The Economic Terror of the French Revolution

Maximilien Robespierre and his fellow Jacobins never came close to attaining the utopian goal of establishing a “Republic of Virtue.” In fact, they did not even come close to establishing the rule of law essential to a constitutional republic. Natural rights to life, liberty and property, which are protected in our American republic, were not respected by the French revolutionists. Forced fraternity and equality proved to be (and remain) mutually exclusive of individual liberty. What the French Revolution established was mob rule followed by the bloody dictatorship of Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety (July 13, 1793 — July 27, 1794).

The French Revolution also showed the world the scissors strategy of class struggle and warfare at work. This methodology forced rapidly and inexorably radical change upon society. The engine of this struggle was fear and, ultimately, terror. In the next century, Karl Marx elaborated and expounded on that destructive methodology, borrowing from Hegel’s dialectic idealism that relied more abstractly on historic analysis and cultural conflicts. Unlike Hegel’s, Marx’s system of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, appealed to the darkest side of human nature, envy and hatred. His system constituted the class struggle of dialectical materialism that would result, as history unfolded, in communism. This philosophy of evil, Marxism, would cost upwards of 100 million people their lives in the blood-tainted 20th century.

Maximilien Robespierre

And yet, for all its horror, the French Revolution had little success implementing economic equality. The politics of terror proposed by the most militant of the French Revolutionists in the end consumed them while failing in its underlying objective of forcing wealth redistribution. Neither fraternity, liberty, nor economic equality was achieved. Instead of an earthly paradise, an infernal state of anarcho-tyranny ensued and a Reign of Terror was created.

Between 1792-1793, while the State did confiscate property of “enemies of the revolution,” Maximilien Robespierre and his Jacobins kept such property that was salvaged from the mob in the hands of the government, and the rank and file revolutionists were required to keep an inventory of the appropriated goods, estates, and landed property. Stealing goods that belonged to the State could result in a quick trip to the guillotine. Looting and plundering, nevertheless, took place as a result of the prevailing state of anarcho-tyranny, but it was limited to a fraction of what it could have been, given the savagery and ferocity displayed in the riots by the revolutionary mobs. In a way, this firm, strict accounting of expropriated property was helpful in keeping the mob from looting and overrunning France.

While Robespierre glorified organized political riots (particularly those he personally instigated), he disdained spontaneous food riots, unless they could be guided toward worthwhile political ends with which he approved. Robespierre disdained material wealth. From his reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he “knew” that material wealth corrupted the noble state of man by which he had been endowed by Nature. Poverty, to Robespierre, then, was synonymous with Virtue.

François Babeuf

François Babeuf, a journalist and political activist, was one, if not the first, of the modern communist. He espoused radical collectivism in the form of immediate land redistribution and economic equality, but his ideas never took hold with the leading Jacobins.* And yet, according to David P. Jordan, who wrote a virtual apologia of Maximilien Robespierre, the Incorruptible, both Saint-Just and Robespierre believed the State had a role to play in providing for “minimal subsistence” to the people.(1) This was “the debt of the rich to the people.” A.J. Buissart, an old friend of Robespierre from Arras, agreed. He wrote Augustin Robespierre (Maximilien’s brother) that the people “were dying of hunger in the midst of abundance. I believe it is necessary to kill the mercantile aristocracy just as we killed that of the priests and nobles.” Robespierre never went as far as calling for the death of the bourgeoisie, although he threatened and admonished them, “the rich egoist may share the fate of the nobles and the King if they continue to behave like them.” Although Jordan claimed that Robespierre only threatened but did not move against the mercantile class, the truth shows that the Incorruptible was beginning to move in that direction. Only political considerations and timing prevented him from eventually unleashing his wrath against the enriched bourgeoisie. Robespierre’s modus operandi was to carefully pick his enemies, one at a time, and only at the appropriate moment summarily destroy them.

Pierre Chaumette

In the spring and summer of 1793, the National Convention began to move against the mercantile class. It was already under pressure from the militant leaders of the Commune and the Paris sections, René Hébert, Pierre Chaumette, and François Hanriot, who were then flexing their muscles by mobilizing the mob and parading them in front of the Convention. Hébert was a rabid journalist and editor of the Le Père Duchesne newspaper; Chaumette was a radical leader of the Paris Commune; and Hanriot was the bloodthirsty head of the National Guard. There were also the self-appointed friends of the poor, the ex-vicar Jacques Roux and the well-to-do young extremist, Jean Varlet. The latter two were formidable rabble-rousers who preached the gospel of economic equality. They were referred to as the enragés for their tirades against the new established order of the National Convention led by the Jacobins. For them, the revolution still had not gone far enough on the road to complete social and economic egalitarianism. Their demagoguery was even irritating to Robespierre and his ruling Jacobins, who, now in power, believed the revolution stopped with them.

