Maximilien Robespierre

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Maximilien Robespierre
Member of the Committee of Public Safety
In office
27 July 1793 – 27 July 1794
Preceded byThomas-Augustin de Gasparin
Succeeded byJacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne
In office
25 March 1793 – 3 April 1793
Member of the Commission of Public Safety
24th President of the National Convention
In office
4 June 1794 – 19 June 1794
Preceded byClaude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois
Succeeded byÉlie Lacoste
In office
22 August 1793 – 7 September 1793
Preceded byMarie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles
Succeeded byJacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne
Deputy of the National Convention
In office
20 September 1792 – 27 July 1794
Deputy of the National Constituent Assembly
In office
9 July 1789 – 30 September 1791
Deputy of the National Assembly
In office
17 June 1789 – 9 July 1789
Deputy to the Estates General
for the Third Estate
In office
6 May 1789 – 16 June 1789
President of the Jacobin Club
In office
31 March – 3 June 1790
In office
7 August – 28 August 1793
Personal details
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre

(1758-05-06)6 May 1758
Arras, Artois, Kingdom of France
Died10 Thermidor, Year II (28 July 1794(1794-07-28) (aged 36))
Place de la Révolution, Paris
Cause of deathExecution by guillotine
Political partyThe Mountain (1792–1794)
Other political
Jacobin Club (1789–1794)
Alma mater
ProfessionLawyer, politician

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (French: [maksimiljɛ̃ ʁɔbɛspjɛʁ]; 6 May 1758 – 10 Thermidor, Year II [28 July 1794]) was a French lawyer and statesman who became one of the most widely known, influential, and controversial figures of the French Revolution.

As a member of the Estates-General, the Constituent Assembly, and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for the right to vote of all men,[1] including the passive citizens who were initially excluded.[2][3] He also advocated the abolition of the death penalty and the Atlantic slave trade. In 1791, Robespierre was elected as "public accuser" and became an outspoken advocate for male citizens without a political voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, and to the commissioned ranks of the army, for the right to petition and the right to bear arms in self defence.[4][5][6] Robespierre played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy on 10 August 1792 and the convocation of the National Convention.[7] His goal was to create a one and indivisible France, establish equality before the law, abolish prerogatives, and defend the principles of direct democracy.[8]

Originally a lawyer, he became involved with politics as one of the representatives of the Estates-General in 1789. As one of the leading members of the Paris Commune, Robespierre was elected as a deputy to the French Convention in early September 1792 but was soon criticised for trying to establish either a triumvirate or a dictatorship.[9] In April 1793, Robespierre urged the Jacobins to raise a sans-culotte army to enforce revolutionary laws and sweep away any counter-revolutionary conspirator, leading to the armed Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793. Because of his health, Robespierre announced he was to resign but on 27 July he was appointed as a member of the powerful Committee of Public Safety. This allowed him to successfully promote a reorganisation of the Revolutionary Tribunal, a war cabinet, and worship of a Supreme Being.[10]

Although Robespierre always had like-minded allies, the politically motivated violence that the Montagne faction often promoted disillusioned others. Members of the Convention eventually turned against him. In the middle of the night he and his allies were arrested in the Paris town hall on 9 Thermidor. Robespierre was wounded in his jaw, but it is not known if it was self-inflicted or the outcome of the skirmish. About 90 people, including Robespierre, were executed in the days after, events that initiated a period known as the Thermidorian Reaction,[11] and the left wing in the convention was decimated.

A divisive figure during his lifetime due to his views and policies, Robespierre remains controversial to this day,[12][13] and arguably no other individual divides France more than Robespierre.[14] His legacy and reputation continue to be subject to academic and popular debate.[15][16][17] To some, Robespierre was the Revolution's principal ideologist and embodied the country's first democratic experience, marked by the often-revised and never-implemented French Constitution of 1793.[18] To others, he was the incarnation of the Terror itself.

Early life[edit]

Maximilien de Robespierre was baptised on 6 May 1758 in Arras in the French province of Artois.[a] His father, François Maximilien Barthélémy de Robespierre, a lawyer, married Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, the daughter of a brewer in January 1758. Maximilien was born five months later as the eldest of four children. His siblings were Charlotte Robespierre,[b] Henriette Robespierre,[c] and Augustin Robespierre.[22][23] In July 1764, Robespierre's mother, having given birth to a stillborn daughter, died twelve days later at the age of 29. For unknown reasons his father left the children around 1767.[d] His two daughters were brought up by their paternal (maiden) aunts, and his two sons were taken in by their maternal grandparents.[24]

Already literate at age eight, Maximilien started attending the collège of Arras.[25] In October 1769, on the recommendation of the bishop Louis-Hilaire de Conzié, he received a scholarship at the prestigious Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris. His fellow pupils included Camille Desmoulins and Stanislas Fréron. In school, he came to admire the Roman Republic and the rhetoric of Cicero, Cato and Lucius Junius Brutus. In 1776 he was awarded first prize for rhetoric.

His study of the classics prompted him to aspire to Roman virtues, but he sought to emulate Rousseau's citizen-soldier in particular.[26][27] He was attracted to the ideas of the popular philosophe on political reforms explained in his Contrat Social. With Rousseau, Robespierre considered the "volonté générale" or the general will of the people as the basis of political legitimacy.[28] Robespierre became intrigued by the idea of a "virtuous self", a man who stands alone accompanied only by his conscience.[29] Robespierre's conception of revolutionary virtue and his program for constructing political sovereignty out of direct democracy came from Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Mably.[30][e]

Early politics[edit]

The house where Robespierre lived between 1787 and 1789, now on Rue Maximilien de Robespierre

Robespierre studied law for three years at the Sorbonne. Upon his graduation on 31 July 1780, he received a special prize of 600 livres for exemplary academic success and personal good conduct.[34] On 15 May 1781, Robespierre gained admission to the bar. The bishop of Arras, Hilaire de Conzié, appointed him as one of the five judges in the criminal court in March 1782, on the recommendation of the local lawyer Guillaume Liborel. Robespierre soon resigned, owing to discomfort in ruling on capital cases arising from his early opposition to the death penalty. His most famous case took place in May 1783 and involved a lightning rod in St. Omer. His defense was printed and he sent Benjamin Franklin a copy.[35]

On 15 November 1783, he was elected a member of the literary Academy of Arras.[36] In 1784 the Academy of Metz awarded him a medal for his essay on the question of whether the relatives of a condemned criminal should share his disgrace, which made him a man of letters.[37] He and Pierre Louis de Lacretelle, an advocate and journalist in Paris, divided the prize. Many of his subsequent essays were less successful.

Robespierre attacked inequality before the law: the indignity of illegitimate or natural children (1786), three years later the lettres de cachet (imprisonment without a trial) and the sidelining of women in academic life. (Robespierre had particularly Louise-Félicité de Kéralio in mind.[38]) He became acquainted with the lawyer Martial Herman, the young officer and engineer Lazare Carnot and the teacher Joseph Fouché, all of whom would play a role in his later life.[39] Some claim Robespierre had seen Rousseau shortly before he died, but others maintain that the account was apocryphal.[40][41][42] As the secretary of the Academy of Arras he knew François-Noël Babeuf, a revolutionary land surveyor in the region.

In August 1788, King Louis XVI announced new elections for all provinces and a gathering of the Estates-General for 1 May 1789 to solve France's serious financial and taxation problems. Robespierre participated in a discussion regarding how the French provincial government should be elected, arguing in his Address to the Nation of Artois that if the former mode of election by the members of the provincial estates was again adopted, the new Estates-General would not represent the people of France. In late February 1789, France saw a pressing crisis due to its desire for a new constitution, according to Gouverneur Morris.[43]

Maximilien de Robespierre dressed as deputy of the Third Estate by Pierre Roch Vigneron, c. 1790 (Palace of Versailles)
An illustration of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The revolutionary decrees passed by the Assembly in August 1789 culminated in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

In his electoral district, Robespierre began to make his mark in politics with his Notice to the Residents of the Countryside of 1789 in which he attacked the local authorities.[f] With this, he secured the support of the country electors. On 26 April 1789, Robespierre was elected as one of 16 deputies for Pas-de-Calais to the Estates-General; others were Charles de Lameth and Albert de Beaumetz.[45][g] When the deputies arrived at Versailles they were presented to the king and listened to Jacques Necker's three-hour-long speech about financial health, constitutional monarchy, and institutional and political reforms.[46]

They were informed that all voting in the Estates General of 1789 would still be "by order" not "by head", so their double representation as promised on 27 November 1788 was to be meaningless.[47][48][49] It resulted in Abbé Sieyès opposing the veto of the King, suggesting that the Third Estate meet separately and change its name.[50] On 6 June Robespierre made his maiden speech, attacking the church hierarchy.[51][52] "This young man is as yet unpractised; he does not know when to stop, but he has a store of eloquence which will not leave him in the crowd."[53] On 13 June, Robespierre joined the deputies, who would call themselves the National Assembly representing 96% of the nation.[54] On 9 July, the Assembly moved to Paris. It transformed itself into the National Constituent Assembly to discuss a new constitution and taxation system.

On 13 July, the National Assembly proposed to reestablish the "bourgeois militia" in Paris to control the riots.[55][56] On 14 July, the people demanded arms and stormed the Hôtel des Invalides and the Bastille. Without going into detail the town militia changed into National Guard,[57] keeping the very poorest citizens at arm's length.[58] Marquis de La Fayette was acclaimed their commander-in-chief.[59] On 20 July, the Assembly decided to establish National Guards in every commune in the country.[60][61] The Gardes Françaises were admitted and supported to elect new leaders.[62] Discussing the matter and attacking Lally-Tollendal who called for law and order, Robespierre reminded the citizens who had defended liberty a few days before, but were not allowed to have access to it.[63][64][65] On 31 July 24,000 volunteers from 60 sections joined the National Guard.[66] Paris was divided into six divisions of ten districts each, within a year reduced to 48 revolutionary sections of Paris.

In October he and Louvet supported Maillard after the Women's March on Versailles.[67] The original group of all-female protesters had a relatively conciliatory message, and they were joined by more militarised and experienced male groups by the time they reached Versailles.[68] While the Constituent Assembly occupied itself with male census suffrage on 22 October, Robespierre and a few more deputies opposed the property requirements for voting and holding office.[69] In December and January Robespierre succeeded in attracting the attention of the excluded classes, particularly Protestants in France, Jews,[70] blacks, servants and actors.[71][72]

As a frequent speaker in the Assembly, Robespierre voiced many ideas in support of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) and constitutional provisions for the Constitution of 1791 but rarely attracted a majority among fellow deputies, according to Malcolm Crook.[73][74] Robespierre, who never gave up wearing a culotte and always "poudré, frisé, et parfumé" (with hair powdered, curled and perfumed),[75][76] was described as "nervous, timid and suspicious".[77][78] Madame de Staël described Robespierre as "very exaggerated in his democratic principles" and "maintained the most absurd propositions with a coolness that had the air of conviction".[79] In October he was appointed a judge of the Versailles tribunal.

Jacobin Club[edit]


Jacobin Club in February 1791.[80]
Terracotta bust of Robespierre by Deseine, 1791 (Musée de la Révolution française)

From October 1789, Robespierre lived at 30 Rue de Saintonge in Le Marais, a district with relatively wealthy inhabitants.[81] He shared an apartment on the third floor with Pierre Villiers who was his secretary for several months.[82] Robespierre associated with the new Society of the Friends of the Constitution, commonly known as the Jacobin Club. Originally, this organisation (the Club Breton) comprised only deputies from Brittany, but after the National Assembly had moved to Paris, the Friends of civic participation admitted non-deputies, supporting the changes in France. Among these 1,200 men, Robespierre found a sympathetic audience. Equality before the law was the keystone of the Jacobin ideology. In January he held several speeches in response to the decision-making the exercise of civil rights dependent on a certain sum in the tax.

During the debate on the suffrage, Robespierre ended his speech of 25 January 1790 with a blunt assertion that "all Frenchmen must be admissible to all public positions without any other distinction than that of virtues and talents".[83] He began to acquire a reputation, and on 31 March 1790 Robespierre was elected as their president.[84] On 28 April Robespierre proposed to allow an equal number of officers and soldiers in the court martial, based on his democratic principles.[85] Unlike Niccolò Machiavelli who promoted the creation of either town or regional citizen militia, a system which after three centuries had become a "fossil institution",[86] Robespierre supported the cooperation of all the National Guards in a general federation on 11 May.[87] On 19 June he was elected secretary of the National Assembly.

On 24 March 1790, the Assembly decided that the judicial apparatus should be completely restructured. On the initiative of Sieyès the departments of France were reorganised; the Paris Commune was divided up into 48 sections and allowed to discuss the election of a new mayor on 21 May. In July Robespierre demanded "fraternal equality" in salaries.[88] On 2 August Jean Sylvain Bailly became Paris' first elected mayor with 12.500 votes; Georges Danton had 49, Marat and Louis XVI only one.[89][90]

On 19 August Robespierre received his first letter from Saint-Just expressing his admiration.[91] Discussing the future of Avignon Robespierre and his supporters on the galleries succeeded in silencing Mirabeau. Before the end of the year, he was seen as one of the leaders of the small body of the extreme left. Robespierre was one of "the thirty voices". Mirabeau commented to Barnave, "That man will go far—he believes everything he says."[92]

On 5 December Robespierre delivered a speech on the urgent topic of the National Guard.[93][94][95] "To be armed for personal defence is the right of every man, to be armed to defend freedom and the existence of the common fatherland is the right of every citizen".[96] Robespierre coined the famous motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" by adding the word fraternity on the flags of the National Guard.[h][98][99] On 18 December it was decreed to supply the National Guard with 50,000 fusils.[100]


The National Guard protecting a load of sugar during the riots in Paris in January 1791
Projet Buzot (1791).[101]

Early in 1791 freedom of defense became the standard; any citizen was allowed to defend another.[102][103] From the beginning, the authorities were concerned about this experiment without future. Derasse suggests it was a "collective suicide" by the lawyers in the Assembly,[104] but cannot be used for justifying aggression or taking revenge. In criminal cases, the expansion of the right ... gave priority to the spoken word.[105] In 1791 Robespierre gave 328 speeches, almost one a day.

On 28 January Robespierre discussed in the Assembly the organisation of the National Guard;[106] for three years a hot topic in French newspapers.[107] In early March, provincial militias were abolished and the Paris département was placed above the Commune in all matters of general order and security. According to Jan ten Brink it had the right to suspend the Commune's decisions and to dispose of the army against her in case of emergency. After the death of Count Mirabeau, politicians competed with each other who would fill the gap as orator. On 27 and 28 April, Robespierre opposed plans to reorganise the National Guard and restrict its membership to active citizens.[108][109] It was regarded as too aristocratic. He demanded the reconstitution of the National Guard on a democratic basis, to abolish the use of decorations and to allow an equal number of officers and soldiers in the court martial.[110] He felt that the National Guard had to become the instrument of defending liberty and no longer be a threat to it.[111] In the same month Robespierre published a pamphlet in which he argued the case for universal manhood suffrage.[112] On 9 May, the Assembly discussed the right to petition.[113] The next day a decree passed banning all petitions bearing "collective signatures". Article III specifically recognised the right of active citizens to meet together to draw up petitions and addresses and present them to municipal authorities.[114] On Sunday 15 May the Constituent Assembly declared full and equal citizenship for all free people of color. In the debate Robespierre said: "I feel that I am here to defend the rights of men; I cannot consent to any amendment and I ask that the principle be adopted in its entirety." He descended from the rostrum in the middle of the repeated applause of the left and of all the tribunes.[115] On 16–18 May when the elections began, Robespierre proposed and carried the motion that no deputy who sat in the Constituent assembly could sit in the succeeding Legislative assembly.[116] The principal tactical purpose of this self-denying ordinance was to block the ambitions of the old leaders of the Jacobins, Antoine Barnave, Adrien Duport, and Alexandre de Lameth,[117] aspiring to create a constitutional monarchy roughly similar to that of England.[118][i] Robespierre stripped them of their political identity.[117][j] On 28 May, Robespierre proposed all Frenchmen should be declared active citizens and eligible to vote.[112] On 30 May, he delivered a speech on abolishing the death penalty without success.[121] According to Hillary Mantel: "It is perfectly constructed, a brilliant fusion of logic and emotion, as much a work of art as a building or a piece of music could be."[122] The following day, Robespierre attacked Abbé Raynal, who sent an address criticising the work of the Assembly and demanding the restoration of the royal prerogative.

