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Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (French: [maksimiljɛ̃ ʁɔbɛspjɛʁ]; 6 May 1758 – 10 Thermidor, Year II 28 July 1794) was a French lawyer and statesman, widely recognized as one of the most influential and controversial figures of the French Revolution. His vision was centered on forging a unified and indivisible France, establishing equality under the law and eradicating privileges.

Throughout his involvement in Estates-General, the Constituent Assembly, and the Jacobin Club, Robespierre fervently campaigned for the voting rights of all men and their unimpeded admission to the National Guard. Additionally he advocated for the right to petition and the right to bear arms in self-defence. Robespierre played a pivotal role in the events that led to the Insurrection of 10 August 1792.

As one of the prominent members within the Paris Commune, Robespierre was elected as a deputy to the National Convention in early September 1792. He joined the radical Montagnards, a left-wing faction. However, he faced criticism for purportedly trying to establish either a triumvirate or a dictatorship. In April 1793, Robespierre advocated at the Jacobins for the mobilization of a sans-culotte army aiming at enforcing revolutionary laws and eliminating any counter-revolutionary elements. This call led to the armed Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793. The Montagnards now had unchallenged control of the convention. On 27 July he was appointed as a member of the influential Committee of Public Safety, which subsequently enacted the Reign of Terror. This appointment empowered him to effectively spearhead the reorganization of the Revolutionary Tribunal and establish a war cabinet in October 1793. In early December, Robespierre accused Georges Danton in the Jacobin Club of "too often showing his vices and not his virtue". Camille Desmoulins defended Danton and warned Robespierre not to exaggerate the revolution.

While consistently enjoying support from like-minded allies, Robespierre faced growing disillusionment among others due to the politically motivated violence advocated by the Montagnards. Increasingly, members of the Convention felt in danger and turned against him and accusations piled up on 9 Thermidor. Robespierre was arrested and taken to a prison, but the jailers refused to comply with the order. Undeterred, Robespierre insisted on being incarcerated and was eventually persuaded by a delegation to join the Commune movement, which had mobilized a crowd in front of the Paris town hall that evening.

Subsequently, a decree was issued, declaring anyone leading an 'armed force' against the Convention as an outlaw. Robespierre sustained a jaw injury, though historical records remain unclear whether it was self-inflicted or a result of the ensuing skirmish. Approximately 90 individuals, including Robespierre, were executed in the following days, marking the onset of an era recognized as the Thermidorian Reaction.

A figure deeply divisive during his lifetime, Robespierre's views and policies continue to evoke controversy. Academic and popular discourse persistently engage in debates surrounding his legacy and reputation.

Early life

Maximilien de Robespierre was baptised on 6 May 1758, in Arras, in the French province of Artois. His father, François Maximilien Barthélémy de Robespierre, a lawyer, wedded Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, the daughter of a brewer, in January 1758. Maximilien, the eldest of four children, was born five months later. His siblings were Charlotte Robespierre, Henriette Robespierre, and Augustin Robespierre. Robespierre's mother died on 16 July 1764, after delivering a stillborn daughter at age 29. The death of his mother is, thanks to Charlotte's memoirs, believed to have had a major effect on the young Robespierre. Around 1767, for unknown reasons, his father left the children. His two daughters were raised by their paternal (maiden) aunts, and his two sons by their maternal grandparents.

Demonstrating literacy at an early age, Maximilien commenced his education at the collège of Arras when he was only eight years old. In October 1769, recommended by the bishop Louis-Hilaire de Conzié, he secured a scholarship at the prestigious Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Among his peers were Camille Desmoulins and Stanislas Fréron. During his schooling, he developed a profound admiration for the Roman Republic and the rhetoric skills of Cicero, Cato and Lucius Junius Brutus. In 1776 he earned the first prize for rhetoric.

His deep dive into the classics inspired him to aspire to Roman virtues, particularly the embodiment of Rousseau's citizen-soldier. Robespierre was drawn to the concepts of the influential philosophe regarding political reforms expounded in his work, Contrat Social. Aligning with Rousseau, he considered the general will of the people as the foundation of political legitimacy. Robespierre's vision of revolutionary virtue and his strategy for establishing political authority through direct democracy can be traced back to the ideologies of Montesquieu and Mably. While some claim Robespierre coincidentally met Rousseau before the latter's passing, others argue that this account was apocryphal.

Early politics

During his three-year study of law at the Sorbonne, Robespierre distinguished himself academically, culminating in his graduation in July 1780, where he received a special prize of 600 livres for his exceptional academic achievements and exemplary conduct. Admitted to the bar he was appointed as one of the five judges in the local criminal court in March 1782. However, Robespierre soon resigned, due to his ethical discomfort in adjudicating capital cases, stemming from his early opposition to the death penalty. Among his notable cases was one in May 1783 involving a lightning rod, where his defense was published and a copy sent to Benjamin Franklin.

He was elected to the literary Academy of Arras in November 1783. The following year, the Academy of Metz honored him with a medal for his essay pondering whether the relatives of a condemned criminal should share his disgrace, thus establishing him as literary figure. (Pierre Louis de Lacretelle and Robespierre shared the prize.)

In 1786 Robespierre passionately addressed inequality before the law, criticizing the indignities faced by illegitimate or natural children, and later denouncing practices like lettres de cachet (imprisonment without a trial) and the marginalization of women in academic circles. Robespierre's social circle expanded to include influential figures such as the lawyer Martial Herman, the officer and engineer Lazare Carnot and the teacher Joseph Fouché, all of whom would hold significance in his later endeavors. His role as the secretary of the Academy of Arras connected him with François-Noël Babeuf, a revolutionary land surveyor in the region.

In August 1788, King Louis XVI declared new elections for all provinces and summoned the Estates-General to convene on 1 May 1789, aiming to address France's grave financial and taxation woes. Engaging in discussions on the selection of the French provincial government, Robespierre advocated in his Address to the Nation of Artois that reverting to the former mode of election by the members of the provincial estates would fail to adequately represent the people of France in the new Estates-General.In his electoral district, Robespierre began to assert his influence in politics through his Notice to the Residents of the Countryside in 1789, targeting local authorities and garnering the support of rural electors. This move solidified his position among the country's electors. On 26 April 1789, Robespierre secured his place as one of 16 deputies representing French Flanders in the Estates-General.

Upon their arrival at Versailles the deputies received notice that the voting mechanism for the Estates General of 1789 would remain "by order" rather than transitioning to "by head". This development led Abbé Sieyès to oppose the King's veto, proposing that the Third Estate convene separately. On 6 June, Robespierre delivered his maiden speech, targeting the hierarchical structure of the church. His impassioned oratory prompted observers to comment, "This young man is as yet unexperienced; unaware of when to cease, but possesses an eloquence that sets him apart from the rest." By 13 June, Robespierre aligned with deputies, who later proclaimed themselves the National Assembly, asserting representation for 96% of the nation. On 9 July, the Assembly relocated to Paris and began deliberating a new constitution and taxation system. On 13 July, the National Assembly proposed reinstating the "bourgeois militia" in Paris to quell the unrest. The following day, the populace demanded weapons and stormed both the Hôtel des Invalides and the Bastille. The local militia transitioned into the National Guard, a move that distanced the most impoverished citizens from active involvement. Marquis de La Fayette was unanimously chosen as their commander-in-chief. By 20 July, the Assembly resolved to establish National Guards in every commune. Concurrently, the Gardes Françaises were admitted and empowered to select new leaders. During the discussions and an altercation with Lally-Tollendal who advocated for law and order, Robespierre reminded the citizens of their "recent defense of liberty", which paradoxically restricted their access to it. By 31 July a force of 24,000 volunteers from 60 sections had joined the National Guard.

