Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 

 


The Modern Era

1789 - 1914


In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.
 





Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.

 

see also:

Between Two Revolutions

(From David to Delacroix)

 

 


The French Revolution
 


1789 - 1799
 

 

The French Revolution had far-reaching consequences not only for France but for all of Europe as it challenged the fundamental institutions that shaped the political structure of Europe. It was an attempt to establish in common laws the equality of all persons regardless of their origin. The Revolution led by the bourgeoisie had as its goals the abolition of aristocratic rule, a constitution, and intellectual freedom. It stressed social mobility without class barriers ("Let ability win through!") and strove for a moral society, the nation, in which the common good took precedence over self-interests: "Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood!" Radicalism, however, along with outside pressure, transformed at times the rule of virtue into a despotism of its own kind.

 


The Reign of Terror
 

Jacobin rule culminated in the "Reign of Terror"; the dictatorship of Robespierre—who had eliminated his former comrades-in-arms—and the Committee of Public Safety. The rule of the Directory after the fall of Robespierre is seen as the end of the Revolution.

 

Diverse currents existed within the Jacobin cause.

At first there was a power struggle between 3 Georges Danton, who wanted to stem the reign of mob violence, and 4 Maximilien de Robespierre, who stood for a radical change in all social conditions.

Robespierre, president of the Jacobin club since July 1793, prevailed. By execution he eliminated first the remaining radicals around Hebert in March 1794, ant then, in April of the same year, the moderates around Danton.

Robespierre established the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety.

This was dominated by a triumvirate of Robespierre, 5 Louis Antoine de Saint-Just— the most radical mind of the Revolution—and the speaker of the Committee of Public Safety, Georges Couthon.



3 Georges Danton; 4 Maximilien de Robespierre; 5 Louis Antoine de Saint-Just; Georges Couthon


This phase of the revolution is known as the Reign of Terror. Mass executions and 6 Revolutionary Tribunal trials were on the agenda.


6 Prisoners before the Revolutionary Tribunal
 


Reign of Terror
French history
also called The Terror, French La Terreur
Main
the period of the French Revolution from Sept. 5, 1793, to July 27, 1794 (9 Thermidor, year II). Caught up in civil and foreign war, the Revolutionary government decided to make “Terror” the order of the day (September 5 decree) and to take harsh measures against those suspected of being enemies of the Revolution (nobles, priests, hoarders). In Paris a wave of executions followed. In the provinces, representatives on mission and surveillance committees instituted local terrors. The Terror had an economic side embodied in the Maximum, a price-control measure demanded by the lower classes of Paris, and a religious side that was embodied in the program of dechristianization pursued by the followers of Jacques Hébert.

During the Terror, the Committee of Public Safety (of which Robespierre was the most prominent member) exercised virtual dictatorial control over French government. In the spring of 1794, it eliminated its enemies to the left (the Hébertists) and to the right (the Indulgents, or followers of Georges Danton). Still uncertain of its position, the committee obtained the Law of 22 Prairial, year II (June 10, 1794), which suspended a suspect’s right to public trial and to legal assistance and left the jury only a choice between acquittal and death. The “Great Terror” that followed, in which about 1,400 persons were executed, contributed to the fall of Robespierre on July 27 (9 Thermidor).

During the Reign of Terror, at least 300,000 suspects were arrested; 17,000 were officially executed, and many died in prison or without trial.


Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 


Portrait of Dr. Guillotin;
Guillotine model 1792;
Guillotine Model 1872;
Satirical cartoon lampooning the excesses of the Revolution as seen from England.

In June 1794, Robespierre attempted to create a Cult of Reason in Paris with a pomp-filled "Festival of the Supreme Being."

The Terror raged for three months until it climaxed in a 7 tumultuous scene in the National Convention on July 27,1794.

Robespierre and his comrades were overthrown and sent to the guillotine.



7 The overthrow of Robespierre, July 27, 1794

 

   

Thermidorian Reaction
French history
Main
in the French Revolution, the parliamentary revolt initiated on 9 Thermidor, year II (July 27, 1794), which resulted in the fall of Maximilien Robespierre and the collapse of revolutionary fervour and the Reign of Terror in France.

By June 1794 France had become fully weary of the mounting executions (1,300 in June alone), and Paris was alive with rumours of plots against Robespierre, member of the ruling Committee of Public Safety and leading advocate of the Terror. On 8 Thermidor (July 26) he gave a speech full of appeals and threats. The next day, the deputies in the National Convention shouted him down and decreed his arrest. He was arrested at the Hôtel de Ville, along with his brother Augustin, François Hanriot, Georges Couthon, and Louis de Saint-Just. The same guillotine that on 9 Thermidor executed 45 anti-Robespierrists executed, in the following three days, 104 Robespierrists, inaugurating a brief “White Terror” against Jacobins throughout France.

