The French Revolution 1793
Source: James Guillaume, Editor: Proces verbaux du Comité d’Instruction Publique. Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1894;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
I come in the name of the Committee of Public Instruction to submit for discussion a work on the era of the republic, which you charged it to present to you.
You have undertaken one of the most important operations for the progress of the arts and the human spirit, one which could only succeed in a time of revolution: that of making disappear the diversity, incoherence, and imprecision of the weights and measures which have hindered industry and commerce, and of using in the measurement of the earth the unique and invariable type of all new measures.
The arts and history, for which time is a necessary element and instrument, also ask of you new measures of duration which will also be freed of the errors that credulity and superstitious routine transmitted to us from the centuries of ignorance.
The vulgar era was born among an ignorant and credulous people amidst the troubles that were precursor to the fall of the Roman Empire. For eighteen centuries it served to fix within duration the progress of fanaticism, the degradation of nations; the scandalous triumph of pride, vice, and stupidity; and the persecutions and disgust that virtue, talent, and philosophy suffered under cruel despots who allowed this to be done in their name.
Shall we see on the same tables, sometimes engraved by a degraded stylus, sometimes by a faithful and free one, the honored crimes of kings alongside the execration they are subject to today; the religiously revered deceit of priests and the opprobrium that justly pursues the infamous and dishonest confidants of the corruption and brigandage of courts? No! The vulgar era was the era of cruelty, falsehood, perfidy and slavery. It ended with royalty, the source of all our ills.
The revolution re-tempered the souls of the French; every day it educates them in republican virtues. Time is turning a new page of history, and is it sets out on this new forward march, majestic and simple as equality, it must engrave the annals of regenerated France with a new and vigorous stylus.
Such is the spirit of your decree of September 22, 1792, which orders that from that day forward all public acts will be dated from the first year of the republic. I today present you a development of this decree.
Among the different peoples the length of the year was in keeping with the progress of their enlightenment. For a long period the year was made up of twelve lunar months, that is 354 days, while the revolution of the earth around the sun, which alone regulates the relationship between day and night, is 365 days five hours 48 minutes and 49 seconds.
It is only be inserting sometimes days and sometimes months at irregular intervals that the coinciding of the civil year and celestial movements and the seasons was brought about. All these intercalations, done without fixed rules, momentarily repaired the effects of a defective calculation, while allowing the primary cause to remain.
The Egyptians, since high antiquity, and the Babylonians, 746 years before the vulgar era, approached true principles in making their year 365 days, distributed across twelve equal months of 30 days and 5 epagomenal days
Julius Caesar, dictator and pontiff, two years after the battle of Pharsalus called to him the celebrated Alexandrian astronomer Sosogines and undertook the reform of the year. He proscribed the lunar year, introduced by Romulus and poorly corrected by Numa. After several centuries the accumulated errors had produced such a disturbance in the months that those of the winter became those of the fall and the months dedicated to the religious ceremonies of spring had become those of winter.
Julius Caesar made this difference disappear with one fell swoop, by intercalating ninety days between November and December. That year was of 445 days and was called the “year of confusion.” In addition, he ordered that every four years one day be intercalated. This meant supposing a year to be 365 days and six hours, i.e., more than eleven minutes too many. This was the Julian reform.
In 1582, i.e., sixteen centuries later, the eleven minute error had produced a new disturbance of more than ten days in the year. Gregory XIII, pope at the time, along with his astronomers, undertook a new reform. He removed ten days from the month of October of that year and ordered that only one in every four years would be bissextile. This reform also supposed a year that was too long. Nevertheless, it was adopted by all of Europe, except Russia and Turkey. The Grisons only accepted five days of correction; they feared compromising the honor of Protestantism by condescending to adopt the entire correction proposed by the court of Rome.
Much more enlightened, we today feel the pointlessness of these reforms prepared several centuries in advance and which have caused the despair of chronologists, historians, and astronomers. In following the natural course of affairs and seeking a fixed point in the celestial movements, which are today well known, it will be easy to have the civil and solar years coincide through corrections that will be successively made as soon as the small accumulated differences will have produced a day.