At one point, Pierre Chaumette, leader of the Paris Commune, with a mob behind him, demanded that the National Convention immediately authorize the government to confiscate private property and distribute it to the “people.” He had the support of Hanriot and Jean Pache, the mayor of Paris. However, by this time, the ruling Jacobins in the National Convention had learned how to manipulate the sans-culottes and the armées révolutionnaires, andthese demands went unheeded, much to the chagrin of René Hébert and his ultra-radical friends and followers.

Jean-Paul Marat

Nevertheless, in an effort to ease the worsening economic situation and placate the enragés, the Convention was forced to consider implementation of wage and price controls, as well as strict regulation of the grain market. It also considered imposing a ceiling on the price of grain and other assorted, everyday grocery items, like bread and cereals. The Girondin leader, Charles Barbaroux, already a marked man by the ferocious Jean-Paul Marat, who was then at the peak of his power, and the Hébertistes, nevertheless, spoke in opposition. Barbaroux explained that the price ceiling would exacerbate the problem of supply and demand and aggravate the scarcities. Pierre Vergniaud, the golden-tongued Girondin orator, and Georges Danton, the most popular of the Revolutionists, also opposed these extreme economic measures.(2)

On March 13, 1793, Vergniaud, at great peril to his life and that of his fellow Girondins, rose to denounce the people’s demagogues. He spoke against the unconstrained lawlessness of the Parisian mobs, as “idlers, men without work, unknown, often indeed strangers to the section or even to the city itself ignoramuses, great putters of motions in love with the sound of their own voice, men easily corrupted for bad causes.” As for the cries of equality, these demagogues reminded him of the “tyrant of antiquity [Procrustes] on whose iron bed victims were mutilated if they were too long for its measurements.” Despite the threats from the radicals on the floor of the Convention he continued his oration, “This tyrant also loved equality and voilà, that is the equality of the scoundrels that would tear you apart with their fury.”(2)

That summer, the Convention also went ahead and implemented price ceilings, maximum wages, relief for the poor via obligatory loans, and levied exorbitant taxes on the rich. Businesses were forced to accept depreciated fiat currency, assignats. All of Barbaroux’s predictions came to pass, including the inflation he posited would take place because of the drastic wage and price controls, the devaluation of the currency, and the overall, loose fiscal policy.

Rene Hébert

But these policies were not enough to placate the demagogues of the left and their supporters. On June 3, 1793, twenty-two Girondin Deputies, including those who had consistently defended civil liberties and who had led the opposition against the extreme economic measures, were summarily expulsed from the Convention and arrested, as demanded by Jean-Paul Marat, Hébert, and the mob.** As if this was not enough for the enragés, Jacques Roux addressed the Convention on June 25, 1793 and accused the new “commercial aristocracy” of being “more terrible than the [old] nobility.” He called for the crushing of the rich and of those who had financially benefited from the Revolution.

On July 26, 1793, the death penalty was instituted for hoarders of grain and other “blood-suckers,” including currency speculators. The economic Terror was now well underway. The armées révolutionnaires were empowered to search around the towns and countryside, ransacking houses, barns and warehouses, looking for stored grain. Accused hoarders and speculators went to the guillotine, if not summarily torn apart by the revolutionary mobs. In the rural villages and communities, the sans-culottes and the revolutionary armies left desolation in their wake. Not surprisingly, the economic situation continued to worsen steadily and the monetary policy collapsed. The depreciated assignats were finally demonetized with the creation of another black market, that of hard currency.