The coup was primarily a reassertion of the rights of the National Convention against the Committee of Public Safety and of the nation against the Paris Commune. It was followed by the disarming of the committee, the emptying of the prisons, and the purging of Jacobin clubs. Social and political life became freer, more extravagant, and more personally corrupt. There was a splurge of fashion and a conspicuous consumption of bourgeois wealth, while the poor suffered from harsh economic conditions.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 


The arrest of Robespierre
on the night of 9 Thermidor, July 27, 1794
(Jean-Joseph-François Tassaert)


The execution of Robespierre

 

While Paris celebrated the end of the Reign of Terror, the Revolutionary Army pushed further into the German Rhineland and the Netherlands. The ruling "Directory," which was made up of former Jacobins supporting the president of the Convention. Paul Barras, did away with the Revolutionary Tribunals.

In October 1795, 8 General Bonaparte, a favorite of Barras, put down an uprising against the Convention.

From this point on, Napoleon Bonaparte increasingly strove for power. After the tall of the Directory in November 1799, he became, with the title of First Consul, sole ruler of France.


8 Napoleon puts down the Royalists' revolt against the Directory's constitution

 

 

Georges Danton


 Georges-Jacques Danton

Disapproval of terror
French revolutionary leader
in full Georges-Jacques Danton

born October 26, 1759, Arcis-sur-Aube, France
died April 5, 1794, Paris


Main
French Revolutionary leader and orator, often credited as the chief force in the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic (September 21, 1792). He later became the first president of the Committee of Public Safety, but his increasing moderation and eventual opposition to the Reign of Terror led to his own death at the guillotine.


Early years
Danton was the son of Jacques Danton, an attorney, and his second wife, Marie-Madeleine Camus. After attending school in Champagne, Danton was from 1773 educated by the Oratorians at Troyes. After obtaining his law degree in 1784 at Reims, he went to Paris to practice and in 1787 bought the office of advocate in the Conseil du Roi (council with legislative and judicial functions). He then married Antoinette Charpentier.

At the outbreak of the Revolution in July 1789, Danton enrolled in the garde bourgeoise (civic guard) of the Cordeliers district and was elected president of the district in October. In the spring of 1790, with some militants from his district, he founded the popular association that was to become famous as the Cordeliers Club. So far, however, Danton’s fame had been merely local. Elected a member of the provisional Paris Commune (city council) in January 1790, he was excluded from the council in its final form in September. Although elected administrator of the département of Paris in January 1791, he actually exercised no influence on that body.

Meanwhile, however, Danton shone at the Cordeliers Club and at another political association, the Jacobin Club, before both of which he frequently made speeches during 1791. During the crisis following Louis XVI’s attempt to leave the country in June, he became increasingly prominent in the Revolutionary movement. His signature, however, does not appear on the famous petition of the Cordeliers demanding the abdication of Louis XVI that, on July 17, resulted in the massacre of some of the petitioners by the national guard. During the repression following these events, Danton took refuge in London.

He returned to Paris to take part in the elections to the Legislative Assembly as elector for the Théâtre Français section, and in December 1791 he was elected second assistant to the procureur (public prosecutor) of the Paris Commune.

During the national crisis in the spring of 1792 (war was declared on Austria on April 20), Danton resumed his role of tribune of the people. On June 18 he attacked the marquis de Lafayette, an adviser of the king and a general, for using his position to play politics. Yet he took no part in the demonstrations before the royal palace of the Tuileries on June 20. Although his part in the overthrow of the monarchy by the insurrection of August 10, 1792, remains obscure, he was largely credited with its success.


The overthrow of the monarchy
Speaking before the Revolutionary Tribunal, Danton boasted that he had “been responsible for” the events of August 10; that insurrection, however, was not the result of the efforts of Danton or any other man but, rather, the collective act of obscure militants from all over the city. However small a part he played in removing the king, he was elected minister of justice by the Legislative Assembly. Though not officially its president, Danton dominated his colleagues by his strength of character, the aura of his Revolutionary past, and his ability to make swift decisions.

When the news arrived that Longwy had been taken by the invading armies (Prussia had allied itself with Austria in July) on August 25, 1792, and Jean-Marie Roland, minister of the interior, proposed that the government should move from Paris to Blois, Danton objected vigorously. The proclamation he then caused the Executive Council to adopt bears his stamp: it was a summons to battle. On the morning of September 2, when it was learned that Verdun was besieged and while the populace broke into the prisons to search for suspects and traitors, Danton, in the Legislative Assembly, delivered the most famous of his speeches: “To conquer the enemies of the fatherland, we need daring, more daring, daring now and always, and France is saved!”


The massacres of September 1792
While Danton was delivering this speech, the prison massacres began for which the Girondins, the moderate wing of the Revolution, charged Danton with responsibility. There is no proof, however, that the massacres were organized by him or by anyone else, though it is certain that he did nothing to stop them. Just as in the case of the August insurrection, the September massacre was not the act of one man but of the people of Paris.

On September 6 Danton was elected deputy for Paris to the National Convention. He immediately made every effort to end all the disputes between the Revolutionary parties, but his policy of conciliation was thwarted by the Gironde, which demanded that he render an accounting when he left his post as minister of justice. Danton could not justify 200,000 livres of secret expenditures. He emerged from this conflict embittered and with his political prestige diminished.

