The Law of 22 Prairial, also known as the loi de la Grande Terreur, the law of the Great Terror, was enacted on 10 June 1794 (22 Prairial of the Year II under the French Revolutionary Calendar). It was proposed by Georges Auguste Couthon and supported by Robespierre. By means of this law the Committee of Public Safety simplified the judicial process to one of indictment and prosecution.
The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.
Georges Auguste Couthon was a French politician and lawyer known for his service as a deputy in the Legislative Assembly during the French Revolution. Couthon was elected to the Committee of Public Safety on 30 May 1793 and served as a close associate of Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Antoine de Saint-Just until his arrest and execution in 1794 during the period of the Reign of Terror. Couthon played an important role in the development of the Law of 22 Prairial, which was responsible for a sharp increase in the number of executions of accused counter-revolutionaries.
The Committee of Public Safety, created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a stage of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the Committee—composed at first of nine and later of twelve members—was given broad supervisory powers over military, judicial and legislative efforts. It was formed as an administrative body to supervise and expedite the work of the executive bodies of the Convention and of the government ministers appointed by the Convention. As the Committee tried to meet the dangers of a coalition of European nations and counter-revolutionary forces within the country, it became more and more powerful.
The immediate background to the introduction of the Prairial Law was the attempted assassinations of Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois on 23 May and of Maximilien Robespierre on 25 May. Introducing the degree at the Convention, Georges Couthon, who had drafted it, argued that political crimes were far worse than common crimes because in the latter 'only individuals are wounded' where as in the former 'the existence of free society is threatened'. Under these circumstances, 'indulgence is an atrocity... clemency is parricide.'.The law was an extension of the centralisation and organisation of the Terror, following the decrees of 16 April and 8 May which had suspended the revolutionary court in the provinces and brought all political cases for trial in the capital. The result of these laws was that by June 1794 Paris was full of suspects awaiting trial. On 29 April it was reported that the forty prisons of Paris contained 6,921 prisoners; by 11 June this number had increased to 7,321 and by 28 July to 7,800.
Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois was a French actor, dramatist, essayist, and revolutionary. He was a member of the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror and, while he saved Madame Tussaud from the Guillotine, he administered the execution of more than 2,000 people in the city of Lyon.
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and politician, as well as one of the best known and most influential figures associated with the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly, the Jacobin Club and National Convention, Robespierre was an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to petition. He campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, abolition of celibacy, religious tolerance and the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Robespierre played an important role after the Storming of the Tuileries, which led to the establishment of the First French Republic on 22 September 1792.
'No Revolutionary Tribunal could work fast enough to prevent the ship of state sinking under such a sea of crime. What was to be done? Precedents had been created at Lyon, Marseille and elsewhere.... at Orange in particular, there had been set up, by decree of the Convention, a Commission of Five, which, by dispensing with the usual formalities of counsel and witness, had succeeded in condemning to death, within two months, 332 out of the 591 persons brought before it'.
The law was also prompted by the idea that members of the Convention who had supported Georges Danton were politically unreliable - a view shared by Robespierre, Couthon, Saint-Just and others. They felt that these people needed to be brought swiftly to justice without a full debate by the Convention itself. They considered Jean-Pierre-André Amar, for example, to be suspect.
Georges Jacques Danton was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, in particular as the first president of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton's role in the onset of the Revolution has been disputed; many historians describe him as "the chief force in the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic".
Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just was a Jacobin leader during the French Revolution. He was a close friend of Maximilien Robespierre and served as his most trusted ally during the period of Jacobin rule (1793–94) in the French First Republic. Saint-Just worked as a legislator and a military commissar, but he achieved a lasting reputation as the face of the Reign of Terror. He publicly delivered the condemnatory reports that emanated from Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety and defended the use of violence against opponents of the government. He supervised the arrests of some of the most famous figures of the Revolution and saw many of them off to the guillotine. For his unyielding severity, later writers dubbed him the "Angel of Death".
Jean-Pierre-André Amar or Jean-Baptiste-André Amar was a French political figure of the Revolution and Freemason.
i. The law extended the reach of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which henceforth could hear cases for 'slandering patriotism', 'seeking to inspire discouragement', 'spreading false news' and 'depraving morals, corrupting the public conscience and impairing the purity and energy of the revolutionary government'.
