A political revolution for women? The case of Paris - Darline Gay Levy and Harriet B. Applewhite

Women' s March to Versailles during the French Revolution
Women' s March to Versailles during the French Revolution

The women's march to Versailles capped months of women's political involvement during the French Revolution - in Paris neighbourhoods, electoral assemblies, the conquest of the Bastille and in several dozen processions with the newly formed national guard. Thousands of marching women empowered themselves as citizens as they confronted and helped to abolish the monarchy - and then continued to confront the new authorities.

Submitted by mintru on January 24, 2012

A POLITICAL REVOLUTION FOR WOMEN? THE CASE OF PARIS by Darline Gay Levy and Harriet B. Applewhite

Women's participation in French revolutionary political culture, the most extensive feminine political engagement in the Western world in the early modern period, raises questions about the meanings of that involvement: did the Revolution bring women irreversibly into a public sphere of contestation entitlements both in the short term or over the long run, or restrict women ever more narrowly within the domestic sphere? Did doctrines of universal rights mask fundamentally masculinist exclusions and marginalizations of women, or did rights become the foundation of women's claims to full citizenship? Levy and Applewhite focus on multiple meanings of principles of citizenship and of women's political practices and make the case that rights claims became indelibly linked to popular sovereignty and political legitimacy, the touchstones of modern democratic practices.

In the first revolutionary year, the women's march to Versailles (the central event of the "October Days") capped six months of women's political involvement: their active presence in Paris neighborhoods, in electoral assemblies for the Estates General, in the conquest of the Bastille, and in several dozen processions with the newly formed National Guard (demonstrations organized to express thanks for revolutionary innovations and simultaneously to make all authorities fully accountable for supplying bread to Paris and protecting its newly secured liberty). Thousands of marching women empowered themselves as citizens as they confronted the national legislative and the king with demands: bread, royal ratification of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and other constitutional decrees, and, the immediate removal of the king and the government from Versailles to Paris. The women's invasion of the National Assembly challenged representatives who did not represent, challenges that disoriented even supporters of the Revolution because they amounted to claims for plenary citizenship rights for women.

In 1791 and 1792, dramatic additional confrontations between Paris radicals and the National Assembly and king framed popular sovereignty in terms of political al rights, eroded monarchical legitimacy, and forged new citizenship identities or women and men of the popular classes. In many instances, women linked their interests and their political identities to universal rights enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, notwithstanding their formal exclusion fro the legal category of active citizenship.

After the fall of the monarchy, struggles for political ascendancy in Paris opened up opportunities for women to organize a single-sex political club, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, and to exercise influence in other clubs and popular societies and in legislative bodies. As the Jacobins triumphed, conflicts over he question of women's right to assemble and participate politically reveal that the Jacobins connected the "woman question" to their own grasp on political power in a revolutionary capital torn by internal and international war; they recognized that connection even as they legislated closure of all women's political clubs and sought to restrain women's activism on all fronts.

Women's revolutionary language, indeed the entire range of their political behaviors, can be understood as expressions of the rights of the sovereign people. Women who wrote polemic pamphlets, authored and printed political journals, testified in courts, and answered official interrogators restated rights doctrines to fit their gender specific interests. Levy and Applewhite conclude that universal rights provided one of the principal revolutionary legacies for women, opening up to contestation any issue that can be linked to rights. Although universal rights can mask prescriptive, circumstantial differences of sex, race, religion, and class, rights language also forces onto the defensive those who try to exclude women or any other category of persons from expressing their fullest human definition and from gaining access to fields of power in democratizing societies.

The French Revolution was arguably the most democratic of all the revolutions in the eighteenth-century Western world. Although the revolutionaries did not live in a world of modern democratic government, with its mass suffrage, political parties, and interest groups, the institutions and principles that the revolutionaries modified and created laid the foundations of the republican tradition in French politics and established the most important precedents for modern democracy. Revolutionaries developed and spread doctrines of human rights, redefined citizenship, and established popular sovereignty both in principle and in practice. They established legislatures, local governing bodies, political clubs, a popular press, and other institutions for political participation; and they involved millions of individuals throughout French society in political conflict and civil and international war.

Women involved themselves in these transformations in many ways: as members of revolutionary crowds, as radical leaders, and as supporters of the French government. Some donated their jewels to the treasury, knitted stockings, made bandages for the armies, or joined revolutionary festivals. Others were victims of revolutionary change: noblewomen who lost rank and privilege, and deeply religious women whose world fell apart when their churches were attacked and their faith declared unpatriotic. Women edited, printed, and distributed journals and political tracts and thereby contributed to both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary ideology. Their revolutionary allegiances were complex and their roles staggeringly diverse. Just as for men, women's experiences and their contributions were conditioned by their situations and their beliefs: Did they live in Paris or the provinces? Were they noblewomen or domestic servants? Did they keep market stalls or write plays? Were they devout Catholics or did they resent the wealth and power of the Church?

As historians have reflected on the meaning of revolutionary democracy for women, they have sharpened the lines of historiographic debate. Did the Revolution irreversibly establish precedents for women's involvement in the public sphere, in political contestations and rights issues? Or did it irrevocably and fundamentally separate women from the arena of political power in ways that normalized their domestic roles? Were "universal" principles in fact fundamentally masculinist ideological formulations that point to the exclusion and marginalization of women? Were these principles necessary and sufficient conceptual foundations for women's claims to equal civil and political rights?

Recently a number of scholars - such as Madelyn Gutwirth and Joan Landes - have interpreted women's revolutionary political activism as heroic but ultimately futile struggles doomed to failure because conducted in a cultural field determined by masculinist values and interests. They argue that as Enlightenment philosopher challenged the hierarchical world of old regime privilege, they undermined the influence of noble and bourgeois women at court and in the salons. They established the model of a society of rational autonomous individuals understood to be male, with interests that the sovereign power was obligated to protect. They either believed women were biologically limited in reasoning capacity and physical strength or argued that their interests were adequately represented by fathers, husbands, or sons.[1] Other historians have questioned this deterministic reading and have emphasized multiple and competing Enlightenment theories about gender roles, including the Marquis de Condorcet's ringing claims for universal political rights that were grounded in the human capacity to reason and to feel and that dissolved gender differences in the political world. Joan Scott has argued recently that when revolutionary feminists connected their interests to universal rights, they opened a complex and continuing dialogue about the necessary and sufficient conditions of liberty, equality, and autonomy for women as political selves, in terms of irresolvable paradoxes that nonetheless allow some room for maneuvering: women necessarily must emphasize sexual difference in order to claim the applicability of universal rights to themselves; and they also must deny difference in order to claim equality.' In several articles, Lynn Hunt has backed away from the cultural determinism that informed her The Family Romance and the French Revolution to emphasize women's self-conscious political organization within " surprisingly open political spaces" to demand their rights.[3]

We argue that links between women's revolutionary political practices and rights issues place the woman question permanently in the modern French political tradition and in modern political culture. We focus here on what women meant when they claimed and practised citizenship; how those claims were received by their contemporaries; and what their posterity made of those claims. The political language and the acts of women in the revolutionary capital - their political performances - cannot be dismissed simply because the implications of these words and deeds were not realized in French revolutionary politics, or even with the establishment of women's suffrage in 1944 at the beginning of the Fourth Republic, and still have not produced equality in positions of political power.[4] Rights claims, once defined and defended, become indelibly imprinted in a political culture. Revolutionary writers like Olympe de Gouges and Etta Palm d'Aelders formulated their claims as human rights. In doing so they showed that a revolutionary and democratic recasting of relationships between governors and governed dictated a recognition of difference as a condition and ground of common claims for equal rights of citizenship. Other women whose words and thoughts were never recorded made their mark on the Revolution by marching, demonstrating, signing or marking petitions, attending revolutionary meetings, and participating in neighborhood self-government. Thousands of women marched to Versailles from Paris in October 1789, signed petitions concerning the future of the constitutional monarchy on the Champ de Mars in July 1791, and paraded through the halls of the Legislative Assembly and the king's residence in the tuileries in the summer of 1792. Through these practices, they forged a link between their identities and behaviors as citizens, on the one hand, and n w concepts of popular sovereignty, citizenship, and political legitimacy, on the other - the touchstones of modern democratic practices.