Sent on a mission to Belgium, Danton took no part in the opening of Louis XVI’s trial in the Convention. He was present, however, on January 15, 1793, and voted for death without reprieve. Although absent from the trial, Danton had played a part in it since the autumn of 1792. According to the Mémoires of Théodore, comte de Lameth, a former Revolutionary, Danton wanted to spare the king. It seems that, having failed, despite strenuous efforts, to gain the support of the Girondins, Danton plotted with General Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez to obtain the intervention of the English government by bribery. Only when the plan miscarried did he vote for the death of the king.

Danton remained in the mainstream of the Revolution, not without often engaging in intrigue. His dealings with Dumouriez, who commanded the army of Belgium, have never been clarified. After the defeat of Neerwinden (March 18, 1793), when Dumouriez went over to the Austrians, the Gironde accused Danton of complicity with the General. Boldly turning the tables, Danton made the same accusation against the Girondins. The break was irreparable.


Danton’s Committee of Public Safety
On April 7, 1793, Danton became a member of the first Committee of Public Safety, which, created the previous day, became the executive organ of the Revolutionary government. For three months Danton was effectively the head of the government, charged especially with the conduct of foreign affairs and military matters. During this second period in the government he pursued a policy of compromise and negotiation. He tried in every direction to enter into diplomatic conversations with the enemy. No doubt he could in all honesty think it useful to negotiate in an attempt to dissolve the allied coalition or even to obtain a general peace. By the spring of 1793, however, a policy of negotiation was no longer conceivable: it was useless to try to disarm the enemy by concessions when he was victorious. On July 10, when the Committee of Public Safety’s term expired, the Convention elected a new committee without Danton.


Leader of the moderate opposition
From that time Danton’s political conduct became more complex. On various occasions he supported the policy of the Committee of Public Safety though at the same time refusing to play a part in it—which would have stabilized the political situation. Danton still reappeared from time to time as the tribune of the people, voicing the demands of the masses. He quickly showed, however, that he sought to stabilize the Revolutionary movement; very soon—whether he wanted it or not—he appeared as the leader of the Indulgents, the moderate faction that had risen out of the Cordeliers.

During the great Parisian popular demonstrations of September 4 and 5, 1793, Danton spoke eloquently in favour of all the popular demands. Yet at the same time he tried to set bounds to the movement and keep it under control. He demanded, for instance, that the meetings of the hitherto permanent sectional assemblies be reduced to two per week.

Disapproval of terror
Danton’s moderate position became more marked in the autumn of 1793. He did not, however, intervene personally but left it to his friends to criticize the policy of the government. His disapproval of the terrorist repression had become so strong that he withdrew from political life, alleging reasons of health or of family. Of the Girondins he is reported to have said to a friend at the beginning of October 1793, “I shall not be able to save them,” and to have burst into tears. On October 12 he obtained leave from the Convention and left for his native town. He returned on November 21, although the reasons for his return remain ambiguous.

Danton at once resumed political activity. He vigorously supported the Committee of Public Safety against excesses of the anti-Christian movement and later opposed the abolition of the salaries of constitutional priests and hence the separation of church and state. Danton’s support of the governmental policy of stabilization was doubtless not without ulterior motives, both personal and political; he was determined to save friends of his who had been arrested or who were in danger of arrest. But he also wanted to slow the Revolutionary drive of the government. The Dantonist policy was opposed in all points to the program of popular extremism supported by Jacques Hébert and his Cordeliers friends: extreme terror, war to the hilt.

Danton defined his moderate political line on December 1, 1793, when he informed the Revolutionary radicals that their role was ended. From then on, whether such had been his intention or not, he was looked upon as the leader of the moderate opposition. At the beginning of 1794, Danton and his friends took an even more critical attitude, with the Revolutionary journalist Camille Desmoulins, of Le Vieux Cordelier, serving as their spokesman. They were challenging not only the system of the terror of Robespierre but the whole policy of the Revolutionary government, while awakening the hopes of the opponents of the regime.

Once the government realized it could not allow itself to be overwhelmed from the right, however, the tide turned abruptly. When Fabre d’Églantine, the dramatist and zealous Revolutionary, compromised in the affair of the Compagnie des Indes, was arrested in January 1794, Danton tried to defend him obliquely by demanding that the arrested deputies should be judged before the people. “Woe unto him who sat beside Fabre and who is still his dupe!” cried a deputy, clearly threatening Danton himself.

The incident signalled more than the defeat of the offensive of the Indulgents, for, already compromised, they were themselves soon threatened by the counteroffensive of their adversaries, Hébert’s ultraleft faction, the Exagérés, or Enragés. When the crisis, however, became more acute and the Exagéré opposition hardened its position, the government lost its patience: in March 1794, Hébert and the principal Cordeliers leaders were arrested. Sentenced to death, they were executed on March 24. The Indulgents, believing that their hour had come, increased their pressure. The government, however, had no intention of letting itself be overwhelmed by the moderate opposition of the right. Warned several times of the threats that hung over him, Danton remained unafraid: “They will not dare!” Finally, during the night of March 29–30, 1794, he and his friends were arrested.


Trial of Danton
Before the Revolutionary tribunal, Danton boldly spoke his mind. To silence him, the Convention decreed that a suspect on trial who insulted national justice be excluded from the debate. “I will no longer defend myself,” Danton cried. “Let me be led to death, I shall go to sleep in glory.” Danton was guillotined with his friends on April 5, 1794. “Show my head to the people,” he said to the executioner. “It is worth the trouble.”


