Jeanbon Saint-André

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Jean Bon Saint-André, portrait by Jacques-Louis David

Jean Bon Saint-André (February 25, 1749 – December 10, 1813) was a French politician of the Revolutionary era.

Early career and role in the National Convention[edit]

He was born in Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), the son of a fuller. Although his parents were Protestants, Saint-André was raised by the Jesuits at Marseille, and got baptized, as required by law.[1] As a young boy, Saint-André had ambition to study the law, but his dream was crushed when the King prohibited Protestants and their children from getting involved in much of the public life, including getting the bar.[1] When Saint-André was about sixteen years old, he enrolled in the merchant marine, and became lieutenant several years later and shortly after, captain. In 1771, after three shipwrecks and the loss of all his savings, he abandoned this career.[2] Saint-André later turned Protestant, and became a prominent pastor in Southern France at Castres in 1773, and afterwards in Montauban in 1788. Saint-André studied theology in Geneva for three years, and married Marie de Suc in 1780.[3] Right before the outbreak of the French Revolution, tension between Protestants and Catholics caused Saint-André to flee. During this time, he drafted an article entitled, "Considérations sur l'organisation civile des Eglises protestantes" (Thoughts on the civil organisation of Protestants), which advocated for protecting Protestants' religious rights within France.[4] Saint-André later returned around December, 1790. He then found The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, and started his political career.[1] On November 2, 1792 Saint-André was elected president of the Jacobins.[5]

As a member of The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, Saint-André sat on The Mountain, led my Maximilien Robespierre. When Louis XVI of France was found guilty of plotting against the Convention and France, he, along with many members of the Convention, voted for the King's execution. In September 1792, he opposed the punishment of the authors of the September Massacres.[6] In January 1793, Saint-André expressed his ideas in a speech called "Sur l'Education nationale," which demanded a variety of changes to the old Catholic-controlled education system.[7] Later that same year in June, when the Jacobins gained control of the Assembly Saint-André became a member of the Committee of Public Safety, and it was he who proposed Maximilien Robespierre for membership shortly afterwards.[8] In July 1793, Saint-André was elected President of the National Convention, and in his capacity, he announced the death of Marat.[9] That same month, Saint-André was sent on a mission to the Armies of the East fighting in the Revolutionary Wars.

While working with the Committee of Public Safety, Jeanbon Saint-André played a pivotal role in the restoration of the naval fleet. He was a former Huguenot pastor and merchant sea captain who was considered the Montagnards’ expert on naval affairs.[10] The Convention granted Saint-André an unlimited amount of power in order to preserve the fleet for the Republic, and to crush all forms of counter-revolutionary opposition.[11]

Reign of Terror[edit]

On the Committee of Public Safety, his main responsibility was the navy, which he took over from Bertrand Barère.[8] During Saint-André's time in the Navy, he played a crucial role in dealing with France's foreign affairs, especially toward England. In the late 1700s, Saint-André confronted the English's government for trying to convince the Jews to terminate trading with France.[12] On September 20, 1793, Saint-André obtained a vote of one hundred million francs for constructing vessels; from September 1793 to January 1794, he reorganized the military harbours of Brest and Cherbourg, in the northwestern coast of France.[6] Saint-André noticed striking parallels between the situation in Brest and in the Committee’s occupation of Toulon after its siege in late 1793. Toulon became the stigma of dishonor and treason due to its defection in 1793. The city of Toulon, in revolt against the National Convention, was under British control. The revolt during this time period was a product of British influence over Toulon, as well as royalist ideologies being upheld by those in positions of power in Toulon. The parallels between Toulon and Brest with respect to British influence and revolt against the Republic was striking.[13]

