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)

 

 


In Focus:


The
French Revolution

1789 - 1799
 

 



Causes and Effects of the French Revolution

 


Cartoon representing the relationship between the estates; the peasant is weighed down by the nobility and the clergy
Austria and Prussia appeal to the European sovereigns for solidarity against the French Revolution, August 25, 1791
Napoleon Bonaparte in the former throne room in front of the inscription: "The monarchy is abolished," August 10, 1792
 


Under the rule of Louis XVI, the serious failings of absolutist monarchy became more pronounced in France than in neighboring states. Wars such as the Seven Years' War and the war in the American colonies—as well as the financing of the courts—had led to an immense state debt, and even the majority of the aristocracy was no longer willing to tolerate the extravagance of the court of Versailles. By the end of the 1780s, an open opposition had developed to the court. Its leading figure was the Duke of Orleans, the cousin of the king. Simultaneously, there were food riots in the impoverished and starving population of the towns and countryside. The intellectual climate was determined by the Enlightenment, of which France was the center in the 18th century. The philosophers of the Enlightenment denounced the political and social backwardness of the country, as well as the power of the aristocracy and the church. Thus the ground was prepared for the outbreak of the French Revolution in the year 1789.

From this point onwards, the unease about the developments in France increased in the rest of Europe. This unease was exacerbated and reinforced by the emigrants who fled primarily to Germany and England. In August 1791, the Austrian emperor and the Prussian king issued a joint declaration expressing their hope for a complete restoration of royal authority in France. Germany's and Austria's openly hostile attitude and threatening military posturing fanned the flames of indignation and national fervor in France. War broke out.

The victories of the Revolution Army beginning in 1792 eventually brought about the establishment of republics in the French mold throughout Europe. Republics were declared in the Netherlands and in Belgium in 1795, in upper Italy in 1797, and in Switzerland in 1798, as well as in Naples and southern Italy in 1799. Yet the effects of the Revolution were even further-reaching. The subsequent rule of Napoleon Bonaparte can be understood as the culmination of the French Revolution at least in the implementation of his civic law, the Code Civil. This anchored most of the basic rights demanded during the Revolution in the consciousness of Central Europe. Almost all of the continental European democracies later quoted the Declaration of Human Rights and the beginnings of the parliamentarian system in 1789 as their precedent.
 

 

see also:

Between Two Revolutions

(From David to Delacroix)

 


Biographies

Leading Figures in the French Revolution

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

 

 

 

Jacques-Pierre Brissot

French revolutionary leader
in full Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville

born January 15, 1754, Chartres, France
died October 31, 1793, Paris

Main
a leader of the Girondins (often called Brissotins), a moderate bourgeois faction that opposed the radical-democratic Jacobins during the French Revolution.

The son of an eating-house keeper, Brissot began to work as a clerk in lawyers’ offices, first at Chartres, then in Paris. He had literary ambitions, which led him to go to London (February–November 1783), where he published literary articles and founded two periodicals, which failed. Returning to France, he was imprisoned in the Bastille for pamphlets against the queen and the government but was released in September 1784.

Inspired by the English antislavery movement, Brissot founded the Society of the Friends of Blacks in February 1788. He left for the United States in May, but, when the Estates-General were convened in France, he returned and launched a newspaper, Le Patriote français (May 1789). Elected to the first municipality of Paris, he took delivery of the keys of the Bastille when it had been stormed.

After Louis XVI’s flight to Varennes, Brissot attacked the king’s inviolability in a long speech to the Jacobins (July 10, 1791) that contained all the essentials of his future foreign policy. Elected to the Legislative Assembly, he immediately concerned himself with foreign affairs, joining the diplomatic committee. Brissot argued that war could only consolidate the Revolution by unmasking its enemies and inaugurating a crusade for universal liberty. Although the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre opposed him, war was declared on Austria (April 1792). The early defeats suffered by the French, however, gave fresh impulse to the Revolutionary movement, which Brissot and his friends had meant to check. Having tried in vain to prevent the suspension of the monarchy, Brissot was denounced by Robespierre in the Paris Commune as a “liberticide” on September 1.

