What is a sans culotte? (1793)


This anonymous but well known description of a typical sans culotte appeared in France in mid-1793. It makes reference to L’Ami des Lois (a fashionable comedy of 1793), Chaste Susanne (a light operetta), Gorsas (a Girondin journalist) and La Chronique and Patriot Francais (two Girondin newspapers):


“A sans culotte, you rogues? He is someone who always goes about on foot, who has not got the millions you would all like to have, who has no chateaux, no valets to wait on him, and who lives simply with his wife and children, if he has any, on the fourth or fifth storey.

He is useful because he knows how to till a field; to forge iron; to use a saw; to roof a house, to make shoes, and to spill his blood to the last drop for the safety of the Republic. And because he is a worker, you are sure not to meet his person in the Cafe de Chartres, or in the gaming houses where others plot and wager, nor in the National Theatre, where L ‘Ami des Lois is performed, nor in the Vaudeville Theatre at a performance of Chaste Susanne, nor in the literary clubs where for two sous, which are so precious to him, you are offered Gorsas’s muck, with the Chronique and the Patriot Français.

In the evening he goes to the assembly of his Section, not powdered and perfumed and nattily booted, in the hope of being noticed by the citizenesses [females] in the galleries, but ready to support sound proposals with all his might and ready to pulverise those which come from the despised faction of politicians.

Finally, a sans culotte always has his sabre well sharpened, ready to cut off the ears of all opponents of the Revolution. Sometimes he carries his pike about with him. But as soon as the drum beats you see him leave for the Vendee, for the Army of the Alps, or for the Army of the North.”