gigatos | November 10, 2021
Maximilien de Robespierre, or Maximilien Robespierre, was a French lawyer and politician who was born on May 6, 1758 in Arras (Artois, now Pas-de-Calais) and was guillotined on July 28, 1794 (10 Thermidor Year II) in Paris, Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde). He is one of the main figures of the French Revolution and also remains one of the most controversial characters of this period.
Maximilien de Robespierre is the eldest of five children. He lost his mother at the age of six. His father abandoned the household and from then on, Maximilien was taken care of by his maternal grandfather. After excellent studies at the college of Arras and at the college Louis-le-Grand in Paris, he became a lawyer and in 1781 joined the provincial council of Artois, even holding for a time the position of judge at the episcopal court.
Elected deputy of the Third State to the States General of 1789, he soon became one of the main figures of the “democrats” in the Constituent Assembly, defending the abolition of the death penalty and slavery, the right to vote for people of color, Jews or comedians, as well as universal suffrage and equal rights against the censal suffrage. His intransigence soon earned him the nickname “the Incorruptible”. A member of the Jacobin Club from the beginning, he gradually became one of its leading figures.
Opposed to the war against Austria in 1792, he opposed La Fayette and supported the fall of the royalty. Member of the insurrectionary Commune of Paris, he was elected to the National Convention, where he sat on the benches of the Montagne and opposed the Gironde. After the days of May 31 and June 2, 1793, he joined the Committee of Public Safety on July 27, 1793, where he participated in the establishment of a revolutionary government and the Terror, in a context of foreign war against the coalition monarchies and civil war (federalist insurrections, the Vendée war…).
In the spring of 1794, Robespierre and his colleagues on the Committee of Public Safety successively arrested the Hébertists, leaders of the Cordeliers club, then Danton and the Indulgents, followed by the condemnation and execution of the leaders of both “factions”. He then contributed to put an end to the policy of dechristianization and had the decree of 18 Floréal Year II voted as rapporteur, by which “the French people recognize the existence of the supreme being and the immortality of the soul”, as well as the law of Prairial, known as the “Great Terror”.
On 8 Thermidor II (July 26, 1794), he was attacked and isolated within the Convention by a heterogeneous coalition of Montagnards, composed for the occasion of former Dantonists, recalled representatives on mission and, within the revolutionary government, by the Committee of General Safety and certain colleagues of the Committee of Public Salvation. Robespierre took the Assembly as a witness to these dissensions but did not manage to impose his views. On 9 Thermidor, prevented from speaking by his opponents, he was arrested with his brother Augustin and his friends Couthon, Saint-Just and Le Bas. The Commune then enters in insurrection and makes him free, while the Convention declares him outlaw. During the night, an armed column seized the town hall, where Robespierre was with his supporters. He was wounded in the jaw under uncertain circumstances. After verification of his identity before the Revolutionary Court, he was guillotined in the afternoon of 10 Thermidor with twenty-one of his supporters. His death led, in the following months, to a “Thermidorian reaction”, which saw the dismantling of the revolutionary government and the Terror.
Robespierre is undoubtedly the most controversial figure of the French Revolution. His detractors (the Thermidorians, the founders of the Third Republic and the historians of the “liberal school” led by François Furet) emphasize his role in the establishment of the Terror and the authoritarian nature of the Committee of Public Safety. For others, Robespierre tried to limit the excesses of the Terror, and was above all a defender of peace, direct democracy and social justice, a spokesman for the poor, and one of the actors of the first abolition of slavery in France. These historians point out that the fall of Robespierre, on 9 Thermidor, coincided with the end of the social measures he had taken in favor of the poor (the law of the general maximum, for example, which controlled the price of bread and grain), and the triumph of economic liberalism.
Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre was the eldest son of Maximilien-Barthélémy-François de Robespierre (1732-1777), a lawyer at the Conseil supérieur d”Artois, and Jacqueline-Marguerite Carraut (1735-1764), the daughter of a brewer in Arras. After their meeting in 1757, the two young people were married on January 2, 1758. Born in Arras on the following Saturday, May 6, in the parish of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Maximilien was thus conceived out of wedlock.
Through his father, he descended from a family of people of dress from Artois: his grandfather Maximilien (1694-1762) was also a lawyer at the Conseil supérieur d”Artois, his great-grandfather Martin (1664-1720) was a prosecutor in Carvin, and his great-grandfather Robert (1627-1707) was a notary in Carvin and bailiff of Oignies.
The couple had four more children: Charlotte in 1760, Henriette-Eulalie-Françoise in 1761 and Augustin in 1763; the youngest was born on July 4, 1764, was waved, died and was buried in the Saint-Nicaise cemetery on the same day, without being given a name. The mother did not recover and died on July 15, 1764, at the age of twenty-nine. Maximilien was six years old.
According to Charlotte”s Memoirs, François de Robespierre abandoned his children shortly after his wife”s death. On the other hand, according to Gérard Walter, there are traces of him in Arras until March 1766, then again in October 1768. Then, two letters from François de Robespierre, sent from Mannheim, confirm that he was living in Germany in June 1770 and October 1771. The following year, according to the register of hearings of the Council of Artois, he was back in Arras, where he pleaded fifteen cases from February 13 to May 22. Finally, in March 1778, on the death of his father-in-law, a judgment of the Échevinage of Arras indicates that, being absent, he had been represented. Thereafter, if we believe this document, we lose track of him. Abbé Proyart (who seems to have known the father of the Incorruptible personally) claims that after having lived for some time in Cologne, he would have announced “the intention to go to London, and from there to the Islands, where it would be possible that he was still living” in 1795, but this hypothesis, discussed by Albert Mathiez, is rejected by Auguste Paris and Gérard Walter. A burial certificate states that he died in Munich on November 6, 1777, a version taken up by Henri Guillemin.
After their mother”s death, the two girls were taken in by their paternal aunts, the boys by their maternal grandfather, Jacques Carraut (1701-1778). Maximilien entered, in 1765, the college of Arras (a former Jesuit institution which did not yet belong to the Oratorians, being run by a local committee appointed by the bishop). Charlotte, in her Memoirs, states that Maximilian”s attitude had undergone a great change at that time and that, conscious of being in some way the head of the family, he had taken a more serious turn. In 1769, thanks to the intervention of Canon Aymé with the bishop of Arras, Louis-François de Conzié, he obtained a scholarship of 450 livres a year from the abbey of Saint-Vaast and entered the Collège Louis-le-Grand, in Paris.
In spite of a certain destitution, he made brilliant studies at the college Louis-le-Grand (1769-1781), where he had for fellow students Camille Desmoulins and Louis-Marie Fréron. His name was proclaimed several times at the prize distributions of the Concours général: sixth prize in Latin version in 1771, second prize in Latin theme and sixth prize in Latin version in 1772, fourth prize in Latin verse and Latin version in 1774, second prize in Latin verse, second prize in Latin version and fifth prize in Greek version in 1775, and the third prize in Latin version in 1776. Prefect of the college, he was a studious student, devoted only to work, solitary and dreamy, not very expansive.
Traditionally, historians explain that, well regarded by his masters, he was chosen, in 1775, to deliver the compliment in verse to the new king Louis XVI on his return from his coronation. However, Hervé Leuwers, in his biography of Robespierre, shows that the meeting could not have taken place at that time, but that it is possible that it took place in 1773 or 1779.
He received his bachelor”s degree in law from the faculty of Paris on July 31, 1780, and obtained his license on May 15, 1781. He was registered as a lawyer at the Parliament of Paris two weeks later. On July 19, on the report of the principal of the college, he was granted a reward of 600 livres. Moreover, his scholarship at Louis-le-Grand passed to his younger brother, Augustin.
Robespierre met Jean-Jacques Rousseau at the end of his life, between 1775 and 1778 – or perhaps he merely glimpsed him, according to Gérard Walter. According to the posthumous Memoirs of Jacques Pierre Brissot, a testimony rejected by the editor Gérard Walter as implausible for chronological reasons, he was for a time a clerk in the office of the prosecutor Nolleau fils, where the future Girondin would have met him.
Young lawyer in Arras
Back in Arras, the situation of his family had changed: his grandmother had died in 1775, his maternal grandfather in 1778, his sister Henriette in 1780. As for his two paternal aunts, they had both married at the age of 41, Eulalie on January 2, 1776 with a former notary who had become a merchant, Henriette on February 6, 1777 with the doctor Gabriel-François Du Rut. Jacques Carraut left 4 000 livres to his grandchildren. Settled in a small house on rue Saumon with his sister Charlotte, Maximilien enrolled on November 8, 1781 at the Conseil provincial d”Artois, like his father and paternal grandfather, and began to plead on January 16, 1782. On March 9, 1782, he was appointed by the bishop, Monseigneur de Conzié, judge at the Episcopal Tribunal. After a stay with the Du Rut family at the end of 1782, he moved in with his sister on Rue des Jésuites at the end of 1783; this is where he lived until his departure for Paris. In his functions, he distinguished himself, notably in the case of the lightning rod of M. de Vissery, where he made a famous plea in May 1783, and in the Deteuf case, which opposed him to the Benedictines of the Saint-Sauveur abbey of Anchin; as a lawyer, he published a dozen judicial memoirs, which show his taste for famous causes. Two of these written defenses were recently rediscovered and analyzed by the historian Hervé Leuwers.
On November 15, 1783, Robespierre was welcomed in the Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts of Arras, patronized by his colleague Master Antoine-Joseph Buissart, with whom he had collaborated in the lightning rod affair, and Mr. Dubois de Fosseux, who was his friend, as well as that of Gracchus Babeuf. He participated in several academic competitions. In 1784, one of his memoirs sent to the National Academy of Metz won him a medal and a prize of 400 pounds. Published, this memoir was the subject of an article by Charles de Lacretelle in the Mercure de France. Similarly, he wrote an Éloge de Gresset for the competition of the Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts of Amiens in 1785 which was not awarded a prize, but which he also published. On February 4, 1786, the Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres of Arras unanimously elected him as director. In his functions, affirming to share the point of view of the Cartesians on the equality of the sexes and anxious to encourage the mixity within the learned societies, he supports the entry of two women of letters, Marie Le Masson Le Golft and Louise de Kéralio in February 1787. Also, in December 1786, he was named among the three commissioners in charge of the examination of the memoirs sent to the competition. In 1787, the Rosati d”Arras, a small poetic cenacle founded on June 12, 1778 by a group of officers and lawyers, welcomed him into their ranks; Louis-Joseph Le Gay, his colleague at the bar and at the Academy, gave the reception speech. As a titular member of this society, he sang couplets and composed “anacreontic” verses, including an Éloge de la Rose written in response to the reception speech of a new member.
Maximilien de Robespierre remained single. However, in Arras, he cultivated female relationships: he had a tentative romance with Miss Dehay, a friend of his sister, a young unknown Englishwoman and a certain Miss Henriette, he corresponded with a “very high placed lady”, perhaps Mrs. Necker, according to Gérard Walter, he was received at the home of Mrs. Marchand, future director of the Journal du Pas-de-Calais, etc. According to his sister Charlotte, a Miss Anaïs Deshorties, daughter-in-law of his aunt Eulalie, loved Robespierre and was loved by him; in 1789, he courted her for two or three years. She married another, the lawyer Leducq, while he was in Paris. According to Pierre Villiers, Robespierre had an affair in 1790 with a young woman of modest means “about twenty-six years old”. Finally, it was said that he was engaged to the daughter of his landlord, Éléonore Duplay.
The Constituent Assembly
Imbued with the idealistic ideas of the 18th century philosophers, notably Rousseau, he participated in the political life of his province on the eve of the Revolution, publishing in January 1789 a memoir entitled To the Artois Nation, on the necessity of reforming the States of Artois, republished in an expanded version in March-April. In April, he also publishes a second, even more lively pamphlet, called: Les Ennemis de la patrie. Then, supported by his family and friends, he stood as a candidate for the representation of the Third Estate at the States General; the corporation of the salt-makers, the poorest but most numerous, entrusted him with the drafting of their book of grievances on March 25, 1789.
Successively chosen to represent the assembly of the non-corporate inhabitants of the city of Arras (March 23-25) and then that of the electors of the Third Estate of the city (March 26-29), he was elected, on April 26, 1789, by the electoral assembly of Artois, among the eight deputies of the Third Estate. After the meeting of the deputies of the three orders of the province on May 1, he went to Versailles where he settled with three colleagues, farmers, at the Renard hostelry, rue Sainte-Élisabeth. Among his first contacts was Jacques Necker, who received him for dinner at his home in May. However, the minister, to whom he had addressed many praises in his memoir, disappointed him. On the contrary, he established relations with Mirabeau, to whom he was close for some time. He also became close to Bertrand Barère, who published a newspaper widely read in political circles. He was also friendly with Count Charles de Lameth.
In the Constituent Assembly, Robespierre moved forward with confidence and serenity, pursuing, according to Gérard Walter, “the realization of a carefully thought-out and carefully studied plan. His first speech in the parliamentary gallery dates from May 18, 1789; he spoke about sixty times from May to December 1789, about a hundred times in 1790 and as many from January to the end of September 1791. His speech against the martial law of October 21, 1789, made him one of the main animators of the Revolution and the target of increasingly fierce attacks from his opponents, especially his former teacher, Abbé Royou, and the team of journalists of the Acts of the Apostles. He was one of the few defenders of universal suffrage and equal rights, opposing the decree of the “marc d”argent” which established the censal suffrage, on January 25, 1790 and defending the right to vote for actors and Jews. In the second half of the year, his interventions in the gallery became more and more frequent: in one year, he had overcome the indifference and the skepticism of his colleagues. He was elected third substitute secretary of the Assembly, by 111 votes, on March 4, 1790, then one of the secretaries, during the presidency of Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, from June 21 to July 4.
From November 1790 to September 1791, he played a leading role in the debates on the organization of the National Guard. On November 18, 1790, and from April 21 to May 4, 1791, he also defended the rights of the people of Avignon, who had been seduced by revolutionary ideas, to withdraw from the pontifical authority of Pope Pius VI and to join France. He participated in the elaboration of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as well as in the first French constitution in 1791. In particular, on May 16, 1791, he had the principle of the non-reeligibility of the deputies of the Constituent Assembly voted in the following Assembly, which was mainly aimed at the triumvirate of the patriot party, Adrien Duport, Antoine Barnave and Alexandre de Lameth.
Still against the triumvirate and against Moreau de Saint-Méry (former actor of the storming of the Bastille, who became in 1790 deputy of Martinique), he defended the abolition of slavery and the right to vote of the colored people, refusing, even alone, the concessions proposed on May 13 by Bertrand Barère on the constitutional recognition of slavery and on May 15 by Jean-François Reubell on the refusal of the right to vote to the freedmen; hence his famous exclamation, distorted with time, pronounced on the 13th: “Perish the colonies if it must cost you your happiness, your glory, your freedom”.
Robespierre also defended the Sociétés populaires. On May 30, 1791, following a proposal to sentence to death any “leader of a party declared rebellious by a decree of the legislature,” he gave a speech for the abolition of the death penalty, which has remained famous. Chosen on June 3 by the deputies of the Jacobin Club as their candidate for the presidency of the National Assembly for the period from June 6 to 21, he was opposed by the deputy Luc-Jacques-Édouard Dauchy, supported by the moderate majority. If he obtained an equal number of votes in the first round, he was slightly distanced in the ballot.