In 1793, Federalist Revolt against the National Assembly in the port city of Brest was partly linked to Jeanbon Saint-André as its citizens viewed the Navy divided between the two major clubs, the Montagnards and the Girondins.[14] He reported that the destruction of the French fleet was a form of conspiracy against the Republic.[11] His theory was clear: the parallels he was observing between the situations at Brest and Toulon were based on the conspiracy of ex-nobles and officers against the Republic, as well as the presence of British influence in both cities. Both problems contributed to the seemingly impossible task set before Saint-André - achieving unity within the French Navy.[11] In response to the Quibéron mutinies, Jeanbon removed Captains Kerguelen, Thomas, Bonnefous, and Larichery from their positions.[11] Saint-André also arrested six more officers, and sent them off to Paris for trial. He later established a Revolutionary Tribunal, which trialled and sentenced the death of ten naval officers.[11] This caused anti-revolutionists, including Oscar Havard, to believe Jeanbon conspired to hand Brest to Britain; Jeanbon's true motives was to bring the downfall of the Navy in response to the dominance of Catholicism in French society.[11]

Under Saint-André's command, the Naval regime was reformed in such a way that the “lowest seaman could aspire to the rank of admiral”.[10] He also expressed Jacobin ideas through a policy he created in which all Navy workers received equal benefits and treatments.[15] The Western regions of France became problematic to the Revolution. The physical location of Brittany, a peninsula with poorly paved roads, and specifically Brest, made transport of provisions and travel difficult and time-consuming. Aside from the physical aspects of Brittany’s separation from the rest of the Nation, the gabelle (the salt tax) played a significant role in isolating the Province. This was a zone of the “redimes,” also known as a tax-free zone.[10] Both of these aspects contributed to the separation of Brittany from the rest of the country. Brittany was, however, still of strategic significance to the Committee of Public Safety. The Committee believed that utilizing the city as a seaport for the French fleet would allow them to galvanize a fleet of ships to sail to the nearby southern peninsula of England in order to begin an offensive effort.[10]

Saint-André sought to regain control of Brittany by eliminating the easy-going and inattentive eyes of the old regime, emphasizing how “the negligence of a sleepy tyrant or of somnolent ministers does not agree with our [republican] principles.” [10] On November 20, 1793, Saint-André and Jean-Jacques Bréard, another agent of the Committee, issued a decree with a regular naval penal code, a code which was later sanctioned by the Convention and applied to the entire navy.[16]

Downfall of Jacobin and later missions[edit]

On 31 January 1794, on his return from Brest, Saint-André presented a report to the Convention on the state of the navy. Saint-André did away with the hierarchical system of the old regime’s navy, stripping officers of their traditional luxuries, such as food privileges, and emphasizing the need for officers to set an obedient example. An education system was also implemented, utilizing Jacobin propaganda and schoolmasters who taught the sailors to read and write so they could aspire to promotion. Saint-André also eliminated holidays, industrializing the coastal city into a system split into day and night shifts enforced by strict military rule. Royalist officers were imprisoned, discipline restored, and a new regime of training introduced across the navy. The officer corps and civilian administration of the navy were brought up to strength. Lighthouses were built at Penmarch and Groix, and new ships of the line were built. These changes sought to turn Brest into an absolute collectivist city, where all was at service to the Republic.[17] Thanks to this reforming zeal, France was able to build and launch new frigates at three times the rate of the Royal Navy during the same period.[18] By 1794, under Saint-André’s watch, fifty ships of the line had been placed into service under the control of the newly appointed fleet commander Villaret de Joyeuse.[19]

Contributing to this success was the presence of Jacques-Noël Sané, a renowned ship engineer who built the 130 gun flagship of de Joyeuse known as The Mountain.[10] Though the reformation of the navy has not had as much historical acclaim as the work other Committee members performed on the army, with many critics pointing to its losses in the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, the reforms that took place were nonetheless vital in ensuring France’s continued success in war.[16]

On February 15, 1794 Saint-André made the red, white, and blue vertical stripes flag the national flag of France.[5] Saint-André later participated in a mission in the south, which lasted from July 1794[2] to March 1795, and in which he showed moderation in contrast to the directives of the Reign of Terror. Shortly after, he was arrested on May 28, 1795 and imprisoned at the College of Four Nations, but was released by the amnesty of the year IV.[5] During this time, Saint-André wrote about his experiences in the Turkish cells entitled, "Tale of my captivity on the banks of the Black Sea." [20] On July 28, 1794, the Jacobins faction lost support of the crowd and most of its members, most notably Robespierre, were guillotined; the crowd saw that Saint-André mostly spent his times on mission and did not participate in the decisions made during the Jacobin's control, and was granted his life.[1]