By the fall of 1793, the economic Terror was catching up with the political and social Terrors. By the first week of November, after a show trial, twenty-two brave Girondin Deputies and their sympathizers had been guillotined. By November 23, the Jacobins, in full control of the Convention, moved against the moderates, the Feuillants, and their leaders Charles Lameth, Adrien Duport, and Antoine Barnave, referred to as the “triumvirs,” were likewise executed. At the turn of the new year, Robespierre directed his attention to his pesky left and René Hébert and his ultra-radicals were picked up and tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Hébert went to the guillotine on March 24, 1794.***

Georges Danton

The economic and financial misdeeds of some of Georges Danton’s closest friends, such as the aspiring author, Fabre D’ Eglantine and the not-so-close associate, ex-Capuchin, François Chabot, in part, predicated the fall of the Titan of the Revolution. Finally, Robespierre had found Danton’s Achilles heel — i.e., alleged financial misdeeds, if not by him, his friends, referred to as the Indulgents. Thus, Robespierre used guilt by association to trap Danton and mark him and his friends (who at this point represented the political “right”) for destruction. The Incorruptible also demonized his former friend and colleague, calling Danton a “rotten idol.” Danton fought like a caged lion at his trial but to no avail. The verdict had already been predetermined by Robespierre. Danton and his friends rode on the revolutionary tumbrils down Rue Saint-Honoré to the guillotine on April 5, 1794.

The Ventôse decrees (February 26, March 3, 1794) proposed by Robespierre’s most trusted lieutenant, Saint-Just, provided that the State should confiscate émigré property and distribute it to the needy. Saint-Just and other Jacobins argued that accused enemies of the revolution had no civil rights and their property should be confiscated. Robespierre, although supportive of these decrees, never felt he had the support of even the most hard-line Jacobins to implement them. Private property was still sacrosanct to mainstream Jacobins so the decrees died without enactment. Other forms of the economic terror, however, remained in place. In fact, the country, particularly Paris, now seemed paralyzed with fear as terror had become the order of the day.

On July 4, 1794, Bertrand Barère, a centrist member of the Committee of Public Safety, tried to reach a compromise with Robespierre’s right-hand men on the Committee, Saint-Just and Georges Couthon. The revolution was now in the midst of its bloodiest phase, the Great Terror. Barère proposed to them that he would steer the Ventôse decrees through the legislature, if Robespierre would only stop hunting Deputies and end his quest for virtue. After all, those legislators who were still representative members of the Convention were all fellow Jacobins (i.e., except for the cowed and centrist Plain, which by now voted in full acquiescence with the Jacobins). Barère would help implement further economic reforms in exchange for Robespierre ending his persecution of the less pure Jacobins. But, Robespierre refused to compromise. Establishment of the Republic of Virtue was not on the table for discussion. In his speech of 8 Thermidor (July 26), he explained that he would continue to exterminate wayward Deputies and other enemies of the revolution and would achieve that ultimate goal, the establishment of his Republic of Virtue inspired by his cult of the Supreme Being.

Saint-Just

Robespierre never attained that goal. On 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794), he fell from power, and along with seventeen of his malevolent, sanguinary followers, including Saint-Just, Couthon and Hanriot, went to the guillotine where he, to quote another one of Hébert’s morbid terms, “sneezed into the sack.”

The Reign of Terror ended with the fall of Maximilien Robespierre.(3) In the wake of the Thermidorean reaction that followed, the French revolutionists, and later the ruling Directory, instituted laissez faire capitalism. The government welcomed new business enterprises from 1794-1799, but, unfortunately, the social and political situation remained unstable and not conducive to national prosperity.(4) In the end, the government of the Directory came to a revolutiuonary anticlimax with the coup of 18th Brumaire and the ascendancy of Napoleon Bonaparte. With Bonapartist rule, social, political and economic egalitarianism was over, even though the newly installed benevolent dictatorship still proclaimed, at least in slogan form, liberté, fraternité, and egalité. Rather than a liberalized economy, Napoleon would establish a controlled economy geared for war.

Footnotes

* François Babeuf (1760-1797) founded his journal in 1794 and the Conspiracy of Equals in 1795 to overthrow the ruling Directory and establish virtual communism in France. In 1797, he was arrested, tried, and executed for leading a plot to overthrow the government.

** Barbaroux escaped to Caen where he made a fateful acquaintance with Charlotte Corday, the Girondin sympathizer, future heroine and assassin of bloodthirsty Marat (July 13, 1793).

*** In January, Roux stabbed himself to death to avoid the blade. Hébert dishonored himself in front of the crowds he had so often incited to violence showing hysterical cowardice “as he looked out of the Republican window,” one of his morbid terms for the guillotine. Chaumette and Pache followed and also died by the guillotine that spring 1794.

References

1. Jordan DP. The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. New York, NY, Free Press, 1985, p. 150-164.

2. Schama S. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1989, p. 714-716. See also p. 678-847.

3. Scott O. Robespierre, The Fool as Revolutionary: Inside the French Revolution. Windsor, NY, The Reformer Library, 1974; and Loomis S. Paris in the Terror. New York, NY, Dorset Press, 1964. The dramatic events surrounding the reign of terror and the fall of Robespierre are vividly described in both of these excellent books.