On 10 June, Robespierre delivered a speech on the deplorable state of the police and proposed to dismiss officers.[111] The next day, Robespierre accepted the function of "public accuser" in the criminal tribunal preparing indictments and ensuring the defence.[123][k] Two days later, L'Ami du Roi, a royalist pamphlet, described Robespierre as a "lawyer for bandits, rebels and murderers".[93] On 14 June, the abolition of the guild system was sealed; the Le Chapelier Law prohibited any kind of workers' coalition or assembly. For him "Without a doubt, all citizens must be allowed to assemble. But citizens of certain professions must not be permitted to assemble for their so-called common interests."[125] (It concerned in the first instance as much collective petitioning by the political clubs as trade associations.[126]) Proclaiming free enterprise as the norm upset Jean-Paul Marat, but not the urban laborer nor Robespierre.[127] On 15 June, Pétion became president of the "tribunal criminel provisoire", after Duport refused to work with Robespierre.[128][129]

Fusillade du Champ de Mars (1791, 17 juillet)
Courtyard of the house of Maurice Duplay, Robespierre's landlord. Robespierre's room was on the second floor, above the fountain. Other lodgers were his sister, brother and Georges Couthon

After Louis XVI's failed flight to Varennes, the Assembly decreed that the king be suspended from his duties on 25 June until further notice. Between 13 and 15 July, the Assembly debated the restoration of the king and his constitutional rights.[130] Robespierre declared in the Jacobin Club on 13 July: "The current French constitution is a republic with a monarch.[131] It is therefore neither a monarchy nor a republic. She is both."[132] Cordeliers like Danton suggested not to recognize Louis XVI as their king. Robespierre frowned on the efforts to promote republican ideology but had not yet acquired the unchallenged grip over the Jacobins for which he would be known.[citation needed] The court denounced him as a republican.[133] Meanwhile Tout-Paris was irritated by a decree to prevent the gathering of 20,000 armed men outside the city walls to celebrate 14 July.[134] The crowd on the Champ de Mars approved a petition calling for the king's trial. Alarmed at the progress of the Revolution, the moderate Jacobins in favour of a constitutional monarchy founded the club of the Feuillants on the next day, taking with them 264 deputies. In the evening, the King was restored in his functions. On 17 July, Robespierre went to the Jacobin club to cancel the draft of the petition, according to Mathiez. Robespierre persuaded the Jacobin clubs not to support the petition by Danton and Brissot.[135]

On Saturday 17 July, Bailly and Lafayette declared a ban on gathering followed by martial law.[136][137] After the Champ de Mars massacre, the authorities ordered numerous arrests. Robespierre, who attended the Jacobin club, did not go back to the Rue Saintonge where he lodged, and asked Laurent Lecointre if he knew a patriot near the Tuileries who could put him up for the night. Lecointre suggested Duplay's house and took him there.[138] Maurice Duplay, a cabinetmaker and ardent admirer, lived at 398 Rue Saint-Honoré near the Tuileries. After a few days, Robespierre decided to move in permanently, although he lived in the backyard and was constantly exposed to the sound of working.[139] He was motivated by a desire to live closer to the Assembly and the Jacobin club.

Madame Roland named Pétion de Villeneuve, François Buzot and Robespierre as the three incorruptible patriots in an attempt to honour their purity of principles, their modest ways of living, and their refusal of bribes.[140] His steadfast adherence and defence of the views he expressed earned him the nickname l'Incorruptible.[141][142][l] According to his friend, the surgeon Joseph Souberbielle, Joachim Vilate, and Duplay's daughter Élisabeth, Robespierre became engaged to Duplay's eldest daughter Éléonore, but his sister Charlotte vigorously denied this; also his brother Augustin refused to marry her.[143][144][145][146]

On 3 September, the French Constitution of 1791 was accepted; ten days later by the King also. Former "advocates" lost their title, their distinctive form of dress, their status, and their professional orders and adapted their practices to the new political and legal situation.[105] The Penal Code is dated 25 September. On 30 September, the day of the dissolution of the Assembly, Robespierre opposed Jean Le Chapelier, who wanted to proclaim an end to the revolution and restrict the freedom of expression.[147][m] Robespierre had been carefully preparing for this confrontation and it was the climax of his political career up to this point.[148] He succeeded in getting any requirement for inspection out of the constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression: "The freedom of every man to speak, to write, to print and publish his thoughts, without the writings having to be subject to censorship or inspection prior to their publication..."[149] Pétion and Robespierre were brought back in triumph to their homes.[n] On 14 October a law was passed to reorganize the National Guard in cantons and districts; officers and sub-officers were to be elected for just one year. He spent seven weeks in his home province Artois. On 16 October, Robespierre held a speech in Arras; one week later in Béthune, a small town he wished to settle. He went to a meeting of the Society of Friends of the Constitution, which was held on Sundays. Robespierre noticed the inns in Pas de Calais were filled with émigrés, likely Dutch patriots in exile.[150] On 28 November, he was back in the Jacobin club, where he met with a triumphant reception. Collot d'Herbois gave his chair to Robespierre, who presided that evening. On 11 December, Robespierre was finally installed as "accusateur public".[151]

Opposition to war with Austria[edit]

Portrait of Robespierre (1792) by Jean-Baptist Fouquet. By using a physiognotrace a "grand trait" was produced within a few minutes. This life-size drawing on pink paper was completed by Fouquet.[152]

At the time of the Declaration of Pillnitz (27 August 1791), Brissot headed the Legislative Assembly. The declaration was from Austria and Prussia, warning the people of France not to harm Louis XVI or these nations would "militarily intervene" in the politics of France. Threatened by the declaration, Brissot rallied the support of the Legislative Assembly.

As Marat, Danton and Robespierre were not elected in the new legislature, thanks to the Self-Denying Ordinance, oppositional politics often took place outside the Assembly. On 18 December 1791, Robespierre gave a second speech at the Jacobin club against the declaration of war.[153] Robespierre warned against the threat of dictatorship stemming from war, in the following terms:

If they are Caesars, Catilinas or Cromwells, they seize power for themselves. If they are spineless courtiers, uninterested in doing good yet dangerous when they seek to do harm, they go back to lay their power at their master's feet and help him to resume arbitrary power on condition they become his chief servants.[154]

On 25 December, Guadet, the chairman of the Assembly, suggested that 1792 should be the first year of universal liberty.[155] stated on 29 December that a war would be a benefit to the nation and boost the economy. He urged that France should declare war against Austria (War of the First Coalition). Marat and Robespierre opposed him, arguing that victory would create a dictatorship, while defeat would restore the king to his former powers; neither end, he said, would serve the revolution.[156]

The most extravagant idea that can arise in a politician's head is to believe that it is enough for a people to invade a foreign country to make it adopt its laws and their constitution. No one loves armed missionaries... The Declaration of the Rights of Man... is not a lightning bolt that strikes every throne at the same time... I am far from claiming that our Revolution will not eventually influence the fate of the world... But I say that it will not be today (2 January 1792).[157]

This opposition from expected allies irritated the Girondins, and the war became a major point of contention between the factions. In his third speech on the war, Robespierre countered on 25 January 1792 in the Jacobin club, "A revolutionary war must be waged to free subjects and slaves from unjust tyranny, not for the traditional reasons of defending dynasties and expanding frontiers..." Robespierre argued such a war could only favour the forces of counter-revolution, since it would play into the hands of those who opposed the sovereignty of the people. The risks of Caesarism were clear, for in wartime the powers of the generals would grow at the expense of ordinary soldiers, and the power of the king and court at the expense of the Assembly. These dangers should not be overlooked, he reminded his listeners; " troubled periods of history, generals often became the arbiters of the fate of their countries."[158] Robespierre spoke for many deputies when he queried the wisdom of spreading France's commitments too widely, or of risking the uncertainties of foreign war when there were enemies to be rooted out at home.[159] "I [Robespierre] ask that we change the subject of discussion, that those who desire war will make a series of arguments without art and eloquence, I will answer in the same way; I offer to discuss coldly to know which is the best." Already, Robespierre knew that he had lost, as he failed to gather a majority. His speech was nevertheless published and sent to all clubs and Jacobin societies of France.[160]

Maximilien Robespierre, physiognotrace by Chrétien, the inventor.[161] By adjusting the needles of a pantograph he achieved a reduction ratio. This device was connected to an engraving needle. Thus it enabled the production of multiple portrait copies.[162]

On 10 February 1792, he gave a speech on how to save the State and Liberty and did not use the word "war". He began by assuring his audience that everything he intended to propose was strictly constitutional. He then went on to advocate specific measures to strengthen, not so much the national defenses as the forces that could be relied on to defend the revolution.[163] Not only the National Guard but also the people had to be armed, if necessary with pikes. Robespierre promoted a people's army, continuously under arms and able to impose its will on Feuillants and Girondins in the Constitutional Cabinet of Louis XVI and the Legislative Assembly.[164] The Jacobins decided to study his speech before deciding whether it should be printed.[165] On 15 February 1792 the Conseil général of the commune was elected; notable representatives were Clavière, Cambon, Sergent, Panis.[166] On 15 February 1792 the installation of the criminal court of the department of Paris, took place.[167] On 11 June 1791 he had been elected or nominated as substitute accuser. On 24 February Louis Pierre Manuel as procureur of the commune, charged with both the investigation and prosecution of crime, gave a speech. (Manuel had to cooperate with Robespierre responsible for the supervision of the police officers in the department.[citation needed]) For Robespierre it was an ungrateful position as "public accuser"; it meant he was not allowed to the bar before the jury had spoken their verdict.[103] Neither was he elected in the city council (Conseil général); for some reason his district wasn't represented.[168] Not long after Robespierre was accused by Brissot and Guadet of trying to become the idol of the people.[169] Meanwhile the French had to deal with serious inflation and Étienne Clavière was appointed as minister of finance. On 26 March, Guadet accused Robespierre of superstition, relying on divine providence;[170] being against the war he was also accused of acting as a secret agent for the Austrian Committee.[171] On 29 March Robespierre demanded the creation of a non counter-revolutionary government. The Girondins planned strategies to out-maneuver Robespierre's influence among the Jacobins.[172] On 10 April, Robespierre resigned the unenviable position of "public accuser". When in spring 1792, under pressure from the Assembly, the king accepted several Girondin ministers into his cabinet, according to Louvet it was only due to a smear campaign by Robespierre and his followers that he was not also appointed.[173] On 27 April, as part of his speech responding to the accusations by Brissot and Guadet against him, he threatened to leave the Jacobins, claiming he preferred to continue his mission as an ordinary citizen.[174]

On 17 May, Robespierre published the first issue of his weekly periodical Le Défenseur de la Constitution (The Defender of the Constitution), in which he attacked Brissot and published his skepticism over the whole war movement.[175][176] The periodical, printed by his neighbor Nicolas served multiple purposes: to print his speeches, to counter the influence of the royal court in public policy, and to defend him from the accusations of Girondist leaders;[177] for Soboul its purpose was to give voice to the economic and democratic interests of the broader masses in Paris and defend their rights.[178] Robespierre himself wrote a prospectus in which he explained to the subscribers his goals.[179] According to Madame Roland: "He spoke little, sniggered a great deal, uttered a few touches of sarcasm and never gave an opinion." She finally broke with him.

The Insurrectionist Commune of Paris, 1792[edit]

April to July 1792[edit]

Demonstration of 20 June 1792 at the Tuileries
Le Défenseur de la Constitution n° 6 (1792)

When the Legislative Assembly declared war against Austria on 20 April 1792, Robespierre stated that the French people must rise and arm themselves completely, whether to fight abroad or to keep a lookout for despotism at home.[180] An isolated Robespierre responded by working to reduce the political influence of the officer class and the king. On 23 April Robespierre demanded that Marquis de Lafayette, the head of the Army of the Centre, step down. While arguing for the welfare of common soldiers, Robespierre urged new promotions to mitigate the domination of the officer class by the aristocratic and royalist École Militaire and the conservative National Guard.[o] Along with other Jacobins, he urged in the fifth issue of his magazine the creation of an "armée révolutionnaire" in Paris, consisting of at least 20 or 23,000 men,[182][183] to defend the city, "liberty" (the revolution), maintain order in the sections and educate the members in democratic principles; an idea he borrowed from Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[184] According to Jean Jaures, he considered this even more important than the right to strike.[citation needed][110]

François Chabot declared that he had 182 documents proving the existence of a plot to dissolve the Assembly, set for 27 May. On 29 May 1792, the Assembly dissolved the Constitutional Guard, suspecting it of royalist and counter-revolutionary sympathies. In early June 1792, Robespierre proposed an end to the monarchy and the subordination of the Assembly to the General will.[185] Following the king's veto of the Assembly's efforts to suppress nonjuring priests on 27 May, on a proposal of Carnot and Servan in the Assembly to raise a permanent militia of volunteers on 8 June,[186] and the reinstatement of Brissotin ministers dismissed on 18 June, the monarchy faced an abortive demonstration of 20 June.[187][188] Sergent-Marceau and Panis, the administrators of police, were sent out by Pétion to urge the Sans-culottes to lay down their weapons, telling them it was illegal to present a petition in arms (to demand the king to apply the constitution, accept the decrees, and recall the ministers). Their march to the Tuileries was not banned. They invited the officials to join the procession and march along with them.[189]

Because French forces suffered disastrous defeats and a series of defections at the onset of the war, Robespierre and Marat feared the possibility of a military coup d'état.[190] One was led by Lafayette, head of the National Guard, who at the end of June advocated the suppression of the Jacobin Club. Robespierre publicly attacked him in scathing terms:

"General, while from the midst of your camp you declared war upon me, which you had thus far spared for the enemies of our state, while you denounced me as an enemy of liberty to the army, National Guard and Nation in letters published by your purchased papers, I had thought myself only disputing with a general... but not yet the dictator of France, arbitrator of the state."[191]

On 2 July, the Assembly authorised the National Guard to go to the Festival of Federation on 14 July, thus circumventing a royal veto. Section assemblies were permitting "passive" citizens to join their National Guard companies without seeking formal permission.[192] On 11 July, the Jacobins won an emergency vote in the wavering Assembly, declaring the nation in danger and drafting all Parisians with pikes into the National Guard.[193] (Meanwhile, 20,000 Fédérés entered the city for the celebration of 14 July; Pétion was reinstalled.) On 15 July, Billaud-Varenne in the Jacobin club outlined the program for the next insurrection; the deportation of all the Bourbons, the cleansing of the National Guard, the election of a Convention, the "transfer of the Royal veto to the people", the deportation of all "enemies of the people" and exemption of the poorest from taxation. This sentiment reflected the perspective of more radical Jacobins including those of the Marseille Club, who wrote to the mayor and the people of Paris, "Here and at Toulon, we have debated the possibility of forming a column of 100,000 men to sweep away our enemies... Paris may have need help. Call on us!"[194]

On 24 July a "Central Office of Co-ordination" was formed and the sections received the right to be in a "permanent" session.[195][196] On 25 July, according to the Logographe, Carnot promoted the use of pikes (seven feet long) and provided to every citizen.[197] At the end of July more than 3,000 Fédérés had entered Paris useful in provoking various measures, notably the overthrow of the king.[198] They were allowed to join the National Guard, and would focus on the "enemy within". On 29 July Robespierre called for the deposition of the King and the election of a Convention.[199][200] On 25 July, the allied commander, Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, issued a ferociously belligerent manifesto designed to spread panic in France, as it did.[201] A few days later the news of the Brunswick Manifesto began sweeping through Paris. It was frequently described as unlawful and offensive to national sovereignty. The authorship was frequently in doubt.[202]

August 1792[edit]

A sans-culotte with his pike

On 1 August the Assembly voted on Carnot's proposal and ordered the municipalities that pikes should be issued to all citizens, except vagabonds, etc.[203][204][205] On 3 August the mayor and 47 sections demanded the deposition of the king. On 4 August the government planned to evade; during the night volunteers from Marseille led by Charles Barbaroux moved into the Cordeliers Convent.[206] On 5 August Robespierre announced the uncovering of a plan for the king to escape to Château de Gaillon.[207] Robespierre and almost all the sections in Paris wanted to dethrone the king and set an ultimatum.[208] Brissot called for the maintenance of the constitution, excluding both the dethronement of the king and the election of a new assembly.[209] On 7 August Pétion suggested that Robespierre contribute to the departure of Fédérés to appease the capital, because they could better serve their country at the front.[210] The Council of Ministers suggested arresting Danton, Marat and Robespierre if they visited the Jacobin club.[211] On 9 August, when the Assembly refused to impeach LaFayette, the tocsin called the sections into arms.[212] In the evening the commissionaires of several sections (Billaud-Varenne, Chaumette, Hébert, Hanriot, Fleuriot-Lescot, Pache, Bourdon) gathered in the town hall. Marat, Robespierre and Tallien missed out. Danton seems to have visited the gathering after midnight and Pétion, the mayor had house arrest. He was nicknamed "Roi Pétion". At three in the morning, 19 sections were present; at seven 28. At midnight the municipal council of the city was dissolved. Sulpice Huguenin, head of the sans-culottes of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, was appointed provisional president of the Insurrectionary Commune. Brissot stopped visiting the Jacobin club.