In October, alongside Louvet, Robespierre supported Maillard following the Women's March on Versailles. Initially, the group of female protesters conveyed a relatively conciliatory message, yet their ranks were soon reinforced by more militarized and seasoned male factions upon reaching Versailles. While the Constituent Assembly deliberated on male census suffrage on 22 October, Robespierre and a select few deputies opposed the property prerequisites for voting and holding office. Through December and January Robespierre notably drew attention from marginalized groups, particularly Protestants, Jews, individuals of African descent, domestic servants, and actors.

As a frequent orator in the Assembly, Robespierre championed the ideals encapsulated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) and advocated for constitutional provisions outlined in the Constitution of 1791 However, according to Malcolm Crook, his views rarely garnered majority support among fellow deputies. Despite his commitment to democratic principles, Robespierre persistently donned a culotte and retained a meticulously groomed appearance with powdered, curled, and perfumed hair. Accounts described him as "nervous, timid, and suspicious". Madame de Staël portrayed Robespierre as someone "very exaggerated in his democratic principles" and "maintained the most absurd propositions with a coolness that had the air of conviction". In October, he assumed the role of a judge at the Versailles tribunal.

Jacobin Club


Following the October 5 Women's March on Versailles and the forcible relocation of the King and National Constituent Assembly from Versailles to Paris, Robespierre lived at 30 Rue de Saintonge in Le Marais, a district with relatively wealthy inhabitants. He shared an apartment on the third floor with Pierre Villiers who was his secretary for several months. Robespierre associated with the new Society of the Friends of the Constitution, commonly known as the Jacobin Club. Originally, this organisation (the Club Breton) comprised only deputies from Brittany, but after the National Assembly had moved to Paris, the group admitted non-deputies. Among these 1,200 men, Robespierre found a sympathetic audience. Equality before the law was the keystone of the Jacobin ideology. Beginning in October and continuing through January he made several speeches in response to proposals for property qualifications for voting and officeholding under the proposed constitution. This was a position he vigorously opposed, arguing in a speech on 22 October the position that he derived from Rousseau, that "sovereignty resides in the people, in all the individuals of the people. Each individual therefore has the right to participate in making the law which governs him and in the administration of the public good which is his own. If not, it is not true that all men are equal in rights, that every man is a citizen."

During the continuing debate on suffrage, Robespierre ended his speech of 25 January 1790 with a blunt assertion that "all Frenchmen must be admissible to all public positions without any other distinction than that of virtues and talents". On 31 March 1790 Robespierre was elected as their president. On 28 April Robespierre proposed to allow an equal number of officers and soldiers in the court martial. Unlike Niccolò Machiavelli who promoted the creation of either town or regional citizen militia, Robespierre supported the cooperation of all the National Guards in a general federation on 11 May. On 19 June he was elected secretary of the National Assembly.

On 24 March 1790, the Assembly decided that the judicial apparatus should be completely restructured. On the initiative of Sieyès the departments of France were reorganised; the Paris Commune was divided up into 48 sections and allowed to discuss the election of a new mayor on 21 May. In July Robespierre demanded "fraternal equality" in salaries. On 2 August Jean Sylvain Bailly became Paris' first elected mayor.

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

On 5 December Robespierre delivered a speech on the urgent topic of the National Guard. "To be armed for personal defence is the right of every man, to be armed to defend freedom and the existence of the common fatherland is the right of every citizen". Robespierre coined the famous motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" by adding the word fraternity on the flags of the National Guard.


In 1791 Robespierre gave 328 speeches, almost one a day. After the death of Count Mirabeau, politicians competed with each other over who would fill the gap as orator.

On 28 January Robespierre discussed in the Assembly the organisation of the National Guard, for three years a hot topic in French newspapers. In early March, provincial militias were abolished and the Paris département was placed above the Commune in all matters of general order and security. According to Jan ten Brink it had the right to suspend the Commune's decisions and to dispose of the army against her in case of emergency. On 27 and 28 April, Robespierre opposed plans to reorganise the National Guard and restrict its membership to active citizens. It was regarded as too aristocratic. He demanded the reconstitution of the National Guard on a democratic basis, to abolish the use of decorations and to allow an equal number of officers and soldiers in the court martial. He felt that the National Guard had to become the instrument of defending liberty and no longer be a threat to it. In the same month Robespierre published a pamphlet in which he argued the case for universal manhood suffrage. On 10 May a decree passed banning all petitions bearing "collective signatures". Article III specifically recognised the right of active citizens to meet together to draw up petitions and addresses and present them to municipal authorities.

On 15 May the Constituent Assembly declared full and equal citizenship for all free people of color. In the debate Robespierre said: "I feel that I am here to defend the rights of men; I cannot consent to any amendment and I ask that the principle be adopted in its entirety." He descended from the rostrum in the middle of the repeated applause of the left and of all the tribunes. On 16–18 May when the elections began, Robespierre proposed and carried the motion that no deputy who sat in the Constituent assembly could sit in the succeeding Legislative assembly. The principal tactical purpose of this self-denying ordinance was to block the ambitions of the old leaders of the Jacobins, Antoine Barnave, Adrien Duport, and Alexandre de Lameth, aspiring to create a constitutional monarchy roughly similar to that of England. Robespierre stripped them of their political identity. On 28 May, Robespierre proposed all Frenchmen should be declared active citizens and eligible to vote. On 30 May, he delivered a speech on abolishing the death penalty without success. According to Hillary Mantel: "It is perfectly constructed, a brilliant fusion of logic and emotion, as much a work of art as a building or a piece of music could be." The following day, Robespierre attacked Abbé Raynal, who sent an address criticising the work of the Assembly and demanding the restoration of the royal prerogative.

On 10 June, Robespierre delivered a speech on the deplorable state of the police and proposed to dismiss officers. On 11 June 1791 he was elected or nominated as (substitute) accuser. Robespierre accepted the function of "public accuser" in the criminal tribunal preparing indictments and ensuring the defence. Two days later, L'Ami du Roi, a royalist pamphlet, described Robespierre as a "lawyer for bandits, rebels and murderers". On 14 June, the abolition of the guild system was sealed; the Chapelier Law prohibited any kind of workers' coalition or assembly. For him "Without a doubt, all citizens must be allowed to assemble. But citizens of certain professions must not be permitted to assemble for their so-called common interests." (It concerned in the first instance as much collective petitioning by the political clubs as trade associations.) Proclaiming free enterprise as the norm upset Jean-Paul Marat, but not the urban laborer nor Robespierre. On 15 June, Pétion de Villeneuve became president of the "tribunal criminel provisoire", after Duport refused to work with Robespierre.

