Pere Duchesne on the life of the sans culottes (1794)


In an extract from the radical Paris newspaper Pere Duchesne, the writer compares the happy and contended lives of sans culottes with the watchful paranoia of greedy capitalists and hoarders:


“It really gets under my skin to see a bunch of rascals build castles in the air, sacrifice honour and country, and risk the guillotine in order to become rich. Who is served by this wealth? He who has a lot of gold and houses, does he dine twice? Hell! If we could only read the minds of all the poor devils who have piled sous upon sous to fill their coffers; if we understood the stupors of all these misers who skin fleas in order to get their hides… scared down to the marrow of their bones by the slightest noise, screaming for mercy when they hear judgments being shouted out against some crooks, tearing their hair out when the rich are forced to loosen the purse strings to help their country…

Is there in the whole world a worse torture than this? What a damn difference there is between the fate of this pathetic character and that of the honest sans culotte, who lives from day to day by the sweat of his brow. As long as he has a four-pound loaf in his bread box and a glass of red wine, he’s content. As soon as he wakes up, he’s as happy as a lark, and at the end of the day, he takes up his tools and sings his revolutionary song, La Carmagnole. In the evening, after he has worked hard all day, he goes to his section. When he appears there among his brothers, they don’t look at him as if he were a monster, and he doesn’t see everyone whispering to each other and pointing their fingers at him like a nobleman or a moderate would.

They shake his hand, pat him on the shoulder, and ask him how he’s doing. He doesn’t worry about being denounced; he is never threatened with raids on his house. He holds his head high everywhere he goes. In the evening, when he enters his hovel, his wife rushes to greet him, his small children hug him, his dog bounds up and licks him. He recounts the news that he heard at the section. He’s as happy as a clam when telling about a victory over the Prussians, the Austrians, or the English. He tells how a traitorous general, a follower of Brissot, was guillotined. While telling his children about these scoundrels, he makes them promise to always be good citizens and to love the Republic above all else. Then he eats dinner with a hearty appetite, and after his meal, he entertains his family by reading to them…”