The Jacobin Club
In the early months of the Constituent Assembly, Robespierre had been one of the first, along with Honoré-Gabriel Riquetti de Mirabeau, Pétion, Abbé Grégoire, the brothers Alexandre and Charles de Lameth, to join the Breton Club, which met at the Café Amaury in Versailles. When the Assembly was installed in Paris in October 1789, he joined the Society of Friends of the Constitution, better known as the Jacobin Club, located near the Tuileries, in the Jacobin Convent on rue Saint-Honoré. He himself lived in a furnished apartment on the third floor of No. 9 rue de Saintonge, in a neighborhood far from the Tuileries. In 1790, a certain Pierre Villiers, officer of dragoons and playwright, served him during seven months as secretary. More and more distant from Mirabeau, who had said of him in 1789: “He will go far, he believes everything he says”, he broke with him during a particularly lively session at the Jacobins on December 6, 1790. He soon became the main animator of the Jacobins, forging valuable relationships with the patriotic groups in the provinces. Elected president of the Jacobins on March 31, 1790, he welcomed the delegates of the municipality of Bastia, led by Pascal Paoli, on April 22. As in the Constituent Assembly, he constantly supported the demands of the Avignon patriots for the attachment of the pontifical principality to France. The club of Avignon decides then at the beginning of January 1791 to name him “effective member”. According to his biographer Jean-Clément Martin, under the Legislative, like the Girondins, he purely and simply supported the Glacière massacre of October 1791 and accepted the amnesty of March 19, 1792. In fact, January 18 and March 14, 1792. Robespierre asks to understand, by contextualizing it, the massacre of the Glacière of October 1791, denounces the maneuvers of the king and his minister of Justice, Duport Dutertre, who charged the imprisoned patriots, through two commissioners appointed and sent for this purpose. He regrets consequently the assimilation of the amnesty of March 1792 to a grace. He perceived in the killing the consequence of a long series of pontifical and aristocratic attacks, against the patriots in love with liberty and desiring as such to be attached to France; attacks covered in September 1791 by a first amnesty of the constituent assembly. Robespierre returned to the subject in his journal, Le Défenseur de la Constitution, stigmatizing the long silence, from October 1791 to March 1792, of the leading figures of the Gironde (Brissot, Condorcet, Vergniaud, Guadet, Gensonné) in the legislative assembly, who had always refrained from formulating such clarifications, even though they had already denounced the Minister of Justice, as an agent of the counter-revolution. This is how he interprets their attitude to the Glacière massacre and the arrests that followed:
“You knew in particular that the acts of violence, reproached to the prisoners, were only the disastrous reprisals of the cowardly assassinations committed by the defenders of the aristocracy and of papal despotism, in the person of the authors of the revolution, of their brothers, of their relatives, of their friends; you knew the maneuvers employed to present them to the eyes of all France as brigands. You knew that a minister, denounced by yourselves, had delivered them to a tyrannical commission, whose arbitrary judgments were only lists of proscription against the good citizens “.
Moreover, on January 18, 1792, he inserted the Avignon affair in the question of the war of attack which opposed him to Brissot: like the other counter-revolutionaries of the interior, those of Avignon were more dangerous than the emigrants of Coblentz.
On May 9, 1791, he made a long speech at the club in favor of freedom of the press on the American model. However, he admits the necessity of penal laws which limit it against the risks of personal defamation. On the evening of the 13th, Robespierre, president of the club, gave the floor to the mulatto Julien Raymond during the debates on the equality of whites and mestizos in the colonies, while refusing it to his opponent, Charles de Lameth. He made attacks on the white aristocratic pressure groups and the temptations of some constituents to give in to their demands. When the king fled to Varennes on June 20, 1791, Robespierre was at the Friends of the Constitution in Versailles. Elected by the electoral assembly as public prosecutor of Paris on June 10, 1791, by 220 votes out of 372, he had just resigned from his position as judge at the court of Versailles, which he had theoretically held since October 5, 1790, and had to explain his reasons. Learning the news the next day, he gave a speech at the Jacobin Club in which he accused the Assembly of betraying the interests of the nation through its weaknesses. He invoked for that the multiple electoral discriminations: “the decree of the silver marc… the ridiculous distinctions between the whole citizens, the half-citizens and the quarterons”. That is to say, the draconian right of eligibility, the concept of “active citizens” who could vote and “passive citizens” who could not, and in the colonies, the civil rights granted to free men of color “born of free fathers and mothers” and denied to those who were not. A few weeks later, on July 14, in his speech on the flight of the king, delivered before the Assembly, he did not call for the judgment of Louis XVI, but pronounced himself in favor of his deposition.
The next day, the Cordeliers club launched the idea of a petition calling for the Republic, which gathered 6,000 signatures and was deposited on the altar of the fatherland, the high place of the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, on the Champ-de-Mars. The martial law proclaimed, Jean Sylvain Bailly, Mayor of Paris, had the crowd machine-gunned. While the repression fell on the Sociétés populaires, a campaign accused Robespierre of having instigated the demonstration. On the eve of the day, almost all the deputies – except Robespierre, Pétion, Buzot, Pierre-Louis Roederer, François Nicolas Anthoine and Louis-Jacques Coroller du Moustoir – and three quarters of the Parisian members (the great majority of the affiliated societies in the provinces remained faithful to the club in the rue Saint-Honoré. It was Robespierre himself who wrote the address sent on July 24, 1791 to the affiliated societies to explain the crisis of the Feuillants.
Threatened after the shooting of the Champ-de-Mars, he accepted the offer of Maurice Duplay, a carpentry contractor, who offered him a place to stay at his house, 398 rue Saint-Honoré. He lived in this house until his death.
With the closing of the parliamentary session, Robespierre returned to civilian life on October 1, 1791. During this month, many addresses flocked to the rue Saint-Honoré to pay him homage. After the inaugural session of the Legislative Assembly, he made a trip to Artois and Flanders, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the people: in Arras, Bethune and Lille.
Returning to Paris on November 28, he had to establish himself within the Jacobins, where the club”s assembly offered him the presidency that same day. During his absence, many deputies of the new Assembly had joined the Club, including the new deputies of the future Gironde. At this time, the emigrant question prompted the revolutionary leaders to advocate war against the German princes who welcomed them; the most ardent supporter of war was Jacques Pierre Brissot, one of the new deputies from Paris. At first, Robespierre spoke out in favor of war, then, after Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne (December 5, 1791), he denounced the warmongering character of France against Austria in the Jacobin tribune: first on December 11, 1791, then on December 18, January 2, 1792, January 11 and January 25. He considered such a decision imprudent, which, according to him, played into the hands of Louis XVI. In his eyes, the French army was not ready to wage a war, which could, in case of victory, strengthen a king and ministers hostile to the Revolution; he considered that the real threat was not among the emigrants in Coblentz, but in France itself. Moreover, the war being ruinous for the finances of France, it was better to support the rights of the people. He finally underlined the counterproductive character of the military way for the expansion among the peoples of Europe of the principles of the French Revolution: “Nobody likes the armed missionaries; and the first advice that nature and prudence give, it is to repel them like enemies”. Robespierre finally put forward the threat of a military dictatorship, represented by Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, responsible for the repression of the Swiss of Châteauvieux by François Claude de Bouillé in 1790 and for the shooting of the Champ-de-Mars on July 17, 1791. He made a final anti-bellicose speech before the declaration of war on March 26, 1792.
Robespierre had to face the fact that, even if the forms had changed, the spirit of the old justice persisted. On April 14, 1792, he preferred to resign from the post of Public Prosecutor, not wanting to be compromised by the errors he sensed would occur. Facing a combined attack from journalists and pamphleteers – in particular, the fayettist Dubu de Longchamp, who responded to his accusations of April 13 against the “hero of the two worlds” in the Feuille du jour and in satirical songs distributed in the barracks, the Brissotins Jean-Marie Girey-Dupré and Aubin Louis Millin de Grandmaison, but also Sylvain Maréchal – he decided in May to create his own newspaper, Le Défenseur de la Constitution. Almost at the same time, at the end of May and in the course of June, the question of the regime to be established began to arise. The choice between a republic or a monarchy made his position more delicate in front of his political opponents. The Girondin Jacques Pierre Brissot and his friends said that he had sold out to the Court, and the right-wing newspapers considered him the leader of the “republicans. On this subject, he refused to pronounce himself by affirming: “I like better to see a popular representative assembly and free and respected citizens with a king, than a people enslaved and degraded under the rod of an aristocratic senate and a dictator. I like Cromwell no more than I like Charles I.”
As the setbacks followed one another, with the suspension of the offensive launched on Belgium, the passage to the enemy of the Royal-German regiment, the resignation of Rochambeau and the talks of La Fayette who, not content with getting closer to his lamethist adversaries, He was negotiating a suspension of arms with the Austrian ambassador Florimond de Mercy-Argentau, and Robespierre came to doubt the capacity of the Legislative Assembly to preserve the country from a foreign invasion as well as from a military dictatorship, appearing then in the guise of La Fayette, his worst enemy; all the more so since, at first, the Girondins, having reached the ministry, tried to make a pact with La Fayette, attacking all those who, such as Marat or Robespierre, denounced the treason, and tried to improve military discipline, judged responsible, by the generals, for the failure of the initial attack.
Then, in front of the failure of this opening to the right, they began to denounce the traitors of the interior, in first place the “Austrian committee” dominating at the Court, around the queen, and made vote a series of revolutionary decrees. On May 27, the deportation of all refractory priests was ordered upon the simple request of twenty active citizens, then, on May 29, the dismissal of the 6,000 men of the king”s constitutional guard. Finally, on May 28, 1792, the Girondin minister of war, Servan, asked the Assembly that “the whole nation rise up” to defend the country, before calling, on June 8, on each canton to send five federates, dressed and equipped, that is to say 20,000 men, to Paris to take a civic oath. Robespierre saw in this last measure, wrongly in the opinion of Michel Vovelle (even if he considers that the Girondins were themselves mistaken “about what these ”federates” were going to be”), a manoeuvre to reduce democratic agitation in the capital.
On this last point, he changed his mind completely when, on June 18, a threatening letter from La Fayette was read against the Jacobins, who were accused of usurping “all powers”, and he declared himself ready to use the federates to resist the seditious activities of an “intriguing and perfidious general”. The Assembly, for its part, did not react, any more than it did when the general abandoned his army to come himself, on June 28, to denounce the Jacobins before the Corps législatif, after the invasion of the Tuileries by rioters on June 20. The popularity of the general was such that the Assembly did not dare to take any measures against him, despite the efforts of the Girondins. It limited itself to declaring the fatherland in danger on July 11.
Insurrection of August 10, 1792
Faced with the threat posed by La Fayette and the Assembly”s inability to deal with it, Robespierre proposed to the Jacobins, on July 11, a draft address to the federates of the 83 departments, giving them a fraternal greeting and urging Parisians to welcome them with friendship. He addressed the federates in these terms:
“Outside, tyrants are gathering new armies against us: inside, other tyrants are betraying us. The enemies who guide us respect the domain of the Austrian despot as much as they lavish the purest blood of the French. Another privileged monster has come, in the bosom of the national assembly, to insult the nation, to threaten patriotism, to trample on liberty, in the name of the army that he divides and that he strives to corrupt; and he remains unpunished! Does the National Assembly still exist? The tyrants have pretended to declare war on their accomplices and their allies, to make it in concert with the French people; and the traitors remain unpunished! To betray and to conspire seems a right consecrated by the tolerance or by the approval of those who govern us: to claim the severity of the laws is almost a crime for good citizens. A multitude of officials that the revolution has created, equal those that despotism had given birth to in tyranny and contempt for men, and surpass them in perfidy. Men, who are called the representatives of the people, are occupied only with degrading and slaughtering them. You did not come to give a vain spectacle to the capital and to France… Your mission is to save the State. Let us ensure finally the maintenance of the Constitution: not of this Constitution which lavishes to the court the substance of the people; which puts in the hands of the king immense treasures and an enormous power; but mainly and above all, of that which guarantees the sovereignty and the rights of the nation. Let us ask for the faithful execution of the laws; not those which only know how to protect the great villains and murder the people in the forms; but those which protect liberty and patriotism against Machiavellianism, and against tyranny.”
The day after the July 14 celebrations, Robespierre intervened in the Jacobins to defend the stay of the federates in the capital until the country was no longer in danger, asking the Parisian patriots to share their lodgings and their table with them. As for the federates, whom he called upon to distrust the “emissaries and accomplices of the Court” and to legally defend the constitution, he urged them to write to their fellow citizens to describe the dangers threatening the country and invite them to join them. Rather than taking a clear stand in favor of the insurrection, he asked for petitions to be drafted; he himself drafted the one of July 17, which called mainly for the impeachment of La Fayette and his accomplices, the dismissal of the army staff, and the dismissal and punishment of the counter-revolutionary departmental directorates that had colluded with the court against liberty – some thirty out of 83, according to Jean Massin. Concerning the deposition of the king, she affirmed: “Representatives, to say to us that the nation is in danger, it is to say to us that it is necessary that it is saved, it is to call it to your assistance; if it cannot be it by its representatives, it must be it by itself. Finally, do with the executive power what the salvation of the state and the constitution itself require, in cases where the nation is betrayed by the executive power.” According to Gerard Walter, this sentence easily lent itself to equivocation and did not expressly call for the deposition of the king. He also points out that a member of the deputation, on his own initiative or in a concerted manner, declared, in place of Robespierre”s version, published in number 10 of the Defender of the Constitution: “Fathers of the Fatherland! Suspend temporarily the executive power in the person of the king; the salvation of the State requires it and commands you this measure”. For his part, Ernest Hamel, who also reported the incident, judged that, “as for the person of the king”, the text of the petition did not explain itself “very clearly with regard to him”. For Jean Massin, “the text written by Robespierre said the maximum possible within the limits of prudence and legality. But at the helm of the Assembly, the speaker of the deputation of the federates preferred to replace this well-considered sentence with another that was clearer and more brutal. As for Albert Mathiez, according to whom Robespierre drafted the increasingly threatening petitions that the federates presented to the Assembly one after another, it is obvious to him that the one of July 17 called for the defection. In any case, Robespierre showed, through this text, his concern to find a legal solution to the constitutional crisis, by leaving it to the deputies to decide, in accordance with the constitution, which provided in chapter II, section 1, several circumstances leading to “the express or legal abdication of the king”, in particular article 6, which explains that, “if the king puts himself at the head of an army and directs its forces against the nation, or if he does not oppose by a formal act such an enterprise, which would be carried out in his name, he will be considered to have abdicated the royalty. “
In response to the petitions, the Assembly voted on July 23, on Brissot”s proposal, to create a commission to examine which acts could lead to disqualification, and to draft an address to the people warning them against “unconstitutional and impolitic measures. Two days later, on the 25th, Brissot threatened the republicans with the sword of the law: “If this party of regicides exists, if there are men who tend to establish at present the Republic on the debris of the Constitution, the sword of the law must strike on them as on the active friends of the two Chambers and on the counter-revolutionaries of Coblentz.” Following his address to the federates on July 11, the minister of justice had denounced Robespierre to the public accuser, a measure revealed to the Jacobins during the session of July 16. Through these speeches, in turn, the Girondins openly threatened Robespierre. Hostile to the Assembly, whose treason he was convinced, Robespierre replied in a speech to the Jacobins on July 29, calling not only for the suspension, but for the disqualification, and beyond that, for the election of a National Convention, as well as for the renewal of the departmental directorates, the courts and public officials, the purging of the staff and the constitution of a new government:
“Has the head of the executive branch been faithful to the nation? It must be kept. Has he betrayed it? He must be dismissed. The National Assembly does not want to pronounce the deposition; and if one supposes him guilty, the National Assembly is itself an accomplice to his attacks, it is as incapable as he is of saving the State. In this case, it is thus necessary to regenerate at the same time, both the executive power and the legislature. That all Frenchmen domiciled in the district of each primary assembly, for a time long enough to determine domicile, such as one year, be admitted to vote there; that all citizens be eligible for all offices without any other privilege than that of virtue and talent. By this one provision, you support, you revive the patriotism and the energy of the people; you multiply the resources of the fatherland infinitely; you annihilate the influence of aristocracy and intrigue; and you prepare a true National Convention; the only legitimate, the only complete, that France would ever see.”
On the same day, July 29, 1792, Robespierre wrote an enthusiastic article welcoming the arrival of the 500 men of the Marseillais battalion, led by Charles Barbaroux, with whom, according to Gérard Walter, he had made contact to draw up a plan of action.