No longer acceptable to Paris, Brissot represented Eure-et-Loir in the National Convention. Expelled from the Jacobins (October 12, 1792) and attacked by the Montagnards (extreme Revolutionary faction), he was still influential in the diplomatic committee: his report led to war being declared on Great Britain and the Dutch (February 1, 1793). On April 3, 1793, Robespierre accused him of being the friend of the traitor General Charles-François Dumouriez and of being chiefly responsible for the war. Brissot replied, denouncing the Jacobins and calling for the dissolution of the municipality of Paris. He was not conspicuous in the struggle between the Girondins and the Montagnards (April–May), but on June 2, 1793, his arrest was decreed with that of his Girondin friends. He fled but was captured at Moulins and taken to Paris. Sentenced by the Revolutionary tribunal on the evening of October 30, Brissot was guillotined the next day.

 

 


Lazare Carnot

French military engineer
in full Lazare-Nicolas-Marguerite Carnot, byname Organizer of Victory or The Great Carnot, French Organisateur de la Victoire or Le Grand Carnot

born May 13, 1753, Nolay, Burgundy, France
died August 2, 1823, Magdeburg, Prussian Saxony [Germany]

Main
French statesman, general, military engineer, and administrator in successive governments of the French Revolution. As a leading member of the Committee for General Defense and of the Committee of Public Safety (1793–94) and of the Directory (1793–97), he helped mobilize the Revolutionary armed forces and matériel.

Education and training
The son of a lawyer, Carnot studied at the Collège d’Autun and subsequently at the small seminary in the same town. After attending the artillery and engineering preparatory school in Paris from 1769 to 1771, he was graduated from the Mézières school of engineering, in January 1773, with the rank of lieutenant. In 1780 he was admitted to a literary society and in 1784 became known for a eulogy of Sébastian Le Prestre de Vauban, the French military engineer, which received an award from the Dijon Academy. In 1787 he was elected a member of the Arras Academy, the director of which at that time was Maximilien Robespierre, who was to be a leading figure in the Revolution.

When the Revolution broke out in 1789, Carnot was still a captain, a rank he had received in 1784. In 1791 he was elected deputy from Pas-de-Calais to the Legislative Assembly. As a member of the diplomatic and public education committees, Carnot did not distinguish himself; but on August 11, 1792, the day after the attack on the royal palace of the Tuileries in Paris, he was sent to the Army of the Rhine to report what had occurred.

In September 1792 Carnot was elected representative from Pas-de-Calais to the National Convention—the assembly elected under the influence of the fall of the monarchy—and at the end of the month was sent, with two other representatives, on a mission to Bayonne to organize the defense against a possible attack from Spain.

Since he was absent from Paris until the beginning of January 1793, Carnot did not take part in debates accompanying Louis XVI’s trial. He did, however, take part in the decisive votes, in which he voted against an appeal to the people and in favour of the king’s death. He thus indicated that he had been won over to the position of the Jacobins—the radicals—even though by temperament and inclination he was a man of the independents of the centre.

As a member of the Committee of War, Carnot was assigned to the Committee for General Defense, a predecessor of the Committee of Public Safety, which was to act as the executive branch throughout the republic. In this capacity Carnot presented various reports to the Convention, particularly one on March 9, 1793, which resulted in the dispatch of 82 representatives into the provincial départements to expedite the conscription of 300,000 men. Carnot himself was sent into the départements of the Nord and of Pas-de-Calais and at the end of March to the Army of the North. He remained with the Army of the North until August 1793, establishing his mastery in military operations as well as in the command of men. He reorganized the army, reestablished discipline, and took part, musket in hand, in the attack and capture of Furnes.

 

 


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.

 

 

 

Georges 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

 

 


Camille Desmoulins

French journalist
in full Lucie-Simplice-Camille-Benoist Desmoulins

born March 2, 1760, Guise, France
died April 5, 1794, Paris

Main
one of the most influential journalists and pamphleteers of the French Revolution.

The son of an official of Guise, Desmoulins was admitted to the bar in 1785, but a stammer impeded his effectiveness as a lawyer. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, he suddenly emerged as an effective crowd orator, urging a Parisian crowd to take up arms (July 12, 1789). The ensuing popular insurrection in Paris was climaxed with the storming of the Bastille on July 14. Soon thereafter Desmoulins published his pamphlet La France Libre (“Free France”), which summed up the main charges against France’s rapidly crumbling ancien régime. In addition, his famous Discours de la lanterne aux Parisiens (“The Streetlamp’s Address to the Parisians”), published in September 1789, supported the bourgeois-democratic reforms of the Revolutionary National Assembly and set forth republican ideals.

