Maximilien Robespierre

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Maximilien de Robespierre
Robespierre c. 1790 (anonymous), Musée Carnavalet, Paris
Member of the Committee of Public Safety
In office
27 July 1793 28 July 1794
Preceded by Thomas-Augustin de Gasparin
Succeeded by Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne
President of the National Convention
In office
4 June 1794 19 June 1794
Preceded by Claude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois
Succeeded by Élie Lacoste
In office
22 August 1793 7 September 1793
Preceded by Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles
Succeeded by Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne
Deputy of the National Convention
In office
20 September 1792 27 July 1794
Constituency Paris
Deputy of the National Constituent Assembly
In office
9 July 1789 30 September 1791
Constituency Artois
Deputy of the National Assembly
In office
17 June 1789 9 July 1789
Constituency Artois
Deputy to the Estates General
for the Third Estate
In office
6 May 1789 16 June 1789
Constituency Artois
President of the Jacobin Club
In office
31 March-3 June 1790 7–28 August 1793
Personal details
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre

(1758-05-06)6 May 1758
Arras, Artois, France
Died28 July 1794(1794-07-28) (aged 36)
Place de la Révolution, Paris, France
Political party The Mountain (1792–1794)
Other political
Jacobin Club (1789–1794)
Alma mater Collège Louis-le-Grand
University of Paris
ProfessionLawyer and politician
Signature Signature de Maximilien de Robespierre.jpg

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (French:  [ɛ̃ fʁɑ̃.swa ma.ʁi i.zi.dɔʁ də ʁɔ.bɛs.pjɛʁ] ; 6 May 1758 – 28 July 1794) 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 and the Jacobin Club, 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. [1] [2] He campaigned for universal manhood suffrage, [3] abolition of celibacy and the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. Robespierre played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French Legislative Assembly in August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention. [4]

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.

National Constituent Assembly (France) former political body formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution

The National Constituent Assembly was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.

National Guard (France) 1789–1872 military reserve and police branch of Frances military

The National Guard is a French military, gendarmerie, and police reserve force, active in its current form since 2016 but originally founded in 1789 after the French Revolution.


As one of the leading members of the insurrectionary Paris Commune, Robespierre was elected as deputy to the French Convention early September 1792. He is best known for his role what was later called the "reign of Terror" and his disputed role in political trials and executions one year later. When France threatened to fall apart in the summer of 1793, the republic was severely centralized to become "one and indivisible". In July he was appointed as a member of the powerful Committee of Public Safety being popular and well connected to the Paris Commune. [5] He exerted his influence to suppress the Girondins to the right, the Hébertists to the left and the Dantonists to the middle. As part of his attempts to use extreme measures to control political activity in France, Robespierre moved against his former friends, the more moderate Danton, and Desmoulins, who were executed in April 1794. The Terror ended four months later with Robespierre's arrest on 9 Thermidor and his execution, events that initiated a period known as the Thermidorian Reaction. [6]

Paris Commune (French Revolution) government during French Revolution

The Paris Commune during the French Revolution was the government of Paris from 1792 until 1795. Established in the Hôtel de Ville just after the storming of the Bastille, it consisted of 144 delegates elected by the 48 divisions of the city. The Paris Commune became insurrectionary in the summer of 1792, essentially refusing to take orders from the central French government. It took charge of routine civic functions but is best known for mobilizing extreme views and actions among the people and for its campaign to dechristianize the churches and the people. It lost much power in 1794 and was replaced in 1795.

Reign of Terror Period during the French Revolution

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.

Committee of Public Safety De facto executive government in France (1793–1794)

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.

Robespierre's personal responsibility for the excesses of the Terror remains the subject of intense debate among historians of the French Revolution. [7] [8] Each time, the controversy is around two different points of view: for some, Robespierre was the incarnation of Terror during Year II (of the French Revolutionary calendar); for others, he was its principal ideologist and recalls the first democratic experience, marked by the French Constitution of 1793. [9]

French Constitution of 1793 constitution

The Constitution of 1793, also known as the Constitution of the Year I or the Montagnard Constitution, was the second constitution ratified for use during the French Revolution under the First Republic. Designed by the Montagnards, principally Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Saint-Just, it was intended to replace the outdated Constitution of 1791. With sweeping plans for democratization and wealth redistribution, the new document promised a significant departure from the relatively moderate goals of the Revolution in previous years.

Early life

Maximilien de Robespierre was born in Arras in the old French province of Artois. His family has been traced back to the 15th century in Vaudricourt, Pas-de-Calais; one of his ancestors Robert de Robespierre worked as notary in Carvin mid 17th century. [10] His paternal grandfather, also named Maximilien de Robespierre, established himself in Arras as a lawyer. His father, François Maximilien Barthélémy de Robespierre, was a lawyer at the Conseil d'Artois, and married the pregnant Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, the daughter of a brewer, on 2 January 1758. Maximilien was the eldest of four children and was conceived out of wedlock. His siblings were Charlotte (1760–1834), [lower-alpha 1] Henriette (1761–1780), [lower-alpha 2] and Augustin (1763–1794). [11] [12]

Arras Prefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Arras is the capital (chef-lieu/préfecture) of the Pas-de-Calais department, which forms part of the region of Hauts-de-France; prior to the reorganization of 2014 it was located in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The historic centre of the Artois region, with a Baroque town square, Arras is located in Northern France at the confluence of the Scarpe river and the Crinchon River.

Artois former province of France

Artois is a region of northern France. Its territory covers an area of about 4,000 km² and a population of about one million. Its principal cities are Arras, Saint-Omer, Lens, and Béthune.

Vaudricourt, Pas-de-Calais Commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Vaudricourt is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of France.

Early in July 1764, Madame de Robespierre gave birth to a stillborn daughter; she died twelve days later, at the age of 29. Devastated by his wife's death, François de Robespierre left Arras around 1767 and travelled throughout Europe until his death, in Munich on 6 November 1777. His two daughters Charlotte and Henriette were brought up by their paternal aunts, and his two sons were taken in by their maternal grandparents. [13]

Already literate at age eight, Maximilien started attending the collège of Arras (middle school). [14] [15] In October 1769, on the recommendation of the bishop Hilaire de Conzié, he received a scholarship at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. His fellow pupils included Camille Desmoulins and Stanislas Fréron. In school, he learned to admire the idealised Roman Republic and the rhetoric of Cicero, Cato and other figures from classical history. He also studied the works of the Genevan philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was attracted to many ideas, written in his "Contrat Social". Robespierre became intrigued by the idea of a "virtuous self", a man who stands alone accompanied only by his conscience. [16] His study of the classics prompted him to aspire to Roman virtues, but he sought to emulate Rousseau in particular. [17] Robespierre's conception of revolutionary virtue and his programme for constructing political sovereignty out of direct democracy came from Rousseau, Montesquieu and Mably. [18] (Robespierre claimed to have met with Rousseau before he died in 1778.) [19] Robespierre studied law for four years at the University of Paris. Upon his graduation in May 1781, he received a special prize of 600 livres for exemplary academic success and personal good conduct. [20]

Arras College was a Catholic foundation in Paris, a house of higher studies associated with the University of Paris, set up in 1611. It was intended for English priests, and had a function as a House of Writers, or apologetical college. This aspect of the college was prompted by the 1609 foundation of Chelsea College in London, designed for the production of polemical Protestant literature.

Lycée Louis-le-Grand French school in the heart of the Quartier latin in Paris, France

The Lycée Louis-le-Grand is a prestigious secondary school located in Paris. Founded in 1563 by the Jesuits as the Collège de Clermont, it was renamed in King Louis XIV of France's honor after he extended his direct patronage to it in 1682. It offers both a sixth-form college curriculum, and a post-secondary-level curriculum, preparing students for entrance to the elite Grandes écoles for research, such as the École normale supérieure (Paris), for engineering, such as the École Polytechnique, or for business, such as HEC Paris. Students at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand are called magnoludoviciens.

Camille Desmoulins French politician

Lucie-Simplice-Camille-Benoît Desmoulins was a journalist and politician who played an important role in the French Revolution. Desmoulins was tried and executed alongside Danton when the Committee of Public Safety reacted against Dantonist opposition. He was a schoolmate of Maximilien Robespierre and a close friend and political ally of Georges Danton, who were influential figures in the French Revolution.

Early politics

The house where Robespierre lived between 1787-1789, now on Rue Maximilien de Robespierre Maison de Robespierre.jpg
The house where Robespierre lived between 1787–1789, now on Rue Maximilien de Robespierre

Three months after having completed his studies, Robespierre was admitted to the bar. The Bishop of Arras, Louis François Marc Hilaire de Conzié, appointed him as one of the five judges in the criminal court in March 1782. Robespierre soon resigned, owing to discomfort in ruling on capital cases arising from his early opposition to the death penalty. [16] Instead, he quickly became a successful advocate, fighting against prejudice: the sidelining of women in academic life, inequality before the law, the indignity of natural children, and the lettres de cachet. [21] Despite his reputation he never had many cases. The most famous was in 1783 about a lightning rod in St. Omer. His defence was printed and Robespierre sent Benjamin Franklin a copy. [22]

On 15 November 1783 he was elected a member of the literary Academy of Arras. [23] In 1784 the Academy of Metz awarded him a medal for his essay on the question of whether the relatives of a condemned criminal should share his disgrace, which made him a man of letters. [24] He and Pierre Louis de Lacretelle, an advocate and journalist in Paris, divided the prize. Many of his subsequent essays were less successful. In 1787 he became acquainted with the young officer and engineer Lazare Carnot. [25] (In June 1794 Carnot, his colleague on the Committee of Public Safety, would describe Robespierre and Saint-Just as a "ridiculous dictators". [26] )

In August 1788 King Louis XVI announced new elections for all provinces and a gathering of the Estates-General for 1 May 1789 to solve France's financial and taxation problems. Robespierre took part in a discussion of how the French provincial government should be elected, arguing in his Addresse à la nation artésienne, 'Address to the Nation of Artois' that if the former mode of election by the members of the provincial estates was again adopted, the new Estates-General would not represent the people of France. Late February 1789 France was in a pressing crisis due to its desire for a new constitution, according to Gouverneur Morris. [27]

Portrait of Robespierre by Boilly, c. 1791 (Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille) Louis Boilly Robespierre.jpg
Portrait of Robespierre by Boilly, c. 1791 (Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille)

In the assembly of the bailliage , rivalry ran still higher, but Robespierre had begun to make his mark in politics with his Avis aux habitants de la campagne, 'Notice to the Residents of the Countryside)' of 1789. [lower-alpha 3] He attacked the local authorities. With this, he secured the support of the country electors. On 26 April 1789 Robespierre was elected as one of 16 deputies for Arras to the Estates-General. [29] [lower-alpha 4] He was almost 31, comparatively poor, and lacking patronage. When the deputies arrived at Versailles they were presented to the King and listened to Jacques Necker's three-hour-long speech about financial health, constitutional monarchy, and institutional and political reforms. [30] They were informed that all voting would be "by power" not "by head", so their double representation was to be meaningless. They refused this and proceeded to meet separately. On 13 June Robespierre joined the National Assembly declared by the Third Estate, which transformed itself on 9 July into the National Constituent Assembly and moved to Paris. On 18 July 1789 he gave his first, rather verbose speech. [31] [32] As one of the few he supported Maillard after the Women's March on Versailles. [33] While the Constituent Assembly occupied itself with male census suffrage on 22 October, Robespierre and few more deputies opposed the property requirements for voting and holding office. [34] He turned his attention away from the assembly of provincial lawyers and wealthy bourgeois in favour of the excluded classes, particularly protestants in France, jews, [35] blacks, servants and actors. [36] [37] During this period Robespierre coined the famous motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity). [lower-alpha 5]

As a frequent speaker in the Assembly, Robespierre voiced many ideas in support of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and constitutional provisions for the Constitution of 1791, but rarely attracted a majority among fellow deputies according to Malcolm Crook. [38] Madame de Staël described Robespierre as 'very exaggerated in his democratic principles'. He supported the most absurd propositions with a coolness that had the air of conviction. [39] Before the end of the year 1789, he was seen as one of the leaders of the small body of the extreme left. Robespierre was one of "the thirty voices", as Mirabeau referred to them with contempt.

