Graeme Fife
The Terror

On 30 May the Assembly debated whether the new penal code of the constitutional monarchy should include the death penalty. Russia had abolished it in 1754, Austria in 1787, Tuscany in 1786. One deputy, nobly born, Adrien Duport, a man whose thinking owed much to the teaching of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, posed the stinging rhetorical question which went to the nub: 'Does not a society which makes itself a legal murderer teach murder?'

Another deputy, a diminutive man whose quaint, outmoded, scriptural moralising, so well received by the unsophisticated audiences of the Arras Academy, had made him something of a laughing-stock in the urbane, sharp-witted, cynical forum of Paris, stepped up to the rostrum to plead for abolition. Better, he reasoned, that one innocent life should be saved than a hundred guilty die. The very thought of killing a fellow creature was abhorrent. Arguments from humanity far outweighed all political consideration. As to any argument for capital punishment, a deranged option, he learnt to reject it 'having seen so many scaffolds steaming with innocent blood.' His voice was weak and reedy, even harsh, his northern accent grating, his manner far from assured, his demeanour pinched and introspective. As a 17-year-old student at the Louis-le-Grand College in Paris, be had been chosen to read a Latin oration as a loyal address when King Louis XVI (but four years his elder) and his queen stopped on their way back from their coronation in Reims. He stood with the rest of the scholars in the courtyard, in the rain, waiting for the royal coach to arrive. When it did so, the King and Queen kept to their coach, in the dry, to listen to the finely modulated classical lines and, no sooner was it ended than the coach moved off and the orator, Maximinen Robespierre, bowed his soaking wet head in due deference to his king.

The sincerity with which Robespierre held his opinions, the intense concentration on their detail, marked him out. He was a lawyer and legalistic scruples coloured his whole thought He deferred only to his perception of justice and reason: inflexible and lacking in perspective, but irreducible by any other interest Of him Mirabeau, the suave pragmatist, consummate politician, of easy cynicism, who had done so much to keep the Revolution on the rails in the eariy days, knowing that starting a revolution was comparatively easy but restraining it once begun near impossible, said: 'That man will go far. He believes what he says,' the woeful implication being that few, if any, men in French politics set a high—if any—priority on believing what they said.

The death penalty was retained by a law of 25 September.

A few weeks later a decree made the wearing of the revolutionary cockade compulsory. Made of any cloth, though mostly of wool, the tricolour cockade—blue and red of the city of Paris added to the white of the Bourbons—was to be a regulation three inches in circumference and worn pinned to a hat or a coat as a badge of patriotism. Failure to wear one marked out the counter-revolutionary, although the sinister near-certainty that counter-revolutionaries would cynically sport the badge of revolution in order lo fool honest patriots while they plotted and conspired in their hearts merely fuelled the pervading atmosphere of suspicion. A woman caught without a cockade was gaoled for six weeks in Coutances and women who wore their cockades other than in the hat—pinned to the bodice, for example—were denounced for unseemly coquetry; such diversity was condemned by one Jacobin in the provinces as 'unsuitable among equals.' The revolutionaries now distinguished themselves as partisans of equality by adopting a dress code which readily distinguished them from the cocks of the walk who had for so long ground the face of the poor. Aristocrats were recognisable by their silk knee breeches, the culotte; true patriots wore calf-length loose trousers and were, therefore, sans-culotte, 'without breeches.'

The colours of the cockade tended to fade—the action of rain and sun—and there were cases when individuals were arrested on suspicion of royalist leanings, because their cockades looked white which, being the colour of monarchy, was taboo. This, presumably, encouraged the sansculotte predilection for dirty linen. Women and girls were asked not to tie their hair with white ribbons or bows. The dress code of the sansculotte—the zealot—was red woollen cap (more generally worn as a winter-warmer), loose, knee-length trousers, stockings and shoes, and carmagnole, a short jacket as worn in the south, of a similar shape to the jackets of many Provencal folk costumes, the matador's bolero and so on. The sansculotte definition of an enemy of the people—a generic category whose separate phyla were diverse—was a 'man who had done nothing to ameliorate the life of the poor and who does not wear a cockade of three inches circumference; a man who has bought clothes other than national dress and who takes no pride in the title and clothing of a sansculotte. The true language of the Republic assures you that this definition is just and that the true patriot has done quite the opposite for the well-being of the Republic.'

Since the peacockery of the old regime—galloons of gold bullion and braid, lace and velvet, fur and silk—had been swept aside in the new spirit of sartorial uniformity, officials marked their status by wearing cross-shoulder sashes, carried in a pocket until the official function—making an arrest, for example—demanded that the man put on the panoply of revolutionary law. Under the old regime office was the thing and 'a dog's obeyed in office': the new regime made of its functionaries mere things, obedient to law, devoid of personal interest or influence. That, at least, was the theory which many of them bought and more exploited.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.