As long as its length was not determined based on the precise knowledge of the movement of the earth around the sun, the year was vague and its beginning passed through all the seasons in succession.
Several peoples fixed the first day of the year at the solstices, others at the equinoxes. Some, instead of fixing it at the time of a season, preferred to choose an historical moment for their festivals.
The French Revolution offers too striking – and unique – an accord between the festivals of the world and celestial movements, the seasons, ancient tradition, and the course of events for it not to rally the entire nation to the new order of things that we present you.
On September 21, 1792, the final day of the monarchy and which should be the final one of the vulgar era, the representatives of the French people, meeting as the National Convention, opened their session and pronounced the abolition of royalty.
On September 22 this decree was proclaimed throughout Paris. September 22 was decreed the first day of the republic, and that same day, at 9:18:30 a.m. the sun arrived at its true equinox upon entering the sign of the Libra. The equality of days and nights was marked in the heavens at the very moment when civil and moral equality was proclaimed by the representatives of the French people as the sacred foundation of its new government.
And so the sun lit up the two poles and the entire globe on the same day that for the first time the torch of liberty that must some day light up all of humanity shone in all its brilliance on the French nation.
The sun thus passed from one hemisphere to another the same day that the people passed from a monarchical to a republican government.
The French people became fully themselves in that happy season when the earth, made fertile by the influences of the heavens and labor, was prodigal with its gifts and magnificently paid the working man for his care, his fatigues, and his industry.
The sacred traditions of Egypt, which became those of the Orient, had the earth rise out of chaos under the same sign as our republic, and fixed there the origin of things and time.
This concurrence of so many circumstances imprinted a sacred character on that period, one of the most distinguished among our revolutionary festivals, one which will no doubt be one of the most celebrated of the festivals of future generations.
We propose that you decree that the day of the true autumnal equinox, which was that of the foundation of the republic, is the era of the French and the first of their year, and that you abolish the use of the vulgar era for civil purposes.
The era of Seleuscus began at the autumnal equinox 312 years before the vulgar era. The peoples of the Orient of all beliefs, the worshipers of fire as well as the descendants of Abraham, the Christians as well as the Mohammedans, made use of it. The Jews abandoned it only at the time of their dispersal in the West in 1041.
On the month. All known people, except perhaps the Romans, divided the year into twelve months.
The division of the orbit of the earth by the two equinoxes and the two solstices and the division of the year into four seasons only allowed for a divisor that was a multiple of four. The number twelve was no doubt settled upon because it is the one that expresses how many times the moon passes in front of the sun while the earth makes a revolution. This division is appropriate and can’t be solidly combated.
But what reason condemns and which it should finally reject from our calendar is the bizarre inequality of months, which tires the intelligence with its endlessly renewed difficulty in knowing whether a month has thirty or thirty-one days.
This inequality was born among peoples who, making their year too short and not finding in the resource of intercalation sufficient means of correction, added a day or two to some of their months.
The Egyptians, the most enlightened of high antiquity, made their months equal, all of thirty days, to which they added six epagomenal days at the end of each year. This division is simple; it presents great advantages in domestic and civil use, and is thus appropriate for our new calendar of the French.
On the week. Egyptian astrologers, who saw the number seven in the creation of the earth as well as in the planetary system, wanted to include it in their division of time. They imagined the week, which doesn’t exactly divide either the months or the year. According to them, each planet had under its influence a day of the week and certain specific hours of the day.
Superstition has transferred to us, to the great scandal of enlightened ideas, this false division of time that in no small measure has served to extend priestly influence through the days of rest that regularly occur and which in the eyes of Rome have become days of proselytizing and initiation. You will doubtless not hesitate to cut off from our calendar, which should be independent of any opinion and of any religious practice, and receive from your wisdom the simplicity characteristic of products of enlightened reason alone.
