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Eric F. Johnson


Sans-culottes was the term that came to refer to the politically radical lower classes and to Parisian militants in particular during the French Revolution . Literally meaning “without knee-breeches,” it originated as an expression of contempt for the commoners who wore trousers instead of the breeches customarily worn by the upper classes. Although the sans-culottes were not a political party in a formal sense, many prominent journalists and politicians identified themselves with their cause, and their activism was a catalyst for several of the Revolution's important developments, including the fall of the monarchy and the Terror. For a time they were the most influential element in revolutionary politics. The common classes first emerged as a political force with the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and the storming of Versailles the following October, which compelled the royal family to relocate to the Tuileries Palace in the heart of Paris. These two acts established the ordinary citizenry as a powerful and often volatile factor in French politics. Many activists and journalists on the fringes of mainstream politics, including Jacques Pierre Brissot , Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat , Jacques René Hébert, and Georges Danton , espoused the cause of the lower classes and gained a public following for themselves by agitating for more radical social reforms than ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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