Conspiracy of the Equals

Last updated
Conspiracy of the Equals
Conjuration des egaux.JPEG
A 1796 engraving, denigrating the conspiracy (1796)
Native name Conjuration des Égaux
DateMay 1796
Location France
TypePolitical plot
CauseDissatisfaction with the Directory
Organised by François-Noël Babeuf
Philippe Buonarroti
Sylvain Maréchal
OutcomeConspiracy discovered and repressed
Arrests245 presumed conspirators
Sentence Capital punishment

The Conspiracy of the Equals (French : Conjuration des Égaux) of May 1796 was a failed coup de main during the French Revolution. It was led by François-Noël Babeuf, who wanted to overthrow the Directory and replace it with an egalitarian and proto-socialist republic, inspired by Jacobin ideals.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

A coup de main is a swift attack that relies on speed and surprise to accomplish its objectives in a single blow.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Contents

Background

It was the attempts of the Directory to deal with the economic crisis that gave Babeuf his historical importance. The new government was pledged to abolish the system by which Paris was fed at the expense of all France, and the cessation of the distribution of bread and meat at nominal prices was fixed for 20 February 1796. The announcement caused the most widespread consternation. Not only were the workmen and the large class of proletarians attracted to Paris by the system, but rentiers and government officials, whose incomes were paid in assignats on a scale arbitrarily fixed by the government, saw themselves threatened with starvation. The government yielded to the outcry; but the expedients by which it sought to mitigate the evil, notably the division of those entitled to relief into classes, only increased the alarm and discontent.

French Directory Executive power of the French Constitution of 1795-1799

The Directory or Directorate was a five-member committee that governed France from 2 November 1795, when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety, until 9 November 1799, when it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Coup of 18 Brumaire, and replaced by the French Consulate. It gave its name to the final four years of the French Revolution.

Rentier capitalism

Rentier capitalism is a Marxist term currently used to describe the belief in economic practices of monopolization of access to any kind of property, and gaining significant amounts of profit without contribution to society. The origins of the term are unclear; it is often said to be used in Marxism, yet the very combination of words rentier and capitalism was never used by Karl Marx himself.

An assignat was a type of a monetary instrument used during the time of the French Revolution, and the French Revolutionary Wars.

The universal misery gave point to virulent attacks by Babeuf on the existing order, and gained him a hearing. He gathered around him a small circle of followers known as the Societé des égaux, soon merged with the rump of the Jacobin Club, who met at the Panthéon; and in November 1795 he was reported by the police to be openly preaching " insurrection, revolt and the constitution of 1793". They were influenced by Sylvain Maréchal, the author of Le Manifeste des Egaux and a sympathiser of Babeuf.

Jacobin The most radical group in the French Revolution

The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, after 1792 renamed Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Freedom and Equality, commonly known as the Jacobin Club or simply the Jacobins, became the most influential political club during the French Revolution of 1789 and following. The period of their political ascendency is known as the Reign of Terror, during which time tens of thousands were put on trial and executed in France, many for political crimes.

Panthéon mausoleum in Paris

The Panthéon is a building in the Latin Quarter in Paris, France. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve and to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics but, after many changes, now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. It is an early example of neo-classicism, with a façade modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, surmounted by a dome that owes some of its character to Bramante's Tempietto. Located in the 5th arrondissement on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon looks out over all of Paris. Designer Jacques-Germain Soufflot had the intention of combining the lightness and brightness of the Gothic cathedral with classical principles, but its role as a mausoleum required the great Gothic windows to be blocked.

Sylvain Maréchal French writer and philosopher

Sylvain Maréchal was a French essayist, poet, philosopher and political theorist, whose views presaged utopian socialism and communism. His views on a future golden age are occasionally described as utopian anarchism. He was editor of the newspaper Révolutions de Paris.

Growth

For a time the government, while keeping itself informed of his activities, left him alone. It suited the Directory to let the socialist agitation continue, in order to deter the people from joining in any royalist movement for the overthrow of the existing régime. Moreover the mass of the ouvriers, even of extreme views, were repelled by Babeuf's bloodthirstiness; and the police agents reported that his agitation was making many converts - for the government. The Jacobin Club refused to admit Babeuf and René-François Lebois, on the ground that they were "égorgeurs" ("throat-cutters").

House of Bourbon European royal house of French origin

The House of Bourbon is a European royal house of French origin, a branch of the Capetian dynasty. Bourbon kings first ruled France and Navarre in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma. Spain and Luxembourg currently have monarchs of the House of Bourbon.

With the development of the economic crisis, however, Babeuf's influence increased. After the club of the Panthéon was closed by Napoleon Bonaparte on 27 February 1796, his aggressive activity redoubled. In Ventôse and Germinal (roughly late winter and early spring) he published, under the nom de plume of Lalande, soldat de la patrie, a new paper, the Eclaireur du Peuple, ou le Défenseur de Vingt-Cinq Millions d'Opprimés, which was hawked clandestinely from group to group in the streets of Paris.