The Revolutionary Tribunal was a court instituted by the National Convention during the French Revolution for the trial of political offenders. It eventually became one of the most powerful engines of the Reign of Terror.
ii. It placed an active obligation on all citizens to denounce and bring to justice those suspected - 'Every citizen is empowered to seize conspirators and counterrevolutionaries, and to bring them before the magistrates. He is required to denounce them as soon as he knows of them.' As Couthon explained to the Convention, 'For a citizen to become suspect it is sufficient that rumour accuses him'.
iii. It limited trials in the Revolutionary Tribunal to three days.
iv. It prevented the Revolutionary Tribunal both from calling witnesses, or from allowing defence counsel to the accused. Juries were to come to judgement entirely on the basis of the accusation and the accused's own defence
v. It required the Tribunal to come to one of only two possible verdicts - acquittal or death.
vi. The law cancelled all previous legislation on the same subject. Without being explicit, this removed the immunity of members of the Convention which up till then had protected them from summary arrest and required that the Convention itself vote to send any of its members to trial.
The Prairial Law had an immediate effect on the tempo of executions under the Terror. From an average of five executions a day in Germinal, the rate rose to seventeen in Prairial and twenty-six in Messidor.The law thus inaugurated the period known as "The Great Terror".
The proposals were met with dismay when they were presented to the Convention. The Committee of Public Safety had not reviewed the text before it was presented, although it was presented in the name of the Committee itself. The Committee of General Security had not even been informed that the law was being drafted.
Some of the deputies were uneasy, in particular, about the removal of their immunity and asked for the debate to be adjourned so the clauses could be examined. Robespierre refused and demanded immediate discussion. At his insistence the entire decree was voted on, clause by clause. It passed.The next day, 11 June, when Robespierre was absent, Bourdon de l'Oise and Merlin de Douai put forward an amendment proclaiming the inalienable right of the Convention to impeach its own members. The amendment was passed.
Furious, Robespierre and Couthon returned to the Convention the next day, 12 June, and demanded that the amendment of the previous day be revoked. Robespierre made a number of veiled threats and during the debate clashed particularly with Jean-Lambert Tallien.The Convention acceded to Robespierre's wishes and restored the original text of the decree Couthon had drafted.
As the Terror accelerated and members felt more and more threatened, Tallien and others began to make plans for the overthrow of Robespierre. Less than two months later, on 27 July, Tallien and his associates overthrew Robespierre in the Thermidorian Reaction.
The Law of 22 Prairial was repealed on 1 August 1794 and Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville, who had presided over the Revolutionary Tribunal, was arrested and later guillotined.
Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac was a French politician, freemason, journalist, and one of the most prominent members of the National Convention during 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.
Pierre Gaspard Chaumette was a French politician of the Revolutionary period who served as the president of the Paris Commune and played a leading role in the establishment of the Reign of Terror. He was one of the ultra-radical enragés of the revolution, an ardent critic of Christianity who was one of the leaders of the dechristianization of France. His radical positions resulted in his alienation from Maximilien Robespierre, and he was arrested on charges of being a counterrevolutionary and executed.
The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.
Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, also known as Jean Nicolas, was a French personality of the Revolutionary period. Though not one of the most well known figures of the French Revolution, Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne was an instrumental figure of the period known as the Reign of Terror. Billaud-Varenne climbed his way up the ladder of power during the period of The Terror, becoming one of the most militant members of the Committee of Public Safety. He was recognized and worked with French Revolution figures Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and is often considered one of the key architects of the period known as The Terror. "No, we will not step backward, our zeal will only be smothered in the tomb; either the Revolution will triumph or we will all die."
The Thermidorian Reaction was a counter revolution which took place in France on 9 Thermidor of the Year II. On this day, the French politician Maximilien Robespierre was denounced by members of the National Convention as "a tyrant", leading to Robespierre and twenty-one associates including Louis Antoine de Saint-Just being arrested that night and beheaded on the following day.
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 Law of Suspects was a decree passed by the French National Convention on 17 September 1793, during the French Revolution. Some historians consider this decree the start of 'the Terror' over France; they argue that the decree marked a significant weakening of individual freedoms that led to "revolutionary paranoia" that swept the nation.
François Hanriot was a French Jacobin leader and street orator of the Revolution. He played a vital role in the Insurrection and subsequently the fall of the Girondins.
The Committee of General Security was a French parliamentary committee which acted as police agency during the French Revolution that, along with the Committee of Public Safety, oversaw the Reign of Terror.
Augustin Bon Joseph de Robespierre was the younger brother of French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre.
The Hébertists, or Exaggerators were a radical revolutionary political group associated with the populist journalist Jacques Hébert, a member of the Cordeliers club. They came to power during the Reign of Terror and played a significant role in the French Revolution.
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.
The fall of Maximilien Robespierre refers to the series of events beginning with Maximilien Robespierre's address to the National Convention on 8 Thermidor Year II, his arrest the next day, and his execution on 10 Thermidor Year II. In the speech of 8 Thermidor, Robespierre spoke of the existence of internal enemies, conspirators, and calumniators, within the Convention and the governing Committees. He refused to name them, which alarmed the deputies who feared Robespierre was preparing another purge of the Convention.