During the 1770s and 1780s, as journalists and other publicists communicated political news and shaped public opinion, they also focused attention on despotic and tyrannical acts of government authorities and thus contributed to narrowing the frames through which the public viewed political issues. In part, the involvement of women of the popular classes in public discourse at this juncture developed out of sociability fostered by their daily routines, like hauling water together and purchasing bread; but it also developed out of their participation in ceremonial functions that both reinforced and subverted order, sometimes simultaneously. The poissardes (fishwives) of Paris were required to attend the childbirth of a reigning queen in order to certify the legitimate birth of the royal heir, and were present later when the infant dauphin was presented in a ceremony at the Hotel de Ville. In the patriarchal society of the old regime, ruled by a monarchy in which a woman could not inherit the throne, this women's occupational group played a central role in validating the future king on behalf of the people; the poissardes contributed an important plebeian presence to rituals that legitimated the monarchy.

The legitimacy of Louis XVI and his authority to govern were under challenge from the very beginning of his reign in 1774. These challenges came from many institutions: the parlements, whose power to register laws gave them the power to delay or block royal decrees; provincial estates and assemblies, which had some regional authority over law, administration, and taxes; the Church, with its power to tax, censor, and regulate behavior; and many specially privileged groups of people - army officers, judges, and local administrators - who exploited various opportunities for oppositional political maneuvering.

In addition to these institutional challenges, Enlightenment thinkers had long been questioning, debating, and reformulating theories about the nature and limits of legitimate authority. Enlightenment writers broadcast new doctrines of natural law, natural rights, and social contract. They demanded reforms in civil and criminal law; they challenged the legitimacy of a monarchy based on hereditary right and divine right; and they questioned defenses of privilege based on models of a hierarchical corporate society. Their discourse contributed to eroding the foundations of traditional authority and generating doubts about the legitimacy of one of the strongest monarchies in Europe. Enlightenment debates opened up opportunities for women to participate and, in the process, to acquire new civic identities. Women who presided over Paris salons promoted an antihierarchical sociability reflecting their influence in managing male discourse, but the salonnieres also heightened male anxieties about women's exercise of real political powers As ministers and defenders of monarchy joined in the struggle to shape opinion, public opinion itself became a resource available to all parties; inevitably those who formed and exploited it, both elites and plebeians, women along with men, in effect were subverting the traditional foundations of authority. The manuscript journal of Simeon-Prosper Hardy, the Parisian bookseller, provides one window onto women's deployment of oppositional strategies. Hardy reported events like the crowd's failure to shout "Vive le Roil" ("Long live the King!") as Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, reviewed the French Guards and the Swiss Guards on May 8, 1787.[6] He noted that during the Feast of the Assumption in 1787, authorities had to present the poissardes des Halles (the fishwives of the Halles market) with a police order to force them to go through with their customary ceremonial offering of bouquets citizens in the modern world. She views the revolutionary legacy for women in to the queen.[7] In recent close studies of daily life in eighteenth-century Paris, historians have brought into relief a plebeian public sphere and documented circumstances in which women of the popular classes contributed to the erosion of royal legitimacy, particularly in escalating attacks on the person and character of the king.'

In May 1788, after failing in a number of attempts to gain support for new taxes from various groups of notables, the king and his ministers decided to convoke the Estates General, an assembly of deputies representing the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate), and the common people (Third Estate). The king hoped that the Estates, which had last met in 1614, would consent to the levying of taxes. The announcement generated great excitement and an outpouring of political pamphlets proposing a broad agenda of institutional reform. After the dates for elections to the Estates General had been fixed for the spring of 1789, electors at the local and provincial level drafted cahiers de doleances. The Paris electoral assemblies and the cahier-drafting process mobilized women along with men. Some working-class. women authored cahiers in which they defended their economic interests by demanding protection for their crafts and occupations; others made dramatic political claims for rights to political representation.[9] On April 20 1789, the lieutenant general of police in Paris, Thirout de Crosne, reported the following incident to the king: "I have been assured that women presented themselves for admission to the [electoral] assembly of the Abbaye Saint-Germain. When they were turned down by the Swiss Guards, they asked to see one of the members of this assembly who came to assist them and brought them in. They are twelve in number."[10] No record exists of what these women did or said inside the assembly; nonetheless, the police report documents their striking determination to be included in the process of electing political representatives.

The legal initiatives of the Revolution of 1789 began with the June 17 transformation of the Estates General into a National Assembly whose deputies charged themselves with drafting a constitution. The king initially resisted this legal revolution and then acceded to it, but then, just prior to dismissing Jacques Necker, his popular finance minister, he began massing troops around Paris and Versailles. Parisians, fired up by the writings and speeches of revolutionary leaders and certain that they were about to be invaded by royal armed forces, rushed to arm themselves, seizing weapons from caches all over the city. Women cast themselves as ringleaders in attacks upon the tollgates surrounding Paris where duties were levied; they blamed the king's collectors for raising prices and creating bread shortages in the markets. On July 14th, a crowd of National Guardsmen and other citizens, heavily supported by neighborhood crowds, including women, attacked and conquered the Bastille; immediately afterward, the public, seizing upon the symbolic importance of the deed, proclaimed this victory a triumph of liberty over despotism. In an all-night session on August 4, the National Assembly abolished feudal privileges, and on August 26 passed, and sent to the king, a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

During August and September, in the aftermath of these revolutionary events, hundreds of women from the central markets of Paris participated as principal players in nearly daily marches that wound through Paris. Ostensibly, these marches were acts of thanksgiving for the liberation of the Bastille, the withdrawal of royal troops from the environs of Paris, the establishment of the National Guard as the city's protective force, and the creation of a reformed municipal administration accountable to electors. The women, accompanied by contingents from the National Guard, marched in formation and to drumbeat. Typically, they proceeded to the Eglise Sainte Genevieve (now the Pantheon), Notre Dame, and the Hotel de Ville (seat of the municipal government of Paris). In passing through these spaces, the participants linked themselves with both traditional and newly designated protectors of the city: Sainte Genevieve, patron saint of Paris; Notre Dame, the national church; the Hotel de Ville, locus of the new elected representative government; and the National Guard, the newly constituted military force composed of property-owning men. Observers detected subversive elements in these ceremonies, and with good reason. The Marquis de Lafayette, commander of the National Guard, the mayor Jean Sylvain Bailly, representatives of the city government, and by extension national authorities and the king himself, were put on notice that women of the popular classes were holding them accountable for provisioning the city and safeguarding its liberty. The bookseller Hardy found these imposing demonstrations of popular allegiance patently ridiculous, but they also made him nervous.

Many people found there was something terrifying in [the procession's] arrangement, composition, and immensity. Sensitive people found these public acts, which could not be interrupted and of which piety was unfortunately not the full motive, ridiculous. They thought it would have been infinitely wiser for each man and woman citizen to thank the Almighty individually.. rather than collectively.[11]

These processions continued until a few days before the women's march to Versailles in October 1789. For some weeks, radical leaders and the people of Paris had been concerned about the king's failure to ratify the Declaration of Rights and also about the unresolved constitutional question of a royal veto and the summoning of additional troop reinforcements. All these issues came to a head over news of soldiers' insults to the revolutionary tricolor cockade (a hat decoration with the three revolutionary colors, red, white and blue) at a banquet held for royal bodyguards at Versailles. Just after dawn on October 5, a rainy Monday, the tocsin (alarm bell) began to ring from the Hotel de Ville, and then from most churches all over the city. We can hear the stomp of the poissardes' sabots (wooden shoes) and imagine the smell of their damp skirts as they swarmed into the Hotel de Ville and forcibly kept men out. They were looking for ammunition, but also (according to Stanislas Maillard, a National Guardsman) for administrative records; they said that all the revolution had accomplished so far was paperwork. Another eyewitness heard them say that "men didn't have enough strength to avenge themselves and that they [the women] would demonstrate that they were better than men."[12] Late in the morning, they left the Hotel de Ville and returned to the streets; they drummed the generale (a military call to arms), recruited thousands of additional women, then marched off en masse to Versailles. Hardy noted that they left "allegedly with the design of. . . asking the king, whom they intended to bring back to Paris, as well as the National Assembly, for bread and for closure on the Constitution. "[13]

When the first group of women reached Versailles, a small delegation was granted an audience with the king. After leaving the royal apartments and returning to th palace courtyard with news of Louis XVI's promise to provision Paris, this delegation was threatened by waiting crowds of women who sent back two among them to obtain a written document sealing the king's commitment. Louise Chabry, one of those who had been granted the royal audience, and thirty-nine other women marchers returned to Paris at 3:00 A.M. in royal carriages; they reported that Stanislas Maillard and women with him were returning to Paris with signed decrees on provisionment.[14] Chabry, allegedly forced to march that morning, took it upon herself (or was assigned) to act as a spokesperson for the royal audience and principal courier bringing the news back to the Paris Commune. Furthermore, Chabry presented the mayor with the orders that the king had given her. This young lace worker had assumed a quasi-official position as emissary for her city and its government.

