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The French Republican Calendar (French: calendrier républicain français) or French Revolutionary Calendar (calendrier révolutionnaire français) was a calendar created and implemented during the French Revolution, and used by the French government for about 12 years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. The revolutionary system was designed in part to remove all religious and royalist influences from the calendar, and was part of a larger attempt at decimalisation in France.
The days of the French Revolution and Republic saw many efforts to sweep away various trappings of the ancien régime; some of these were more successful than others. The new Republican government sought to institute, among other reforms, a new social and legal system, a new system of weights and measures (which became the metric system), and a new calendar. Amid nostalgia for the ancient Roman Republic, the theories of the Enlightenment were at their peak, and the devisors of the new systems looked to nature for their inspiration. Natural constants, multiples of ten, and Latin derivations formed the fundamental blocks from which the new systems were built.
The new calendar was created by a commission under the direction of the politician Charles-Gilbert Romme seconded by Claude Joseph Ferry and Charles-François Dupuis. They associated with their work the chemist Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau, the mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange, the astronomer Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, the mathematician Gaspard Monge, the astronomer and naval geographer Alexandre Guy Pingré, and the poet, actor and playwright Fabre d'Églantine, who invented the names of the months, with the help of André Thouin, gardener at the Jardin des Plantes of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. As the rapporteur of the commission, Charles-Gilbert Romme presented the new calendar to the Jacobin-controlled National Convention on 23 September 1793, which adopted it on 24 October 1793 and also extended it proleptically to its epoch of 22 September 1792. It is because of his position as rapporteur of the commission that the creation of the republican calendar is attributed to Romme.
The calendar is often called the "French Revolutionary Calendar" because it was created during the Revolution, but this is somewhat of a misnomer. Indeed, there was initially a debate as to whether the calendar should celebrate the Revolution, which began in 1789, or the Republic, which was established in 1792. Immediately following 14 July 1789, papers and pamphlets started calling 1789 year I of Liberty and the following years II and III. It was in 1792, with the practical problem of dating financial transactions, that the legislative assembly was confronted with the problem of the calendar. Originally, the choice of epoch was either 1 January 1789 or 14 July 1789. After some hesitation the assembly decided on 2 January 1792 that all official documents would use the "era of Liberty" and that the year IV of Liberty started on 1 January 1792. This usage was modified on 22 September 1792 when the Republic was proclaimed and the Convention decided that all public documents would be dated Year I of the French Republic. The decree of 2 January 1793 stipulated that the year II of the Republic began on 1 January 1793; this was revoked with the introduction of the new calendar, which set 22 September 1793 as the beginning of year II. The establishment of the Republic was used as the epochal date for the calendar; therefore, the calendar commemorates the Republic, not the Revolution. In France, it is known as the calendrier républicain as well as the calendrier révolutionnaire.
The Concordat of 1801 re-established the Roman Catholic Church in France with effect from Easter Sunday, 18 April 1802, restoring the names of the days of the week with the ones they had in the Gregorian Calendar, while keeping the rest of the Republican Calendar, and fixing Sunday as the official day of rest and religious celebration.
French coins of the period naturally used this calendar. Many show the year ("An") in Arabic numbers, although Roman numerals were used on some issues. Year 11 coins typically have a "XI" date to avoid confusion with the Roman "II".
Napoléon finally abolished the calendar with effect from 1 January 1806 (the day after 10 Nivôse an XIV), a little over twelve years after its introduction. However, it was used again during the brief Paris Commune, 6–23 May 1871 (16 Floréal–3 Prairial An LXXIX).
Many conversion tables and programs exist, largely created by genealogists. Some enthusiasts in France still use the calendar, more out of historical re-enactment than practicality.
Some legal texts that were adopted when the Republican Calendar was official are still in force in France and even Belgium and Luxembourg (which were at the time incorporated into France), and have kept their original dates for citation purposes.
Years appear in writing as Roman numerals (usually), with epoch 22 September 1792, the beginning of the "Republican Era" (the day the French First Republic was proclaimed, one day after the Convention abolished the monarchy). As a result, Roman Numeral I indicates the first year of the republic, that is, the year before the calendar actually came into use. The first day of each year was that of the Southward equinox.
There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called décades. The tenth day, décadi, replaced Sunday as the day of rest and festivity. The five or six extra days needed to approximate the solar or tropical year were placed after the months at the end of each year.
A period of four years ending on a leap day was to be called a "Franciade". The name "Olympique" was originally proposed but changed to Franciade to commemorate the fact that it had taken the revolution four years to establish a republican government in France.
Each day in the Republican Calendar was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds. Thus an hour was 144 conventional minutes (more than twice as long as a conventional hour), a minute was 86.4 conventional seconds (44% longer than a conventional minute), and a second was 0.864 conventional seconds (13.6% shorter than a conventional second).
Clocks were manufactured to display this decimal time, but it did not catch on. Mandatory use of decimal time was officially suspended 7 April 1795, although some cities continued to use decimal time as late as 1801.
The Republican calendar year began at the Southward equinox and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature, principally having to do with the prevailing weather in and around Paris.
Note: On many printed calendars of Year II (1793–94), the month of Thermidor was named Fervidor.
In Britain, a contemporary wit mocked the Republican Calendar by calling the months: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety. The Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle suggested somewhat more serious English names in his 1837 work The French Revolution: A History, namely Vintagearious, Fogarious, Frostarious, Snowous, Rainous, Windous, Buddal, Floweral, Meadowal, Reapidor, Heatidor, and Fruitidor. Like the French originals, they suggest a meaning related to the season but are neologisms, rather than preexisting words.
