French Constitution of 1793

French Constitution of 1793
Constitution de 1793. Page 4 - Archives Nationales - AE-I-10-4.jpg
French Constitution of 1793.
Original title(in French) Constitution de l'an I

The Constitution of 1793 (French: Acte constitutionnel du 24 juin 1793), also known as the Constitution of the Year I or the Montagnard Constitution, was the second constitution ratified for use during the French Revolution under the First Republic. Designed by the Montagnards, principally Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Saint-Just, it was intended to replace the outdated Constitution of 1791. With sweeping plans for democratization and wealth redistribution, the new document promised a significant departure from the relatively moderate goals of the Revolution in previous years.

However, the Constitution's radical provisions were never implemented. The government placed a moratorium upon it, ostensibly because of the need to employ emergency war powers during the French Revolutionary War. Those same emergency powers would permit the Committee of Public Safety to conduct the Reign of Terror, and when that long period of violent political combat was over, the constitution was invalidated by its association with the defeated Robespierre. In the Thermidorian Reaction, it was discarded in favor of a more conservative document, the Constitution of 1795.


The National Convention chose Louis Saint-Just and several other deputies to serve on a committee that would draft a new governmental system for the recently established Republic. The new constitution was intended to supersede the Constitution of 1791, which had been based on principles of constitutional monarchy that were now obsolete after the execution of King Louis XVI. The draftsmen were also placed on the elite Committee of Public Safety to maximize their resources. The Convention deemed their work to be of supreme importance, to be completed "in the shortest possible time."[1]

The work took less than two weeks. A complete constitutional document was submitted to the Convention on 10 June 1793.[1] It was subsequently accepted by that body on 24 June and put to a public referendum.[2][3] Employing universal male suffrage, the vote was a resounding popular victory for the new constitution, which received the approval of 1,784,377 out of approximately 1,800,000 voters.[4]

The Constitution expanded upon the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, to which it added several rights: it proclaimed the superiority of popular sovereignty over national sovereignty. It added several new economic and social rights, including right of association, right to work and public assistance, right to public education, right of rebellion (and duty to rebel when the government violates the right of the people), and the abolition of slavery, all written into what is known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793.


Sections 1 through 6 spelled out exactly who should be treated as a French Citizen and under what conditions citizenship could be revoked. All males over the age of 21 who worked, owned land or other property in France, lived in France for over a year, or had family ties to a French person, or those specifically named by the legislative body, could be considered citizens. Citizenship could be lost if you were sentenced to corporal or dishonorable punishment, or had accepted offices or favors "which do not proceed from a democratic government"; it could be suspended if you were under investigation or being held in contempt of court.

Sections 7 through 44 specify the sovereign powers of the People, the Primary Assemblies, the National Representation, of the Electoral Assemblies, and of the Legislative Body. The Primary Assemblies were to be between 200 and 600 people, each representing an individual canton, who would vote to accept laws proposed by the Legislative Body, select deputies to the National Representation, and select electors to the Electoral Assemblies. The Constitution made explicit that population would be the only determiner of representation in the National Representation (as opposed to the representation in the Estates General, which had been traditionally representational by order). In the case of a tie vote in the National Representation, the oldest member would supply the tie-breaking vote.

Sections 45 to 52 lay out specific procedures to be followed the Legislative Body, specifying a quorum of 200 members.

Sections 53 to 55 specify what issues are matters of law, while 56 through 61 establish the path for a bill to become a law. After being drafted and approved by the Legislative Body, the law would be considered a "proposed law" and voted on by all of the communes of France. No debate was to occur until 2 weeks after this distribution, and the bill would become law provided that no more than 1/10ths of the communes voted to voice objection to the law.

Sections 62 to 74 dealt with the Executive Power, which was to be placed in the hands of a 24-member executive council appointed by the Electoral Assembly. These members were to appoint agents to high administrative offices of the Republic.

The Constitution prescribed the relationship between the Executive Council and the Legislative Body, the governing of the Municipalities. It also established the conduct of the Civil Justice System, mandating that arbitrators be elected and that citizens could select arbitrators for their case, and of the Criminal Justice System, mandating trial by jury and representation for the accused.

It specified that no citizen is exempt from taxation (a departure from the Ancien Regime practice of exempting nobles from taxation), and establishes regulations for military leadership and conduct and foreign relations.

The Constitution explicitly stated that France was a friend and ally of free nations, would not interfere with the government of other free nations, and would harbor any refugees from nations ruled by tyrants. It also forbid the establishment of peace with an enemy that possesses its territory.

Finally, it guaranteed the right to equality, liberty, security, property, the public debt, free exercise of religion, general instruction, public assistance, the absolute liberty of the press, the right of petition, the right to hold popular assemblies, and the "enjoyment of all the rights of man." It stated that the French Republic respects loyalty, courage, age, filial love, and misfortune. Illegitimate children were recognized.[5]


In light of France's internal and external conflicts, the National Convention found sufficient reason to maintain itself until peace and postponed the Constitution's implementation. Though the Constitution was overwhelmingly popular and its drafting and ratification buoyed popular support for the Montagnards, the convention set it aside indefinitely on 10 October 1793 and declared a "Revolutionary Government" until a future peace.[6]

After the fall of Robespierre and Saint-Just in the Thermidorian Reaction, the Montagnard Constitution was shunned. It was eventually supplanted by the Constitution of 1795, which established the Directory.


The revolutionaries of 1848 were inspired by this constitution, and after 1870 it passed into the ideology of the Third Republic as well. The document represents a fundamental and historic shift in political priorities, one which contributed much to later democratic institutions and developments.

See also


  1. ^ a b Bruun, p. 51.
  2. ^ Crowe, Michael Bertram. 1977. The Changing Profile of the Natural Law. P.243
  3. ^ Gupta, Madan Gopal. 1963. Government of the Fifth Republic of France. P.16
  4. ^ Pertue, M., "Constitution de 1793," in Soboul, A., Ed. "Dictionnaire historique de la Revolution francaise," p.283, Quadrige/PUF, Paris: 2005.
  5. ^ L. Moore (2007) Liberty. The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France, p. 379
  6. ^ Kennedy, M. L. "The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution: 1793-1795," p.53. Berghahn Books, New York: 2000.
  • Alpaugh, Micah. "The Right of Resistance to Oppression: Protest and Authority in the French Revolutionary World," French Historical Studies 39, no. 3 (Summer 2016), 567-98.
  • Bruun, Geoffrey (1966). Saint-Just: Apostle of the Terror. Hamden, CT: Archon Books. 1142850.
  • Soboul, Albert (1975). Soboul, Albert (1975). The French Revolution 1787–1799. New York: Vintage. ISBN 039471220X.

External links