Two months later Desmoulins launched his lively newspaper Les Révolutions de France et de Brabant (“The Revolutions in France and in Brabant”), in which he attacked policies that were impeding the democratic movement. After Louis XVI’s abortive flight from Paris in June 1791, Desmoulins intensified his campaign for the deposition of the king and the establishment of a republic. The assembly retaliated by ordering his arrest on July 22, 1791, but he went into hiding until he was granted amnesty in September.

Meanwhile, Desmoulins had formed close working relations with Georges Danton in the Jacobin and Cordelier clubs. After participating in the popular insurrection that overthrew the monarchy on August 10, 1792, he was made secretary-general under Danton in the Ministry of Justice. Elected to the National Convention, which convened in September, Desmoulins joined the other Montagnards (deputies from the Jacobin Club) in a bitter struggle against the moderate Girondin faction. Desmoulin’s Histoire des Brissotins (“History of the Brissotins”), issued in mid-May 1793, severely undermined the Girondins’ influence by portraying them as agents in the pay of foreign enemies. On June 2 the Montagnards expelled the leading Girondins from the National Convention and took control of the Revolution.

Nevertheless, by December 1793 Desmoulins and Danton had become leaders of a moderate faction—called the Indulgents or Dantonists—within the Jacobin camp. Their chief enemies were Jacques Hébert’s left-wing Jacobins who, in alliance with the Parisian lower classes, had forced the National Convention to inaugurate a state-regulated economy and institute the Reign of Terror against suspected counterrevolutionaries. In the first two issues of his new paper, Le Vieux Cordelier (“The Old Cordelier,” December 5–30, 1793), Desmoulins attacked the Hébertists for instigating the dechristianizing movement that sought to destroy all Roman Catholic institutions. His friend Robespierre, by now the chief spokesman of the all-powerful Committee of Public Safety, supported this anti-Hébertist campaign, but in the next four issues of his paper Desmoulins lashed out against the Committee’s use of economic controls and political terror. Robespierre then retaliated by demanding that copies of Le Vieux Cordelier be burned (January 7, 1794).

Robespierre had the leading Hébertists guillotined on March 24, and on the night of March 29–30 he acquiesced to the arrest of Desmoulins, Danton, and their friends. Charged with complicity in a “foreign plot,” the Dantonists were guillotined on April 5.

 

 

 

 

Jacques-René Hébert

French political journalist
pseudonym Père (“Father”) Duchesne

born November 15, 1757, Alençon, France
died March 24, 1794, Paris

Main
political journalist during the French Revolution who became the chief spokesman for the Parisian sansculottes (extreme radical revolutionaries). He and his followers, who were called Hébertists, pressured the Jacobin regime of 1793–94 into instituting the most radical measures of the Revolutionary period.

Born into a bourgeois family, Hébert settled in Paris in 1780. For the next 10 years he lived in poverty. He greeted the outbreak of the Revolution (1789) with enthusiasm; and in 1790 he launched his career as a journalist by writing a series of ribald, sacrilegious political satires, adopting the pen name le père Duchesne (a popular comic figure). His newspaper Le Père Duchesne first appeared in November 1790 and soon became one of the most successful newspapers of the French Revolution. Although Hébert at first focused his editorial wrath on the aristocracy and clergy, he launched a virulent campaign against King Louis XVI in the spring of 1792.

Hébert became an influential member of the Cordeliers Club, and as a representative to the Revolutionary Commune he helped plan the popular insurrection that overthrew the monarchy on August 10, 1792. In the ensuing autumn the Hébertists had Notre-Dame Cathedral turned into a Temple of Reason and had some 2,000 other churches converted to the worship of Reason. In December Hébert was elected assistant procurator-general of the Commune, which had become the governing body of Paris. By that time Hébert had also joined the Jacobin Club. The Jacobin deputies waged a fierce campaign against the moderate Girondin faction in the National Convention, which convened in September 1792. In this struggle Hébert made his newspaper a mouthpiece of the sansculottes: he demanded the death sentence for the king, the elimination of the Girondins, and the establishment of a Revolutionary government. Hébert was a leader of the sansculotte crowds that forced the Convention to expel the leading Girondist deputies on June 2, 1793.

Hébert’s supporters organized the massive demonstrations of Parisian workers (September 4–5) that forced the Convention to inaugurate a state-controlled economy and institute the Reign of Terror. He strongly supported the anti-Christian campaign of the autumn of 1793, which sought to destroy Roman Catholic institutions in France.

