It is not necessary to discuss in any particular detail of the tyrant’s career; his whole life condemns him.”
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.
Meanwhile Robespierre was still in the tribune. Several times he strove to begin speaking, but the same cry drowned his voice, “Down with the tyrant!” The little group of those who were faithful to him, close pressed together, followed him with their eyes without speaking, without seconding his efforts; the mass of the Assembly, so docile a few days before, was agitated with a violence that became more and more hostile. Barère hesitated no longer. It is said that he had prepared two statements; one favorable to and the other hostile to Robespierre. He proposed to abolish the grade of commandant-general, and to call to the bar the mayor Fleuriot and the National agent Payan, to answer there for public tranquility. The decree was voted; on all sides arose accusations against Robespierre, everyone hastening to denounce him. “I demand liberty to speak, to bring back this discussion to its true end and aim,” said Tallien. Robespierre raised his head; “I shall know well how to bring it there,” said he, in those imperious accents which formerly cowed the Assembly. Tallien continued without noticing the interruption. “The conspiracy is quite complete in the discourse read and reread yesterday. It is there that I find arms to strike down this man, whose virtue and patriotism have been so much vaunted; this man, who appeared three days only after August 10th; this man, who has abandoned his post at the Committee of Public Safety, in order to come and calumniate his colleagues. It is not necessary to discuss in any particular detail of the tyrant’s career; his whole life condemns him.”
Robespierre clutched at the tribune with both hands. He no longer sought aid from the “Mountain,” henceforth roused against him; he turned his face toward the “Plain.” “It is to you pure and virtuous men that I address myself; I don’t talk with scoundrels.” “Down with the tyrant!” responded the “Plain.” Thuriot, who presided, rang his bell. “President of assassins,” cried Robespierre, “yet once more I demand liberty to speak.” His voice grew feebler. “The blood of Danton is choking him,” cried Gamier de l’Aude. “Will this man long remain master of the Convention?” asked Charles Duval. “Let us make an end! A decree, a decree!” shouted Lasseau, at length. “A tyrant is hard to strike down,” said Fréron, in a loud voice. Robespierre remained in the tribune, turning in his hands an open knife, alone, exposed to the vengeful anger of them all. “Send me to death!” he cried to his enemies. And the voices replied: “Thou hast merited it a thousand times. Down with the tyrant!”
The decree was voted in the midst of tumult. “I ask to share the lot of my brother,” cried the younger Robespierre. “It is understood,” said Lanchet, “that we have voted the arrest of the two Robespierres, of Couthon, and Saint-Just.” “I ask to be comprised in the decree,” protested Lebas, faithfully devoted to Saint-Just. “The triumvirate of Robespierre, Couthon, and Saint-Just,” said Fréron, “recalls the proscriptions of Sylla. Couthon is a tiger thirsting for the blood of the National representatives; he has dared to speak at the Jacobins of five or six heads of the Convention; our corpses were to be the steps for him to mount the throne!” The paralytic made a gesture of bitter disdain. “I mount the throne!” said he.
Thuriot proclaimed the decree; the acclamations that re-echoed were furious, intoxicated with the joy of triumph. “Long live liberty! Long live the Republic! Down with the tyrants; to the bar with the accused.” The officers, still bewildered with such an abrupt and sudden change, had not dared to lay a hand upon the fallen dictator; rage broke forth in the ranks of the Assembly. Robespierre and his brother, Saint-Just, Lebas, descended slowly to the place lately reserved for their enemies. Couthon had just placed himself there. The decree of arrest dispersed them in different prisons; they had set out when the Assembly suspended its sitting for an instant. “Let us go out together,” said Robespierre. The crowd, like the Assembly, gazed on them without acclamations and without manifesting any sympathy for them; their army was re-forming elsewhere.
The Commune of Paris and the club of the Jacobins had not laid down their arms. An officer was sent to the Hôtel de Ville to announce the decree, which dismissed Henriot and summoned the Mayor to appear at the bar. He naively demanded a receipt for his message. “On a day like this we don’t give receipts,” replied the Mayor. “Tell Robespierre to have no fear, for we are here.”
The Commune, in fact, was active, while the Committees of the Convention, stupefied at their own victories, were letting precious time slip past. Already Henriot, half drunk, galloping along the streets, stirred up the people, crying out that their faithful representatives were being massacred, delivering over to insults Merlin de Thionville, and sending to death the convoy of victims for the day. These the inhabitants of the Faubourg St. Antoine set about delivering, from compassion and from a vague instinct that the arrest of Robespierre necessarily brought about a cessation of executions. The General Council had sent to the jailers of the prisons an order to refuse to aid in the incarceration of the accused. Robespierre and his friends were successively brought to the Mairie. They found themselves again free at the head of an insurrection precipitately got up, but directed by desperate men, who felt their lives in danger if power escaped from them. Henriot, arrested for a moment, and conducted to the Committee of General Security, had been delivered by Coffinhal at the head of a handful of men. He was again on horseback, and was menacing in the hall of their sittings the Assembly, which had again come together.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history