A single shout echoed through the hall. “Down with the tyrant! Down with the tyrant!”
Continuing The Reign Of Terror,
our selection from Popular History of France From the Earliest Times by François P. G. Guizot published in 1869. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Reign Of Terror.
Robespierre took refuge with the Jacobins; he was troubled by the opposition he had encountered, without being able to draw from it new forces for the struggle. He redelivered his discourse, this time welcomed with loud applause. “My friends,” said he, “that which you have just heard is my dying testament. I have seen to-day that the league of the wicked is too strong for me to hope to escape it. I am ready to drink the hemlock.”
“I will drink it with thee,” cried David. The men of action were less resigned. Henriot spoke of marching on the Convention, but Robespierre still wished to speak; it was the course of May 31st that he wanted to follow. The hall was crowded; people entered without tickets.
“Name thy enemies,” they shouted to Robespierre; “name them; we will deliver them to thee.” Collot d’Herbois arrived, attempting a few protestations of devotion; he was hooted and constrained to retire. Hesitation and doubt still troubled every spirit and paralyzed every hand. Collot and Billaud-Varennes returned to the Committee of Public Safety. There they found Saint-Just, who had to read a report, but he had not brought it with him. The two new-comers apostrophized him with violence. “Thou art the accomplice of Robespierre; the project of your infamous triumvirate is to assassinate us all, but if we succumb you will not long enjoy the fruit of your crimes — the people will tear you in pieces; thy pockets are full of denunciations against us; produce thy lists.” They advanced menacingly; Saint-Just shrank back, very pale. As he went out he promised to read his report next day. Neither of the two parties had as yet taken any effectual measure; they had contracted the habit of being very prodigal of words. Tallien had endeavored to gain over all that remained of the Left; three times he was repulsed by Boissy d’Anglas and his friends. As he returned once more to the charge, “Yes,” they at length replied, with an ingenuousness almost cynical, “yes, if you are the strongest.” Tallien was entrusted to direct the attack in the Convention.
Saint-Just had just entered; he had not appeared at the Committee of Public Safety. “You have blighted my heart,” he wrote to his colleagues, “I am about to open it at the National Assembly.” He presented himself, however, as reporter of the Committee. In seeing him pass, Tallien, occupied in assembling his forces, said loudly, “It is the moment; let us enter.” Saint-Just commenced: “I am not of any faction; I fight against all. The course of events has brought it about that this tribune should be perhaps the Tarpeian rock to him who shall come to tell you that the members of the Government — ” Tallien did not leave him time to finish; he demanded leave to speak upon a motion of order. “Nor I either; I am not of any faction; I only belong to myself and to liberty. It is I who will make you hear the truth: no good citizen can restrain his tears over the unfortunate condition of public affairs. Yesterday a member of the Government was here alone and denounced his colleagues: to-day another comes to do as much by him; these dissensions aggravate the evils of our country. I demand that the veil be torn away.” Applause echoed from all parts of the hall.
Saint-Just wished to continue his speech. “Thou art not reporter,” shouted the members. He remained motionless in the tribune, while Billaud-Varennes came and stood beside him. He cast his eyes over the hall. “I see here,” said he, “one of the men who yesterday, at the Jacobins, promised the massacre of the National Convention; let him be arrested.” The officers obeyed. “The Assembly is at the present time in danger of massacre on every hand,” continued Billaud; “it will perish if it is feeble.” The contagion of courage spread from man to man; all the deputies stood up waving their hats. “Be tranquil,” they cried to the orator; “we will not give way.” “You will tremble when you see in what hands you are,” continued Billaud; “the armed force is confided to parricidal hands. The chief of the National Guard is an infamous conspirator, the accomplice of Hébert; Lavalette was a noble, driven out of the Army of the North and saved by Robespierre, whom he obeys. The Revolutionary Tribunal is in his hands; everywhere he has made his will supreme, and has sought to render himself absolute master; he has dismissed the best Revolutionary Committee of Paris, he has ceased to frequent the Committee of Public Safety since the day after the decree of the 22d Prairial, which has been so disastrous to patriots. He excites the Jacobins against the Assembly.” A few feeble protestations were now heard. “There is some murmuring, I think,” said the speaker, insolently.
He was about to continue the course of his accusations; but beside him in the tribune Robespierre had replaced Saint-Just. His natural pallor had become livid, rage sparkled in his glance. “I demand liberty to speak,” he cried. A single shout echoed through the hall. “Down with the tyrant! Down with the tyrant!” “I demand liberty to speak,” Robespierre violently repeated. Tallien dashed into the tribune. “I demand that the veil be torn away immediately,” he cried; “the work is accomplished, the conspirators are unmasked. Yesterday, at the Jacobins, I saw the army of the new Cromwell formed, and I have come here armed with a poniard to pierce his heart if the Assembly has not the courage to decree his accusation. I demand the arrest of Henriot and his staff. There will be no May 31st, no proscription; national justice alone will strike the miscreants.”
“I demand that Dumas be arrested,” added Billaud-Varennes, “as well as Boulanger *; he was the most ardent yesterday night at the Jacobins.”
[* formerly lieutenant of Ronsin in the Vendée]
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