4. Hibbert C. The Days of the French Revolution. New York, NY, Quill-William Morrow, 1981, p. 271-304.

Note

This article was first published in Hacienda Publishing in 2003, but we are republishing it because it draws certain parallels with what is happening today with the country upside down with COVID and the disastrous foreign and socialistic domestic policies attempted by the Democrat Party in charge of the Presidency and Congress of the U.S. in 2021.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, M.D., is Associate Editor in Chief in neuropsychiatry; history of medicine; and socioeconomics, politics, and world affairs of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). He was appointed and served at the behest of President George W. Bush as member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2002-2005. Dr. Faria is a Board Certified Neurological Surgeon (American Association of Neurological Surgeons; retired); Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine. He is the author of Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995); Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997); and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). His recently released book is America, Guns, and Freedom: A Journey Into Politics and the Public Health & Gun Control Movements (2019).

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. The Economic Terror of the French Revolution. HaciendaPublishing.com, August 26, 2021. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/the-economic-terror-of-the-french-revolution/.

Copyright©2003-2021 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.


Georges Danton — The Fallen Titan of the French Revolution!

A book review of The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life by David Lawday (2009)

Georges Danton was the “Titan of the French Revolution,” but like the Girondins before him, he was too late in recognizing the need to stop the madness, the grinding of lives by the terror, and the excesses of the Revolution they had unleashed on the hapless French people and, ultimately, the world.

Georges Danton

Danton, the man who prepared the Insurrectionary Commune for the storming of the Tuileries in the August 10, 1792 coup d’état; the man who inspired “the Miracle of Valmy” (1792), and the revolution’s greatest orator and hero himself, ultimately became a victim. But Danton went to the guillotine with courage. Retrospectively, Danton had come to his senses too late to stop the terror, the terror he himself had organized in perpetrating (or acquiescing in) the atrocities committed in the unconscionable September Massacres in the tempestuous autumn of 1792. He was never forgiven for these brutalities by Madame Roland, a leader of the great Girondins, who he had fatally opposed. When Danton tried to find allies to stop the terror, there was no one to forge alliances, no counter force left; it was simply too late. Danton and his friends succumbed to the revolutionary monster they had created.

The Committee of Public Safety, headed by his former friend and ally, “the incorruptible” Maximilien Robespierre and his radical blood-thirsty side-kicks, Saint-Just and Couthon, were doing the grinding. By then even many Deputies of the Convention and even some of the other members of the Committee were in fear of their lives.

First, it was the liberal nobility that perished, enticed by the siren song of the philosophes; then it was the moderates, Feulliants; then the Girondins; then the ultra-radical Hébertists, the enragés; then the “indulgents” of the old Cordelier Club led by Danton, Fabre, and Camille Desmoulins; and finally, the Thermidorean reaction brought Robespierre himself and his clique. Like Saturn, the French Revolution devoured its children! But this is the story of Danton, the person, the relationships, the ideals, the revolutionary, the tragedy, and it’s fairly well told.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some specific quirks in this book by author David Lawday, who, it must be noted, has fallen deeply in love with his subject Danton, which may be understandable, Danton truly being a greater-than-life revolutionary figure; but Lawday has also been seduced by the betrayed ideals of the sirens of the French Revolution. He compares it (favorably it seems) to the American Revolution and intimates the French ideals achieved a glorious universality that surpassed America’s. In fact, from the very beginning the American Republic was a nation of laws and liberty, unlike the French. Lawday also alludes to the Roman Republic, and so does the subject of his biography, Danton, who had schooled himself on the classics and ancient Roman history and admired their republican institutions. And yet the similarities, as I have said, are highly illusory. The Roman Republic was run by two dozen or so aristocratic families, who for the most part were incredibly capable, proud of their illustrious and often glorious ancestors extending centuries back in history, a military aristocracy that conquered and ruled most of the known Western world. Moreover, the Roman aristocracy did not massacre each other, but formed useful political alliances through marriage and adoptions.  I would like to a moment and further digress on another observation I have made on revolutions in general, including the French but not the American — and that is how a person (or persons) playing a a pivotal role often leans and tilts the scale toward the worst side of revolutions.

