Committee of Public Safety
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The Committee of Public Safety (French: Comité de salut public), created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a stage of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence (established in January 1793) and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the Committee — composed at first of nine, and later of twelve members — was given broad supervisory powers over military, judicial, and legislative efforts. It was formed as an administrative body to supervise and expedite the work of the executive bodies of the Convention and of the government ministers appointed by the Convention. As the Committee tried to meet the dangers of a coalition of European nations and counter-revolutionary forces within the country, it became more and more powerful.
In July 1793, following the defeat at the Convention of the moderate Republicans, or Girondists, the prominent leaders of the radical Jacobins — Maximilien Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Georges Couthon — were added to the Committee. The power of the Committee peaked under the leadership of Robespierre between August 1793 and July 1794. In December 1793 the Convention formally conferred the entire power of government on the Committee. Originally, the commitee was made up of nine members. Later, with the three Jacobins, this became twelve. Although the powers of the committee were renewed monthly by the National Convention from April 1793 to July 1794, the three Jacobin leaders succeeded in exerting its influence among the delegates. This made the committee the center of power in the country. Under cover of this power, Robespierre eliminated his rivals and established a virtual dictatorship. To defend France and suppress internal uprisings, Robespierre and the Committee raised fourteen armies, while to ensure supplies the Committee instituted a partial system of capped ("maximum") prices and fixed wages. To repress domestic opposition, it instituted the Reign of Terror, in which those deemed enemies of the revolution were executed with the guillotine.
The execution of Robespierre in July 1794 saw a reactionary period against the Committee of Public Safety and the excesses of the Terror. This is known as the Thermidorian Reaction (as the month of July was known as Thermidor in the new calendar instituted by the Convention). The Committee's influence diminished, and it was disestablished in 1795.
Origins and evolution 
Committee of discussion 
On April 20, 1793, the French military commander and former minister of war General Charles François Dumouriez defected to Austria following the publication of an incendiary letter in which he threatened to march his army on the city of Paris if the National Convention did not accede to his leadership. News of his defection caused alarm in Paris, where imminent defeat by the Austrians and their allies was feared. A widespread belief held that revolutionary France was in immediate peril, threatened not only by foreign armies and by recent anti-revolutionary revolts in the Vendée, but also by foreign agents who plotted the destruction of the nation from within.
The betrayal of the revolutionary government by Dumouriez lent greater credence to this belief. In light of this threat, the Girondin leader Maximin Isnard proposed the creation of a nine-member Committee of Public Safety. Isnard was supported in this effort by Georges Danton, who declared, "This Committee is precisely what we want, a hand to grasp the weapon of the Revolutionary Tribunal."
The Committee was formally created on April 6, 1793. Closely associated with the leadership of Danton, it was initially known as "the Danton Committee". Danton steered the Committee through the May 31 and June 2, 1793 journées that resulted in the fall of the Girondins, and through the intensifying war in the Vendée. However, when the Committee was recomposed on July 10, Danton was not included. Nevertheless, he continued to support the centralization of power by the Committee.
On July 27, 1793 Maximilien Robespierre was elected to the Committee. At this time, the Committee was entering a more powerful and active phase, which would see it become a de facto dictatorship alongside its powerful partner, the Committee of General Security. The role of the Committee of Public Safety included the governance of the war (including the appointment of generals), the appointing of judges and juries for the Revolutionary Tribunal, the provisioning of the armies and the public, the maintenance of public order, and oversight of the state bureaucracy.
The Committee was also responsible for interpreting and applying the decrees of the National Convention, and thus for implementing some of the most stringent policies of the Terror – for instance, the levée en masse, passed on August 23, 1793, the Law of Suspects, passed on September 17, 1793, and the Law of the Maximum, passed on September 29, 1793. The broad and centralized powers of the Committee were codified by the Law of 14 Frimaire (also known as the Law of Revolutionary Government) on December 4, 1793.
Execution of the Hébertists and Dantonists 
On December 5, 1793, journalist Camille Desmoulins began publishing Le Vieux Cordelier, a newspaper initially aimed – with the approval of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety – at the ultra-revolutionary Hébertist faction, whose extremist demands, anti-religious fervor, and propensity for sudden insurrections was problematic for the Committee. However, Desmoulins quickly turned his pen against the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, comparing their reign to that of the Roman tyrants chronicled by Tacitus and expounding the "indulgent" views of the Dantonist faction.
Consequently, though the Hébertists were arrested and executed in March, 1794, the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security ensured that Desmoulins and Danton were also arrested. Hérault de Séchelles – a friend and ally of Danton – was expelled from the Committee of Public Safety, arrested, and tried alongside them. On April 5, 1794, the Dantonists went to the guillotine.
Committee of rule 
The elimination of the Hébertists and the Dantonists, in the opinion of historian François Furet, "had definitively closed the book on a collegial executive: Robespierre was, in fact, the head of the Republic's government." Certainly the strength of the committees had been made evident, as had their ability to control and silence opposition. The Law of Frimaire was enacted in December 1793 to centralize and consolidate power onto the Committee of Public Safety. The creation, in March 1794, of a "General Police Bureau" – reporting nominally to the Committee of Public Safety, but more often directly to Robespierre and his closest ally, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just – served to increase the power of the Committee of Public Safety, and of Robespierre himself.
The Law of 22 Prairial, proposed by the Committee of Public Safety and enacted on June 10, 1794, went further in establishing the iron control of the Revolutionary Tribunal and, above it, the Committees of Public Safety and General Security; the law enumerated various forms of public enemies, made mandatory their denunciation, and severely limited the legal recourse available to those accused. The punishment for all crimes under the Law of 22 Prarial was death. From the initiation of this law to the fall of Robespierre on July 27, more people were condemned to death than in the previous history of the Revolutionary Tribunal.