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

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

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

On 3 September, the French Constitution of 1791 was accepted, ten days later by the King also. Former "advocates" lost their title, their distinctive form of dress, their status, and their professional orders and adapted their practices to the new political and legal situation. The Penal Code is dated 25 September. On 30 September, the day of the dissolution of the Assembly, Robespierre opposed Jean Le Chapelier, who wanted to proclaim an end to the revolution and restrict the freedom of expression. Robespierre had been carefully preparing for this confrontation and it was the climax of his political career up to this point. He succeeded in getting any requirement for inspection out of the constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression: "The freedom of every man to speak, to write, to print and publish his thoughts, without the writings having to be subject to censorship or inspection prior to their publication..." Pétion and Robespierre were brought back in triumph to their homes. On 14 October a law was passed to reorganize the National Guard in cantons and districts; officers and sub-officers were to be elected for just one year. He spent seven weeks in his home province Artois. On 16 October, Robespierre held a speech in Arras; one week later in Béthune, a small town he wished to settle. He went to a meeting of the Society of Friends of the Constitution, which was held on Sundays. Robespierre noticed the inns in Pas-de-Calais (French Flanders) were filled with émigrés, likely Dutch patriots in exile. On 28 November, he was back in the Jacobin club, where he met with a triumphant reception. Collot d'Herbois gave his chair to Robespierre, who presided that evening. On 5 December he gave a speech on the organization of the Garde National, which he saw as a unique institution born from the ideals of the French Revolution. On 11 December, Robespierre was finally installed as "accusateur public". In January 1791 Robespierre promoted the idea not only the National Guard but also the people had to be armed. The Jacobins decided his speech would not be printed.

Opposition to war with Austria

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

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

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

At the end of December, Guadet, the chairman of the Assembly, suggested that a war would be a benefit to the nation and boost the economy. He urged that France should declare war against Austria. Marat and Robespierre opposed him, arguing that victory would create a dictatorship, while defeat would restore the king to his former powers.

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

This opposition from expected allies irritated the Girondins, and the war became a major point of contention between the factions. In his third speech on the war, Robespierre countered on 25 January 1792 in the Jacobin club, "A revolutionary war must be waged to free subjects and slaves from unjust tyranny, not for the traditional reasons of defending dynasties and expanding frontiers..." Robespierre argued such a war could only favour the forces of counter-revolution, since it would play into the hands of those who opposed the sovereignty of the people. The risks of Caesarism were clear: "in troubled periods of history, generals often became the arbiters of the fate of their countries." Already, Robespierre knew that he had lost, as he failed to gather a majority. His speech was nevertheless published and sent to all clubs and Jacobin societies of France.

On 10 February 1792, Robespierre gave a speech on how to save the State and Liberty and did not use the word "war". He began by assuring his audience that everything he intended to propose was strictly constitutional. He then went on to advocate specific measures to strengthen, not so much the national defenses as the forces that could be relied on to defend the revolution. Robespierre promoted a people's army, continuously under arms and able to impose its will on Feuillants and Girondins in the Constitutional Cabinet of Louis XVI and the Legislative Assembly. The Jacobins decided to study his speech before deciding whether it should be printed.

On 15 February 1792 the installation of the criminal trial court of the department of Paris, took place. For Robespierre it was an ungrateful position as "public accuser"; it meant he was not allowed to the bar before the jury had spoken their verdict. On 18 February 1792 Louis-Joseph Faure was elected as assistant to Robespierre.

On 26 March, Guadet accused Robespierre of superstition, relying on divine providence. Shortly after Robespierre was accused by Brissot and Guadet of trying to become the idol of the people. Being against the war Robespierre was also accused of acting as a secret agent for the "Austrian Committee". The Girondins planned strategies to out-maneuver Robespierre's influence among the Jacobins. On 27 April, as part of his speech responding to the accusations by Brissot and Guadet against him, he threatened to leave the Jacobins, claiming he preferred to continue his mission as an ordinary citizen.

On 17 May, Robespierre released the first issue of his weekly periodical Le Défenseur de la Constitution (The Defender of the Constitution). In this publication, he criticized Brissot and expressed his skepticism over the war movement. The periodical, printed by his neighbor Nicolas served multiple purposes: to print his speeches, to counter the influence of the royal court in public policy, and to defend him from the accusations of Girondist leaders; for Soboul its purpose was to give voice to the economic and democratic interests of the broader masses in Paris and defend their rights. Robespierre himself wrote a prospectus in which he explained to the subscribers his goals.

The Insurrectionist Commune of Paris, 1792

April to July 1792

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

François Chabot declared that he had documents proving the existence of a plot to dissolve the Assembly, set for 27 May. On 29 May 1792, the Assembly dissolved the Constitutional Guard, suspecting it of royalist and counter-revolutionary sympathies. In early June 1792, Robespierre proposed an end to the monarchy and the subordination of the Assembly to the General will. The monarchy faced an abortive demonstration of 20 June. Sergent-Marceau and Panis, the administrators of police, were sent out by Pétion to urge the Sans-culottes to lay down their weapons, telling them it was illegal to present a petition in arms. Their march to the Tuileries was not banned. They invited the officials to join the procession.

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

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

On 2 July, the Assembly authorised the National Guard to go to the Festival of Federation on 14 July, circumventing a royal veto. Section assemblies were permitting "passive" citizens to join their National Guard companies without seeking formal permission. On 11 July, the Jacobins won an emergency vote in the wavering Assembly, declaring the nation in danger and drafting all Parisians with pikes into the National Guard. (Meanwhile, 20,000 Fédérés entered the city for the celebration of 14 July; Pétion was reinstalled.) On 15 July, Billaud-Varenne in the Jacobin club outlined the program for the next insurrection: the deportation of the Bourbons and "enemies of the people", the cleansing of the National Guard, the election of a Convention, the "transfer of the Royal veto to the people", and exemption of the poorest from taxation. On 24 July a "Central Office of Co-ordination" was formed and the sections received the right to be in a "permanent" session.

On 25 July, according to the Logographe, Carnot promoted the use of pikes (seven feet long) and provided to every citizen. On 29 July Robespierre called for the deposition of the King and the election of a Convention. In late July the Brunswick Manifesto began sweeping through Paris. It was frequently described as unlawful and offensive to national sovereignty. The authorship was frequently in doubt.

August 1792

On 1 August the Assembly voted on Carnot's proposal, enforcing the distribution of pikes to all citizens, excluding vagabonds. By 3 August, the mayor and 47 sections demanded the removal of the king. On 5 August Robespierre disclosed the discovery of a plan for the king to escape to Château de Gaillon. Aligning with Robespierre's stance, almost all sections in Paris rallied for the dethronement of the king and issued a decisive ultimatum. Brissot urged the preservation of the constitution, advocating against both the dethronement of the king and the election of a new assembly. On 7 August, Pétion proposed that Robespierre assist in facilitating the departure of Fédérés to pacify the capital, suggesting their more effective service at the front lines. Simultaneously, the Council of Ministers recommended the arrest of Danton, Marat and Robespierre should they attend the Jacobin club.