Jacobin Club

Terracotta bust of Robespierre by Deseine, 1791 (Musee de la Revolution francaise) Robespierre IMG 2303.jpg
Terracotta bust of Robespierre by Deseine, 1791 (Musée de la Révolution française)
Courtyard of the house of Maurice Duplay, Robespierre's landlord. Robespierre's room was on the second floor, above the fountain. DuplayHouseCourtyard.jpg
Courtyard of the house of Maurice Duplay, Robespierre's landlord. Robespierre's room was on the second floor, above the fountain.

From October 1789, Robespierre lived at 9, Rue de Saintonge in Le Marais. [40] Pierre Villiers claimed he was his secretary for several months, and according to Charlotte they shared the apartment. [41] Robespierre was involved with the new Society of the Friends of the Constitution, known eventually as the Jacobin Club. [42] Originally, this organisation was made up only of deputies from Brittany. After the National Assembly had moved to Paris, the Friends began to admit various leaders of the Parisian bourgeoisie to its membership. As time went on, many of the more educated artisans and small shopkeepers joined the Jacobin club. [42] Among these 1,200 men, Robespierre found a sympathetic audience. Equality was the keystone of the Jacobin ideology. In March 1790 Robespierre was elected as their president. [43]

After the death of Mirabeau the politicians competed with each other who would fill the gap. At the end of April 1791 Robespierre opposed the plans for reorganizing the National Guard and restricting its membership to active citizens. [44] On 9 May Le Chapelier proposed a decree banning all petitions bearing "collective signatures". [45] When the elections began for the Législative, Robespierre proposed and carried the motion that no deputy who sat in the Constituent Assembly could sit in the succeeding Assembly. This self-denying ordinance, designed to demonstrate the disinterested patriotism of the framers of the new constitution, had the effect of accelerating political change. [46] Its principal tactical purpose was to block the ambitions of the old leaders of the Jacobins, Antoine Barnave, Adrien Duport, and Alexandre de Lameth. [47] (They shared the general view that the "new" France would not survive repeated physical intimidation from the Paris sections, unrestrained polemics from the clubs and the press and most important of all, the democratization of discipline in the army and navy. [48] ) On 28 May Robespierre proposed all Frenchmen should be declared active citizens and eligible to vote. [49]

On 10 June he was elected by the Assembly as public prosecutor of Paris. [50] Five days later Pétion became president of the "tribunal criminel", after Duport refused to work with Robespierre. [51] On 14 June the Le Chapelier Law passed, prohibiting altogether any kind of workers' coalition or assembly. (It concerned in the first instance as much collective petitioning by the political clubs as trade associations. [52] ) Proclaiming free enterprise as the norm upset Marat, but not the labourers nor Robespierre. [53] The Flight to Varennes on 20 June and the subsequent arrest of Louis XVI and his family resulted in Robespierre's declaration that he (himself) was "ni monarchiste ni républicain" ("neither monarchist nor republican"). [54] This stance was not unusual at this time, since there were still few republicans among the politicians in France. Robespierre had actually persuaded the Jacobins not to support the "abdication" petition. [55]

Alarmed at the progress of the Revolution the moderate Jacobins, promoting a constitutional monarchy, founded the club of the Feuillants on 16 July 1791, taking with them 264 deputies. As a result, Robespierre, Pétion, Danton and Brissot dominated the Jacobin Club. Kéralio and her husband circulated a petition declaring that Louis XVI had deserted his post, that by this act of perjury had in fact abdicated, and that the signatories no longer owed allegiance to the king. France should embark on a republic. [56]

On the evening of 24 June, after the Champ de Mars Massacre, the authorities ordered numerous arrests. Robespierre, who attended the Jacobin club, did not dare to go back to the rue Saintonge where he lodged, and so asked Laurent Lecointre if he knew a patriot near the Tuileries who could put him up for the night. Lecointre suggested Duplay's house and took him there. [57] Maurice Duplay, a cabinetmaker and ardent admirer lived at 398 Rue Saint-Honoré near the Tuileries. Robespierre was motivated by a desire to live closer to the Assembly and the meeting place of the Jacobins in the Rue Saint-Jacques. He lived there in the backyard so that he was constantly exposed to the sound of working. [58] In September 1792 his younger sister and brother joined him and lived in the front house, but Charlotte insisted moving around the corner in the Rue St Florentin because of his increased prestige and her tensions with Madame Duplay. [59] After some time however Maximilien decided to return to the Duplays. The men in the family (Maurice, his son and nephew) were all actively involved in official duties thanks to Robespierre's patronage. [60] According to his friend, the surgeon Joseph Souberbielle, Joachim Vilate, and Duplay's daughter Élisabeth, Robespierre became engaged to Duplay's eldest daughter Éléonore, but his sister Charlotte vigorously denied this. [61] [62]

On the day before the dissolution of the Assembly, Robespierre opposed Jean Le Chapelier, a Feuillant, who proclaimed to end the revolution and restrict the freedom of the clubs. Robespierre had been carefully preparing for this confrontation. It was the climax of his political career up to this point. [63] Madame Roland named Pétion de Villeneuve, François Buzot and Robespierre as the three incorruptible patriots in an attempt to honour their purity of principles, their modest ways of living, and their refusal of bribes. [64] Mid October Robespierre returned to Arras. On 28 November he was back in the Jacobin club, where he met with a triumphant reception. Collot gave his chair to Robespierre, who presided that evening.

Opposition to war with Austria

Since Jean-Paul Marat, Danton and Robespierre were no longer delegates of the Assembly, politics often took place outside the meeting hall. On 18 December 1791 Robespierre gave a speech at the Jacobin club against the declaration of war. [65] Robespierre warned against the threat of dictatorship stemming from war, in the following terms:

If they are Caesars, Catilinas or Cromwells, they seize power for themselves. If they are spineless courtiers, uninterested in doing good yet dangerous when they seek to do harm, they go back to lay their power at their master's feet, and help him to resume arbitrary power on condition they become his chief servants. [66]

The Jacobins decided his speech would not be printed. [67] On 25 December Guadet, the chairman of the Assembly, suggested that 1792 should be the first year of universal liberty. [68] Jacques Pierre Brissot stated on 29 December that a war would be a benefit to the nation and boost the economy. He urged that France should declare war against Austria. Jean-Paul Marat and Robespierre opposed him, arguing that victory would throw up a dictator while defeat would restore the king to his former powers; neither end, he said, would serve the revolution. [69]

The most extravagant idea that can arise in a politician's head is to believe that it is enough for a people to invade a foreign country to make it adopt their laws and their constitution. No one loves armed missionaries... The Declaration of the Rights of Man... is not a lightning bolt which strikes every throne at the same time... I am far from claiming that our Revolution will not eventually influence the fate of the world... But I say that it will not be today (2 January 1792). [70]

This opposition from expected allies irritated the Girondists, and the war became a major point of contention between the factions. In his third speech on the war Robespierre countered in the Jacobin club, "A revolutionary war must be waged to free subjects and slaves from unjust tyranny, not for the traditional reasons of defending dynasties and expanding frontiers..." Indeed, argued Robespierre, such a war could only favour the forces of counter-revolution, since it would play into the hands of those who opposed the sovereignty of the people. The risks of Caesarism were clear, for in wartime, the powers of the generals would grow at the expense of ordinary soldiers, and the power of the king and court at the expense of the Assembly. These dangers should not be overlooked, he reminded his listeners, " troubled periods of history, generals often became the arbiters of the fate of their countries." [71] Already by then Robespierre knew he lost as he failed to gather a majority. His speech was nevertheless published and sent to all clubs and Jacobin societies of France.

On 10 February 1792 he gave a speech on how to save the State and Liberty and did not use the word war. He began by assuring his audience that everything he intended to propose was strictly constitutional. He then went on to advocate specific measure to strengthen, not so much the national defences as the forces that could be relied on to defend the revolution. [72] Not only the National Guard, but also the people had to be armed, if necessary with pikes. Robespierre promoted a people's army, continuously under arms and able to impose its will on Feuillants and moderates in the Constitutional Cabinet of Louis XVI and in the Legislative Assembly? [73] The Jacobins decided to study his speech before being printed. [74]

The Girondins planned strategies for out-manoeuvring Robespierre's influence in the Jacobins. [75] Robespierre was accused by Brissot and Guadet of trying to become the idol of the people. [76] The latter one accused Robespierre of superstition, relying on divine providence. [77] Robespierre was also accused of acting as a secret agent for the Austrian Committee. [78] On 10 April Robespierre resigned the post of public prosecutor, which he officially held since 15 February. [79] Robespierre explained his resignation to the Jacobin Club, on 27 April, as part of his speech in response to the accusations against him. He preferred to continue his mission as citizen. [80] On 17 May, Robespierre published the first issue of his journal Le Défenseur de la Constitution (The Defender of the Constitution). It served multiple purposes: first of all to print his speeches, to counter the influence of the royal court in public policy, to defend Robespierre from the accusations of Girondist leaders and to give voice to the economic and democratic interests of the broader masses in Paris and defend their rights. [81] [82]

The insurrectionary Commune of Paris

Demonstration of 20 June 1792 at the Tuileries Bouillon Verite Journee du 20 juin 1792 Couleurs 1796.jpg
Demonstration of 20 June 1792 at the Tuileries
A sans-culotte with his pike Sans-culotte avec sa redoutable pique - Lesueur.jpg
A sans-culotte with his pike

When the Legislative Assembly declared war against Austria on 20 April 1792, an isolated Robespierre responded by working to reduce the political influence of the officer class and the king. While arguing for the welfare of common soldiers, Robespierre urged new promotions to mitigate the domination of the officer class by the aristocratic and royalist École Militaire and the conservative National Guard. (The selling of all sorts of positions, military or otherwise, was rampant in the courts of the Ancien Régime and so the officer corps’ mass exodus from France naturally coincided with that of the aristocrats. Not all aristocrats were officers, but all officers were aristocrats. [83] ) Along with other Jacobins, he urged the creation of a Sans-culottes army, [84] with the goal to defend "liberty" (the revolution), maintain order in the sections and educate the members in democratic principles; an idea he borrowed from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Machiavelli. [85]

In early June 1792, Robespierre proposed an end to the monarchy and the subordination of the Assembly to the General will. [86] Following the king's veto of the Assembly's efforts to raise a militia of 20,000 volunteers, the reinstatement of Brissotin ministers and suppress non-juring priests, the monarchy faced an abortive insurrection on 20 June. [87] Sergent-Marceau and Panis, the administrators of police, urged the Sans-culottes to lay down their weapons, telling them it was illegal to present a petition in arms, although their march to the Tuileries was not banned.