Portrait of Madame Roland by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1787

I refer to Madame Roland’s role in the French tragedy and Cato the Younger’s role in the fall of Republican Rome. There are great philosophic similarities between the revolutionary purity insisted upon by Madame Roland and Cato’s unyielding, stern, and stoic character. Both distrusted and would not accept human failings. Just like the French salonist would not forgive Danton for his alleged corruption and role in the September massacres, Cato distrusted and would not accept the human failings of Pompey the Great. In the case of Cato, Pompey’s true nature and loyalty to the Republic should have been deduced by Cato before it was too late. Cato was indeed correct about Julius Caesar, but not about Pompey, the confident and easy going leader who eventually became the Republican and Senate champion. In the case of Madame Roland, she was entirely correct about the unyielding and villanous Maximilien Robespierre, but Danton, in truth, had become the jovial giant with a relatively good heart who should have been forgiven, cultivated, and enlisted in their cause by the Girondins.

Thus, we have in ancient Rome (49 B.C.), Cato, Pompey the Great, and Julius Caesar; in France (1793), Madame Roland, Danton and Robespierre. Further in time in Russia (1924), the old bolsheviks, Kamenev’s and Zinoviev’s fear of Leon Trotsky’s ambitions led them to support Stalin’s rise to power. In Cuba (1957), American media reporter Herbert Matthews, fell head over heels for Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement in the Sierra Maestra, and totally sidelined the anti-communist leaders of the Revolutionary Directorate. 

Comte de Mirabeau

But returning to the book at hand, in The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life, Lawday makes a fairly good case for absolving Danton of having connived in the Duke of Brunswick bribe affair just prior to the Battle of Valmy (1792); but does not do as well in exculpating him from involvement in the horrible September Massacres. Danton is likened to the Comte de Mirabeau, but the latter, the orator of the early Revolution, was much wiser and saw early on the travesty the Revolution was becoming. Mirabeau at least tried to do something in time, may have even been successful, only that he was untimely afflicted with illness and his life cut short before he could have a chance to alter the course of the Revolution, as Talleyrand and Lafayette were to do in the Revolution of 1830.

Lawday also exculpates Danton for his incitation to violence and repeated calls for death to the “enemies of the Revolution” as flowery language. How were the people, the fickle Parisian mobs and the violent sans culottes, always thirsting for savage revenge, to know that Danton’s incitations were “parliamentary theater” and only “figures of speech”? The rabble-rouser Jean Paul Marat and “the Incorruptible” Maximilian Robespierre do get their just deserts in this book; but the Girondins and Royalists are gently maligned as revolutionary snobs and treasonous villains, respectively. Thomas Paine comes out of the pages of this book as a wise Englishman and a political moderate, which, in fact, he was in France at the time. Paine’s relative moderation in the ultra-radical politics of the French Revolution, as opposed to the perceived radicalism in the former American colonies, tells us something, and eerily presages at least in hindsight, about the divergent course of the two revolutions!

The French National Convention, steered by radicals, Lawday calls “weird and wonderful” (p. 146); the August 10 coup d’état led by Danton, manipulating the insurrectionary commune that overturned the fleeting constitutional monarchy, is praised as a patriotic act; of the blood-thirsty prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville, Lawday opines, “it was hard to fault him in his professional endeavors.” Lawday also laments, “it was a pity” that the high intensity of conscription for the levée en masse for total war was resented by the provinces, supposedly because “it intensified the civil war”! (p. 151)

The author perplexed says he cannot fathom why the Girondins, in particular their leader, Madame Roland, felt the way they did about Danton. But the answer is simple: They might not have liked his formidable looks as Lawday suggested, but they certainly did not not like his rabble-rousing harangues, and they certainly blamed him for complicity, if not acquiescence, in the ghastly September Massacres in which 2,500 innocent prisoners were slaughtered in cold blood and the severed head of the gentle Princess Lambelle was savagely paraded on a pike and even shown to her friend, the imprisoned French Queen, Marie Antoinette, in the Temple Tower prison, where she too waited her and her family’s fate.

Yet, Lawday decries Girondin “intractability,” in refusing to make peace with the ultra-radicals and violent Montagnards — an intractability, which he ascribes to Madame Roland’s obsessive personal hatred of Danton. It seems that the author would have been happy if the Girondins had just rolled over and let the Jacobin Montagnards have their way at the Convention. The fact is that with their “intractability” and their refusal to abet the Terror, the Girondins died on the better side of revolutions, and certainly on the better side of history.