When the Committee of Public Safety, the Convention’s executive body, had consolidated its power by early 1794, however, it came to regard Hébert and his extreme left-wing followers as dangerous. The Jacobins’ right wing, under Georges Danton, attacked the extremism of the Hébertists, and the Committee’s chief spokesman, Maximilien Robespierre, joined battle with both factions. While a food shortage was stimulating popular discontent, Hébert on March 4, 1794, persuaded the Cordeliers Club to call for a popular uprising. The sansculottes did not respond, however, and on March 14 the Committee of Public Safety had Hébert arrested. He and 17 of his followers were guillotined 10 days later. His execution cost the government the support of the sansculottes and contributed to the collapse of the Jacobin dictatorship in July 1794.

 

 

 

Jean-Paul Marat

French politician, physician, and journalist

born , May 24, 1743, Boudry, near Neuchâtel, Switzerland
died July 13, 1793, Paris, France

Main
French politician, physician, and journalist, a leader of the radical Montagnard faction during the French Revolution. He was assassinated in his bath by Charlotte Corday, a young Girondin conservative.

Early scientific work
Marat, after obscure years in France and other European countries, became a well-known doctor in London in the 1770s and published a number of books on scientific and philosophical subjects. His Essay on the Human Soul (1771) had little success, but A Philosophical Essay on Man (1773) was translated into French and published in Amsterdam (1775–76). His early political works included The Chains of Slavery (1774), an attack on despotism addressed to British voters, in which he first expounded the notion of an “aristocratic,” or “court,” plot; it would become the principal theme of a number of his articles.

Returning to the Continent in 1777, Marat was appointed physician to the personal guards of the comte d’Artois (later Charles X), youngest brother of Louis XVI of France. At this time he seemed mainly interested in making a reputation for himself as a successful scientist. He wrote articles and experimented with fire, electricity, and light. His paper on electricity was honoured by the Royal Academy of Rouen in 1783. At the same time, he built up a practice among upper-middle-class and aristocratic patients. In 1783 he resigned from his medical post, probably intending to concentrate on his scientific career.

In 1780 he published his Plan de législation criminelle (“Plan for Criminal Legislation”), which showed that he had already assimilated the ideas of such critics of the ancien régime as Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was corresponding with the American Revolutionary leader Benjamin Franklin. More serious, perhaps, was Marat’s failure to be elected to the Academy of Sciences. Some historians, notably the American Louis Gottschalk, have concluded that he came to suffer from a “martyr complex,” imagining himself persecuted by powerful enemies. Thinking that his work refuted the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton, he joined the opponents of the established social and scientific order.

In the first weeks of 1789—the year that saw the beginning of the French Revolution—Marat published his pamphlet Offrande à la patrie (“Offering to Our Country”), in which he indicated that he still believed that the monarchy was capable of solving France’s problems. In a supplement published a few months later, though, he remarked that the king was chiefly concerned with his own financial problems and that he neglected the needs of the people; at the same time, Marat attacked those who proposed the British system of government as a model for France.

Attacks on the aristocracy
Beginning in September 1789, as editor of the newspaper L’Ami du Peuple (“The Friend of the People”), Marat became an influential voice in favour of the most radical and democratic measures, particularly in October, when the royal family was forcibly brought from Versailles to Paris by a mob. He particularly advocated preventive measures against aristocrats, whom he claimed were plotting to destroy the Revolution. Early in 1790 he was forced to flee to England after publishing attacks on Jacques Necker, the king’s finance minister; three months later he was back, his fame now sufficient to give him some protection against reprisal. He did not relent but directed his criticism against such moderate Revolutionary leaders as the marquis de Lafayette, the comte de Mirabeau, and Jean-Sylvain Bailly, mayor of Paris (a member of the Academy of Sciences); he continued to warn against the émigrés, royalist exiles who were organizing counterrevolutionary activities and urging the other European monarchs to intervene in France and restore the full power of Louis XVI.

In July 1790 he declared to his readers:

Five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom, and happiness. A false humanity has held your arms and suspended your blows; because of this millions of your brothers will lose their lives.

The National Assembly sentenced him to a month in prison, but he went into hiding and continued his campaign. When bloody riots broke out at Nancy in eastern France, he saw them as the first sign of the counterrevolution.