Assessment
Denigrated during the first half of the 19th century, Danton was rehabilitated under the Second Empire and enshrined as a hero under the Third Republic. A chief controversy about him is the problem of his wealth and, hence, of his venality. To his contemporaries, Danton’s venality was obvious, even though, for lack of documentation, it was not proved during his lifetime. It is now generally accepted that Danton was used as an informer by the court and that in return he received payments from the funds of the Civil List. At the same time, however, his attachment to the nation and to the Revolutionary cause is beyond doubt.

Danton was a leader of men. More than any other Revolutionary leader, he could enter into communion with the sansculottes—the Revolutionary have-nots—to share their passions. He pleased the people by his generosity, his indulgence, his verve. All these were characteristics that won him the sympathy of the people and that, during the crisis of the summer of 1792, enabled him to serve the Revolution well.

Albert M. Soboul
 

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Maximilien de Robespierre


Maximilien-François-Marie-Isidore de Robespierre

French revolutionary
in full Maximilien-François-Marie-Isidore de Robespierre

born May 6, 1758, Arras, France
died July 28, 1794, Paris

Main
radical Jacobin leader and one of the principal figures in the French Revolution. In the latter months of 1793 he came to dominate the Committee of Public Safety, the principal organ of the Revolutionary government during the Reign of Terror, but in 1794 he was overthrown and executed in the Thermidorian Reaction.

Early life
Robespierre was the son of a lawyer in Arras. After his mother’s death, his father left home, and Maximilien, along with his brother and sisters, was raised by his maternal grandparents. From 1765 he attended the college of the Oratorians at Arras, and in 1769 he was awarded a scholarship to the famous college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he distinguished himself in philosophy and law. He received a law degree in 1781 and became a lawyer at Arras, where he set up house with his sister Charlotte. He soon made a name for himself and was appointed a judge at the Salle Épiscopale, a court with jurisdiction over the provostship of the diocese. His private practice provided him with a comfortable income.

He was admitted to the Arras Academy in 1783 and soon became its chancellor and later its president. Contrary to the long-held belief that Robespierre led an isolated life, he often visited local notables and mingled with the young people of the district. He entered academic competitions, and his Mémoire sur les peines infamantes (“Report on Degrading Punishments”) won first prize at the Academy of Metz. By 1788 Robespierre was already well known for his altruism. As a lawyer representing poor people, he had alarmed the privileged classes by his protests in his Mémoire pour le Sieur Dupond (Report for Lord Dupond) against royal absolutism and arbitrary justice.

When the summoning of the Estates-General (a national assembly that had not been called since 1614) was announced, he issued an appeal entitled À la nation artésienne sur la nécessité de réformer les Etats d’Artois (“To the People of Artois on the Necessity of Reforming the Estates of Artois”). In March 1789 the citizens of Arras chose him as one of their representatives, and the Third Estate (the commons) of the bailiwick elected him fifth of the eight deputies from Artois. Thus he began his political career at the age of 30.


Leadership of the Jacobins
Robespierre preserved his frugal way of life, his careful dress and grooming, and his simple manners both at Versailles and later in Paris. He quickly attracted attention in an assembly that included some distinguished names. He probably made his maiden speech on May 18, 1789, and he was to speak more than 500 times during the life of the National Assembly. He succeeded in making himself heard despite the weak carrying power of his voice and the opposition he aroused, and his motions were usually applauded. Proofs of his growing popularity were the ferocious attacks made by the royalist press on this “Demosthenes,” “who believes everything he says,” this “monkey of Mirabeau’s” (the comte de Mirabeau, a politician who wanted to create a constitutional assembly).

Robespierre was kept out of the committees and from the presidency of the National Assembly; only once, in June 1790, was he elected secretary of the National Assembly. In April he had presided over the Jacobins, a political club promoting the ideas of the French Revolution. In October he was appointed a judge of the Versailles tribunal.

Robespierre nevertheless decided to devote himself fully to his work in the National Assembly, where the constitution was being drawn up. Grounded in ancient history and the works of the French philosophers of the Enlightenment, he welcomed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which formed the preamble of the French constitution of September 3, 1791, and he insisted that all laws should conform to it. He fought for universal suffrage, for unrestricted admission to the national guard, to public offices, and to the commissioned ranks of the army, and for the right to petition. He opposed the royal veto, the abuses of ministerial power, and religious and racial discrimination. He defended actors, Jews, and black slaves and supported the reunion of Avignon, formerly a papal possession, with France in September 1791. In May he had successfully proposed that all new deputies be elected to the next legislature so that, as a new body, it would better express the people’s will.

His passionate fight for liberty won him more enemies, who called him a dangerous individual—and worse. After the flight of Louis XVI (June 20–21, 1791), for which Robespierre vainly demanded his trial, the slanders against the Revolutionary deputy became twice as violent. He hastened the vote on the constitution so as to attract “as many of the democratic party as possible,” inviting in his Adresse aux Français (July 1791; Address to the French) the patriots to join forces. Martial law was proclaimed, and at the Champ-de-Mars the national guard—under the command of the marquis de Lafayette, a moderate who wanted to save the monarchy—opened fire on a group demanding the abdication of the king. Robespierre, his life threatened, went to live with the family of the cabinetmaker Maurice Duplay. He managed to keep the Jacobin Club alive after all of its moderate members had joined a rival club. When the National Assembly dissolved itself, the people of Paris organized a triumphal procession for Robespierre.