Early in the morning on (Friday, 10 August) 30,000 Fédérés (volunteers from the countryside) and Sans-culottes (militants from the Paris sections) led a successful assault upon the Tuileries;[213] according to Robespierre a triumph for the "passive" (non-voting) citizens. The frightened Assembly suspended the king and voted for the election of a National Convention to take its place.[214] On the night of 11 August Robespierre was elected to the Paris Commune as one of the representatives for the Section de Piques, the district where he lived.[215] The governing committee called for the summoning of a convention chosen by universal male suffrage,[216] to form a new government and reorganise France. Camille Desmoulins thought that everything was over and that they could finally rest, but Robespierre overruled this by pointing out it could only be the beginning. On 13 August Robespierre declared himself against the strengthening of the départements.[217] The next day Danton invited him to join the Council of Justice. Robespierre published the twelfth and last issue of Le Défenseur de la Constitution, both an account and political testament.[218][219]

On 16 August, Robespierre presented a petition to the Legislative Assembly from the Paris Commune to demand the establishment of a provisional Revolutionary Tribunal that had to deal with the "traitors" and "enemies of the people". The next day Robespierre was appointed as one of eight judges. When Robespierre refused to preside over it, stating that he did not feel he could act as an unbiased judge in that circumstance, he was criticised.[220][p] Robespierre himself preferred – on account of his philanthropic principles – to represent the commune,[222][223] and Fouquier-Tinville was appointed as president. The Paris commune decided to install the guillotine permanently.[224]

The Prussian army crossed the French frontier on 19 August. The Paris armed sections were incorporated in 48 battalions of the National Guard under Santerre. The Assembly decreed that all the non-juring priests had to leave Paris within a week and the country within two weeks.[225] On 27 August, in the presence of almost half the population of Paris, a funeral ceremony was held on Place du Carrousel for the victims who were killed during storming the Tuileries.[226]

The passive citizens still strived for acceptance and the supply of weapons. Danton proposed that the Assembly should authorise house searches "to distribute to the defenders of the Patrie the weapons that indolent or ill-disposed citizens may be hiding". The section Sans-culottes organised itself as a surveillance committee, conducting searches and making arrests all over Paris.[227][228] Royalists who spoke of surrendering or a deal with the Prussian and Austrian army were arrested and detained. Likewise, the Swiss soldiers and people refused to hand over their arms and horses. On 28 August, the assembly ordered a curfew for the next two days.[229] The city gates were closed; all communication with the country was stopped. At the behest of Justice Minister Danton, thirty commissioners from the sections were ordered to search in every suspect house for weapons, munitions, swords, carriages, and horses.[230][231] "They searched every drawer and every cupboard, sounded every panel, lifted every hearthstone, inquired into every correspondence in the capital. As a result of this inquisition, more than 1,000 "suspects" were added to the immense body of political prisoners already confined in the jails and convents of the city".[232] One of the prisoners was Beaumarchais, who spent under a week in prison for criticising the government. Marat and Robespierre both disliked Condorcet who proposed that the "enemies of the people" belonged to the whole nation and should be judged constitutionally in its name.[233] A sharp conflict developed between the Legislative Assembly and the Commune and its sections.[234]{{sfn|Hampson|1974|p=121} The commune consisted of 144 members, three delegates per section. On 30 August the interim minister of Interior Roland and Guadet tried to suppress the influence of the Commune because the sections had exhausted the searches. The Assembly, tired of the pressures, declared the Commune illegal and suggested the organisation of communal elections.[235]

Robespierre was no longer willing to cooperate with Brissot, who promoted the Duke of Brunswick, and Roland, who proposed that the members of the government should leave Paris, taking the treasury and the king with it. With a sense of martyrdom, not Robespierre but Manuel seems to have ordered the sections to maintain their posts, and die if necessary.[236][237] On Sunday morning 2 September the members of the Commune, gathering in the town hall to proceed the election of deputies to the National Convention, decided to maintain their seats and have Rolland and Brissot arrested.[238][239] Madame de Staël who tried to escape Paris was forced by the crowd to go to the town hall. She noted that Robespierre was in the chair that day, assisted by Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne as secretaries.[240] However, according to Maximilien's sister Charlotte, he never presided over the insurrectionary commune.[82]

The National Convention[edit]

The Elections[edit]

Imaginary meeting between Robespierre, Danton and Marat (illustrating Victor Hugo's novel Ninety-Three) by Alfred Loudet

On 2 September the 1792 French National Convention election began. At the same time, Paris was organising its defence, but it was confronted with a lack of arms for the thousands of volunteers. Danton delivered a speech in the assembly and possibly referring to the Swiss inmates: "We ask that anyone who refuses to serve in person, or to surrender their weapons, is punished with death."[241][242] His speech acted as a call for direct action among the citizens, as well as a strike against the external enemy.[243] Not long after the September Massacres began.[244] Not an outburst of passion, but coldly and carefully organized, according to Adolphe Thiers, George Long and Stanley Loomis.[245][246][247] Charlotte Corday held Marat responsible, Madame Roland Danton. Robespierre and Manuel, the public prosecutor, responsible for the police administration, visited the Temple prison to check on the security of the royal family.[248] The next day on a proposal of Collot d'Herbois the Assembly decided to exclude royalist deputies from re-election to the Convention.[249] In Paris suspected Girondin and Feuillant candidates were boycotted; Robespierre made sure Brissot (and his fellow Brissotins Pétion and Condorcet) could not be elected in Paris.[250] According to Charlotte Robespierre, her brother stopped talking to his former friend, mayor Pétion de Villeneuve, ("Roi Pétion") accused of conspicuous consumption by Desmoulins,[251] and finally rallied to Brissot.[252] On 5 September, Robespierre was elected deputy to the National Convention but Danton and Collot d'Herbois received more votes than Robespierre.[q] Madame Roland wrote to a friend: "We are under the knife of Robespierre and Marat, those who would agitate the people."[253] The election were not the triumph for the Jacobins that they had anticipated, but during the course of the next nine months they gradually eliminated their opponents and seized control of the Convention.[254]

On 21 September Pétion was elected as president of the convention; nearly all members were lawyers. The Jacobins and Cordeliers took the high benches at the back of the former Salle du Manège, giving them the label the Montagnards, or "the Mountaineers"; below them were the "Manège" of the Girondists, the moderate Republicans. The majority the Plain was formed by independents (as Barère, Cambon and Carnot) but dominated by the radical Mountain.[255] On 25 and 26 September, Barbaroux and the Girondist Lasource accused Robespierre of wanting to form a dictatorship.[256] Danton was asked to resign as minister as he was also a deputy. Rumours spread that Robespierre, Marat, and Danton were plotting to establish a triumvirate to save the First French Republic. (From October 1791 until September 1792 the French Legislative Assembly saw an unprecedented turnover of four ministers of Justice, four ministers of Navy, six ministers of the interior, seven ministers of foreign affairs, and eight ministers of war.[257]) On 30 September Robespierre advocated for better laws; the registration of marriages, births, and burials was withdrawn from the church. On 29 October, Louvet de Couvrai attacked Robespierre.[258] He accused him of star allures,[259] of governing the Paris "Conseil Général" and have done nothing to stop the September massacre; instead, he had used it to have more Montagnards elected.[260] Robespierre, who seems to have been sick was given a week to respond. On 5 November, Robespierre defended himself, the Jacobin Club, and his supporters in and beyond Paris:

Upon the Jacobins, I exercise, if we are to believe my accusers, a despotism of opinion, which can be regarded as nothing other than the forerunner of dictatorship. Firstly, I do not know what a dictatorship of opinion is, above all in a society of free men... unless this describes nothing more than the natural compulsion of principles. This compulsion hardly belongs to the man who enunciates them; it belongs to universal reason and to all men who wish to listen to its voice. It belongs to my colleagues of the Constituent Assembly, to the patriots of the Legislative Assembly, to all citizens who will invariably defend the cause of liberty. Experience has proven, despite Louis XVI and his allies, that the opinion of the Jacobins and the popular clubs were those of the French Nation; no citizen has made them, and I did nothing other than share in them.[261]

Turning the accusations upon his accusers, Robespierre delivered one of the most famous lines of the French Revolution to the Assembly:

I will not remind you that the sole object of contention dividing us is that you have instinctively defended all acts of new ministers, and we, of principles; that you seemed to prefer power, and we equality... Why don't you prosecute the Commune, the Legislative Assembly, the Sections of Paris, the Assemblies of the Cantons and all who imitated us? For all these things have been illegal, as illegal as the Revolution, as the fall of the Monarchy and of the Bastille, as illegal as liberty itself... Citizens, do you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution which has directed itself against those who freed us from chains?[262]

Louvet de Couvrai accused Robespierre of governing the Paris département responsible for the finances to pay the septembriseurs in order to gain more votes in the election.[263] After publishing his speech "A Maximilien Robespierre et à ses royalistes (accusation)", Louvet was no longer admitted to the Jacobin Club.[264] Condorcet considered the French Revolution as a religion and Robespierre had all the characteristics of a leader of a sect,[265][266] or a cult.[267][r] As his opponents knew well, Robespierre had a strong base of support among the women of Paris called tricoteuses (knitters). John Moore, a traveller from Scotland, was sitting in the galleries, and noted that the audience was "almost entirely filled with women".[269][270] According to Moore "He [Robespierre] refuses offices in which he might be of service, takes those where he can govern; appears when he can make a figure, disappears when others occupy the stage".[271] The Girondins called on the local authorities to oppose the concentration and centralisation of power.

Execution of Louis XVI[edit]

Louis stands trial before the convention, as Robespierre watches from the first row. Engraving by Reinier Vinkeles

The convention's unanimous declaration of a French Republic on 21 September 1792 left the fate of the former king open to debate. A commission was therefore established to examine the evidence against him while the convention's Legislation Committee considered legal aspects of any future trial. Most Montagnards favoured judgment and execution, while the Girondins were more divided concerning how to proceed, with some arguing for royal inviolability, others for clemency, and others advocating lesser punishment or banishment.[272] On 13 November Robespierre stated in the Convention that a Constitution which Louis had violated himself, and which declared his inviolability, could not now be used in his defence.[273]

The secret of liberty is to enlighten men, as that of tyranny is to keep them in ignorance.[274]

Robespierre had been taken ill and had done little other than support Saint-Just, a former colonel in the National Guard, who gave his first major speech to address and argue against the king's inviolability. On 20 November, opinion turned sharply against Louis following the discovery of a secret cache of 726 documents consisting of Louis's communications with bankers and ministers.[275] At his trial, he claimed not to recognise documents signed by himself.[276]

With the question of the king's fate now occupying public discourse, Robespierre delivered on 3 December a speech that would define the rhetoric and course of Louis's trial.[277] All the deputies from the Mountain were asked to attend. Robespierre argued that the dethroned king could now function only as a threat to liberty and national peace and that the members of the Assembly were not to be impartial judges but rather statesmen with responsibility for ensuring public safety:

Louis was a king, and our republic is established; the critical question concerning you must be decided by these words alone. Louis was dethroned by his crimes; Louis denounced the French people as rebels; he appealed to chains, to the armies of tyrants who are his brothers; the victory of the people established that Louis alone was a rebel; Louis cannot, therefore, be judged; he already is judged. He is condemned, or the republic cannot be absolved. To propose to have a trial of Louis XVI, in whatever manner one may, is to retrogress to royal despotism and constitutionality; it is a counter-revolutionary idea because it places the revolution itself in litigation. In effect, if Louis may still be given a trial, he may be absolved, and innocent. What am I saying? He is presumed to be so until he is judged. But if Louis is absolved, if he may be presumed innocent, what becomes of the revolution? If Louis is innocent, all the defenders of liberty become slanderers.[278]

In arguing for a judgment by the elected Convention without trial, Robespierre supported the recommendations of Jean-Baptiste Mailhe, who headed the commission reporting on legal aspects of Louis's trial or judgment. Unlike some Girondins (Pétion), Robespierre specifically opposed judgment by primary assemblies or a referendum, believing that this could cause a civil war.[279] While he called for a trial of Queen Marie-Antoinette and the imprisonment of the Dauphin of France, Robespierre advocated that the king be executed despite his opposition to capital punishment:

Yes, the death penalty is, in general, a crime, unjustifiable by the indestructible principles of nature, except in cases protecting the safety of individuals or the society altogether. Ordinary misdemeanours have never threatened public safety because society may always protect itself by other means, making those culpable powerless to harm it. But for a king dethroned in the bosom of a revolution, which is as yet cemented only by laws; a king whose name attracts the scourge of war upon a troubled nation; neither prison nor exile can render his existence inconsequential to public happiness; this cruel exception to the ordinary laws avowed by justice can be imputed only to the nature of his crimes. With regret, I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation may live.[280]

On a proposal of Claude Bazire, a Dantonist, the National Convention decreed that Louis XVI be tried by its members.[281] The next day on 4 December the Convention decreed all the royalist writings illegal.[282] 26 December was the day of the last hearing of the King. On 28 December, Robespierre was asked to repeat his speech on the fate of the king in the Jacobin club. On 14 January 1793, the king was unanimously voted guilty of conspiracy and attacks upon public safety. Never before the convention was like a court.[283] On 15 January the call for a referendum was defeated by 424 votes to 287, which Robespierre led. On 16 January, voting began to determine the king's sentence; the session continued for 24 hours. Robespierre worked fervently to ensure the king's execution. The Jacobins successfully defeated the Girondins' final appeal for clemency.[284] On 20 January half of the deputies voted for immediate death. The next day Louis XVI was guillotined.

Destruction of the Girondins[edit]

After the execution of the king, the influence of Robespierre, Danton, and the pragmatic politicians increased at the expense of the Girondins who were largely seen as responsible for the inadequate response to the Flanders Campaign they had themselves initiated with the War of the First Coalition. By mid-February Lazare Carnot proposed that annexation of the area south and west of the Rhine be undertaken on behalf of French interests whether or not the people to be annexed so wished.[285] On 24 February the Convention decreed the first, but unsuccessful Levée en Masse as the attempt to draft new troops set off an uprising in rural France when the Montagnards lost influence in Marseille, Toulon and Lyon. At the end of February, more than a thousand shops were plundered in Paris. Protesters, defended by the Enragés, claimed that the Girondins were responsible for the rising and high prices.[286]

March/April 1793[edit]

In early March, 1793, the War in the Vendée and the War of the Pyrenees began; the population of the Austrian Netherlands were in insurrection against the French invasion. The population was terrorized by the Sans-Culottes. The French were insulted, hissed, even assaulted. The situation was alarming.[287]

On the evening of 9 March, a crowd gathered outside the Convention, shouting threats and calling for the removal of all "traitorous" deputies who had failed to vote for the execution of the king. On 12 March 1793, a provisional Revolutionary Tribunal was established; three days later the Convention appointed Fouquier-Tinville as the accusateur public and Fleuriot-Lescot as his assistant. Robespierre was not enthusiastic and feared that it might become the political instrument of a faction.[288] Robespierre believed that all institutions are bad if they are not founded on the assumption that the people are good and their magistrates corruptible.[289]

On 11 March, Charles-François Dumouriez addressed the Brussels assembly, apologising for the actions of the French commissioners and soldiers.[290] On 12 March Dumouriez criticised the interference of officials of the War Ministry which employed many Jacobins.[291] He attacked not only Pache, the former minister of war, but also Marat and Robespierre.[281] Dumouriez had long been unable to agree with the course of the Convention. He was disenchanted with the radicalisation of the revolution and its politics and put an end to the annexation efforts.[292]

On 22 March Dumouriez retreated to Brussels. The next day Dumouriez promised the Austrians they would leave Belgium by the end of March without permission of the convention.[293] He urged the Duke of Chartres, still a teenager, to join his plan to negotiate peace, dissolve the convention, restore the French Constitution of 1791 and a constitutional monarchy, and to free Marie-Antoinette and her children.[294][295] The Jacobin leaders were quite sure that France had come close to a military coup mounted by Dumouriez and supported by the Girondins. On 24 March, Francisco de Miranda, the only general from Latin America in French service, blamed Dumouriez for the defeat in the Battle of Neerwinden (1793). On 25 March Robespierre became one of the 25 members of the Committee of General Defence to coordinate the war effort.[296] Robespierre called for the removal of Dumouriez, who in his eyes aspired to become a Belgian dictator or chief of state, and was placed under arrest.[297] For Robespierre, the army had already more soldiers than it needed. He demanded that relatives of the king should leave France, but Marie-Antoinette should be judged.[298] He spoke of vigorous measures to save the convention but left the committee within a few days. Marat began to promote a more radical approach, war on the Girondins.[299] The Montagnards launched a vigorous campaign against the Girondins, after the defection of General Dumouriez, who refused to surrender himself to the Revolutionary Tribunal.[300] Suspicion rose against the Duke of Orléans, Philippe Égalité, because of his eldest son's friendship with Dumouriez.

