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The Girondins (also called Brissotins) were an influential faction in the Legislative Assembly and then in the National Convention until June 1793. The name Girondin was actually only coined after the declaration of the republic, because several of the leading figures in the newly forming faction came from the Bordeaux area (called the Gironde in French). This faction cannot be considered a political party in the modern sense, but should be seen rather as a group of like-minded deputies (mostly lawyers, industrialists or journalists from upper-middle-class backgrounds) who gradually crystallised around a leader in the influential figure of Jacques Brissot. Many of them had been deputies in the Legislative Assembly, where they had shared relatively radical views (compared to the majority of deputies in that assembly, who supported constitutional monarchy) and frequented the salon of Mme Roland. Indeed, the group was referred to as the 'Brissotins' almost as often as the Girondins.
Although the Girondins are generally regarded to have been in direct opposition with the Montagnards, these political divisions only began to appear under the National Convention. In the Legislative Assembly the Girondists had supported democratic revolution within France and war with the threatening European powers abroad. After the declaration of the republic, and most particularly after the trial and execution of Louis XVI in January 1793, they came to represent the conservative force in the Convention, hoping to bring the revolution to a close and bring order to the new regime. But in late 1791 Robespierre could often be found participating in the discussions in Mme Roland's salon, and Brissot was the leading figure in the Club des Jacobins.
From radical revolutionaries to conservative governors
The Brissotins had represented the left wing faction of the conservative Legislative Assembly. They had strongly advocated war against Austria on the basis that it would help to advance the revolution, galvanising the people against a common foe. Robespierre had been vocal in his opposition to this proposed war, but the brissotin party were influential and got their way. A series of defeats in the spring of 1792 resulted in recriminations and accusations of treason from the Brissotins who succeeded in voting three radical decrees in the assembly. The king vetoed two of these decrees and dismissed the Girondin cabinet.
In response to this unco-operative attitude, a major popular demonstration was held in Paris for June 20th which turned into a riot in front of the Tuileries palace where the king faced them for over three hours. In the assembly, this riot actually resulted in a swing of opinion in favour of the king and order. On July 10th, with national guard divisions from all over France converging on Paris on the assembly's orders, the cabinet was forced to resign and the Girondins pressed unsuccessfully for their candidates to replace the outgoing ministers. Meanwhile, in the clubs, radicals such as Danton and Robespierre were imploring the people of Paris to rise up against the king.
Power now shifted out of the hands of the King and the Legislative Assembly and into those of the Paris Commune. In August the Tuileries fell, and with it the Bourbon monarchy. It was the radical parisian 'sections'1 that had brought down the 800 year-old dynasty organised in large part by Danton and his Club des Cordeliers. And they then indulged in a blood-letting of terrible ferocity, purging paris of 'counter-revolutionary suspects' before preparing to go off to war for the Republic. But the Girondin deputies returned from their provincial electoral districts no less determined than ever to impose their views in the new National Convention.
In the Convention
From the outset the Convention was dominated by the antagonism between the Girondins and the Montagnards. An intense rivalry developed between Brissot and his supporters and the Montagnards led by Robespierre, Georges Danton, and Jean Paul Marat. The Girondins were against the trial of King Louis XVI and asked in vain that the sentence be put to a referendum. They stood up for the provinces against the centralising force of the parisian deputies and the Commune. General Dumouriez's defection in March 1793 further undermined their position as he was 'their man'. In Paris their opposition to the popular demands for price controls lost them much popular support. By spring 1793 the more radical revolutionary elements dominated the political scene in Paris.
In April the Convention appointed a Committee for Public Safety' as it's executive branch in which the Montagnards had a clear majority. In reaction, the Girondins created their own committee on May 18th to investigate the activities of the Paris Commune. They arrested the radical parisian revolutionary leader and demagogue Hébert, inciting the wrath of the sans-culottes. On May 31st, organised by the Mountain, the sans-culottes surrounded the Convention and demanded the arrest of the leading Girondin deputies and the abolition of their committee. At first the assembly only agreed to the second request but when the sans-culottes returned on June 2nd the arrest of 29 girdondists was finally voted. Brissot, Vergniaud, and other leaders went to the guillotine leaving the mountain in complete control of the Convention.