Because French forces suffered disastrous defeats and a series of defections at the onset of the war, Robespierre and Marat feared the possibility of a military coup d'état. Another one led by the Marquis de Lafayette, head of the National Guard, who in the end of June advocated the suppression of the Jacobin Club. Robespierre publicly attacked him in scathing terms: "General, while from the midst of your camp you declared war upon me, which you had thus far spared for the enemies of our state, while you denounced me as an enemy of liberty to the army, national guard and Nation in letters published by your purchased papers, I had thought myself only disputing with a general... but not yet the dictator of France, arbitrator of the state." [88] Section assemblies were permitting "passive" citizens to their National Guard companies without seeking formal permission. [89]

Billaud-Varenne in the Jacobin club on 15 July, outlined the program following the uprising; the deportation of all the Bourbons, the cleansing of the National Guards, the election of a Convention, the transfer of the Royal veto to the people, the deportation of all enemies of the people and exemption of the poorest from taxation. This programme was repeated almost unchanged in the Manifesto on 29 July, drawn up by Robespierre. [90] This sentiment reflected the perspective of more radical Jacobins including those of the Marseille Club, who wrote to the mayor Pétion and the people of Paris, "Here and at Toulon we have debated the possibility of forming a column of 100,000 men to sweep away our enemies... Paris may have need of help. Call on us!" [91] At the end of July almost 3,500 Fédérés had entered Paris without the king's approval. They were allowed to join the reformed National Guard, [92] and would focus on the "enemy within". On 1 August Carnot decided that pikes should be made and issued to all citizens. [93] On 4 August, at the head of the municipality of Paris, Pétion demanded the deposition of the king. On 5 August Robespierre announced the uncovering of a plan for the king to escape to Château de Gaillon. [94] Robespierre and almost all the sections in Paris wanted to dethrone the king and set an ultimatum. [95] Brissot called for the maintenance of the constitution, excluding both the dethronement of the king and the election of a new assembly. [96] On the evening of 9 August 1792 the commissionaires Billaud-Varenne, Chaumette, Robespierre, Hébert, Hanriot, Lescaut-Fleuriot, Pache, Bourdon gathered in the townhall; Danton and Pétion were not present. At midnight the municipal government of the city was dissolved.

Early in the morning (10 August 1792) 30,000 Fédérés, and Sans-culottes (militants from the sections) led a successful assault upon the Tuileries; [97] according to Robespierre a triumph for the "passive" (non-voting) citizens. Brissot stopped visiting the Jacobin club. On the night of 11 August Robespierre was elected to the Paris Commune as representative for the Place Vendôme section, his constituency. The governing committee called for the summoning of a convention chosen by universal male suffrage, [98] to form a new government and reorganize France. Robespierre published the last issue of his magazine "Le Défenseur de la Constitution", both an account and political testament. [99] On 15 August the non-juring priests were ordered to leave the country within two weeks. On 16 August, Robespierre presented a petition to the Legislative Assembly from the Paris Commune to demand the establishment of a revolutionary tribunal that had to deal with the "traitors" and "enemies of the people". The next day Robespierre refused to preside over it; the same man ought not to be a denouncer, an accuser, and a judge. [100] He declined any position that might take him out of the political arena. [101] According to Danton and Robespierre royalists who spoke of surrendering or a deal with the Prussian and Austrian army had to be arrested and detained. Likewise the one's who refused to hand over their arms to the men of the Paris militias, since 19 August, incorporated in the National Guard under Santerre.

The passive citizens still strived for acceptance and the supply of weapons. Under the Commune's direct authority the Paris sections organized themselves as surveillance committees, conducting searches and making arrests. [102] Before September, between 520–1,000 people were taken into custody on the flimsiest warrants. [103] [104] Marat and Robespierre both disliked Condorcet who proposed that the "enemies of the people" belonged to the Nation; that prisoners ought not to be judged by members of the Commune. (According to Alphonse Aulard Robespierre proclaimed that the people were never wrong: this was the theme of his oratory, at the Jacobins and in the upcoming Convention.) At the end of August there was a sharp conflict between the Legislative and the Commune and its sections, according to Jonathan Israel. [105] [101] On 30 August Girondins like Roland and Marguerite-Élie Guadet tried to suppress the influence of the Commune; the Assembly, tired of the pressures, declared the Commune illegal and suggested the organization of communal elections. [106]

Robespierre was no longer willing to cooperate with Brissot, who promoted the Duke of Brunswick, and Roland, who proposed that the members of the government should leave Paris. With a sense of martyrdom, Robespierre ordered the sections that they should maintain their posts, and die if necessary. [107] [108] On Sunday morning 2 September the sections of the Commune, gathering in the town hall because of the elections, decided to maintain their seats and have Rolland and Brissot arrested. [109] [110] Madame de Staël, who tried to escape Paris, was forced by the crowd to go to the town hall. She noted that Robespierre was seated that day, assisted by Collot d'Herbois en Billaud-Varenne as secretaries. [111] According to Maximilien's sister he never presided the insurrectionary commune. [112]

The National Convention

Robespierre, Danton and Marat by Alfred Loudet Alfred Loudet - Marat.jpg
Robespierre, Danton and Marat by Alfred Loudet

On 2 September 1792 French National Convention election began. In vain Robespierre proposed excluding deputies from the Assembly re-election to the Convention, but succeeded in banning royalists. [113] [114] In Paris Girondin and Feuillant candidates were boycotted and became terrified when the September Massacres began in the afternoon. [115] Robespierre (always 'poudré, frisé, et parfumé') visited the Temple prison to check on the security of the royal family. [116] According to his sister Robespierre refused to talk to Pétion de Villeneuve, who kept low profile. On 5 September, Robespierre was elected deputy to the National Convention. Of the 24 Paris deputies, 16 came from the Commune. [117] On 21 September the Jacobins and Cordeliers took the high benches at the back of the former Théâtre des Tuileries, giving them the label the "Montagnards", or "the Mountaineers"; below them were the "Manège" of the Girondists, moderate Republicans and then the Plain of the independents, virtually leaderless and dominated by the radical Mountain. [118] On 26 September, the Girondist Marc-David Lasource accused Robespierre of wanting to form a dictatorship. [119] Rumours spread that Robespierre, Marat and Danton were plotting to establish a triumvirate. (Until September 1792 the French Legislative Assembly saw an unprecedented turnover of six ministers of the interior, seven ministers of foreign affairs, and eight ministers of war. [120] ) On 29 October, Louvet de Couvrai attacked Robespierre. [121] The Girondist accused Robespierre of star allures, [122] and having done nothing to stop the September massacre; instead he had used it to have more Montagnards elected. [123] Robespierre was given a week to respond. On 5 November, Robespierre defended himself, the Jacobin Club and his supporters in and beyond Paris:

Upon the Jacobins I exercise, if we are to believe my accusers, a despotism of opinion, which can be regarded as nothing other than the forerunner of dictatorship. Firstly, I do not know what a dictatorship of opinion is, above all in a society of free men... unless this describes nothing more than the natural compulsion of principles. In fact, this compulsion hardly belongs to the man who enunciates them; it belongs to universal reason and to all men who wish to listen to its voice. It belongs to my colleagues of the Constituent Assembly, to the patriots of the Legislative Assembly, to all citizens who will invariably defend the cause of liberty. Experience has proven, despite Louis XVI and his allies, that the opinion of the Jacobins and of the popular clubs were those of the French Nation; no citizen has made them, and I did nothing other than share in them. [124]

Turning the accusations upon his accusers, Robespierre delivered one of the most famous lines of the French Revolution to the Assembly:

I will not remind you that the sole object of contention dividing us is that you have instinctively defended all acts of new ministers, and we, of principles; that you seemed to prefer power, and we equality... Why don't you prosecute the Commune, the Legislative Assembly, the Sections of Paris, the Assemblies of the Cantons and all who imitated us? For all these things have been illegal, as illegal as the Revolution, as the fall of the Monarchy and of the Bastille, as illegal as liberty itself... Citizens, do you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution which has directed itself against those who freed us from chains? [125]

Witnesses commented on the large number of women who came to hear the Incorruptible defend his reputation. [126]

Execution of Louis XVI

The interrogation of Louis XVI at the National Convention ExaminationLouistheLast.jpg
The interrogation of Louis XVI at the National Convention

The Convention's unanimous declaration of a French Republic on 21 September 1792 left open the fate of the king. A commission was therefore established to examine evidence against him while the Convention's Legislation Committee considered legal aspects of any future trial. Most Montagnards favoured judgment and execution, while the Girondins were divided concerning Louis's fate, with some arguing for royal inviolability, others for clemency, and some advocating lesser punishment or banishment. [127] On 13 November Robespierre stated in the Convention that a Constitution which Louis had violated himself, and which declared his inviolability, could not now be used in his defence. [128] Robespierre had been taken ill and had done little other than support Saint-Just, who gave his first major speech, in his argument against the king's inviolability. On 20 November, opinion turned sharply against Louis following the discovery of a secret cache of 726 documents consisting of Louis's personal communications with bankers and ministers. [129] At his trial he claimed not to recognize documents clearly signed by himself. [130]