At that time, the Girondins had just founded the Club de la Réunion. At the session of July 30, after having heard Robespierre”s speech, Isnard and Brissot both pledged to ask the Assembly for a decree of indictment against Robespierre and his friend François Nicolas Anthoine, who had defended the same doctrines, so that they could be brought before the court of Orleans.
On August 1, the revelation of these facts provoked a strong emotion among the Jacobins. Despising these attempts, Robespierre went back on his intervention of July 29 to ask, this time, for the convocation of “a National Convention, whose members will be elected directly by the primary assemblies, and will not be able to be chosen among those of the Constituent Assembly nor of the first legislature”, which excluded him from the eligible persons. On August 7, Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve came to visit Robespierre to ask him to use his influence with the insurrectionary directoire to postpone the insurrection, in order to give the Assembly time to study the question of the king”s deposition, which Robespierre would have agreed to at first. However, when he learned, the next day, of the absolution of La Fayette, judging that this decision corresponded to a challenge, he renounced it. On August 9, in a letter to Georges Couthon, who was then in the hospital, he wrote: “Fermentation is at its height, and everything seems to presage the greatest commotion in Paris. We arrived at the denouement of the constitutional drama. The Revolution is going to take again a faster course, if it does not sink in the military and dictatorial despotism”.
The question of Robespierre”s role in the insurrection of August 10 has given rise to divergent interpretations. In a text addressed to Pétion, the Incorruptible himself claimed to have “been almost as foreign as” that day. For their part, his opponents claimed that he had hidden in his host”s house, with the shutters closed, Pierre Vergniaud going so far as to affirm, in a speech in April 1793, that he had holed up in his cellar. Albert Mathiez, on the other hand, asserted that he was the main inspirer of the day. In addition to the speeches made before the insurrection and the petitions in his hand, which called for the deposition of the king and the election of a National Convention, he cited as proof that, “under his impetus, the Federated” had appointed “a secret directory in which his friend François Anthoine was a member” and that “this directory sometimes met in the house of the carpenter Duplay, where he stayed, like Anthoine.” Similarly, for the biographer Ernest Hamel, Robespierre”s role in that day was undeniable, not only in the preparation of minds, but also, he assumed, during the night before the insurrection. If “Robespierre did not appear at the cabaret of the Soleil-d”Or with the principal engines of insurrection which were soon going to involve the popular masses to the assault of the Tuileries”, with his speech of July 29, “he made better, he led the ideas to the combat, and, jealous guard of the principles decreed in 1789, he sought, above all, to prevent the Revolution from ending in dictatorship or in anarchy”. Partisan of a constitutional change, he was also, since his speech of July 29, according to him, a declared partisan of the insurrection since, in his concern to save the State at all costs, he affirmed: “There is unconstitutional only what tends to its ruin”. In the eyes of Jean Massin, similarly, if Robespierre had not participated in the insurrection, no more than Marat or Danton, it was because he had “none of the gifts required to lead a popular demonstration on the spot, much less an insurrection” and that he was aware of it. But “he was the one who had seen the best and the earliest the necessity to give the people a voice. He was the one who saw most strongly the need to unite, in the same movement, federates and sectionalists to transform a Parisian riot into a national revolution. It was he above all who had clearly defined the goals that the movement should set for itself in order not to be useless. In all these senses, the popular victory of the Dix-Août was his victory: if his hand had not directed it, his brain had made it possible.
Since then, biographers of Robespierre, as a whole, have tended to downplay his role in the insurrection. Thus, Gérard Walter considers that Robespierre was rather in favor of a legal solution and regarded the insurrection with skepticism, while in the eyes of Max Gallo, Robespierre was too much of a legalist to take part in an insurrection. In the opinion of Jean-Paul Bertaud, also, the historians Alphonse Aulard and Mathiez were mistaken in taking up the royalist thesis of a Jacobin plot at the origin of August 10, to emphasize the supposed role, one of Danton, the other of Robespierre; the Incorruptible was for him “in the night of the 9th to the 10th in the background”, as well as the whole of the revolutionary tribunes, and, if the Jacobins had taken part in the movement, it had never been to precipitate it.
Patrice Gueniffey thinks that Robespierre reasoned as a man of 1789 in the circumstances. Thus, even if he disapproved of censal suffrage, he would have judged that the revolution had been made, that the constitutional foundations were pure and that only the machinations of factions compromised the restoration of “peace and union.” According to Gueniffey, “Robespierre had embraced Barnave”s project” by defending peace and the constitution against their machinations, which should have damaged his political credentials since he thus opposed “any further revolution”, “but with more intelligence”, which allowed him to be “one of the main beneficiaries of the insurrection of August 10, 1792.
The Paris Commune and the Legislative Assembly
On the afternoon of August 10, 1792, he went to the assembly of his section, the section of the Place Vendôme, which appointed him, the next day, its representative to the insurrectionary Commune, then to the Jacobins, where he outlined, in a speech, the urgent measures to be taken: the people should not demobilize, but demand the convening of a National Convention, La Fayette should be declared a traitor to the fatherland, the Commune should send commissioners to all the departments to explain the situation to them, the sections should abolish the distinction between “active citizens” and “passive citizens” and create popular societies, in order to make the will of the people known to their representatives. For Gérard Walter, “his primary concern was to discipline the movement that had been unleashed, to remove its chaotic character and, by means of firm and intelligent tactics, to obtain that the sacrifice made would bear fruit.” Moreover, he notes that none of his recommendations were neglected by the Commune.
On August 12, in the late afternoon, Robespierre appeared at the bar of the Assembly, where he obtained the recognition of the insurrectionary Commune, threatened that very morning by the vote of a decree ordering the formation of a new departmental directoire on the same basis as the old one. In addition, faced with the Assembly”s decision, on August 11, to create a court martial to judge the Swiss captured during the assault on the Tuileries castle, he wrote, in the name of the Commune, an address demanding the judgment of all “traitors” and “conspirators”, first and foremost La Fayette, which he presented on August 15, at the head of a delegation, to the deputies, who were very reluctant to accept an “inquisitorial tribunal” (according to Choudieu) and one that would infringe on liberties (according to Jacques Thuriot). The principle was a popular court charged with judging the “traitors and conspirators of August 10”, but Jacques Brissot, in charge of the report, made the project fail, recommending the maintenance of the ordinary criminal court, to which he proposed to add an additional jury made up of representatives of the Parisian sections and to remove the appeal in cassation “to accelerate the procedure”. A second delegation of the General Council of the Commune, from which Robespierre was absent, came on August 17 to protest against this decision. After the intervention of the members of the jury appointed in accordance with the decree of August 15, the Assembly finally decreed the creation of an extraordinary criminal court, better known as the “court of August 17,” whose judges were appointed during the night. Robespierre”s name was at the top of the list, and he should have been the president of the tribunal, but he refused to be: “I could not be the judge of those whose adversary I had been”, he was to explain later on. However, according to Gérard Walter, his absence contributed to sabotaging the action of the tribunal, whose unwillingness to judge the causes was, for Albert Mathiez, at the origin of the September massacres. For his part, the historian Roger Dupuy considers that public opinion, under the dual influence of fear and a desire for revenge unfulfilled after the deaths of August 10, was exasperated by the impotence of the tribunal, which not only sentenced people to death in dribs and drabs, but also acquitted defendants for lack of evidence.
According to Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve, then mayor of Paris, Robespierre had gained “ascendancy in the Council” and “led its majority. If, between August 23 and 29, he participated mainly in the pre-election sessions of his section, constituted as a primary assembly, on August 30, September 1 and 2, he played, according to Gérard Walter, a leading role in the General Council of the Commune. Indeed, during the session of September 1, having been entrusted the day before, August 30, with the drafting of an address to the 48 sections of the capital, he delivered a speech in which he opposed the decree of the Legislative Summoning the Commune to resign in favor of the members of the former municipal body and denounced the maneuvers of the Girondins against the municipality resulting from August 10. For him, the retention of the former administrators was to be left to the discretion of the sections, within the framework of a purging ballot that would determine which ones were to be retained in their functions. However, according to Ernest Hamel, he also proposed to the Commune to give to the people “the power that the general council had received from them,” that is, to organize new elections, a proposal that was finally rejected, upon the intervention of Manuel.
On August 27, the general assembly of the section of the place Vendôme, constituted the day before in primary assembly, elected “unanimously of the votes” Robespierre for its president, office which he occupied the time of the electoral operations from August 28 to 31. Then, on the 28th, he was elected “unanimously of the votes, minus one”, first elector by his section. The electoral assembly was held at the Bishopric from September 2 to 19 and elected him on September 5, in the first ballot, as the first deputy of Paris, by 338 votes out of 525. On September 2, he had also been elected first deputy of Pas-de-Calais, in the first ballot, by 412 votes out of 721 voters, but he chose the capital.
From the eighth meeting, on September 9, the Electoral Assembly resolved to discuss the candidates. Robespierre took part in the discussion, without ever mentioning any name, but, according to Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvray as well as Jules Michelet and Gérard Walter, he contributed, thanks to his influence, to the election of Jean-Paul Marat, against the scholar Joseph Priestley, presented by the Girondins – a fact that he defended himself and that Hamel refutes. Similarly, according to Walter, he favored the election of Étienne-Jean Panis and François Robert, against Jean-Lambert Tallien. Finally, the consideration of the voters in his regard was worth, “without any doubt” according to Ernest Hamel, to his younger brother, Augustin, to be elected deputy of Paris on September 16.
The Gironde Convention
At the origin of the National Convention, elected by universal suffrage, Robespierre was one of the main figures of the Mountain with Georges Danton and Jean-Paul Marat.
From the outset, the Girondins attacked the deputies of Paris, and in the first place Robespierre, accused of aspiring to dictatorship, based on the writings of Marat. After Marc David Lasource and Charles-Nicolas Osselin, the Marseillais François Trophime Rebecqui and Charles Jean Marie Barbaroux launched a first offensive on September 25, during which the latter reported that, when they made contact with the battalion of Marseillais, on their arrival in Paris, Robespierre”s friends would have asked them, after the accomplishment of the insurrection, to invest the Incorruptible with a dictatorial power, which seemed to agree with Marat”s calls for the installation of a dictator. However, if he claimed his proposal, Marat claimed that both Danton and Robespierre had rejected it.
During the month of October, Robespierre, perhaps ill, stayed away from the rostrum and did not speak until October 28, before the Jacobins, to testify to his pessimism: “Remove the word Republic, I see nothing changed. I see everywhere the same vices, the same calculations, the same means, and especially the same calumny.” The next day, Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière, after having presented a picture of the situation in Paris, asked to read the supporting documents of his memoir, among which was a letter that suggested that Robespierre had prepared a list of proscription. The Incorruptible, who had taken the podium to defend himself, was interrupted by Louvet, who took the opportunity to deliver the indictment he had been preparing for weeks. In this speech, in which he reviewed all of Robespierre”s activity since the beginning of the discussions on the war, he reproached Robespierre for having long slandered “the purest patriots”, including during the September massacres, for having “disregarded, degraded, persecuted the representatives of the nation and made disregard and degrade their authority”, to have offered himself “like an object of idolatry”, to have imposed his will on the electoral assembly of the department of Paris “by all the means of intrigue and fright”, finally, to have “obviously walked to the supreme power”. Having obtained a delay of eight days, Robespierre replied, on November 5, with a speech justifying the measures of the general council of the Commune from August 10. Through this speech, in which Robespierre answered Louvet: “Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution?”, the Montagnards, accused by Brissotins and Rolandins “of supporting the sans-culottes and of guaranteeing” the massacres of September, ended up “by claiming them”, according to Jean-Clément Martin.
On his side, on November 8, in the Chronique de Paris, Condorcet mocked Robespierre and reproached him for acting as a sectarian priest under the guise of defending the poor, the weak and women:
“One wonders sometimes why so many women follow Robespierre, at his home, at the Jacobin tribune, at the Cordeliers, at the Convention? It is that the French Revolution is a religion and that Robespierre makes a sect of it: he is a priest who has devotees, but it is obvious that all his power is in tatters; he claims to be the friend of the poor and the weak, he is followed by women and the weak-minded, he gravely receives their adoration and their homage, he disappears before the danger, and only him is seen when the danger is over: Robespierre is a priest and will never be anything but that.
On December 12, 1792 at the Jacobin club Robespierre replied:
“To teach the public to distinguish poisonous writings, I ask that every day the two worst newspapers I know of be read: Le Patriote Français and the Chronique de Paris. And especially of the article of the National Assembly written by M. Condorcet. I know nothing worse and more perfidious.
On November 6, Charles Éléonor Dufriche-Valazé presented his report on the “Louis Capet affair,” followed over the next three days by five other speakers, including Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, Abbé Grégoire and Pierre-François-Joseph Robert. Robespierre remained silent, perhaps ill, as his sister”s memoirs suggest, according to Gérard Walter. During the month of November, while the trial debates were winding down, the people were experiencing a shortage of food supplies, and unrest broke out in many departments. Considering that the Girondins sought to save Louis XVI in order to restore him to the throne, he intervened at the session of November 30, in order to bring the question of the trial to the fore. Then, as the Assembly threatened to drag on about legal matters, he made another speech on December 3, in which he explained that there was “no trial to be had,” that the day of August 10 had already settled the question, and that Louis XVI was to be declared a traitor to the French nation immediately, stating:
“Louis must die, because the country must live.”
The Convention rejected this opinion, as well as that of Saint-Just, who asked for the outlawing of the king, but the acquittal became implausible. In reaction, the Girondin Salle proposed on December 27 to send back the trial to the primary assemblies. On January 15, 1793, the “appeal to the people” was rejected by the Convention by 424 votes against 283. The next day, the death penalty was voted by 366 votes to 355, then, after complaints, by 361 votes to 360.
On the other hand, when, on January 21, after the assassination of his friend Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, Claude Basire asked for the death penalty against anyone who would conceal the murderer, Robespierre opposed it, judging the motion “contrary to all principles”, while the Convention had to “erase”.
In the following weeks, while an offensive was launched on the Scheldt to overrun the United Provinces, an anti-French coalition was formed. On February 23, in order to reconstitute the army, depleted after the departure of the volunteers of 1792, the Convention decreed a levy of 300,000 men, and 82 representatives were sent to the departments to hasten the operation; to get rid of some of their opponents, the Girondins favored in many cases the appointment of Montagnards, and this was done until June, thus allowing them to come into contact with the armies and the local authorities and to strengthen their links with the popular societies. In the same way, during the sessions of March 9 to 11, was created, on the request of Cambaceres and Danton and according to the project of Lindet, a revolutionary court charged to punish the “conspirators” and the “counter-revolutionaries” (of which Robespierre asked, on March 11, for a stricter definition, so that the revolutionaries could not be included in the pursuits, which was adopted according to the drafting, less restrictive, proposed by Maximin Isnard). However, unrest broke out in several eastern departments and in the Vendée, which led the Convention to decree, on March 18, on the proposal of Pierre Joseph Duhem and Louis-Joseph Charlier, the death penalty within twenty-four hours for anyone convicted of emigration, and then, on March 19, on the basis of a report by Cambaceres, the outlawing of any individual “accused of having taken part in some counter-revolutionary riot and displaying the white cockade or any other sign of rebellion. It is in this context that the case of General Charles François Dumouriez is situated.
Robespierre”s attitude toward the general was at first cautious. In the debate that took place on March 10 before the Convention, during which some reassuring letters from Dumouriez and the report of Jean-François Delacroix and Georges Danton, who gave an account of their mission to the armies (where they had been commissioned to evaluate the role of the officers in the failures) praising the patriotism of the general, he judged, for his part, that “his personal interest, the interest of his glory itself”, attached him to the success of the French armies. However, according to Gérard Walter, the general had then conceived the project to establish Louis XVII on the throne, with Queen Marie-Antoinette as regent and himself as “protector of the kingdom” by using his military successes.
