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The Classe Populaire in Revolutionary France and Revolutionary Literature

The Fact and Fiction of the Sans-Culottes
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 The picture to the left portrays five 'sans-culottes', including a market porter, a cobbler, and a joiner; who are all armed with a pike.



This picture was taken from a contemporary painting. It can be found on page 107 in Gwynne Lewis' Life in Revolutionary France.

The Facts of Sans-culottes

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the french lower-classes were equated with popular revolutionary ideologies. The sans-culotte consisted of the working-class. During the height of the sans-culotte movement, Momoro remarked, "A sans-culotte is someone who goes everywhere on foot, who isn't loaded with money like the rest of you, but lives quietly with his wife and children . . . on the fourth or fifth floor" (Lewis, 102). The reference to the upper floors comes from the fact that the poorer workers tended to occupy the top floors or attics of apartment blocks. Such descriptions are evocative but misleading. The sans-culotte did not necessarily represent the poorest section of the urban crowd, as pictured above. Some were poor, but the militant sans-culottes were more often than not skilled workers and shopkeepers from the middle class.

The elite members of the sans-culotte preferred the trousers of the working-man. They disdained the breeches of the aristocracy or upper-middle classes. They believed in the ideology that all men were equal, and therefore should not be segregated by fashion. In the picture, the members are working-men and hold the pike to symbolize their militancy. The pike was a common weapon of the lower-classes because it was easily constructable. It evened the playing field between the lower-class revolutionaries and the king's army.

Socially, the sans-culottes were anything but cohesive. The Politics of any member of the movement, or french society for that matter, depended on personal vendettas, professional jealousies, literacy, and economic factors. Although their politics could differ, sans-culottes did hold one opinion in common: they were against the rich. They believed that all should be equal. Ideally, each citizen could own one piece of property, such as a farm or shop. The sans-culotte were not opposed to the concept of private property, but did despise the indulgent wealth by the bourgoisie and the elite aristocrates.

Fictitous Representations of the Sans-Culottes on Page Two
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Dangerous Lower Class Paris Proper Lady