Other women who marched to Versailles entered the National Assembly and occupied it throughout the night, disrupting procedures, voting on motions, and occupying the speaker's chair. Such political dramaturgy draws upon the French tradition of role reversals on carnival days; however, these were not carnival days. The women's actions were direct interventions in the legislative process and symbolic replacements of representatives who did not represent.

Early on the morning of October 6, the crowd, including women and Guardsmen, broke into the chateau and killed two royal bodyguards. Fearing more violence, the king agreed to go with his family to reside in Paris. A bizarre procession was formed for the march from Versailles to Paris: the women, some mounted on gun carriages and carrying loaves of bread mounted on pikes; National Guardsmen intermingled with royal bodyguards; the royal family in a carriage from which they could view the heads of the murdered guards impaled on pikes; delegations of deputies; and a host of others.

After October 6, authorities moved to suppress collective demonstrations of popular force. City officials decreed martial law in Paris after the lynching of a baker whom a woman had accused of reserving bread for deputies to the Assembly (the charge implied that deputies had subordinated the public good to their private interests). This event suggests that women and men in the crowd held deputies directly accountable to the people for their actions. Following the proclamation of martial law, two Paris districts protested the prohibition of public gatherings; they also protested the failure of city officials to consult with them before decreeing martial law. These protests amounted to an unequivocal demand for the right of referendum, which authorities did not grant, although they did permit delegations of up to six persons to submit grievance petitions.[15]

The National Assembly, relocated in Paris, began to work in the late fall of 1789 on the details of the new constitution. On December 22, 1789, the assembly set up electoral assemblies and defined the limits of the franchise. Abstract debates about citizenship now yielded a concrete and codified definition. Active citizens were men who could meet a tax qualification: the payment of "a direct tax equal to the local value of three days' labor."[16] The decree did not define a category for those not qualifying as active citizens; however, the question had been discussed in the National Assembly during the October 1789 debates on citizenship.[17] Other people - women, foreigners, domestic servants, and men who did not meet the tax qualification - were considered passive citizens. The deputies construed their definitions to allow for the possibility that men classified as passive citizens might become active citizens should their tax payment reflect an increased income. No such possibility existed for women.

The exclusion of women from the status and political rights of full legal citizenship was never remedied in any revolutionary code or constitution. Nonetheless, many thousands of women in all socio-professional categories pushed past the legal boundaries to claim citizenship in words and acts, to erode acceptance of the constitutional monarchy even as it was being established, and to take their place alongside men in the ranks of the sovereign people, inextricably combining democratic practices with political empowerment and rights claims. In the absence of any preponderant political or administrative authority willing or able to pronounce upon the legality of this de facto citizenship, all these practices together sufficed to keep the question of women's status open and indeterminate.

Publicists and observers promoted this openness as they assigned competing meanings to the October Days. Aristocratic publicists on the extreme right wrote off the October women as mistresses of the former French guards; one pamphleteer called them "the vilest toads from the dirtiest street in the most disgusting city in the universe."[18] Some supporters of the Paris revolution expressed uneasiness about women's initiatives - however strongly they approved the political outcomes of the October Days. Shortly after the insurrection, the radical newspaper Revolutions de Paris printed a letter from a priest recounting the classical story of the Spartan mother who, informed that her five sons had all died in battle, refused to mourn her loss since Sparta had won, saying she loved her patrie a thousand times more than she loved her sons - indeed she loved them more than she loved her own life.[19] For the journalist, this story taught that women's patriotic responsibilities - their roles as citizens - centered on the rearing of sons and the cultivation of a willingness to sacrifice them, if necessary, for the higher cause of the nation. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and a constitution would not produce good citizens automatically; women must accept responsibility for educating their sons in valor and their daughters in habits of self-sacrifice.

Other pamphleteers celebrated women's achievements on October 5 and 6 in more exalted language; but they assigned women curiously mundane tasks, such as overseeing quality control in the markets. One anonymous polemicist praised the women's daring move to bring the king to Paris, but admonished them to restrain themselves henceforth: they must remain sober, avoid questionable popular entertainers, and keep watch at the tollgates to prevent the importation of spoiled fruit and grain into Paris. In brief, they should abandon insurrectionary politics and limit themselves to narrowly circumscribed surveillance activities.[20]

Some women authors appropriated the language of heroism on women's behalf and demanded their plenary empowerment. In November 1789, the editors of a short-lived journal, the Etrennes nationales des dames, published a letter from a "Madame la M. de M," a writer who may have been a man speaking in a woman's voice and who apparently was a collaborator in their enterprise. In a light, bantering tone, teasingly but also pointedly, this writer directly linked the bravery and enterprise of the October women to women's demands for political rights: "Let us return men to the right path, and let us not tolerate that, with their systems of equality and liberty, their declarations of rights, they leave us in a condition of inferiority - let us tell the straight truth-slavery- in which they have kept us for so long."[21] "Madame la M. de M" conjures up scenarios in which women demand representation in the National Assembly undertake surveillance activities at the Hotel de Ville, and assume posts in the voluntary National Guard as "amazons of the Queen." The writer holds out to women subscribers the promise of a complete political education - political news, legislative decrees, judicial decisions, extracts from foreign newspaper, military and 'economic news, and happenings in the world of letters, science, and the arts. For this writer, the achievements of the women of the October days heralded new conquests - plenary rights of citizenship for all women.

During the course of 1790 and 1791, power struggles pitted radicals in the Paris districts and clubs against the municipal leadership and the National Assembly, whose leaders were trying to contain the potential force of the sovereign people by limiting the suffrage, prohibiting collective petitions, and outlawing strikes.

Nonetheless, the Paris sections (neighborhood governing bodies that replaced the districts) met regularly; political clubs actively recruited members and took on an educational mission. Women vigorously challenged restrictions, on popular sovereignty, not only as gallery spectators and wives, but also as active members of clubs and popular societies, printers, journalists, political organizers, petitioners, and delegates. Together with men classified as passive citizens, women of the popular classes involved themselves centrally in the spring 1791 crisis over the legitimacy of the constitutional monarchy - a crisis that escalated as Parisians became increasingly suspicious of Louis XVI. As they challenged royal legitimacy, these activists linked the meanings of their protests to rights, sometimes construed as individual rights and sometimes as the collective rights of the sovereign people.

The published minutes of the Cordeliers Club (a radical political club) for February 11, 1791, contained an exhortation to club members by several citoyennes from the Rue de Regard. The citoyennes characterized themselves as good Rousseauian mothers who taught constitutional principles to their children; but they also threatened to become militant if men did not fight hard enough for the right to liberty.

We have consoled ourselves for not having been able to contribute anything toward the public good by exerting our most intense efforts to elevate the spirit of our children to the heights of free men. But if you were to deceive our hope, if the machinations of our enemies were to dazzle you to the point of lulling you at the height of the storm, then indignation, sorrow, despair would lead and propel us into public places. There, we would fight to defend liberty; until you conquered it [liberty], you were not men. Then [under these conditions], we would save the Fatherland, or dying with it, we would uproot the memory of having seen you unworthy of us.[22]

On the night of June 21, 1791, members of the royal family, in disguise, were smuggled out of the Tuileries palace into a waiting coach and driven east toward the Belgian border, where they were scheduled to meet up with several French generals, rejoin the Austrian army, and unleash a counterrevolution. At the town of Varennes, local officials recognized them; they were forced to return to Paris, escorted by deputies from the National Assembly. They entered I the city surrounded by an escort of National Guards and rode past a silent, largely hostile crowd lining the route.