On 9 August, when the Assembly declined to impeach LaFayette, the tocsin summoned the sections into arms. That same evening, the commissionaires from several sections assembled in the town hall. Notably absent were Marat, Robespierre and Tallien. The dissolution of the municipal council of the city occurred at midnight. Sulpice Huguenin, a prominent figure among the sans-culottes of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, was appointed provisional president of the Insurrectionary Commune.

In the early hours of (Friday, 10 August) 30,000 Fédérés (volunteers hailing from the countryside) and Sans-culottes (militant citizens from the Paris) orchestrated a successful assault upon the Tuileries. Robespierre considered it a triumph for the "passive" (non-voting) citizens. The Assembly, rattled by the events, suspended the king and sanctioned the election of a National Convention to supplant its authority. On the night of 11 August. Robespierre secured a position in the Paris Commune, representing the Section de Piques, his residential district. The governing committee advocated for the convening of a convention, selected via universal male suffrage, tasked with establishing a new government and restructering France. Despite Camille Desmoulins' belief that the turmoil had concluded, Robespierre asserted that it marked merely the beginning. By 13 August, Robespierre openly opposed the reinforcement of the départements. Subsequently, Danton invited him to join the Council of Justice. Robespierre published the twelfth and final edition of Le Défenseur de la Constitution, serving as an account and political testament.

On 16 August, Robespierre submitted a petition to the Legislative Assembly, endorsed by the Paris Commune urging the establishment of a provisional Revolutionary Tribunal specifically tasked with dealing with perceived "traitors" and "enemies of the people". The following day, he was appointed as one of eight judges for this tribunal. However, citing a lack of impartiality, Robespierre declined to preside over it. This decision drew criticism.

The Prussian army breached the French frontier on 19 August. To fortify defense, the Paris armed sections were integrated into 48 battalions of the National Guard under Santerre's command. The Assembly decreed that all the non-juring priests must leave Paris within a week and leave the country within two weeks. On 27 August, an emotionally charged funeral ceremony was conducted at Place du Carrousel attended by nearly half of Paris's population, to honor those who died during storming the Tuileries. Danton proposed that the Assembly should authorise house searches "to distribute to the defenders of the Patrie the weapons that indolent or ill-disposed citizens may be hiding". The section Sans-culottes organised itself as a surveillance committee, conducting searches and making arrests all over Paris. On 28 August, the assembly ordered a curfew for the next two days. The city gates were closed; all communication with the country was stopped. At the behest of Justice Minister Danton, thirty commissioners from the sections were ordered to search in every suspect house for weapons, munitions, swords, carriages, and horses. "As a result of this inquisition, more than 1,000 "suspects" were added to the immense body of political prisoners already confined in the jails and convents of the city". Marat and Robespierre both disliked Condorcet who proposed that the "enemies of the people" belonged to the whole nation and should be judged constitutionally in its name. A sharp conflict developed between the Legislative Assembly and the Commune and its sections. On 30 August the interim minister of Interior Roland and Guadet tried to suppress the influence of the Commune because the sections had exhausted the searches. The Assembly, tired of the pressures, declared the Commune illegal and suggested the organisation of communal elections. Robespierre was no longer willing to cooperate with Brissot and Roland. On Sunday morning 2 September the members of the Commune, gathering in the town hall to proceed the election of deputies to the National Convention, decided to maintain their seats and have Roland and Brissot arrested. Madame de Staël who tried to escape Paris was forced by the crowd to go to the town hall. She noted that Robespierre was in the chair that day, assisted by Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne as secretaries.

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National Convention


On 2 September the 1792 French National Convention election began. Paris was organising its defence, but it was confronted with a lack of arms for the thousands of volunteers. Danton delivered a speech in the assembly and possibly referring to the Swiss inmates: "We ask that anyone who refuses to serve in person, or to surrender their weapons, is punished with death." His speech acted as a call for direct action among the citizens, as well as a strike against the external enemy. Not long after the September Massacres began. Robespierre and Manuel, the public prosecutor, responsible for the police administration, visited the Temple prison to check on the security of the royal family. The next day the Assembly decided to exclude royalist deputies from re-election to the Convention.

In Paris suspected Girondin and Feuillant candidates were boycotted; Robespierre made sure Brissot (and his fellow Brissotins Pétion and Condorcet) could not be elected in Paris. According to Charlotte Robespierre, her brother stopped talking to his former friend, mayor Pétion de Villeneuve, accused of conspicuous consumption by Desmoulins, and finally rallied to Brissot. On 5 September, Robespierre was elected deputy to the National Convention but Danton and Collot d'Herbois received more votes than Robespierre. Madame Roland wrote to a friend: "We are under the knife of Robespierre and Marat, those who would agitate the people." The election were not the triumph for the Jacobins that they had anticipated, but during the next nine months they gradually eliminated their opponents and seized control of the Convention.

On 21 September Pétion was elected as president of the convention. The Jacobins and Cordeliers took the high benches at the back of the former Salle du Manège, giving them the label the Montagnards ("the Mountain"); below them were the "Manège" of the Girondists, the moderate Republicans. The majority the Plain was formed by independents (as Barère, Cambon and Carnot) but dominated by the radical Mountain. On 25 and 26 September, Barbaroux and the Girondist Lasource accused Robespierre of wanting to form a dictatorship. Rumours spread that Robespierre, Marat, and Danton were plotting to establish a triumvirate to save the First French Republic.

On 30 September Robespierre advocated for better laws; the registration of marriages, births, and burials was withdrawn from the church. On 29 October, Louvet de Couvrai attacked Robespierre. He accused him of governing the Paris "Conseil Général" and having done nothing to stop the September massacre; instead, he had used it to have more Montagnards elected. Robespierre, who seems to have been sick, was given a week to respond. On 5 November, Robespierre defended himself, the Jacobin Club, and his supporters:

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

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

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

Louvet de Couvrai accused Robespierre of paying the septembriseurs to gain more votes. After publishing his speech "A Maximilien Robespierre et à ses royalistes (accusation)", Louvet was no longer admitted to the Jacobin Club. Condorcet considered the French Revolution as a religion and Robespierre had all the characteristics of a leader of a sect, or a cult. As his opponents knew well, Robespierre had a strong base of support among the women of Paris called tricoteuses (knitters). According to Moore "He [Robespierre] refuses offices in which he might be of service, takes those where he can govern; appears when he can make a figure, disappears when others occupy the stage". The Girondins called on the local authorities to oppose the concentration and centralisation of power.

Execution of Louis XVI

After the convention's unanimous declaration of a French Republic on 21 September 1792, a commission was established to examine the evidence against the former king while the convention's Legislation Committee considered legal aspects of any future trial. On 13 November Robespierre stated in the Convention that a Constitution which Louis had violated himself, and which declared his inviolability, could not now be used in his defence. On 20 November, opinion turned sharply against Louis following the discovery of a secret cache of 726 documents consisting of Louis's communications with bankers and ministers.