But these projects were destroyed by the battle of Neerwinden, on March 18. On the news of this defeat, a 25-member commission of public salvation, bringing together deputies of all persuasions, was established on March 25 in place of the general defense committee; Robespierre agreed to serve on it. However, when, on March 26, the Minister of War, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, transmitted to the committee, meeting in a joint session with the Executive Council, a letter in which the general proposed to withdraw his troops from Belgium and to adopt in the future a purely defensive strategy, Robespierre opposed Danton, who had met him on March 15 (three days after the reading of a letter to the Convention in which he made the agitation of the Jacobins and sans-culottes responsible for the defeats), had presented his defense, and demanded his immediate dismissal, judging him unworthy of the confidence of the nation and dangerous for freedom, but he was not followed. He was summoned to the bar of the Convention on the 30th after a second letter hostile to the “anarchists” and an attempt, on the 27th, to drag his army to the capital, the general had the four commissioners sent by the Assembly arrested, including the Minister of War, and tried in vain to convince his troops to turn against the Republic, for which he was declared a “traitor to the fatherland” on April 3, 1793.
Now, the day before, Brissot had inserted in his newspaper a praise of Dumouriez. Compromised in Dumouriez”s schemes, Danton had suffered the attacks of the Gironde, to which he had responded on April 1 by returning the accusation. When, on the evening of April 3, Robespierre denounced the incapacity of the committee of general defense, the strong reaction of the Girondins led him to present the various elements which, in his eyes, established their complicity with Dumouriez. On April 5 and 6, at the request of the Montagnards, the commission of public salvation was replaced by the committee of public salvation, dominated by Danton, Bertrand Barère and Pierre-Joseph Cambon, then it was decided, on April 9, to send representatives on mission to the armies.
Since January, a struggle had been going on within the Parisian and provincial sections between moderates, sometimes close to the Girondins, and radicals, sensitive to the demands of the Enragés, who, in a context of the collapse of the scrip, inflation, high living costs, recession and scarce work, demanded taxation, the requisition of foodstuffs, public relief for the poor and the families of volunteers, the forced exchange of the scrip, and the establishment of a legal Terror against the hoarders and suspects. As early as April 1, upon hearing of Dumouriez”s treason, Jean-François Varlet had founded a central revolutionary committee at the bishop”s palace, known as the Comité de l”Évêché, while Jacques Roux provoked the formation of a general assembly of the surveillance committees of Paris, which obtained the support of the Commune and its prosecutor, Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette, but entered into competition with the committee. On April 4, the day after Robespierre”s denunciation, the section of the Halle-aux-Blés drafted an address to the Convention asking for a decree of accusation against “the guilty deputies,” as well as a law against hoarders, the dismissal of noble officers, and the purging of the administration.
On April 8, during the evening session, a deputation of the section of Bon-Conseil came to ask for a decree of accusation against the Girondin leaders and obtained, on the request of Marat, the honors of the session. On April 10, Pétion opened the debates of the morning session by denouncing, in very lively terms, the draft address of the section of Halle-aux-Blés, though conceived, according to Hamel, in the same spirit as that of the section of Bon-Conseil, and asked for the referral to the revolutionary tribunal of its president and secretary. Following him, Élie Guadet diverted the accusation of complicity with Dumouriez, according to Hamel, against “the acolytes of Égalité, that is to say, in his mind, the Dantons, the Marats. In response, Robespierre repeated his accusation against the Girondins in a long indictment that placed the treason of the general within the framework of a larger conspiracy, and to which Pierre Vergniaud immediately replied. On the 11th, Vergniaud was followed by Pétion and Guadet, who, taking advantage of the absence of many Montagnards, sent on mission to the provinces, turned the accusation of conspiracy in favor of Orléans against Robespierre, Danton and the Montagne and asked for the impeachment of Jean-Paul Marat, for having initiated and signed an address of the Jacobins to the departments accusing the Convention of enclosing the counter-revolution in its bosom – the decree of impeachment was voted on the next day on a report from the Legislation Committee.
At the end of the session of the 10th, Robespierre went to the Jacobins, where he summarized his indictment and criticized the draft address of the section of Halle-aux-Blés, whose excesses of language, in his eyes, produced “terrible effects in the departments. Instead, he asked that extraordinary assemblies be convened in all the sections “to deliberate on the means of denouncing to the whole of France the criminal plot of the traitors. This step led, on April 15, to the presentation, by 35 of the 48 revolutionary sections of Paris, of an address with a moderate tone but which included a list of 22 “agents guilty of the crime of felony towards the sovereign people”, intended for all the departments to ask for their agreement, in order to force the deputies concerned to withdraw from the Assembly.
This petition, which gave the purge the form of a national consultation, was rejected by the Convention, which, after the acquittal of Marat before the revolutionary tribunal, the outbreak of the Vendée war and the uprising in Lyon, favored the development of a crisis atmosphere in the capital. Faced with this situation, the Gironde obtained on May 18 from the Convention the creation of an extraordinary commission of the Twelve, exclusively Girondine, intended to break the Commune, which supported the request for withdrawal of the 22 Girondine deputies.
Absent from May 14 to 23, perhaps ill, Robespierre intervened, despite his physical weakness, before the Jacobins on May 26, he who had until then preached calm and moderation against the Enragés and Exagérés, with the hope of taking the fight to the parliamentary field, to invite “the people to put themselves in the National Convention in insurrection against the corrupt deputies. After having tried in vain to obtain the floor before the Convention the following day, he delivered a speech, on the 28th, to denounce the Girondins, but, interrupted by Charles Barbaroux and too weak to face, he left the tribune by inviting “the republicans” to plunge the Brissotins “into the abyss of the shame”. Exhausted by his efforts, he intervened one last time at the Jacobins on the 29th to urge the Commune to take the direction of the insurrectionary movement, declaring himself incapable, “consumed by a slow fever,” of “prescribing to the people the means to save themselves.
On May 31, he remained silent until the vote on the report that Bertrand Barère had presented in the name of the Committee of Public Safety, in which he merely asked for the abolition of the extraordinary commission of the Twelve. Judging the proposed measures insufficient, he intervened in the gallery to oppose the constitution of an armed force charged to protect the Convention and to ask for “the decree of accusation against all the accomplices of Dumouriez and against all those which were indicated by the petitioners”. However, the Convention decided in favor of Barère”s project. On June 2, it finally gave in, under the threat of François Hanriot”s cannons.
The Mountain Convention
As early as June 3, Robespierre claimed the role of the Jacobins, who had contributed to the organization and success of the insurrection against the Enragés and Exagérés with the support, according to Patrice Gueniffey, of the militants of the sections, who “had no intention of laying down their arms without having reaped all the benefits of their victory,” or of the right wing, which retained solid positions in the Convention (where a desire for conciliation prevailed even among the Montagnards). Maximilien de Robespierre declared in this context: “It is necessary that we seize the committees and that we spend nights to make good laws”. On June 6, Bertrand Barère presented a report in the name of the Committee of Public Safety requesting the dissolution of all the revolutionary committees created during the May crisis, the expulsion of all suspicious foreigners, the election of a new general commander of the National Guard, and the sending of an equal number of deputies as hostages to the departments whose deputies had been arrested – Danton supported this last proposal, and Georges Couthon and Saint-Just offered themselves as hostages. When the discussion began on June 8, Robespierre spoke out against this report, except on the question of a law on foreigners, which he wanted to be more severe, and obtained its withdrawal; Hanriot was confirmed in his functions, and the revolutionary committees could continue their action.
After the adoption of the law of June 3, 1793 on the mode of sale of the goods of the emigrants, which stipulated that the batches would be divided into small parcels, with a ten-year delay of payment, to favor the poor peasants, and of that of June 10 on the division, optional, of the communal goods, with equal shares, and before the law of July 17 on the complete abolition without compensation (contrary to the night of August 4, 1789) of feudal rights, Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles presented a project of constitution to which Couthon and Saint-Just had contributed and which fixed a project of political democracy. Robespierre himself had presented, on April 24, a draft declaration of rights (preceded by a speech on property), extended on May 10 by a speech on the future constitution, whose influence on the final draft has been discussed. His speech on property and his declaration intended to limit the right of property, in the face of the Girondine draft constitution, by “the obligation to respect the rights of others” and to “prejudice neither the security, nor the liberty, nor the existence, nor the property of our fellow men”, the establishment of a redistributive and progressive taxation as well as a universal fraternity and citizenship.
The debate began on June 11 and ended on June 23 with the adoption of the draft. On the last day, a part of the deputies of the right having remained seated on their benches during the vote of the declaration of the rights, Robespierre opposed the deputies who, like Billaud-Varenne, required the roll call, so that all France knew which of its representatives “had opposed to its happiness”. He affirmed on this occasion: “I like to persuade myself that, if they did not rise with us, it is rather because they are paralytics than bad citizens”.
At the same time, according to Gérard Walter, he worked to promote the position of Georges Couthon, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Jeanbon Saint André, who had been added to the Committee of Public Salvation on May 31 and whom the historian describes as “robespierrists,” and to eliminate Danton, who had apparently ceased to inspire confidence in him since the Dumouriez affair, particularly in his speech to the Jacobins on July 8. On July 10, the Convention proceeded to the renewal of the committee. While the three deputies entered as members, Danton was not reelected. The same day, Robespierre entered with Léonard Bourdon in the Commission of Public Instruction, replacing Jeanbon Saint-André and Saint-Just. In this capacity, he presented to the Convention, three days later, the plan of national education drafted by his friend Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau as rapporteur. Then, on July 26, Thomas-Augustin de Gasparin resigned; Robespierre took part in the session of the Committee of this day, before being elected in his place the following day, on the proposal of Jeanbon Saint-André. It was common practice for deputies who had been approached to join the committee to attend its meetings. Thus Lazare Carnot and Claude-Antoine Prieur de la Côte-d”Or, who were called on August 14, attended, the first, the session of August 11, the second, those of August 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12.
Robespierre participated at first mainly in the deliberations on the military question, at a time when defeats followed one another. Faced with the distress of the situation, Barère proposed the entry of technicians capable of drawing up a plan of operations; Carnot, then on a mission in the North, and Prieur de la Côte-d”Or were called to sit on August 14. Worried, according to Jules Michelet and Gérard Walter, about this arrival, which could foreshadow the formation of a coalition with Jacques Thuriot, Barère and Hérault de Séchelles, Robespierre declared the same evening to the Jacobins: “Called against my inclination to the Committee of Public Safety, I saw things there that I would not have dared to suspect. I saw on the one hand patriotic members who sought in vain the good of their country, and on the other, traitors who were plotting within the Committee against the interests of the people”. On the contrary, for Ernest Hamel, there was then still no difference of opinion between Robespierre and Carnot, with whom he had been befriended in Arras, and the words pronounced in the Jacobins on the evening of August 11, which according to him may have been falsely reported, did not prevent him, on September 25, from asking the Convention to declare that the committee had well deserved the fatherland.
The role played by Robespierre within the Committee of Public Salvation and his real influence on the revolutionary government are debated. While many historians believe that he had a real ascendancy, considering him to be the “master” of the Comité de salut public, of the Terror, of the revolution, or of France, many others contest the idea that he exercised any preponderance and judge that, on the contrary, he was the object of strong contestation among his colleagues. However, he was presented by the Thermidorians – whether members of the former committees (Bertrand Barère, Jean-Marie Collot d”Herbois, Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, Marc Vadier and Jean-Pierre-André Amar) or the former representatives on mission whom he had wanted to denounce (Joseph Fouché, Jean-Lambert Tallien, Stanislas Rovère, Louis Louchet, etc.) – as the soul of the “Jacobin dictatorship”, imposing a regime of terror. By describing the Terror as the dictatorship of a single, “slaughtered scapegoat,” the Conventionalists hoped to prove to public opinion “their non-responsibility, perhaps even their innocence, or even their victimhood, and thus make their about-face justifiable and perhaps logical. If the exceptional measures were judged essential to save the Republic seriously threatened at the interior by several uprisings (insurrection in Vendée, federalist insurrections, in particular uprising of Lyon) and outside by the military threat (war against the European monarchies coalesced), Robespierre”s responsibility for the excesses and atrocities of the repression in the Vendée, in Lyon, in the Midi, in the North and in Paris has never been proven. Some historians, such as Albert Mathiez or Jean-Clément Martin, even judge that, in his eyes, the repression should only hit the real culprits, and not their accomplices, and should be reduced to the strict minimum. Jean Massin recalls that on July 28, 1790 at the Constituent Assembly he had opposed Mirabeau when the latter demanded the proscription of the Duke of Condé. He did not consider indispensable to strike an emigrant by definition hostile to the principles. According to Mathiez, when Marc-Antoine Jullien of Paris, sent on a mission by the committee of public salvation in the maritime departments, alerted him to the behavior of Jean-Baptiste Carrier in Nantes and Jean-Lambert Tallien in Bordeaux, he demanded their recall, just as he demanded that of Paul Barras and Louis Fréron, in mission in the South, of Stanislas Rovère and François-Martin Poultier, who organized in Vaucluse the black bands to seize the national goods, of Joseph Le Bon, denounced for his exactions in Artois, and of Joseph Fouché, responsible for the machine-gunning in Lyon. According to the testimony of his sister Charlotte, when the latter came to see him on his return from Lyon, Robespierre “asked him for an account of the blood he had shed and reproached him for his conduct with such energy of expression that Fouché was pale and trembling. He stammered some excuses and rejected the measures taken on the gravity of the circumstances. Robespierre answered him that nothing could justify the cruelties of which he had been guilty, that Lyon, it is true, had been in insurrection against the National Convention, but that it was not a reason to machine-gun unarmed enemies en masse. However, the memoirs of Charlotte, published by the republican activist Albert Laponneraye forty years after the death of the Incorruptible, aim at rehabilitating this one by camping him like “soft, compassionate and martyr”. One notices finally that in one of his last interventions, on 26 messidor year II (July 14, 1794), in the club of the Jacobins, the Incorruptible attacks Fouché, makes him exclude, by classifying him among “the men whose hands are full of rapine and blood”.
Published in 1842, Bertrand Barère”s memoirs mention the recall to Paris of Jean-Marie Collot d”Herbois because of the supposed indignation raised within the Committee of Public Salvation by the excesses committed at “Ville-Affranchie.” Charlotte Robespierre”s memoirs (1835) contain similar allegations about her brother being supposedly horrified by the bloodshed in Lyon. However, contrary to this “tradition, carefully maintained by certain historians generally favorable to Robespierre”s action,” Michel Biard notes that the Committee in general and the Incorruptible in particular were not hostile to the severe repression in Lyon carried out by Collot d”Herbois, as attested by various writings of Robespierre: a letter “which stigmatizes too much indulgence” of the previous representatives on mission sent to Lyon, and two speeches, one undated (against Fabre d”Églantine) and the other of 23 messidor year II.
Many historians, however, have made Robespierre the main theoretician of the Terror. This preconceived notion is based in part on the idea that he remained president of the Convention for a whole year, although he was president for only one month in total: August 21-September 5, 1793 and June 4-19, 1794. In recent years, the numerous studies devoted to the Terror, both by English-speaking historians (Tackett) and French-speaking historians (Michel Biard, Hervé Leuwers), have forced us to reconsider this interpretation, as the Terror was not institutionalized, but rather was a set of practices that were provoked both by measures coming from above and by local initiatives. In his biography of Robespierre, Hervé Leuwers has shown that in speaking of virtue and terror, in his famous speech of February 5, 1794 (17 pluviôse de l”an II), Robespierre attempted to theorize the revolutionary government (and not the Terror) by relying on Montesquieu”s political theory, which distinguished between republican governments (with virtue as a principle), monarchical governments (Robespierre did not speak of the “Terror” of historians), and the “terror” of the French Revolution. In this text, explains Hervé Leuwers, Robespierre wants to demonstrate that “the revolutionary government is based both on virtue, because it is republican by essence, and on terror, because it is despotic by necessity. It is a “despotism of liberty”, totally distinct from the despotism defined by Montesquieu, because force is used here against the enemies of the republic”.