At the same time Issue 40 of the Tribun excited an immense sensation. In this Babeuf praised the authors of the September Massacres as "deserving well of their country", and declared that a more complete "2 September" was needed to annihilate the actual government, which consisted of "starvers, bloodsuckers, tyrants, hangmen, rogues and mountebanks".

September Massacres Wave of killings in France in 2–7 Sept. 1792 during the French Revolution, in which half the prison population of Paris (that is, approx. 1200–1400 people) were summarily executed

The September Massacres were a number of killings in Paris and other cities that occurred from 2–4 September 1792 during the French Revolution.

The distress among all classes continued; and in March the attempt of the Directory to replace the assignats by a new issue of mandats created fresh dissatisfaction after the breakdown of the hopes first raised. A cry went up that national bankruptcy had been declared, and thousands of the lower class of ouvriers began to rally to Babeuf's flag. On 4 April 1796, the government received a report that 500,000 people in Paris were in need of relief. From 11 April, Paris was placarded with posters headed Analyse de la Doctrine de Baboeuf[ sic ], Tribun du Peuple, of which the opening sentence ran: "Nature has given to every man the right to the enjoyment of an equal share in all property", and which ended with a call to restore the Constitution of 1793.

Fall of the conspiracy

Babeuf's song Mourant de faim, mourant de froid ("Dying of Hunger, Dying of Cold"), set to a popular tune, began to be sung in the cafés , with immense applause; and reports circulated that the disaffected troops of the French Revolutionary Army in the camp of Grenelle were ready to join an insurrection against the government.

Depiction of the unrest in the military camp of Grenelle Attaque camp de Grenelle.jpeg
Depiction of the unrest in the military camp of Grenelle

The Directory thought it time to react; the bureau central had accumulated through its agents, notably the ex-captain Georges Grisel, who had been initiated into Babeuf’s society, complete evidence of a conspiracy for an armed rising fixed for Floréal 22, year IV (11 May 1796), in which Jacobins and socialists were combined. On 10 May Babeuf, who had taken the pseudonym Tissot, was arrested; many of his associates were gathered by the police on order from Lazare Carnot: among them were Augustin Alexandre Darthé and Philippe Buonarroti, the ex-members of the National Convention, Robert Lindet, Jean-Pierre-André Amar, Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier and Jean-Baptiste Drouet, famous as the postmaster of Sainte-Menehould who had arrested Louis XVI during the latter's Flight to Varennes , and now a member of the Directory's Council of Five Hundred.

The government crackdown was extremely successful. The last number of the Tribun appeared on 24 April, although René-François Lebois in the Ami du peuple tried to incite the soldiers to revolt, and for a while there were rumours of a military rising.

The trial of Babeuf and his accomplices was fixed to take place before the newly constituted high court of justice at Vendôme. On Fructidor 10 and 11 (27 August and 28 August 1796), when the prisoners were removed from Paris, there were tentative efforts at a riot with a view to rescue, but these were easily suppressed. The attempt of five or six hundred Jacobins (7 September 1796) to rouse the soldiers at Grenelle met with no better success.

The trial of Babeuf and the others, begun at Vendôme on 20 February 1797, lasted two months. The government, for reasons of its own, depicted the socialist Babeuf as the leader of the conspiracy, even though people more important than himself were implicated; and his own vanity played admirably into their hands. On Prairial 7 (26 May 1797) Babeuf and Darthé were condemned to death; some of the prisoners, including Buonarroti, were deported; the rest, including Vadier and his fellow-conventionals, were acquitted. Drouet had succeeded in making his escape, according to Paul Barras, with the connivance of the Directory. Babeuf and Darthé were guillotined the next day at Vendôme, Prairial 8 (27 May 1797), without appeal.

Legacy

Although the words "anarchist" and "communist" did not exist at the time of the conspiracy, they have both been used to describe its ideas by later scholars. The English word "communism" was coined by Goodwyn Barmby in a conversation with those he described as the "disciples of Babeuf". [1]

Related Research Articles

François-Noël Babeuf French political agitator and journalist of the French Revolutionary period

François-Noël Babeuf, known as Gracchus Babeuf, was a French political agitator and journalist of the French Revolutionary period. His newspaper Le tribun du peuple was best known for his advocacy for the poor and calling for a popular revolt against the Directory, the government of France. He was a leading advocate for democracy, the abolition of private property and the equality of results. He angered the authorities who were clamping down hard on their radical enemies. In spite of the efforts of his Jacobin friends to save him, Babeuf was executed for his role in the Conspiracy of the Equals.

Timeline of the French Revolution timeline

The following is a timeline of the French Revolution.

Jean-Baptiste Drouet (French revolutionary) French politician

Jean-Baptiste Drouet was a French politician of the 1789 Revolution, chiefly noted for the part he played in the arrest of King Louis XVI during the Flight to Varennes.

Joseph Fouché French statesman

Joseph Fouché, 1st Duc d'Otrante, 1st Comte Fouché was a French statesman and Minister of Police under First Consul Bonaparte, who later became Emperor Napoleon. He was particularly known for his ferocity with which he suppressed the Lyon insurrection during the Revolution in 1793 and for being minister of police under the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire. In English texts, his title is often translated as Duke of Otranto.