You have felt all the advantages of decimal numeration. You adopted it for weights and measures of all kids, as well as for the coinage of the republic. We propose that you introduce it into the division of months which, being of thirty days, will be divided into three sections of ten days each and which we can call a décade. The year will then be divided into 361/2 décades, or 73 demi-décades. Each of the five fingers of the hand can be put to use designating one of the days of the demi-décade. The day of the décade will regularly indicate the same days of the month and the year. It isn’t possible to obtain this advantage with the week.
On the day. The ancient Persians and the current Siberians, Aeolians, and Finns divided the day by the cock’s crow. It is naturally divided in four by the limits of the day and night and the middle of the one and the other. The Egyptians divided the night into twelve equal parts which increased or diminished along with the length of the night. The day was also divided into twelve parts that were only equal to those of the night at the equinoxes. The 24 parts were then made equal, but the beginning of the day wasn’t the same everywhere. The Italians counted from sunset, astronomers from noon, the rest of Europe from midnight. In Basel the day beings one hour later in commemoration of an event in their history.
The division of the hour into sixty minutes and the minute into sixty seconds makes calculations difficult. French astronomers have made some changes in their instruments which have made their operations more accurate. Their perfecting will be complete when time is subjected to the simple and general rule of decimal division. Several observation clocks have been built that divide the day into decimal sections. They measure to the 100,000th of the day, the equivalent of the pulse of a healthy man of average size walking at the double.
We find within this division those into quarters, twentieths, and fortieths. It has all the advantages of the division into twenty-four and many that the latter doesn’t have.
We propose it to you so that the old division not present a striking discordance with the rest of our general system of measurement.
Nevertheless, since the changes this requires in clockwork can only be gradually done we propose that this usage only be made mandatory for civil usage in the third year of the Republic.
It was after four years of revolution and in the bissextile year that the nation, overthrowing the throne that oppressed it, established itself as a republic. Thus the first year of our era would have begun a new period of four years if the placement of the intercalated day hadn’t until now been a servile imitation of the Romans. Julius Caesar placed the bissextile year as suited his pride and with no regard for the rigors of astronomical concordance. Though in 1792 a day was intercalated in February, the true equinox is still in advance by 21 1/2 hours. If reason desires that we follow nature rather than slavishly follow the erroneous path of our predecessors, we must invariably fix our intercalary day at the moment when the position of the equinox indicates it. After a first disposition, which concordance with astronomical observations renders necessary, the period shall always be one of four years. Its length, the public games that you will doubtless institute on the intercalary day that ends it, will make it resemble the Olympiad of the Greeks: we propose that you call it the French Olympiad, and the last year Olympic. On the intercalary day, which will be the sixth epagomen of the Olympic year, gymnastic exercises will be performed. The noble actions that should as examples: talent, virtue, and courage, will receive the rewards from the fatherland that they are worthy of.
The names of the months either recall tyrants who oppressed their countries, like January, July, and August, or Roman and Etruscan gods, like February, March and May, or ordinal names, like September, October, November, and December, which were aimed at indicating the order of the months of Romulus. By a strange turn that only man’s routine and superstition can explain, though this order hasn’t been followed since Numa it has even so continued until our time. June is the only one that deserved to be carried on, since it recalls Brutus, who drove out the Tarquins.
This nomenclature is obviously a monument to servitude and ignorance, to which peoples have added the imprint of their degradation.
The astrological names of the days and their cabalistic order, which have been preserved from the first Egyptians by imposters who have profited from them as well as the blindness of men, who have always preferred to suffer rather than change the imbecilic habits of their fathers, would dishonor our revolution if they were to escape your vigilance, which has attacked all prejudices.
We propose to you another nomenclature which is neither celestial nor mysterious. Its sources are entirely within our revolution whose principle events, goals, and means it presents.
These names are found in the following table of the revolution up till last August 10.
