The Gilded Youth


The Gilded Youth


Across France, the period of the Directory witnessed revenge against those who had carried out revolutionary justice during the Terror. Opponents of the Jacobins forced them from office and sought to prevent them from participating in politics. In Paris, this so–called white terror was carried out by the "Gilded Youth," a gang of youths from wealthy backgrounds who considered themselves the antithesis of the sans–culottes and whose actions eventually helped pressure the government to close down the Paris Jacobin Club, as we see in the excerpts of the memoirs of a left–wing politician from late 1794.


Victor Barrucand, ed., Mémoires et Notes de [Pierre-Réné] Choudieu (Paris: Plon, 1897), 292Ð300.


November 12, 1794





Fréron gave the watchword to the "gilded youth" (jeunesse dorée), as they called the group he had organized. As a rallying sign these young people wore their hair in what they called "victim style," that is to say, well powdered and braided at the back of the head, in contrast to the style of the patriots, who wore their hair short and without powder. In imitation of the leaders of the Chouans and Vendée they wore coats with black collars; only a white cockade was missing for an open declaration of counterrevolution. . . .

Fréron's army consisted of hot-blooded young men who had never had anything to lose, and who claimed to be pathetic victims of the Terror with a duty to avenge their relatives who had died on the scaffold. . . .

This groupÕs duties were to police the Palais-Royal and the Tuileries gardens daily, and to sing the "People's Awakening," [Réveil du peuple] every verse of which called for the death of the republicans, whom they called 'terrorists.' The chorus ended with the words: "They shall not escape us!"

In their leisure moments they amused themselves with a sort of galop dance which they called a 'farandole'. . . Anyone who refused to join in was grabbed and thrown into the water troughs. Exploits worthy of such an army! . . .

Fréron altered his allegiance, but that did not alter his character. Still violent and inclined towards extremes, at the convention he demanded that the city hall of Paris be torn down because it had served as a shelter for Robespierre. He also wanted the Jacobins' club demolished . . . .

As a result of pressure from the jeunesse dorée, the Paris Jacobin Club was closed down by the decree of 12 November 1794 (22 Brumaire Year III).

The united Committees of General Security, Public Safety, Legislation and the Army, decree:

Sessions of the Society of Jacobins of Paris are suspended.

The meeting hall of this Society shall immediately be locked and the keys deposited at the secretariat of the Committee of General Security.