JACOBINISM, a form of political action, an organizational structure, and a current of thought under the Revolution. In the course of the French Revolution there took place a transition from a group of adherents of the club of the Jacobins to the much broader notions of Jacobins and Jacobinism. Originally the Jacobins were simply the members of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, which, beginning in November 1789, sat at the convent of the Jacobins in Paris. This club, which very quickly became the most important of such groups, developed out of the Breton Club, which had been a meeting place for provincial deputies since before 14 July.
Dominated from the outset by the outstanding personalities of the bourgeois Revolution, such as I.-R.-G. Le Chapelier and A. Barnave, from the very first it was something of a learned society (société de pensée), very restricted in its recruitment (a majority of members were deputies) and equally moderate in its objectives. Very early, however, different opinions came to light in the club where some isolated orators on the Left, such as M. Robespierre, J. Pétion, and J.-P. Brissot, began expressing their views. The most original aspect of the club from 1790 was the important network of correspondence and coordination that it was able to establish by affiliating with provincial clubs and societies within a tight framework.
Between 1790 and 1791, the club, despite its moderate origins, experienced a shift toward the Left under the dual pressure of a counterrevolutionary threat, for which rival clubs on the Right were the spokesmen, and by opposition on the Left by new kinds of popular societies, such as the Cordeliers. The Jacobins themselves welcomed newcomers. During the crisis set off by the king's flight to Varennes when the Cordeliers won over members by their campaign for the abolition of royalty, they were helped by the wave of repression that led to the secession of many members who formed a new Society of the Friends of the Constitution, which sat at the Feuillants, and the desertion of all but six deputies (among them Robespierre, the abbé Grégoire, and Pétion).