enlightening book by considering how the French Revolution might have developed had the more moderate faction, the Girondins, gained control of events instead of the radical Montagnards, or Jacobins. He asks, What if the federalist revolt of 1793 had succeeded in the formation of a republic based on the law rather than one based on terror and popular sovereignty? His book addresses the questions, "Who are the sovereign people and how are they to exercise that sovereignty?" (2).
A much-needed treatment of this confusing period has resulted, allowing readers to gain a clearer understanding of the events that unfolded from 1792 to 1794 and that ultimately resulted in the Committee of Public Safety's Reign of Terror. The book examines the opposition between the Girondin and Montagnard deputies within the National Convention following the fall of the monarchy and the unrest in the provinces that led to the revolt of four cities—Caen, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Marseille—against the radicals based in Paris. The so-called federalist revolt was supported by provincials who favored the Girondin faction and was opposed by the radical elements in Paris, not only the leaders in the government like Robespierre but also the Parisian crowds. The federalist leaders, however, failed to generate enough popular support in the capital to seriously threaten the central government. Still, they had disagreed and argued, often eloquently, for their point of view on every issue before the National Convention, from the new constitution and the trial of the king to the best strategy to employ against their enemies outside of France. But they were defeated again and again and finally expelled from the National Convention in May 1793. They were forced to flee into hiding, like Roland, the interior minister, Pétion, Barbaroux, and Buzot, or they were imprisoned and executed, as was the case with Madame Roland (an influential writer who supported the Girondins and held meetings for them in her home), Brissot, and Vergniaud. Those who fled later committed suicide, but not before writing their memoirs as a testament to the events they had witnessed, thus providing useful documents for historians who attempt to explain the revolutionary period.
Hanson has presented an interesting narrative treatment of events combined with an informed analysis of underlying causes. He acknowledges the work of those who have written on the topic earlier, notably, Alan Forrest and M. J. [End Page 189] Sydenham, along with Jacques Guilhaumou and Raymonde Monnier. Through the use of archival sources in Paris and the provinces he has brought the Girondin leaders and the areas they represented to life. We can begin to imagine their precarious position within the National Convention by reading their own words as well as those of the opposition. Hanson provides a detailed examination of the conflicts between the Girondins and the Montagnards in Paris, but he also offers a substantial amount of material on the provinces (departments) and the cities involved in the federalist revolt.
Additionally (and for readers of Libraries & Culture this is an especially important section), the author considers contemporary perspectives on the events under way in 1792 and 1793. There is the "official record," but there are also various public reports and private correspondence between inhabitants of the capital and the provinces. Already based in the federalist cities were the government's "representatives on mission," who were under orders to gather evidence on public actions and opinions and relate it back to the capital. And, of course, there were newspapers and pamphlets favoring one side or the other as well as transcriptions from interrogations and trials. Considering the time that elapsed between actual events and news about them reaching readers, it is not surprising that the public was often anxious to find out what was really going on. Propaganda abounded on all sides during the summer of 1793, and the Parisian papers generally were...