He was then appointed consul at Algiers and Smyrna (1798) and was kept prisoner by the Ottoman Empire for three years (during the Napoleonic Wars).[2] Released in 1801, Saint-André subsequently became préfet of the départment of Mont-Tonnerre (1801) and commissary-general of the three départments on the left bank of the Rhine.[2] Napoleon made him a member of the Légion d'honneur in 1804 and a Baron of the Empire in 1809.[2] He died of typhoid in Mainz.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Cormack, William S. (2002-05-09). Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521893756. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Chronicle of the French Revolution, 1788-1799. Chronicle Publications. 1989-01-01. ISBN 9780131337299. 
  3. ^ Ducasse, Read-Admiral. "Jean Bon Saint-Andre Et La Marine." Revue Historique Des Armées2 (1989: 89-100). Historical Abstracts. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  4. ^ Lévy-Schneider, Leon (1901-01-01). Le conventionnel Jeanbon Saint-André, membre du Comit de salut public, organisateur de la marine de la terreur, 1749-1813 (in French). F. Alcan. 
  5. ^ a b c "De Montauban à Mayence, l’étonnante destinée d’André Jeanbon Saint-André | Huguenots en France". www.huguenots.fr. Retrieved 2017-04-03. 
  6. ^ a b Paxton, John (1988-01-01). Companion to the French Revolution. Facts on File. ISBN 9780816019373. 
  7. ^ Palmer, R. R. (2017-03-14). The Improvement of Humanity: Education and the French Revolution. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400886173. 
  8. ^ a b Thompson, James M. Robespierre. New York: Fertig, 1968. Print.
  9. ^ Schama, Simon (1990-01-01). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Vintage Books. ISBN 9780679726104. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Palmer, Robert Roswell (1941-01-01). Twelve who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton University Press. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Cormack, William S. (2002-05-09). Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521893756. 
  12. ^ Rosenstock, Morton (1952-01-01). "The House of Bacri and Busnach: A Chapter from Algeria's Commercial History". Jewish Social Studies. 14 (4): 343–364. 
  13. ^ Nice, Jason (2009-01-01). Sacred History and National Identity: Comparisons Between Early Modern Wales and Brittany. Pickering & Chatto. ISBN 9781851966233. 
  14. ^ Cormack, William S. (1992-04-01). "The French Navy and the Struggle for Revolutionary Authority: The Mutiny of the Brest Fleet in 1793". Canadian Journal of History. 27 (1): 29–45. ISSN 0008-4107. doi:10.3138/cjh.27.1.29. 
  15. ^ Crook, Malcolm (1998). "Fair Shares for All. Jacobin Egalitarianism in Practice". The English Historical Review. 113 (454): 1334. 
  16. ^ a b Stephens, Henry Morse (1886-01-01). A History of the French Revolution. C. Scribner's Sons. 
  17. ^ Aulard, François-Alphonse (1910-01-01). The revolutionary government, 1793-1797. C. Scribner's Sons. 
  18. ^ Bouloiseau, Marc (1983-11-17). The Jacobin Republic 1792-1794. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521289184. 
  19. ^ Dull, Jonathan R. (2009-01-01). The Age of the Ship of the Line: The British and French Navies, 1650-1815. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 080322267X. 
  20. ^ "André Jeanbon Saint-André (1749–1813). Virtual Museum of Protestantism.

Suggested Reading[edit]

  • Levy-Schneider, Le Conventionnel Jean bon St André. (Paris, 1901).
  • Come, Donald R. French Threat to British Shores, 1793-1798. Military Affairs 16.4 (1952): 174. Google Scholar. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
  • Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey. The French Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004. Print. ISBN 978-0313321931
  • Popkin, J. D. A Short History of the French Revolution. Hoboken: Pearson Education, 2014. Print. ISBN 978-0205693573