The month is divided into three décades or 'weeks' of ten days each, named simply:
Décades were abandoned in Floréal an X (April 1802).
Instead of most days having an associated saint as in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, each day has an animal (days ending in 5), a tool (days ending in 0) or else a plant or mineral (all other days).
|Vendémiaire (22 September ~ 21 October)||Brumaire (22 October ~ 20 November)||Frimaire (21 November ~ 20 December)|
|Nivôse (21 December ~ 19 January)||Pluviôse (20 January ~ 18 February)||Ventôse (19 February ~ 20 March)|
|Germinal (21 March ~ 19 April)||Floréal (20 April ~ 19 May)||Prairial (20 May ~ 18 June)|
|Messidor (19 June ~ 18 July)||Thermidor (19 July ~ 17 August)||Fructidor (18 August ~ 16 September)|
Five extra days – six in leap years – were national holidays at the end of every year. These were originally known as les sans-culottides (after sans-culottes), but after year III (1795) as les jours complémentaires:
The calendar was abolished in the year XIV (1805). After this date, opinions seem to differ on the method by which the leap years would have been determined if the calendar were still in force. There are at least four hypotheses used to convert dates from the Gregorian calendar:
The following table shows when several years of the Republican Era begin on the Gregorian calendar, according to each of the four above methods:
* Leap year, extra day added at end of year
Each year starts at midnight, with the day when the true autumnal equinox falls for the observatory of Paris.
The period of four years, at the end of which this addition of one day is usually necessary, is called the Franciade...The fourth year of the Franciade is called Sextile.
These two specifications are incompatible, as leap years defined by the Southward equinox do not recur on a regular four year schedule. Thus, the years III, VII, and XI were observed as leap years, and the years XV and XX were also planned as such, even though they were five years apart.
A fixed arithmetic rule for determining leap years was proposed in the name of the Committee of Public Education by Gilbert Romme on 19 Floréal An III (8 May 1795). The proposed rule was to determine leap years by applying the rules of the Gregorian calendar to the years of the French Republic (years IV, VIII, XII, etc. were to be leap years) except that year 4000 (the last year of ten 400-year periods) should be a common year instead of a leap year. Because this proposal was never adopted, the original astronomical rule continued, which excluded any other fixed arithmetic rule. The proposal was intended to avoid uncertain future leap years caused by the inaccurate astronomical knowledge of the 1790s (even today, this statement is still valid due to the uncertainty in ΔT). In particular, the committee noted that the true Southward equinox of year 144 was predicted to occur at "11:59:40 pm", which was closer to midnight than its inherent 3 to 4 minute uncertainty.
The calendar was abolished because having a ten-day working week gave workers less rest (one day off every ten instead of one day off every seven); because the Southward equinox was a mobile date to start every new year (a fantastic source of confusion for almost everybody); and because it was incompatible with the secular rhythms of trade fairs and agricultural markets.
Another criticism of the calendar was that despite the poetic names of its months, they are tied to the climate and agriculture of France and therefore not applicable to France's overseas territories.
Apparently, the designers of the calendar were unaware of the possibility of a lunisolar calendar as their proposals do not appear to make any mention of lunar months, lunisolar calendars, or of the Metonic cycle. As a result the Republican calendar, just like the Julian and Gregorian calendars, has months whose lengths only have a vestigial relation to an actual physical phenomenon. This is inconsistent with Romme's assertion that the new calendar should be faithful to natural cycles and should not perpetuate past mistakes:
...reason demands that we follow nature rather than servilely continuing upon the erroneous path of our predecessors...
The proposal for the new calendar is a litany of criticism of previous efforts, the previous quote of Romme being representative. Another typical example is Romme's opinion about the nomenclature of the French Gregorian calendar:
This nomenclature is clearly a monument to servitude and ignorance, in which each successive civilization has left an imprint of its impoverishment. The astrological names of the days of the week and their cabalistic order which has been preserved since the first Egyptians and by the impostors which profited thereby and the blindness of men who continually preferred to suffer rather than change any of the idiotic habits of their fathers would dishonor our Revolution if we did not maintain the vigilance which has so successfully attacked all preconceptions.
This tone sets a high standard by which the Republican calendar might itself be judged.
The "18 Brumaire" or "Brumaire" was the coup d'état of Napoleon Bonaparte on 18 Brumaire An VIII (9 November 1799), which many historians consider as the end of the French Revolution. Karl Marx' 1852 essay The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoléon compares the 1851 coup of Louis Napoléon to his uncle's earlier coup.
Another famous revolutionary date is 9 Thermidor An II (27 July 1794), the date the Convention turned against Robespierre, who, along with others associated with the Mountain, was guillotined the following day. Based on this event, the term "Thermidorian" entered the Marxist vocabulary as referring to revolutionaries who destroy the revolution from the inside and turn against its true aims. For example, Leon Trotsky and his followers used this term about Joseph Stalin.
The French frigates of the Floréal class all bear names of Republican months.
The Convention of 9 Brumaire An III, 30 October 1794, established the École Normale Supérieure. The date appears prominently on the entrance to the school.
The French composer Fromental Halévy was named after the feast day of 'Fromental' in the Revolutionary Calendar, which occurred on his birthday in year VIII (27 May 1799).
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