On 3 April Robespierre declared before the Convention that the whole war was a prepared game between Dumouriez and Brissot to overthrow the Republic.[301] The next day Philippe Égalité was arrested. On 5 April the Convention substantially expanded the power of the Tribunal révolutionnaire. The Montagnards raised the stakes by sending out a circular from the Jacobin Club in Paris to all the sister Jacobin clubs across France, appealing for petitions demanding the recall – that is, the expulsion from the convention – of any deputies who had tried to save the life of "the tyrant". On 6 April the Committee of Public Safety was installed on the proposal of Maximin Isnard, supported by Georges Danton. The Committee was composed of nine deputies from the Plaine and the Dantonists, but no Girondins or Robespierrists.[302] As one of the first acts of the Committee, Marat, president of the Jacobin club, called for the expulsion of twenty-two Girondins.[303] Robespierre, who was not elected, 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, naming and accusing Brissot, Isnard, Vergniaud, Guadet and Gensonné.[304] There were only two parties according to Robespierre: the people and their enemies.[305] One of them was Charles Barbaroux, a leader of the Fédérés and popular in the South. On 10 April Robespierre accused Dumouriez in a speech: "He and his supporters have brought a fatal blow to the public fortune, preventing circulation of assignats in Belgium".[306]

Robespierre's speeches during April 1793 reflect the growing radicalisation. "I ask the sections to raise an army large enough to form the kernel of a Revolutionary Army that will draw all the sans-culottes from the departments to exterminate the rebels..."[307] "Force the government to arm the people, who in vain demanded arms for two years."[308] Suspecting further treason, Robespierre invited the convention to vote the death penalty against anyone who would propose negotiating with the enemy.[309] Marat was imprisoned calling for a military tribunal as well as the suspension of the convention.[310] He was brought before the Tribunal on the charges that he had printed in his paper statements. On 15 April the convention was stormed again by the people from the sections, demanding the removal of those Girondins who had defended the King. Until 17 April, the Convention discussed the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1793, a political document that preceded the first republican constitution of 1793. On 18 April the Commune announced an insurrection against the convention after the arrest of Marat. On 19 April Robespierre opposed article 7 on equality before the law; on 22 April the convention discussed article 29 on the right of resistance.[311] On 24 April Robespierre presented his version with four articles on the right of property.[s] He was in effect questioning the individual right of ownership,[314] and advocated a progressive tax and fraternity between the people of all the nations.[307]

Robespierre declared himself against the agrarian law. In Marseille, the Montagnards lost influence to the Girondins. Class war politics was a new development. Barbaroux called for fixed salaries and fixed prices for grain and meat; Pache for bread. Cambon asked permission and money to send more troops to the Spanish border, Hérault, Bouches-du-Rhone, and Perpignan.

On 27 April the convention decreed (on the proposal of Danton) to send 20,000 additional forces to the departments in revolt.[315] On 29 April the Convention discussed the municipal committees of surveillance; Marat proposed to purify the ministries. According to François Mignet the commune was destined to triumph over the convention. Pétion called for the help of supporters of law and order.[316]

May 1793[edit]

Journées des 31 Mai, 1er et 2 Juin 1793, an engraving of the Convention surrounded by National Guards, forcing the deputies to arrest the Girondins and to establish an armed force of 6,000 men. The insurrection was organised by the Paris Commune and supported by Montagnards.
The uprising of the Parisian sans-culottes from 31 May to 2 June 1793. The scene takes place in front of the Deputies Chamber in the Tuileries. The depiction shows Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles and Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud.

On 1 May 1793, according to the Girondin deputé Jacques-Antoine Dulaure, 8,000 armed men prepared to go to the Vendée surrounded the convention and threatened not to leave if the emergency measures they demanded (a decent salary and maximum on food prices) were not adopted.[317][318] On 4 May the convention agreed to support the families of soldiers and sailors who left their home to fight the enemy. Robespierre pressed ahead with his strategy of class war.[319] On 8 and 12 May in the Jacobin Club, Robespierre restated the necessity of founding a revolutionary army, that would search for grain, to be funded by a tax on the rich, and would be intended to defeat aristocrats and counter-revolutionaries inside both the convention and across France. He said that public squares should be used to produce arms and pikes.[320] In mid May, Marat and the Commune supported him publicly and secretly.[321]

After hearing these statements, the Girondins became concerned. On 18 May Guadet called for the closing of all the political institutions in Paris and to examine the "exactions" and to replace municipal authorities.[322][323][324] Within a few days, the Convention decided to set up a commission of inquiry of twelve members, with a very strong Girondin majority.[325] On 24 May the Commission of Twelve proposed reinforcing the National Guard patrols round the convention.[326] Jacques Hébert, the editor of Le Père Duchesne, was arrested after attacking or calling for the death of the twnety-two Girondins. The next day, the Commune demanded that Hébert be released. The president of the Convention Maximin Isnard, who had enough of the tyranny of the Commune, threatened the destruction of Paris.

François Hanriot chef de la section des Sans-Culottes (Rue Mouffetard); drawing by Gabriel in the Carnavalet Museum

On 26 May, after a week of silence, Robespierre delivered one of the most decisive speeches of his career.[327] He openly called on the Jacobin Club "to place themselves in insurrection against corrupt deputies".[328] Isnard declared that the Convention would not be influenced by any violence and that Paris had to respect the representatives from elsewhere in France.[329] The Convention decided Robespierre would not be heard. (During the whole debate Robespierre sat in the gallery.) The atmosphere became extremely agitated. Some deputies were willing to kill if Isnard dared to declare civil war in Paris; the president was asked to give up his seat.

On 28 May a weak Robespierre excused himself twice for his physical condition but attacked in particular Brissot of royalism. He referred to 25 July 1792 where their points of view split.[330][331] Robespierre left the convention after applause from the left side and went to the town hall.[299] There he called for an armed insurrection against the majority of the convention. "If the Commune does not unite closely with the people, it violates its most sacred duty", he said.[332] In the afternoon the Commune demanded the creation of a revolutionary army of sans-culottes in every town of France, including 20,000 men to defend Paris.[333][328][334]

On 29 May, Robespierre was occupied in preparing the public mind. He attacked Charles Jean Marie Barbaroux, but admitted he almost gave up his political career because of his anxieties since he became a deputy.[299] The delegates representing thirty-three of the Paris sections formed an insurrectionary committee.[335] They declared themselves in a state of insurrection, dissolved the general council of the commune, and immediately reconstituted it, making it take a new oath; Francois Hanriot was elected as Commandant-Général of the Parisian National Guard. Saint-Just was added to the Committee of Public Safety; Couthon became secretary.

The next day the tocsin in the Notre-Dame was rung and the city gates were closed; the Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June began. Hanriot was ordered to fire a cannon on the Pont-Neuf as a sign of alarm. Danton rushed to the tribune: "Break up the Commission of Twelve! You have heard the thunder of the cannon." Robespierre urged the arrest of the Girondins.[336] Around ten in the morning 12,000 armed citizens appeared to protect the Convention against the arrest of Girondin deputies.

On Saturday 1 June the Commune gathered almost all day and devoted it to the preparation of a great movement. The Comité insurrectionnel ordered Hanriot to surround the Convention "with a respectable armed force".[337] In the evening 40,000 men surrounded the building to force the arrest. Marat led the attack on the representatives, who had voted against the execution of the King and since then paralyzed the Convention.[338][303] The Commune decided twenty-four men would be sent to the Convention with a petition. The Convention (about 100 deputies) decided to allow men to carry arms on days of crisis and pay them for each day and promised to indemnify the workers for the interruption in the past four days. It postponed any other.[339] The next morning the Convention invited Hanriot, who told them all the men were prepared and posts occupied. Some people in the galleries shouted "À la Vendée" The Committee of Public Safety postponed decisions on the accused deputies for three days. Cambon, one of the members, sent the delegation of twenty-four men with their petition back to the Commune. Marat demanded a decision within a day.[340]

Unsatisfied with the result the Commune demanded and prepared a "Supplement" to the revolution. Hanriot offered (or was ordered) to march the National Guard from the town hall to the National Palace.[341] The next morning a large force of armed citizens (some estimated 80,000 or 100,000, but Danton spoke of only 30,000)[342] surrounded the Convention with artillery and being paid with an assignat worth five or six livres according to Michelet. "The armed force", Hanriot said, "will retire only when the Convention has delivered to the people the deputies denounced by the Commune."[343] Two pieces were directed upon the convention, who, retiring to the gardens, sought an outlet at various points, but found all the issues guarded. Confronted on all sides by bayonets and pikes, the deputies returned to the meeting hall. The Girondins believed they were protected by the law, but the people in the galleries called for their arrest. Twenty-two Girondins were seized one by one after some juggling with names.[344] They finally decided that 31 deputies were not to be imprisoned,[t] but only subject to house arrest;[345] scarcely half of the assembly taking part in the vote.

The Montagnards now had unchallenged control of the convention; according to Couthon the citizens of Paris had saved the country.[346] The Girondins, going to the provinces, joined the counter-revolution.[347] Within two weeks and for three months almost fifty departments were in rebellion.

During the insurrection Robespierre had scrawled a note in his memorandum-book:

What we need is a single will (il faut une volonté une). 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; to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people. ... The people must ally themselves with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people.[348][349]

On 3 June French the convention decided to split up the land belonging to Émigrés and sell it to farmers. On 12 June Robespierre wanted to resign lacking strength.[350] On 13 July Robespierre defended the plans of Le Peletier to teach revolutionary ideas in boarding schools.[351][u] On the following day the convention rushed to praise Marat – who had been murdered in his bathtub – for his fervor and revolutionary diligence. Opposing Pierre-Louis Bentabole, Robespierre simply called for an inquiry into the circumstances of Marat's death. He did not pronounce his surname as they were never friends.[353] On 17 or 22 July the Émigres were expropriated by decree; proofs of ownership had to be collected and burnt.

Reign of Terror[edit]

The Pavillon de Flore, the seat of the Committee of Public Safety and General Police Bureau. Joachim Vilate lived there in an apartment. Drawing in brown ink (1814)
Peasants and commoners (insurgent royalists or Chouans) in the Vendée, Maine, the south of Normandy or the eastern part of Brittany defending a Catholic church. Artist unknown

The French government faced serious internal challenges, when the provincial cities (Caen, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Rouen, and Marseille), rebelled against the more radical revolutionaries in Paris. Marat and Le Peletier were murdered and Robespierre feared for his own life. Corsica declared formal secession from France and requested the protection of the British government; Pasquale Paoli forced the Bonapartes to move to the mainland. In July, France threatened to plunge into civil war, attacked by the aristocracy in Vendée and Brittany, by federalist revolts in Lyon, Le Midi, and Normandy, and a struggle with all Europe and the foreign factions.[354][355][356]

June and July 1793[edit]

At the end of June, Robespierre attacked Jacques Roux by presenting him as a foreign agent. Roux was ejected from the Jacobin Club. In early July, Danton was not re-elected as a member of the Committee of Public Safety. On 13 July, the day that Marat was murdered, Robespierre defended the plans of Louis-Michel le Peletier to teach revolutionary ideas in schools.[357] He denounced the schemes of the Parisian radicals known as the Enragés, who were using the rising inflation and food shortage to stir up the Paris sections.[5]

On 27 July 1793, Robespierre joined the Committee, nearly two years after Danton had extended an invitation to him to do so. Robespierre replaced Thomas-Augustin de Gasparin, who would be sent to the Army of the Alps and Marseille. It was the second time Robespierre held any executive office to coordinate the war effort. Robespierre was criticised for being the most prominently known member of the Committee, but officially the Committee was non-hierarchical.[358]

August 1793[edit]

On 4 August the French Constitution of 1793 passed through the Convention.[v] Article 109 stated: "All Frenchmen are soldiers; all shall be exercised in the use of arms."[359] From the moment of its acceptance, it was made meaningless, first by the Convention itself, which had been charged to dissolve itself on completion of the document, then by the construction of the working institutions of the Terror. Condorcet, the main author of the first draft, was accused of federalism had to go into hiding early July.[360][361]

At the end of August rebellious Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon had not accepted the new Constitution. According to French historian Soboul, Robespierre was against the implementation before the rebellious cantons had accepted it.[362] By mid-September the Jacobin Club suggested that the Constitution should not be published, on the argument that general will was missing, although an overwhelming majority favoured it.[363] The choice seem to have been either a Convention without a Constitution or a Constitution without a Convention.[364]

On 21 August Robespierre was elected as president of the Convention.[365] On 23 August Lazare Carnot was appointed in the committee; the provisional government introduced the Levée en masse against the enemies of the republic. Couthon carried a law punishing any person who should sell assignats at less than their nominal value with imprisonment for twenty years in chains. Robespierre was particularly concerned that public officials should be virtuous.[366] He had sent his brother Augustin (and sister Charlotte) to Marseille and Nice to suppress the federalist insurrection.[367] At the end of August Toulon hoisted the royal flag and delivered the port to the British navy. Both the strategic importance of the naval base and the prestige of the Revolution demanded that the French recapture Toulon.[368]

September 1793[edit]

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,[369] despite the amount of assignats in circulation having doubled in the previous months.

At the session on 5 September 1793, Robespierre gave up the chair to Thuriot, because he had to go to the Committee of Public Safety to oversee the report to be produced there on the constitution of the revolutionary army.[370] At the session that day, the Convention decided on a proposal of Chaumette, supported by Billaud and Danton, to form a revolutionary army of 6,000 men in Paris to sweep away conspirators, to execute revolutionary laws and to protect subsistence.[371] Barère voiced the Committee of Public Safety's support for the measures desired by the Convention. He presented a decree that was passed immediately, establishing a paid armed force of 6,000 men and 1,200 gunners "designed to crush the counter-revolutionaries, to execute wherever the need arises the revolutionary laws and the measures of public safety that are decreed by the National Convention, and to protect provisions".[307] Barère exclaimed: "Let's make terror the order of the day!" Terror was never formally instituted as a legal policy by the Convention, more deployed as a concept.[372]

The next day the ultras Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne were elected in the Committee of Public Safety.[373] The Committee of General Security, which was tasked with rooting out crimes and preventing counter-revolution, began to manage the country's National Gendarmerie and finance. It was decreed that all the foreigners in the country should be arrested. On 8 September, the banks and exchange offices were closed to prevent the exchange of forged assignats and the export of capital,[374] making investments in foreign countries punishable with death. Augustin Robespierre and Antoine Christophe Saliceti appointed a young Napoleon Bonaparte as provisional artillery commander of the republican forces in Toulon; he established a battery called the "Sans-culottes". A force of citizen-soldiers was established under Charles Philippe Ronsin, which could go into the countryside to supervise the requisition of grain, to prevent the manoeuvres of rich égoistes and deliver them up to the vengeance of the laws.[375]) For that reason, twelve travelling tribunals (with moveable guillotines) were set up.

On 11 September the power of the Committee of Public Safety was extended for one month. Robespierre supported Hanriot in the Jacobin Club and protested against the appointment of Lazare Carnot (on 23 August) to the committee, as Carnot was not a Jacobin and did not accept the events on 31 May.[376][377] Robespierre demanded that the leaders of the conspiracy in Bordeaux should be punished. Jacques Thuriot, a firm supporter of Danton, resigned on 20 September because of irreconcilable differences with Robespierre; he became one of Robespierre's bolder opponents.[378] The Revolutionary Tribunal was reorganised and divided into four sections, of which two were always active at the same time. On 29 September, the Committee introduced the maximum, particularly in the area which supplied Paris.[379] According to Augustin Cochin (historian) the shops were empty within a week.[380] On 1 October the Convention decided to exterminate the "brigands" in the Vendée before the end of the month.

October 1793[edit]

On 3 October Robespierre was convinced the convention was divided up in two factions, friends of the people and conspirators.[381] He defended seventy-three Girondins "as useful",[382] but more than twenty were put on trial. He attacked Danton, who had refused to take a seat in the Committee of Public Safety, and who believed a stable government was needed which could resist the orders of the Committee.[383] On 8 October the Convention decided to arrest Brissot and the Girondins. Robespierre called for the dissolution of the Convention; he believed they would be admired by posterity. Cambon replied that was not his intention; applause followed and the session was closed.[384] After the Siege of Lyon Couthon entered the city, the centre of a revolt.