Now, with the question of the king's fate occupying public discourse, Robespierre on 3 December delivered a speech that would define the rhetoric and course of Louis's trial. [131] Robespierre argued that the king, now dethroned, could function only as a threat to liberty and national peace and that the members of the Assembly were not fair judges, but rather statesmen with responsibility for public safety:

Louis was a king, and our republic is established; the critical question concerning you must be decided by these words alone. Louis was dethroned by his crimes; Louis denounced the French people as rebels; he appealed to chains, to the armies of tyrants who are his brothers; the victory of the people established that Louis alone was a rebel; Louis cannot therefore be judged; he already is judged. He is condemned, or the republic cannot be absolved. To propose to have a trial of Louis XVI, in whatever manner one may, is to retrogress to royal despotism and constitutionality; it is a counter-revolutionary idea because it places the revolution itself in litigation. In effect, if Louis may still be given a trial, he may be absolved, and innocent. What am I to say? He is presumed to be so until he is judged. But if Louis is absolved, if he may be presumed innocent, what becomes of the revolution? If Louis is innocent, all the defenders of liberty become slanderers. [132]

In arguing for a judgment by the elected Convention without trial, Robespierre supported the recommendations of Jean-Baptiste Mailhe, who headed the commission reporting on legal aspects of Louis's trial or judgment. Unlike some Girondins, Robespierre specifically opposed judgment by primary assemblies or a referendum, believing that this could cause civil war. [133] While he called for a trial of queen Marie Antoinette and the imprisonment of the Dauphin, Robespierre argued for the death penalty in the case of the king:

Yes, the death penalty is in general a crime, unjustifiable by the indestructible principles of nature, except in cases protecting the safety of individuals or the society altogether. Ordinary misdemeanours have never threatened public safety because society may always protect itself by other means, making those culpable powerless to harm it. But for a king dethroned in the bosom of a revolution, which is as yet cemented only by laws; a king whose name attracts the scourge of war upon a troubled nation; neither prison, nor exile can render his existence inconsequential to public happiness; this cruel exception to the ordinary laws avowed by justice can be imputed only to the nature of his crimes. With regret I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation may live. [134]

On 14 January 1793, the king was unanimously voted guilty of conspiracy and attacks upon public safety. On 15 January, the call for a referendum was defeated by 424 votes to 287, which was led by Robespierre. On 16 January, voting began for the king's sentence, and the session continued for 24 hours. During this time, Robespierre worked fervently to ensure the king's execution. Of the 721 deputies who voted, at least 361 had to have voted for death. The Jacobins successfully defeated the Girondins' final appeal for clemency. [135] Louis was executed two days later, on 21 January, at the Place de la Révolution . [136]

Destruction of the Girondists

Journees des 31 Mai, 1er et 2 Juin 1793, an engraving of the riots organized by the Paris Commune RiotsMay31-June2 1793.jpg
Journées des 31 Mai, 1er et 2 Juin 1793, an engraving of the riots organized by the Paris Commune
Francois Hanriot chef de la section des Sans-Culottes by Gabriel, drawing in the Carnavalet Museum Hanriot.jpg
François Hanriot chef de la section des Sans-Culottes by Gabriel, drawing in the Carnavalet Museum

After the execution of the king, the influence of Robespierre, Danton and the pragmatic politicians increased at the expense of the Girondins who were largely seen as responsible for the inadequate response to the Flanders Campaign they had themselves initiated. On 11 March 1793, a Revolutionary Tribunal was established on proposal of Danton, Robert Lindet and René Levasseur. Robespierre was not enthusiastic and feared that it might become the political instrument of a faction. [137] Robespierre believed that all institutions are bad if they are not founded on the assumption that the people are good and their magistrates corruptible. [138]

On 6 April the Committee of Public Safety was installed on proposal of Maximin Isnard, who was supported by Georges Danton. The Committee was non-hierarchical and gathered in Pavillon de Flore twice a day. [139] [140] Anyone with "strong presumptions of complicity with the enemies of Liberty" could be arrested. The next day Phillipe Égalité was one of their first victims. Robespierre accused the Girondins Dumouriez and Phillipe Égalité with his two sons of a conspiracy to restore the monarchy.

The economic situation in France was rapidly deteriorating and the country was almost bankrupt. The Montagnards lost influence in several city councils like in Marseille and Lyon. In Paris many citizens had entered the National Guard, more than 110,000 men in January 1793 willing to defend the revolution; about 2,400 men from every section. Early April Robespierre was pessimistic about the prospects of parliamentary action and told the Jacobins that it was necessary to raise an army of sans-culottes in Paris. [141] On 1 May the crowds threatened armed insurrection if the emergency measures demanded [price control] were not adopted. [142] On 12 May he repeated in the Jacobin club the necessity of founding an army consisting only of Sans-culottes, who would be paid by the public treasury. Every public square should be used to produce arms and pikes. Suspect people should be arrested and locked up. [143] There are only two parties according to Robespierre: the people and its enemies. [144] The Girondin party became concerned.

As rioting persisted a commission of inquiry of twelve members, with a very strong Girondin majority, was set up to investigate the anarchy in the communes and the activities of the Sans-culottes. Brissot proposed closing the Jacobin club and dismissal of the Paris Commune. Hébert, editor of Le Père Duchesne and prosecutor of the Commune was arrested. On 25 May, the Commune demanded that Hébert be released; sections drew the list of 22 prominent Girondins to be removed from the Convention. The next day Robespierre preached at the Jacobin Club a moral "insurrection against the corrupt deputies". On 29 May, the delegates representing thirty-three of the Paris sections formed an insurrectionary committee. [145] The Jacobins declared themselves in the state of insurrection on 31 May. According to Hampton the subject is quite extraordinary complicated and obscure. [146]

On 2 June, a large force of supposedly 80,000 Sans-culottes and National Guards led by Hanriot, surrounded the Convention with 172 guns. "The armed force," he said, "will retire only when the Convention has delivered to the people the deputies denounced by the Commune." [147] After an attempt of deputies to exit collided with their guns, the deputies resigned themselves to declare the arrest of Girondins. Nearly 100 Girondin deputies were imprisoned, as well as the members of the Committee of Twelve. Early October their trial began, 22 were executed in the following weeks. Robespierre remained steadfast in opposing any attempt to send the others before the Revolutionary Tribunal. [148] (Early 1795 73 members would return to the Convention.)

During the insurrection Robespierre had scrawled a note in his memorandum-book:

What we need is a single will (il faut une volonté une). It must be either republican or royalist. If it is to be republican, we must have republican ministers, republican newspapers, republican deputies, a republican government. The internal dangers come from the middle classes; in order to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people. ... The people must ally itself with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people. [149] [150]

Reign of Terror

The Pavillon de Flore, the seat of the Committee of Public Safety. Drawing in brown ink (1814) Le Pont Royal et le Pavillon de Flore, 1814 - BnF.jpg
The Pavillon de Flore, the seat of the Committee of Public Safety. Drawing in brown ink (1814)
Peasants and commoners (insurgent royalists or Chouans) in the Vendee, Maine, the south of Normandy or the eastern part of Brittany defending a Catholic Church. Artist unknown Chouans in the Vendee.png
Peasants and commoners (insurgent royalists or Chouans) in the Vendée, Maine, the south of Normandy or the eastern part of Brittany defending a Catholic Church. Artist unknown

After the fall of the monarchy, the revolutionary French government faced serious internal and external challenges. French revolutionary politicians believed a stable government was needed to quell the chaos; [151] 26 of the 83 departments were no longer under the control of Paris. Attacked by the aristocracy in Vendée and Brittany, by federalism in Lyon, in Le Midi and in Normandy, in struggle with all Europe and the foreign factions, France had set fourteen armies on foot in July. The War of the First Coalition forced changes in the monetary-fiscal experiment. The growth of paper money accelerated to almost 9 percent per month. Debt payments were suspended indefinitely, and the assignat was converted from its initial purpose to become the main means of financing the war. [152]

Robespierre denounced the schemes of the Parisian radicals known as the Enragés, who were using the rising inflation and food shortage to stir up the Paris sections. [1] On 27 July 1793, Robespierre was added to the Committee of Public Safety, although he had not sought the position. [153] He himself said he joined reluctantly. It was the first time he held any executive office, in charge of education. Robespierre soon gave up and became a kind of Minister without Portfolio, [154] according to Ralph Korngold as the unofficial prime-minister. On 4 August the French Constitution of 1793 passed through the Convention, containing four articles by Robespierre which affirm the unity of the human race, the need for solidarity between the peoples and the rejection of the kings. [9] The right of association, right to work and public assistance, right to public education, right of rebellion (and duty to rebel when the government violates the right of the people), and the abolition of slavery, were all written into the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793. [155] Though the Constitution was overwhelmingly popular and its drafting and ratification buoyed popular support for the Montagnards, the convention set it aside indefinitely on 10 October 1793 until a future peace. [156]

On 4 September, the Sans-culottes again invaded the Convention. They demanded tougher measures against rising prices and the setting up of a system of terror to root out the counter-revolution. [157] On 5 September Collot and Billaud were elected in the Committee of Public Safety; [158] a "Sans-culotte army" was formed in Paris, to sweep away conspirators. [159] (A force of citizen-soldiers which could go into the countryside to supervise the requisition of grain, to prevent the manoeuvres of rich égoistes and deliver them up to the vengeance of the laws'. [160] ) Terror was formally instituted as a legal policy by the Convention. In a proclamation Barère said, "It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads. It is time to horrify all the conspirators. So legislators, place Terror on the order of the day! Let us be in revolution, because everywhere counter-revolution is being woven by our enemies. The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty." Robespierre was particularly concerned that the public officials should be virtuous. [161]

The Committee of General Security which was tasked with rooting out crimes and preventing counterrevolution began to manage the country's internal police and finance. On September 8, the banks and exchange offices were closed to prevent the exchange of forged assignats and the export of capital. [162] On 17 September, the Law of Suspects was passed, which authorized the imprisonment of vaguely defined "suspects". The Revolutionary Tribunal was divided into four sections, of which two were always active at the same time. On 11 and 29 September, the Convention (or Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne) introduced the General maximum, [163] particularly in the area which supplied Paris. [164] On 10 October they paved the way for the law recognizing the Committee of Public Safety as the supreme "Revolutionary Government". [165]