Some deputies, such as Laurent Lecointre, relativized Maximilien Robespierre”s responsibility for the Terror as early as the third year. Similarly, under the Directory, Reubell confided to Carnot: “I have never had but one reproach to make of Robespierre, and that is to have been too gentle.”
Later, other actors or witnesses, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, criticized the Thermidorian thesis that Robespierre was the inspiration for the Terror, since the phenomenon had ceased with his death: “Robespierre,” said Napoleon in the presence of General Gaspard Gourgaud and Mme de Montholon, “was tumbled because he wanted to become a moderator and stop the Revolution. Jean-Jacques de Cambaceres told me that, the day before his death, he had given a magnificent speech that had never been printed. Billaud and other terrorists, seeing that he was weakening and that he would infallibly make their heads fall off, joined forces against him and excited the honest people, supposedly, to overthrow the “tyrant”, but in reality to take his place and make terror reign even more. In the same way, according to Emmanuel de Las Cases, he thought him “the true scapegoat of the revolution, immolated as soon as he had wanted to undertake to stop it in its course. They (but the latter answered them, before perishing, that he was a stranger to the last executions; that, for six weeks, he had not appeared at the committees. Napoleon confessed that at the army of Nice, he had seen long letters of him to his brother, blaming the horrors of the conventional commissioners who lost, he said, the revolution by their tyranny and their atrocities, etc., Cambaceres, who must be an authority on this period, observed the Emperor, had answered the interpellation which he addressed to him one day on the condemnation of Robespierre, with these remarkable words: “Sire, that was a judged trial, but not pleaded.” Adding that Robespierre had more follow-through and conception than one thought; that after having overthrown the unrestrained factions he had had to fight, his intention had been the return to order and moderation.”
Robespierre has become a black legend because this thesis has found use with some of the great dictators of modern times who have claimed Robespierre and the Terror as a necessity (the “necessary severities” to ensure “public salvation”).
Among the “seventy-three”, moreover, several wrote to Robespierre to thank him for having saved them, like the deputies Charles-robert Hecquet, Jacques Queinnec, Alexandre-Jean Ruault, Hector de Soubeyran de Saint-Prix, Antoine Delamarre, Claude Blad and Pierre-Charles Vincent on 29 nivôse year II (January 18, 1794), or to ask him to propose a general amnesty, like Pierre-Joseph Faure, deputy of Seine-Inférieure, on 19 prairial year II (June 7, 1794), day before the feast of the Supreme Being and Claude-Joseph Girault, deputy of Côtes-du-Nord, locked up at the prison of La Force, on 26 prairial 1794.
On 30 frimaire an II (20 December 1793), Robespierre proposed to the Convention the institution of a justice committee, which was along the lines of the “committee of clemency” demanded by Camille Desmoulins in the fourth issue of Le Vieux Cordelier (20 December), to search for and release unjustly detained patriots. However, this proposal was rejected on 6 nivôse (December 26), after a confused debate, in front of the opposition of the Committee of general safety, jealous of its prerogatives, and that of Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne. In the Jacobins, during the session of 29 ventôse (19 March 1794), he opposed the discussion on the signatories of the royalist petitions known as the 8,000 and 20,000. In the same way, he tried in vain to save Madame Elisabeth of France, thus opposing Jacques-René Hébert on the 1st frimaire year II (November 21, 1793) who asked in particular to the Jacobins “that one pursues the extinction of the race of Capet”, and, according to the testimony of the bookseller Maret, reported by the royalist Claude Beaulieu, affirmed, after his execution in May 1794: “I guarantee you, my dear Maret, that, far from being the author of the death of Madame Élisabeth, I wanted to save her. It is that scoundrel Jean-Marie Collot d”Herbois who snatched her from me. He tried in the same way to save the former constituent Jacques-Guillaume Thouret, who had been compromised in the so-called prison conspiracy, and, alone, refused to sign the arrest warrant.
In a pamphlet published at the beginning of the Restoration, Ève Demaillot, an agent of the Committee of Public Safety, appointed in May 1794 as commissioner in the Loiret, claimed to have been sent there by Robespierre in order to enlarge the suspects arrested on the orders of Léonard Bourdon, who were almost all released, and among them “the abbot Le Duc, natural son of Louis XV, ready to go to the scaffold.
Finally, on July 27, 1794, Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne reproached Robespierre for his indulgence, explaining: “The first time I denounced Georges Danton to the Committee, Robespierre rose like a furious man, saying that he saw my intentions, that I wanted to lose the best patriots.
Now, for the royalist publicist Claude Beaulieu, “it remains constant that the greatest violence since the beginning of 1794, was provoked by the very people who crushed Robespierre. Only occupied, in our prisons, to seek in the speeches which one pronounced, either with the Jacobins or with the Convention, which were the men who left us some hope, we saw there that all that one said was desolating, but that Robespierre still appeared the least outraged”.
The “liquidation of factions
At the end of 1793, the majority of the Conventionalists continued to support the Committee of Public Salvation, which obtained its first military victories, but the struggles for power among revolutionaries became more intense, in a context of economic crisis aggravated by the law on the general maximum. Those who wanted to stop the Terror, judged useless and dangerous, around Danton and Desmoulins, received the nickname of Indulgents. Those who wanted to radicalize it and extend it to neighboring countries, around the leaders of the Cordeliers club, Hébert, editor of Père Duchesne, the newspaper of the sans-culottes, François-Nicolas Vincent, secretary general of the Ministry of War, Charles-Philippe Ronsin, head of the Parisian revolutionary army, with the support of Commune, received the name of Hébertistes.
From the end of November 1793 to the middle of January 1794, a Robespierre-Danton axis was formed to combat the rise of the Hebertists and the dechristianization that was unleashed in November. It seems that Danton hoped to detach Robespierre from the left of the Committee (Billaud-Varenne, Collot d”Herbois and Barère) and share governmental responsibilities with him. Danton”s friends attacked the Hebertist leaders with Robespierre”s tacit approval and had Ronsin and Vincent arrested by the Convention on 27 Frimaire Year II (17 December 1793), without even referring to the Committees. This offensive was supported by the new newspaper of Camille Desmoulins, Le Vieux Cordelier, which obtained a great success. At the same time, the Indulgents went on the offensive: on December 15, Le Vieux Cordelier attacked the law against suspects.
Robespierre put an end to Danton”s hopes of an alliance on December 25, after Collot”s return from Lyon, and amalgamated the two opposing factions in a single reprobate: “The revolutionary government must sail between two reefs, weakness and recklessness, moderatism and excess; moderatism, which is to moderation what impotence is to chastity; and excess, which resembles energy as dropsy resembles health.” At equal distance from the factions, he condemned those who would have wanted to see the revolution rebound or retrograde. This was an effective political strategy that gave him a position of moral judge and referee and allowed him to strengthen his control over power and eliminate his opponents. It is this strategy that explains why he decided to launch, on 5 Nivôse (28 December 1793), the process of heroisation of Joseph Bara, by requesting his pantheonization based on a letter sent by Bara”s leader, Jean-Baptiste Desmarres.
The two factions fought in vain for two months. At the end of the winter, the catastrophic economic situation (gatherings in front of stores, looting, violence) precipitated the outcome. The Hébertists attempted an insurrection which, poorly prepared and not followed by the Commune, failed. The Committee had the Cordeliers leaders arrested during the night of March 13-14. The technique of the amalgam made it possible to mix with Hébert, Ronsin, Vincent and Antoine-Français Momoro of the foreign refugees like Anacharsis Cloots, Berthold Proli, Jacob Pereira, in order to present them as accomplices of the “plot of the foreigner”. All of them were executed on March 24 without the sans-culottes moving.
The day after the arrest of the Hebertists, Danton and his friends took the offensive again. Number 7 of Le Vieux Cordelier, which did not appear, demanded the renewal of the Committee and a peace as quickly as possible. This number, contrary to the preceding ones, attacked Robespierre head-on, whom it reproached for his speech to the Jacobins against the English, on 11 Pluviôse Year II (30 January 1794): wanting, as Brissot had done in the past with Continental Europe, to municipalize England. But Robespierre had an effective weapon against the leaders of the Indulgents, the politico-financial scandal of the liquidation of the East India Company, in which friends of Danton were involved.
On March 30, the Committee ordered the arrest of Danton, Delacroix, Desmoulins and Pierre Philippeaux. As with the Hebertists, the political defendants were mixed up with prevaricators and businessmen, and foreigners at that, in order to link the defendants to this “conspiracy of the foreigner. The trial, opened on April 2, was a political trial, judged in advance. Danton and his friends were guillotined on April 5. For the Hébertists as well as for the Dantonists, it was Saint-Just who took charge of the accusation report before the Convention, using and correcting for the Dantonists the notes of Robespierre.
The colonial question
Robespierre earned his stripes as a defender of liberty in the colonies for the very first time on January 11, 1791, when he and Pétion victoriously opposed the Massiac club, in the person of Médéric Moreau de Saint-Méry, who wanted to impose a blocking right on the decisions taken by the Constituent Assembly for overseas territories. After opposing the constitutional recognition of slavery, proposed by Bertrand Barère on May 13, 1791, and the refusal of the right to vote to the freedmen, presented by Jean-François Reubell on the following May 15, Robespierre denounced to the Constituent Assembly on September 5, 1791 the refusal of the colonial assemblies to apply the decree, and then on September 24, its revocation, as well as the concessions made to the supporters of the colonial status quo, led by the triumvirate and Médéric Moreau de Saint-Méry. Henri Guillemin noted that at the end of the session of September 5, Robespierre was insulted, pushed around and threatened with arrest by members or deputies close to the Massiac club, but that he “had the audacity to do it again on the 24th”.
As the feuillante regression of the summer of 1791 reached its conclusion, the triumvirs succeeded on September 24 in having the decree of May 15, 1791, concerning the political status of people of color in the colonies revoked, although it admitted only “people of color born of free fathers and mothers in all future parish and colonial assemblies,” provided that they had “the required qualities. Historians Bernard Gainot and Jean-Clément Martin consider that insofar as, after 1791, Robespierre fought the Girondins” warmongering policy, he tactically chose to remain silent on their emancipatory colonial policy. Yet, when the Girondins had the Legislative Assembly vote on a decree-law granting – this time definitively – equal political rights to all free colored and black men with white colonists, on March 28 and April 4, 1792, Robespierre thanked them “in the name of Humanity” in No. 3 of the Defender of the Constitution, on May 31, for having “brought about the triumph of a cause that I had pleaded several times before the same tribune.” He also disavowed – on pain of “injustice” and “ingratitude” – the pamphlet Jacques-Pierre Brissot démasqué (February 1792) by Camille Desmoulins, his friend and ally in the fight against the Girondin warmongering. Camille Desmoulins had reproached Brissot for his colonial policy, which was supposed to divide the patriot movement. In April 1793, when Robespierre wrote his draft declaration of the rights of man, he associated, in the part relating to a project of limitation of private property, the suppression of the trade and slavery of the Blacks, as scandalous in his eyes as royalty and the landed aristocracy. He referred to the slave ships as “long beers”, a term taken from a pamphlet by Brissot published two years earlier, in February 1791, itself derived from Mirabeau”s expression inserted in a speech, delivered at the Jacobin Club on March 1 and 2, 1790: “floating beers”. Other authors had underlined its personal inspiration. There exists in his papers a manuscript of the document, in which the words “floating beers” are not pronounced. It was published in 1906 by Alphonse Aulard, later analyzed by Albert Mathiez: “Property-its rights-. Merchant of human flesh, ship where he cashes the negroes, these are my properties”.
On June 3, 1793, at the Jacobins Club, the deputies Bourdon de l”Oise, Chabot, Robespierre, Jeanbon Saint-André, Legendre, Maure and other members of society enthusiastically receive a delegation of Blacks, including the 114-year-old Jeanne Odo. They applaud when Chabot swears solidarity with the men of color. The next day, on the 4th, at the Convention, a recently discovered source (a poster of the Martinican mulatto Julien Labuissonnière) indicates that Robespierre, Jeanbon Saint André “and the rest of these righteous men” have, along with Abbé Grégoire, “thundered from the top of the Mountain” to petition for the abolition of slavery demanded by Anaxagoras Chaumette and the anti-slavery creole Claude Milscent.
As for Robespierre”s positions on the colonial question in Year II, which Georges Hardy claimed were non-existent in the Courtois commission”s papers, elements have recently been discovered that argue in favor of his abolitionism. One had however until then the impression, underlined by left-wing Thermidorians, that he had become hostile to the abolition of slavery because of a sentence, of colonialist inspiration, pronounced against the Girondins on the 27 brumaire year II (November 17, 1793):
“Thus the same faction that in France wanted to reduce all the poor to the condition of Hilots and subject the people to the aristocracy of the rich, wanted in an instant to free and arm all the negroes to destroy our colonies.”
Jean Poperen deduced, without giving an explanation, “that Robespierre”s position on the liberation of the Blacks since his polemic with Barnave seems to have evolved. This time, he seemed to be inspired by the report of Jean-Pierre-André Amar, a Montagnard who was close to the colonists, presented to the Convention on October 3, 1793, which accused Brissot of having wanted, in the past, to deliver the colonies, “under the mask of philanthropy,” to the English. Moreover, there is no public trace of his positions on the decree of 16 pluviôse year II (February 4, 1794) proclaiming the abolition of the slavery of the Blacks in all the colonies and which should logically have excited him. Privately, there is a negative allusion to this decree in Robespierre”s notes against the Dantonists: he reproaches Danton and Delacroix for having “passed a decree whose most likely result will be the loss of the colonies. But cross-checking the papers seized by the Courtois commission with the Thermidorian polemics suggests that the first sentence, on the contrary, does not alter in any way the egalitarian colonial opinions that he had expressed in May-September 1791, May 1792 and April 1793. In October 1793, Amar attacked Brissot”s entire egalitarian colonial policy, both that in favor of slaves and the much more energetic one of free men of color. Amar did not have Robespierre”s support, contrary to what Brissot claimed. For in November 1793, Robespierre, who was attacking the anti-slavery policies of the Girondins, was influenced by Janvier Littée, a mulatto deputy from Martinique (and therefore a beneficiary of the egalitarian law of April 4, 1792, which Robespierre had praised, as we remember) and a slave owner.
On the contrary, the papers of the Courtois Commission show that in Messidor II (July 1794), a few weeks before his death, Robespierre, through his police office and agent Claude Guérin, was monitoring this deputy and his connections with two intriguers from Saint-Domingue, Page and Brulley, who had been in prison since 17 Ventôse II (7 March 1794). The same papers report that in his correspondence with Robespierre, his agent Jullien of Paris, then on a mission with Prieur de la Marne, had, in January 1794, announced to him the imminent arrival in Paris of three deputies from Saint-Domingue – one white, Louis-Pierre Dufay, one mulatto, Jean-Baptiste Mills, and one black, Jean-Baptiste Belley, elected in the colony after the abolition of slavery by Sonthonax in August 1793. Two of them (Dufay and Mills) were then arrested on 10 Pluviôse Year II-29 January 1794 on the denunciation of the slave commissioners, Page and Brulley, to the Committee of General Safety (notably Amar, who had often received the two intriguers since September 1793). But four days later they were freed by the Committee of Public Safety after Belley”s intervention and integrated into the Convention, the Mountain and the Jacobin Club. After their meeting with Belley, the members of the Committee of Public Safety present in Paris (with the exception of Robert Lindet, who like Amar on the Committee of General Safety sympathized with Page and Brulley) described the whites of Saint-Domingue as “colonial princes,” aristocrats, and equated the blacks of Saint-Domingue with the patriots of the colonies. The Feuille du Salut public, the unofficial newspaper of the Comité de Salut Public, was among the most enthusiastic periodicals in defense of the decree. In its issue of 25 Pluviôse Year II – 13 February 1794, it presented the extract from the book of anticipation, L”an 2440, written by Louis-Sébastien Mercier in 1770, which imagined the victory of insurgent black slaves in a colony, as a prediction. Louis-Sébastien Mercier was one of the seventy-three Girondin prisoners whom Robespierre had saved from being brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal in October 1793.