Leading Girondin Deputies
Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville (1754-93), born in Chartres, was a political pamphleteer and leading French revolutionary. His early career was spent travelling and writing political pamphlets and books. His 'Théorie des lois criminelles' (1781) was a plea for penal reform. He even spent some time in the Bastille for writing a seditious pamphlet. Brissot visited the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, and the United States. He was interested in humanitarian schemes and founded the abolitionist Société des Amis des Noirs. When he returned to France in 1789 he launched the Patriote français, which later became the voice of the Girondins (initially known as Brissotins).
Brissot believed that war was necessary to carry the Revolution to the rest of Europe and he furiously attacked the legitimacy of the European monarchs. In the Legislative Assembly his great influence on the conduct of foreign affairs contributed to the French declaration of war on Austria in 1792, in spite of strong opposition from Robespierre and his allies. After the fall of the monarchy, a power struggle between two groups ensued culminating in the defeat of the Girondins by the Montagne supported by the parisian Sans-Culottes. Brissot was among the 29 Girondin deputies who were arrested on June 2 1793 and he was executed on October 31st of that year.
Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve was a French politician and revolutionary, born in Chartres January 3rd 1756. In 1791 he was Mayor of Paris and presided over the Convention. He supported Brissot and sat with the moderate Girondins until he was impeached along with most of the leaders of that group May 31st 1793. He committed suicide at his home in Saint-Emilion June 20th 1794.
Roland de la Platière, Jean Marie 1734-93
Inspector general of commerce at Rouen and Amiens, he went to Paris in 1791 and published the Financier patriote. Largely through the influence of his wife, Jeanne Manon Roland de la Platière, Roland became a prominent figure among the Brissotins and in 1792 was named minister of the interior by Louis XVI. Dismissed in July 1792, he was restored to office by Danton after the fall of the monarchy. When impeached by the Convention in June 1793 he resigned and fled the capital but on later learning that his wife had been executed he committed suicide.
Roland de la Platière, Jeanne Manon Philipon (Mme Roland), 1754-93
Inspired by the work of Rousseau and ideals of classical democracy this remarkable woman hosted a salon2 which became the nerve centre of the Girondin faction, exerting a considerable influence over Girondin policy-making. It may be said that her husband Jean Marie Roland de la Platière would hardly have risen to prominence in the revolution had it not been for his wife's ambition and political connections. Mme Roland was arrested and guillotined with the impeached Girondin deputies. Her last words as she went to the scaffold were "O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!"
Vergniaud, Pierre Victurnien 1753-93
A brilliant lawyer who gained notoriety in 1790 defending a group of peasants who had attacked a chateau. Elected in the Gironde as a deputy to the Legislative Assembly he became a leading figure and spokesman for the Girondins, earning a reputation as one of the finest orators of the period. He spoke eloquently in favour of the war against Austria and during the trial of Louis XVI it was he who sought a referendum on king's punishment. He was at constant loggerheads with Robespierre and the montagnards until finally falling foul of them and going to the guillotine with his political friends in June 1793.
The Girondins were a political group of moderate republicans in various assemblies of the early revolution. They were called 'Girondins' because many of the key figures were deputies from the Gironde department (Bordeaux). Led at first by Jacques Brissot de Warville, the Girondists were known as Brissotins. Notable members were Pierre Vergniaud, Charles Dumouriez, Pétion and Jean Marie Roland de la Platière and Jeanne Manon Roland de la Platière.
Representative of the educated, provincial middle class of the provinces, they were lawyers, journalists, and merchants who desired a constitutional government. The Girondin leaders advocated continental war and early in 1792 they succeeded, against Maximillien Robespierre’s opposition, in having war declared on Austria. In the Convention they formed a moderate block and opposed the more extreme left-wing revolutionaries of the 'Montagne', such as Robespierre, Georges Danton, and Jean Paul Marat.
The Girondins largely represented the interests of provincial France against Paris, and in particular against the powerful Paris commune. They were against the trial of King Louis XVI but were unable to avoid seeing him sentenced to death. The Montagne gradually came to dominate the Convention and when Dumouriez defected to the side of the Austrians in March 1793 it was a further blow to the moderates, who had already aroused popular hostility in Paris by opposing workers’ demands for economic controls.
On May 31 1793 an armed crowd organized by the Paris sections surrounded the Convention and demanded the arrest of the Girondists. The Convention refused at first, but continued popular pressure left them with no choice but to accept the arrest of 29 girondins on June 2nd. Brissot, Vergniaud, and other leaders were subsequently executed. With the Girondin opposition out of the way the radical Montagnards were left in complete control of the Convention.
This entry is part of the French Revolution University Project.