Activities in the National Convention
In 1790 and 1791 Marat gradually came to the view that the monarchy should be abolished; after Louis XVI’s attempt to flee in June 1791, he declared the king "unworthy to remount the throne" and violently denounced the National Assembly for refusing to depose the king. As a delegate to the National Convention (beginning in September 1792), he advocated such reforms as a graduated income tax, state-sponsored vocational training for workers, and shorter terms of military service. Though he had often advocated the execution of counterrevolutionaries, Marat seems to have had no direct connection with the wholesale massacres of suspects that occurred in the same month. He had opposed France’s declaration of war against antirevolutionary Austria in April, but, once the war had begun and the country was in danger of invasion, he advocated a temporary dictatorship to deal with the emergency.

Actively supported by the Parisian people both in the chamber and in street demonstrations, Marat quickly became one of the most prominent members of the Convention. Attacks by the conservative Girondin faction early in 1793 made him a symbol of the Montagnards, or radical faction, although the Montagnard leaders kept him out of any position of real influence. In April the Girondins had him arraigned before a Revolutionary tribunal. His acquittal of the political charges brought against him (April 24) was the climax of his career and the beginning of the fall of the Girondins from power.


Assassination
On July 13, Charlotte Corday, a young Girondin supporter from Normandy, was admitted to Marat’s room on the pretext that she wished to claim his protection, and she stabbed him to death in his bath (he took frequent medicinal baths to relieve a skin infection). Marat’s dramatic murder at the very moment of the Montagnards’ triumph over their opponents caused him to be considered a martyr to the people’s cause. His name was given to 21 French towns and later, as a gesture symbolizing the continuity between the French and Russian revolutions, to one of the first battleships in the Soviet navy.

The Death of Marat, by French artist and member of the Jacobin Club Jacques-Louis David, was painted just days after the murder. Called the “Pietà of the Revolution” (in reference to Michelangelo’s sculpture) and widely considered David’s masterpiece, the painting is frequently reproduced for its historical and artistic value.

Jean Vidalenc

 

 


Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

French politician and orator

born March 9, 1749, Bignon, near Nemours, France
died April 2, 1791, Paris

Main
French politician and orator, one of the greatest figures in the National Assembly that governed France during the early phases of the French Revolution. A moderate and an advocate of constitutional monarchy, he died before the Revolution reached its radical climax.

Troubled youth
Mirabeau was the elder son of the noted economist Victor Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau, by his unhappy marriage to Marie-Geneviève de Vassan. Disfigured by smallpox at age three, the precocious Honoré-Gabriel suffered even in early childhood the disfavour of his formidable father. At age 15 he was sent as a pupil to the strict Abbé Choquard in Paris, and at 18 he went as a volunteer to serve in a cavalry regiment at Saintes, where his father hoped that military discipline would curb him. His misbehaviour, however, led to his imprisonment on the Île de Ré, under a lettre de cachet, a written order permitting imprisonment without trial. Released to serve in Corsica with the rank of sublieutenant in the army, he distinguished himself there in 1769.

Reconciled with his father, he married a rich Provençal heiress, Émilie de Marignane, in 1772, but his heavy spending and further misconduct led his father to have him imprisoned under another lettre de cachet in order to put him out of reach of his creditors. He was detained first at the Château d’If (1774), then at the Fort de Joux, near Pontarlier. Having obtained permission to visit the town of Pontarlier, he there met his “Sophie”—who, in fact, was the marquise de Monnier, Marie-Thérèse-Richard de Ruffey, the young wife of a very old man. He eventually escaped to Switzerland, where Sophie joined him; the couple then made their way to Holland, where Mirabeau was arrested in 1777.

The tribunal at Pontarlier had meanwhile sentenced him to death for seduction and abduction, but Mirabeau escaped execution by submitting to further imprisonment under a lettre de cachet. In the château of Vincennes he composed the Lettres à Sophie, some erotic works, and his essay Des lettres de cachet et des prisons d’état (“Of Lettres de Cachet and of State Prisons”). Released in December 1780, he finally had to surrender himself to arrest at Pontarlier in order to have the death sentence revoked, but by August 1782 he was entirely free. He now became involved in a lawsuit against his wife, who wanted a judicial separation. Pleading on his own behalf, he gained the sympathy of the public but lost his case (1783). Rejected by his wife and by his father, he had to renounce the aristocratic society into which he had been born.