The National Assembly temporarily suspended the king's executive authority and debated what to do with him. Paris radicals were not so hesitant. Clubs like the Cercle Social and the Cordehers reached out to other popular societies, many of whose members were men and women of humble rank, and recruited them to sign petitions challenging the legitimacy of both the king and the National Assembly. Women directly involved themselves in this political mobilization. One Mlle. Le Maure, a regular participant in activities of the Cordeliers Club, presented before the assembled club members an address "to the representatives of the French Nation," a systematically argued defense of 'the right of collective petitioning, a right that the National Assembly had just recently outlawed. The Cordeliers adopted the address, and it was printed in a number of the radical journal Le Creuset. Le Maure argued that all individuals of the French nation (a deliberately all-inclusive formulation) had delegated their powers, to the National Assembly; however, they had done so without renouncing their rights: ". . . without annihilating the declaration of the rights of man, you could not state as a principle that the right of petition can be exercised only individually. . . ." She argued that the new legislation violated several articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, including Articles 3 and 6 (which state that the source of all sovereignty was in the nation and that the law was the expression of the "general will").'

Women were charged with surveillance activities (exposing an arms cache, for example);, they incited Parisians to acts of vandalism against statues of the king in Paris, and signed petitions demanding consultation on the future of executive authority in the new constitution.[24] Forty-one "women, sisters, and Roman women" appended their signatures to the "Petition of the 100" delivered to the National Assembly on July 14, 1791. The text of this petition stated: ". . . make this sacred commitment to await the expression of this public voice before pronouncing on a question [the fate of the king] which affects the entire nation and which the powers you have received from [the nation] do not embrace."[25] On this fundamental question of political legitimacy, the petitioners asked the legislators to defer to the will of the nation, expressed concretely in a national vote. They had transformed acts of petitioning from deferential pleas into forceful expressions of the will of the sovereign people.

On July 17, thousands of commoners, women and men of all socioprofessional ranks, met on the Champ de Mars and directly challenged the deputies in the National Assembly as well as the Constitution of 1791 that had authorized only the legislature to act in the name of the sovereign nation. They gathered peaceably to sign a petition demanding a national referendum on die question of monarchical authority. The text of the petition read: ". . . the decree [of the National Assembly, reinstating Louis XVI] is null in fact because it is contrary to the will of the sovereign. . . ." The language of these petitioners, and particularly the reference to the "will of the sovereign," again echoes Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, which located the source of all sovereignty in the nation, and Article 6, which defined the law as the expression of the general will.[27] Late in the afternoon, the municipality declared martial law, following the crowd's summary execution of the two men suspected of spying on the petitioners. National Guard battalions, dispatched to the Champ de Mars, fired on the assembled crowds, killing and wounding several dozen people. The mass demonstration had ended in a bloody confrontation between the political leaders of Paris and the crowd of petition signers acting on their claim to the right to express the will of the sovereign in the name of the nation.

Following this violent suppression, authorities arrested a number of participants, including several women. One of them, Anne Felicite Colomb, was the owner of the print works that produced the radical journals the Ami du Peuple and the Orateur du peuple and a future member of the radical women's political club, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. More than half a year before the massacre on the Champ de Mars, Colomb already had made an extraordinary contribution to the practice and defense of republicanism and radical democracy. Her story points to critically important alliances shaping up among political clubs, popular societies, and the printers and editors of radical journals as they stepped up pressure on constituted authorities. On December 14, 1790, Colomb was visited in her shop by a police commissioner and a publicist named Etienne. Etienne had obtained a police order from municipal officers authorizing Colomb's interrogation as well as the removal copies of the journals she was printing, at Etienne's own risk. On the spot, Colomb protested the search of her lodgings and print works as "illegal, damaging to the rights of citizens, whose domiciles could be inspected only by a duly authorized court." She declared that she was reserving the right to initiate proceedings "before the appropriate courts and in full view of the Nation, which is concerned about preserving the liberty of all its members." Furthermore, she stated that she would name the authors of the Ami and the Orateur "only at the appropriate time and place and to the appropriate persons."[28] On December 18, the court decided against Colomb and ordered her to stop printing and distributing any and all papers. On January 10, 1791, with the Cordelier activist Buirette de Verrieres representing her, Colomb appealed before the Tribunal of Police at the Hotel de Ville. Buirette de Verrieres restated Colomb's earlier arguments; asked that Etienne be assessed for 10,000 livres in costs and damages to Colomb's good name and the reputation of her print works; and requested that the sum she demanded be distributed among the poor of the Sections Henry IV and Theatre Francais. Through her lawyer, Colomb also asked the court to invoke Article 11, the free press guarantee in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and demanded that her print works as well as the authors of the Ami and the Orateur and her distributors all enjoy protections accorded to them under law, with the understanding that they would be held responsible for abuses of freedom of the press. The court vindicated Colomb and ordered Etienne to pay a small fine.[29]

On July 20-21, 1791, following the events on the Champ de Mars, authorities arrested and jailed Colomb and others at her print works. The prisoners proceeded to appeal directly to the National Assembly, and on August 16 the Committee on Investigations of the Assembly wrote to the tribunal of the sixth arrondisement (an administrative ward) concerning the prisoners' provisional release, claiming that, in at least some cases, arrest and interrogation records did not appear to warrant the court's long delay in reaching a decision. The committee informed the court that it had learned that the grievance of the detained parties would be aired before the National Assembly at any moment. On August 17, an officer of the tribunal replied that he was awaiting the results of further investigation.[30]

Colomb was an extraordinarily sophisticated political activist; during her interrogation of December 14, 1790, that is, even before the Cordeliers club member Buirette de Verrieres took on her case, Colomb herself invoked the freedoms and rights of citizenship to defend her professional activities. She and others arrested with her in July 1791 were prepared to go beyond the courts, indeed to go directly to the National Assembly, to do battle for their rights. They may in fact have been trying to discredit the assembly by demonstrating that these newly guaranteed constitutional rights were being violated in investigations ordered by the assembly after the events on the Champ de Mars.

Also detained by the authorities, on the charge of insulting and threatening a member of the National Guard, was Constance Evrard, a cook, later a member of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, and a close friend of Pauline Leon (the proprietor of a chocolate shop who cofounded the society in the spring of 1793). The minutes of Evrard's interrogation by the police show that this "passive citizen" and political activist interpreted the National Guardsmen's acts on the Champ de Mars as a betrayal of a new, critically, important bond of trust that had been developing between the nation's armed forces and citizens in the Paris sections. The wife of the Guardsman reported that Evrard, Pauline Leon, and Leon's mother had denounced her husband as "an assassin, a hangman, a scoundrel, who was killing everyone on the Champ de Mars"; Evrard had threatened to knife him within three days Evrard herself admitted that she had returned from the Champ de Mars oil July 17 "outraged at the conduct of the National Guard against unarmed citizens," and that, seeing the Guardsman with his battalion passing by en route to the Champ de Mars, she reproached him for going there.[31]

The interrogation of Constance Evrard highlights her extraordinary sensitivity to the potential disaster that the National Guard's treachery could cause. In addition, she identified herself with new concepts, responsibilities, and practices of citizenship and popular sovereignty that the crises of the summer of 1791 had crystallized. She told her interrogators that she had gone to the Champ de Mars and had "signed a petition like all good patriots." While admitting that she did not have the petition read to her on the Champ de Mars, she declared that she "believes that this petition tends to have the executive power organized in another way" She acknowledged that she sometimes went with groups of people to the Palais Royal and the Tuileries gardens (public places where political news was circulated); she also attended the Cordeliers Club, although she was not a member. She reported subscribing to the radical journal Revolutions & Paris; she had complimented the editor, Prudhomme, on his article on tyrannicides, and told him how enthusiastic she was about this piece, adding that "had she been a man, she did not know how far patriotism would have led her." She also stated that she read the journals of Marat, Audouin, Desmoulins, and "very often the Orateur du Peuple" - all radical journals.[32]

