Feuillant (political group)

The Society of the Friends of the Constitution[2] (French: Société des Amis de la Constitution), better known as Feuillants Club (French pronunciation: ​[fœjɑ̃] French: Club des Feuillants), was a political grouping that emerged during the French Revolution.[3] It came into existence on 16 July 1791[3] when the left-wing Jacobins split between moderates (Feuillants), who sought to preserve the position of the king and supported the proposed plan of the National Constituent Assembly for a constitutional monarchy; and radicals (Jacobins), who wished to press for a continuation of direct democratic action to overthrow Louis XVI. It represented the last and most vigorous attempt of the moderate constitutional monarchists to steer the course of the revolution away from the radical Jacobins.[4]

The Feuillant deputies publicly split with the Jacobins when they published a pamphlet on 16 July 1791, protesting the Jacobin plan to participate in the popular demonstrations against Louis XVI on the Champ de Mars the following day. Initially the group had 264 ex-Jacobin deputies as members, including most of the members of the correspondence committee.

The group held meetings in a former monastery of the Feuillant monks on the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris and came to be popularly called the Club des Feuillants. They called themselves the Amis de la Constitution. The group was led by Antoine Barnave, Alexandre de Lameth and Adrien Duport.

Feuillants Club

Club des Feuillants
PresidentAntoine Barnave
Alexandre de Lameth
Adrien Duport
Founded18 July 1791
Dissolved10 August 1792
Merger ofModeratism Jacobins
HeadquartersRue Saint-Honoré, Paris
NewspaperLa Gazette
Constitutional monarchism
Political positionCentre[1]
Colours     Blue      White
(monarchy's colours)


As the Constitution of 1791 began to take its final shape, many erstwhile radical deputies such as Barnave and Le Chapelier wished for the central role played by such popular societies as the Jacobins early in the French Revolution to come to an end. The activism of the people had been vital to the preservation of the Revolution in the early days of the National Assembly, but their purpose had been fulfilled and it was time for direct democracy to give way to the leadership of elected representatives. This conviction was greatly affirmed with the Champ de Mars Massacre (17 July 1791).

Within days, a mass exodus of moderate deputies abandoned the Jacobin club in favour of a new organisation, the Feuillant club. This new society would wage a struggle throughout the summer with the Jacobins for the allegiance of the provincial affiliates and the Parisian crowds, a contest they would ultimately lose. According to the Feuillant ethos, popular societies could have no other role than as meetings of friends to hold private political discussions—their meetings should never step across the threshold of their assemblies and evolve into concerted public political action.

In his capacity as chairman of the Constitutional Committee, Le Chapelier presented to the National Assembly in its final sessions a law restricting the rights of popular societies to undertake concerted political action, including the right to correspond with one another. It passed 30 September 1791 and by the virtue of obeying this law the moderate Feuillants embraced obsolescence. By ignoring it, the radical Jacobins emerged as the most vital political force of the French Revolution.

In the wave of revulsion against popular movements that followed the Champ de Mars Massacre, through his activity on the Committee of Revisions (charged with separating out the constitutional decrees from the ordinary legislation of the National Assembly) Barnave was able to ingratiate himself and his allies to Louis XVI by securing for the Crown such powers as appointments of ambassadors, army commanders and ministers. The king returned the favour by taking Barnave as his chief advisor. At the opening of the Legislative Assembly, Louis XVI delivered a speech written by Barnave and for the next six months France was governed by what was known as the Feuillant Ministry.

In March 1792, in retaliation for their opposition to war with Austria the Feuillant ministers were forced out by the Girondins. Labelled by their opponents as royalists, they were targeted after the fall of the monarchy. In August 1792, a list of 841 members was published[3] and they were arrested and tried for treason. Barnave was guillotined on 29 November 1793.

The name survived for a few months as an insulting label for moderates, royalists and aristocrats.