For the next five years Mirabeau lived the life of an adventurer. He was employed sometimes as a hired pamphleteer, sometimes as a secret agent. He came into contact with Louis XVI’s ministers Charles-Alexandre de Calonne; Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes; and Armand-Marc, comte de Montmorin-Saint-Hérem. He also made an enemy of the Swiss banker Jacques Necker, at that time director of the finances, and engaged the playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais in controversy.

His activities necessitated much traveling. In London he was introduced into the best Whig society by Gilbert Elliot (later 1st earl of Minto), who had been his fellow pupil under the Abbé Choquard; he had to take refuge in Liège when his Dénonciation de l’agiotage (against stockjobbing) annoyed Calonne; and he undertook a secret mission to Berlin in 1786. With the active assistance of a Brunswick friend, Jakob Mauvillon, he wrote De la monarchie prussienne sous Frédéric le Grand (1788; “The Prussian Monarchy Under Frederick the Great”), which he dedicated to his father; but Histoire secrète de la cour de Berlin (“Secret History of the Court of Berlin”), in which he made unscrupulous use of material derived from his mission in Germany, created a scandal in 1789.

Election to the Estates-General
Within France, affairs were moving toward a crisis. The country, bankrupted by its 18th-century wars, was burdened with an archaic system of taxation and social privilege. The Estates-General, an assembly of the three estates of the realm—the clergy, the nobility, and the commons—was summoned to meet in Paris in May 1789 in an attempt to implement the necessary reforms. It was that meeting that set in motion the great French Revolution of 1789.

When the Estates-General was summoned, Mirabeau hoped to be elected as a deputy for the nobility of Provence. For this he needed his father’s support. Pleased by the book dedicated to him, the marquis had summoned Mirabeau to Argenteuil in the autumn of 1788 but had not given him any real help. Mirabeau presented himself in the chamber of the nobility in the estates of Provence in January 1789 and uttered violent diatribes against the privileged classes but was not elected deputy, as he held no fief. Turning reluctantly to the Third Estate, he was elected to represent both Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, and he chose to represent the latter.

Mirabeau came to the Estates-General without any precise constitutional doctrine. An avowed enemy of despotism (he had written Essai sur le despotisme [“Essay on Despotism”] before he was 25), he was, nevertheless, a firm supporter of the monarchy and of the executive power. Without expressly adhering to the English system, he wanted representative government. A nobleman rejected by his class, he opposed the idea of an aristocratic second chamber. Like most of his contemporaries, he had no political experience, but his intelligence and his knowledge of men made him supremely capable of acquiring such experience rapidly. Lack of money, however, exposed him to pressure and to temptation.

From May to October 1789 Mirabeau played a decisive part in the battle between the Third Estate and the privileged orders. His aim was to become the spokesman of the nation to the king and at the same time to moderate the expression of the nation’s wishes. Thus, on June 15 and 16 he was careful not to suggest the name National Assembly, which was the rallying cry of the Third Estate in its Revolutionary debate of June 17, when it set itself up as representative of the whole nation. Yet, at the ending of the “royal session” of June 23, when Henri Évrard, marquis de Dreux-Brézé, in the king’s name ordered the assembled estates to return each to its separate chamber, Mirabeau’s answer did much to confirm the deputies in their resolution to disobey and establish the National Assembly, and, in the feverish atmosphere of the early days of July, his speeches inspired the Assembly to demand the dispersal of the troops concentrated around Paris.

After the fall of the Bastille (July 14), he urged the Assembly to demand the dismissal of the ministers who were to blame for the disorders. His popularity in Paris was then considerable. On the other hand, he disapproved of the Assembly’s precipitate action in abolishing feudalism (on the night of August 4) and of the abstract Declaration of Rights, and, while he was openly against a second chamber, he yet wanted the king to have an absolute veto. In October, when the Parisians marched on Versailles and took Louis XVI back to Paris, Mirabeau’s attitude was ambiguous and gave rise to the suspicion that he might be plotting against the king. To clear himself and to keep open the door to the court’s favour, he addressed a memorandum to the king, advising him to leave Paris for Rouen, to secure the support of a small army, and to appeal to the provinces.

Mirabeau’s prime concern, however, was to win “the battle of the ministry.” Ostensibly a supporter of Necker, Mirabeau, in fact, did his utmost to destroy him: his brilliant speech on the bankruptcy of the nation was a masterstroke against this minister. Furthermore, he tried skillfully to induce the Assembly to grant to the king the option of choosing members of it to be his ministers, but the Assembly’s decree of November 7, 1789, which precluded all deputies from the ministry for the duration of the session, frustrated his hopes of ministerial office for himself.