In the same light, Lawday writes: “Alas [Prime Minister William] Pitt remained unmoved” regarding Dantons’ peace feelers to Britain, as if Danton’s overtures, coming after the Revolutionary Armies were defeated in the Low Countries and General Dumoriez’s defection, could have been given serious thought. At the same time, Danton was busily calling for total war, “levée en masse,” turning all French male citizens into soldiers, and the Convention was becoming more and more radical and more aggressive in the pursuit of war of Liberation.

In the end, history follows its relentless course: Danton and his friends, Fabre d’Eglantine, Camille (and his innocent wife Lucille) Desmoulins, and the other “indulgents” succumb to the fiendish grinding machine of injustice and terror that they, in particular Danton, helped create. In the case of Danton, the charge is most serious: He instigated the coup of August 10, fomented radicalization of the government, manipulated the mob with his harangues, was complicit in the September Massacres, created the travesty of the Revolutionary Tribunals and ushered in the oppressive Committee of Public Safety — the last two, the ferocious instruments that Maximilien Robespierre handled with superior, ruthless efficiency, and bloody dexterity.

Despite these concerns, I highly recommend this novelistic book with the aforementioned caveats to all readers interested in the French Revolution as well as the course of most modern revolutions since 1789!

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He is Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.), Mercer University School of Medicine. Dr. Faria is the author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). Dr Faria has written numerous articles on Stalin, communism, and the Soviet Union, all posted at the author’s website: https://HaciendaPublishing.com.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Georges Danton — The Fallen Titan of the French Revolution! HaciendaPublishing.com, June 17, 2014. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/georges-danton–the-fallen-titan-of-the-french-revolution.

(The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life by David Lawday. Grove Press, New York, NY, 2009, 294 pages.)

The photographs used to illustrate this commentary came from a variety of sources and do not necessarily appear in Lawday’s The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life.

Copyright ©2014 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.


Rewriting the French Revolution — Part I

Contrasting Revolutions

Even though politicians and some historians in both America and Europe have likened the French and American Revolutions, these two landmark events of world history were as dissimilar as the men who forged them.

The American Revolution (1775-1783) was a war for independence from England, a war for self-governance, as well as a thunderous political event that led to the affirmation of the Natural Rights of men ­ namely, life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. The American Civil War (1861-1865) freed the black slaves and extended civil rights that had been denied them since their arrival in chains to the New World.

Ordered liberty and self-determination enshrined in the American constitutional republic would endure and guide these United States of America through the turbulence of the last 200 years into the 21st century.

On the other side of the coin, the epochal episodes of the French Revolution, the storming of the Bastille (July 14, 1789), the fall of the monarchy (August 10, 1792), etc., were merely preludes to mob violence, the September Massacres (1792), the Reign of Terror ­ and ultimately, the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety and Maximilien Robespierre (July 1791-9 Thermidor, 1794).

Then came the Thermidorean Reaction, the Directory, the Consulate, and finally the Empire under the enlightened despotism of Napoleon Bonaparte (1799-1815). Mid- to late-19th-century French history continues the cycle of violence (although not of the same intensity as that of the Terror), insurrections, coups d’etat, revolutions and counterrevolutions, the rise and fall of “Republics” and “Empires,” few victories ­ and many military defeats that would haunt France into the 20th century.

Rewriting History

In her book Radicals: Politics and Republicanism in the French Revolution, Leigh Ann Whaley, professor of European History at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, attempts to rewrite the history of the conflict between the radical Jacobins, the Montagnards, and the moderate republicans (i.e., the “right wing” of the National Convention), the Girondins or “Brissotins” (after one of their leaders, the journalist Pierre Brissot).

Whaley argues that the difference between these two groups was personal or tactical rather than ideological, and that this difference “was not discernible until at least December 1792.” She “rewrites the history of factionalism” as to assert that the division of the Girondins and Montagnards had more to do with personal rivalries, unfulfilled ambitions and animosities than with ideology or political objectives.

Whaley believes that it was their seeking of political support in the political struggle that led to their contrary positions, positions that evolved and “were not there from the beginning.”

Moreover, the author, contrary to all the available historical evidence (not to mention common sense!), asserts that “the uprising of 2 June [1793, when the Girondin Deputies were purged from the Convention] was not the decisive event in the downfall of the ‘Brissotins’ and the reason for their subsequent execution in the autumn of 1793.”

And then she takes the final academic plunge into the realm of the implausible. Supported with flimsy and contrary evidence, and even less convincing argumentation, she continues: “Rather, it was a combination of the illegal [my emphasis] activities carried out by a majority of those expelled … and other events, including the murder of Marat, which determined their sorry fate.”