On a proposal of Claude Bazire, a Dantonist, the National Convention decreed that Louis XVI be tried by its members. Most Montagnards favoured judgment and execution, while the Girondins were more divided concerning how to proceed, with some arguing for royal inviolability, others for clemency, and others advocating lesser punishment or banishment. On 28 December, Robespierre was asked to repeat his speech on the fate of the king in the Jacobin club. On 14 January 1793, the king was unanimously voted guilty of conspiracy and attacks upon public safety.

On 15 January the call for a referendum was defeated by 424 votes to 287, which Robespierre led. On 16 January, voting began to determine the king's sentence; Robespierre worked fervently to ensure the king's execution. The Jacobins successfully defeated the Girondins' final appeal for clemency. On 20 January half of the deputies voted for immediate death. The next day Louis XVI was guillotined.

Following the execution of the king, Robespierre, Danton, and the Montagnards surged in influence, overshadowing the Girondins.

March/April 1793

On 24 February the Convention decreed the first albeit unsuccessful Levée en Masse, triggering uprisings in rural France. Protesters, supported by the Enragés, accused the Girondins of instigating the unrest and soaring prices. In early March 1793, the War in the Vendée and the War of the Pyrenees began. Meanwhile the population of the Austrian Netherlands, who were terrorized by an Army of Sans-Culottes, resisted the French invasion.

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

On 11 March, Charles-François Dumouriez addressed the Brussels assembly, apologising for the actions of the French commissioners and soldiers. On 12 March Dumouriez criticised the interference of officials of the War Ministry which employed many Jacobins. He attacked not only Pache, the former minister of war, but also Marat and Robespierre. On 22 March Dumouriez retreated to Brussels. The next day Dumouriez promised the Austrians the French army would leave Belgium by the end of March without permission of the Convention. He urged the Duke of Chartres to join his plan to negotiate peace, dissolve the Convention, restore the French Constitution of 1791 and a constitutional monarchy, and to free Marie-Antoinette and her children. The Jacobin leaders were quite sure that France had come close to a military coup mounted by Dumouriez and supported by the Girondins.

On 24 March, Francisco de Miranda, the only general from Latin America in French service, blamed Dumouriez for the defeat in the Battle of Neerwinden (1793). On 25 March Robespierre became one of the 25 members of the Committee of General Defence to coordinate the war effort. Robespierre called for the removal of Dumouriez, who in his eyes aspired to become a Belgian dictator or chief of state, and was placed under arrest. For Robespierre, the army had already more soldiers than it needed. He demanded that relatives of the king should leave France, but Marie-Antoinette should be judged. He spoke of vigorous measures to save the convention but left the committee within a few days. Marat began to promote a more radical approach, war on the Girondins. The Montagnards launched a vigorous campaign against the Girondins, after the defection of General Dumouriez, who refused to surrender himself to the Revolutionary Tribunal. On 3 April Robespierre declared before the Convention that the whole war was a prepared game between Dumouriez and Brissot to overthrow the Republic. On 5 April the Convention substantially expanded the power of the Tribunal révolutionnaire. The Montagnards raised the stakes by sending out a circular from the Jacobin Club in Paris to all the sister Jacobin clubs across France, appealing for petitions demanding the recall – that is, the expulsion from the convention – of any deputies who had tried to save the life of "the tyrant". On 6 April the Committee of Public Safety was installed on the proposal of Maximin Isnard, supported by Georges Danton. The Committee was composed of nine deputies from the Plaine and the Dantonists, but no Girondins or Robespierrists. As one of the first acts of the Committee, Marat, president of the Jacobin club, called for the expulsion of twenty-two Girondins. Robespierre, who was not elected, was pessimistic about the prospects of parliamentary action and told the Jacobins that it was necessary to raise an army of Sans-culottes to defend Paris and arrest infidel deputies. There were only two parties according to Robespierre: the people and their enemies. On 10 April Robespierre accused Dumouriez in a speech: "He and his supporters have brought a fatal blow to the public fortune, preventing circulation of assignats in Belgium".

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

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

May 1793

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we need is a single will (il faut une volonté une). It must be either republican or royalist. If it is to be republican, we must have republican ministers, republican newspapers, republican deputies, a republican government. ... The internal dangers come from the middle classes; to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people. ... The people must ally themselves with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people.

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

Reign of Terror

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

June and July 1793

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

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

August 1793

On 4 August the French Constitution of 1793 passed through the Convention. At the end of August rebellious Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon had not accepted the new Constitution. According to French historian Soboul, Robespierre was against the implementation before the rebellious cantons had accepted it. By mid-September the Jacobin Club suggested that the Constitution should not be published, on the argument that general will was missing, although an overwhelming majority favoured it.

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

September 1793

On 4 September, the sans-culottes again invaded the Convention. They demanded tougher measures against rising prices and the setting up of a system of terror to root out the counter-revolution, despite the amount of assignats in circulation having doubled in the previous months.

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

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

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

October 1793

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

On 10 October the Convention recognised the Committee of Public Safety as the supreme "Revolutionary Government", (which was consolidated on 4 December). Though the Constitution was overwhelmingly popular and its drafting and ratification buoyed popular support for the Montagnards, on 10 October the Convention set it aside indefinitely until a future peace. The Committee of Public Safety became a War cabinet with unprecedented powers over the economy as well as the political life of the nation, but it had to get the approval of the Convention for any legislation and could be changed any time. Danton, who was dangerously ill for a few weeks, quit politics and set off to Arcis-sur-Aube with his 16-year-old wife.

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

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

November 1793

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

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

December 1793

On 3 December Robespierre accused Danton in the Jacobin Club of feigning an illness to emigrate to Switzerland. Danton, according to him, showed too often his vices and not his virtue. Robespierre was stopped in his attack. The gathering was closed after applause for Danton. On 4 December, by the Law of Revolutionary Government, the independence of departmental and local authorities came to an end, when extensive powers of the Committee of Public Safety were codified. Submitted by Billaud and implemented within 24 hours, the law was a drastic decision against the independence of deputies and commissionaires on a mission; coordinated action among the sections became illegal. The Commune of Paris and the revolutionary committees in the sections had to obey the law, the two Committees, and the convention.

On 5 December the journalist Camille Desmoulins launched a new journal, Le Vieux Cordelier. He defended Danton, attacked the de-Christianisers and later compared Robespierre with Julius Caesar as dictator. Desmoulins argued that the Revolution should return to its original ideas en vogue around 10 August 1792. Robespierre made a counterproposal, to set up a Committee of Justice to examine some of the cases under the Law of Suspects. Seventy-three deputies who had voted against the insurrection on 2 June were allowed to take their seats in the convention. On 6 December Robespierre warned in the Convention against the dangers of dechristianization, and attacked "all violence or threats contrary to the freedom of religion". On 7 December all the departmental armées revolutionnaires in France were dismissed within 24 hours, except the ones authorised by the Convention as in Paris.