Intrigue with the court
From November 1789, notwithstanding his oratorical triumphs of January–April 1790 in the cause of the Revolution, Mirabeau was a prey to despondency and aimlessness until his friend Auguste, prince d’Arenberg, comte de La Marck—with the approval of Florimund, Graf (count) Mercy d’Argenteau, Austrian ambassador to Paris and confidant of Queen Marie-Antoinette—approached him with the proposal from Louis XVI and the queen that he should become their secret counselor. Mirabeau accepted with delight: “I shall make it my chief business to see that the executive power has its place in the constitution” (letter of May 10). Part of the promised remuneration was to be the paying off of his debts.

In May 1790, when the Assembly was debating the king’s right to make war and peace, Mirabeau successfully opposed the left-wing orator Antoine Barnave, whom he challenged with the words: “Tell us that there should be no king, do not tell us that there should only be a powerless, superfluous king.” He impeded the progress of the Jacobins but risked his own popularity, and a pamphlet accusing him of treason was circulated (Trahison découverte du comte de Mirabeau [“The Uncovered Treason of the Comte de Mirabeau”]).

From June to October he had to work to recapture his prestige. This was the more necessary because the king and the queen, despite their secret interview of July 3 with Mirabeau at Saint-Cloud, took little notice of his advice and continued to be influenced by his rival for court favour, the marquis de Lafayette, who had scorned Mirabeau’s offer of alliance. In October 1790 the Assembly further disappointed Mirabeau by refusing, after more discussion, to revoke the decree of November 1789 on the noneligibility of its members for the ministry.

While the court was displeased by some of Mirabeau’s outbursts and by his “incurable mania of running after popularity,” Mirabeau, for his part, was enraged to see a new ministry formed under the influence of his rivals Lafayette and Alexandre, comte de Lameth. By the end of November 1790 his relations with the court were severely strained. He restored them by submitting to the king’s adviser Montmorin a “Plan” concocted to bring pressure to bear by various means on the Assembly, on Paris, and on the provinces so as to coordinate “the means of reconciling public opinion with the sovereign’s authority.”

The plan was perfect in theory but very difficult to put into practice. From January 1791 it was clear that Mirabeau had no intention of doing anything that might compromise his own popularity, though he was willing enough to sabotage the Assembly by getting it to adopt ill-considered measures of religious persecution, and he was eagerly and adroitly working to discredit Lameth’s faction at court. His popularity rose to its zenith, and the eyes of all of Europe were on him.

As spokesman of the diplomatic committee, on January 28, 1791, he made a speech that bore the unmistakable stamp of statesmanship. Anxious to avoid anything that might compromise France’s relations with neighbouring countries, particularly with England, he yet would not repudiate any of the Revolution’s political victories or allow any necessary military precautions to be overlooked. On the following day he at last became president of the Assembly for a fortnight. In this office, from which he had been so long excluded, his control of the debates was masterly.

Mirabeau’s problem was to know how and for how long his Machiavellian game could be continued before his intrigue with the court would be exposed. The people of Paris were restless, worried by rumours. Mirabeau’s position was made difficult by his intervention on behalf of the king’s aunts (who had fled from Paris), by his hostility to the law against the émigrés, and by his harsh words against the Lameths and their satellites in the Assembly (“Silence to the factious! Silence to the 33!”). On February 28 he was sorely pressed to justify himself to the Jacobins after a pitiless attack by Alexandre, comte de Lameth. The newspapers of the left redoubled their accusations of treason against him, and in March he experienced some notable reverses in the Assembly.

Death may have saved him from political defeat. Gravely ill since his presidency of the Assembly, he worsened his condition by excessive indulgence. He took to his bed on March 27, 1791, and died a week later. The people’s grief for him was boundless; he was given a magnificent funeral, and it was for him that the new church of Sainte-Geneviève was converted into the Panthéon, for the burial of great men. In the insurrection of August 10, 1792, however, papers proving Mirabeau’s relations with the court were found in an iron chest in the Tuileries Palace, and on September 21, 1794, his remains were dislodged from the Panthéon by order of the National Convention.


