Document Type


Date of Award



Jacobins, France, History, 1789-1793

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Thadd E. Hall

Second Advisor

Charles E. Freedman

Third Advisor

George H. Stein


This study is an analysis of the development of the Paris Jacobin Club from its origins in 1789 through the coup d'état of May 30-June 2, 1793. In each of the three principal sections of the thesis, the focus is on the dynamic rather than the static quality of the Society; on the interrelationship between the changing political environment and the changes in the Club's membership, leadership, strategy and tactics.

The first section of the thesis presents an account of the political, social, economic and intellectual forces which led to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1789 and contributed to the formation of the Paris Club. Among those factors considered are the function of the sociétés de pensées, the Américaniste-Anglomane controversy, the role of the parlements, the state of the French society and French economic thought, the pamphlet literature of the prerevolutionary period, the cahiers and the environment of the city of Paris. The emphasis in this section is on the diverse elements which produced the Jacobin Club in 1789, rather than an attempt to find the Society's "roots."

Section II describes the changes in the Jacobins' membership and leadership, the role of Societal officers and committees, the use of "purges," and the development of factions and factional disputes. It begins with a discussion of the character of the Paris Jacobins and an examination of the importance of personalities in the revolutionary experience. The core of the sources used in this section were F.V.A. Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, 6 vols., Paris, 1889-1897; the archives of the revolutionary tribunal, various legislative committees and the police department of the city of Paris; the minutes of the various legislatures, the records of the Commune, the electoral assemblies and the sections; contemporary journals and pamphlets; and the memoirs and correspondence of key revolutionary figures.

Section III analyzes the development of the Jacobins’ ideology, their long-term goals for the Revolution and the short-term solutions they formulated for problems. The section opens with a discussion of how the Jacobins viewed the purpose of the Revolution. Next, there is a chapter dealing with the concept of popular sovereignty, the influence of the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the role of constitutions. This is followed by an account of the development of the Jacobins’ conception of the nature of the revolutionary government, particularly the struggle between the legislature and the executive branch and the issue of government centralization or decentralization. Finally, there is an analysis of the meaning of liberty and equality to the Jacobins, both in theory and in practical application.

Section IV has two parts. The first describes the extent of the Paris Jacobins’ influence in a variety of revolutionary institutions: the assemblies, the Commune, the sections and electoral assemblies. It reveals that the Jacobins at no time possessed a numerical majority in any of these bodies, but that often they were able to create a voting majority on key issues in the legislature. The second part of Section IV deals with the Jacobins’ use of propaganda in art, theatre, oratory, journalism and revolutionary festivals. It demonstrates how the Jacobins were able to transfer the allegiance of the people from traditional symbols to new revolutionary symbols, which were consciously designed to promote this transference.

The conclusion of the thesis projects the analysis of the Jacobins‘ development beyond the confines of the study to hypothesize why the Jacobins failed to maintain power after 1793-94. Aside from the stress of internal and external political forces, the Jacobins failed because they attempted to build a constituency based upon an idea—Reason, the Republic, the Revolution—rather than a particular class whose allegiance would have been founded on a collection of material needs. Finally, the conflict which emerged out of the struggles of 1793-94 is briefly described in the context of its effects upon the interpretation of the Jacobins and Jacobinism by political figures and historians of the 19th and 20th centuries.


This dissertations is bound in two volumes. Both volumes are combined in the pdf.