Manual French Legends: The Life and Legacy of Maximilien Robespierre

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The economic situation in France was rapidly deteriorating and the country was almost bankrupt. At the end of February more than thousand shops were plundered in Paris. Many citizens had entered the National Guard, more than , men, willing to defend the revolution; about 2, men from every section. In March, an attempt to draft new troops, set off an uprising in rural France. The Montagnards lost influence in Marseille, Toulon and Lyon.

The Jacobin leaders were quite sure that, after Neerwinden , France had come close to a military coup mounted by Dumouriez and supported by the Gironde. On 3 April Robespierre declared before the Convention, the whole war as a prepared game between Dumouriez and Brissot, the spokesman for the Girondins, with the aim of overthrowing the Republic.

Maximilien Robespierre | Scribd

Robespierre was pessimistic about the prospects of parliamentary action and told the Jacobins that it was necessary to raise an army of Sans-culottes to defend Paris and arrest infidel deputies. There are only two parties according to Robespierre: the people and its enemies. Suspects should be arrested and locked up.

As rioting persisted a commission of inquiry of twelve members , with a very strong Girondin majority, was set up on 24 May to examine all the prisoners taken last month and plots against the Convention. Maximin Isnard threatened them with the total destruction of Paris. On 26 May Robespierre openly called at the Jacobin Club "to place themselves in insurrection against corrupt deputies". Isnard declared that the Convention would not be influenced by any violence. Paris had to respect the representatives from the rest of France.

On 29 May, the delegates representing thirty-three of the Paris sections formed an insurrectionary committee. If the Commune does not unite closely with the people, it violates its most sacred duty. Mortimer Ternaux and Pedro Ramirez employ the term " coup d'etat ; for Stanley Loomis it contributed also to the establishment of the Terror. Marat led the attack on the representatives to be removed from the Convention.

He called for the arrest of nine members of the Commission of Twelve and named twenty-two additional Girondins. The commune declaring itself duped, demanded and prepared a "Supplement" to the revolution. It must be either republican or royalist. If it is to be republican, we must have republican ministers, republican newspapers, republican deputies, a republican government.

The internal dangers come from the middle classes; in order to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people. The people must ally itself with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people. Hanriot was ordered to march his National Guards, by this time mostly existing of Sans-culottes, from the town hall to the Palais National.

They decided that twenty-two deputies and nine members of the commission of twelve were not to be arrested, but were called upon to voluntarily to suspend the exercise of their functions. The Montagnards now had unchallenged control of the Convention. The Girondins going to the provinces, joined the counter-revolution. After the fall of the Girondins, the French government faced serious internal and external challenges. Marat was murdered and Robespierre feared for his own life.

French revolutionary politicians believed a stable government was needed to quell the chaos; [] 26 of the 83 departments were no longer under the control of Paris. The War of the First Coalition forced changes in the monetary-fiscal experiment. The growth of paper money accelerated to almost 9 per cent per month.

Debt payments were suspended indefinitely, and the assignat was converted from its initial purpose to become the main means of financing the war. It was the first time he held any executive office, in charge of education. Robespierre soon gave up and became a kind of Minister without Portfolio, [] apparently as the unofficial prime-minister, but the committee was non-hierarchical.

On 4 September, the Sans-culottes again invaded the Convention. They demanded tougher measures against rising prices and the setting up of a system of terror to root out the counter-revolution. A "Sans-culotte army" was formed in Paris, to sweep away conspirators. It is time to horrify all the conspirators.

So legislators, place Terror on the order of the day! Let us be in revolution because everywhere counter-revolution is being woven by our enemies. The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty. The Committee of General Security which was tasked with rooting out crimes and preventing counter-revolution began to manage the country's internal police and finance.

On 8 September, the banks and exchange offices were closed to prevent the exchange of forged assignats and the export of capital. The Revolutionary Tribunal was divided into four sections, of which two were always active at the same time. On 11 and 29 September, Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne introduced the General maximum , [] particularly in the area which supplied Paris.

On 25 October the Revolutionary government was accused of doing nothing. Saint-Just and Le Bas visited the Rhine Army to watch the generals and punish officers for the least sign of treasonous timidity, or lack of initiative. On 25 November , the remains of Comte de Mirabeau were removed from the Pantheon on the initiative of Robespierre when it became known that in his last months the count had secretly conspired with the court of Louis XVI.