On 10 October the Convention recognised the Committee of Public Safety as the supreme "Revolutionary Government",[385] (which was consolidated on 4 December).[386] According to Louis de Saint-Just, the provisional government would be revolutionary until peace was established. Every eight days the Committee of Public Safety would report to the Convention.[384] Though the Constitution was overwhelmingly popular and its drafting and ratification buoyed popular support for the Montagnards, on 10 October the Convention set it aside indefinitely until a future peace.[387] They would instead continue governing without a Constitution.[388] The Committee of Public Safety became a War cabinet with unprecedented powers over the economy as well as the political life of the nation, but it had to get the approval of the Convention for any legislation and could be changed any time.[389] Danton, who was dangerously ill for a few weeks,[390] and possibly knowing that he could not get along with Robespierre,[391] quit politics and set off to Arcis-sur-Aube with his 16-year-old wife, who pitied the Queen since her trial began.[392]

On 12 October when Hébert accused Marie-Antoinette of incest with her son, Robespierre had dinner with some strong supporters (Barère, Saint-Just and Joachim Vilate). Discussing the matter, Robespierre broke his plate with his fork and called Hébert an "imbécile".[393][394][395] According to Vilate, Robespierre then had already two or three bodyguards. One of them was his neighbor, the printer Nicolas. The verdict on the former queen was pronounced by the jury of the Revolutionary Tribunal on 16 October, at four o'clock in the morning. She was guillotined at noon.[396]

On 25 October the Revolutionary government was accused of doing nothing.[397] At the end of the month, several members of the Committee of General Security, assisted by armées revolutionnaires, were sent into the provinces to suppress active resistance against the Revolution. Fouché and Collot d'Herbois halted the revolt of Lyon against the National Convention, Jean-Baptiste Carrier ordered the drownings at Nantes; Tallien succeeded in feeding the guillotine in Bordeaux; Barras and Fréron went to Marseille and Toulon; Joseph Le Bon went to the Somme and Pas-de-Calais. Saint-Just and Le Bas visited the Rhine Army to watch the generals and punish officers for treasonous timidity, or lack of initiative.[398] Robespierre's landlord, Maurice Duplay, became a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal. On 31 October Brissot and twenty-one other Girondins were guillotined in just over a half-hour minutes by Charles-Henri Sanson.[399]

November 1793[edit]

On 8 November the director of the manufacture of assignats and Manon Roland were executed. On 13 November, the Convention closed the Exchange and supressed all commerce in precious metals, under penalties.[400] On the morning of 14 November, François Chabot burst into Robespierre's room dragging him from bed with accusations of counter-revolution and a foreign conspiracy, waving a hundred thousand livres in assignat notes, and claiming that a band of royalist plotters gave it to him to buy Fabre d'Eglantine's vote, along with others, to liquidate some stock in the French East India Company.[401][402] Chabot was arrested three days later; Courtois urged Danton to return to Paris immediately. On 25 November, the remains of the Comte de Mirabeau were removed from the Pantheon and replaced with those of Jean-Paul Marat.[403] This change was on Robespierre's initiative, when it became known that in Mirabeau's last months, he had secretly conspired with the court of Louis XVI.[404]

At the end of November, under intense emotional pressure from Lyonnaise women, protesting and gathering 10,000 signatures, Robespierre suggested that a secret commission be set up to examine the cases of the Lyon rebels, to see if injustices had been committed. This is the closest Robespierre came to adopting a public position against the use of terror.[405]

December 1793[edit]

On 3 December Robespierre accused Danton in the Jacobin Club of feigning an illness to emigrate to Switzerland. Danton, according to him, showed too often his vices and not his virtue. Robespierre was stopped in his attack. The gathering was closed after applause for Danton.[384]

On 4 December, by the Law of Revolutionary Government, the independence of departmental and local authorities came to an end, when extensive powers of the Committee of Public Safety were codified. The law settled the competence of the two committees. Submitted by Billaud and implemented within 24 hours, the law was a drastic decision against the independence of deputies and commissionaires on a mission; coordinated action among the sections became illegal.[406] The Commune of Paris and the revolutionary committees in the sections had to obey the law, the two Committees, and the convention.[407]

On 5 December the journalist Camille Desmoulins launched a new journal, Le Vieux Cordelier. He defended Danton and warned not to exaggerate the revolution. He attacked the de-Christianisers and later compared Robespierre with Julius Caesar as dictator. Desmoulins argued that the Revolution should return to its original ideas en vogue around 10 August 1792.[408] Le Vieux Cordelier sold very well; 100,000 copies. Robespierre made a counterproposal, to set up a Committee of Justice to examine some of the cases under the Law of Suspects.[409]

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".

On 7 December all the departmental armées revolutionnaires in France were dismissed within 24 hours, except the ones authorised by the Convention as in Paris.[410]

Triumvirate of : (L-R) Saint-Just, Robespierre, and Couthon
Print representing a Comité de surveillance of the Parisian section of the year II, after Jean-Baptiste Huet. (National Library of France, Paris.)

On 8 December, Madame du Barry was guillotined. On receiving notice that he was to appear on the next day before the Revolutionary Tribunal Étienne Clavière committed suicide.

On 12 December Robespierre attacked the wealthy foreigner Cloots in the Jacobin club of being a Prussian spy.[411] Thomas Paine lost his seat in the convention, was arrested, and locked up for his association with the Girondins, as well as being a foreign national. Robespierre denounced the "de-Christianisers" as foreign enemies. The Indulgents mounted an attack on the Committee of Public Safety, accusing them of being murderers.[412]

On 17 December Vincent and Ronsin were arrested. On 21 December Collot d'Herbois declared: "...if I had arrived two days later I would perhaps have been put under indictment myself."[413]

The fourth issue of Le Vieux Cordelier, issued on December 24, was explosive. Desmoulins counseled Robespierre not to attempt to build the Republic on such a rare quality as virtue. He took up the cause of the 200,000 defenceless civilians and that had been detained in prisons as suspects and called for clemency:

You want to remove all your enemies by means of the guillotine! Has there ever been such great folly? Could you make a single man perish on the scaffold, without making ten enemies for yourself from his family or his friends? ... I think quite differently from those who tell you that terror must remain the order of the day.[414]

A Committee of Grace had to be established. Desmoulins addressed Robespierre directly, writing, "My dear Robespierre... my old school friend... Remember the lessons of history and philosophy: love is stronger, more lasting than fear."[415][416]

On the next day, 25 December, thoroughly provoked by Desmoulins' insistent challenges, Robespierre produced his "Report on the Principles of Revolutionary Government".[409] Robespierre replied to the plea for an end to the Terror, justifying the collective dictatorship of the National Convention, administrative centralisation, and the purging of local authorities. He said he had to avoid two cliffs: indulgence and severity. He could not consult the 18th-century political authors, because they had not foreseen such a course of events. He protested against the various factions that he believed threatened the government, such as the Hébertists and Dantonists.[417][418] Robespierre strongly believed that the Terror was still necessary:

The theory of the revolutionary government is as new as the revolution from which this government was born. This theory may not be found in the books of the political writers who were unable to predict the Revolution, nor in the law books of the tyrants...

The goal of a constitutional government is the protection of the Republic; that of a revolutionary government is the establishment of the Republic.

The Revolution is the war waged by liberty against its foes—but the Constitution is the régime of victorious and peaceful freedom.

The Revolutionary Government will need to put forth extraordinary activity, because it is at war. It is subject to no constant laws, since the circumstances under which it prevails are those of a storm, and change with every moment. This government is obliged unceasingly to disclose new sources of energy to oppose the rapidly changing face of danger.[419]

Robespierre would suppress chaos and anarchy: "the Government has to defend itself" [against conspirators] and "to the enemies of the people it owes only death".[420][421][422] According to R.R. Palmer and Donald C. Hodges, this was the first important statement in modern times of a philosophy of dictatorship.[423][424] Others see it as a natural consequence of political instability and conspiracy.

February and March 1794[edit]

In his Report on the Principles of Political Morality of 5 February 1794, Robespierre praised the revolutionary government and argued that terror and virtue were necessary:

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.

It has been said that terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that with which the henchmen of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern by terror his brutalized subjects; he is right, as a despot. Subdue by terror the enemies of liberty, and you will be right, as founders of the Republic. The government of the revolution is liberty's despotism against tyranny. Is force made only to protect crime? And is the thunderbolt not destined to strike the heads of the proud?[425]

To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity.[426]

On 8 February 1794, Jean-Baptiste Carrier was recalled from Nantes, after a member of the Committee of Public Safety wrote to Robespierre with information about the atrocities being carried out, although Carrier himself was not put on trial. Aulard sums up the Jacobin train of thought, "All politics, according to Robespierre, must tend to establish the reign of virtue and confound vice. He reasoned thus: those who are virtuous are right; error is a corruption of the heart; error cannot be sincere; error is always deliberate."[427][428] According to the German journalist K.E. 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."[429]

In the spring of 1794, the government with the approval of Carnot sent the Infernal columns, under the direction of General Louis Marie Turreau through the Vendée to suppress counter-revolutionary forces. It cost the lives of 1% of the French population.

From 13 February to 13 March 1794, Robespierre had withdrawn from active business on the Committee due to illness.[83] On 19 February, Robespierre decided to return to the Duplays.[430] Robespierre seems to have suffered from acute physical and mental exhaustion, exacerbated by an austere personal regime according to McPhee. Saint-Just was elected president of the convention for the next two weeks.

In early March in a speech at the Cordeliers Club, Hébert attacked both Robespierre and Danton as being too soft. Hébert used the latest issue of Le Père Duchesne to criticise Robespierre. He managed to acquire a small army of secret agents, which reported to him.[431] There were queues and near-riots at the shops and in the markets; there were strikes and threatening public demonstrations. Some of the Hébertistes and their friends were calling for a new insurrection.[432]

A majority of the Committee decided that the ultra-left Hébertists would have to perish or their opposition within the committee would overshadow the other factions due to its influence in the Commune of Paris. Robespierre also had personal reasons for disliking the Hébertists for their "bloodthirstiness" and atheism, which he associated with the old aristocracy.[433] On the night of 13–14 March, Hébert and 18 of his followers were arrested as the agents of foreign powers. On 15 March, Robespierre reappeared in the convention.[w] The next day Robespierre denounced a petition demanding that all merchants should be excluded from public offices whilst the war lasted.[435] Subsequently, he joined Saint-Just in his attacks on Hébert.[29] The leaders of the "armées révolutionnaires" were denounced by the Revolutionary Tribunal as accomplices of Hébert.[436] Their armies were dissolved on 27 March. Robespierre protected Hanriot, the commander of the Paris National Guards, and Pache.[437][x] Around twenty people, including Hébert, Cloots and De Kock), were guillotined on the evening of 24 March. On 25 March Condorcet was arrested as he was seen as an enemy of the Revolution; he committed suicide two days later.

On 29 March Danton met again with Robespierre privately; afterwards, Marat's sister urged him to take the offensive.[442] On 30 March the two committees decided to arrest Danton and Desmoulins after Saint-Just became uncharacteristically angry.[443] On 31 March Saint-Just publicly attacked both. In the convention, criticism was voiced against the arrests, which Robespierre silenced with "...whoever trembles at this moment is guilty."[444] Legendre suggested that "before you listen to any report, you send for the prisoners, and hear them". Robespierre replied "It would be violating the laws of impartiality to grant to Danton what was refused to others, who had an equal right to make the same demand. This answer silenced at once all solicitations in his favour."[445] From 21 March – 5 April Tallien was president of the convention,[446] but did not prevent Danton's arrest. No friend of the Dantonists dared speak up in case he too should be accused of putting friendship before virtue.[447]

April 1794[edit]

On 2 April the trial of Danton, Desmoulins, and Danton's supporters began on charges of conspiracy with the Philippe Égalité and Dumouriez. Corruption and a financial scandal involving the French East India Company provided a "convenient pretext" for Danton's downfall.[448] Hanriot had been informed not to arrest the president and the "public accuser" of Revolutionary Tribunal.[449] It was argued that the Dantonists were not serving the people. They had become false patriots, who had preferred personal and foreign interests to the welfare of the nation.[450] "Danton had been a traitor from the beginning of the Revolution and the emergency law voted to stifle his resounding voice make this one of the blackest moments in the whole history of the Revolution."[451][452]

Fouquier-Tinville asked the tribunal to order the defendants who "confused the hearing" and insulted "National Justice" to the guillotine. The defendants, of whom nine were deputies of the convention, were removed from the room before the verdict was delivered on April 5. They were then taken to the guillotine. Desmoulins struggled to accept his fate and accused Robespierre, the Committee of General Security, and the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was dragged up the scaffold by force.

On the last day of their trial, his Desmoulins's wife, Lucile Desmoulins, was imprisoned. She was accused of organising a revolt against the patriots and the tribunal to free her husband and Danton. She admitted to having warned the prisoners of a course of events as in September 1792, and that it was her duty to revolt against it. Robespierre was not only his school friend but also had witnessed at their marriage in December 1790, together with Pétion and Brissot.[414][453][83]

Cartoon showing Robespierre guillotining the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France.

On 1 April Lazare Carnot proposed the provisional executive council of six ministers be suppressed and the ministries be replaced by twelve Committees reporting to the Committee of Public Safety.[454] The proposal was unanimously adopted by the National Convention and set up by Martial Herman on 8 April. On 3 April Fouché was invited to Paris. On 9 April he appeared in the Convention; in the evening he visited Robespierre at home. On 12 April his report was discussed in the Convention; according to Robespierre, it was incomplete.[455] Carnot argued with both Robespierre and Saint Just.[431] When Barras and Fréron paid a visit to Robespierre, they were received in an extremely unfriendly manner.[456] At the request of Robespierre, the Convention ordered the transfer of the ashes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the Panthéon.

In mid-April, it was decreed to centralise the investigation of court records and to bring all the political suspects in France to the Revolutionary Tribunal to Paris. The two committees received the power to interrogate them immediately. A special police bureau inside the Comité de salut public was created, whose task was to monitor public servants, competing with both the Committee of General Security and the Committee of Public Safety.[457][458] Foreigners were no longer allowed to travel through France or visit a Jacobin club; Dutch patriots who had fled to France before 1790 were excluded.[459] On 22 April Malesherbes, a lawyer who had defended the king and the deputés Isaac René Guy le Chapelier and Jacques Guillaume Thouret, four times elected president of the Constituent Assembly were taken to the scaffold.[460] Saint-Just and LeBas left Paris at the end of the month for the army in the north.[461] Saint-Just left on a mission at the end of April for two months. The decree of 8 May suppressed the revolutionary courts and committees in the provinces and brought all political cases for trial in the capital.[462]--> The police bureau, directed by Martial Herman, became a serious rival of the Committee of General Security after a month.[463] Payan, even advised to Robespierre to get rid of the Committee of General Security, which, he said, broke the unity of action of the government.[460]

Following the executions of Danton and Desmoulins on April 5, Robespierre had a partial withdrawal from public life. He did not reappear until May 7. The withdrawal may have been an indication of health issues.[414]

June 1794[edit]

As the assignat was losing more and more value, the Convention decreed that the death penalty should be inflicted on any person convicted of "having asked, before a bargain was concluded, in what money payment was to be made".[464] On 5 June François Hanriot ordered the detention of every baker in Paris who sold his bread to people without a distribution card or from another section.[465] On 10 June Georges Couthon introduced the Law of 22 Prairial. The law would free the Revolutionary Tribunals from control by the Convention and would greatly strengthen the position of public accusers by limiting the ability of suspects to defend themselves. Furthermore, the law broadened the sorts of charges that could be brought so that virtually any criticism of the government became criminal.[466] The legal defence was sacrificed in favor of efficiency and centralisation by banning any assistance for defendants brought before the revolutionary tribunal.[467] "If this law passes," cried a deputy, "all we have to do is to blow our brains out". According to Fouquier-Tinville after Amar, Vadier proposed to change a few articles, however this request was denied. Fouquier, who feared to be incapable to deal with the number of trials sent him a letter, but Robespierre did not reply. Not long after the committee decided to organise batches of 50 people.[468] The Tribunal became more akin to a court of condemnation, refusing suspects the right of counsel and allowing only one of two verdicts – complete acquittal or death and that based not on evidence but on the moral conviction of the jurors.[469][470] The courtroom was renovated to allow sixty people to be sentenced simultaneously. Within three days, 156 people were sent in batches to the guillotine; all the members of Parliament of Toulouse were executed.[471][472] The guillotine was moved to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in order to stand out less. On 11 July the shopkeepers, craftsmen, and others were temporarily released from prison. According to François Furet, the prisons were overpopulated; they housed over 8,000 "suspects" at the beginning of Thermidor year II.[473] The number of death sentences in Paris doubled.[474] The commune had to solve serious problems in the cemeteries because of the smell. Mid-July two new mass graves were dug at Picpus Cemetery in the impermeable ground.[475][476]

Abolition of slavery[edit]

Réglements de la Société des Amis des Noirs, 1788–1789
Décret d'abolition de l'esclavage du 16 pluviôse an II (4 February 1794)

The attitude of Robespierre on abolition has some contradictions and has raised doubts about his intentions supposed to slavery.[477][478][479][480] [481]

On 7 May 1791, the National Constituent Assembly again addressed the question of the colonies. On 13 May 1791 he was opposed to the word "slaves" being included in a law; he denounced the slave trade.[482] He recalled that slavery was in contradiction with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.[480] On 15 May 1791 the Constituent Assembly granted citizenship to "all people of colour born of free parents", although it left slavery untouched.[483] Robespierre argued passionately in the Assembly against the Colonial Committee, dominated by plantation and slaveholders in the Caribbean.[484] The colonial lobby declared that political rights for black people 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, "Perish the colonies, if it will cost you your happiness, your glory, your freedom. Perish the colonies!"[482][485] Robespierre was furious that the assembly gave "constitutional sanction to slavery in the colonies", and argued for equal political rights regardless of skin colour.[486] The colonial whites refused to implement the decree.[487] After this move the whites thought about separation from France.