Ideology and views

The Feuillant party was formed to protect a conception of power. Its goals were to neutralize royalists by gaining the support of the moderate right, to isolate the democrats from the majority of patriotic deputies, to withstand Jacobin influences and to terminate societies that threatened the nation's independence of the National Assembly.[5] As a result, the Feuillants were attacked from both the left and the right.[4]

The Feuillant group was against passive citizens being enlisted in the National Guard. They believed the only way to have a strong army was for it to be structured. "By favoring elimination of “passive citizens" from the National Guard (27 April 1791), remaining silent during the debate on the right to petition and post bills, opposing the political emancipation of the blacks (11–15 May 1791), the triumvirs exhausted their popularity within the space of a few months". The group knew if the political emancipation of blacks was passed, the main source of France's income would be lost. The sugar fields in Saint-Domingue would be taken over and land would also be lost.[5]

Electoral results

Legislative Assembly
Election year No. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
1791 1,505,000 (2nd) 35.4
264 / 745
Antoine Barnave

See also


  1. ^ Israel, Jonathan (2014). Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre. Princeton University Press. p. 222.
  2. ^ It was the original name of the Jacobin Club until his radicalization of Republic's birth.
  3. ^ a b c Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Feuillants, Club of the" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 304.
  4. ^ a b Israel, Jonathan (2014). Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre. Princeton University Press. pp. 204–207.
  5. ^ a b Furet and Ozouf, A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. (1989) pp 343–350.
  • Dendena, Francesco. "A new look at Feuillantism: the triumvirate and the movement for war in 1791," French History (2012) 26#1 pp 6–33.
  • Diefendorf, Barbara B. "A Monastery in Revolt: Paris's Feuillants in the Holy League." Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques (2001): 301–324.
  • Furet, Francois, and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989) pp 343–350.
  • Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989).
Antoine Barnave

Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave (22 October 1761 – 29 November 1793) was a French politician, and, together with Honoré Mirabeau, one of the most influential orators of the early part of the French Revolution. He is most notable for correspondence with Marie Antoinette in an attempt to set up a constitutional monarchy and for being one of the founding members of the Feuillants.

Congregation of the Feuillants

The Feuillants were a Catholic congregation originating in the 1570s as a reform group within the Cistercians in its namesake Les Feuillants Abbey in France, which declared itself an independent order.

In 1630 it separated into a French branch (the Congregation of Our Lady of the Feuillants) and an Italian branch (the Reformed Bernardines or Bernardoni).

The French order was suppressed in 1791 during the French Revolution, but consequently gave its name to the Feuillant (political group). The Italian order later rejoined the Cistercians.


Feuillant and its plural Feuillants, a French word derived ultimately from the Latin for "leaf", can refer to the following:

Les Feuillants Abbey, also known as Feuillant Abbey (Latin: Fulium), a Cistercian monastery in Labastide-Clermont, France

Congregation of the Feuillants, a Catholic congregation derived from the abbey of the same name; a monk of this order was called a Feuillant, and a nun a Feuillantine

Convent of the Feuillants (Couvent des Feuillants) in Paris, a monastery belonging to the Congregation of the Feuillants, with its church, the Église des Feuillants

Feuillant (political group): the Club des Feuillants, a political group of the French Revolution that used the premises of the dissolved Convent of the Feuillants; a member of this group was called a Feuillant

Patriotic Society of 1789

The Society of 1789 (French: Club de 1789), or the Patriotic Society of 1789 (French: Société patriotique de 1789), was a political club of the French Revolution inaugurated during a festive banquet held at Palais-Royal in May 1790 by more moderate elements of the Club Breton. At their height of influence, it was the second most important club after the Jacobin Club.

Among its members were Jean Sylvain Bailly, Mayor of Paris; Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, commander-in-chief of the National Guard; François Alexandre Frédéric, duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Isaac René Guy le Chapelier, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Nicolas de Condorcet.

The club kept an apartment in Palais-Royal where banquets were held. Its members were considered moderate and preferred for France to remain a constitutional monarchy in opposition to the republicans.

The popularity of the club eventually decreased the same year as it was founded and the remaining audience went to form the Club des Feuillants, founded June 18, 1791.

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