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 in the Convention[edit]

He was born at Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), the son of a fuller. As a young man he enrolled in the merchant marine, but in 1782, after three shipwrecks and the loss of all his savings, he abandoned this career.[1] Although his father was a Protestant, Saint-André was brought up by the Jesuits at Marseille, and took orders. He turned Protestant, however, and became pastor at Castresand afterwards at Montauban. The proclamation of liberty of worship made him a supporter of the Revolution, and he was sent as deputy to the National Convention by the département of Lot.

He sat on The Mountain, voted for the execution of Louis XVI of France, and opposed the punishment of the authors of the September massacres.[2] In June 1793, Saint-André became a member of the Committee of Public Safety, and it was he who proposed Robespierre for membership shortly afterwards.[3] In July 1793, he was President of the Convention, and in this capacity, it was he who announced the death of Marat.[4] In the same month he was sent on 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.[5] 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.[6]

Reign of Terror and later missions[edit]

On the Committee of Public Safety, his main responsibility was the navy, which he took over from Barère.[7] On September 20, 1793, Saint-André obtained a vote of one hundred million francs for constructing vessels, and from September 1793 to January 1794, reorganized the military harbours of Brest and Cherbourg.[8] 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.[9]

The discontinuity within the naval fleet itself was considered to be a form of Federalist revolts by Saint-André that led to the surrender of the Navy. He reported that the destruction of the French fleet was a form of conspiracy against the Republic.[10] 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]

On October 1, 1793, Jeanbon Saint-André departed for Brest. Under his command, the Naval regime was reformed in such a way that the “lowest seaman could aspire to the rank of admiral”.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.” [15] On November 20, 1793, he 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]

On 31 January 1794, on his return from Brest, he 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 watch 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.[20] 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.[21]

Saint-André later participated in a mission in the south, which lasted from July 1794[22] to March 1795, and in which he showed moderation in contrast to the directives of the Reign of Terror. A short time after, he was arrested on May 28, 1795, but was released by the amnesty of the year IV.

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).[23] Released in 1800, he subsequently became préfet of the départment of Mont-Tonnerre (1801) and commissary-general of the three départments on the left bank of the Rhine.[24] Napoleon made him a member of the Légion d'honneur in 1804 and a Baron of the Empire in 1809.[25] He died of typhoid at Mainz.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Favier, Jean. Chronicle of the French Revolution. London: Chronicle Publications, 1989. Print.
  2. ^ Paxton, John. Companion to the French Revolution. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1988. Print.
  3. ^ Thompson, James M. Robespierre. New York: Fertig, 1968. Print.
  4. ^ Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York, NY: Penguin, 1989. Print.
  5. ^ Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety, During the Terror. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941. Print.
  6. ^ Cormack, W.S Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794 (119 and 233)
  7. ^ Thompson, James M. Robespierre. New York: Fertig, 1968. Print
  8. ^ Paxton, John. Companion to the French Revolution. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1988. Print.
  9. ^ Nice, Jason. Sacred History and National Identity: Comparisons between Early Modern Wales and Brittany. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009
  10. ^ Cormack, W.S Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794 (119 and 233)
  11. ^ Cormack, W.S Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794 (119 and 233)
  12. ^ Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety, During the Terror. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941. Print.
  13. ^ Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety, During the Terror. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941. Print.
  14. ^ Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety, During the Terror. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941. Print.
  15. ^ Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety, During the Terror. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941. Print.
  16. ^ Stephens, H.R. A History of the French Revolution. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1908
  17. ^ Aulard, F.A. The Revolutionary Government, 1793-1797. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1910
  18. ^ Bouloiseau, Marc. The Jacobin Republic, 1792-1794. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. Print.
  19. ^ Dull, J.R. The Age of the Ship of the Line: The British and French Navies, 1650-1815. Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing, 2009. Print
  20. ^ Palmer, R. R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety, During the Terror. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941. Print.
  21. ^ Stephens, H.R. A History of the French Revolution. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1908
  22. ^ Favier, Jean. Chronicle of the French Revolution. London: Chronicle Publications, 1989. Print.
  23. ^ Favier, Jean. Chronicle of the French Revolution. London: Chronicle Publications, 1989. Print.
  24. ^ Favier, Jean. Chronicle of the French Revolution. London: Chronicle Publications, 1989. Print.
  25. ^ Favier, Jean. Chronicle of the French Revolution. London: Chronicle Publications, 1989. Print.

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.
  • Popkin, J. D. A Short History of the French Revolution. Hoboken: Pearson Education, 2014. Print.