Augustin Alexandre Darthé was a French revolutionary.

Philippe Buonarroti Italian utopian socialist (1761-1837)

Filippo Giuseppe Maria Ludovico Buonarroti, more usually referred to under the French version Philippe Buonarroti, was an Italian utopian socialist, writer, agitator, freemason, and conspirator; he was active in Corsica, France, and Geneva. His History of Babeuf’s 'Conspiracy of Equals' (1828) became a bible for revolutionaries, inspiring such leftists as Blanqui and Marx. He proposed a mutualist strategy that would revolutionize society by stages, starting from monarchy to liberalism, then to radicalism, and finally to communism.

Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier French politician

Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier was a French politician of the French Revolution.

Jean-Pierre-André Amar French politician

Jean-Pierre-André Amar or Jean-Baptiste-André Amar was a French political figure of the Revolution and Freemason.

Mandats territoriaux

Mandats territoriaux were paper bank notes issued as currency by the French Directory in 1796 to replace the assignats which had become virtually worthless. They were land-warrants supposedly redeemable in the lands confiscated from royalty, the clergy and the church after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. In February 1796, 800,000,000 francs of mandats were issued as legal tender to replace the 24,000,000,000 francs of assignats then outstanding. In all about 2,500,000,000 francs of mandats were issued. They were heavily counterfeited and their value depreciated rapidly within six months. In February 1797, they lost their legal tender quality and by May were worth virtually nothing.

Jean Antoine Rossignol French general

Jean Antoine Rossignol, was a general of the French Revolutionary Wars.

First White Terror

The White Terror was a period during the French Revolution in 1795, when a wave of violent attacks swept across much of France. The victims of this violence were people identified as being associated with the Reign of Terror – followers of Robespierre and Marat, and members of local Jacobin clubs. The violence was perpetrated primarily by those whose relatives or associates had been victims of the Great Terror, or whose lives and livelihoods had been threatened by the government and its supporters before the Thermidorean Reaction. Principally these were, in Paris, the Muscadins, and in the countryside, monarchists, supporters of the Girondins, those who opposed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and those otherwise hostile to the Jacobin political agenda. The Great Terror had been largely an organised political programme, based on laws such as the Law of 22 Prairial, and enacted through official institutions such as the Revolutionary Tribunal, but the White Terror was essentially a series of uncoordinated attacks by local activists who shared common perspectives but no central organisation. In particular locations, there were however more organised counter-revolutionary movements such as the Companions of Jehu in Lyon and the Companions of the Sun in Provence. The name 'White Terror' derives from the white cockades worn in the hats of royalists.

Jean-Jacques Pillot French journalist

Jean-Jacques Pillot was a French revolutionary and republican communist. He participated in the Revolution of 1848 and in the Paris Commune of 1871.

Neo-Babouvism is a term commonly used to designate a revolutionary communist current in French political theory and action in the nineteenth century.

Richard Lahautière French writer

Auguste-Richard Lahautière (1813–1882) was a French socialist, journalist and lawyer. He is commonly grouped with Théodore Dézamy, Albert Laponneraye, Jean-Jacques Pillot and others as belonging to the Neo-Babouvist tendency in French nineteenth-century socialism, which formed a link from the utopian communism of Gracchus Babeuf to Marxism.

Albert Laponneraye was a French republican socialist and a journalist, popular historian, educator and editor of Robespierre's writings. He was a representative of the Neo-Babouvist tendency in the 1840s, along with Richard Lahautière, Jean-Jacques Pillot and others. He combined Jacobin republicanism with egalitarian communism and anti-clericalism. He was influenced by the doctrines of Philippe Buonarroti and Étienne Cabet. In the 1830s and 40s Laponneraye was one of the best known advocates of republican communism. He is viewed as a forerunner of Karl Marx.

Alexandre Théodore Dézamy was a French socialist, a representative of the Neo-Babouvist tendency in early French communism, along with Albert Laponneraye, Richard Lahautière, Jacques Pillot and others. He was also an early associate of Louis-Auguste Blanqui. He and his colleagues formed a link between the extreme left wing of the French Revolution (Babeuf) and Marxism.

The Panthéon club was a French revolutionary political club founded in Paris the 6 November 1795. Its official name was Union of Friends of the Republic. It was composed of former terrorists and inconditional Jacobins coming from the petite bourgeoisie.

Dominique-Vincent Ramel-Nogaret French politician

Dominique-Vincent Ramel was a French lawyer and politician who became Minister of Finance under the French Directory. He was an energetic reformer, but was blamed for many of the financial problems of the time, and went into retirement during the French Consulate and First French Empire. He supported Napoleon during the Hundred Days of 1815. After the second Bourbon Restoration, as a regicide he was forced into exile in Belgium, where he died without returning to France.

References

  1. Harper, Douglas. "communist". Online Etymology Dictionary .