This law, submitted by Billaud, was seen as a deeply drastic decision against the independence of municipalities and federalism ; stability and centralization became more important than democratic principles. On 6 December Robespierre warned in the Convention against the dangers of dechristianization , and attacked 'all violence or threats contrary to the freedom of religion '.

The theory of the revolutionary government is as new as the revolution that created it. We must not look for it in the books of political writers, who have not foreseen this revolution, nor in the laws of tyrants who, content to abuse their power, do little to seek its legitimacy According to Donald Clark Hodges , this was the first important statement in modern times of a philosophy of dictatorship. This is the closest he came to adopting a public position against the use of terror.

In December Camille Desmoulins launched a journal, Le Vieux Cordelier , arguing that the Revolution should return to its original ideas. In January Robespierre came into conflict with his oldest friend, who had taken up for the cause of , defenceless civilians and had been detained in prisons as a suspect. According to Desmoulins, a Committee of Grace had to be established. Illicit trade and dearth prevailed during the unfortunate winter of — The prisons were full of shopkeepers. Robespierre proposed that the issues of Le Vieux Cordelier had to be burned in the brazier of the Jacobin club, but decided to withdraw this after heavy attacks.

Robespierre attacked the authenticity of the suspects by giving the blackest interpretation to words and actions that he had witnessed from the privileged position of being a trusted friend. Robespierre had to choose between friendship and virtue. In his Report on the Principles of Political Morality of 5 February , Robespierre praised the revolutionary government and argued that terror and virtue were necessary:.

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

He argued, "Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie [the 'fatherland']. He reasoned thus: those who are virtuous are right; error is a corruption of the heart; error cannot be sincere; error is always deliberate.

Oelsner, Robespierre behaved "more like a leader of a religious sect than of a political party. He can be eloquent but most of the time he is boring, especially when he goes on too long, which is often the case. Hanriot ordered the arrest of all those who disregarded the regulations of the municipality. Although the corruption of politicians and government officials without much experience was an immense problem.

On 26 February it was decided that the goods of people who had been declared as "enemies of the republic" would be confiscated. Nobody was allowed to leave the country without permission. Elections would not take place in the next five months if seats were released from sections of the Commune. The vacated posts were filled with Jacobins; in many cases appointed by the triumvirate. There was no money for the provision of food to the poor.

Half of Paris was going hungry. Self-indulgent over-eating, especially when flaunted in public, was an indication of suspect political loyalties, according to Saint-Just. It was ambition, not virtue, that motivated the great majority of people who held public office. Besides France was flooded with false English and almost worthless assignats. Foreigners were no longer allowed to enter Paris. From 13 February to 13 March , Robespierre had withdrawn from active business on the Committee due to illness. Their death was a sort of carnival, a pleasant spectacle according to Michelet 's witnesses.

According to Korngold, the setting was organized by Desmoulins. For several months he had resisted killing Danton. Robespierre refused to see Desmoulins and rejected a private appeal. Danton, Desmoulins and Fabre d'Eglantine were arrested on 30 March without a chance to be heard in the Convention.

Robespierre insisted that it was a foreign plot, demanded that the report be re-written, and used the scandal as the basis for rhetorical attacks on the foreign powers he believed were involved. Legendre feared for his life. No friend of the Dantonists dared speak up in case he too should be accused of putting friendship before virtue. A few days later Lucile Desmoulins was imprisoned. She was accused of trying to raise money to free her husband and Danton. She admitted to having warned the prisoners of a course of events as in September , and that it was her duty to revolt against it.

That was enough evidence for the jury to send her to the scaffold. Robespierre kept his mouth shut. Robespierre was not only their eldest friend but also witnessed at their marriage in December On 1 April Lazare Carnot proposed the executive council be suppressed and be replaced by twelve Committees reporting to the Committee of Public Safety.

The proposal was unanimously adopted by the National Convention, [] and set up by Martial Herman , probably with more speed after 9 Thermidor. According to Hanriot the one who despises the current government is an agent of the English faction. He was without the spectacles he usually wore in public. On 16 April, the Committee of Public Safety received the power to search and to bring accused persons before the Revolutionary Tribunal, in the same way as had the Committee of General Security.

On 23 April the General Police Bureau was set up, tasked with gathering information and mostly report directly to Robespierre. Georges Couthon introduced the drastic Law of 22 Prairial , which was enacted on 10 June. Under this law, the Tribunal became a simple court of condemnation refusing suspects the right of counsel and allowing only one of two verdicts — complete acquittal or death. On 11 July the shopkeepers, craftsmen, etc. In the next three days, people were sent in batches to the guillotine, which had been moved to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine three weeks before in order to stand out less.

