The Mountain (French: La Montagne) was a political group during the French Revolution whose members, called Montagnards, sat on the highest benches in the Assembly. They were the most radical group and opposed the Girondists. The term, which was first used during a session of the Legislative Assembly, came into general use in 1793. Led by Maximilien Robespierre, the Montagnards unleashed the Reign of Terror in 1794.
It is difficult to pinpoint the conception of the Montagnard group, because the lines which defined it were themselves quite nebulous early on. Originally, members of “The Mountain” were the men who sat in the highest rows of the Jacobin Clubs, loosely organized political debate clubs open to the public. Though members of the Montagnards were known for their commitment to radical political resolutions prior to 1793, the contours of political groups presented an ever-evolving reality that shifted in response to events. Would-be prominent Montagnard leaders like Jean-Baptiste Robert Lindet and André Jean Bon Saint-André were tempted by early Girondin proposals, and soon, many moderates - even anti-radicals - felt the need to push for radical endeavors in light of threats both within and without the country. It was only after the trial of Louis XVI in December of 1792, which united the Montagnards on a position of regicide, that the ideals and power of the group fully consolidated.
From September 1792 to January 1793, the Montagnard party developed a unique political philosophy. The Montagnards, compared to their Girondin counterparts, were significantly younger men focused on implementing change in a timely manner. Montagnard political philosophy centered on the principles of economic and political unity. Their primary goals, as the Russian scholar Peter Kropotkin described, were to “abolish the last vestiges of feudalism, and then to equalise property, to destroy the great landed estates, and give the land to all, even to the poorest laborers.” In contrast with the Girondins, Montagnards supported the French sans-culottes and expressed a strong desire to abolish the monarchy. Economically, the Mountain established price ceilings for wheat and flour in response to the poor grain harvest in 1792.
The rise of Montagnards corresponds to the fall of the Girondins. The Girondin party hesitated on the correct course of action to take with Louis XVI after his attempt to flee France on 20 June 1791. Some elements of the Girondin party believed they could use the king as figurehead. While the Girondins hesitated, the Montagnards took a united stand during the trial in December 1792 - January 1793 and favored the king’s execution. Riding on this victory, the Montagnards then sought to discredit the Girondins. They used tactics previously employed by the Girondins to denounce them as liars and enemies of the Revolution. Girondin members were subsequently banned from the Jacobin club and excluded from the National Convention on 31 May- 2 June 1793. Any attempted resistance was crushed. Maximilien Robespierre then continued to consolidate his power over the Montagnards with the use of the Committee of Public Safety.
The fall and exclusion of the Montagnards from the National Convention began with the collapse of the Revolution’s radical phase and the death of Robespierre on 10 Thermidor (28 July) 1794. While the Montagnards celebrated unity, there was growing heterogeneity within the group as Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety overextended themselves with their tight control over the military and their extreme opposition to corruption in the government. Their overextension drew the ire of other revolutionary leaders and a number of plots coalesced on 9 Thermidor (Thermidorian Reaction) when collaborators with the more moderate group the Dantonists acted in response to fears that Robespierre planned to execute them. The purge of Robespierre was strongly similar to previous measures employed by the Montagnards to expel disagreeable factions, such as the Girondins. However, as Robespierre was widely considered the heart of the Montagnards, his death symbolized the collapse of the party. Few desired to take on the name of Montagnards afterwards, leaving around only about 100 men. Finally, at the end of 1794, ‘the mountain’ largely devolved into a party called crête (‘the crest’), which lacked any real power.
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- Morris Slavin. The Making of an Insurrection: Parisian Sections and the Gironde. (Harvard U.P., 1986).
- Peter Kropotkin, Trans. N. F. Dryhurst The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793. (New York: Vanguard Printings, 1927).
- Peter McPhee, Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life. (Yale U.P., 2012).
- Robert J. Alderson, This Bright Era of Happy Revolutions: French Consul Michel-Ange-Bernard Mangourit and International Republicanism in Charleston, 1792-1794. (U. of South Carolina Press, 2008).
- The Editors of Collins English Dictionary. "Mountain (the Mountain)." Collins English Dictionary Online (accessed May 24, 2014).
- The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Montagnard (French history)." Encyclopædia Britannica Online (accessed May 8, 2014).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Montagnards.|
- Shusterman, Noah (2013). The French Revolution: Faith, Desire and Politics. Routledge. p. 255. ISBN 978-0415660211.
- Hanson, Paul R. (2004). Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution (Historical Dictionaries of War, Revolution, and Civil Unrest). p. 395. ISBN 978-0810850521.