On 12 October when Hébert, one of the spokesmen for the Sans-culottes, who became more extreme after the death of Marat, accused Marie-Antoinette during her trial of incest with her son, Robespierre had dinner with Barère, Saint-Just and Joachim Vilate. Discussing the matter, Robespierre broke his plate with his fork and called Hébert an "imbécile". [166] [167] [168] According to Vilate Robespierre then had already two or three bodyguards. On 25 October the Revolutionary government was accused of doing nothing. [169] At the end of the month, several members of the General Security Committee assisted by the armée revolutionaire were sent into the provinces to suppress active resistance against the Jacobins. Barras and Fréron went to Marseille and Toulon. Fouché and Collot-d'Herbois halted the revolt of Lyon against the National Convention, Jean-Baptiste Carrier ordered the drownings at Nantes. Tallien succeeded feeding the guillotine in Bordeaux and Joseph Lebon in Somme and Pas-de-Calais. Saint-Just and Le Bas visited the Rhine Army to watch the generals and punish officers for the least sign of treasonous timidity, or lack of initiative. [170] Early November Brissot, Philippe Égalité and Madame Roland were guillotined; the last shouted on the scaffold: "Oh liberty, what crimes they commit in your name!" [171]

On the morning of 14 November 1793 François Chabot burst into Robespierre's room dragging him from bed with accusations of counter-revolution and conspiracy, waving a hundred thousand livres in assignat notes, claiming that a band of royalist plotters gave it to him to buy Fabre d'Eglantine's vote, along with others, to liquidate some stock in an overseas trading concern. [172] [173] Chabot was arrested three days later. On 25 November 1793 the remains of Comte de Mirabeau were removed from the Pantheon on the initiative of Robespierre when it became known that in his last months the count had secretly conspired with the court of Louis XVI. Between March 1793 and March 1794, according to Peter McPhee approximately 170,000 Vendéens and 30,000 republican troops died, and in some areas 20% of the buildings were destroyed, especially churches. [174] Controversy has centred on whether this may be called a 'genocide' or 'mass killing'. [175] [176] [177] Saint-Just stated: "Everything that happens is terrible, but necessary."

On 4 December, by the Law of Revolutionary Government, the independence of the départements came to an end, when extensive powers of Committee of Public Safety were codified. The departmental armée revolutionaire was banned? [178] [179] [180] This law, submitted by Billaud, was seen as a deeply drastic decision against the independence of municipalities and federalism. On 6 December Robespierre warned in the Convention against the dangers of dechristianization, and attacked 'all violence or threats contrary to the freedom of religion'. On 12 December the Indulgents mounted an attack on the Committee of Public Safety. [181] On 25 December (5 Nivôse, year II) Robespierre presented a report to the Convention on the principles of the revolutionary government, justifying the collective dictatorship of the National Convention, administrative centralization, and the purging of local authorities. He protested against the various factions [Hébertists and Dantonists] that threatened the government. [182] [183] According to Robespierre, for a long time a staunch believer in the teachings of Rousseau:

The theory of the revolutionary government is as new as the revolution that created it. We must not look for it in the books of political writers, who have not foreseen this revolution, nor in the laws of tyrants who, content to abuse their power, do little to seek its legitimacy..." Robespierre would suppress chaos and anarchy; "the Government has to defend itself" and "to the enemies of the people it ownes only death.” [184] [185]

According to Donald Clark Hodges this was the first important statement in modern times of a philosophy of dictatorship. [186] The Committee became a War Cabinet with unprecedented powers over the economic as well as the political life of the nation, but it had to get the approval of the Assembly for any legislation and could be changed any time. [187] In the winter of 1793–94, a majority of the Committee decided that the ultra-left Hébertists would have to perish or their opposition within the Committee would overshadow the other factions due to its influence in the Commune of Paris. Robespierre also had personal reasons for disliking the Hébertists for their atheism and "bloodthirstiness", which he associated with the old aristocracy. [188] Under intense emotional pressure from Lyonnaise women Robespierre suggested that a secret commission be set up to examine the cases of the Lyon rebels, to see if injustices had been committed. This is the closest he came to adopting a public position against the use of terror. [189] By now the revolutionaries feared one another. [190] Robespierre the younger was shocked at the changed atmosphere in the Jacobin club.

The "enemy within"

Cartoon showing Robespierre guillotining the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France. Robespierre executant le bourreau.jpg
Cartoon showing Robespierre guillotining the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France.

In December 1793 Camille Desmoulins launched a journal, Le Vieux Cordelier, arguing that the Revolution should return to its original ideals. In January Robespierre came into conflict with his oldest friend, who had taken up for the cause of 200,000 defenceless civilians and had been detained in prisons as a suspect. According to Desmoulins, a Committee of Grace had to be established. (Illicit trade and dearth prevailed during the unfortunate winter of 1793–1794. The prisons were full of shopkeepers.) Robespierre proposed that the issues of Le Vieux Cordelier had to be burned in the brazier of the Jacobin club. Robespierre had to choose between friendship and virtue. Desmoulins counselled Robespierre not to attempt to build the Republic on such a rare quality as virtue. Robespierre attacked the authenticity of the suspects by giving the blackest interpretation to words and actions that he had witnessed from the privileged position of being a trusted friend. [191]

In his Report on the Principles of Political Morality of 5 February 1794, Robespierre praised the revolutionary government and argued that terror and virtue were necessary:

If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny. [192]

He argued, "Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie [the 'fatherland']. Aulard sums up the Jacobin train of thought, “All politics, according to Robespierre, must tend to establish the reign of virtue and confound vice. He reasoned thus: those who are virtuous are right; error is a corruption of the heart; error cannot be sincere; error is always deliberate. [193] [194] The speech of 17 Pluviose served notice that the Revolutionary Government was determined to remain above the factions. [195] Robespierre gave the Terror a philosophical (and perhaps moral) justification. [196] According to the German journalist K.E. Oelsner, Robespierre behaved "more like a leader of a religious sect than of a political party. He can be eloquent but most of the time he is boring, especially when he goes on too long, which is often the case." [197]

To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity.

—Maximilien Robespierre, 5 February 1794 [198]

Hanriot ordered the arrest of all those who disregarded the regulations of the municipality. [199] Transport of goods passing the city gates was intensified. The corruption of politicians and government officials without much experience was an immense problem. On 26 February it was decided that the goods of people who had been declared as "enemies of the republic" would be confiscated. Nobody was allowed to leave the country without permission. Elections would not take place in the next five months if seats were released from sections of the Commune. The vacated posts were filled with Jacobins; in many cases appointed by the triumvirate. [200] The influence of the Paris Commune was at its lowest point. There was no money for the provision of food to the poor. Half of Paris was going hungry. Self-indulgent over-eating, especially when flaunted in public, was an indication of suspect political loyalties, according to Saint-Just. It was ambition, not virtue, that motivated the great majority of people who held public office. [201] At the beginning of March, the treasury was almost empty; there were rumors of insurrection. Besides France was flooded with false English and almost worthless assignats. Foreigners were no longer allowed to enter Paris. To move around in the city one needed a card de securité.

From 13 February to 13 March 1794, Robespierre had withdrawn from active business on the Committee due to illness. [202] Subsequently, he joined in attacks on the Hébertists and the Dantonists. [16] Hébert had been using Le Père Duchesne to critize the Committee's leadership. On 13-14 March Hébert and 18 of his followers (Ronsin, Vincent, Momoro, etc.) were arrested on charges of complicity with foreign powers and guillotined on 24 March. Their death was a sort of carnival, a pleasant spectacle according to Michelet's witnesses. On 28 March the armée revolutionaire, for eight months active in Paris and surroundings, was finally disbanded, except their artillery! [203] Then Robespierre broke with Danton, who had angered many other members of the Committee of Public Safety with his more moderate views on the Terror, but whom Robespierre had, until this point, persisted in defending. For several months he had resisted killing Danton. [204] The aim was to sow enough doubt in the minds of the deputies regarding Danton's political integrity to make it possible to proceed against him. Robespierre refused to see Desmoulins and rejected a private appeal. [205] Robespierre even used Danton's well fad look against him. Danton, Desmoulins and Fabre d'Eglantine were arrested on 30 March without a change to be heard in the Convention. [206] A trial began on charges of conspiracy, theft and corruption; a financial scandal involving the French East India Company provided a "convenient pretext" for Danton's downfall. [207] (The directors of the Company were never interrogated at all. [208] ) However, Robespierre was sharply critical of Amar's report, which presented the scandal as purely a matter of fraud. Robespierre insisted that it was a foreign plot, demanded that the report be re-written, and used the scandal as the basis for rhetorical attacks on the foreign powers he believed were involved. [209] Legendre attempted to defend Danton in the Assembly, but was silenced by Robespierre. Legendre feared for his life. No friend of the Dantonists dared speak up in case he too should be accused of putting friendship before virtue. [210] The juror Souberbielle asked himself: "Which of the two, Robespierre or Danton, is the more useful to the Republic? [211]

A few days later Lucile Desmoulins was imprisoned. She was accused of trying to raise money to free her husband and Danton. She admitted to having warned the prisoners of a course of events as in September 1792, and that it was her duty to revolt against it. That was enough evidence for the jury to send her to the scaffold. (Robespierre kept his mouth shut. Robespierre was not only their eldest friend but also witnessed at their marriage in December 1790. [212] [213] ) The death of Hébert made Robespierre master of the Paris Commune; the death of Danton, master of the Convention.

On 1 April 1794 Lazare Carnot proposed the executive council be suppressed and be replaced by twelve Committees reporting to the Committee of Public Safety. The proposal was unanimously adopted by the National Convention, [214] and set up by Martial Herman, probably with more speed after 9 Thermidor. According to Hanriot the one who despises the current government is an agent of the English faction. [147] On 16 April 1794 the Committee of Public Safety received the power to search and to bring accused persons before the Revolutionary Tribunal, in the same way as had the Committee of General Security. On 23 April the General Police Bureau was set up, tasked with gathering information and mostly report directly to Robespierre. [215] Within a week Robespierre took over the running and expanded its remit when Saint-Just left Paris for the army in the north. [216]

Georges Couthon introduced the drastic Law of 22 Prairial, which was enacted on 10 June. Under this law, the Tribunal became a simple court of condemnation refusing suspects the right of counsel and allowing only one of two verdicts – complete acquittal or death. On 11 July the shopkeepers, craftsmen, etc. were temporarily released from prison. In the next three days 156 people were sent in batches to the guillotine, which had been moved to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine three weeks before in order to stand out less. According to François Furet the prisons were overpopulated; they housed over 8,000 "suspects" at the beginning of Thermidor year II. [217] The city also had to solve serious problems on the cemeteries because of the smell. Mid July two new mass graves were dug at Picpus Cemetery in the impermeable ground.