During the summer of 1791, revolutionary activists in Paris, with women prominent among them, legitimated their practice of popular sovereignty by linking it to Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Equally significantly, revolutionary leaders, determined to demonstrate the full weight of opposition to the constitutional monarchy, accepted and even recruited women as equal participants. For example, one of the men arrested for sedition on July 16 was accused of carrying a petition to the National Assembly and of reading an invitation to all citizens that included the statement "that all women and children who had attained the age of reason would be received to sign the petition."[33]

Notwithstanding their exclusion from such constitutional rights of citizenship as voting and holding office, the passive citizenry, men and women, identified themselves as citizens. They participated in revolutionary ceremonies; attended political meetings as discussants, petitioners, and delegates; wrote political tracts; formulated and communicated revolutionary ideology; and involved themselves centrally in revolutionary insurrections. They wore symbols of their patriotic commitment like tricolor cockades. These acts escalated pressures on authorities and contributed to transforming the French monarchy into the First Republic. At the same time, these revolutionary actors were crafting civic identities for themselves.

Between September 1791 and August 1792, revolutionary leaders in Paris tolerated and even encouraged the involvement of women in open challenges to the constitutional monarchy, acts of popular sovereignty expressive of a progressively more democratic understanding of the meaning of citizenship.

The collapse of the constitutional monarchy on August 10, 1792, was the outcome of a battle in the courtyard of the Tuileries between the king's Swiss Guard and a popular armed force. However, it was prepared by a complex series of events that strengthened revolutionary forces and weakened resistance in the king's camp and in the legislature. On April 20, 1792, with the nation threatened with invasion, the Legislative Assembly voted a declaration f war against Austria; that event ushered in twenty-three years of nearly continuous war in Europe. Other principal developments were the king's alienation from revolutionary authorities with whom he was required to work under the Constitution of 1791, and the growing appeal of republicanism. Both of these widened the breach between king and people and sharpened the confrontation between the ministers, deputies, and municipal authorities, who continued to operate within constitutional limits, and the fully mobilized insurgents, who claimed legitimate sovereign authority for the people.

Between March 9 and June 20, 1792, thousands of men, women, and children from all over Paris participated in armed processions through the halls of the Legislative Assembly. In each procession, the participants demanded that the legislature recognize their legitimate power as the sovereign people; they received that recognition from the legislature. In the accompanying speeches, and through signs, exclamations, gestures, images, symbols (like the red cap of liberty and ribbons in revolutionary colors), and the line of march, participants expanded the significance of their actions and linked them to new definitions of citizenships, national sovereignty, and the legitimacy of rulers. Finally, they conspicuously paraded pikes and sabers, which carried the threat that they would deploy armed force. This display of military force, in combination with concrete demands and the symbols and words that colored them with a general significance, produced a second revolution, during which the constitutional monarchy collapsed and a republic was established.

The people in arms reclaimed and rebuilt an alliance with official armed forces that had been shattered by the gunfire on the Champ de Mars in July 1791. Astonishingly, radical leaders as well as authorities first questioned, but in the end tolerated, the presence among the Guardsmen of men and women armed with pikes, the real and symbolic weapons of the sovereign people.

In an editorial, "Des Piques," appearing in a February 1792 number of his Revolutions de Paris, the journalist Prudhomme called attention to the symbolic and military significance of the pike: "Universally accessible, available to the poorest citizen," the pike was an emblem for independence, equality under arms, vigilance, and the recovery of liberty. "The pikes of the people are the columns of French liberty." Prudhomme explicitly denied the right of women to bear these arms: "Let pikes be prohibited for women; dressed in white and girded with the national sash, let them content themselves with being simple spectators." In his calculations Prudhomme eliminated the female portion of the 24 million potential pike bearers of France.[34] In fact, women continued to claim and exercise the right to arm themselves with pikes and with other weapons as well. They constructed political identities for themselves that mirrored Prudhomme's definition of the revolutionary citizen: independent, free, equal, vigilant, and armed.

On March 6, less than a month after Prudhomme's article appeared, a delegation of "citoyennes from the city of Paris," led by Pauline Leon, presented to the Legislative Assembly a petition with more than 300 signatures concerning women's right to bear arms. The petitioners grounded their claim in an appeal to the natural right of every individual to defend his or her life and liberty. "You cannot refuse us and society cannot remove from us this right which nature gives us, unless it is alleged that the Declaration of Rights is not applicable to women and that they must allow their throats to be slit, like sheep, without having the right to defend themselves." The delegation requested permission for women to arm themselves with pikes, pistols, sabers, and rifles; to assemble periodically on the Champ de Mars; and to engage in military maneuvers. The assembly, after debate, decreed a printing of the petition and honorable mention in the minutes and passed to the order of the day.[35]

While the Legislative Assembly hesitated between dismissing and tolerating women's demands for the right to bear arms, the Paris Commune and the mayor, Jerome Petion, took action to honor women's militancy publicly to reward it officially, and to instate it as a model of women's citizenship. In his speech of April 5 to the commune, Petion endorsed a petition on behalf of Reine Audu, one of the few participants in the women's march to Versailles in October 1789 who had been arrested and imprisoned. He argued that although French customs generally kept women out of combat, it also was the case that "in the moment of danger, when the patrie is in peril," women "do not feel any the less that they are citoyennes." The Council of the Commune, acting on the petition, decreed a ceremony in which the mayor would honor and decorate "this citoyenne" with a sword as "an authentic testimony to her bravery and her patriotism."[36]

During the weeks preceding the armed procession of April 9, 1792, a concept of female citizenship emerged that dissolved distinctions between active and passive, male and female citizens; combined women's right of self-defense with their civic obligation to protect and defend the nation; and placed both directly in the center of a general definition of all citizens' rights and responsibilities. Thus the armed women, who in spring 1792 marched in imposing processions, giving dramatic and forceful expression to the potent image of a united national family in arms, at the same time embodied militant citizenship, a driving force in the process of revolutionary radicalization. This moving picture is the dean, sharp inverse of the radical journalists' earlier depictions of unarmed families brutally gunned down by Lafayette's troops as they gathered on the Champ de Mars in July 1791 to sign the petition on the fate of the king. In the weeks following the events of July 17, 1791, Jean-Paul Marat had filled the pages of his Ami du peuple with provocative images: "The blood of old men, women, children, massacred around the altar of the fatherland is still warm, it cries out for vengeance."[37] The arming of passive citizens, including women, in the spring of 1792 turned upside down this picture of helpless martyrs; it empowered the powerless, and it activated an involuntarily pacific (because legally "passive") citizenry, including the potential force of women within the radical leadership's escalating estimates of the strength of the national family in arms.

The armed procession of June 20, 1792, reflected turmoil in Paris over the king's dismissal of liberal ministers and his vetoes of two decrees, one authorizing harsh sanctions against clergy who had refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the constitution and another establishing a camp for 20,000 French troops beneath the walls of Paris. Four days earlier, on June 16, a delegation from two militant neighborhoods informed municipal authorities of plans to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Tennis Court Oath - an oath sworn by deputies in the National Assembly not to disband until they had given France a constitution. The key event was to be an armed procession before the assembly and the king to present petitions. The authorities tried to prevent the march, but the mayor, Petion, realized that nothing could stop it. He developed a strategy of putting all armed citizens under the flags of the National Guard battalions and under the authority of battalion commanders, thereby legitimating a force composed of National Guardsmen and all citizens, passive along with active, women and children along with men.

On the morning of June 20, thousands of marchers were granted permission to parade through the meeting hall of the Legislative Assembly. Marchers included National Guardsmen, light infantrymen, grenadiers, and troops of the line - all interspersed with women ("dames and femmes du peuple"), men (porters, charcoal burners, priests with swords and guns, veterans), and children. The marchers carried long pikes, guns, axes, knives, paring knives, scythes, pitchforks, sticks, bayonets, great saws, and clubs. Armed women were described as wearing liberty caps and carrying sabers and blades. The marchers' signs and banners proclaimed loyalty to the constitution,[38] and they meant what they said. In addition, their actions made it clear that the constitution, along with the government, was only the instrument of the will of an armed sovereign people.