Robespierre did not argue for slavery's immediate abolition, but slavery advocates in France regarded Robespierre as a "bloodthirsty innovator" and a traitor plotting to give French colonies to England.[485] On 4 April 1792, Louis XVI affirmed the Jacobin decree, granting equal political rights to free blacks and mulattoes in Saint-Domingue.[488] On 2 June 1792, the French National Assembly appointed a three man Civil Commission, led by Léger Félicité Sonthonax, to go to Saint-Domingue and insure the enforcement of the 4 April decree, but eventually issued a proclamation of general emancipation that included black slaves.[489] Robespierre denounced the slave trade in a speech before the Convention in April 1793.[490]

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... and he will give you almost the identical ideas.

— Robespierre, "The Principles of Property", 24 April 1793.[491][6]

Babeuf called upon Chaumette to take the lead in convincing the Convention to accept the seven additional articles on the scale and scope of property rights which the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre, in a speech to the Convention on 24 April 1793, had presented for incorporation into the new Declaration of Rights [492] He attended a meeting of the Jacobin club on 3 June 1793 to support a decree ending slavery.[493] On 4 June 1793, a delegation of sans-culottes and men of colour, led by Chaumette, presented to the convention a petition requesting the general freedom of the blacks in the colonies. On 6 July Marat was elected to the board of the colonial Convention.[494] The abolition of slavery was written into the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793.[313] The radical 1793 constitution supported by Robespierre and the Montagnards, which was ratified in August by a national referendum, granted universal suffrage to French men and explicitly condemned slavery. However, the French Constitution of 1793 was never implemented.

From August former slaves on St Domingue would enjoy "all the rights of French citizens". In August 1793, a growing group of slaves in St Domingue led a Haitian revolution against slavery and colonial rule.[495] Robespierre defended the rights of free of color at the expense of the slaves.[496] Sonthonax decreed the end of slavery in the north of Saint-Domingue (29 August 1793), as did Polverel shortly afterwards in the south and west. On 31 October 1793 slavery was completely abolished. On 17 November 1793, Robespierre insulted the people who denied the existence of the French republic, calling them imbeciles, the deputies from the Gironde pygmies.[497] He criticised the former governor of Saint-Domingue Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, who had freed slaves on Haïti, but then proposed to arm them.[498] Robespierre denounced the French minister to the newly formed United States, Edmond-Charles Genêt, who had sided with Sonthonax, and informed the Committee not to count on the whites to manage the colony.[499] To justify their decision Sonthorax and Polverel sent a committee to the Paris Convention made up of a white man called Dufay, a Freedman called Mills, and a black man by the name of Jean-Baptiste Belley, himself a former slave.

By 1794, French debates concerning slavery reached their apogee. The discussions focused on the question if the colonies had to impose the same laws as in France. In late January, a small delegation of mixed colour, representing the slaveholders, their opponents, as well as a former slave arrived in France.[494] After being briefly imprisoned, the member opposing slavery was freed on the orders of the Committee of Public Safety. The National Convention then passed a decree abolishing slavery in all the colonies and examine the behavior of Sonthonax and Polverel.[500][501] In the view of Robespierre they were Brissotins. At the same time, the Committee of Public Safety heard a petition from the slaveholders but did not adopt it.[citation needed] In the following years, the slaves of St. Domingue effectively liberated themselves and formed an army to oppose re-enslavement.

Slavery was abolished when the Saint-Domingue's deputies took their seats (3 February 1794). By confirming their election, the Convention implicitly confirmed the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue. The day after, abolition was extended to all French colonies. The decree contemplated neither a transitional phase between slavery and freedom nor compensation for slave owners. This meant freedom was regarded as more important than property rights, delegitimizing slavery completely.[502]

On the day after the emancipation decree, Robespierre delivered a speech in the Convention arguing that terror and virtue were necessary. 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.[503] Despite petitions from the slaveholding delegation, the Convention decided to endorse the decree in full. However, the decree was only implemented and applied in St Domingue (1793), Guadeloupe (December 1794) and French Guiana.[504][505]

The National Convention declares the abolition of negro slavery in all the Colonies; consequently it decrees that all men, without distinction of color, domiciled in the Colonies, are French citizens, and will enjoy all the rights assured by the constitution.[506]

The position of Robespierre on the decree of 16 Pluviose year II relative to the emancipation of the slaves, has been controversial. Robespierre's discretion, in February 1794, concerning the decree of abolition of slavery, was interpreted by French historian Claude Mazauric as a desire to avoid controversies.[507] On 11 April 1794 the decree was changed.[508] Robespierre signed orders to ratify the decree.[509] The decree led to a surge in popularity for the Republic among Black people in St-Domingue, most of whom had already freed themselves and were seeking military alliances to guarantee their freedom.[486] In May 1794 Toussaint Louverture joined the French after the Spanish refused to take steps to end slavery, and in repelling the English. After the days of 9–10 Thermidor, a campaign was launched in anti-slavery circles against Robespierre, accusing him of having wanted to maintain slavery, abolished by the Convention on 4 February 1794 as an extension of the abolition decided in August 1793 in Saint-Domingue by Sonthonax.[510]

Cult of the Supreme Being[edit]

Stage of the Festival of the Supreme Being constructed by Maurice Duplay[511]
The Festival of the Supreme Being, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1794)

Robespierre's desire for revolutionary change was not limited only to the political realm. He also opposed the Catholic Church and the pope, particularly their policy of clerical celibacy.[512] Having denounced the Cult of Reason and other perceived excesses of dechristianisation undertaken by political opponents, he sought to instill a spiritual resurgence across the nation based on Deist beliefs. On 6 May 1794 Robespierre announced to the Convention that in the name of the French people, the Committee of Public Safety had decided to recognise the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul. Accordingly, on 7 May, Robespierre delivered a long presentation to the Convention "on the relation of religious and moral ideas to republican principles, and on national festivals".[454] He dedicated festivals to the Supreme Being, to Truth, Justice, Modesty, Friendship, Frugality, Fidelity, Immortality, Misfortune, etc. The Cult of the Supreme Being was based on the creed of the Savoy chaplain that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in Book IV of Emile.

In the afternoon of 8 June (also the Christian holiday of Pentecost) a "Festival of the Supreme Being" was held. Everything was arranged to the exact specifications that had been drawn up previously set before the ceremony. The guillotine had been moved to the original standing place of the Bastille. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers with their babies were specifically invited to walk in the procession which started at the Tuileries.[513] (Joachim Vilate had invited Robespierre to have lunch in the Pavillon de Flore, but he ate little.)

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 four days earlier.[514] Witnesses state that throughout the "Festival of the Supreme Being", Robespierre beamed with joy. He was able to speak of the things about which he was passionate, including virtue, nature, deist beliefs and his disagreements with atheism. He wore feathers on his hat and held fruit and flowers in his hands, and walked first in the festival procession. According to Michelet: "Robespierre, as usual, walked quickly, with an agitated air. The Convention did not move nearly so fast. The leaders, perhaps maliciously and out of perfidious deference, remained well behind him, thereby isolating him."[515] The procession ended on the Champ de Mars. The Convention climbed to the summit, where a liberty tree had been planted.[y] Robespierre delivered two speeches in which he emphasised his concept of a Supreme Being: there would be no Christ, no Mohammed.[516]

Someone was heard saying, "Look at the blackguard; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God". According to him: "Robespierre proclaimed to believe in the Supreme Being, and who only believed in the power of crime." Robespierre was also criticized by Vadier, Barère, Courtois and Fouché, members of the Committee of General Security. Fouche had predicted to him his approaching fall.[citation needed] On 15 June, the president of the Committee of General Security, Vadier, on behalf of the two committees presented a report on a new conspiracy by Catherine Théot, Christophe Antoine Gerle and three others. He insinuated that Robespierre fitted her prophecies.[517] His speech caused much laughter in the convention. Many of her followers were also supporters or friends of Robespierre, which made it seem as if he was attempting to create a new religion, with him as its god. Although Robespierre had nothing to do with Catherine Théot or her followers, many assumed that he was on a path to dictatorship, and it sent a current of fear throughout the Convention, contributing to his downfall the following July.[citation needed] On 17 June (29 Prairial) he was still president. Robespierre felt ridiculed and demanded on the 26th that the investigation of Théot be stopped and Fouquier-Tinville replaced.[518] According to Madame de Staël, it was from that time he was lost.[citation needed] The deist Cult of the Supreme Being that he had founded and zealously promoted generated suspicion in the eyes of both anticlericals and other political factions, who felt he was developing grandiose delusions about his place in French society.[519][520]


May and June 1794[edit]

The arrest of Cécile Renaud in the courtyard of Duplay's house on 22 May 1794, etching by Matthias Gottfried Eichler after a drawing by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux
The Committee of General Security was located in Hôtel de Brionne on the right; it gathered on the first floor. (The Tuileries Palace, which housed the convention, is on the left)
Collot d'Herbois
On 9 Thermidor Tallien threatened in the convention to use his dagger if the National Convention would not order the arrest of Robespierre.[521]
The Fall of Robespierre in the convention on 27 July 1794
Saint-Just and Robespierre at the Hôtel de Ville on the night of 9 to 10 Thermidor Year II. Painting by Jean-Joseph Weerts

On 20 May, Robespierre was one of the signers of the arrest warrant for Tallien's lover, Theresa Cabarrus. On 21 May 1794 the government decided that the Terror would be centralised, with almost all the tribunals in the provinces closed and all the trials held in Paris.[522]

On 23 May, one day after the attempted assassination of Collot d'Herbois, Cécile Renault was arrested after having approached Robespierre's residence with two penknives and a change of underwear in her bag. She said the fresh linen was for her execution.[523] She was executed together with three family members and fifty others on 17 June; Charles-Henri Sanson left the scaffold sick.[524][525][526] Robespierre refused to reunite husbands, wives and children dispersed in different prisons in a common detention facility.[527] He used this assassination attempt against him as a pretext for scapegoating the British.[528]

On 10 June, the Law of 22 Prairial was introduced without consultation from the Committee of General Security, which deepened the conflict between the two committees.[529] It doubled the number of executions in Paris. Moderate judges were dismissed; Robespierre only allowed his supporters to be judges.[530] The "Great Terror" had begun. Between 10 June (22nd Prairial) and 27 July (9th Thermidor) another 1,366 were executed. Collot d'Herbois, Fouché and Tallien feared for their lives, due to these excesses they had committed with the assistance of the sans-culottes army in various regions of France to stamp out opposition to the revolutionary government.[531] Like Brissot, Madame Roland, Pétion, Hébert and Danton, now Tallien was accused of organising (or taking part in) conspicuous dinners.[532] Almost all the deputies agreed it had become dangerous, in particular, about the removal of their parliamentary immunity, since 1 April 1793.[533] When asked for the debate to be adjourned so the clauses could be examined. Robespierre refused and demanded immediate discussion.

On 11 June Robespierre attacked Fouché, accusing him of leading a conspiracy. On 12 June, he appeared in the Convention to accuse his opponents of trying to turn the Montagnards against the government. He claimed a conspiracy to discredit him. On 12 and 13 June, finding himself in a minority, he withdrew, choked with rage and disappointment, swearing never to set foot again in the committee, so long as the conflict continued.[534] His presidency of the Convention ended on 18 June. His former colleagues Pétion de Villeneuve and François Buzot committed suicide in a forest near Bordeaux; their bodies were found on 18 June. Vilate was arrested on 21 June. Also on 21 June Robespierre attacked the journalists of the Moniteur Universel: "I prohibit you from inserting my discourses in your papers till you have previously communicated them to me."[535][528] On 24 June Carnot presciently dispatched a large part of the Parisian artillery to the front.[203] Meanwhile, the Austrian Netherlands were almost entirely occupied by the French.

At the end of June, Robespierre hastily recalled Saint-Just, who came to realise that Robespierre's political position had degraded significantly. By June 1794 he was exhausted, ill, irrational and in despair.[536] For the second time, Carnot described Saint-Just and Robespierre as "ridiculous dictators".[537][538][539] Calling for more purges, Robespierre would lose the favour of his committees. Carnot and Cambon proposed to end the terror.

July 1794[edit]

On 1 July, Robespierre spoke in the Jacobin club: "In London, I am denounced to the French army as a dictator; the same slanders have been repeated in Paris."[454] On 3 July he left a meeting of the Committee slamming the door and shouting "Then save the country without me".[540][541] The next day he admitted: "As for me I have one foot in the tomb; in a few days the other will follow it." He attacked Tallien and had him excluded from the Jacobins on 11 July.[542] On 14 July Robespierre had Fouché expelled. To evade arrest, which usually took place during the night, about fifty deputies avoided staying at home. In early July, a group of sixty people, aged between 17 and 80, were arrested as "enemies of the people" and accused of conspiring against liberty.[543]

He occasionally went to Maisons-Alfort, 12 km (7.5 mi) outside of Paris, and stayed on a farm owned by François-Pierre Deschamps, his courier.[544] Robespierre walked through the fields or along the Marne. According to Vilate, Robespierre went for a 2-hour walk each day with his Danish dog, called Brount. On 22 and 23 July (4 and 5 Thermidor) the two committees met in a plenary session. Robespierre was there, suspicious; he underestimated the strength of his opponents, according to Leuwers.[545]

Saint-Just declared in negotiations with Barère that he was prepared to make concessions on the subordinate position of the Committee of General Security.[546][547] Couthon proposed his resignation "rather than be suspected of taking part in measures" against his colleagues.[548] He agreed to more cooperation between the two committees. For Robespierre, the Committee of General Security had to remain subordinate to the Committee of Public Safety. He wanted to take away the authority of the Committee of General Security, as the committees were acting as two governments.[549][550] The next day Robespierre was compared to Catiline; he himself preferred the virtues of Cato the Younger.[551]

For forty days, Robespierre rarely appeared in the Convention, but signed five decrees by the Committee of Public Safety, and continued his work with the police bureau till the end of June.[552] Robespierre's position was desperate; he was losing his grip, both on himself and on power.[553] He had four friends in the revolutionary government, Couthon and Saint-Just in the Committee of Public Safety, and the painter Jacques-Louis David and Joseph Le Bas in the Committee of General Security, with whom he met privately.

Robespierre was obliged to commence the attack in the Convention itself. He decided to make himself clear in a new report. On Saturday 26 July, Robespierre reappeared at the Convention and delivered a two-hour-long speech on the villainous factions.[554] Dressed in the same sky-blue coat and nankeen trousers which he had worn on the proclamation of the Supreme Being, he defended himself against charges of dictatorship and tyranny and then proceeded to warn of a conspiracy against the Committee of Public Safety. Calumny, he charged, had forced him to retire for a time from the Committee of Public Safety; he found himself the most unhappy of men. He gave the impression that no one was his friend, that no one could be trusted.[555] He complained of being blamed for everything;[556] and that not only England but also members of the Committee of General Security were involved in intrigue to bring him down. When he was interrupted, Robespierre accused Collot of limiting the freedom of speech.[521] Specifically, he railed against the bloody excesses he had observed during the Terror.[557] "I'm made to fight crime, not to govern it", he declared.[558] He addressed the moderate party, by reminding them that they were indebted to him for the lives of the seventy-three Girondins.

Robespierre wanted to "Punish the traitors, purge the bureau of the Committee of General Security, purge the Committee itself, and subordinate it to the Committee of Public Safety, purge the Committee of Public Safety itself and create a unified government under the supreme authority of the Convention".[559][550] Collot questioned Robespierre's motives, accusing him of seeking to become a dictator.[560] Fréron suggested to revoke the decree which gave the committee power to arrest the representatives of the people, but his motion to dissolve the two committees was rejected.

When called upon to name those whom he accused, Robespierre simply refused, except referring to Joseph Cambon, who flew to the rostrum: "One man paralyses the will of the National Convention".[561] His vehemence changed the course of the debate.[562] At length Lecointre of Versailles arose and proposed that the speech should be printed. This motion was the signal for agitation, discussion, and resistance. 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.[563] Robespierre was surprised that his speech would be sent to the very deputies he had intended to sue. According to Saint-Just, he understood nothing of the reasons for his persecution; he knew only his misery. A bitter debate ensued until Barère forced an end to it.[564][565] According to Couthon, not his speech, but the conspiracy had to be examined. Saint-Just promised to prepare a report how to break the deadlock.