Although he had excluded himself and his colleagues from the new Legislative Assembly, Robespierre continued to be politically active, giving up the lucrative post of public prosecutor of Paris, to which he had been elected in June 1791. Henceforth, he spoke only at the Jacobin Club, where he was to be heard about 100 times, until August 1792. There he opposed the European war that Jacques-Pierre Brissot was advocating as a means of spreading the aims of the Revolution.

He denounced the secret intrigues of the court and of the royalists, their collusion with Austria, the unpreparedness of the army, and the possible treason of aristocratic officers whose dismissal he demanded in February 1792. He also defended patriotic soldiers, such as those of the Châteauvieux regiment, who had been imprisoned after their mutiny at Nancy. When Brissot’s supporters stirred up opinion against him, Robespierre founded a newspaper, Le Défenseur de la Constitution (“Defense of the Constitution”), which strengthened his hand. He attacked Lafayette, who had become the commander of the French army and whom he suspected of wanting to set up a military dictatorship, but failed to obtain his dismissal and arrest.

The reverses suffered by the French army after France had declared war on Austria and Prussia had been foreseen by Robespierre, and, when invasion threatened, the people rallied to him. Although he had defined the aims of insurrection, he hesitated to advocate it: “Fight the common enemy,” he told the provincial volunteers, “only with the sword of law.” When the insurrection nevertheless broke out on August 10, 1792, Robespierre took no part in the attack on the Tuileries Palace. But that same afternoon his section (an administrative subdivision of Paris), Les Piques, nominated him to the insurrectional Commune. As a member of the electoral assembly of Paris, he heard about the September Massacres of imprisoned nobles and clergy by Parisian crowds. He exonerated the mob, and on September 5 the people of Paris elected him to head the delegation to the National Convention.


Work in the National Convention
The Girondins—who favoured political but not social democracy and who controlled the government and the civil service—accused Robespierre of dictatorship from the first sessions of the National Convention. At the king’s trial, which began in December 1792, Robespierre spoke 11 times and called for death. His speech on December 3 rallied the hesitant. His new journal, Les Lettres à ses commettants (“Letters to His Constituents”), kept the provinces informed.

The king’s execution did not, however, resolve the struggle between the Girondins and the Montagnards, the deputies of the extreme left. At the same time, the scarcity of food and the rising prices created a revolutionary mood. The treason of General Charles Dumouriez, who went over to the Austrians, precipitated the crisis. A kind of “popular front” was formed between the Parisian sansculottes, the poor, ultraleft republicans, and the Montagnards. On May 26, 1793, Robespierre called on the people “to rise in insurrection.” Five days later he supported a decree of the National Convention indicting the Girondin leaders and Dumouriez’s accomplices. On June 2 the decree was passed against 29 of them.


The Committee of Public Safety and the Reign of Terror
After the fall of the Girondins, the Montagnards were left to deal with the country’s desperate position. Threatened from within by the movement for federalism and by the civil war in the Vendée in the northwest and threatened at the frontiers by the anti-French coalition, the Revolution mobilized its resources for victory. In his diary, Robespierre noted that what was needed was “une volonté une” (“one single will”), and this dictatorial power was to characterize the Revolutionary government. Its essential organs had been created, and he set himself to make them work.

On July 27, 1793, Robespierre took his place on the Committee of Public Safety, which had first been set up in April. While some of his colleagues were away on missions and others were preoccupied with special assignments, he strove to prevent division among the revolutionaries by relying on the Jacobin societies and the vigilance committees. Henceforward his actions were to be inseparable from those of the government as a whole. As president of the Jacobin Club and then of the National Convention, he denounced the schemes of the Parisian radicals known as the Enragés, who were using the food shortage to stir up the Paris sections. Robespierre answered the demonstrators on September 5 by promising maximum prices for all foodstuffs and a Revolutionary militia for use in the interior against counterrevolutionaries and grain hoarders.

In order to bring about a mass conscription, economic dictatorship, and total war, he asked to intensify the Reign of Terror. But he objected to pointless executions, protecting those deputies who had protested the arrest of the Girondins and of the king’s sister. He was sickened by the massacres condoned by the représentants en mission (members of the National Convention sent to break the opposition in the provinces) and demanded their recall for “dishonouring the Revolution.”

Robespierre devoted his report of 5 Nivôse, year II (December 25, 1793 [the French republican calendar had been introduced in September 1793, with its beginning, or year I, set one year prior]), to justifying the collective dictatorship of the National Convention, administrative centralization, and the purging of local authorities. He protested against the various factions that threatened the government. The Hébertists, the Cordeliers, and the popular militants all called for more-radical measures and encouraged de-Christianization and the prosecution of food hoarders. Their excesses frightened the peasants, who could not have been pleased by the decrees of 8 and 13 Ventôse, year II (February 26 and March 3, 1794), which provided for the distribution among the poor of the property of suspects.