Through these practices of citizenship, the insurrectionary crowds symbolically subverted the king's legally sanctioned executive authority, his right to veto laws and his role as representative of national sovereignty. The marchers constitutionally prohibited from exercising sovereignty, were doing just that.[39] When the marchers left the assembly, they charged into the Tuileries Palace and for six hours paraded, armed, before the king, displaying the banners and symbols that identified them as the sovereign nation. The king, in turn, refused to bend his will to that of this "sovereign people," and the mayor and other officers finally persuaded the demonstrators to leave the palace.[40]

Several witnesses were quick to seize the larger import of the days events. An official of the Department of Paris (the national administrative unit for Paris) commented: "The throne was still standing but the people were seated on it, took the measure of it; and its steps seemed to have been lowered to the height of the paving stones of Paris."[41] These armed marches, repeatedly legitimized by the assembly's votes to permit and honor them, were successful ceremonial demonstrations of the breadth, scope, and power of a fully mobilized democratic force in revolutionary Paris. The alliance between the women and men of the radical faubourgs (neighborhoods) and their National Guard battalions, an alliance shattered on the Champ de Mars in 1791, was reforged on foundations of rebuilt trust and restored unity of purpose. On June 21, a police commissioner reported that in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine people were saying that the people is the only sovereign, it must make the law. WITHOUT CONSTITUTION AND WITHOUT SANCTION [from any higher authority]."[42] Petion, the mayor, called particular attention to the significance of women's involvement in the events of June 20. Under attack for having failed to use force to prevent or disperse the procession, Petion rushed into print a self-defense: Conduct of the Mayor of Paris on the Occasion of the Events of June 20, 1792. Petion insisted that neither he nor anyone else could have commanded the force capable of stopping the march of "such an immense crowd of citizens." "Where was the repressive force capable of stopping the torrent? I say it did not exist." All battalions from the two faubourgs had marched with cannon and arms, followed by large numbers of armed citizens and a multitude of unarmed citizens, Petion explained. Any force mobilized against the marchers could only have been composed of National Guardsmen, who, in that case, would have been opposing fellow Guardsmen; combating fellow citizens armed with pikes; opposing unarmed men, maybe even their neighbors; 'confronting women - their sisters, their wives, their mothers; and battling with children, possibly their own. "Who would have been able to answer for the lives of these persons who are the most precious to the nation [and] whom it is most important to preserve?" On whom and where would this attacking force have fired? "The very idea of this carnage makes one shiver." "And to Whom would this bloody battlefield have been left?" Three-quarters of the National Guard would have refused to fire on their fellow citizens, given that they all shared the marchers' motives, and given that the Legislative Assembly already had set precedents when it "tolerated" earlier processions.[43]

The officials of the Department of Paris, who suspended Petion from office for his failure to prevent the march, acknowledged that he was right about June the presence of women and children in the ranks of the National Guard had paralyzed it. In short, authorities of all convictions, that is, those who would Pave had to give the orders, perceived that the participants in the processions of June 20 - precisely this particular combination of National Guardsmen and their commanders, armed and unarmed men and women and children, their relatives, friends and neighbors - symbolized a new political and military force, a family in arms, that could be vanquished only at unthinkable cost.

Furthermore, the conjunction of women's claims to the rights of citizen- especially the right to bear arms, with their incorporation into the marching revolutionary "nation" endorsed by radical male leaders, ran radically counter to the Rousseauian model of the woman citizen as a civic educator. Women had appropriated radical, alternative discourses of rights and responsibilities as well as dramatically broadened agendas of political action.

After the fall of the monarchy on August 10, the new republican authorities moved quickly to regulate the women and men who had helped bring them to victory, yet even those controls illustrated recognition of women's full political and military engagement. The General Assembly of one neighborhood government printed a decree that all male citizens aged 15 and over and female citizens over the age of 13 had to take an individual oath before the section assembly. The wording of the oath was similar to one decreed by the Legislative Assembly on August 14: "to uphold liberty and equality and to die, if necessary, for both.... .. The section assembly declared that it would regard as "bad citizens and citoyennes those who would not swear it, and that it would refuse entry into its sessions to anyone who had not fulfilled this "civic duty." These authorities recognized that the armed men and women who had just brought down the monarchy could not be dissolved or repressed. The administrative requirement was to regulate them: "It is important to know who are the good citizens and citoyennes who want to bring about liberty and equality, and who are the cowards and traitors who still would dare to yearn for despotism."[45]

In the spring of 1793, a group of citoyennes, petit-bourgeois and sans-culotte women who wanted to "bring about liberty and equality," organized themselves into to the first exclusively female interest group in Western politics, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. Pauline Leon, who had been involved in the violent events on the Champ de Mars in 1791, and Claire Lacombe, an actress from the French provinces, were among the organizers; Constance Evrard and Anne Felicite Colomb, whose radical political activities in 1791 we review above, were members. Initially the society met under the aegis of the Jacobin Club, which provided a meeting hall; it formed close ties with the Enrages, radical men active in neighborhood politics. Members of the society where instrumental in helping to evict the Girondins (a loosely organized "party" of liberal deputies) from the National Convention in late May 1793. Throughout the summer, they pressured the convention to apply more extreme curbs on aristocrats and to pass decrees regulating supplies and prices in Paris and supporting revolutionary armies. They strongly supported the Constitution of 1793 decreed by the National Convention on June 24. In the summer of 1793, a group of women describing themselves as citoyennes of the Section Droits de L'Homme came to the society to present a martial standard. Their speech, honoring the society's members, explicitly stated that "the Declaration of Rights is common to both sexes. ..."[46] In late summer, the society's radicalism evoked protests from market women, who opposed price controls and who accused the society of ruining their commerce.

Despite heroic defensive maneuvers by Claire Lacombe and others, the convention voted to close the society in October 1793 on the grounds that its members threatened public order. Jacobin leaders who presented and debated the proposed repression of the society and the more general question of women's placed in the new republican regime also exposed serious tensions and fissures in republican ideology. Andre Amar, who spoke for the Committee of General Security before the convention on October 28, began with specific complaints about market disorders near Saint-Eustache, which the Revolutionary Women allegedly incited, and reported the request of the Section des Marches (a self-governing municipal unit) for a prohibition of popular societies of women. Amar then posed the general question: Should women exercise political rights and meddle in political affairs? His negative answer no longer addressed the specific issue of the society's responsibility for market disorders; rather, in his rationalization of the legislation, Amar cited women's reproductive responsibilities, their moral weakness, their inadequate political education, and their nervous excitability He thus developed a full-blown misogynist theory of the biological, psychological, and moral determinants of women's incapacity for political action. In contrast, another deputy, Charlier, identifying, and separating out from one another principles of universal rights and matters of public security, argued that the police ought to be able to deal with disorder and that women should not be denied their right to assemble peaceably: "Unless you are going to question whether women are part of the human species, can you take away from them this right which is common to every thinking being?" The deputy Bazire brought the debate to a close; he declared that he did not want to hear any more about principles; public order was endangered; that situation called for the absolute prohibition of women's associations [47] Bazire was not endorsing Amar's argument; he was being pragmatic: every political system had the authority to suspend rights in times of dire emergency. These deputies were fully aware of the political implications of defining gender roles either narrowly or broadly; women's status and rights were one factor in the power equation in a city and nation that was caught up in the throes of revolution and war and where the locus of sovereign authority was being contested continually. Even as they outlawed the Revolutionary Republican Women and all women's clubs, the legislators exposed deep conflicts within the republican camp about whether the rights of man could be denied to women.

