Times were changed. The mobile waves of public opinion no longer upheld the tyrants overthrown by the accomplices who had now become their enemies.
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 tocsin rang forth a full peal; the gates of Paris were closed. The rising tumult of the insurrection reached the ears of the deputies; each minute some inauspicious news arrived. It was said that the gunners of the National Guard, seduced by Henriot, were coming to direct their artillery against the palace. Collot d’Herbois mounted slowly to the chair and seated himself there. “Representatives,” said he, with a firm voice, “the moment has come for us to die at our posts; miscreants have invaded the National palace.” All had taken their places; while the spectators fled from the galleries with uproar and confusion. “I propose,” said Élie Lacoste with a loud voice, “that Henriot be outlawed.” At the same moment the dismissed commandant ordered his men to fire.
Fearful and troubled, the gunners still hesitated. A group of representatives went forth from the hall and cried, “What are you doing, soldiers? That man is a rebel, who has just been outlawed.” The gunners had already lowered their matches, while Henriot fled at full gallop. Barras had just been named commandant of the forces in his place; seven representatives accompanied him. “Outlaw all those who shall take arms against the Convention or who shall oppose its decrees,” said Barère; “as well as those who are eluding a decree of accusation or arrest.” The decree was voted; an officer of the Convention boldly accepted the duty of bearing it to the Commune. The National agent, Payan, seized it from him, and for bravado read it with a loud voice before the crowd that was thronging in the hall of the Hôtel de Ville. He added these words which were not in the decree, “and all those found at this moment in the galleries.” The spectators disappeared as if struck with terror at the name of the law. Times were changed. The mobile waves of public opinion no longer upheld the tyrants overthrown by the accomplices who had now become their enemies.
It was, without saying it, and possibly without knowing it, the feeling of this public abandonment and reprobation which paralyzed the energy of the five accused. Robespierre had arrived pale and trembling in all his limbs; he had been tranquillized with difficulty. When Couthon, who alone was retained for a time in the prison of La Bourbe, was at last brought to the Hôtel de Ville, he found the Council solely occupied with the attack on the Convention, without making any efforts for rousing the populace or for the vigorous resumption of power. “Have the armies been written to?” he asked. “In the name of whom?” said Robespierre, disheartened but calm. “Of the Convention which exists wherever we are; the rest are but a handful of factious men, who are about to be dispersed by armed force.” Robespierre reflected; he shook his head. “We must write in the name of the French people,” said he. The words “Au nom du peuple” were found in his handwriting on a sheet of paper.
It was also in the name of the people that Barras and his companions reunited the battalions of the sections which slowly assembled; some had recalled their men from the Hôtel de Ville. The new military school, the École de Mars, had not appeared well disposed toward Lebas, who had written to the Commandant Labretèche to hinder his pupils from ranging themselves under the banners of the Convention; the young men marched willingly at the request of Barras. The gunners collected on the Place de Grève permitted Léonard Bourdon to approach. “Go!” said Tallien to him, “and let the sun when it rises find no more traitors living.” The crowd dispersed on hearing the proclamation which outlawed the Commune of Paris. The gunners abandoned their pieces; a few hours later they came to seek them to protect the Convention. “Is it possible,” cried Henriot, as he came forth from the Hôtel de Ville, “that these scoundrels of gunners have abandoned me? Presently they will be delivering me to the Tuileries!” He ran to announce the desertion to the assembled Council-General. Coffinhal, indignant at his cowardice, seized him by the shoulder and pushed him out by the window. The agents of the police arrested him in a sewer.
Meanwhile the section of the Gravilliers had put itself in marching order, commanded by Léonard Bourdon and by a gendarme named Méda, intelligent and devoted, and who had acquired an ascendency over those around him. He advanced toward the Hôtel de Ville without encountering any obstacle. Méda cried, in mounting the flight of steps, “Long live Robespierre!” He penetrated into the hall, obstructed by the crowd; the club of the Jacobins was deserted, Legendre had had the door closed; all the leaders of the Revolution were assembled round the proscribed representatives. They were discussing and vociferating, without ardor, however, and without any true hope. Robespierre was seated at a table, his head on his left hand, his elbow supported by his knee.
Méda advanced toward him, pistols in hand. “Surrender, traitor!” he cried. Robespierre raised his head. “It is thou who art a traitor,” he said, “and I will have thee shot.” At the same instant the gendarme fired, fracturing the lower jaw of Robespierre. As he fell, his brother opened the window, and, passing along the cornice, leaped out upon the Place. He was dying when they came to pick him up.
Saint-Just, leaning over toward Lebas, said, “Kill me.” Lebas, looking him in the face, replied: “I have something better to do,” pressing the trigger of his pistol. He was dead when a fresh report resounded from the staircase; Méda, who pursued Henriot, had just drawn on Couthon; his bearer fell grievously wounded. The prisoners, formerly all-powerful, now dying or condemned, were collected in the same room; thither Robespierre and Couthon had been brought; the corpse of Lebas lay on the floor; the crowd who besieged the gates wanted to throw the wounded into the river. Couthon had great difficulty in making it understood that he was not dead; Robespierre could not speak, and was carried on a chair to the door of the Convention.
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