But, against the current of Thermidorian fashion, Jean-Baptiste Belley instrumentalized Robespierre”s reaction in Year III in his responses to Gouly”s negrophobic written insults. As for the second sentence written in private during the factional crisis, it may also have been influenced by Janvier Littée, but it was in any case deleted by Saint-Just when he edited his friend”s notes against the Dantonists for his indictment of 11 germinal year II (31 March 1794), without their relations being disturbed. Saint-Just, who knew Page and Brulley because he had often spoken with them, nevertheless signed with Collot d”Herbois, in the name of the Committee of Public Safety, the order for the arrest of the two colonists, on 17 Ventôse, Year II (7 March 1794), at the request of the deputation of Saint-Domingue on 6 Ventôse (24 February). On 19 Ventôse, Year II (9 March 1794), the National Convention voted the following decree against the slave settlers: “Article 1. All colonists who were members of the assembly of Saint-Marc and of the one known since then as the Colonial Assembly, the agents of these assemblies currently in France, and the members of the clubs of Massiac and of the colonies, will be placed under arrest. The files of the general police “indicate that at the end of March 1794, the new Robespierrist Commune took over the policy begun by Chaumette and the Hébertists, shortly before their elimination, of mass arrests of members of the colonial assemblies, living symbols of the aristocracy of the skin. From April onwards, two members of the Committee of Public Safety on mission in the ports of western France, Prieur de la Marne and Jeanbon Saint-André, acted in this sense in Nantes and Brest. Finally, in the Jacobin climate of the time, from February to the end of July 1794, the Convention received several hundred letters from all over France congratulating the abolition of slavery and announcing celebrations of this same emancipation, often organized under the leadership of representatives on mission. The Thermidorian Convention stopped, immediately after the fall of Robespierre, these announcements and readings of congratulatory addresses. On 21 ventôse year II-11 March 1794 two representatives on mission, Adam Pfiegler in Châlons-sur-Marne, Joseph Fouché in Lyon, informed the CSP by letter of the organization of celebrations of the abolition of slavery. On the 20th of Prairial, a colonist from Saint-Domingue, Thomas Millet, detained in the Carmes prison, protested in a letter also sent to the committee of public salvation against the deviation of the celebration of the Supreme Being: the presence of Dufay “agent of Pitt” and the support of the insurgent black slaves. This is the only case to date of a slave colonist who perceived Robespierre, even during his lifetime, and not after his death in the context of the Thermidorian polemics, as a supporter and actor in the application of the decree of 16 Pluviôse An II.
The Supreme Being
Robespierre never hid his faith, common at the time, in a Supreme Being. As early as March 26, 1792, in the Jacobins, Guadet had made it a crime for him to invoke Providence – the Girondins did not forgive him for being the main opponent of their war project. Far from shying away, he assumed:
“Superstition, it is true, is one of the supports of despotism, but it is not to induce citizens into superstition to pronounce the name of the divinity, I abhor as much as anyone all these impious sects which have spread throughout the universe to favor ambition, I abhor as much as anyone all those impious sects which have spread throughout the universe to favor ambition, fanaticism and all passions, covering themselves with the secret power of the eternal One who created nature and humanity, but I am far from confusing it with those fools with whom despotism has armed itself. I support these eternal principles on which human weakness is supported in order to launch itself into virtue. This is not a vain language in my mouth, no more than in that of all the illustrious men who had no less morals to believe in the existence of God. Yes, to invoke the name of providence and to emit an idea of the eternal being who essentially influences the destinies of the nations, who seems to me to watch in a very particular way over the French revolution, is not an idea too hazardous, but a feeling of my heart, a feeling which is necessary to me; how could it not be necessary to me who, delivered up in the constituent assembly to all the passions, to all the vile intrigues, and surrounded by so many enemies, supported myself. Alone with my soul, how could I have supported works which are above human strength, if I had not raised my soul. Without going too deeply into this encouraging idea, this divine feeling has compensated me well for all the advantages offered to those who wanted to betray the people.”
It is not surprising that he threw himself in the way of the dechristianizing wave in the fall of 1793. On November 21 and 28, in the Jacobins, he denounced dechristianization as a counter-revolutionary maneuver.
Already, on October 27, the Committee (Collot-d”Herbois, Robespierre, Carnot and Billaud-Varenne) had written to André Dumont, representative in the Somme and Oise: “It seemed to us that in your last operations you struck too violently at the objects of the Catholic cult. A part of France, and especially of the South, is still fanatical. One must be careful not to provide the hypocritical counter-revolutionaries, who seek to ignite civil war, with any pretext that seems to justify their calumnies.” Everything is in this letter. Violent dechristianization not only went against the principle of freedom of worship but risked igniting new Vendées everywhere. The representatives on mission reported incidents in Mantes, Versailles, Corbeil, in more than 50 communes around Coulommiers, in Rouen, in Meymac (in Corrèze, where 3 to 4,000 men rose up on December 10), in Poitiers, Metz, Tulle, La Charité, Périgueux, Montpellier, Troyes, Sézanne (in the Marne), Château-du-Loir (in the Sarthe), Dourdan (near Versailles), in Dole and in the whole Jura, in Argent and in the Cher, in the Haute-Vienne, in the Gers, in the Nièvre, in Eure-et-Loir, in Ariège, in Seine-et-Oise, in the Gard, in Aveyron, in Lozère, in the Ardennes, in the Mont-Blanc, etc. . The risk of fire was real.
On December 6, Robespierre led the Convention to defend “all violence or threats contrary to the freedom of worship,” without, moreover, “impeding what has been done up to now by virtue of the decrees of the people”s representatives.
On December 16, from Cassel, Hentz and Florent-Guiot, representatives of the army of the North, wrote to the Committee: “Robespierre has saved this country; his worries were well founded. However, one good thing will result from all this; it is that fanaticism is destroyed, not by the acts of violence committed, since we are repairing them, but by the cowardice of several priests, who had just abdicated, some of them pressed by the fear of the guillotine, others because they were the villains driving the counter-revolutionary movement that had been planned. We bring consolation to the people, and they bless us; but above all let us endeavor to show them that it is only false patriots who, in concert with Pitt and Cobourg, have directed the incursion on the priests.”
This being said, dechristianization was not an atheistic movement. The cult of Reason, which accompanied it, was nothing less than the cult of the Supreme Being. On November 30, at a festival of Reason in the church of Saint-Roch in Paris, the speaker declared: “These altars, where for eighteen hundred years the Supreme Being, reason and humanity were insulted, are overthrown.” Many letters from representatives on mission attest to the same sentiment. One example will suffice, that of Cavaignac and Dartigoeyte, ardent dechristianizers, who, on November 9 (thus well before Robespierre”s position), from Auch, had sent to the Convention the declarations of several priests, among them that of Michel Ribet, professor of philosophy, who renounced his functions, recognizing “that all that priests teach, except the love of a Supreme Being and that of one”s fellow man, is nothing but a tissue of error.”
But dechristianization, having led to the adoption of the republican calendar on October 5, posed another problem, that of the replacement of the 7-day weeks by 3 decades of 10 days, and thus the replacement of Sunday by the decadent day. On January 12, from Auch, Dartigoeyte wrote to the Committee: “The people advance each day towards reason and public morality. It is to the wise revolutionary march of the government that we owe these successes. However, a bigotry still exists between the depreciated priests and the non-depreciated; this forms the object of a jealousy from commune to commune; it is even a means of fanaticism, which should perhaps be extirpated by decreeing that each citizen would pay his minister. If a sufficient amount of money were granted for the celebration of the decadal feasts, we would soon see the people forget Sunday and shape themselves to the republican customs. The decadal day has no appeal in the countryside, for lack of some funds to pay for instruments, etc. It is up to you, fellow citizens, to appreciate these observations, which I thought I should submit to you.” This letter was the first of many. Many representatives pointed out the need to furnish the decadal day and to organize the decadal celebrations. On January 13, while Dartigoeyte”s letter had not yet arrived, Musset and Delacroix, in Versailles, wrote to the Committee: “Press the Committee of Public Instruction to organize promptly the national education, the public instruction, the festivals. The Judaic edifice that reason is shaking will soon complete its collapse, if you know how to replace it. But you must not lose time; for, especially in the countryside, the interval can become terrible.”
The committee of public instruction had already seized the file. As early as January 10 (21 nivôse), it had adopted, on a report of the deputy Mathieu (of Oise), that “there will be revolutionary festivals which will perpetuate the most remarkable events of the Revolution”, provision already adopted in principle on January 2 (13 nivôse). On January 22 (3 pluviôse), Mathieu made a report to the committee of public instruction on the decadal festivals. On February 27 (9 ventôse), the committee of public instruction distributed to the deputies of the Convention a project of decadal festivals prepared by Mathieu (of Oise), whose article 5 carried: “These festivals, instituted under the auspices of the Supreme Being, will have for object to gather all the citizens, to recall to them the rights and the duties of the man in society, to make them cherish nature and all the social virtues.” On March 31 (11 germinal), the committee of public instruction authorized Matthieu to consult with the committee of public salvation about this plan. On April 6 (Germinal 17), Couthon announced to the Convention that the Committee of Public Salvation would present to it in a few days “a project of decadal festivals dedicated to the Eternal, of which the Hebertists have not taken away from the people the consoling idea. And on May 7 (18 Floréal), Robespierre made his famous report on religious and moral ideas which, in the end, took up again in the broad outlines, by simplifying it, the project of Matthieu (of Oise) on the decadal festivals. The first article carried: “The French people recognize the existence of the supreme being, and the immortality of the soul”, articles 6, 7 and 15 :
“The French Republic will celebrate every year the feasts of July 14, 1789, August 10, 1792, January 21, 1793, May 31, 1793. It will celebrate, on the days of the decadis, the following festivals: To the Supreme Being and to Nature – To the Human Kind – To the French People – To the Benefactors of Humanity – To the Martyrs of Liberty – To Liberty and Equality – To the Republic – To the Liberty of the World – To the Love of the Homeland – To the Hatred of Tyrants and Traitors – To Truth – To Justice – To Modesty – To Glory and Immortality – To Friendship – To Frugality – To Courage – To Good Faith – To Heroism – To Selflessness – To Stoicism – To Love – To Marital Faith – To Paternal Love – To Maternal Tenderness – To Filial Piety – To Childhood – To Youth – To Manhood – To Old Age – To Misfortune – To Agriculture – To Industry – To our Eyes – To Posterity – To Happiness. It will be celebrated on the 20th of next Prairial (June 8) a national holiday in honor of the Supreme Being.”
This report, distributed by the Committee of Public Salvation in hundreds of thousands of copies, was welcomed throughout France with unimaginable enthusiasm. The Convention was overwhelmed with congratulations. However, few congratulations were addressed directly to Robespierre who, on this occasion, had been the organ of the Committee of Public Salvation, which, for all, was itself the organ of the Convention. Nevertheless, four days before the feast of the Supreme Being, scheduled for June 20, the Convention unanimously elected him as its president, which led him to preside over the feast.
People often speak of the “cult of the Supreme Being,” as if the decree of 18 Floréal instituted a new religion, or even a cult of personality. In fact, the annual celebration of the Supreme Being was not very different from the celebrations of Reason, neither in the speeches nor in the decorations nor in the way it was carried out, as the paintings of the period attest. But the term “Supreme Being” was no longer confusing, unlike “Reason”, which explains its popularity in all circles. This celebration, organized in Paris by Jacques-Louis David, was indeed the most sumptuous, the most grandiose of the Revolution. In Paris, which had then 600 000 souls, the festival gathered, according to a contemporary, more than 400 000 people. This figure seems improbable; at least it testifies to the indisputable success of this festival. The impression was so strong that Jacques Mallet du Pan, reporter for the Foreign Courts, wrote: “one really believed that Robespierre was going to close the abyss of the Revolution”.
The only black spot of this celebration was the invective of some deputies, led by the Dantonist Laurent Lecointre, against Robespierre, who was walking in front of them as President of the Convention. They called him, among other things, a “Pontiff”. These insignificant words, drowned out in the crowd, but which Robespierre seems to have heard, went down in history and reached the ears of Jules Michelet who, viscerally hostile to Robespierre, saw in him only the Pontiff of the Supreme Being, finding no better way to discredit him. Alphonse Aulard took over the process, inaugurated by the Girondins. It is to forget a little quickly that the belief in a Supreme Being was not exclusive to Robespierre, that the festival of the Supreme Being was not his invention, and that neither this belief nor these festivals disappeared with him. On the other hand, on 26 Floréal II-15 May 1794, at the Jacobins Club, against certain zealous supporters from the Montagnard deputy from Corrèze, Jacques Brival, Robespierre defended another Montagnard deputy from Morbihan who was present, Joseph Lequinio, who had pleaded atheism in November 1792 in his book Les Préjugés détruits. According to the Incorruptible, the Convention did not have to supervise the consciences of each one. It was necessary to consider to distinguish “personal opinions” and “public morals”; Lequinio was in this respect a good patriot. The declarations of rights of 1789, 1793 and 1795 are all three placed under the auspices of the Supreme Being. The Journal de la Montagne of 22 messidor year II-10 July 1794 reported on the celebration of the Supreme Being in Brest by his colleague of the Comité de Salut Public, Prieur de la Marne, placed under the angle of the universality of the principles of which the liberty of the Blacks which will be maintained after Thermidor until 1802
Two attacks are reputed to have been perpetrated against Robespierre. The first was carried out by the royalist Henri Admirat, who, on May 22, 1794, followed Maximilien de Robespierre and, by chance, failed to meet him, discharged one or two pistol shots – versions differ – at Jean-Marie Collot d”Herbois in vain. He was arrested, held incommunicado and executed, without ever being able to explain himself publicly, in the company of a group of people he did not know, but who were accused of having plotted with him.
The other was the one lent to Cécile Renault, a young girl who was accused of being a second Charlotte Corday. On May 23, 1794, the young girl had left her home on the Île de la Cité with trimmings for the dress that her dressmaker, living on rue des Deux-Ponts, was making for her. It was on rue des Deux-Ponts, in the Île Saint-Louis (far from Robespierre”s house), that Cécile Renault mysteriously disappeared, only to reappear four hours later in the offices of the political police, who sought to prove that she wanted to assassinate Robespierre. According to interrogation minutes signed with a cross, Cécile Renault confessed that she had gone to Robespierre”s house in rue Saint-Honoré. Contrary to what many authors, such as Jean-François Fayard and Gérard Walter, indicate, there is no source according to which Éléonore Duplay, judging her to be a suspect, prevented her from entering and called the guard. Taken to the Committee of General Safety, where she was interrogated, Cécile Renault did not explain her motives or the act itself, which was based solely on the statements of agents of the Committee of General Safety and the Revolutionary Court. Nevertheless, she was sentenced to death without being able to explain herself publicly, along with her family, who had been arrested and placed in solitary confinement immediately after her arrest.
In the spring, Robespierre was targeted by colleagues of the Convention, former Dantonists like Bourdon de l”Oise or envoys recalled to Paris like Fouché and Barras, motivated by fear or a spirit of revenge, but also by the Committee of General Safety, which reproached him for the creation of the Bureau of General Police – empowered to pronounce acquittals and destined to diminish the influence of this Committee – and for the feast of the supreme Being. Finally, there were conflicts with members of the Comité de salut public.