Mid-July two new mass graves were dug at Picpus Cemetery in the impermeable ground. Throughout the course of the Revolution, Robespierre at times ambivalently and outspokenly opposed slavery on French soil or in French territories and he played an important role in abolishing it. In May Robespierre argued passionately in the National Assembly against the Colonial Committee, dominated by slaveholders in the Caribbean.

The colonial lobby declared that political rights for blacks would cause France to lose her colonies. Robespierre responded, "We should not compromise the interests humanity holds most dear, the sacred rights of a significant number of our fellow citizens," later shouting, "Death to the colonies! Nevertheless, pro-slavery advocates in France regarded Robespierre as a "bloodthirsty innovator" and as a traitor plotting to give French colonies to England. In the following years, the slaves of St. Domingue effectively liberated themselves and formed an army to oppose re-enslavement.

Robespierre denounced the slave trade in a speech before the Convention in April But the constitution was never implemented. By , French debates concerning slavery reached their apogee. In late January, delegations representing both former slaveholders and former slaves arrived in France to petition for slavery or its abolition. Receiving the delegation on their release, the National Convention passed a decree banning slavery on 4 February. On the day after the emancipation decree, Robespierre delivered a speech to the National Convention in which he praised the French as the first to "summon all men to equality and liberty, and their full rights as citizens," using the word slavery twice but without specifically mentioning the French colonies.

Several weeks later, in a speech before the committee of public safety, Robespierre linked the cruelty of slavery with serfdom:. Ask a merchant of human flesh what is property; he will answer by showing you that long coffin he calls a ship Ask a gentleman [the same] who has lands and vassals He attended a meeting of the Jacobin club in June to support a decree ending slavery, and later signed orders to ratify it.

Robespierre's desire for revolutionary change was not limited to the political realm. He opposed the power of the Catholic Church and the pope, particularly in opposition to their celibacy policies. On 6 May Robespierre announced to the Convention that in the name of the French people the Committee of Public Safety had decided to recognize the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul. Accordingly, on 7 May, Robespierre supported a decree passed by the Convention that established an official religion, known as the Cult of the Supreme Being.

In the morning of 8 June which was also the Christian holiday of Pentecost he was invited for breakfast by Joachim Vilate in the Pavillon de Flore; Robespierre hardly ate anything. A nationwide "Festival of the Supreme Being" was held in the afternoon. Robespierre, who happened to be president of the Convention that week, walked first in the festival procession and delivered a speech in which he emphasized his concept of a Supreme Being:. Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants?

Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power.

He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue. Throughout the "Festival of the Supreme Being", Robespierre was beaming with joy; not even the negativity of his colleagues could disrupt his delight. He was able to speak of the things about which he was truly passionate, including Virtue and Nature , typical deist beliefs, and his disagreements with atheism.

Everything was arranged to the exact specifications that had been drawn up previously set before the ceremony. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers with their babies were specifically invited to walk in the procession. Robespierre was extremely dressed up, with feathers on his hat, and fruit and flowers in his hands.

Not only was everything going smoothly, but the festival was also Robespierre's first appearance in the public eye as a leader for the people, and also as president of the Convention, to which he had been elected only four days earlier. While for some it was exciting to see him at his finest, other deputies agreed that Robespierre had played too prominent a role. Multiple sources state that Robespierre came down the mountain in a way that resembled Moses as the leader of the people, and one of his colleagues, Thuriot , was heard saying, "Look at the bugger; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God".

Five days later Robespierre demanded the heads of nine people, who opposed his republic of virtue. In the Atlantic campaign of May , France suffered from a series of operations conducted by the British Royal Navy against the French Navy, with the aim of preventing the passage of a strategically important French grain convoy travelling from the United States to France. Robespierre used this assassination attempt against him as a pretext for scapegoating the British. Some were uneasy and asked for the debate to be adjourned so the clauses could be examined.

Robespierre refused and demanded immediate discussion.

Maximilien Robespierre and the Reign of Terror (Part 2)

On 12 June, he appeared to accuse his opponents of trying to turn the Montagnards against the Government. He shouted so loudly that several citizens gathered on the Tuileries terraces. Robespierre is said to have burst into tears and it was from about this time that he stopped attending the meetings of the Committee. Carnot and Cambon proposed to end the terror; the value of the assignats had dropped more than half. To evade arrest, which usually took place during the night, about fifty deputies avoided staying at home. On 22 and 23 July, the two committees met in a plenary session.