In the evening, Robespierre delivered the same speech, which he regarded as his last will, at the Jacobin Club, where it was very well received.[566] He spoke of drinking hemlock, and Jacques-Louis David cried out: "I will drink it with you." 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 d'Herbois was knocked down. They set off to the Committee of Public Safety, where they found Saint-Just working. They asked him if he was drawing up their bill of indictment. Saint-Just promised to show them his speech before the session began.[567][568] He commented that he sent the beginning to a friend and refused to show them his notes. Collot d'Herbois, who chaired the Convention, decided not to let him speak and to make sure he could not be heard on the next day.[569]

Gathering in secret, nine members of the two committees decided that it was all or nothing; to protect themselves, Robespierre had to be arrested. Barras said they would all die if Robespierre did not die. According to Barère, who as Robespierre never went on mission: "We never deceived ourselves that Saint-Just, cut out as a more dictatorial boss, would have ended up overthrowing him to put himself in his place; we also knew that we stood in the way of his projects and that he would have us guillotined; we had him stopped."[570] 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.[384][571] The Convention had lost 144 delegates in 13 months; 67 were executed, committed suicide, or died in prison. The Convention often insisted on deputies' executions as the final steps in a process of political revival through purging.[572] Now extremists and indulgents joined against him. Laurent Lecointre was the instigator of the coup.[573] He contacted Robert Lindet on the 6th, and Vadier on the 7th Thermidor. Lecointre was assisted by Barère, Fréron, Barras, Tallien, Thuriot, Courtois, Rovère, Garnier de l'Aube and Guffroy. Each one of them prepared his part in the attack. They decided that Hanriot, his aides-de-camp, Lavalette and Boulanger,[574] the public prosecutor Dumas, the family Duplay and the printer Charles-Léopold Nicolas had to be arrested first, so Robespierre would be without support.[573] (Fouché was seen as the leader of the conspiracy but hid in a garret at the rue Saint-Honoré;[575][576] little is known about his part on the actual day.)

9 Thermidor[edit]

Proclamation by the Commune, found in the pocket of Couthon. Couthon was invited by Robespierre, for which they used official police writing paper.
Painting of Charles-André Méda shooting Robespierre
The troops of Convention Nationale attack the Commune. Print by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault and Jean Duplessis-Bertaux (1804)
Apprehension of Robespierre, who on being seized by a Gendarme fired a pistol into his mouth, but did not wound himself mortally.
Valery Jacobi's painting showing the wounded Robespierre
Lying on a table, wounded, in a room of the Convention, Robespierre is the object of the curiosity and quips of Thermidorians, painting by Lucien-Étienne Mélingue (Salon de 1877) (Musée de la Révolution française)
Closing of the Jacobin Club by Louis Legendre, in the early morning of 28 July 1794. Four days later it was reopened by him.[577]

At noon Saint-Just entered the Convention, prepared to place blame on Billaud, Collot d'Herbois and Carnot.[578][557] After a few minutes, Tallien – having a double reason for desiring Robespierre's end, as, on the evening before, Robespierre refused to release Theresa Cabarrus – interrupted him and began the attack. "Yesterday a member of the government was left quite isolated and made a speech in his own name; today another one has done the same thing.[437] Need I recall to you that expression addressed to the journalists in one of the last sittings of the Jacobins?"[z] Billaud-Varennes continued "Yesterday the meeting of the Jacobins was filled with satellites, who openly avowed their intention of massacring the Convention."[580]

LeBas attempted to speak in defence of the triumvirs (Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon); he was not allowed to do so, and Billaud continued. "Yesterday, the president of the revolutionary tribunal [Dumas] openly proposed to the Jacobins that they should drive all impure men from the Convention." Billaud-Varennes complained about how he was treated in the Jacobin club on the evening before and that Saint-Just had not kept his promise to show them his speech before the meeting. Billaud commented that he had earlier demanded the arrest of a secretary of the Committee who had stolen 114,000 livres; Robespierre, who incessantly spoke of justice and virtue, was the only one prevented him from being arrested.[aa]

According to Tallien "Robespierre wanted to attack us by turns, to isolate us, and finally he would be left one day only with the base and abandoned and debauched men who serve him". Tallien demanded the arrest of Dumas, Hanriot and Boulanger.

According to Barère, the committees asked themselves why there still existed a military regime in Paris; why were there permanent commanders, with staffs, and immense armed forces? He said that the committees thought it best to restore to the National Guard its democratic organisation.[582]

Almost thirty-five deputies spoke against Robespierre that day, most of them from the Mountain.[583] 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; Condorcet used to sit here". He soon found himself at a loss for words after Vadier gave a mocking impression of him referring to the discovery of a letter under the mattress of the illiterate Catherine Théot.[ab]

When Robespierre, very upset, was unable to speak, Garnier shouted, "The blood of Danton chokes him!"[587] Robespierre then regained his voice: "Is it Danton you regret? [...] Cowards! Why didn't you defend him?"[588]

At some time Louis Louchet called for Robespierre's arrest; Augustin Robespierre demanded to share his fate. The whole Convention agreed, including Couthon, and Saint-Just. Le Bas decided to join Saint-Just. Robespierre shouted that the revolution was lost when he descended the tribune. The five deputies were taken to the Committee of General Security and questioned.

Not long after, Hanriot was ordered to appear in the onvention; he or someone else suggested to show up only accompanied by a crowd. The administration of the police issued an order to set free Lavalette and Boulanger, national agent of Paris, officers of the Parisian armed forces, and Vilate, the revolutionary juror.[589] Dumas had been arrested at noon and at four o'clock taken to Sainte-Pélagie Prison, as had members of the family Duplay.[590]

On horseback, Hanriot warned the sections that there would be an attempt to murder Robespierre, and mobilised 2,400 National Guards in front of the town hall.[591][592][593] What had happened was not very clear to their officers; either the Convention was closed down or the Paris Commune. Nobody explained anything.[594] Around six o'clock the city council summoned an immediate meeting to consider the dangers threatening the fatherland.[595] It gave orders to close the gates and to ring the tocsin. For the Convention, that was an illegal action without the permission of the two committees. It was decreed that anyone leading an "armed force" against the Convention would be regarded as an outlaw. The city council was in league with the Jacobins to bring off an insurrection, asking them to send over reinforcements from the galleries, "even the women who are regulars there".[270] According to Barère, the Jacobins and the Convention declared themselves to be in continuous session, from nine in the evening.[596]


In the early evening, the five deputies were taken in a cab to different prisons; Robespierre to the Palais du Luxembourg, Couthon to "La Bourbe" and Saint-Just to the "Écossais". Augustin Robespierre was taken from Prison Saint-Lazare to La Force Prison,[597] like Le Bas who was refused at the Conciergerie.[598][599][139] Around 8 p.m., Hanriot appeared at the Place du Carrousel in front of the convention with forty armed men on horses,[600] but was taken prisoner. After 9 p.m., the vice-president of the Tribunal Coffinhal went to the Committee of General Security with 3,000 men and their artillery.[601] As Robespierre and his allies had been taken to a prison in the meantime, he succeeded only in freeing Hanriot and his adjutants.[602][603]

How the five deputies escaped from prison was disputed. According to Le Moniteur Universel, the jailers refused to follow the order of arrest, taken by the convention.[521] According to Courtois[598] and Fouquier-Tinville, the police administration was responsible for any in custody or release.[604] Nothing could be done without an order of the mayor.[521] Escorted by two municipals, Augustin Robespierre, Robespierre's younger brother, was the first to arrive at the Hôtel de Ville.[605][606] Around 8 p.m. Robespierre was taken to the police administration on Île de la Cité but refused to go to the Hôtel de Ville and insisted on being received in a prison.[607] He hesitated for legal reasons for possibly two hours.

At around 10 p.m., the mayor sent a second delegation to go and convince Robespierre to join the Commune movement.[608] Robespierre was taken to the Hôtel de Ville.[609][610] At around 11 p.m., Saint-Just was delivered,[611] after which LeBas and Dumas were brought in.[598] Couthon arrived as the last one at the Hôtel de Ville, but after midnight.[612][613] The Convention declared the five deputies (plus the supporting members) to be outlaws. It then appointed Barras and ordered troops (4,000 men) to be called out.[614]

After a whole evening spent waiting in vain for action by the Commune, losing time in fruitless deliberation, without supplies or instructions, the armed sections began to disperse. According to Colin Jones, apathy prevailed, with most of them drifting back to their homes.[606] A widely repeated account claims that heavy rain dispersed Robespierre's supporters but detailed metrological records from the nearby Paris Observatoire show that conditions were warm and dry that night.[615] Around 400 men from three sections seem to have stayed on the Place de Grève, according to Courtois.[616][617] On 28 July at 1 a.m. a crowd moved in the direction of the Hôtel de Ville, but the street was blocked by a gunner.[618] At around 2 a.m., Barras and Bourdon, accompanied by several members of the Convention, arrived in two columns. Barras deliberately advanced slowly, in the hope of avoiding conflict by a display of force.[617][614] Then Grenadiers burst into the Hôtel de Ville, followed by Léonard Bourdon and the Gendarmes.[619] Fifty-one insurgents were gathering on the first floor.[620] Robespierre and his allies had withdrawn to the smaller secrétariat.[621]

There are many stories about what happened next, but it seems in order to avoid capture, Augustin Robespierre took off his shoes and jumped from a broad cornice. He landed on some bayonets and a citizen, resulting in a pelvic fracture, several serious head contusions, and an alarming state of "weakness and anxiety".[622][623] LeBas handed a pistol to Robespierre, then killed himself with another pistol.[624] According to Barras and Courtois, Robespierre wounded himself when he tried to commit suicide[625][626][627] by pointing the pistol at his mouth, but the gendarme Méda prevented him killing himself successfully.[628][629] (This change in orientation might explain how Robespierre, sitting in a chair, got wounded from the upper right in the lower left jaw.[630][631][599][ac]) According to Bourdon, Méda then hit Couthon's adjutant in his leg.[633][634][635][636][637] Couthon was found lying at the bottom of a staircase in a corner, having fallen from the back of his adjutant. Saint-Just gave himself up without a word.[638] According to Méda, Hanriot tried to escape by a concealed staircase to the third floor and his apartment.[639] Most sources say that Hanriot was thrown out of a window by Coffinhal after being accused of the disaster. (According to Ernest Hamel, it is one of the many legends spread by Barère.)[640] Whatever the case, Hanriot landed in a small courtyard on a heap of glass.[594] He had strength enough to crawl into a drain where he was found twelve hours later and taken to the Conciergerie.[594] Coffinhal, who had successfully escaped, was arrested seven days later, totally exhausted.[641][642] A group of 15 to 20 conspirators were locked up in a room inside the Hôtel de Ville.[643]


Robespierre on the day of his execution; Sketch attributed to Jacques Louis David
The execution of Couthon; the body of Adrien Nicolas Gobeau, ex-substitute of the public accuser Fouquier and member of the Commune, the first who suffered, is shown lying on the ground;[594] Robespierre (#10) is shown holding a handkerchief to his mouth. Hanriot (#9) is covering his eye, which came out of its socket when he was arrested.

The wounded Robespierre spent the remainder of the night at the antechamber of the Committee of General Security.[644] He laid on the table, his head on a pine box, his shirt covered in blood. At 5 a.m. his brother and Couthon seem to have been taken to the nearest hospital, Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, to see a doctor.[645][646][647] Barras did not allow Robespierre to be sent there too.[648] At ten in the morning according to Sanson a military doctor was invited and removed some of his teeth and fragments of his broken jaw. Robespierre was then placed in a cell in the Conciergerie.[594]

On 10 Thermidor (a day of rest and festivity) the Revolutionary Tribunal gathered around noon. Verifying their identity Fouquier-Tinville had to solve a problem as thirteen of them were members of the insurrectionary Commune.[594] Around 2 a.m. Robespierre and twenty-one "Robespierrists" were accused of counter-revolution and condemned to death by the rules of the law of 22 Prairial. Around 6 p.m., the convicts, whose average age was 34, were taken in three carts to the Place de la Révolution to be executed along with the last president of the Jacobins, Nicolas Francois Vivier, and the cobbler Antoine Simon, the jailer of the Dauphin. A mob screaming curses accompanied the procession. His face still swollen, Robespierre kept his eyes closed. He was the tenth called to the platform and ascended the steps of the scaffold unassisted.[594] When clearing Robespierre's neck, executioner Charles-Henri Sanson tore off the bandage that was holding his shattered jaw in place, causing him to produce an agonised scream until his death.[649] After he was beheaded, applause and joyous cries arose from the crowd and reportedly persisted for fifteen minutes.[650][651] Robespierre and associates were later buried in a common grave at the newly opened Errancis Cemetery near what is now the Place Prosper-Goubaux.[ad] In the mid-19th century, their skeletal remains were transferred to the Catacombs of Paris.[652]

Legacy and memory[edit]

Robespierre is best known for his role as a member of the Committee of Public Safety as he signed 542 arrests, especially in the spring and summer of 1794.[653] He exerted his influence to suppress the republican Girondins to the right, the radical Hébertists to the left and then the indulgent Dantonists in the centre. Though nominally all members of the committee were equally responsible, the Thermidorians held Robespierre as the most culpable for the bloodshed. Bertrand Barère, an opportunist who cooperated in the tyranny, described him as "the Terror itself". For Carnot: "this monster was above all a hypocrite; it is because he knew how to seduce the people".[654] The day after his death, about half of the Paris Commune (70 members) were sent to the guillotine;[655] meanwhile 35 sections congratulated the convention, some marched through the hall.[656] On Thuriot's proposal, the Revolutionary Tribunal was suspended and replaced by a temporary commission.[454] On 30 July Courtois took in custody Robespierre's books by Corneille, Voltaire, Rousseau, Mably, Locke, Bacon, Pope, articles by Addison and Steele in The Spectator, an English and Italian dictionary, an English grammar, and the Bible.[657] Nothing about Richard Price or Joseph Priestley who had influenced Condorcet, Mirabeau, Clavière and Brissot so much.[658][659] On 1 August, the Law of 22 Prairial was abolished. Fouquier-Tinville was arrested and not long after solicitors were reintroduced in the courtroom. On 5 August, the Law of Suspects was disbanded;[660] the Convention decided the release of all the prisoners, against whom weighs no charge.

Between 6 and 20 August, Napoleon was put under house arrest in Nice because of his connections with Augustin Robespierre.[661] Mid August Courtois was appointed by the convention to collect evidence against Robespierre, Le Bas and Saint-Just, whose report has a poor reputation, selecting and destroying papers.[662] At the end of the month, Tallien stated that all that the country had just been through was the "Terror" and that the "monster" Robespierre, the "king" of the Revolution, was the orchestrator. According to Charles Barbaroux, who visited him early August 1792, his pretty boudoir was full of images of himself in every form and art; a painting, a drawing, a bust, a relief and six physionotraces on the tables.[663] The eyewitness Helen Maria Williams who worked as a translator in Paris, attributed all the grim events to his hypocrisy and cunning. She described him as the great conspirator against the liberty of France; she mentioned the forced enthusiasm required from the participants of the Festival of the Supreme Being.[664] For Samuel Coleridge, one of the authors of The Fall of Robespierre, he was worse than Oliver Cromwell.[665] For Madame de Staël: "Robespierre acquired the reputation of high democratic virtue and so was believed to be incapable of personal views. As soon as he was suspected of having them, his power was at an end."[79] Vanity was Robespierre's ruling passion according to Sir Walter Scott.[666]

In fact, a whole new political mythology was being created.[667] On 23 Thermidor, Coleridge started to write the first act of The Fall of Robespierre. Vilate, who exaggerated the numbers, raged against keeping 300,000 people in prison and trying to try two or three hundred people every day.[668] To preach the ideals of '93 after Thermidor was to expose oneself to suspicions of Robespierrism, suspicions which had to be avoided above all others. Two contrasting legends around Robespierre developed: a critical one that held Robespierre as an irresponsible, self-serving figure whose ambitions generated widespread calamity, and a supportive one that held him as an early friend of the proletariat, about to embark on economic revolution when he fell.[669]

Robespierre's reputation has experienced several cycles of re-appraisal.[670] His name peaked in the press in the middle of the 19th century, between 1880 and 1910 and in 1940.[107] The laborious Buchez, a democratic mystic, was producing volumes (forty in all) in which the Incorruptible rose up as the Messiah and sacrificial being of the Revolution.[671] For Jules Michelet, he was the "priest Robespierre" and for Alphonse Aulard Maximilien was a "bigot monomaniac" and "mystic assassin".[672] For Mary Duclaux he was the "apostle of Unity" and Saint-Just a prophet.