7th from March 21 – April 19 The French, worn out by 14 centuries of oppression and alarmed by the frightening progress of corruption, the example for which was set by a long-criminal court felt the need for a Regeneration
8th April 20 – May 19 The resources of the court were exhausted; it summoned the French but their... Union
9th May 20 – June 18 Was their salvation. They name representatives whose courage irritates the tyrant. They are threatened, but gathered at the ...Jeu de Paume
10th June 19 – July 18 And under the safeguard of the people, they pronounce the oath to free the people from tyranny or to perish. This oath resounds throughout France, everywhere people take up arms, everywhere the people want to be free...The Bastille falls before the blows of a ...
11th July 19 – August 17 – People sovereign and wrathful. The malevolent multiply, treasons break out, the court plots, bought off representatives sacrifice the interests of the nation to sordid interests, but...
12th August 18 – September 16 The Mountain, ever faithful, becomes the Mount Olympus of France. Surrounded by the nation and in its name, the National Convention proclaims the rights of the people, the constitution, and ...
1st September 22 – October 21 the Republic...
2nd October 22 – November 20 Unity...
3rd November 21 – December 20 Fraternity...
4th December 21 – January 19 Are the strength of the French, and Liberty...
5th January 20 – February 18 By a sovereign act of national Justice,
6th February 19 – March 20 Which makes fall the head of the king, is forever united to sacred...Equality.
The month of Regeneration is he first of spring, when all of nature is regenerated.
The month of Union is the one consecrated by the constitutional act of the primary assemblies.
The month of the Jeu de Paume consecrates the oath that saved France.
That of the Bastille includes the moment when it was seized by the people.
The month of the People includes the two immortal moments of August 10.
The month of the Mountain comes immediately after the solemn sanction given by the nation to the efforts of the faithful representatives of the people.
The month of the Republic begins on the day it was decreed.
The months of Unity and Fraternity are those when men, after having harvested from their fields all the fruits of the land, withdraw under their roofs and together enjoy the benefits of nature and a good social organization.
The months of Liberty and Equality are connected by that of the Justice of the people who, through their representatives, judged and sentenced to death the last of their kings.
The five final days correspond to September 17,18, 19, 20, and 21, and can be devoted to national holidays. We believe that their names can be taken from the succinct summary of the moral goal of our new institutions.
All the children of the republic, after a solemn....Adoption
That is repeated every year, shall be protected, cared for, and raised as the children of the great family. . Through the same education they shall be together taught all kinds of...Industry
They shall be examined as artists or soldiers, and they will receive the...Recompense
They are due........ Fatherhood
Shall be encouraged and esteemed.... Old Age
Shall be honored. Every four years.....The Revolution
Shall be celebrated by Olympic Games.
Every citizen, every friend of the fatherland and the arts that make it flourish should surround himself every day with the attributes of industry and liberty. From this reflection flows the names we propose to you for the days of the décade:
Such is the form of the year we propose to you. Its sources are the usages that were too quickly abandoned by the most enlightened people of antiquity. Above all we have sought those things most appropriate for the man of the fields, whose calendar must be as simple as nature, from which he is never separated.
Our almanacs will no linger be weighted down with dominical letters, papal periods, and lucky numbers.
The phases of the moon, which the farmer and the traveler need to know, will be found with the greatest ease since the new month only differs from the new moon by half a day.
The names of the days of the décade will always correspond to the same days of the month and the year. The level, which became the emblem characteristic of our revolution, will begin every décade, every month, every year, every Olympiad.
Among all peoples the calendar has been a powerful talisman which priests have always successfully run in order to attach the large class of weak intelligences. Every month, every day, every hour offered new falsehoods to their credulity.
It is up to the French of the new era to make the calendar serve to propagate the true, the just, and the useful by making the fatherland and everything that assures its prosperity loved.
This labor is the result of several conferences with men well educated in celestial movements and antiquity.
The committee only proposes it with confidence because it has been scrupulously examined by Citizens Pingré, Lagrange, Monge, Guyton, Dupuis, and Ferry.