He said, “There exists a conspiracy against public liberty; it owes its force to a criminal coalition which intrigues in the very bosom of the Convention.”.
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.
The two parties waited face to face, shrinking from the blows they were about to exchange, counting on the impatience or temerity of their adversaries. The boldest among the opposition ventured on a circuitous attack by denouncing the sect of mystic dreamers led by a demented woman, Catherine Théot, styled by her followers, Mother of God. Her principal disciple was Gerle, formerly prior of the Chartreuse, and a member of the Constituent Assembly. When the papers of this handful of maniacs were seized, the copy of a letter to Robespierre was found; he was to have been the Messiah of the sect. Vadier denounced at the Convention this elementary school of fanaticism, discovered on a third floor in the Rue Contrescarpe, and who were connected, he said, with the machinations of Pitt; but he dared not speak of the letter to Robespierre. The latter undoubtedly took some interest in Catherine Théot, for he did not allow the affair to be followed up; the prophetess died in prison soon after.
Robespierre had said to a deputation from Aisne: “In the situation in which it now is, gangrened by corruption, and without power to remedy it, the Convention can no longer save the Republic: both will perish together. The proscription of patriots is the order of the day. For myself, I have already one foot in the tomb, in a few days I shall place the other there; the rest is in the hands of Providence.”
Nevertheless he began the attack, urged forward by men who had attached their fortunes to his own, and by the disquietudes which agitated his sour and dissatisfied spirit. He could no longer put up with advice even from his most faithful friends, and the inflexible Saint-Just told him to calm himself; “Empire is for the phlegmatic.” A menacing petition from the Jacobins preceded by a few hours a grand discourse from the dictator. He always reckoned on the effect of his discourses, and all the committees, one after another, had suffered from the asperity of his attacks. “The accusations are all concentrated upon me,” said he; “if anyone casts patriots into prison in place of shutting up the aristocrats there, it is said that Robespierre wills it. If the numerous agents of the Committee of General Security extend their vexations and rapine in all directions, it is said that Robespierre has sent them; if a new law irritates the property-holders, it is Robespierre who is ruining them; and meanwhile, in what hands are your finances? In the hands of feuillants, of known cheats, of the Cambons, Mallarmés and Ramels. Survey the field of victory, look at Belgium; dissensions have been sown among our generals, the military aristocracy is protected, faithful generals are persecuted, the military administration is enveloped with a suspicious authority; they talk to you of war with academic lightness, as if it cost neither blood nor labor. The truths that I bring you are surely equal to epigrams.
“There exists a conspiracy against public liberty; it owes its force to a criminal coalition which intrigues in the very bosom of the Convention. That coalition has its accomplices in the Committee of General Security, and in the bureaux, which they control. Some members of the Committee of Public Safety are implicated in this plot; the coalition thus formed seeks to ruin patriots and the country. What is the remedy for this evil? To punish the traitors, to purify the Committee of General Security, and subordinate it to the Committee of Public Safety; to purify this committee itself, and constitute it the Government under the authority of the National Convention, which is the center of authority and the chief judicial power. Thus would all the factions be crushed by raising on their ruins the power of justice and liberty. If it is impossible to advocate these principles without being set down as ambitious, I shall conclude that tyranny reigns among us, but not that I ought to hold my tongue; for what can be objected to a man who is right, and who knows how to die for his country? I am put here in order to combat crime, not to govern it. The time has not yet come when good men can serve their country with impunity.”
They listened in silence; no applause, no complaint had interrupted the orator. For a long time the Convention had been unaccustomed to see the masters of their fortunes and their lives making appeal to their supreme authority. Their rôle had long been limited to taking part in oratorical tournaments and voting decrees. They did not yield, however, to the seduction, and their faces remained grave and somber. No one rose to speak, but they began to exchange a few remarks, and a murmur ran from bench to bench. The glove was thrown down, but as yet no champion advanced to take it up. At length, and as if the courage of all was reanimated at once by the same resolution, Vadier, Cambon, and Billaud-Varennes rose together to mount the tribune. Cambon had been wounded in his just pride as a financier and an honest man; he could scarcely wait his turn.
“It is time,” cried he, “to speak the entire truth. Is it I who need to be accused of making myself master in any respect? The man who has made himself master of everything, the man who paralyzes our will, is he who has just spoken — Robespierre.” At the same moment and from all lips came the same cries. “It is Robespierre,” said Billaud-Varennes. “It is Robespierre,” repeated Panis and Vadier. “Let him give an account of the crimes of the deputies whose death he demanded from the Jacobins.” And as he hesitated, troubled by the vehemence of the attacks, “You who pretend to have the courage of virtue, have the courage of truth,” cried Charlier to him; “name, name the individuals.” In the midst of a growing confusion the Assembly revoked the order to print the discourse of Robespierre. It was to the two committees, filled with his enemies, that the denunciation of the dictator was referred.
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