Factionalism and Violence in the Early French Revolution

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 2:50 PM
Bayside Ballroom A (Sheraton New Orleans)
Timothy N. Tackett, University of California, Irvine
Historians have often described the political factions of the French Revolution that successively pitted patriots and aristocrats, Jacobins and Feuillants, Girondins and Montagnards. But there have been relatively few attempts to analyze and explain the root causes of such factionalization, nor, for that matter, of the emergence of factions in revolutionary situations more generally. How was it that men who had once embraced the ideals of equality, fraternity, and tolerance came, in the course of only a few years, to demonize one another and to mobilize the most Machiavellian forms of political and judicial manipulation to attack and destroy their rivals?  The proposed paper will explore this issue in the context of the first four years of the Revolution, from 1789 through the beginning of the Terror in the summer of 1793. The author will give particular attention to two sources: first, the contemporary correspondence of the deputies of the various Revolutionary assemblies; and second, the quantitative analysis of word usage in the debates of those assemblies, as identified through the content analysis of a digitized version of the record of debates. The paper concludes that there were four principal clusters of factors involved in the factionalization of the Revolution: 1) ideological conflicts; 2) regional politics; 3) the impact of individual personalities; 4) the toxic atmosphere of fear and mistrust.