Thus, Whaley incredibly writes of “illegality” in reference to the National Convention, a governing body that had, in fact, already rescinded whatever claims it had to legitimate governance when it approved (albeit reluctantly and under pressure) the purging of the 21 Girondin Deputies.

Charlotte Corday, painted at her request by Jean-Jacques Hauer, a few hours before her execution in 1793

The Convention had cowardly caved in to the Parisian mobs and expelled the Girondin opposition, whose heads had been repeatedly demanded by the dregs of the sans-culottes, the insurrectionary Commune, and the radical Sections of Paris.

As for the assassination of Marat on July 13, 1793, Whaley buys into the propaganda of the radical Jacobins themselves, Fabre d’Eglantine, Georges Couthon, the corrupt ex-priest Chabot, and Robespierre, who used the episode as the needed, final excuse to exterminate the Girondins and their friends.

Charlotte Chorday, a genuine republican heroine, is dismissed as nothing more than a tool of the Brissotins, part of a conspiracy, when at her own trial the available evidence pointed to the fact that, even though she had met the Girondin Deputies Francois Buzot and Charles Barbaroux at Caen, she acted of her own accord, hoping that by assassinating the bloodthirsty Jean Paul Marat, she would save the Republic from the dictatorship of the Montagnards.

Significant Omissions

In the Preface, Professor Whaley curiously recommends her book to “historians of Europe” and other scholars, even “anyone seeking to understand the nature of revolutionary behavior,” but apparently not to Canadian or American historians. Why this oversight?

One wonders if she fears critical evaluation of her book from the American perspective, her Canadian colleagues, or traditional scholars, who may not share her barely suppressed enthusiasm for the men who ultimately presided over French radicalism and the bloody Reign of Terror.

Conveniently, the tyrannical and bloodthirsty careers of Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, Collot d’Herbois, Billaud-Varenne, etc., of the Committee of Public Safety at the height of the Great Terror were not subject to this study. Unexpectedly, the book lowers the curtain on this dramatic performance with the execution of the “illegal” Girondins.

Yet the thesis of this book, truncated as it is, at such a critical time in the midst of the French Revolution and with such an abrupt ending, is recommended to “a multi-disciplinary audience, including students of politics, military studies and French studies.” What conclusion could these students possibly draw after such a significant omission?

A Revolution Gone Too Far

Another objection to this little tome is that all of “the Radicals” are painted with the same broad brush: They are essentially ideological Jacobins who split with each other over tactics, only to subsequently coalesce into two opposing groups.

The basis for the political realignment is, we are asked to believe, due to nothing more than petty jealousies, personal rivalries, and political necessity ­ not ideology, or, most importantly, the realization by the moderate Girondins that the Revolution had gone too far, that the National Convention had lost legitimacy, that coercion from the Parisian mobs and the recurring and continuous threat of political violence made the task of governance virtually impossible.

This unrelenting intimidation and threat of violence, it should be pointed out, was directed almost exclusively against the “right wing” of the Convention, the moderate Girondins, who represented and were the voice of the provinces, vis-a-vis Paris and the centralization of power. Thus, a few radicals and Parisian mobs were to rule by sheer terror over a larger, more moderate country.

Collot d’Herbois

With good reason the Girondins feared a dictatorship of Paris over the provinces, directed by the radical Jacobins under Marat, Danton and Robespierre. History proved them correct even though the presaged brutal dictatorship lasted less than two years.

I write “painted with the same broad brush,” and yet, if anything, the bloodthirsty Marat, the despotic Robespierre, and the extremists, Saint-Just, Billaud-Varenne and Collot d’Herbois are treated with undeserved deference, bordering on admiration, as if they were French statesmen of the first order rather than the sanguinary terrorists they really became as the Revolution unfolded.

Take for instance Collot d’Herbois, radical Jacobin and member of the Committee of Public Safety, who held that for prosperity to be achieved under the revolutionary government it was necessary to sacrifice 12 to 15 million Frenchmen.

And this was not just a nightmarish idea of a mad radical; Robespierre approved of the same planned depopulation of France. He agreed with Collot that 12 to 15 million citizens needed to be exterminated before his genocidal dream of happiness in the Republic of Virtue could be consummated.

Undeserved and obsequious deference to these unsavory characters only betrays the author’s thinly veiled sympathy for these ultra-radical figures, questioning the same objectivity she seeks to attain as a historian.

