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 but seems to have been written by Robespierre according to Laurent Lecointre.By means of this law the Committee of Public Safety simplified the judicial process to one of indictment and prosecution.
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 decree 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.
'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.
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'.
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 until 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, beginning 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.
The Reign of Terror, commonly The Terror, was a period of the French Revolution when, following the creation of the First French Republic, a series of massacres and numerous public executions took place in response to revolutionary fervour, anticlerical sentiment, and spurious accusations of treason by Maximilien Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety.
Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac was a French politician, freemason, journalist, and one of the most prominent members of the National Convention, representing the Plain. During the French Revolution he stopped supporting and became an opponent of Maximilien Robespierre.
George 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".
The Committee of Public Safety, created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the provisional government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a phase of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence and assumed its role of protecting the new republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the committee was given broad supervisory powers over the armed forces, judiciary and legislature. 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.
The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, renamed the Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Freedom and Equality after 1792 and commonly known as the Jacobin Club or simply the Jacobins, was the most influential political club during the French Revolution of 1789. The period of its political ascendancy includes the Reign of Terror, during which time well over ten thousand people were put on trial and executed in France, many for political crimes.
Antoine Quentin Fouquier de Tinville was a French prosecutor during the Revolution and Reign of Terror periods.
The National Convention was a parliament 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 that period, 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 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 is the common term, in the historiography of the French Revolution, for the period between the ousting of Maximilien Robespierre on 9 Thermidor II, or 27 July 1794, and the inauguration of the French Directory on 1 November 1795. The "Thermidorian Reaction" was named after the month in which the coup took place, and was the latter part of the National Convention's rule of France. It was marked by the end of the Reign of Terror, decentralization of executive powers from the Committee of Public Safety, and a turn from the radical leftist policies of the Montagnard Convention to more conservative positions. Economic and general populism, dechristianization, and harsh wartime measures were largely abandoned, as the members of the Convention, disillusioned and frightened of the centralized government of the Terror, preferred a more stable political order that would have the approval of the affluent. The Reaction saw the Left suppressed by brutal force, including massacres, as well as the disbanding of the Jacobin Club, the dispersal of the sans-culottes, and the renunciation of the Montagnard ideology.
The September Massacres were a series of killings of prisoners in Paris that occurred from 2–6 September 1792 during the French Revolution. They lasted from Sunday afternoon until Thursday evening. Charlotte Corday held Jean-Paul Marat responsible, as is laid out in great detail by Stanley Loomis. But for Madame Roland it was Georges Danton. Danton was also accused by the French historians Adolphe Thiers, Alphonse de Lamartine, Jules Michelet, Louis Blanc and Edgar Quinet. Danton appears to have done nothing to stop them. Marat, on the other hand, and his Committee of Surveillance of the Commune organized the massacres, first voted to round up 4,000 mostly ordinary people, "suspects" of the Committee, agreed to kill them in "whole groups," voted down a Marat proposal to murder them by setting them on fire, then finally agreeing to a proposal by Billaud-Varennes to "butcher them.". The bulk of the butchers were made up of "Marseilles," "hired assassins" from the prisons of Genoa and Sicily, actually, paid twenty-four dollars, whose names were listed by "M. Granier de Cassagnac." The rest were murdererss and others previously imprisoned for violent crimes, released ahead of time from the prisons they would soon be returning to for the massacres.
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Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French lawyer and statesman who was one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage and the abolition both of celibacy for the clergy, and slavery. In 1791, Robespierre became an outspoken advocate for the citizens without a political voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and for the right to carry arms in self-defence. He played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy on 10 August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention. His goal was to create a united and indivisible France, equality before the law, to abolish prerogatives and to defend the principles of direct democracy.
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