During the French Revolution (1789 to 1799), a Jacobin (French pronunciation: [ʒakɔbɛ̃]) was a member of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary political movement that had been the most famous political club of the French Revolution. The club was so called from the Dominican convent where they originally met, in the Rue Saint-Jacques (Latin: Jacobus) in Paris.
Today, Jacobin and Jacobinism are used in a variety of senses. Jacobin is sometimes used in Britain as a pejorative for radical, left-wing revolutionary politics (English pronunciation: //), especially when it exhibits dogmatism and violent repression. In France, Jacobin now generally indicates a supporter of a centralized republican state and strong central government powers and/or supporters of extensive government intervention to transform society.
Jacobins in the French Revolution
The Jacobin Club was one of several organizations that grew out of the French Revolution, and it was distinguished for its left-wing, revolutionary politics. Because of this, the Jacobins, unlike other sects like the Girondins, were closely allied to the sans-culottes, who were a popular force of working-class Parisians that played a pivotal role in the development of the revolution. The Jacobins had a significant presence in the National Convention, and were dubbed 'the Mountain' for their seats in the uppermost part of the chamber. Eventually, the Revolution coalesced around the Mountain's power, with the help of the insurrections of the sans-culottes, and, led by Robespierre, the Jacobins established a revolutionary dictatorship, or the joint domination of the Committee of Public Safety and Committee of General Security. The Jacobin dictatorship was known for enacting the Reign of Terror, which targeted speculators, monarchists, left-wing agitators, Hébertists, and traitors, and led to many beheadings.
The Jacobins were known for creating a strong government that could deal with the needs of war, economic chaos, and internal rebellion (such as the War in the Vendée). The Jacobins supported the rights of property, but represented a much more middle-class position than the government which succeeded them in Thermidor. Their economic policy established the General maximum, in order to control prices and create stability both for the workers and poor and the revolution. They favored free trade and a liberal economy much like the Girondists, but their relationship to the people made them more willing to adapt interventionist economic policies.:81–82
The English who supported the French Revolution during its early stages (or even throughout) were early known as Jacobins. These included the young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and others prior to their disillusionment with the outbreak of the Reign of Terror. Others, such as William Hazlitt and Thomas Paine, remained idealistic about the Revolution. Much detail on English Jacobinism can be found in E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. Welsh Jacobins include William Jones, a radical patriot who was a keen disciple of Voltaire. Rather than preaching revolution, Jones believed that an exodus from Wales was required and that a new Welsh colony should be founded in the United States.
In the correspondence of Metternich and other leaders of the repressive policies that followed the second fall of Napoleon in 1815, Jacobin is the term commonly applied to anyone with liberal tendencies, such as the emperor Alexander I of Russia.
Early Federalist-leaning American newspapers during the French Revolution referred to the Democratic-Republican party as the "Jacobin Party". The most notable examples are the Gazette of the United States, published in Philadelphia, and the Delaware and Eastern Shore Advertiser, published in Wilmington, during the elections of 1798.
In modern American politics, the term Jacobin is often used to describe extremists of any party who demand ideological purity. For instance, in the lead-up to the 1964 Republican National Convention, the press referred to supporters of the insurgent Arizona conservative Barry Goldwater as "Cactus Jacobins" in their effort to unseat the moderate East Coast branch of the party (see Rockefeller Republican). L. Brent Bozell, Jr. has written in Goldwater's seminal The Conscience of a Conservative (1960) that "Throughout history, true Conservatism has been at war equally with autocrats and with 'democratic' Jacobins." In 2010 a radical American publication, Jacobin, was founded.
The term was employed, in 2009–2010, in reference to the advent of the Tea Party movement. For example, Eve Fairbanks described right-wing opponents of moderate Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest as "Jacobin conservatives" in The New Republic. In the 27 May 2010, issue of The New York Review of Books, Columbia professor Mark Lilla analyzed five recent books dealing with American political party discontent in a review titled, "The Tea Party Jacobins".
The conventionalized scrawny, French revolutionary sans-culottes Jacobin, was developed from about 1790 by British satirical artists James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. It was commonly contrasted with the stolid stocky conservative and well-meaning John Bull, dressed like an English country squire. C. L. R. James also used the term to refer to revolutionaries during the Haitian Revolution in his book The Black Jacobins.
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- "The Tea Party Jacobins", Mark Lilla, The New York Review of Books, 27 May 2010, p.53