Reappearing at the Jacobin Club after a month’s illness, Robespierre denounced the radical revolutionist Jacques-René Hébert and his adherents, who together with some foreign agents were executed in March. Those who wanted, like Georges Danton, to halt the Reign of Terror and the war attacked the policies of the Committee of Public Safety with increasing violence. Robespierre, although still hesitant, led the National Convention against these so-called Indulgents. The Dantonist leaders and the deputies who were compromised in the liquidation of the French East India Company were guillotined on 16 Germinal (April 5).

A deist in the style of Rousseau, Robespierre disapproved of the anti-Christian movement and the “masquerades” of the cult of reason. In a report to the National Convention in May, he affirmed the existence of God and the immortality of the soul and strove to rally the revolutionaries around a civic religion and the cult of the Supreme Being. That he remained extremely popular is shown by the public ovations he received after Henri Admirat’s unsuccessful attempt on his life on 3 Prairial (May 22). The National Convention elected him president, on 16 Prairial (June 4), by a vote of 216 out of 220. In this capacity he led the festival of the Supreme Being (“Etre suprême") in the Tuileries Gardens on 20 Prairial (June 8), which was to provide his enemies with another weapon against him.


Declining influence and authority
After the law of 22 Prairial (June 10) reorganizing the Revolutionary Tribunal, which had been formed in March 1793 to condemn all enemies of the regime, opposition to Robespierre grew; it was led by those représentants en mission whom he had threatened. His influence was challenged in the Committee of Public Safety itself, and the Committee of General Security, which felt slighted by the General Police Bureau directed by Robespierre, Georges Couthon, and Louis de Saint-Just, became even more hostile. In the cafés he was accused of being a moderate. And Joseph Cambon, the minister of finance, detested him.

Unremitting work and frequent speeches in the Legislative Assembly and at the Jacobin Club (a total of some 450 since the beginning of the session) had undermined Robespierre’s health, and he became irritable and distant. Embittered by the slanders and by the accusations of dictatorship being spread both by the royalists and by his colleagues, the Montagnards, he stayed away from the National Convention and then, after 10 Messidor (June 28), from the Committee of Public Safety, confining his denunciations of counterrevolutionary intrigues to the Jacobin Club. At the same time, he began to lose the support of the people, whose hardships continued despite the recent French victories. From his partial retirement Robespierre followed the unleashing of the Great Terror in the summer of 1794 and the progress of opposition.

Attempting to regain his hold on public opinion, Robespierre reappeared at the Committee of Public Safety on 5 Thermidor (July 23) and then, on 8 Thermidor (July 26), at the National Convention, to which he turned as his judge. His last speech was at first received with applause, then with disquiet, and finally the parliamentary majority turned against him. Despite his successful reception that evening at the Jacobin Club, Robespierre’s adversaries succeeded the next day in preventing him from speaking before the Convention, which indicted him together with his brother, Augustin, and three of his associates. Robespierre was taken to the Luxembourg prison, but the warden refused to jail him.

Later he went to the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), where he could, doubtless, still have continued the struggle, for armed contingents from some of the sections of the city had been summoned by the Paris Commune and were awaiting his orders. But Robespierre refused to lead an insurrection, and eventually his loyal contingents began to disperse. Declared an outlaw by the National Convention, Robespierre severely wounded himself by a pistol shot in the jaw at the Hôtel de Ville, throwing his friends into confusion. The soldiers of the National Convention attacked the Hôtel de Ville and easily seized Robespierre and his followers. In the evening of 10 Thermidor (July 28), the first 22 of those condemned, including Robespierre, were guillotined before a cheering mob on the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde). In all, 108 people died for adherence to Robespierre’s cause.


Assessment
Robespierre’s enemies credited him with dictatorial power, both in the Jacobin Club and in the Committee of Public Safety, a power that he did not have. Counterrevolutionaries and the rich condemned his egalitarian ideas, while popular militants accused him of lacking boldness. After his death, his memory was relentlessly attacked, and a great many of his papers were destroyed. History portrayed him as either a bloodthirsty creature or a timid bourgeois.

But, following the appearance of working-class movements in the 19th century, both in France and abroad, homage was paid to this “persecuted patriot,” and his most famous speeches were reprinted. His social ideal consisted in reducing extreme inequalities of wealth, in increasing the number of small property owners, and in ensuring work and education for all. He was a man of his times, of the Enlightenment, a patriot, a man with a sense of duty and of sacrifice, whose influence remains considerable.

Marc Bouloiseau

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Louis de Saint-Just


 Louis-Antoine-Léon de Saint-Just

French revolutionary
in full Louis-Antoine-Léon de Saint-Just

born August 25, 1767, Decize, France
died July 28, 1794, Paris

Main
controversial ideologue of the French Revolution, one of the most zealous advocates of the Reign of Terror (1793–94), who was arrested and guillotined in the Thermidorian Reaction.

Early years
Louis-Antoine-Léon de Saint-Just was born in central France, the son of a cavalry captain. His mother, the daughter of a wealthy local notary and a woman of egalitarian notions, wished to reduce the nobility to the level of the middle class. The family eventually moved to Blérancourt, a rural town in Picardy, the native province of Louis’s father, who died there in 1777.