Abolition of slavery

Throughout the course of the Revolution, Robespierre (at times ambivalently and outspokenly) opposed slavery on French soil or in French territories and he played an important role in abolishing it. [218] [219]

In May 1791 Robespierre argued passionately in the National Assembly against the Colonial Committee, dominated by slaveholders in the Caribbean. The colonial lobby declared that political rights for blacks would cause France to lose her colonies. Robespierre responded, "We should not compromise the interests humanity holds most dear, the sacred rights of a significant number of our fellow citizens," later shouting, "Death to the colonies!" [220] Robespierre was furious that the assembly gave "constitutional sanction to slavery in the colonies," and argued for equal political rights regardless of skin colour. [221] Robespierre did not argue for slavery's immediate abolition. Nevertheless, pro-slavery advocates in France regarded Robespierre as a "bloodthirsty innovator" and as a traitor plotting to give French colonies to England. [220] Only months later, hundreds of thousands of slaves in St Domingue led a revolution against slavery and colonial rule. [222]

In the following years, the slaves of St. Domingue effectively liberated themselves and formed an army to oppose re-enslavement. Robespierre denounced the slave trade in a speech before the Convention in April 1793. [223] The radical 1793 constitution supported by Robespierre and the Montagnards, which was ratified by a national referendum, granted universal suffrage to French men and explicitly condemned slavery. But the constitution was never implemented. [223] In November 1793, Robespierre gave his support to a proposal to investigate the colonial general Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, a Girondist who had freed slaves in the colonies. [223] At the same time, Robespierre denounced the French minister to the newly formed United States, Edmond-Charles Genêt, who had sided with Sonthonax. [223]

By 1794, French debates concerning slavery reached their apogee. In late January, delegations representing both former slaveholders and former slaves arrived in France to petition for slavery or its abolition. [223] Briefly imprisoned, the delegation opposing slavery was freed on the orders of the Committee of Public Safety, on which Robespierre sat. Receiving the delegation on their release, the National Convention passed a decree banning slavery on 4 February. [223] Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, at the same time, heard a petition from the slaveholders, which they did not act upon. On the day after the emancipation decree, Robespierre delivered a speech to the National Convention in which he praised the French as the first to "summon all men to equality and liberty, and their full rights as citizens," using the word slavery twice but without specifically mentioning the French colonies. [223] Despite petitions from the slaveholding delegation, Robespierre and the Committee decided to endorse the decree in full. [223]

Several weeks later, in a speech before the committee of public safety, Robespierre linked the cruelty of slavery with serfdom:

Ask a merchant of human flesh what is property; he will answer by showing you that long coffin he calls a ship... Ask a gentleman [the same] who has lands and vassals... and he will give you almost the identical ideas.

Robespierre, "The Principles of Property", 24 April 1794. [224] [225]

He attended a meeting of the Jacobin club in June 1794 to support a decree ending slavery, and later signed orders to ratify it. [224] The decree led to a surge in popularity for the Republic among blacks in St-Domingue, most of whom had already freed themselves and were seeking military alliances to guarantee their freedom. [221]

Cult of the Supreme Being

The Festival of the Supreme Being, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1794) Fete de l'Etre supreme 2.jpg
The Festival of the Supreme Being, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1794)

Robespierre's desire for revolutionary change was not limited to the political realm. He opposed the power of the Catholic Church and the pope, particularly in opposition to their celibacy policies. [226] Having denounced the excesses of dechristianisation, he sought to instil a spiritual resurgence in the French nation based on Deist beliefs. Accordingly, on 7 May 1794, Robespierre supported a decree passed by the Convention that established an official religion, known historically as the Cult of the Supreme Being. The notion of the Supreme Being was based on ideas that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in The Social Contract . [85] A nationwide "Festival of the Supreme Being" was held in the afternoon on 8 June (which was also the Christian holiday of Pentecost). The festivities in Paris were held in the Champ de Mars, which was renamed the Champ de la Réunion ("Field of Reunion") for that day. This was most likely in honour of the Champ de Mars Massacre, where the Republicans first rallied against the power of the Crown. [227] Robespierre, who happened to be president of the Convention that week, walked first in the festival procession and delivered a speech in which he emphasized his concept of a Supreme Being:

Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue. [228]

Throughout the "Festival of the Supreme Being", Robespierre was beaming with joy; not even the negativity of his colleagues could disrupt his delight. He was able to speak of the things about which he was truly passionate, including Virtue and Nature, typical deist beliefs, and his disagreements with atheism. Everything was arranged to the exact specifications that had been drawn up previously set before the ceremony. Pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers with their babies were specifically invited to walk in the procession. [229] The choirs were composed by Étienne-Nicolas Méhul and François-Joseph Gossec, with lyrics from the obscure poet Théodore Désorgues. Robespierre was extremely dressed up, with feathers on his hat, and fruit and flowers in his hands. Not only was everything going smoothly, but the festival was also Robespierre's first appearance in the public eye as a leader for the people, and also as president of the Convention, to which he had been elected only four days earlier. [230]

While for some it was exciting to see him at his finest, other deputies agreed that Robespierre had played too prominent a role. Multiple sources state that Robespierre came down the mountain in a way that resembled Moses as the leader of the people, and one of his colleagues, Thuriot, was heard saying, "Look at the bugger; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God". [231] According to Thuriot: "Robespierre proclaimed to believe in the Supreme Being, and who only believed in the power of crime." Robespierre was also criticized by Courtois and Fouché. Five days later Robespierre demanded the heads of nine people, who opposed his republic of virtue. [232] According to Madame de Staël from that time he was lost. [233]


Arrest of Cecile Renaud in the courtyard of Duplay's house on May 22, 1794, etching by Matthias Gottfried Eichler after a drawing by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux Cecile Renault arretee chez Robespierre.jpeg
Arrest of Cécile Renaud in the courtyard of Duplay's house on May 22, 1794, etching by Matthias Gottfried Eichler after a drawing by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux
The Committee of General Security was located in Hotel de Brionne on the right; it gathered on the first floor. (The Tuileries Palace, which housed the Convention, is on the left) Tuileries, facade regardant la cour du Carrousel (dessin) - Destailleur Paris tome 6, 1292 - Gallica 2013 (adjusted).jpg
The Committee of General Security was located in Hôtel de Brionne on the right; it gathered on the first floor. (The Tuileries Palace, which housed the Convention, is on the left)
On 9 Thermidor Tallien threatened in the Convention to use his dagger if the National Convention had not the courage to order the arrest of Robespierre. Tal'en na tribune 9 termidora.jpg
On 9 Thermidor Tallien threatened in the Convention to use his dagger if the National Convention had not the courage to order the arrest of Robespierre.
Collot d'Herbois Jean Marie Collot d'Herbois.jpg
Collot d'Herbois
The Fall of Robespierre in the Convention on 27 July 1794 Max Adamo Sturz Robespierres.JPG
The Fall of Robespierre in the Convention on 27 July 1794

In the Atlantic campaign of May 1794 France suffered from a series of operations conducted by the British Royal Navy against the French Navy, with the aim of preventing the passage of a strategically important French grain convoy travelling from the United States to France. On 23 May 1794, Cécile Renault was arrested after having approached Robespierre's residence with two penknives; she was executed with her parents (and 52 others) one week later. (Robespierre used this assassination attempt against him as a pretext for scapegoating the British. [234] ) On 10 June the Law of 22 Prairial was introduced without consultation from the Committee of General Security, which deepened the conflict between the two committees, and doubled the number of executions. [235] Moderate judges were dismissed; Robespierre only allowed his creatures. [236] Almost all the deputies agreed it had become dangerous. Some were uneasy, and asked for the debate to be adjourned so the clauses could be examined. Robespierre refused and demanded immediate discussion. Fouché, Collot d'Herbois, Carrier and Tallien feared for their lives, due to the excesses carried out by them (with the assistance of the revolutionary army) in various regions of France to stamp out opposition to the revolutionary government. [237] Robespierre had them recalled to Paris to account for their actions. At the end of June Saint-Just arrived in Paris and discovered that Robespierre's political position had degraded significantly. Carnot and Cambon proposed to end the terror. Early July Robespierre denounced in the Jacobin club a conspiracy against him. He attacked Barère, Tallien, and Dubois-Crancé on 11 July. [238] On 14 July Robespierre had Fouché expelled from the Jacobin Club. To evade arrest, which usually took place during the night, many deputies avoided staying at home. On 22 and 23 July the two committees met in a plenary session. Saint-Just declared in negotiations with Barère that he was prepared to make concessions on the subordinate position of the Committee of General Security. [239] [240] Couthon agreed to more cooperation between the two committees. For Robespierre, the Committee of General Security had to remain subordinate to the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre wanted to divide the two Committees, [241] or take away the authority of the Committee of General Security. [242] Both Committees were responsible for suppressing counterrevolution but ended targeting each other. [165] [243]

From 13 June and for forty days Robespierre hardly showed up in the Convention but signed decrees by the Committee of Public Safety, [244] and continued his work with the police bureau. Robespierre's position was desperate; he was losing his grip, both on himself and on power. [245] He had four friends in the revolutionary government, Couthon and Saint-Just in the "Comité de Salut Public" and the painter Jacques-Louis David and Joseph Le Bas in the "Comité de Sureté Générale", whom he met also privately.

On Saturday 26 July Robespierre reappeared at the Convention and delivered a two-hour-long vague and disjointed speech on the villainous factions. [246] Dressed in the same skyblue coat and nankeen trousers which he had worn on the proclamation of the Supreme Being, he defended himself against charges of dictatorship and tyranny, and then proceeded to warn of a conspiracy against the Committee of Public Safety. Not only England but also members of the Committee of General Security were involved in an intrigue to bring him down. "Punish the traitors, purge the bureaux of the Committee of General Security, purge the Committee itself, and subordinate it to the Committee of Public Safety, purge the Committee of Public Safety itself and create a unified government under the supreme authority of the Convention". [247] Intoxicated with his virtue Robespierre proposed to keep the two committees going, announcing a new wave of purification. When called upon to name those whom he was accusing, however, he refused.