However, even as the Terror reached its height, and with it the Committee's political power, discord was growing within the revolutionary government. Members of the Committee of General Security resented the autocratic behavior of the Committee of Public Safety, and particularly the encroachment of Robespierre's General Police Bureau upon their own brief. Arguments within the Committee of Public Safety itself had grown so violent that it relocated its meetings to a more private room to preserve the illusion of agreement. Robespierre, a fervent supporter of the theistic Cult of the Supreme Being, found himself frequently in conflict with anti-religious Committee members Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne; moreover, Robespierre's increasingly extensive absences from the Committee due to illness (he all but ceased to attend meetings in June 1794) created the impression that he was isolated and out of touch.
Fall of the Committee, and aftermath 
When it became evident, in mid-July 1794, that Robespierre and Saint-Just were planning to strike against their political opponents Joseph Fouché, Jean-Lambert Tallien, and Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier – the latter two were members of the Committee of General Security – the fragile truce within the government was dissolved. Saint-Just and his fellow Committee of Public Safety member Barère attempted to keep the peace between the Committees of Public Safety and General Security; however, on July 26, Robespierre delivered a speech to the National Convention in which he emphasized the need to "purify" the Committees and "crush all factions." In a speech to the Jacobin Club that night, he attacked Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, who had refused to allow the printing and distribution of his speech to the Convention.
On the following day, 9 Thermidor according to the Revolutionary calendar (July 27, 1794), Saint-Just began to deliver a speech to the Convention in which he had planned to denounce Collot d'Herbois, Billaud-Varenne, and other members of the Committee of Public Safety. However, he was almost immediately interrupted by a riot of denunciation by Tallien and by Billaud-Varenne, who accused Saint-Just of intending to "murder the Convention." Barère, Vadier, and Stanislas Fréron joined the accusations against Saint-Just and Robespierre. The arrest of Robespierre, his brother Augustin, and Saint-Just was ordered, along with that of their supporters, Philippe Le Bas and Georges Couthon.
A period of intense civil unrest ensued, during which the members of the Committees of Public Safety and General Security were forced to seek refuge in the Convention; the Robespierre brothers, Saint-Just, Le Bas, and Couthon ensconced themselves in the Hôtel de Ville, attempting to incite an insurrection. Ultimately, faced with defeat and arrest, Le Bas committed suicide. Saint-Just, Couthon, and Maximilien and Augustin Robespierre were arrested and guillotined on July 28.
The ensuing period of upheaval, dubbed the Thermidorian Reaction, saw the repeal of many of the Terror's most unpopular laws and the reduction in power of the Committees of General Security and Public Safety. The Committees ceased to exist under the Constitution of 1795, which marked the beginning of the Directory.
The Committee was initially composed of nine members, all selected by the National Convention for one month at a time, without period limits. Its first members, instated on April 6, 1793, were as follows, in order of election.
- Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, representative of Hautes-Pyrénées (imprisoned, escaped guillotine to live in hiding)
- Jean-François Delmas, representative of Haute-Garonne
- Jean-Jacques Bréard, representative of Charente-Inférieure
- Pierre-Joseph Cambon, representative of Hérault (forced to live in hiding)
- Georges Danton, representative of Paris proper (guillotined)
- Jean-Antoine Debry, representative of Aisne, later replaced by Robert Lindet, representative of Eure upon resignation
- Louis-Bernard Guyton-Morveau, representative of Côte d'Or
- Jean-Baptiste Treilhard, representative of Seine-at-Oise
- Jean-François Delacroix, representative of Eure-at-Loir (guillotined)
After Robespierre's election to the Committee on July 27, 1793, the Committee increased its membership to twelve. The list below represents the Committee's membership from the addition of Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne in September 1793 through the arrest of Hérault de Séchelles in March 1794.
- Maximilien de Robespierre, representative of Paris (guillotined)
- Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, representative of Hautes-Pyrénées (imprisoned)
- Jean-Baptiste Robert Lindet, representative of Eure (denounced and tried)
- André Jeanbon Saint André, representative of Lot (arrested but released)
- Georges Couthon, representative of Puy-at-Dôme (guillotined)
- Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles, representative of Seine-at-Oise (guillotined)
- Pierre-Louis Prieur (called Prieur de la Marne), representative of Marne
- Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just, representative of Aisne (guillotined)
- Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot, representative of Pas-de-Calais
- Claude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois (former Prior of Côte-d’Or), representative of Côte-d'Or
- Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, representative of Paris (arrested and exiled)
- Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois, representative of Paris (arrested and deported)
See also 
- Committee of General Security
- National Convention
- Historiography of the French Revolution
- Revolutionary Tribunal
- Reflections on the Revolution in France
- Ongsotto, Et Al. World History Module-based Learning Iii' 2002 Ed. Rex Bookstore, Inc. p. 241. ISBN 978-971-23-3353-8. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- Belloc, 210
- Hilary Mantel (6 August 2009). "He Roared". London Review of Books. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
- Belloc, 235
- Scurr, 284
- Furet, 134
- Furet, 141
- Furet, 142
- Scurr, 328
- Scurr, 331
- Scurr, 340
- Madelin, 418
- Madelin, 422
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Committee of Public Safety|
- Belloc, Hillaire. Danton: A Study. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899.
- Furet, François. Revolutionary France, 1770-1880. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1992.
- Palmer, R.R. Twelve Who Ruled (1941, ISBN 0-691-05119-4)
- Palmer, R.R. "Fifty Years of the Committee of Public Safety,"
- 'Journal of Modern History (1941) 13#3 pp. 375-397 in JSTOR
- Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.
- Scurr, Ruth. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. New York: Owl Books, 2006.