After attending the college of the Oratorians in nearby Soissons, he returned to Blérancourt, a small town offering few distractions. In 1785 Saint-Just became attached to the daughter of one of the town’s notaries. Her forced marriage to the son of the other notary in July 1786 marked the beginning of a crisis for Saint-Just. Hurt and angry, he fled to Paris one night in September, taking with him a few family valuables. Lodging near the Palais Royal, then the centre of a brilliant and dissolute society, he soon ran out of money.

His adventure came to a sudden end when his mother, advised of the situation, had him put into a reformatory. He remained there from October 1786 to April 1787. Sobered by his experience, he decided, like so many young men of the middle class, to establish himself and enter upon a career. He became a clerk to the public prosecutor of Soissons, studied at Reims, and took his law degree in April 1788.

France at that time was shaken by the effects of a poor harvest and a hard winter, which coincided with pre-Revolutionary tremors. In 1789 Saint-Just anonymously published his first book, an epic poem, Organt. It was ignored by the public. A long satirical and licentious poem strewn with political allusions, it was reminiscent of Voltaire’s La Pucelle d’Orléans (The Maid of Orleans), but it lacked the force and spirit needed for public acclaim. Perhaps Saint-Just was trying to set his own mind free rather than to achieve fame. Organt sometimes suggests the misadventures of Saint-Just, with his violent enthusiasms and resentments, but the eroticism is heavy, and few of the themes of his later work appear. Saint-Just’s friends scarcely mentioned it, and his enemies derided it. The book was seized by the authorities in June 1789, and, although it had been issued anonymously, Saint-Just was prudent enough to hide at a friend’s home in Paris.

In the midst of the Revolutionary upheaval, Saint-Just, eager to participate, found himself ignored. Neither a Parisian nor a popular orator nor a leader of men, he was also not inclined to approve of slaughter. He did not speak of the storming of the Bastille, which he had witnessed, until a year later, when his attitude seemed reminiscent of that of the British politician Edmund Burke, who opposed the French Revolution. Saint-Just returned to his hometown at the end of July. The provinces, like Paris, were in full revolt. Militia or national guard units were spontaneously forming everywhere, and Saint-Just became commander of the second unit organized in Blérancourt.

But first he had to overcome the handicap of his youth and the opposition of local cliques. As a militia commander, he went to Paris for the Fête de la Fédération on July 14, 1790. He did not linger there and later spoke of it in tones of disillusionment.

Saint-Just realized that he could play the role to which he aspired in the Revolution only by election to a key post as an administrator or, preferably, as a deputy. He had, however, not reached the legally required age of 25. For most men the political clubs provided the necessary stepping-stone but not for Saint-Just, who was never a club man, doubtless because he was too overbearing. Instead, he became the municipal corporation counsel of Blérancourt, championed communal welfare and free trade, and set himself up as a spokesman for the voters. At the same time, however, he resumed his friendship with the woman whom he had been unable to marry and, in defiance of gossip, met her publicly.

He succeeded in establishing his reputation beyond Blérancourt in the district, where he was considered an energetic and able candidate for the next National Assembly. To further his candidacy, he wrote letters to politicians shamelessly flattering their self-esteem and even managed to receive the congratulations of the National Assembly after publicly burning a counterrevolutionary pamphlet.


Publication of Esprit de la révolution
Though he was driven by ambition, his ambition was to serve the cause of the poor and the peasants, and, if he turned toward Maximilien de Robespierre, the most pitiless of the revolutionaries, it was from conviction. Saint-Just now proposed directing the Revolution beyond benevolent and patriotic activity toward the making of a new society. In 1791 he finally published Esprit de la révolution et de la constitution de France (The Spirit of the Revolution and the Constitution of France). The exposition was bold, vigorous, and lofty. The brief, forceful, and elliptical formulations characterized the author. According to him, the constitution framed by the Assembly was acceptable as a first step, but the French were not yet free. Nor were they sovereign, but sovereignty of the people was acceptable only if the people were just and rational. “Law should yield nothing to opinion and everything to ethics,” Saint-Just maintained. He confided to his publisher that the boldness of his exposition attracted readers and rightly added that his work, because it was based on less extensive reading than he might have wished, had the originality of a solitary thinker.

At that time Saint-Just believed himself to be on the eve of a political career, and his elimination from the Assembly as a result of his age provoked a serious crisis. “I am a slave of my adolescence!” he cried revealingly.

He then continued his reflections on the great task of building a society based on nature in which men would live together rather than merely side by side. Taking his region as a model, he observed the village communal traditions. This sojourn in the provinces directed his thinking while straining his energies.


The National Convention
His election to the National Convention in September 1792, shortly after he became 25, finally gave him a task cut to his measure. His first speech, in November 1792, was devoted to arguing that it would be just to put the deposed king, Louis XVI, to death without a trial. "Those who attach any importance to the just punishment of a king will never found a Republic," he insisted. His brilliant oratory and his implacable logic immediately established him as one of the most militant of the Montagnards.

