Meeting at the Jacobin Club, 1789
Political parties didn´t exist when the French Revolution started, but the need for solving practical problems while the National Assembly was trying to transform France gave birth to different political groups. Political discussions also went on in political clubs, where deputies met after the sessions in the Assembly. At the beginning of the Revolution most of the revolutionaries where monarchists and expected that the reforms could establish a constitutional monarchy in France. Differences appeared when the debates focused on the idea of citizenship and limitation of some rights.
The first political club created after the beginning of the Revolution was the Club Breton. (Breton Club). When the National Constituent Assembly moved to Paris, this club changed its name to Society of the Friends of the Constitution, also known as the Jacobin Club, because its members rented part of the old monastery of the Jacobins to celebrate their meetings. Most of the deputies of the Assembly joined it. Other moderate deputies created the Club de 1789, which met at the Royal Palace.
The members of the Jacobin Club belonged mainly to the bourgeoisie: they were lawyers, doctors, teachers, merchants, writers, artists... and most of them were monarchists. After Louis XVI´s failed attemp of flight from France, there was a schism in the Jacobin Club:
- the most moderate members left the Jacobin Club and created the Club des Feuillants. They met at the former monastery of the Feuillants and they continued to support monarchy.
- most of the members of the Jacobin Club opted for removing monarchy and proclaiming a republic. The name of the club changed to Club of the Jacobins, the Friends of Liberty and Equality. This club became more popular and most of its members defended a democratic system.
There was another political club founded in 1790: the Society of the Friends of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, also called the Cordeliers Club, because they met in a former Franciscan convent. They were more radical than the Jacobin Club, accepted working men and women and some of their most prominent members were Danton, Marat, Desmoulins and Hébert.
When Louis XVI was deposed, the Jacobin Club divided into two branches: the Girondists and the Jacobins. Both branches belonged to the same club, but they defended different opinions in the National Convention:
- The Girondists controlled the Convention until July 1793. They received this name because some of their most relevant deputies came from the region around Bordeaux, the Gironde. They represented the commercial bourgeoisie, defended freedom and private property and wanted to export the revolution. Some of their leaders were Brissot, Vergniaud and Ducos.
- The Jacobins and the members of the Club of the Cordeliers formed a group called the Montagnards (the Mountain: they were called in this way because they sat at the top seats of the Convention). They defended equality over freedom and wanted to consolidate the revolution in France. They got the support of the sans culottes and controlled the National Convention from July 1793 to July 1794. Their main leaders were Danton, Marat, Couthon, Robespierre and Saint Just. During the Reign of Terror many of the members of the Cordeliers were guillotined. The same happened with the Jacobins after the Thermidorian reaction.
Here you have a very interesting scheme in French I´ve just found about this topic:
The political division between right and left also comes from the French Revolution. In the National Assembly the defenders of the Ancien Régime sat to the right of the king and the supporters of the revolution to his left. In the opening session of the Legislative Assembly in October 1791, the innovators sat on the left, the moderates in the centre and the defenders of the Constitution (Feuillants or monarchists) on the right.