In the short run, the Jacobin leaders tried to eliminate women's institutional power bases by proscribing clubs and popular societies of women and barring them from sessions of the Paris Commune. These restrictions did not silence women's voices. Mixed-sex popular societies in the sections continued to provide channels for women's influence. Immediately after the repressive legislation of October 28, a deputation from the Fraternal Society of the Two Sexes of the Pantheon-Francais section, led by a woman, came before the section's General Assembly. Citizens protested the presence of women: ". . . a woman does not have the right to speak, to deliberate in assemblies, according to the law."[48] Again in February 1794, the Fraternal Society of the Section Pantheon-Francais protested vehemently against accusations in the press that it was a hermaphrodite society that violated nature by offering men and women equal access and rights of participation. Two women officers of the fraternal society signed that protest.[49] A few days earlier, the society's Committee of Purification, composed of women and men, voted to exclude members who argued that women "ought not to have been admitted to deliberate on the affairs of a section or to purify its members "; in the short run, they prevailed, notwithstanding the protest of a woman in the section who argued that women should not be sitting on the Purification Committee, that they were voting illegally.[50]

Women of the popular classes were principal participants in the last great revolutionary uprising, the journees of Germinal-Prairial, Year III (1795). However, these insurrections were doomed to failure; by that time, women and men in the sections had lost the popular societies and assemblies that had functioned as the common people's organizational base of influence. In May 1795, the legislature ordered women to remain in their homes and decreed that groups of more than five women in public would be dispersed, forcibly if necessary.[51]

The Napoleonic Code, the French code of laws completed in 1804, is sometimes offered as evidence that the overtures made by revolutionary women. were brave but brief efforts that ultimately worsened conditions for women well into the nineteenth century. Under the terms of the code, women could not sign contracts, buy or sell, or maintain bank accounts in their own names. Divorce, legal since September 20,1792, became more difficult. But if we look beyond legal restraints in the code, we recognize that links between women's revolutionary practices of citizenship and principles of universal rights have turned out to be indelible, as well as complex.

A handful of women writers reformulated definitions of citizenship to address women's gender-specific needs and interests in the language of the Declaration of Rights of 1789. Olympe de Gouges, playwright and publicist, drafted a Declaration of the Rights of Woman. It appeared just as the first constitution was being ratified in September 1791. Adopting the form and language of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, de Gouges called for full political equality for women, and in addition drafted articles that addressed women's gender-specific struggles to secure property and inheritance rights.' and to establish the right of the mother to legitimate her children regardless of her marital state. De Gouges had addressed her Declaration to Queen Marie Antoinette; she was arrested in 1793, accused of royalism, tried and found guilty by the 'Revolutionary Tribunal, and guillotined on November 3, 1791 The Dutch-born revolutionary writer Etta Palm d'Aelders addressed the issue of equal rights for women, focusing on marriage laws, educational opportunities, and admission to civil and military positions.[52] Ideas counted in making and legitimating the revolution. Women like De Gouges, d'Aelders, and Anne Felicite Colomb, in roles as journalists, pamphleteers, speechmakers, printers, petitioners, club members, and witnesses, contributed to the ideologies supporting the liberal tradition in France. We suggest that a commonsense logic informed these women's efforts to restate rights so that they, addressed gender-specific interests: if women could recognize themselves in the nation, they could grant its government support and legitimacy.

Women and men involved in marching, petitioning, and other political activities that brought them into confrontation with authorities linked these practices to universals; they recast their acts as the nation's expression off its sovereign will and rights. The threat and use of force turned out to be particularly effective in forging links between practices and rights. On June 20,1792, armed men, women, and children from the radical sections of Paris co-opted. the National Guard and scored a symbolic victory over the legislature; on August 10, they overthrew the constitutional monarchy. All these acts of force prevailed only because the duly constituted authorities in the end accepted these acts as legitimate exercises of the rights and powers of the sovereign nation as these were defined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Links between women's political practices and rights debates were forged not only in Paris but throughout revolutionary France and well beyond its boundaries. Women who founded Jacobin women's clubs in the French departments developed political visions, broad agendas, and practices in the public sphere, including endorsements of the Constitution of 1793, protests against women's political nullity, and demands for the right to vote In the age of the democratic revolution, the "woman question" was placed squarely on the agenda not only throughout France but also in England, America, the Dutch Republic, Belgium, and elsewhere in the Western world - all revolutionary political cultures in which neighborhoods and communities became caught up in broad democratizing processes and cultural transformations that opened up possibilities for women to claim political identities in the polity, that is, the rights, responsibilities, and powers of citizenship.[54]

The theory of universal rights stands as one of the most vital positive legacies of the French Revolution in the modern world. Because women's ad hoc practices of citizenship were linked to rights issues, the precedent-setting power of these practices was not canceled out by the Jacobins' decrees outlawing women's organized political activities, or by legal restrictions written into the Napoleonic Code, or even by later nineteenth- and twentieth-century exclusionary legislation. Revolutionary women who took up arms, for example, grounded their action in universal claims: the right to self-defense, the right to assemble, the right to free expression, and the right to full political Once such rights have been legislated for some and appropriated land enacted de facto by many, any issue that can be connected to rights is opened up to contestation and remains on the political agenda, notwithstanding the force of repressive laws and other sanctions. In fact, in societies in which rights traditions have been established, the burden of proof is on those who wish to exclude specific categories of persons from the enjoyment of rights.

However, along with these liberal principles (like Condorcet's belief that women enjoyed natural and political rights "common to every thinking and sentient being"), legacies of the Enlightenment and the Revolution relating to the woman question included persuasive and persistent formulations of women's biologically and culturally determined incapacity for assuming roles as equals in a world of power and conflict. Viewed critically and historically, rights talk itself, even as it reveals the commonalities of human identity, also masks particular or exclusive interests grounded in class, race, sex, ethnicity, religion, age, and national or national-imperial ideologies. Further, claimants must state their claims from a base of historically more rights specific, situated interests; women risk the obstruction of those interests when they invest uncritically in the language of universal rights. All historically situated interests - those of rights legislators and adjudicators and those of rights claimants - must be exposed and addressed if universal rights are to be made operable as guiding principles in actual political cultures - for example, to reshape the nature of political conflict or to maximize equality.

Inevitably, meanings of universal rights, such as the right to self-defense, will change with the changing circumstances of individuals and groups: for the devolutionary generation, women and men, the right of self-defense meant the right to use arms for the protection of person, family, and property; today, at the historical juncture at which we stand, the concept of self-defense might include principles of bodily integrity that enabled the United Nations to define rape as a war crime. It is this expansive nature of rights, that is, the way rights work to narrow exclusions to the vanishing point, to embrace, over time, a plenum of concrete positions, that constitutes their irreplaceable value as an ever receding, ever approachable horizon of women's aspirations as human beings.

In the age of the democratic revolution, women of all social and professional ranks took up positions on fields of power and principle; they demanded recognition as citizens; in the historical conjuncture, these demands necessarily reidentified them as subjects of universal rights. The conquest of a permanent place on those fields of power and principle may turn out to be, for them, the most critical important legacy of the French Revolution.


1. Madelyn Gutwirth, The Twilight of the Goddesses: Women and Representation in the French Revolutionary Era, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1992; Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1988.

2. Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1996.

3. Lynn Hunt, "Forgetting and Remembering: The French Revolution Then and Now," American Historical Review 100 (1995), pp. 1119-1135; quote from p. 1131; "Introduction: The Revolutionary Origins of Human Rights," in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, ed. Lynn Hunt, Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, Boston, 1996.

4. See the comments of Joan Scott concerning 1990s proposals for gender quotas in the French National Assembly, in Scott, op. cit., p. 2.

5. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1994.

6. Simeon Prosper Hardy, "Mss Loisirs, ou Journal d'evenements tels qu'ils parviennent a ma connoissance," vol. 7, May 8 1787, fol. 475, in Bibliotheque mtionale, MSS, fonds francais, no. 6687.

7. Henri Monin, L'Etat de Paris en 1789: Etudes et Documents, Jouaust, Noblet, et Maison Quantin, Paris, 1889, p. 637.

8. Nina Gelbart, Feminine and Opposition Journalism in Old Regime France: Le jot, nal des Dames, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1987; Arlette Farge and Jacques Revel, The Vanishing Children of Paris: Rumor and Politics Before the French Revolution, trans. Claudia Mi6ville, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991; Arlette Farge, Subversive Words: Public Opinion in Eighteenth-Century France, trans. Rosemary Morris, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 1994.