When the Girondins were ousted from the Convention on May 30, 1793, Saint-Just was elected to the Committee of Public Safety. In the fall of that year, he was sent on mission to oversee the army in the critical sector of Alsace. He proved himself a man of decisive action, relentless in demanding results from the generals but sympathetic to the complaints of ordinary soldiers. He repressed local opponents of the Revolution but did not indulge in the mass executions ordered by some of the other deputies on mission.

Upon his return to the Convention, in year II of the French republican calendar (1793–94), Saint-Just was elected president. He persuaded the Convention to pass the radical Ventôse Decrees, under which confiscated lands were supposed to be distributed to needy patriots. These were the most revolutionary acts of the French Revolution, because they expropriated from one class for the benefit of another. He also joined with Robespierre in supporting the execution of the Hébertists and Dantonists.

During the same period, Saint-Just drafted Fragments sur les institutions républicaines, proposals far more radical than the constitutions he had helped to frame; this work laid the theoretical groundwork for a communal and egalitarian society. Sent on mission to the army in Belgium, he contributed to the victory of Fleurus on 8 Messidor, year II (June 26, 1794), which gave France the upper hand against the Austrians. These months were the high point of his career.

But his rise to power had wrought a remarkable change in Saint-Just’s public personality. He became a cold, almost inhuman fanatic, as bloodthirsty as even his “god” Robespierre, a man of many human weaknesses, was not. “The vessel of the Revolution can arrive in port only on a sea reddened with torrents of blood,” Saint-Just once declared to the Convention. He, rather than Robespierre, showed himself to be the forerunner of the totalitarian rulers of the 20th century when he said on another occasion,

We must not only punish traitors, but all people who are not enthusiastic. There are only two kinds of citizens: the good and the bad. The Republic owes to the good its protection. To the bad it owes only death.

Dreaded, almost totally isolated, and detested, he was arrested on 9 Thermidor (July 27). Like Robespierre, he did not try to incite the Parisian sansculottes to rise against the Convention in his defense and was guillotined the next day.


Assessment
Saint-Just has, by turns, been lauded as the archangel of the Revolution or abhorred as the terrorist par excellence. Recent scholarly research has made it possible to draw the line between man and myth. Undoubtedly the Revolution changed the unruly, self-indulgent youth into a principled and decisive, though ruthless, leader. To friends he was also kind, helping them in securing positions. Yet it is doubtful whether he had friends in the true sense, for those whom he helped attached themselves to him without becoming his equals.

Many of his contemporaries acknowledged his ability but considered him a monster of pride and cruelty. Others, particularly in later generations, have viewed him as an incorruptible patriot who paid with his life for his allegiance to democracy. Some have seen in him the prototype of the rebel. These contradictions arise in part from Saint-Just’s complex character and in part from an imperfect knowledge of his childhood and adolescence.

Women admired his attractive appearance, and he could be very engaging when he wished. Nonetheless, he had to make notes on the conduct required “to be fortunate with women.” He measured out doses of eagerness and indifference, affection and restraint, so as to make a love affair last. Yet he could be genuinely affectionate and display real family feeling. This other Saint-Just appears in the famous portraits of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Jacques-Louis David, and other painters.

Marcel Reinhard

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Georges Couthon


Georges Couthon

French Jacobin leader

born Dec. 22, 1755, Orcet, Fr.
died July 28, 1794, Paris

Main
close associate of Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just on the Committee of Public Safety that ruled Revolutionary France during the period of the Jacobin dictatorship and Reign of Terror (1793–94).

Couthon became a poor people’s advocate at Clermont-Ferrand in 1788. In 1791 he went to Paris as a deputy to the Revolution’s Legislative Assembly and in 1792 was elected to the National Convention, where he joined the majority in voting for the death of King Louis XVI (January 1793). By this time a disease—probably meningitis—had paralyzed Couthon’s legs. Although he was confined to a wheelchair, he went on missions to the provinces in November-December 1792 and in March 1793. He bitterly denounced the moderate Girondin deputies before the Convention, and he introduced the motion that led to the arrest of the leading Girondins on June 2. The Jacobins, in alliance with the Parisian lower classes, then took control of the Revolution.

Meanwhile, Couthon and four other men had been added to the Committee of Public Safety on May 30, 1793. They drafted a new constitution, which was submitted to the Convention on June 10, and Couthon remained on the committee when it was reorganized a month later. On August 21 he was sent to direct the military operations against the counterrevolutionary stronghold of Lyon. Lyon surrendered on October 9, but Couthon had himself relieved of his command so that he would not have to carry out the Convention’s order to destroy the city. Nevertheless, in speeches before the Convention he called for the extermination of enemies of the republic. In March-April 1794 he helped Robespierre and Saint-Just bring about the downfall of factions led by the radical democrat Jacques Hébert and the moderate Georges Danton. Couthon then secured passage of the Law of 22 Prairial (June 10, 1794), which speeded up the work of the Revolutionary Tribunal and unleashed the Reign of Terror. The Robespierrist leaders, however, were facing growing resistance, and on 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794) Couthon, Robespierre, and Saint-Just were arrested by a group of their opponents. They were guillotined, along with 19 other Robespierrists, the next day.

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

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