Today, the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” are used to refer to liberal and conservative politicians, respectfully. These labels originated from the physical seating arrangements of politicians during the French Revolution in 1789.
When members of the French National Assembly began drafting a constitution, members were deeply divided on the issue of how much power King Louis XVI should have. As the heated debates continued, members from the different groups sat on different sides of the assembly hall. The anti-royalist revolutionary members sat to the presiding officer’s left, while the aristocrats and more conservative supporters of the monarchy sat to the right. The conservatives opposed the seating arrangement because they believed politicians should support general interests and not form factions or political parties.
As these divisions continued, newspapers began referring to the different groups as the progressive “left” and traditional “right” of the French assembly.
By the mid-19th century, “left” and “right” had entered the French culture as shorthand for the two different political ideologies. Politicians even began referring to themselves as being “center-left,” “center-right,” “extreme left,” etc.
These labels eventually spread to English-speaking countries in the early 20th century. The origin of these two terms is evident in many modern-day political bodies. For example, in the U.S. Congress, the Democrats and Republicans sit on opposite sides of the Senate and House chambers.
- The commoners that destroyed the Bastille did it by hand because they didn’t have access to explosives.
- The world’s first public zoo was created during the French Revolution in Paris.
- The French replaced the Gregorian calendar with the French revolutionary calendar between 1793 and 1805. The year was divided into 12 months of three 10-day weeks each.
- History.com – Where Did the Terms ‘Left Wing’ and ‘Right Wing’ Come From?
- Ancient Origins – Why are Democrats ‘Left’ and Republicans ‘Right’? The Surprising History of Political Affiliations
- The Culture Trip – 10 Facts About the French Revolution You Need to Know