On June 15, Vadier presented a report to the Convention on an alleged “new conspiracy” – the Catherine Théot affair – which had been fabricated by the Committee of General Safety, and obtained the referral of the prophetess and Dom Gerle to the Revolutionary Tribunal. Through this “imaginary conspiracy”, he aimed at Robespierre and the “cult of the Supreme Being” – but also, according to Claude François Beaulieu, “the general extermination of priests, under the name of fanatics”. After having the case file handed over to him that same evening by René-Dumas and Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, Robespierre obtained from his colleagues on the Committee of Public Safety, on 29 Prairial (17 June), that a new report would be presented to the Convention and that he would be in charge of it. On 9 Messidor (27 June), he demanded the dismissal of Fouquier-Tinville, who in his eyes was too closely linked to the Committee of General Safety. The next day, during the session of the Committee of Public Safety, which brought together Barère, Billaud-Varenne, Carnot, Collot-d”Herbois, Robert Lindet, Robespierre and Saint-Just (who had arrived in Paris in the evening), this request was refused. Gérard Walter also assumes that Robespierre was able to read his draft report. However, the conversation degenerated, he was criticized, perhaps for his report, and he was called a “dictator”. According to the deputy René Levasseur, he left the room shouting: “Save the country without me”, followed by Saint-Just.
From that day on, Robespierre ceased to attend the meetings of the Committee, until 5 thermidor (July 23). On the other hand, he continued to take part in the meetings of the Convention and especially of the Jacobins, where he had true friends and strong supporters.
After a long silence, an attempt at conciliation was orchestrated by Saint-Just and Barère on 5 Thermidor (July 23). During this meeting, Billaud-Varenne, who had previously called Robespierre a “Pisistrate”, told him: “We are your friends, we have always walked together”, and it was decided that Saint-Just would present a report on the situation of the Republic. Robespierre finally went before the Convention, where he exposed the attacks on him and proposed to change the composition of the committees of public salvation and general security, and to subordinate the latter to the former, on 8 thermidor (July 26).
This 8 thermidor (July 26), a violent polemic opposes him to Pierre-Joseph Cambon on the cost for the public finances of the affair known as the life annuities, that Cambon wants to liquidate, which risks to throw “good citizens” in the field of the anti-Revolution according to Robespierre
At first applauded, Robespierre”s speech finally aroused concern among the Convention worked by Robespierre”s opponents, who finally obtained the support of the Marais group, unconcerned, after the victory of Fleurus, June 26, 1794, to maintain the revolutionary government and the economic dirigisme.
On 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), Robespierre was prevented from speaking at the Convention and was inveigled on all sides when one of the “bad conscience” representatives, Louis Louchet, who was close to Fouché, asked for the decree of accusation against him. The proposal was voted by a show of hands and Robespierre was arrested together with Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Georges Couthon. Augustin Robespierre and Philippe-François-Joseph Le Bas voluntarily joined them and the group was taken away by the gendarmes. However, no prison would take the prisoners, and they found themselves free at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris. The Paris Commune had sounded the tocsin and was preparing for insurrection, but Robespierre hesitated to give the order for the uprising. Panicked, the deputies voted to outlaw him, which was tantamount to death without trial. As the night wore on and the order for insurrection failed to come, the ranks of the Commune thinned, and on 10 Thermidor, at about 2 a.m., a troop led by Paul Barras burst into the Hôtel de Ville without encountering much resistance.
During this eventful arrest, Le Bas committed suicide and Augustin de Robespierre jumped out of the window and broke his leg. Maximilien was seriously wounded in the jaw, but it is not clear whether he was shot by the gendarme Charles-André Merda, known as Méda, or whether it was a suicide attempt.
The next afternoon, the prisoners were taken to the Revolutionary Court, where Fouquier-Tinville established the identity of the accused, who, having been outlawed, did not have a trial.
Thus, Robespierre was condemned without trial and guillotined on the afternoon of 10 Thermidor, to the cheers of the crowd, along with twenty-one of his political friends, including Saint-Just and Couthon as well as his brother, Augustin Robespierre. The twenty-two heads were placed in a wooden box, and the trunks were gathered on a cart. The whole thing was thrown into a common grave in the Errancis cemetery and lime was spread, so that the body of the “tyrant” Robespierre would not leave any trace. The next day and the day after that, eighty-three supporters of Robespierre were also guillotined. An epitaph ran about him:
In 1840, supporters of Robespierre searched the ground of the Errancis cemetery, which had been closed for about thirty years, without discovering any body.
Its fall contributed, in the days and weeks that followed, to a progressive dismantling of the revolutionary government, carried away by the Thermidorian reaction: the adoption, as of Thermidor 11, of the renewal by quarter every month of the committees (appointment of Dantonists and moderates within the committees of public salvation and general safety; attachment, on 1 fructidor (24 August), of each of the twelve executive commissions replacing since 1 floréal (20 April) the Executive Council to the twelve principal committees, and no longer to the sole committee of public salvation, and confinement of the competences of the latter and of the committee of general safety to the fields of war and diplomacy, for the one, of the police, for the other (abolition of the law of Prairial ; reduction of the number of revolutionary surveillance committees to one per district in the provinces and twelve in Paris (instead of forty-eight), limitation of their prerogatives and modification of the conditions of access in a direction unfavorable to the sans-culottes. This dismantling of the system of Year II, and particularly of the repressive apparatus, did not, however, lead to the indictment of all those who had organized the Terror and had benefited greatly from it by getting their hands on the property of the executed nobles and bankers, the latter accusing Robespierre of all their misdeeds and not hesitating to falsify the historical documents. The fall of Robespierre also led to the questioning of the dirigiste, democratic and social policies practiced by this government in order to satisfy the popular movement of the sans-culottes.
As soon as he fell, all the Duplays were imprisoned; Maurice Duplay”s wife, aged fifty-nine, was found hanged in her dungeon on 11 Thermidor. Éléonore Duplay never married and lived the rest of her life in regret for her great man.
Robespierre was intellectually influenced by Montesquieu”s Spirit of the Laws. He was fascinated by the political history of ancient Rome, which is evidenced by speeches peppered with ancient metaphors that exalt the heroism of Cato and Brutus.
But the essential foundation of the political culture of Robespierre, who became deputy of Arras, lies in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He was deeply inspired by the Social Contract, as well as the article “Political Economy” of the Encyclopedia, where we see Machiavelli denouncing tyranny. He remains attached to the word of his master Rousseau who defended Machiavelli”s The Prince, from which emerges a way of conceiving the relationship between morality and politics in Robespierre that associates immorality with despotism.
Robespierre is at the origin of the Supreme Being festival (see Supreme Being paragraph). Although some Masonic themes are discernible in the festivities of 20 prairial year II, notably through the terminology used (allusions to the Universe, to the Temple of the Supreme Being, to the knots of universal brotherhood, etc.), Robespierre himself did not join Freemasonry, unlike some members of his entourage.
At the end of 1791, Dubois-Crancé gave a rather laudatory portrait of Robespierre in Le Véritable portrait de nos législateurs, ou galerie des tableaux exposés à la vue du public depuis le 5 mai 1789 jusqu”au 1er octobre 1791, avant leur rupture, qui intervint après la reddition de Lyon.
In the aftermath of 9 Thermidor, in the face of demonstrations of sympathy for the defeated – several suicides or attempted suicides, the appearance of songs mourning Robespierre”s death, various demonstrations of hostility against anti-Robespierrist singers – the Thermidorians favored the development of a press campaign and pamphlets that gave rise to Robespierre”s black legend. Just after the execution of the robespierrists, Jean Joseph Dussault published a portrait in several newspapers in which he tried to explain his ascendancy by an ability to skillfully take advantage of circumstances that he would have been incapable of creating. The next day, an anonymous article of Girondine inspiration described him as a bad patriot, protector of priests, a fanatic himself, a despot in the making, insisting like Dussault on his “mediocre talents” and “a great flexibility to circumstances, the science of taking advantage of them, without knowing how to create them. The Journal de Perlet explained that Robespierre was considering a new purge that would have led him to the throne. The Journal des Lois, perhaps the first, tried to make him look like a Tartuffe and a Sardanapale, making Cécile Renault a neglected mistress of whom he would have wanted to get rid. Le Perlet evoked alleged orgies in a house in Issy and a project of marriage with Marie-Thérèse of France, intended to make him recognized as king. This last statement was taken up by Barras at the Convention, who presented Louis XVI”s daughter as the mistress of the Incorruptible. In its issue of 7 fructidor (August 24), the Journal des Lois again accused Robespierre of being a starving man. Another assertion of this press: Robespierre would have engineered, in agreement with the “foreign tyrants”, the Terror to disgust the other people of the revolutionary principles.
A commission directed by Edme-Bonaventure Courtois was charged to give report of the papers seized at the robespierrists, in order to give substance to the charges of conspiracy which had justified their impeachment. This report was distributed to the deputies on 28 pluviôse year III (February 16, 1795), immediately triggering a lively controversy, as many pieces had disappeared. Some deputies had agreed with Courtois to make disappear some documents considered compromising. Moreover, Courtois had kept some papers, which were seized at his home during the Restoration.
At the same time, the former constituent Pierre-Louis Roederer published a slim booklet, the Portrait of Robespierre, hastily written and signed by Merlin de Thionville; he was the first to consider that the “Robespierre case” was a pathological one, that of a “melancholic” temperament that had become “atrabilary”. In nivôse year III, Galart de Montjoie published a History of the conspiracy of Maximilien Robespierre, a biography mixing “revelations” from the Thermidorian press, stories from the Acts of the Apostles and summaries of parliamentary reports.
In 1795 an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Vita del despota sanguinario della Francia Massimiliano Roberspierre and translated “from French into Italian”, undoubtedly written by a refractory clergyman who had taken refuge in Italy. The account of his childhood was particularly fanciful, linking him to the regicide Damiens in the Acts of the Apostles.
At the same time, a pamphlet appeared in Hamburg, La Vie et les crimes de Robespierre surnommé le Tyran, depuis sa naissance jusqu”à sa mort (The Life and Crimes of Robespierre, nicknamed the Tyrant, from his birth to his death), a work by the abbot Proyart signed “M. Le Blond de Neuvéglise, colonel of light infantry”. If his information was not always first hand and if “its authenticity often to be desired”, the author refuted several fables printed in France and abroad.
In his history of the Revolution, Jacques Necker also evoked Robespierre, whom he had known at the beginning of his political career and whose degree of elevation he had reached, superior to that of the former minister of Louis XVI, he did not consider without bitterness. The first, he made of Robespierre “the inventor of the execrable and famous day of September 2”. At the same time, he condemned the inventions of the Thermidorians and the émigrés, who had failed to unravel the mystery of Robespierre. Another minister of Louis XVI, Antoine François Bertrand de Molleville also focused on the “Robespierre enigma” in his Histoire de la Révolution de France, published between the year IX and the year XI. Judging his role “as astonishing as execrable”, he found no other explanation, to justify his sudden elevation, than his hatred towards an Old Regime which left “no favorable chance to ambition” and his cowardice, which incited him to commit “the assassinations without number of which he was guilty”.
In 1815, three works written during the Empire but seized by the police appeared: the Histoire de la Révolution by Abbé Papon, the Essai historique et critique de la Révolution by Pierre Paganel and the Considérations de Germaine de Staël. Unlike their predecessors, these authors believed that Robespierre would leave a lasting mark on history, his figure alone emerging from this period. Insisting also on his egalitarian tendencies, Abbé Papon judged that he was distinguished by the “austerity and disinterestedness” that he showed.
In his writings on the Revolution (Mes réflexions in 1816, Cours de philosophie positive in 1830-1842, Système de politique positive in 1851-1854) Auguste Comte described Robespierre as a character of “essentially negative character”, whom he reproached for having promoted a “legal deism”, inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and associated with the concordat regime of Napoleon I, and contrasted him with the encyclopaedic movement of Denis Diderot and Danton. At the same time, he showed his admiration for the conception of the revolutionary government established by the Convention. After his death, the positivist Pierre Laffitte faithfully repeated this analysis in the lectures he gave at the Bibliothèque populaire de Montrouge, summarized in La Révolution française by Jean François Eugène Robinet, as well as in the celebrations of the centenary of the Revolution.
The first attempt to rehabilitate Robespierre was the work of Guillaume Lallement, an anonymous author, between 1818 and 1821, of a compilation of all the speeches and reports of the parliamentary assemblies of the Revolution published by Alexis Eymery; volume XIV, devoted to the year II, gave a large place to Robespierre, whose portrait he drew prior to the events of 9-Thermidor. Then, in 1828, Paul-Mathieu Laurent, known as Laurent de l”Ardèche, published under the pseudonym of “Uranelt de Leuze” a Réfutation de l”histoire de France by the Abbé de Montgaillard (published the previous year), an ardent panegyric of Robespierre.
On the eve of the revolution of 1830 appeared false Memoirs of Robespierre, generally attributed to Auguste Barbier and Charles Reybaud, but perhaps begun by Joseph François Laignelot, who had been an intimate of Charlotte de Robespierre. This writing testified to the opinion of the generation of 1830 on Robespierre. According to the author, the opinion that Robespierre might have been an agent of foreigners was completely discredited; his incorruptibility was not in doubt; and his intention, in the last months of his life, was to put an end to the Terror and to purge the Convention of its most criminal members.
This enterprise of rehabilitation knew a decisive advance with Albert Laponneraye, who undertook in 1832 the publication of Robespierre”s speeches in fascicles, before publishing the Memoirs of Charlotte Robespierre on her two brothers in 1835 then the Works of Maximilien Robespierre in four volumes in 1840, which he largely contributed to distribute.
The generation of 1848 benefited from the publication of the Histoire parlementaire (1834-1838) by Philippe Buchez and Pierre-Célestin Roux-Lavergne, and from the completion of the reprinting of the old Moniteur (1840-1845) by Léonard Gallois, which counterbalanced the subjective memories and testimonies of contemporaries. This documentary contribution favored a historiographic renewal, with the Histoire des Girondins (1847) by Alphonse de Lamartine, the Histoire de la Révolution française (1847-1853) by Jules Michelet and that of Louis Blanc (1847-1855), which all made Robespierre “the center of their investigations,” even if only Louis Blanc was more clearly favorable to him from the start. Under the Second Empire, Ernest Hamel published a Histoire de Robespierre (1865-1868) considered hagiographic, but very well documented.
Under the Third Republic, authors turned away from Robespierre, equating the Terror with the Paris Commune (1871), as Hippolyte Taine did in Les Origines de la France contemporaine (1875-1893), or making Robespierre a “pontiff”, opponent of atheism, free thought and secularism, as Alphonse Aulard did. During the centenary of the Revolution in 1889, the military epic was privileged, with the figures of Carnot, Hoche, Marceau, Desaix and especially Danton.
Jean Jaurès contributed to bringing Robespierre back to the forefront with his Histoire socialiste de la Révolution française (1902-1905), while opening up to the Hébertists and the Enragés. In 1907, the scholar Charles Vellay created the Société des études robespierristes, which published from 1908 the Annales révolutionnaires, which became in 1924 the Annales historiques de la Révolution française, as well as the Œuvres complètes de Robespierre in ten and then eleven volumes. One of its first and principal members, Albert Mathiez, was the main actor of this movement, which made Robespierre the central figure of the Revolution, opposing Aulard, his former master, in a struggle that has remained famous. Following him, there were La Révolution française Georges Lefebvre or Robespierre de Gérard Walter, which pointed out the limits of Robespierre on social and financial issues. This last work, according to Joël Schmidt, “has not been surpassed by the abundance of its documentation”. Subsequently, if Robespierre”s role in the Revolution was not questioned, historical research opened new fields, with the exploration of the sans-culottes movement, the Hébertists and the Enragés, under the influence of Albert Soboul.
In 1956, the day after the legislative elections, the National Assembly voted a resolution inviting the government “to organize with the maximum extent the celebration of the second centenary of the birth of Robespierre” in 1958, “in particular to organize, in his honor, a solemn homage, a day in schools and universities, to promote by large subsidies the historical works, exhibitions and dramatic works”.