9. See, for example, Doleances particulieres des marchandes bouquetieres fleuristes chapelieres en fleurs de la Ville et faubourgs de Paris (1789), in Charles-Louis Chassin, Les Elections et les cahiers de Paris en 1789, 4 vols., Paris, 1888-89, vol. II, pp. 534537; translated in Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1795, ed. Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1979, pp. 22-26.

10. Letter from Thirout de Crosne to Louis XVI, 20 April 1789 in AN, C 221/160/146, fol. 67.

11. Hardy, op. cit. vol. 8, September 14, 1789.

12. Procedure criminelle instruite au Cutlet de Paris, Baudouin, Paris, 1790, Part I, witness 81, p. 118.

13. Hardy, op. cit., no. 6687, fol. 502, October 5, 1789.

14. Ibid., and testimony of Chabry, No. 183, Procedure criminelle, Part II, pp. 23-25. In her account, Chabry says she and the other women arrived back in Paris at 2:00 A.M.; the secretary of the Commune puts it an hour later.

15. Arch. nat. C 32, no. 271.

16. John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution, Macmillan, New York, 1951, p. 129.

17. J. Mavidal, E. Laurent, et al., eds., Archives parlementaires, de 1787 a 1860, First Series (34 vols., Paris; Imprimerie nationals, 1867-1890), 9, (October 20, 1789), p. 470.

18. B.N. Lb 39 2412. Relation tres exacts des evenemens du 5 et 6 octobre, Paris, 1789.

19. Revolutions de Paris, no. 19 (November 14-21), p. 46.

20. Anonymous, Les Heroines de Paris ou l'entiere liberte de la France, par les femmes ... police qu'elles doivent exercer de leur propre autorit6. Expulsion des charlatans &c. &c., le 5 octobre 1789 (n.p., n.d.).

21. Etrennes nationales des dames, no. 1 (November 3, 1789), 8 pp.

22. Club des Cordeliers, Societe des amis des droits de Yhomme et du citoyen, Extrait des deliberations du 22 fevrier 1791, Paris, 1791, in Bibliotheque historique de la Ville de Paris, 10,065, No. 67.

23, Le Creuset, no. for June 9, 1791. A. Ibid.; Levy, Applewhite, and Johnson, op. cit., pp. 78, 79, 83, 84.

25. Ibid., p. 79.

26. Petition of July, 17, 1791, in Stewart, op. cit., pp. 219-220.

27. "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen," in Stewart, op. cit., p. 114.

28, Dossier of Anne Felicite Colomb, Archives nationales, F7 2624. plaq. 1, fols. 52-69.

29. Ibid.

30. Section de la Place Vendome, 20-21 July 1791, Proces-verbal of the seizure of manuscripts and printed works by Marat and others ... arrest and imprisonment of Dlle. Colomb, Redele de Fl [illeg.] and Verrieres, in Archives nationales, W. 357, no. 750; Letter of the Comite des recherches to the Tribunal of the 6th Arrondissement, 16 August 1791 in Archives nationales, DXXIXb's31b, no. 324; letter from the Interim President of the Tribunal of the 6th Arrondissment to the Comite des Rapports, 17 August 1791, in DXXIXbi34, no. 352.

31. Proces-verbal of the interrogation of Constance Evrard and witnesses, Section de la Fontaine de Grenelle, -Sunday, 17 July 1791, in Archives, Prefecture de la Police, Paris, Series Aa, 148, fol. 30.

32, Ibid.

33. Mathiez, Le Club des Cordeliers, p. 363.

34. Prudhomme, "Des Piques," Revolutions de Paris, vol. 11, February 11-18, 1792, pp. 293-298.

35. Archives p rlementaires 39 (March 6, 1792), pp. 423, 424.

36. Extrait du registre des deliberations du Conseil general de la Commune de Paris, Ven- dredi, 5 avriI 1792, Paris, 1792.

37. Marat, A du peuple, no. 524, July 20, 1791, p. 2.

38. Archives p rlementaires 45 (June 20, 1792), pp. 406 ff, and esp. 411-419.[Madame Rosalie juilien], Journal dune Bourgeoise pendant la Revolution, 1791-1793, published by Edouard Lockroy, Calmann-Levy, Paris, 1881), pp. 134-147. Le Mercure universal, 1792," University 21, 1792, as cited in Laura B. Pfeiffer, "The Uprising of June 20, 1792University Studies of the University of Nebraska 12, no. 3 (July 1912), pp. 84, 85.

39. Stewart, op. cit., p. 234.

40. Pfeiffer, op, cit., pp. 284-323.

41. P.L. Roedej er, Chronique des cinquante jours du 20 juin au 10 aoCit 1792, Paris, 1832, p. 63.

42. Dumont, ommissaire de police, Section de la Rue Montreuil, to the Directory of the dep artment of Paris, June 21, 1792, in "Journ6e du 20 juin 1792," Revue Retrospects e, ou Bibliotheque historique, 2nd series, vol. 1 (1835), p. 180.

43. Jerome Petion, Conduits tenue par M. le Maire de Paris a l'occasion des evenements du 20 juin 792, in "Journ6e du 20 juin 1792," Revue Retrospective, ou BibliotUque historique, Ind series, vol. 1 (1835), p. 180.

44. Extrait des Registres des deliberations du Conseil du Departement de Paris, 6 juillet 1792, Paris, 1792.

45. Extrait des I'Registres des deliberations de la Section du Pont Neuf, Reunie en Assembles permanents, le 15 aoiit 1792, I'an 4e de la liberte, le ter de 1'egalitg. Paris, n.d. See also F. Braesch, ed., Proces-verbaux de IAssembl6e generals de la Section des Postes, 4 d6cembre 1790-5 septembre 1792, Paris, 1911, pp. 198, 199, no. 2.

46. Marie Cerati, Le Club des citoyennes republicaines revolutionnaires, Paris, 1966, p. 73; and Pauline L6on, Police Dossier, Archives nationales, F7 4774 9, translated in Levy, Applewhite, and Johnson, op. cit., pp. 158-160.

47. Reimpression de IAncien Moniteur, National Convention, Session of 9 Brumaire, Vol. 18, pp. 298-300; translated in Levy, Applewhite, and Johnson, op. cit., pp. 213-217.

48. Dominique Godineau, "Femmes en citoyennet& pratiques et politique," Annales Historiques,de la RivolutionftanCaise, no. 2 (1995), p. 204.

49. Robert Barrie Rose, "Symbols, Citizens or Sisterhood: Women and the Popular Movement in the French Revolution. The Beginning of a Tradition," Australian Journal of Politics and History 40 (1994), p. 308.

50. Godineau, op. cit., p. 204, citing from Archives nationales, W 191, 14 pluvi6se, Archives, Pr6fecture de la police, AA 201, 121-139; B.N., MSS, nouvelles acquisitions franqaises, 2713.

51. Dominique Godineau, citoyennes Tric6teuses. Les Femmes du peuple a Paris pendant la R6volutionfi-anCaise Alinea, Aix-en-Provence, 1988, pp. 319-355.

52. Etta Palm d'Aelders, Adresse des citoyennes francoises a IAssembl6e nationals (n.d.[Summer, 17911); Archives parlementaires, 41 (proces-verbal, April 1, 1792) pp, 63-64; both translated in Levy, Applewhite, and Johnson, op. cit., pp. 75-77,121 53. Suzanne Desan, "'Constitutional Amazons': Jacobin Women's Clubs in the French Revolution, "in Recreating Authority in Revolutionary France, ed. Bryant T, Ragan and Elizabeth A. Williams, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1992, ch. 1; Suzanne Desan, "The Family as Cultural Battleground: Religion vs. Republic under the Terror," in The French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Political Culture, Vol. 4: The Terror, ed. Keith Michael Baker, (Pergamon, Oxford, 1994, pp. 177-193.

54. Harriet B. Applewhite and Darline G. Levy, eds., Women and Politics in the Age of the Democratic Revolution, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1990; paperback, 1993.


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10 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by excort on August 9, 2013

quelle est la différence entre une escorte et une prostituée?