Robespierre wanted to take away the authority of the Committee of General Security. For forty days Robespierre hardly showed up but signed decrees by the Committee of Public Safety, [] and continued his work with the police bureau. Robespierre's position was desperate; he was losing his grip, both on himself and on power. On Saturday 26 July Robespierre reappeared at the Convention and delivered a two-hour-long vague and disjointed speech on the villainous factions. He complained of being blamed for everything. When called upon to name those whom he was accusing, however, he refused.

Cambon flew to the rostrum. The Convention decided not to have the text printed, as Robespierre's speech had first to be submitted to the two committees. It contained matters sufficiently weighty that it needed to first be examined. In the evening, Robespierre delivered the same speech at the Jacobin Club, where it was very well received.

Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne were driven out because of their opposition to the printing and distribution of the text. Billaud managed to escape before he was assaulted, but Collot was knocked down and his clothes torn to shreds. Saint-Just replied he sent the beginning to a friend and refused to show them his notes. Gathering in secret at five in the morning nine members of the two committees decided that it was all or nothing; Robespierre had to be voted off. Barras said they would all die if Robespierre did not. The crucial factor that drove them to make up their minds to join the conspiracy seems in most cases to have been emotional rather than ideological - fear of Robespierre's intentions towards them, or enmity, or revenge.

The committees have thought it best to restore to the National Guard its democratic organization. As the accusations began to pile up, Saint-Just remained silent. Robespierre rushed toward the rostrum, appealed to the Plain to defend him against the Montagnards, but his voice was shouted down. Robespierre rushed to the benches of the Left but someone cried: "Get away from here".

Why didn't you defend him? Someone called for Robespierre's arrest and the whole Convention agreed including the two other members of the triumvirate, Couthon and Saint-Just. Robespierre shouted that the revolution was lost, when he descended the tribune. Around three in the afternoon Hanriot was told he was under arrest; Hanriot said he would only show up accompanied by a crowd.

The administration of the police issued an order to set free Lavalette and Boulanger, officers of the Parisian armed forces and Vilate , the revolutionary juror. The club and the Convention had declared themselves to be in continuous session. Around eight Hanriot and 15, National Guards appeared at the Place du Carrousel in front of the Convention and the Committee but was taken prisoner when he entered the building.

After nine the vice-president of the Tribunal Coffinhal went to Committee of General Security with 8 or 10, men from the sections and their artillery; he succeeded to free Hanriot and many of his adjutants How did the five deputies escape from being imprisoned? According to Courtois , [] and Fouquier-Tinville the police administration was responsible. Both Hanriot and Le Bas suggested attacking the Convention. The sections were told not to summon without authorisation by the two committees.

The Convention then appointed Barras , and ordered troops 4, men to be called out which happened around midnight. After a warm day spent waiting in vain for action by the Commune, losing time in bootless deliberation, possibly without food or something to drink, 16 companies of militants began to disperse. According to Colin Jones apathy prevailed with most of them drifting back to their homes.

Barras deliberately advanced slowly, in the hope of avoiding conflict by a display of force. In order to avoid capture, Augustin Robespierre took off his shoes and jumped from a broad cornice. The unperturbed Saint-Just gave himself up without a word. Dumas and conspirators were locked up in a room inside the town hall. Coffinhal succeeded escaping but was arrested nine days later, totally exhausted.

For the remainder of the night, Robespierre was laid in an antechamber of the Committee of General Security. Halfway Fouquier-Tinville took off his robe, who did not want to trial his friend the mayor Fleuriot-Lescot. A vast mob screaming curses followed them right up to the scaffold. Robespierre kept his eyes closed. His face was swollen.

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He was the tenth to appear on the platform and went up the steps of the scaffold without any assistance whatever. In fact, a whole new political mythology was being created. Four weeks later, for reasons policies and politicians, Tallien, announced that all that the country has just been through was the "Terror" and that the "monster" Robespierre, the "king" of the Revolution, was the orchestrator. There are two ways of totally misunderstanding Robespierre as a historical figure: one is to detest the man, the other is to make too much of him.

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

Nevertheless, Robespierre remains controversial to this day. Apart from one Metro station in Montreuil a Paris suburb and several streets named after him in about 20 towns, there are no memorials or monuments to him in France. By making himself the embodiment of virtue and of total commitment, he took control of the Revolution in its most radical and bloody phase: the Jacobin republic.