Robespierre did not thunder like Danton or scream like Marat. But his clear, shrill voice enunciated calmly syllables that the ears of his listeners retained forever. And it is owned that, in this as in other things, Robespierre had a strange provision of the future; as a thinker at least, as a seer, he made few mistakes.[310]

His reputation peaked in the 1920s, during the Third French Republic when the influential French historian Albert Mathiez rejected the common view of Robespierre as demagogic, dictatorial, and fanatical. Mathiez argued he was an eloquent spokesman for the poor and oppressed, an enemy of royalist intrigues, a vigilant adversary of dishonest and corrupt politicians, a guardian of the First French Republic, an intrepid leader of the French Revolutionary government, and a prophet of a socially responsible state.[673] François Crouzet collected many interesting details from French historians dealing with Robespierre.[674] In an interview Marcel Gauchet said that Robespierre confused his private opinion and virtue.[citation needed]

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 the Republic of Virtue but his ideals went beyond the needs and want of the people of France. He became a threat to what he had wanted to ensure and the result was his downfall.[29]

Lenin referred to Robespierre as a "Bolshevik avant la lettre" (before the term was coined) and erected the Robespierre Monument to him in 1918.[675][676] The Voskresenskaya Embankment in St. Petersburg was renamed Naberezhnaya Robespera in 1923 but returned to its original name in 2014.[677] During the October Revolution and Red Terror, Robespierre found ample praise in the Soviet Union. In the Soviet era, he was used as an example of a revolutionary figure.[678][679]

In 1941 Marc Bloch, a French historian, sighed disillusioned (a year before he decided to join the French Resistance): "Robespierrists, anti-robespierrists ... for pity's sake, just tell us who was Robespierre?"[520] According to R.R. Palmer: the easiest way to justify Robespierre is to represent the other Revolutionists in an unfavourable or disgraceful light. This was the method used by Robespierre himself.[680] Soboul argues that Robespierre 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".[681] For Peter McPhee, Robespierre's achievements were monumental, but so was the tragedy of his final weeks of indecision.[83] The 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.[682] They may have exaggerated his role to downplay their own contribution and used him as a scapegoat after his death.[683][684] J-C. Martin and McPhee interpret the repression of the revolutionary government as a response to anarchy and popular violence, and not as the assertion of a precise ideology.[658] Martin keeps Tallien responsible for Robespierre's bad reputation, and that the "Thermidorians" invented the "Terror" as there is no law that proves its introduction.[372]

Many historians neglected Robespierre's attitude towards the French National Guard from July 1789, and as "public accuser", responsible for the officers within the police till April 1792. He then began promoting civilian armament and the creation of a revolutionary army of 23,000 men in his periodical.[219][ae] He defended the right of revolution and promoted a revolutionary armed force.[685] Dubois-Crancé described Robespierre as the general of the Sansculottes.[686] Carnot who took charge of the military situation became the enemy of Saint-Just in the Committee of Public Safety and reversed several measures. Also, Barère changed his mind; the voluntary Guards and militant Sans-culottes lost influence quickly in Spring 1794. The revisionist historian Furet thought that Terror was inherent in the ideology of the French Revolution and was not just a violent episode. Equally important is his conclusion that revolutionary violence is connected with extreme voluntarism.[687][12] Furet was especially critical of the "Marxist line" of Albert Soboul.[688] George Rudé estimates that Robespierre made some 900 speeches, in which he often expressed his political and philosophical views forcefully. (The number could be exaggerated.) According McPhee: More than 630 times across five years he had lectured the assemblies or Jacobin Club about the virtues, but in the first seven months of 1794 he made only sixteen speeches in the National Convention, compared with 101 in 1793.[689]

Robespierre fell ill many times: in the spring of 1790, in November 1792 (more than three weeks); in September–October 1793 (two weeks); in February/March 1794 (more than a month);[83] in April/May (about three weeks) and in June/July (more than three weeks). These illnesses not only explain Robespierre's repeated absences from committees and from the Convention during important periods, especially in 1794 when the Great Terror occurred but also the fact that his faculty of judgment deteriorated – as did his moods.[658]

McPhee stated on several previous occasions Robespierre had admitted that he was worn out; his personal and tactical judgment, once so acute, seems to have deserted him. The assassination attempts made him suspicious to the point of obsession.[83] There is a long line of historians "who blame Robespierre for all the less attractive episodes of the Revolution."[690] 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."[691][692] He refers to the Girondin deputies Thomas Paine, Condorcet, Daunou, Cloots, Destutt and Abbé Gregoire denouncing Robespierre's ruthlessness, hypocrisy, dishonesty, lust for power and intellectual mediocrity.[693] According to Hillary Mantel: He could not survive if he trusted nobody, and could not work out who to trust.[122] According to Jeremy Popkin, he was undone by his obsession with the vision of an ideal republic.[694] I

Georges Lefebvre believed Robespierre to be a "staunch defender of democracy, a determined opponent of foreign war, saviour of the Republic and man of integrity and vision."[695] However the Marxist approach that portrayed him as a hero has largely faded away.[696] Zhu Xueqin became famous by and large due to his 1994 book titled The Demise of the Republic of Virtue: From Rousseau to Robespierre. This work has attracted countless readers since its publication and is still being read in the People's Republic of China today.[697] For Aldous Huxley "Robespierre achieved the most superficial kind of revolution, the political."[698] "Robespierre remains as controversial as ever, two centuries after his death."[699]


Over 300 actors have portrayed Robespierre, in both French and English. Prominent examples include:[700][701][702][703][704]

Public memorials[edit]

Place Robespierre in Marseille with the inscription: "Lawyer, born in Arras in 1758, guillotined without trial on 27 July 1794. Nicknamed fr:L'Incorruptible. Defender of the people. Author of our republican motto: fr:Liberté, égalité, fraternité"

Street names[edit]

Robespierre is one of the few revolutionaries not to have a street named for him in the center of Paris. At the Liberation of Paris, the municipal council (elected on 29 April 1945 with 27 communists, 12 socialists and 4 radicals out of 48 members), decided on 13 April 1946, to rename the Place du Marché-Saint-Honoré "Place Robespierre", a decision approved at the prefectorial level on 8 June. However, in the wake of political changes in 1947, it reverted to its original name on 6 November 1950. Streets in the so-called "Red belt" bear his name, e.g. at Montreuil. There is also a Metro station "Robespierre" on Line 9 (Mairie de Montreuil – Pont de Sèvres), in the commune of Montreuil, named during the era of the Popular Front. There are, however, numerous streets, roads, and squares named for him elsewhere in France.

Plaques and monuments[edit]

During the Soviet era, the Russians built two statues of him: one in Leningrad and another in Moscow (the Robespierre Monument). The monument was commissioned by Vladimir Lenin, who referred to Robespierre as a Bolshevik before his time.[6] Due to the poor construction of the monument (it was made of tubes and common concrete), it crumbled within three days of its unveiling and was never replaced.[678] The Robespierre Embankment in Saint-Petersburg across Kresty prison returned to its original name Voskresenskaya Embankment in 2014.[705]

  • On 14 October 1923, a plaque was placed on the house at 9 Rue Maximilien Robespierre (formerly Rue des Rapporteurs) rented by the three Robespierre siblings in 1787–1789, in the presence of the mayor Gustave Lemelle, Albert Mathiez and Louis Jacob. Built in 1730, the house has had a varied history as a typing school, and a craftsmen's museum, but is now being developed as a Robespierre Museum.
  • In 1994, a plaque was unveiled by ARBR on the façade of the Carrauts' brewery on the Rue Ronville, where Maximilien and Augustin were brought up by their grandparents.
  • An Art Deco marble bust by Maurice Cladel was intended to be displayed in the gardens of the former Abbey of Saint-Vaast. A mixture of politics and concerns about weathering led to it being placed in the Hôtel de Ville. After many years in a tribunal room, it can now be seen in the Salle Robespierre. Bronze casts of the bust were made for the bicentenary and are displayed in his former home on Rue Maximilien Robespierre and at the Lycée Robespierre, unveiled in 1990.
Paris and elsewhere[edit]
  • Robespierre is commemorated by two plaques in Paris, one on the exterior of the Duplays' house, now 398 rue Saint-Honoré, the other, erected by the Société des études robespierristes in the Conciergerie.
  • In 1909, a committee presided over by René Viviani and Georges Clemenceau proposed erecting a statue in the garden of the Tuileries, but press hostility and failure to garner enough public subscriptions led to its abandonment. However, Robespierre is recognisable in François-Léon Sicard's marble Altar of the National Convention (1913), originally intended for the gardens of the Tuileries and now in the Panthéon.
  • A stone bust by Albert Séraphin (1949) stands in the square Robespierre, opposite the theatre in Saint-Denis, with the inscription: "Maximilien Robespierre l'Incorruptible 1758–1794".[706]
  • Charles Correia's 1980s bronze sculptural group at the Collège Robespierre in Épinay-sur-Seine depicts him and Louis Antoine de Saint-Just at a table, working on the 1793 Constitution and Declaration of Human Rights.[707] A mural in the school also depicts him.[708]
  • In 1986, Claude-André Deseine's terracotta bust of 1791 was bought for the new Musée de la Révolution française at Vizille. This returned to public view Robespierre's only surviving contemporary sculpted portrait. A plaster cast of it is displayed at the Conciergerie in Paris, and a bronze cast is in the Place de la Révolution Française in Montpellier, with bronzes of other figures of the time.[709]

Resistance units[edit]

In the Second World War, several French Resistance groups took his name: the Robespierre Company in Pau, commanded by Lieutenant Aurin, alias Maréchal; the Robespierre Battalion in the Rhône, under Captain Laplace; and a maquis formed by Marcel Claeys in the Ain.


  1. ^ His family has been traced back to the 15th century in Vaudricourt, Pas-de-Calais.[19]
  2. ^ For some time Marie Marguerite Charlotte de Robespierre was betrothed to Joseph Fouché, but he moved to Nantes where he married in September 1792.[20] Charlotte never married and died aged 74.
  3. ^ Baptized Henriette Eulalie Françoise de Robespierre, was educated with Charlotte at the couvent des Manarres in Tournai and died in 1780.[21]
  4. ^ Returning at intervals, living in Mannheim around 1770, he was buried on 6 November 1777 in the Salvatorkirche in Munich.
  5. ^ De Montesquieu praised the virtues of the citizen-soldier in his "Reflections on the Grandeur and Decline of the Romans" (1734).[31] In 1762 Rousseau published The Social Contract and Emile, or On Education which were both burned and banned. At the end of the Seven Years' War Mably published his "Conversations with Phocion" in Amsterdam (1763). He wished (for Classical Athens but it looks like Sparta): May our republic be a military one; may each citizen be designed to defend his fatherland; may he be exercised each day how to handle his weapons; may he learn in the town the discipline that is necessary for the camp. By such a policy you would not only educate invincible soldiers but you would give another new force to law and to civic virtues.[32][33] Rousseau and Gabriel Bonnot de Mably were both invited to submit suggestions for the reformation of Poland's unique "Golden Liberty", leading to Rousseau's Considerations on the Government of Poland (1772). In the same year Guibert defined the citizen-in-arms as virtuous by his attachment to the community (in contrast to the mercenary).
  6. ^ According to apocryphal Mémoires authentiques he was elected as president of the Arras Academy early 1789.[44]
  7. ^ The Third Estate had as many deputies as the other two orders together (in the ratio 4:4:8) on the instigation of Jacques Necker.
  8. ^ The first use of the motto "Liberté, égalité, et fraternité" was in Robespierre's speech "On the organisation of the National Guard" on 5 December 1790, article XVI,[97] and disseminated widely throughout France by Camille Desmoulin in his journal "Les révolutions de France et de Brabant" among the associated Societies.
  9. ^ They shared the general view that the "new" France would not survive repeated physical intimidation from the Paris sections, unrestrained polemics from the clubs and the press and, most important of all, the democratization of discipline in the army and navy.[119]
  10. ^ The ordinance, designed to demonstrate the disinterested patriotism of the framers of the new constitution, accelerated political change: the Constituent Assembly was derived from the Estates-General, and so included a large number of nobles and clergy, many of whom were conservative in outlook. Banning all of the now experienced national politicians from the new legislature meant that this new body would be drawn largely from those who had made a name for themselves in the years since the Constituent Assembly was convened, revolutionaries active in local politics, so this ordinance had the effect of shifting the political orientation of the national legislature to the left.[120]
  11. ^ The public accuser may not give the first impulse to justice. These are the police officers who are responsible for receiving complaints and bringing them to the jury indictment; it is only after the jury has spoken, that begins the ministry of the accuser public.[124] The public accuser will supervise all the police officers of the department; in case of negligence on their part, he will warn them; in case of a more serious offence, he will refer them to the criminal court, which, according to the nature of the offence, will pronounce the correctional punishment determined by the law.[102]
  12. ^ In September 1792, his younger sister and brother joined him and lived in the front house, but within a few weeks Charlotte insisted on moving to 5 Rue Saint-Florentin because of his increased prestige and her tensions with Madame Duplay.[82]
  13. ^ A law restricting the rights of popular societies to undertake concerted political action passed on 29 September 1791 and by the virtue of obeying this law the moderate Feuillants embraced obsolescence. By ignoring it, the radical Jacobins emerged as the most vital political force of the French Revolution.[citation needed]
  14. ^ On 16 November 1791 Pétion was elected mayor of Paris in a contest against Lafayette.
  15. ^ The selling of all sorts of positions, military or otherwise, was rampant in the courts of the Ancien Régime and so the officer corps' mass exodus from France naturally coincided with that of the aristocrats. Not all aristocrats were officers, but all officers were aristocrats.[181]
  16. ^ On 27 August Robespierre was elected as president of his section and explained in a letter to Le Moniteur Universel two motives. "I could not be the judge of those of which I was the adversary; but I had to remember that if they were the enemies of the fatherland, they had also declared themselves mine. This maxim, good in all circumstances, is especially applicable to this one: the justice of the people must bear a character worthy of it; it must be imposing as well as prompt and terrible.
    The exercise of these new functions was incompatible with that of representative of the Commune which had been entrusted to me; it was necessary to choose; I remained at the post where I was, convinced that it was there that I should currently serve the fatherland."[221]
  17. ^ The average age of the 24 deputies from Paris was 43. Robespierre was 34, Danton 33 and Marat 49.
  18. ^ On 5 February 1791 Robespierre declared: "True religion consists in punishing for the happiness of all those who disturb society."[268]
  19. ^ Perhaps seven?[312] On 24 April 1793 the right of association, right to work and public assistance, right to public education, right of rebellion (and duty to rebel when the government violates the right of the people), and the abolition of slavery, were all written into the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793.[313]
  20. ^ 19 Girondins, ten members of the Commission of Twelve and two ministers, Lebrun-Tondu and Clavière.
  21. ^ All children would be taken away from their parents and placed in a boarding school from the age of five, until the age of eleven for girls for girls, twelve for boys, and subjected to work. "The boys will be trained in addition to the handling of weapons."[352]
  22. ^ Four articles by Robespierre affirm the unity of the human race, universal male suffrage, the need for solidarity between the peoples, and the rejection of kings.[18]
  23. ^ On 16 March Robespierre was sharply critical of Amar's report, which presented the scandal around Fabre and Chabot as purely a matter of fraud. 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 William Pitt the Younger whom he believed was involved.[434]
  24. ^ On 27 March on the proposal of Barère the armée revolutionnaire, for seven months active in Paris and surroundings, was disbanded, except their artillery.[438][439][440][441] Their infantry and cavalry seem to be merged with other regiments.
  25. ^ The choirs were composed by Étienne-Nicolas Méhul and François-Joseph Gossec, with lyrics from the obscure poet Théodore Désorgues.
  26. ^ This session took place on 3 Messidor (21 June). Duke of York and Albany in command of the British contingent in West Flanders destined for the invasion of France had accused Robespierre of being the King of France and Navarre and that he was surrounded by a military guard. On a proposal of Barère the account was not distributed among the soldiers in the armies.[579]
  27. ^ Tallien went on: One wanted to destroy, to butcher the Convention, and this intention was so real, that one had organised an espionage of the representatives of the people which one wanted to butcher. It is villainous to speak of justice and virtue, when one defies them and when one only becomes enthused when one is stopped or vexed. Next Robespierre rushed to the tribune.[581]
  28. ^ On 9 Thermidor Vadier used a letter—supposedly found under the mattress of Théot—as an opportunity to attack Robespierre and his beliefs.[584] This letter announced to him that his mission had been prophesied in Ezekiel, that the re-establishment of religion, freed of priests, was owing to him.[585] Vadier becoming increasingly trivial was stopped by Tallien.[586]
  29. ^ A coloured print but with a different caption on this cold case can be seen here.[632]
  30. ^ (in French) A plaque indicating the former site of this cemetery is located at 97 rue de Monceau, Paris. Between 1844 and 1859 (probably in 1848), the remains of all those buried there were moved to the Catacombs of Paris.
  31. ^ In those days an issue as the 2nd United States Congress enacted Militia Acts of 1792 for the organization of state militias and the conscription of every "free able-bodied white male citizen" between the ages of 18 and 45.


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  3. ^ Bosc, Y. (2013). Robespierre libéral. Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 371, 95–114.
  4. ^ O'Brien, James Bronterre (1837). The Life and Character of Maximilian Robespierre. Proving ... thaourt that Much Calumniated Person was One of the Greatest Men ... pp. 415–421.
  5. ^ a b "Maximilien Robespierre". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 May 2023. Archived from the original on 28 November 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Jordan 2013.
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Sources (selection)[edit]

Further reading[edit]

According to David P. Jordan: "Any comprehensive bibliography would be virtually impossible. In 1936 Gérard Walter drew up a list of over 10,000 works on Robespierre, and much has been done since."[1]

  • The French Revolution of 1789: As Viewed in the Light of Republican Institutions, by John Stevens Cabot Abbott
  • Andress, David. "Living the Revolutionary Melodrama: Robespierre's Sensibility and the Construction of Political Commitment in the French Revolution." Representations 114#1 2011, pp. 103–128. online
  • Belissa, Marc, and Julien Louvrier. "Robespierre in French and English language publications since 2000." Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française, no. 1, pp. 73–93. Armand Colin, 2013.
  • Benigno, Francesco. "Never the Same Again: On Some Recent Interpretations of the French Revolution."