Assessment
As a statesman, Mirabeau failed in his main objective, that of reconciling the monarchy with the Revolution and a strong executive with national liberty. He was too much of a monarchist for the Revolution, too revolutionary for the monarchy. As an orator, he was unsurpassed. Even though his eloquence was fed by material gathered from every quarter and by a “workshop” of collaborators, it was Mirabeau who found the striking images and expressions that give to his speeches their brilliant individuality. Generally bad at extemporizing, Mirabeau could be moved by anger or by injured pride to an impassioned tone that would carry the Assembly with him.

Jean-Jacques Chevallier

 

 

 

Maximilien 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

 

 

 

Jean-Marie Roland

French scientist
in full Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière

born February 18, 1734, Thizy, France
died November 15, 1793, Bourg-Beaudoin

Main
French industrial scientist who, largely through his wife’s ambition, became a leader of the moderate Girondin faction of bourgeois revolutionaries during the French Revolution.

The son of a royal official, Roland became inspector of manufactures in Amiens (1780) and then in Lyon (1784). In February 1780 he married Jeanne-Marie Phlipon, who was 20 years his junior. Over the next decade he wrote a number of books on manufacturing and political economy. Both he and his wife welcomed the outbreak (1789) of the Revolution, which was at first led by moderates.

The Rolands moved to Paris in December 1791; and on March 23, 1792, Roland, because of the influence of his wife and his friendship with Jacques Brissot, was appointed minister of the interior in a cabinet composed mostly of Girondins (as the Brissotins were called). Although he proved an able administrator, Roland came into conflict with King Louis XVI when the king vetoed a decree to establish a national guard camp outside Paris. On June 10, 1792, in a letter drafted by his wife, Roland called upon the king to withdraw his veto. Louis responded by dismissing Roland and most of the other Girondin ministers on June 13; but, when a provisional government was set up after the overthrow of the monarchy on August 10, Roland was again appointed minister of the interior.

As a member of the National Convention (the Revolutionary legislature that convened in September 1792), he vigorously opposed the economic controls advocated by the radical democrats of the Jacobin Club. At the prompting of his wife, he attacked the leading moderate Georges Danton, thereby driving Danton into an alliance with the Jacobin leader Maximilien de Robespierre.

On November 20, Roland discovered the king’s papers in a secret safe in the Tuileries Palace, but, by neglecting to have the papers inventoried before witnesses, he left himself open to the charge that he had destroyed documentary evidence of Girondin collusion with the royalists. He worked to prevent the conviction of Louis XVI on a charge of treason; and on January 23, 1793, two days after the king’s execution, he resigned his ministerial post. During the Jacobin coup d’état (May 31–June 2) that purged the Girondins from the Convention, Roland escaped from Paris, but his wife was arrested. On hearing of her execution, he committed suicide.

 

 

 

Louis 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

 

 


Jean-Lambert Tallien

French revolutionary

born Jan. 23, 1767, Paris
died Nov. 16, 1820, Paris

Main
French Revolutionary who became a leader of the moderates (Thermidorians) after he helped engineer the fall of Robespierre in 1794.

His political career began when, after taking part in the insurrection of Aug. 10, 1792, he became secretary of the Paris Commune and was elected to the National Convention, in which he sided with the more radical Montagnards against the Girondins. He voted for the execution of Louis XVI during the trial of the King (December 1792–January 1793). Later, as a member of the Committee of General Security, he was sent to organize army recruiting in southwestern France and to put down the rebels in Bordeaux.

Recalled to Paris in March 1794, Tallien initially supported the Committee of Public Safety, but he opposed the committee after it ordered the arrest of a noblewoman known as Madame Cabarrus, whom the Committee accused of being his mistress. Denounced by Robespierre on June 12, 1794, Tallien conspired with Paul Barras, Joseph Fouché, and others to overthrow him, which they did on July 27 (9 Thermidor).

After Robespierre’s fall, Tallien became a leader of the Thermidorian reaction, taking part in the suppression of members of the Revolutionary tribunals, the Jacobins, and some of his former colleagues whom he accused of being royalist sympathizers. As a member of the reconstructed Committee of Public Safety, he secured the release of Madame Cabarrus and married her on Dec. 26, 1794.

Under the Directory (1795–99), Tallien became a member of the Council of Five Hundred, but he had little influence because he was held suspect by all parties. He retained his seat until 1798, when he went to Egypt with Napoleon Bonaparte. Upon his return to Paris (April 1801), he divorced his wife, who had already deserted him.

Tallien supported the First Restoration (1814) and then the Hundred Days of Napoleon. Under the Second Restoration (1815), however, he was denied a pension and spent the rest of his life in poverty.

 

 

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