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Who were the sans-culottes?

16 May 2017History Essays

The Sans-culottes were an outstanding social movement at the end of the nineteenth century and were highly involved in the French Revolution. They were considered to be one of the first working class groups that have political ideologies and social condition.

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The Sans-culottes were comprised of the working class or the proletariats (Lewis, 1972). As defined by Lewis (1972), sans-culottes are the people who walk around bare-footed; not blinded by money and lives harmoniously with their family in an apartment. Through that definition, we can say that Sans-culottes are the poor people that belong to the working class. Lewis’ (1972) definition is bit misleading since the Sans-culottes are not generally composed of poor people. Sans-culottes are comprised of middle class people that are compelled for societal change. The main feature of the Sans-culottes were their long trouser attire and not the usual knee-breeched that most of the French people worn back then.

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They despise the fact that French aristocrats wore knee-breeches as a status symbol. They believed that all classes are equal and should not be stratified by the fashion. The basic tenets of the Sans-culottes are the following: ideologically, they believe that all men in different classes are equal; they believe in the concept of private property but disdain the fact of exploitative wealth of the bourgeoisie and the elites; they have tendencies to adhere in communal property; they believe that there should be equal allocation of food; lastly, they want to impose taxes for the rich people. In late 18th century, there were evidences that the political ideologies of the Sans-culottes were in opposition to the French government and have caused the middle class and upper class to fear the sans-culottes.

They were considered as militant savages of the France (Lewis, 1972). But according to Hugo (1862), they were not savages but adherents of liberty and equality. In sum, the Sans-culottes were a counter-movement for the oppressive and exploitative French authority that time.


  • Lewis, Gwynne. (1972). Life in revolutionary France. New York: Putnam.
  • Hugo, Victor. (1862). Les Miserables. Trans. Isabelle F. Hapgood. New York: Kelmscott SocietyUniversity of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center's Modern English Collection
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