Feuillant (political group)
The Feuillants (French pronunciation: [fœjɑ̃]) were a political grouping that emerged during the French Revolution. It consisted of monarchists and reactionaries who sat on the far right of the Legislative Assembly of 1791. It came into existence when the left-wing Jacobins split between moderates (Feuillants), who sought to preserve the position of the king and supported the proposed plan of the National Assembly for a constitutional monarchy, and radicals (Jacobins), who wished to press for a continuation of direct democratic action to overthrow Louis XVI.
The Feuillant deputies publicly split with the Jacobins when they published a pamphlet on 16 July 1791, protesting the Jacobin plan to participate in the popular demonstrations against Louis XVI on the Champs de Mars the following day. Initially the group had 264 ex-Jacobin deputies as members, including most of the members of the correspondence committee.
The group held meetings in a former monastery of the Feuillant monks on the Rue Saint-Honoré, in Paris, and came to be popularly called the Club des Feuillants. They called themselves the Amis de la Constitution. The group was led by Antoine Barnave, Alexandre de Lameth and Adrien Duport.
The Feuillant schism
As the Constitution of 1791 began to take its final shape, many erstwhile radical deputies such as Le Chapelier and Barnave wished for the central role played by such popular societies as the Jacobins early in the French Revolution to come to an end. The activism of the People had been vital to the preservation of the Revolution in the early days of the National Assembly, but their purpose had been fulfilled, and it was time for direct democracy to give way to the leadership of elected representatives. This conviction was greatly affirmed with the Champs de Mars Massacre (17 July 1791).
Within days, a mass exodus of moderate deputies abandoned the Jacobin club in favour of a new organisation, the Feuillant club. This new society would wage a struggle throughout the summer with the Jacobins for the allegiance of the provincial affiliates and the Parisian crowds, a contest they would ultimately lose. According to the Feuillant ethos, popular societies could have no other role than as meetings of friends to hold private political discussions; their meetings should never step across the threshold of their assemblies and evolve into concerted public political action.
Le Chapelier, in his capacity as chairman of the Constitutional Committee, presented to the National Assembly in its final sessions a law restricting the rights of popular societies to undertake concerted political action, including the right to correspond with one another. It passed 30 September 1791. By the virtue of obeying this law, the moderate Feuillants embraced obsolescence; the radical Jacobins, by ignoring it, emerged as the most vital political force of the French Revolution.
The ascendency of the Feuillants
In the wave of revulsion against popular movements that followed the Champs de Mars Massacre, Antoine Barnave, through his activity on the Committee of Revisions (charged with separating out the constitutional decrees from the ordinary legislation of the National Assembly) was able to ingratiate himself and his allies to Louis XVI by securing for the Crown such powers as appointments of ambassadors, army commanders, and ministers. The king returns the favour by taking Barnave as his chief advisor. At the opening of the Legislative Assembly, Louis XVI delivers a speech written by Barnave, and for the next six months France is governed by what is known as the Feuillant Ministry.
The end of the Feuillants
In March 1792, in retaliation for their opposition to war with Austria the Feuillant ministers were forced out by the Girondins. Labelled by their opponents as royalists, they were targeted after the fall of the monarchy. In August 1792, a list of 841 members was published and they were arrested and tried for treason. Barnave was guillotined on 29 November 1793.
The name survived for a few months as an insulting label for moderates, royalists and aristocrats.
The Feuillant party was formed to protect a conception of power. Its goals were to neutralize royalists by gaining the support of the moderate right, to isolate the democrats from the majority of patriotic deputies, to withstand Jacobin influences, and to terminate societies that threatened the nation's independence of the National Assembly.
The Feuillant group was against passive citizens being enlisted in the National Guard. They believed the only way to have a strong army was for it to be structured. “By favoring elimination of “passive citizens” from the National Guard (April 27, 1791), remaining silent during the debate on the right to petition and post bills, opposing the political emancipation of the blacks (May 11–15, 1791), the triumvirs exhausted their popularity within the space of a few months”. The group knew if the political emancipation of blacks was passed the main source of France's income would be lost. The sugar fields in Saint-Domingue would be taken over and land would also be lost.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Dendena, Francesco. "A new look at Feuillantism: the triumvirate and the movement for war in 1791," French History (2012) 26#1 pp 6-33.
- Diefendorf, Barbara B. "A Monastery in Revolt: Paris's Feuillants in the Holy League." Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques (2001): 301-324.
- Furet, Francois, and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989) pp 343-50
- Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989).
- Furet and Ozouf, A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. (1989) pp 343-50.