On 12 December Robespierre attacked the wealthy foreigner Cloots in the Jacobin club of being a Prussian spy. Thomas Paine lost his seat in the convention, was arrested, and locked up for his association with the Girondins, as well as being a foreign national. Robespierre denounced the "de-Christianisers" as foreign enemies. The Indulgents mounted an attack on the Committee of Public Safety, accusing them of being murderers. On 17 December Vincent and Ronsin were arrested. On 21 December Collot d'Herbois declared: "...if I had arrived two days later I would perhaps have been put under indictment myself." A Committee of Grace had to be established. Desmoulins addressed Robespierre directly, writing, "My dear Robespierre... my old school friend... Remember the lessons of history and philosophy: love is stronger, more lasting than fear."

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

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

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

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

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

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

February and March 1794

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

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

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

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

Aulard sums up the Jacobin train of thought, "All politics, according to Robespierre, must tend to establish the reign of virtue and confound vice. He reasoned thus: those who are virtuous are right; error is a corruption of the heart; error cannot be sincere; error is always deliberate." According to the German journalist K.E. Oelsner, Robespierre behaved "more like a leader of a religious sect than of a political party. He can be eloquent but most of the time he is boring, especially when he goes on too long, which is often the case."

On 8 February 1794, Jean-Baptiste Carrier was recalled from Nantes, after a member of the Committee of Public Safety wrote to Robespierre with information about the atrocities being carried out, although Carrier himself was not put on trial. From 13 February to 13 March 1794, Robespierre had withdrawn from active business on the Committee due to illness. Robespierre seems to have suffered from acute physical and mental exhaustion, exacerbated by an austere personal regime according to McPhee. Saint-Just was elected president of the convention for the next two weeks. On 19 February, Robespierre decided to return to the Duplays.

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

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

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

April 1794

Danton, Desmoulins, and several others faced trial from April 3 to 5 before the Revolutionary Tribunal, presided over by Martial Herman. Described as more politically charged than criminally focused, the trial proceeded in an irregular manner. Hanriot had been informed not to arrest the president and the "public accuser" of the Revolutionary Tribunal. The accusations of theft, corruption, and the scandal involving the French East India Company paved the way for Danton's downfall, accusing him of conspiracy with count Mirabeau, Marquis de Lafayette, the Duke of Orléans and Dumouriez. In Robespierre's eyes, the Dantonists had ceased to be true patriots prioritizing personal and foreign interests over the nation's welfare. Following Robespierre's advice, a decree was accepted to present Saint-Just's account on Danton's alleged royalist tendencies at the tribunal, effectively ending further debates and restraining any further insults to justice by the accused.

Fouquier-Tinville asked the tribunal to order the defendants who "confused the hearing" and insulted "National Justice" to the guillotine. Desmoulins struggled to accept his fate and accused Robespierre, the Committee of General Security, and the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was dragged up the scaffold by force.

On the last day of their trial, Desmoulins's wife, Lucile Desmoulins, was imprisoned. She was accused of organising a revolt against the patriots and the tribunal to free her husband and Danton. She admitted to having warned the prisoners of a course of events as in September 1792, and that it was her duty to revolt against it. Robespierre was not only his school friend but also had witnessed at their marriage in December 1790, together with Pétion and Brissot. Following the executions of Danton and Desmoulins on April 5, Robespierre had a partial withdrawal from public life. He did not reappear until May 7. The withdrawal may have been an indication of health issues.

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

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

June 1794

As the assignat was losing more and more value, the Convention decreed that the death penalty should be inflicted on any person convicted of "having asked, before a bargain was concluded, in what money payment was to be made". On 10 June Georges Couthon introduced the Law of 22 Prairial to free the Revolutionary Tribunals from control by the Convention and limiting the ability of suspects to defend themselves. Furthermore, the law broadened the sorts of charges that could be brought so that virtually any criticism of the government became criminal. The legal defence was sacrificed in favor of efficiency and centralisation by banning any assistance for defendants brought before the revolutionary tribunal. "If this law passes," cried a deputy, "all we have to do is to blow our brains out". According to Fouquier-Tinville after Amar, Vadier proposed to change a few articles, however this request was denied. Fouquier, who feared to be incapable to deal with the number of trials sent him a letter, but Robespierre did not reply. Not long after the committee decided to organise batches of 50 people. The Tribunal became more akin to a court of condemnation, refusing suspects the right of counsel and allowing only one of two verdicts – complete acquittal or death and that based not on evidence but on the moral conviction of the jurors. The courtroom was renovated to allow sixty people to be sentenced simultaneously. Within three days, 156 people were sent in batches to the guillotine; all the members of Parlement of Toulouse were executed. On 11 July the shopkeepers, craftsmen, and others were temporarily released from prison. According to François Furet, the prisons were overpopulated; they housed over 8,000 "suspects" at the beginning of Thermidor year II. The number of death sentences in Paris doubled. The commune had to solve serious problems in the cemeteries because of the smell. Mid-July two new mass graves were dug at Picpus Cemetery in the impermeable ground.

Abolition of slavery

The attitude of Robespierre on abolition has some contradictions and has raised doubts about his intentions relating to slavery.

On 13 May 1791 he was opposed to the word "slaves" being included in a law; he denounced the slave trade. He recalled that slavery was in contradiction with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. On 15 May 1791 the Constituent Assembly granted citizenship to "all people of colour born of free parents", although it left slavery untouched. Robespierre argued passionately in the Assembly against the Colonial Committee, dominated by plantation and slaveholders in the Caribbean. The colonial lobby declared that political rights for black people would cause France to lose her colonies. Robespierre responded, "We should not compromise the interests humanity holds most dear, the sacred rights of a significant number of our fellow citizens," later shouting, "Perish the colonies, if it will cost you your happiness, your glory, your freedom. Perish the colonies!" Robespierre was furious that the assembly gave "constitutional sanction to slavery in the colonies", and argued for equal political rights regardless of skin colour. The colonial whites refused to implement the decree. After this move the whites thought about separation from France.

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

Ask a merchant of human flesh what is property; he will answer by showing you that long coffin he calls a ship... Ask a gentleman [the same] who has lands and vassals... and he will give you almost the identical ideas.

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

From August former slaves on St Domingue would enjoy "all the rights of French citizens". In August 1793, a growing group of slaves in St Domingue led a Haitian revolution against slavery and colonial rule. Robespierre defended the rights of free of color at the expense of the slaves. On 31 October 1793 slavery was completely abolished in St Domingue. Robespierre criticised the former governor of Saint-Domingue Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, who had freed slaves on Haïti, but then proposed to arm them, and informed the Committee not to count on the whites to manage the colony.

By 1794, French debates concerning slavery reached their apogee. The discussions focused on the question if the colonies had to impose the same laws as in France. In late January, a small delegation of mixed colour, representing the slaveholders, their opponents, as well as a former slave arrived in France. After being briefly imprisoned, the member opposing slavery was freed on the orders of the Committee of Public Safety. The National Convention then passed a decree abolishing slavery in all the colonies and examine the behavior of Sonthonax and Polverel. In the view of Robespierre they were Brissotins. In the following years, the slaves of St. Domingue effectively liberated themselves and formed an army to oppose re-enslavement.