The Convention decided not to have the text printed as Robespierre's speech had first to be submitted to the two committees. It contained matters sufficiently weighty that it needed to first be examined. [248] Robespierre was surprised that his speech, which he called his last will and testament, would be sent to the very deputies he had intended to sue. A bitter debate ensued until Barère forced an end to it. [249] [250] In the evening, Robespierre delivered the same speech at the Jacobin Club, where it was very well received. [251] (According to Couthon not his speech, but the conspiracy had to be examined.) Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne were driven out because of their opposition to the printing and distribution of the text. They set off to Tuileries, where they found Saint-Just working on his speech. Saint-Just replied he sent the beginning to a friend and refused to show them his notes. Collot d'Herbois, who chaired the Convention, decided not to let him speak and to make sure he could not be heard on the next day. [252] Gathering in secret at five in the morning nine members of the two committees decided that it was all or nothing; Robespierre had to be voted off. Barras said they would all die if Robespierre did not. Each one of them prepared his part in the attack, according to Laurent Lecointre, the instigator of the coup. [253] His fellow members were: Barère, Fréron, Barras (both suspected for personal corruption), Tallien, Thuriot, Courtois, Rovère, Garnier de l’Aube and Guffroy; Fouché was no longer involved and had hidden himself? [254] They decided that Hanriot, his aide-de-camps, Lavalette and Boulanger, Dumas, the family Duplay and the printer Charles-Léopold Nicolas had to be arrested first, so Robespierre would be without support. [253]

At eleven Saint-Just arrived at the Convention, prepared to blame everything on Billaud, Collot, and Carnot. [255] He began: "I am from no party, no faction; I will fight against them all. [256] After a few minutes Tallien - having a double reason for desiring Robespierre's end, protecting Theresa Cabarrus - interrupted him and began the attack. "Yesterday a member of the government was left quite isolated and made a speech in his own name; today another one has done the same thing." Billaud-Varennes followed. "Yesterday, the president of the revolutionary tribunal [Dumas] openly proposed to the Jacobins that they should drive all impure men from the Convention." For him they had organized a spy system among the representatives of the people whom they wanted to destroy. According to Barère the committees asked themselves why there still existed a military regime in the midst of Paris; why all these permanent commanders, with staffs, and immense armed forces? The committees have thought it best to restore to the National Guard its democratic organization. [257] As the accusations began to pile up, Saint-Just remained silent. Robespierre rushed toward the rostrum, but his voice was shouted down. Robespierre soon found himself at a loss for words after Vadier gave a mocking impression of him referring to the discovery of a letter under the mattress of Théot. [lower-alpha 6] When Garnier witnessed Robespierre's inability to respond, he shouted, "The blood of Danton chokes him!" [261] Robespierre then finally regained his voice to reply with his one recorded statement of the morning, a demand to know why he was now being blamed for the other man's death: "Is it Danton you regret? ... Cowards! Why didn't you defend him?" [262]


Saint-Just and Robespierre at the Hotel de Ville of Paris on the night of 9 to 10 Thermidor Year II (July 27 to 28, 1794). Painting by Jean-Joseph Weerts La nuit du 9 au 10 thermidor an II (1794).jpg
Saint-Just and Robespierre at the Hôtel de Ville of Paris on the night of 9 to 10 Thermidor Year II (July 27 to 28, 1794). Painting by Jean-Joseph Weerts
In order of the General Counsel Hanriot lead the armed forces which surrounded the national palace to the townhall Hanriot order.png
In order of the General Counsel Hanriot lead the armed forces which surrounded the national palace to the townhall
Couthon, who hesitated because of his handicap, was invited by the others after midnight around one. Proclamation Commune de Paris 10 Thermidor An II. Proclamation Commune de Paris 10 Thermidor An II.jpg
Couthon, who hesitated because of his handicap, was invited by the others after midnight around one. Proclamation Commune de Paris 10 Thermidor An II.
The troops of Convention nationale attack the Commune, on 10 thermidor an II. Print by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault and Jean Duplessis-Bertaux (1804). Attaque de la maison commune de Paris.jpg
The troops of Convention nationale attack the Commune, on 10 thermidor an II. Print by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault and Jean Duplessis-Bertaux (1804).
Valery Jacobi's painting showing the wounded Robespierre Valery Jacobi Ninth Thermidor.jpg
Valery Jacobi's painting showing the wounded Robespierre
Closing of the Jacobin Club by Louis Legendre, in the early morning of 28 July 1794, or 10 Thermidor, year II of the Republic Cloture de la salle des Jacobins 1794.jpg
Closing of the Jacobin Clubby Louis Legendre, in the early morning of 28 July 1794, or 10 Thermidor, year II of the Republic

Someone called for Robespierre's arrest and the whole Convention agreed including the two other members of the triumvirate, Couthon and Saint-Just. Augustin Robespierre, and Philippe-François-Joseph Le Bas demanded to share their fate. Robespierre shouted that the revolution was lost, when he descended the tribune. The five deputies were taken to the Committee of General Security in Hôtel de Brionne and questioned. The Convention then voted on the arrest of Dumas, Hanriot, Boulanger, and Dufresse. Around three in the afternoon Hanriot was told he was under arrest; Hanriot said he would only show up accompanied by a crowd. The administration of the police issued an order to set free Lavalette and Boulanger, national agent of Paris and officers of the Parisian armed forces and Vilate, the revolutionary juror. [265] On horseback Hanriot warned the sections and that they would try to murder Robespierre and mobilized three thousand militants in front of the townhall. [266] [267] What had happened was not very clear to the officers of the militias; either the Convention was closed down or the Paris Commune. [268] Nobody explained anything. [269] The Paris Commune had closed the gates and summoned an immediate meeting of the sections to consider the dangers threatening the fatherland. [270]

Possibly between six and seven o'clock the five deputies were taken to different prisons; Robespierre to Palais Luxembourg, Augustin to "La Force", Couthon to "La Bourbe", Saint-Just to the "Écossais", Le Bas to the "Conciergerie". [271] The Paris Commune was in league with the Jacobins to bring off an insurrection. The club declared itself to be in continuous session. Hanriot and 15,000 National Guards surrounded the Hôtel de Brionne. Around nine the vice-president of the Tribunal Coffinhal went to Hôtel de Brionne with 8 or 10,000 men from the sections and a company of artillery ; Hanriot and many of his adjutants (17) were freed. [272] [273]

How did the five deputies escape from being imprisoned? According to Courtois, [274] and Fouquier-Tinville the police administration was responsible. [275] Louis Blanc mentioned a secret order by the insurrectionary Commune which sent municipals to the jailors. [276] Possibly their jailors, faced with two contradictory orders and uncertain of where the real power in France lay that afternoon, complied with the Commune's orders and released their charges. [277] Escorted by two municipals Robespierre the younger was the first to arrive. [278] [279] At eight Robespierre the older arrived at the police administration on Île de la Cité, and insisted being received in a prison. [280] He seems to have hesitated for legal reasons for possibly two hours before he was taken to the town hall by an "administrateur de police". [281] [282] [283] Saint-Just was delivered by a "municipal", [284] after which Le Bas and Dumas were brought in by two "administrateurs" according to Courtois. [274] According to Elisabeth Duplay, the wife of LeBas, she and his sister walked back from La Force Prison. [285] Anyhow an Executive Committee was established to save the country. Both Hanriot and Le Bas suggested to attack the Convention. [286] At ten in the evening the Convention declared the five deputies (plus the supporting members of the "Conseil-Général", like Payan, Dumas, Hanriot, Coffinhal and Lescot-Fleuriot) to be outlaws, meaning that upon identification, those arrested could be executed within twenty-four hours; the sections were told not to summon without an authorisation by the two committees. [287] The Convention appointed Barras, and ordered troops (4,000 men) to be called out which happened around midnight. [288] In order of the General Counsel Hanriot lead the armed forces which surrounded the national palace to the townhall, so there would be a reserve of men ready to march to the orders of magistrates of the people. All the gunners decided to defend the Convention instead of the Commune and if ordered would turn their pieces in the direction of the townhall. [289]

After a warm day spent waiting in vain for action by the Commune, losing time in bootless deliberation, 16 companies of militants began to disperse. According to Colin Jones apathy prevailed with most of them drifting back to their homes. [279] At one a.m. a crowd moved in the direction of the Commune, but the street was blocked by a gunner. [290] At around two in the morning, Barras accompanied by six members of the Convention (Fréron, Rovère, Legendre, Féraud, the two brothers Marc and Léonard Bourdon), arrived in two columns. Barras deliberately advanced slowly, in the hope of avoiding conflict by a display of force. [291] [288] The Grenadiers burst into the Hotel de Ville without a fight; 51 insurgents were gathering on the first floor. [292] Robespierre and some friends had withdrawn in the "secrétariat".

While some have argued that Robespierre tried to commit suicide with a pistol, [293] it is more likely that he was shot by Méda, who wounded him in the jaw, and also succeeded hitting Couthon's helper in his leg. [294] [295] [296] [297] [298] [lower-alpha 7] Couthon was found lying at the bottom of a staircase in a corner, having fallen from the back of his helper. In order to avoid capture, Augustin Robespierre took off his shoes and jumped from a broad cornice. [300] He landed on some bayonets resulting in a pelvic fracture and several serious head contusions, in an alarming state of "weakness and anxiety". [301] Le Bas committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. The unperturbed Saint-Just gave himself up without a word. Dumas and 15-20 conspirators were locked up in a room inside the town hall. [302] According to Méda Hanriot escaped by a concealed staircase. [303] Most sources say that Hanriot was thrown out of a window by Coffinhal after being accused of the disaster. (According to Ernest Hamel it is one of the many legends spread by Barère. [304] ) Hanriot seems to have landed in a small court yard on a heap of glass. [305] He had strength enough to crawl into a drain where he was found in the early afternoon. [306] One of his eyes came out its socket when he was arrested. Coffinhal succeeded escaping, but was arrested nine days later, totally exhausted.


Lying on a table, wounded, in a room of the Convention, Robespierre is the object of the curiosity and quips of Thermidorians, painting by Lucien-Etienne Melingue (Salon de 1877)(Musee de la Revolution francaise) Matin du 10 thermidor an II-Melingue-IMG 2405.JPG
Lying on a table, wounded, in a room of the Convention, Robespierre is the object of the curiosity and quips of Thermidorians, painting by Lucien-Étienne Mélingue (Salon de 1877)(Musée de la Révolution française)
The execution of Couthon; the body of Adrien Nicolas Gobeau, ex-substitute of the public prosecutor Fouquier and member of the Commune, the first who suffered, is shown lying on the ground; Robespierre {#10} is shown holding a handkerchief to his mouth. Hanriot {#9} is covering his eye. Execution de Robespierre full.jpg
The execution of Couthon; the body of Adrien Nicolas Gobeau, ex-substitute of the public prosecutor Fouquier and member of the Commune, the first who suffered, is shown lying on the ground; Robespierre {#10} is shown holding a handkerchief to his mouth. Hanriot {#9} is covering his eye.