In the 1960s, in parallel with a contestation of the communist and Soviet model, which had claimed to be the heirs of the Revolution, the revisionist or liberal school, led by François Furet, Denis Richet and Mona Ozouf, contributed to questioning this image of Robespierre. Thus, François Furet wrote on July 7, 1989 in L”Express: “In this fin de siècle wisdom, Robespierre has not really been reintegrated into French democracy. The right wing watches over this ostracism by brandishing bad memories. But the Incorruptible has more to fear from his friends than from his enemies. By embracing him too closely, communist historiography has led him into a redoubling of disaffection.” The works of Patrice Gueniffey and Laurent Dingli are in their right line.
In 1986, in anticipation of the commemorative culmination of this anti-Robespierrist reaction in non-Marxist progressive historiography, Max Gallo published his Lettre ouverte à Maximilien Robespierre sur les nouveaux muscadins.
Forgotten in the national celebrations of the Bicentennial of the Revolution, Robespierre remains a major figure in French history, as evidenced by the flowering of associations – the Friends of Robespierre for the Bicentennial of the Revolution (ARBR), created in Arras in 1987, the Association Maximilien Robespierre pour l”idéal démocratique (AMRID), founded in 1988 by Marianne Becker – and publications since 1989, and a controversial figure, divided between the supporters of the Jacobin school and those of the neo-liberal and counter-revolutionary schools, between “lawyers and prosecutors.
Thus, the sale at Sotheby”s on May 18, 2011 of a batch of manuscripts, including speeches, draft newspaper articles, drafts of reports to be read at the Convention, a fragment of the speech of 8 thermidor and a letter on virtue and happiness, kept by the family Le Bas after the death of Robespierre has prompted a mobilization among historians and in the political world; Pierre Serna published an article titled: “Il faut sauver Robespierre! “in Le Monde, and the Société des études robespierristes launched an appeal for funds, while the PCF, the PS and the PRG alerted the Ministry of Culture. At the time of the sale, the State exercised its right of pre-emption to acquire the lot for 979,400 euros on behalf of the National Archives. These manuscripts can be consulted online on the website of the National Archives.
Robespierrism is a term to designate a moving reality or to qualify men who shared his ideas. More generally, it refers to all those who claim to be the person or thought of Maximilien de Robespierre. Among those who claimed to be Robespierre”s followers were the English Chartist movement, a number of French republicans and socialists of the 1830s and 40s (such as Albert Laponneraye, editor of the Œuvres de Robespierre and the Mémoires de Charlotte de Robespierre, Philippe Buchez, who published a Histoire parlementaire de la Révolution, Étienne Cabet, author of a popular History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1830 or Louis Blanc, who wrote a History of the French Revolution) instructed by Philippe Buonarroti, but also the socialist and communist movements (with the monumental History of the French Revolution of Jean Jaurès or the works of the historian Albert Mathiez).
Charles Nodier devoted to Robespierre an article, entitled “Of literature during the Revolution. Second fragment. Eloquence of the tribune. Robespierre”, in the Revue de Paris in September 1829. It was reprinted, under the title “Robespierre l”aîné”, in his Souvenirs, épisodes et portraits pour servir à l”histoire de la Révolution et de l”Empire (1831) and then, under the title “La Montagne”, in Recherches sur l”éloquence révolutionnaire in volume 7 of the Works of Charles Nodier (1833). Even if he presents Robespierre as a mediocre character “exalted by opinion and events” and paints a portrait of the orator that conforms to the stereotypes of the time so as not to offend his public too much with the audacity of his analysis, Nodier is grateful to him for having, with his brother Augustin, undertaken to channel, “in the direction of a relatively viable political order, the forces that generate chaos”, in particular through the institution of the cult of the Supreme Being. In the same way, he recognizes him a superiority of aesthetic order in the eloquence and affirms “that it is necessary to look for perhaps in almost all what there was of spiritualism and human feelings in the conventional eloquence”. In particular, he shows admiration for the speech of the 7 prairial, where Robespierre affirms to have little regard for his own life, after the attempts of assassination of Henri Admirat and Cécile Renault, and that of the 8 thermidor, where he finds the design of pacification and restoration of the public order that he attributes to him.
Honoré de Balzac treats Robespierre as a character in his own right in Les Deux Rêves, which appeared in La Mode in May 1830 and was later incorporated into Sur Catherine de Médicis. In this text, Catherine de Médicis appears in Robespierre”s dreams and justifies the St. Bartholomew”s Day massacre, which she explains was not motivated by personal animosity or religious fanaticism, but for the salvation of the state. Frequent in the royalist literature of the time, the comparison between this massacre and those of the Revolution contributes to explain the latter by wanting to rehabilitate the politics of the queen. He does not blame her for the Terror, but for having exercised it in the name of a democratic principle. Apart from this text, the figure of Robespierre in the work of Balzac is “uniformly unsympathetic, the archetype of the tyrant without heart and without scruples”, even if, until the Revolution of 1848, he shows a real admiration for the greatness of his destiny. He thus appears among the geniuses who changed the face of the world in the 1846 edition of Lucien de Rubempré”s farewell letter to Vautrin, before passing into the ranks of those whose role was only destructive, in his personal copy.
Robespierre appears in the historical works of Alexandre Dumas (Louis XVI et la Révolution, Le Drame de 93), as well as in several of his novels: the cycle of Memoirs of a Doctor (there are some allusions in Le Collier de la reine, Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge and especially in La Comtesse de Charny) and the two parts of Creation and Redemption (1863), Le Docteur mystérieux and especially La Fille du marquis. This is also the case in the short story La Rose rouge. Relying particularly on the historical works of Jules Michelet and Alphonse de Lamartine, Dumas is inspired mainly by the first to present him as “a character who does not know how to live, eaten away by jealousy and ambition”, without recognizing the same greatness, his main reproach being “the inability of Robespierre for enjoyment and happiness.
In Histoire de ma vie, George Sand defends Robespierre, victim in her eyes “of the calumnies of the reaction”. Relying on the writings of Lamartine, she judges him “the most human, the most enemy by nature and conviction of the apparent necessities of terror and the fatal system of the death penalty”, but also “the greatest man of the revolution and one of the greatest men in history”. If she recognizes him “faults, errors, and consequently crimes”, she wonders:
“But in what stormy political career will history show us a single man pure of some mortal sin against humanity? Will it be Richelieu, Caesar, Mohammed, Henry IV, the Marshal of Saxony, Peter the Great, Charlemagne, Frederick the Great, etc., etc.? What great minister, what great prince, what great captain, what great legislator has not committed acts that make nature shudder and conscience revolt? Why then should Robespierre be the scapegoat for all the crimes that our unfortunate race generates or suffers in its hours of supreme struggle?”
In Les Misérables (1862), Enjolras, the leader of the revolutionary students, expresses his admiration for Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Robespierre. In his last novel, Quatrevingt-treize (1874), Victor Hugo stages the (imaginary) meeting between three great figures of the French Revolution: Marat, Danton and Robespierre.
Jules Vallès offers a fundamentally negative image of Robespierre, concomitant to the impression he made on him. Before 1871, Robespierre appeared as a pale, paternal face, one of cold violence and death, a stiff, hieratic body, an heir to Plutarch and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, bearer of eighteenth-century deism. This criticism becomes a self-criticism in the years 1865-1866, under the influence of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. After the experience of the Commune, judging the 1848 generation and judging himself in the light of Robespierre, he denounced the tyranny of the classical cultural heritage taught in colleges and the educational system of the nineteenth century, reproaching himself for having imitated the imitators of Antiquity, through Rousseau and Robespierre. However, Roger Bellet points out, Vallès” hatred of “Rousseau is not automatically reversible on Robespierre”; his deism “undoubtedly wanted to be for popular use”, that of a non-ecclesiastical religion, Vallès could share his criticism of “philosophism”, his criticism of a “world of philosophical and riotous scholasticism” is closer to Robespierre than to Hebert.
In 1912, Anatole France portrays Évariste Gamelin, a young Jacobin painter, loyal to Marat and Robespierre, in his novel Les Dieux ont soif. The Incorruptible himself appears in chapter XXVI, shortly before the 9-Thermidor. The episode of the walk in the Marbeuf gardens, a fashionable place at the time, with Brount, his Danish dog, and the exchange with the little Savoyard is already present in Louis Blanc”s Histoire de la Révolution française and Ernest Hamel”s Histoire de Robespierre, who drew it from the handwritten memoirs of Élisabeth Le Bas.
Since his death, Robespierre has been the hero or one of the main characters of many dramas or tragedies: 49 plays have been counted between 1791 and 1815, 37 between 1815 and 1989. Two images of Robespierre stand out: a majority is hostile to him, without nuance, the other part is “rehabilitating, even celebrating”.
Between Thermidor and the Empire, the black legend of Robespierre develops, through the weak dramas of Godineau (La Mort de Robespierre, ou la Journée des 9 et 10 thermidor, 1795) or of Antoine Sérieys (La Mort de Robespierre, 1801). In December 1830, the Robespierre of Anicet Bourgeois still presents the same caricature of a bloodthirsty, laconic and timid tyrant. Other plays clearly allude to Robespierre, such as Manlius Torquatus or Roman Discipline (a play of Jacobin inspiration, performed in February 1794) by Joseph Lavallée, Pausanias (performed in March 1795, published in 1810) by Claude-Joseph Trouvé, Quintus Fabius or Roman Discipline (performed at the Theater of the Republic, late July 1795) by Gabriel Legouvé or Théramène or Saved Athens (1796) by Antoine Vieillard de Boismartin.
In England, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Robert Lovell wrote a verse drama entitled The Fall of Robespierre in August 1794; Coleridge wrote the first act, Southey the second, Lovell the third; but Southey, judging the latter part to be unsuitable, rewrote it. The authors relied for the most part on press accounts of the events. Published under Coleridge”s name alone in October 1794 by Benjamin Flower, it was printed in 500 copies and distributed in Bath, Cambridge and London.
If Victorien Sardou”s Thermidor (1891) is inspired by the Girondins, Rudolf Gottschall”s Robespierre (1845), Robert Griepenkerl”s Maximilien Robespierre (1850), Robert Hamerling”s Danton und Robespierre (1871), Gaston Crémieux”s Le Neuf Thermidor (1871), Louis Combet”s Robespierre ou les drames de la Révolution (1879), Le Monologue de Robespierre allant à l”échafaud (1882) by Hippolyte Buffenoir, Le Dernier Songe de Robespierre (1909) by Hector Fleischmann, L”Incorruptible, chronique de la période révolutionnaire (1927) by Victor-Antoine Rumsard and the Robespierre (1939) by Romain Rolland are robespierristes. According to Antoine de Baecque, their first goal was to transform the “suffering, wounded, disfigured body” of Robespierre on 10 Thermidor, presented by the Thermidorians as a monstrous corpse, “into the body of a hero,” a Christ-like figure.
Fascinated by Robespierre, to whom she attributed her communist views, Stanisława Przybyszewska (1901-1935) dedicated two plays to him: The Danton Affair, rediscovered by director Jerzy Krakowski in 1967 and adapted to film by Andrzej Wajda under the title Danton, as well as Thermidor, which remained unfinished.
With time, authors tend more and more to problematize the theatrical character, such as Georg Büchner, who does not take sides for or against him in The Death of Danton (1835), but wonders about the possibility of revolution. The same questioning appears in Romain Rolland”s work, which moves from the justification and exaltation of the character in Danton (1900) to Robespierre (1938), to the expression of the moral sufferings of a Robespierre torn by the problem of bloodshed.
The Bourgeois sans culottes by Kateb Yacine, performed at the Avignon Festival in 1988, then at the Palais Saint-Vaast in Arras in 1989 and on the site of the abandoned mine in Loos-en-Gohelle in October 1990, presents Robespierre as “the only French revolutionary who was able to impose the abolition of slavery”, “the permanent inspirer of a world revolution of the mistreated”, and sees him as a model, “a living martyr of the republic”, a victim of those who were in his way.
On November 15, 1969, the boys” high school in Arras adopted the name Robespierre by prefectoral decree. Proposed in November 1967 by a teacher at the school, Jacques Herreyre, this name had successively obtained the support of its internal council and then its board of directors (February 9, 1968), the alumni association, the city council (April 22, 1968), the students of the high school united in a committee for the action of the Robespierre high school and the Academic Council of Lille (March 1969). There were also Robespierre schools in Guyancourt and Nanterre and high schools and colleges in Épinay-sur-Seine, Goussainville, Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray and Saint-Pol-sur-Mer.
He was one of the few revolutionaries who had no street in Paris. After the Liberation, the City Council elected on April 29, 1945, with twenty-seven Communists, twelve Socialists and four Radicals out of eighty-eight elected members, decided on April 13, 1946, to rename the Place du Marché-Saint-Honoré “Place Robespierre”, a decision approved by a prefectoral decree of June 8, 1946. However, after the victory of the RPF in the elections of October 19, 1947, a decree of November 6, 1950 gave it back its original name. On the other hand, some streets in the red belt bear its name, for example in Montreuil. It is the origin of the name of a station of the Paris metro on line 9 (Mairie de Montreuil – Pont de Sèvres), in the commune of Montreuil, and this, since the Popular Front. As for the boulevard Robespierre in Reims, it owes its origin to Gustave Laurent, deputy mayor, who obtained on December 12, 1921 from the city council that it be created on “the part of the rue Danton included between the rue de Neufchâtel and the Pont Huet, a part which, in reality, is separated from its first fraction by the place Luton. The union of the left, from the municipal elections of 1965, has allowed an increase in the number of streets, buildings or centers named after him, with a peak near the bicentennial of the Revolution.
Without claiming to be exhaustive, the following were named after him
In addition, a stadium is named after him in Rueil-Malmaison and a cinema in Vitry-sur-Seine.
Several commemorative plaques have been affixed in Arras:
Similarly, he has two plaques in Paris, one on the site of the Duplay house, currently at 398 rue Saint-Honoré, the other at the Conciergerie, erected by the Société des études robespierristes.
The statue of Robespierre is part of the monument dedicated to the National Convention, the work of François-Léon Sicard, which was originally intended to be placed in the Tuileries Gardens and is now in the Pantheon. All other attempts to establish a statue in the capital failed; in 1909, a committee chaired by René Viviani and Georges Clemenceau planned to install a statue in the Tuileries garden, but the project was abandoned, faced with the hostility of the press and the poor success of the public subscription. On December 25, 1913, a plaster statue was inaugurated in Saint-Ouen, which was intended to be “cast one day in bronze”, a project that never saw the light of day. On October 15, 1933, Georges Lefebvre and the mayor of Arras, Désiré Delansorne, inaugurated a bust of Robespierre, the work of the sculptor Léon Cladel, in the town hall; the room that houses it has taken his name.
Since 1949, Saint-Denis has had a stone bust of Robespierre, the work of A. Séraphin, with the inscription: “Maximilien Robespierre l”Incorruptible 1758-1794″.
In 1989, Ana Richardson, a Franco-Argentine artist, created a computer-designed, laser-cut statue of Robespierre in transparent material. This statue was exhibited at the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., as part of the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
Léopold Boilly represented him in 1789 seated in front of a so-called cylinder desk, which can be seen in his group portrait The Gohin Family.
A postage stamp with his effigy, designed and engraved by Charles Mazelin, was issued from July 10 to December 16, 1950 in the series “The characters of the revolution of 1789” (including also André Chénier, Jacques-Louis David, Lazare Carnot, Georges Jacques Danton and Lazare Hoche); it was printed in 1 200 000 copies. Several foreign countries also paid him a philatelic tribute.
During the Second World War, in the Resistance, his name was given to several Frankish groups: the “Robespierre company” in Pau, commanded by Lieutenant Aurin, alias Maréchal, the “Robespierre battalion” in the Rhone, under the command of Captain Laplace, but also to a maquis formed by Marcel Claeys in the Ain.
The 1968-1970 class of the École nationale d”administration chose the name of Robespierre.
Maximilien de Robespierre is an antagonist in the video game Assassin”s Creed Unity, released in 2014.
: document used as a source for the writing of this article.