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

On the day after the emancipation decree, Robespierre delivered a speech in the Convention praising the French as the first to "summon all men to equality and liberty, and their full rights as citizens", using the word slavery twice but without specifically mentioning the French colonies. Despite petitions from the slaveholding delegation, the Convention decided to endorse the decree in full. However, the decree was only implemented and applied in St Domingue (1793), Guadeloupe (December 1794) and French Guiana.

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

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

Cult of the Supreme Being

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

In the afternoon of 8 June (also the Christian holiday of Pentecost) a "Festival of the Supreme Being" was held. The festival was Robespierre's first appearance in the public eye as a leader for the people, and also as president of the Convention, to which he had been elected four days earlier. Witnesses state that throughout the "Festival of the Supreme Being", Robespierre beamed with joy. He was able to speak of the things about which he was passionate, including virtue, nature, deist beliefs and his disagreements with atheism. The procession ended on the Champ de Mars. The Convention climbed to the summit, where a liberty tree had been planted. Robespierre delivered two speeches in which he emphasised his concept of a Supreme Being: there would be no Christ, no Mohammed.

Someone was heard saying, "Look at the blackguard; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God". According to him: "Robespierre proclaimed to believe in the Supreme Being, and who only believed in the power of crime." Robespierre was also criticized by Vadier, Barère, Courtois and Fouché, members of the Committee of General Security. Joseph Fouché had predicted to him his approaching fall. On 15 June, the president of the Committee of General Security, Vadier, on behalf of the two committees presented a report on a new conspiracy by Catherine Théot, Christophe Antoine Gerle and three others. He insinuated that Robespierre fitted her prophecies. His speech caused much laughter in the convention. Many of her followers were also supporters or friends of Robespierre, which made it seem as if he was attempting to create a new religion, with him as its god. Robespierre felt ridiculed and demanded on the 26th that the investigation of Théot be stopped and Fouquier-Tinville replaced. The deist Cult of the Supreme Being that he had founded and zealously promoted generated suspicion in the eyes of both anticlericals and other political factions, who felt he was developing grandiose delusions about his place in French society. According to Madame de Staël, it was from that time he was lost.


May and June 1794

On 20 May, Robespierre was one of the signers of the arrest warrant for Tallien's lover, Theresa Cabarrus. On 23 May, one day after the attempted assassination of Collot d'Herbois, Cécile Renault was arrested after having approached Robespierre's residence with two penknives and a change of underwear in her bag. She said the fresh linen was for her execution. She was executed on 17 June. Robespierre refused to reunite husbands, wives and children dispersed in different prisons in a common detention facility. He used this assassination attempt against him as a pretext for scapegoating the British.

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

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

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

July 1794

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Thermidor

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

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

According to Tallien "Robespierre wanted to attack us by turns, to isolate us, and finally he would be left one day only with the base and abandoned and debauched men who serve him". Tallien demanded the arrest of Dumas, Hanriot and Boulanger. According to Barère, the committees asked themselves why there still existed a military regime in Paris; why were there permanent commanders, with staffs, and immense armed forces? He said that the committees thought it best to restore to the National Guard its democratic organisation.

Almost thirty-five deputies spoke against Robespierre that day, most of them from the Mountain. As the accusations began to pile up, Saint-Just remained silent. Robespierre rushed toward the rostrum, appealed to the Plain to defend him against the Montagnards, but his voice was shouted down. Robespierre rushed to the benches of the Left but someone cried: "Get away from here; Condorcet used to sit here". He soon found himself at a loss for words after Vadier gave a mocking impression of him referring to the discovery of a letter under the mattress of the illiterate Catherine Théot.

When Robespierre, very upset, was unable to speak, Garnier shouted, "The blood of Danton chokes him!" Robespierre then regained his voice: "Is it Danton you regret? [...] Cowards! Why didn't you defend him?" At some time Louis Louchet called for Robespierre's arrest; Augustin Robespierre demanded to share his fate. The whole Convention agreed, including Couthon, and Saint-Just. Le Bas decided to join Saint-Just. Robespierre shouted that the revolution was lost when he descended the tribune. The five deputies were taken to the Committee of General Security and questioned.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Robespierre spent the remainder of the night at the antechamber of the Committee of General Security. He lay on the table, his head on a pine box, his shirt stained with blood. By 5 a.m. his brother and Couthon were transported to the nearest hospital, Hôtel-Dieu de Paris. However, Barras prohibited Robespierre from being taken there. At ten in the morning a military doctor was summoned and extracted some of his teeth and fragments of his broken jaw. Subsequently, Robespierre was confined to a cell in the Conciergerie.

On 10 Thermidor the Revolutionary Tribunal assembled around noon. By 2 a.m. Robespierre and twenty-one "Robespierrists" faced accusations of counter-revolution and were sentenced to death under the provisions of the law of 22 Prairial. At approximately 6 p.m., the condemned were conveyed in three carts to the Place de la Révolution for execution, alongside Nicolas Francois Vivier, the final president of the Jacobins, and Antoine Simon, the cobbler who served as the jailer of the Dauphin. A furious mob, hurling curses, accompanied the grim procession.

Robespierre was the tenth to ascend the platform. During the preparation for his execution, the executioner Charles-Henri Sanson, dislodged the bandage securing his shattered jaw, eliciting an anguished scream until his demise. Following his beheading, the crowd erupted in applause and jubilant cries, which reportedly endured for fifteen minutes. Robespierre and associates were interred in a mass grave at the newly established Errancis Cemetery. Between 1844 and 1859 (likely in 1848), the remains of all those buried there were transferred to the Catacombs of Paris. The day following his demise, approximately half of the Paris Commune (70 members) met their fate at the guillotine.

From the 6th to 20th of August, Napoleon found himself placed under house arrest in Nice due to his affiliations with Augustin Robespierre.

Legacy and memory

Robespierre is best known for his role as a member of the Committee of Public Safety. He exerted his influence to suppress the republican Girondins to the right, the radical Hébertists to the left and the indulgent Dantonists in the centre. Though nominally all members of the committee were equally responsible, the Thermidorians held Robespierre as the most culpable for the bloodshed. For Carnot: "this monster was above all a hypocrite; it is because he knew how to seduce the people". On Thuriot's proposal, the Revolutionary Tribunal was suspended and replaced by a temporary commission. On 1 August, the Law of 22 Prairial was abolished. Fouquier-Tinville was arrested and not long after solicitors were reintroduced in the courtroom. On 5 August, the Law of Suspects was disbanded; the Convention decided to release all the prisoners against whom weighed no charge.

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

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

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

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

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

Robespierre's main ideal was to ensure the virtue and sovereignty of the people. He disapproved of any acts which could be seen as exposing the nation to counter-revolutionaries and traitors and became increasingly fearful of the defeat of the Revolution. He instigated the Terror and the deaths of his peers as a measure of ensuring the Republic of Virtue but his ideals went beyond the needs and want of the people of France. He became a threat to what he had wanted to ensure and the result was his downfall.