For the remainder of the night, Robespierre was laid in an antechamber of the Committee of General Security. [308] [241] He lay on the table with his head on a deal-box bleeding profusely. At five in the morning he and Couthon seem to be taken to Hôtel-Dieu de Paris to see a doctor in an attempt to stanch the bleeding. [309] [310] [241] [311] Barras denied this; the circumstances did not permit it. [312] Robespierre was placed in the cell in the Conciergerie and he was deposited on the bed in which Danton had slept one night. [313]

In the afternoon of 10 Thermidor (a décadi, a day of rest and festivity) the Revolutionary Tribunal condemned Robespierre and 21 "Robespierrists" (c.q. 13 members of the insurrectionary Commune) by the rules of the law of 22 Prairial; their average age was about 34 years old. Half way Fouquier-Tinville took off his robe, who did not want to trial his friend the mayor Fleuriot-Lescot. [314] In the late afternoon, the convicts were taken to the Place de la Révolution along with the last president of the Jacobins Nicolas Francois Vivier, and the cobbler Antoine Simon, the jailor of the dauphin. Robespierre kept his eyes closed. His face was swollen. He was the tenth to appear on the platform and went up the steps of the scaffold without any assistance whatever. [307] When clearing Robespierre's neck, Charles-Henri Sanson tore off the bandage that was holding his shattered jaw in place, causing Robespierre to produce an agonised scream until the fall of the blade silenced him. [315] According to the executioner's grandson the pain must have been horrible, but it all happened very carefully; Robespierre did roar like a tiger. [316] The applause and shouts of joy lasted 15 minutes. [317] Later they were buried in a common grave at the newly opened Errancis Cemetery (near what is now the Place Prosper-Goubaux). [lower-alpha 8]

Legacy and memory

La Place Robespierre in Marseille with the inscription: "Lawyer, born in Arras in 1758, guillotined without trial on 27 July 1794. Nicknamed L'Incorruptible. Defender of the people. Author of our republican motto: Liberte Egalite Fraternite". Place Robespierre Marseille.png
La Place Robespierre in Marseille with the inscription: "Lawyer, born in Arras in 1758, guillotined without trial on 27 July 1794. Nicknamed L'Incorruptible. Defender of the people. Author of our republican motto: Liberté Égalité Fraternité".

The day after his death, Barère described him as the "tyrant" and "the Terror itself". For Carnot: "this monster was above all a hypocrite; it is because he knew how to seduce the people. [318] On that day half of the delegates of the Paris commune (conseil-général), around 70 people, were sent to the guillotine. On 12 Thermidor (30 July) Courtois took in custody Robespierre's books by Corneille, Voltaire, Rousseau, Mably, Locke, Bacon, Pope, articles by Addison and Steele in The Spectator, an English and Italian dictionary, an English grammar and a bible, etc. [319] On 1 August the Law of 22 Prairial was abolished. Four weeks later, for reasons policies and politicians, Tallien, announced that all that the country has just been through was the "Terror" and that the "monster" Robespierre, the "king" of the Revolution, was the orchestrator. On 23 Thermidor Courtois was appointed by the Convention to collect evidence against Robespierre, Le Bas and Saint-Just. [320] Coleridge started to write the first act of The Fall of Robespierre. According to Fouché and Dubois-Crancé Robespierre tried to decimate the Convention; for Vilate, who exaggerated, it was impossible to keep 300,000 people in prison and trial two or three hundred people everyday. [321]

Robespierre's reputation has gone through several cycles of re-appraisal, starting with Louis Blanc, Alphonse de Lamartine and Jean Jaurès. [322] (For Jules Michelet he was the "priest Robespierre" and for Alphonse Aulard Maximilien was a "bigot monomane" and "mystic assassin". [323] ) It peaked in the 1920s after the influential French Marxist Albert Mathiez argued that he was an eloquent spokesman for the poor and oppressed, an enemy of royalist intrigues, a vigilant adversary of dishonest and corrupt politicians, a guardian of the French Republic, an intrepid leader of the French Revolutionary government, and a prophet of a socially responsible state. [324] In more recent times, his reputation has suffered as historians have associated him with an attempt at a radical purification of politics through the killing of enemies. [325] [16] In 1989, Francois Furet argued that this reappraisal of Robespierre has been technically inaccurate:

There are two ways of totally misunderstanding Robespierre as historical figure: one is to detest the man, the other is to make too much of him. It is absurd, of course, to see the lawyer from Arras as a monstrous usurper, the recluse as a demagogue, the moderate as bloodthirsty tyrant, the democrat as a dictator. On the other hand, what is explained about his destiny once it is proved that he really was the Incorruptible? The misconception common to both schools arises from the fact that they attribute to the psychological traits of the man the historical role into which he was thrust by events and the language he borrowed from them. Robespierre is an immortal figure not because he reigned supreme over the Revolution for a few months, but because he was the mouthpiece of its purest and most tragic discourse. [326]

Nevertheless, Robespierre remains controversial to this day. Apart from one Metro station in Montreuil (a Paris suburb) and several streets named after him in about 20 towns, there are no memorials or monuments to him in France. By making himself the embodiment of virtue and of total commitment, he took control of the Revolution in its most radical and bloody phase: the Jacobin republic. His goal in the Terror was to use the guillotine to create what he called a "republic of virtue", wherein terror and virtue would be imposed at the same time.

Terror was thus a tool to accomplish his overarching goals for democracy. Ruth Scurr wrote that, as for Robespierre's vision for France, he wanted a "democracy for the people, who are intrinsically good and pure of heart; a democracy in which poverty is honourable, power innocuous, and the vulnerable safe from oppression; a democracy that worships nature—not nature as it really is, cruel and disgusting, but nature sanitized, majestic, and, above all, good." [327]

In terms of historiography, he has several defenders. Marxist Albert Soboul viewed most of the measures of the Committee for Public Safety as necessary for the defence of the Revolution and mainly regretted the destruction of the Hébertists and other enragés :

Robespierre's main ideal was to ensure the virtue and sovereignty of the people. He disapproved of any acts which could be seen as exposing the nation to counter-revolutionaries and traitors, and became increasingly fearful of the defeat of the Revolution. He instigated the Terror and the deaths of his peers as a measure of ensuring a Republic of Virtue; but his ideals went beyond the needs and wants of the people of France. He became a threat to what he had wanted to ensure and the result was his downfall. [16]

Soboul argues that he and Saint-Just "were too preoccupied in defeating the interest of the bourgeoisie to give their total support to the sans-culottes, and yet too attentive to the needs of the sans-culottes to get support from the middle class." [328] For Peter McPhee, Robespierre's petit-bourgeois class interests were fatal to his mission. [329] Other scholars who defend Robespierre against unjustified accusations are Marisa Linton, Timothy Tackett, and Hervé Leuwers. Other members of the Committee, together with members of the Committee of General Security, were as much responsible for the running of the Terror as Robespierre." [330] [331]

Jonathan Israel is sharply critical of Robespierre for repudiating the true values of the radical Enlightenment. He argues, "Jacobin ideology and culture under Robespierre was an obsessive Rousseauiste moral Puritanism steeped in authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia, and it repudiated free expression, basic human rights, and democracy." [332]

Though nominally all members of the committee were equal, during the Thermidorian Reaction Robespierre was presented as the most responsible by the surviving protagonists of the Terror, especially by Bertrand Barère, a prominent member of the Plain. They may have exaggerated his role to downplay their own contribution and used him as a scapegoat after his death. [333] [334]

William Doyle writes, "It is not violent fulminations that characterize Robespierre's speeches on the Terror. It is the language of unmasking, unveiling, revealing, discovering, exposing the enemy within, the enemy hidden behind patriotic posturings, the language of suspicion. [335] Doyle argues that Robespierre was never a dictator nor meant to become one, but that his own paranoia, in the face of plots and assassination attempts, drove him into mortal conflict with his political opponents in the Revolution. [335]

In the Soviet era, he was used as an example of a Revolutionary figure. [336] [337] During the October Revolution and Red Terror, Robespierre found ample praise in the Soviet Union, resulting in the construction of two statues of him: one in Saint Petersburg, and another in Moscow (the Robespierre Monument). The monument was commissioned by Vladimir Lenin, who referred to Robespierre as a "Bolshevik avant la lettre " or a "Bolshevik before his time". [225] Due to the poor construction of the monument (it was made of tubes and common concrete), it crumbled within three days of its unveiling and was never replaced. [336]

In Arras itself, Robespierre’s memory no longer arouses the discord it did in 1933, when a bust of Robespierre presented to the town had to be locked in a basement. Today there is a Lycée Robespierre (from 1969) and a small museum in his honour. [338]


  1. Baptized Marie Marguerite Charlotte de Robespierre, at the time of her brother's prominence, she was betrothed to Joseph Fouché, who broke the engagement after the events of 9 Thermidor. Charlotte became unmarriageable due to her name; she remained single until her death, aged 74.
  2. Baptized Henriette Eulalie Françoise de Robespierre, she became a nun and entered in the couvent des Manarres on 4 June 1773. She died age 18.
  3. According to himself he was elected as president of the Academy early 1789. [28]
  4. The Third Estate had as many deputies as the other two orders together (in the ratio 4:4:8) on instigation of Jacques Necker.
  5. The first use of the motto "Liberté, égalité, et fraternité" was in Robespierre's speech "On the organisation of the National Guard" (French: Discours sur l'organisation des gardes nationales) on 5 December 1790, article XVI, and disseminated widely throughout France by the popular Societies.
  6. On 15 June the president of the Committee of General Security Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier announced a plot to overthrow the Republic, accusing Catherine Théot and the people who met with her. On 9 Thermidor Vadier used a letter found under the mattress of Théot as an opportunity to attack Robespierre and his beliefs. [258] This letter announced to him that his mission had been prophesied in Ezekiel, that the re-establishment of religion, freed of priests, was owning to him. [259] Théot was a seventy-eight-year-old, self-declared "prophetess" who had, at one point, been imprisoned in the Bastille. [258] By stating that Robespierre was the "herald of the Last Days, prophet of the New Dawn" [258] (because his festival had fallen on the Pentecost, traditionally a day revealing "divine manifestation"), Catherine Théot made it seem that Robespierre had made these claims himself, to her. She also claimed that he was a reincarnation of Saul, the saviour of Israel, and the chosen of God. [260] Many of her followers were also supporters or friends of Robespierre, which made it seem as if he was attempting to create a new religion, with him as its god. Although Robespierre had nothing to do with Catherine Théot or her followers, many assumed that he was on a path to dictatorship, and it sent a current of fear throughout the Convention, contributing to his downfall the following July.
  7. The story told by Méda contains a chronology given in decimal time, but mixed it with standard time. In 1802 Méda was allowed to distribute his book, but only among friends and relatives. [299]
  8. (in French) A plaque indicating the former site of this cemetery is located at 97 rue de Monceau, Paris. Between 1844 and 1859 (probably in 1848), the remains of all those buried there were moved to the Catacombs of Paris.

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Further reading

According to David P. Jordan: "Any comprehensive bibliography would be virtually impossible. In 1936 Gérard Walter drew up a list of over 10,000 works on Robespierre, and much has been done since."!-- [1] -->

  1. [Jordan, David P. “Robespierre.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 49, no. 2, 1977, pp. 282–291. JSTOR   1876343