His goal in the Terror was to use the guillotine to create what he called a "republic of virtue", wherein terror and virtue would be imposed at the same time. Terror was thus a tool to accomplish his overarching goals for democracy. Ruth Scurr wrote that, as for Robespierre's vision for France, he wanted a "democracy for the people, who are intrinsically good and pure of heart; a democracy in which poverty is honourable, power innocuous, and the vulnerable safe from oppression; a democracy that worships nature—not nature as it really is, cruel and disgusting, but nature sanitized, majestic, and, above all, good.

In terms of historiography, he has several defenders. Robespierre's main ideal was to ensure the virtue and sovereignty of the people. He disapproved of any acts which could be seen as exposing the nation to counter-revolutionaries and traitors, and became increasingly fearful of the defeat of the Revolution.

He instigated the Terror and the deaths of his peers as a measure of ensuring a Republic of Virtue; but his ideals went beyond the needs and wants of the people of France. He became a threat to what he had wanted to ensure and the result was his downfall. Soboul argues that he and Saint-Just "were too preoccupied in defeating the interest of the bourgeoisie to give their total support to the sans-culottes, and yet too attentive to the needs of the sans-culottes to get support from the middle class.

Other members of the Committee, together with members of the Committee of General Security, were as much responsible for the running of the Terror as Robespierre. Jonathan Israel is sharply critical of Robespierre for repudiating the true values of the radical Enlightenment.

He argues, "Jacobin ideology and culture under Robespierre was an obsessive Rousseauiste moral Puritanism steeped in authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia, and it repudiated free expression, basic human rights, and democracy. They may have exaggerated his role to downplay their own contribution and used him as a scapegoat after his death. William Doyle writes, "It is not violent fulminations that characterize Robespierre's speeches on the Terror. It is the language of unmasking, unveiling, revealing, discovering, exposing the enemy within, the enemy hidden behind patriotic posturings, the language of suspicion.

In the Soviet era, he was used as an example of a Revolutionary figure. The monument was commissioned by Vladimir Lenin, who referred to Robespierre as a "Bolshevik avant la lettre " or a "Bolshevik before his time". According to David P. Jordan: "Any comprehensive bibliography would be virtually impossible. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Robespierre disambiguation.

French revolutionary lawyer and politician. Robespierre c. Main article: National Convention. Main article: Reign of Terror. To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity. Main article: Cult of the Supreme Being. Charlotte became unmarriageable due to her name; she remained single until her death, aged She died age She also claimed that he was a reincarnation of Saul, the saviour of Israel, and the chosen of God. A plaque indicating the former site of this cemetery is located at 97 rue de Monceau, Paris.

Between and probably in , the remains of all those buried there were moved to the Catacombs of Paris. Encyclopedia Britannica. Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre.

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Simon and Schuster. Bienvenu The Ninth of Thermidor, p. Popkin, p. Pluriel, - extraits". The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. University of Chicago Press. The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution. OUP Oxford. Tome VIII du 5 mai au 15 septembre Dupont, Princeton University Press.

Moore Liberty. The French Revolution and the Birth of Modernity. University of California Press. Ohio State University. Histoire de Robespierre: La Constituante. Recueillis, ". Aulard Jacobins, III, p. Leuwers Robespierre, p. History Open Access Publications. Andress The sentimental construction of martyrdom as motivation in the thought of Robespierre ed.

Oxford University Press — via Google Books. Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy. Loomis, p. Bernard Talleyrand: a biography, p. Rousseau, Robespierre and English Romanticism. Cambridge University Press. McPhee Liberty or Death, p. Palmer, p. Mortimer-Terneaux Histoire de la terreur, , Volume 7, p. Aulard, p. Journal of Political Economy.

Serious Science.

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Berghahn Books, New York: The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Harvard University Press. In: Journal of Political Economy, Vol. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Deep Republicanism: Prelude to Professionalism. Lexington Books. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. Review by P. In: H-France Review Vol. Kingston University. Archived from the original PDF on 17 January The French National Convention and the revolutionary government —94 ".

Parliaments, Estates and Representation. Marisa Linton Terror and Politics, p. Modern History Sourcebook. Jefferson Davis. Fidel Castro. Richard Nixon. Murdering the President. Fred Rosen. Franklin Pierce. Friedrich Ebert. Harry Harmer. For Fear of an Elective King. Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon. Dan Abrams. William Nester. Political Power: Jeb Bush. Michael L. George Washington, Entrepreneur. John Berlau. June The Life of Andrew Jackson. John Reid. Presidents Who Shaped the American West.

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