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

In 1941 Marc Bloch, a French historian, sighed disillusioned (a year before he decided to join the French Resistance): "Robespierrists, anti-robespierrists ... for pity's sake, just tell us who was Robespierre?" According to R.R. Palmer: the easiest way to justify Robespierre is to represent the other Revolutionists in an unfavourable or disgraceful light. This was the method used by Robespierre himself. Soboul argues that Robespierre and Saint-Just "were too preoccupied in defeating the interest of the bourgeoisie to give their total support to the sans-culottes, and yet too attentive to the needs of the sans-culottes to get support from the middle class". For Peter McPhee, Robespierre's achievements were monumental, but so was the tragedy of his final weeks of indecision. The members of the committee, together with members of the Committee of General Security, were as much responsible for the running of the Terror as Robespierre. They may have exaggerated his role to downplay their own contribution and used him as a scapegoat after his death. J-C. Martin and McPhee interpret the repression of the revolutionary government as a response to anarchy and popular violence, and not as the assertion of a precise ideology. Martin keeps Tallien responsible for Robespierre's bad reputation, and that the "Thermidorians" invented the "Terror" as there is no law that proves its introduction.

Many historians neglected Robespierre's attitude towards the French National Guard from July 1789, and as "public accuser", responsible for the officers within the police till April 1792. He then began promoting civilian armament and the creation of a revolutionary army of 23,000 men in his periodical. He defended the right of revolution and promoted a revolutionary armed force. Dubois-Crancé described Robespierre as the general of the Sans-culottes. Carnot who took charge of the military situation became the enemy of Saint-Just in the Committee of Public Safety and reversed several measures. Also, Barère changed his mind; the voluntary Guards and militant sans-culottes lost influence quickly in Spring 1794. The revisionist historian Furet thought that Terror was inherent in the ideology of the French Revolution and was not just a violent episode. Equally important is his conclusion that revolutionary violence is connected with extreme voluntarism. Furet was especially critical of the "Marxist line" of Albert Soboul.

Indeed, he failed in his opposition to two decisions which resulted in the greatest bloodshed and dissension during the Revolution: the declaration of war on the European monarchies and the dechristianization movement. Regarding the former, Robespierre feared that initiating a war of liberation would consolidate and intensify European opposition to the Revolution and risk a possible defeat. He argued against Brissot that, even if victorious, the invading French troops would be welcomed as liberators. Further, he presciently argued that war would create the groundwork for a military dictatorship, as indeed it ultimately did. Regarding dechristianization, he saw it as a gratuitous affront to the genuine religious needs of the people, especially outside Paris, and would only drive them into the arms of the refractory clergy, which is exactly what happened with disastrous results in the Vendée.

According to George Rudé Robespierre often expressed his political and philosophical views forcefully. More than 630 times across five years he lectured the assemblies or Jacobin Club but in the first seven months of 1794 he made only sixteen speeches in the National Convention, compared with 101 in 1793. Historians enamored of Robespierre have been at pains to try to prove that he was not the dictator of France in the year II. McPhee stated on several previous occasions Robespierre had admitted that he was worn out; his personal and tactical judgment, once so acute, seems to have deserted him.

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

The assassination attempts made him suspicious to the point of obsession. There is a long line of historians "who blame Robespierre for all the less attractive episodes of the Revolution." Jonathan Israel is sharply critical of Robespierre for repudiating the true values of the radical Enlightenment. He argues, "Jacobin ideology and culture under Robespierre was an obsessive Rousseauiste moral Puritanism steeped in authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia, and it repudiated free expression, basic human rights, and democracy." He refers to the Girondin deputies Thomas Paine, Condorcet, Daunou, Cloots, Destutt and Abbé Gregoire denouncing Robespierre's ruthlessness, hypocrisy, dishonesty, lust for power and intellectual mediocrity. According to Hillary Mantel: He could not survive if he trusted nobody, and could not work out who to trust. According to Jeremy Popkin, he was undone by his obsession with the vision of an ideal republic. I

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


Over 300 actors have portrayed Robespierre, in both French and English. Prominent examples include:

  • Sidney Herbert in Orphans of the Storm (1921)
  • Werner Krauss in Danton (1921)
  • Edmond Van Daële in Napoléon (1927)
  • George Hackathorne in Captain of the Guard (1930)
  • Ernest Milton in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
  • Henry Oscar in The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937)
  • Leonard Penn in Marie Antoinette (1938)
  • Richard Basehart in Reign of Terror (1949)
  • Keith Anderson in the Doctor Who episode, The Reign of Terror (1964)
  • Peter Gilmore as a character referred to only as "Citizen Robespierre" in Don't Lose Your Head, a Carry On spoof of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1967)
  • Christopher Ellison in Lady Oscar (1979)
  • Richard Morant in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)
  • Wojciech Pszoniak in Danton (1983)
  • Andrzej Seweryn in La Révolution française (1989)
  • Ronan Vibert in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999–2000)
  • Guillaume Aretos in Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)
  • Nicolas Vaude in The Visitors: Bastille Day (2016)
  • Louis Garrel in One Nation, One King (2018)
  • Sam Troughton in Napoleon (2023)


  • 1785 - Discours couronné par la Société royale des arts et des sciences de Metz, sur les questions suivantes, proposeés pour sujet du prix de l'année 1784
  • 1791 - Adresse de Maximilien Robespierre aux Français
  • 1792-1793 - Lettres de Maximilien Robespierre, membre de la Convention nationale de France, à ses commettans
  • 1794 - Lettre de Robespierre, au général Pichegru. Paris le 3 Thermidor, (21 Juillet) l'an 2 de la République Françoise = Brief van Robespierre, aan den generaal Pichegru. Parys, den 3 Thermidor, (21 July) het 2de jaar der Fransche Republiek
  • 1828 - Papiers inédits trouvés chez Robespierre, Saint-Just, Payan ... : supprimés ou omis par Courtois : précédés du Rapport de ce député à la Convention Nationale. Tome premier; Tome second; Tome troisième
  • 1830 - Mémoires authentiques de Maximilien de Robespierre, ornés de son portrait, et de facsimile de son écriture extraits de ses mémoirs. Tome premier; Tome deuxième
  • 1912-2022 - Œuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, 10 volumes, Société des études robespierristes, 1912-1967. Réimpression Société des études robespierristes, Phénix Éditions, 2000, 10 volumes. Réédition avec une nouvelle introduction de Claude Mazauric, Édition du Centenaire de la Société des études robespierristes, Éditions du Miraval, Enghien-les-Bains, 2007, 10 volumes et 1 volume de Compléments. Un onzième volume, paru en 2007, regroupe les textes omis lors de l'édition initiale.




External links

  • Works by or about Maximilien Robespierre at Internet Archive
  • An Introduction to the French Revolution and a Brief History of France (34 videos)
  • The Thermidorian Reaction (Part 1/2)
  • 25. The Armies of the Revolution and Dumoriez's Betrayal
  • La Révolution française (film) by Richard T. Heffron (1989 dramatisation reflecting the official narrative of the Bicentenary commemorations: The French Revolution – Part 2 – English subtitles

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Maximilien Robespierre by Wikipedia (Historical)