Blatant Bias

Although there is no question that Whaley has done significant research, unearthing and studying original sources, she does not quote representative writings of these revolutionaries to the extent that their minds, through their own words, are opened to the critical analysis of the reader.

For example, Marat’s radical and frequently vulgar newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple, is never quoted even though it would have been quite illuminating to do so. Marat used these pages to harangue the Convention as well as to repeatedly ask for the blood of his enemies. Certainly, quoting his rabid writings would have set him apart from his vastly more reasonable enemies on the right.

Cover of Hébert’s Le Père Duchesne attacking non-juror priests , those who refused to swear allegiance to the new French government

Ditto for Rene Hebert, the cowardly and sanguinary journalist, Commune leader and radical Jacobin, who should have been specifically included in this study. Like his newspaper, Pere Duchesne, Hebert was mentioned but not quoted so as not to give us a sense of the fear the Girondins must have experienced after being denounced as “traitors” repeatedly by this editor, who again and again demanded that they face the cold blade of the guillotine!

Hebert used gruesome expressions when calling for the heads of his enemies. They should be taken to the scaffold “to sneeze into the sack” or “to look out of the Republican window.” And yet Hebert was one of the few revolutionaries (or aristocrats) who cowardly broke down when his time came and had to be taken kicking and screaming “to look out of the [same] Republican window.” Nevertheless, Hebert was only mentioned in passing, almost deferentially, as if he were only a detached witness to the revolution.

Whaley referred to the Girondin political opposition to radical Jacobin policies (supported by Marat and Hebert in their newspapers) in the National Convention as “intransigence.” The author devotes a considerable number of pages to the propaganda machine of the “Brissotin” press. The enormous influence of Marat’s and Hebert’s newspapers in mobilizing the criminal elements and Parisian mobs to influence the proceedings and intimidate the Convention is barely mentioned.

On the other hand, the Girondins, except for Marquis de Condorcet and Jerome Petion, are treated very differently. They are discredited at every opportunity, tactfully but consistently. Pierre Brissot is accused of having been a police informer, which may have been true but irrelevant, particularly when no evidence was submitted.

Hanging such a dark cloud over the reputation of a leader would surely reflect poorly on the reputation and motives of the whole political faction. Brissot may have had a shady past, but certainly the period covered under this study demonstrated him to have grown politically and morally, his courage and determination adequately expiating for his past sins.

We cannot say the same for the ultra-radical Jacobins in the Committee of Public Safety and their allies in the Insurrectionary Commune and the Paris Sections. As previously stated, a significant omission precluded analysis of the careers of the most sanguinary Montagnards in the Committee of Public Safety because the Great Terror was excluded by Whaley from the period under study!

Thus, one is left with the feeling that this book is written in an attempt to establish moral equivalence among the radicals, painting them with the same broad brush to achieve this objective. The attempt fails because historical evidence points otherwise.

Instead what the available historical evidence leads to is the fact the Girondin faction, the “right wing” of the Convention, tried but failed to bring an end to the excesses of the Revolution, an anarchic revolution gone violent and bloody.

Engraving depicting the arrest of the Girondins

Indeed, there is significant evidence that the Girondin leaders, Jerome Petion, Pierre Brissot, Arnaud Gensonne, Charles Barbaroux and Pierre Vergniaud, whatever their initial political thoughts, came to the realization that the Revolution had gone too far. They then intended and tried to get the Revolution on track, establish a Republic with a lawful constitution, guided by the rule of law and Natural Rights, not unlike that of the United States, which they came to admire.

Moreover, they foresaw their own destruction, and yet they fought and died bravely to prevent the coming Terror. The history of France, and, as subsequent events proved, the history of the world, could have been changed for the betterment of humanity if these courageous Girondins had succeeded.

(Continue to Part II)

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is editor emeritus of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (formerly the Medical Sentinel) and author of “Vandals at the Gates of Medicine” (1995), “Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine” (1997) and “Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise” (2002). His website is HaciendaPublishing.com.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Rewriting the French Revolution — Part I. HaciendaPublishing.com, November 26, 2004. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/rewriting-the-french-revolution–part-i/.

Versions of this article also appeared on NewsMax.com and LaNeuvaCuba.com.

(Leigh Ann Whaley’s “Radicals: Politics and Republicanism in the French Revolution” (2000, Sutton Publishing, 212 pp., ISBN: 07509-22389)

The photographs used to illustrate this article for Hacienda Publishing came from a variety of sources and do not necessarily appear in Whaley’s Radicals: Politics and Republicanism in the French Revolution.

Copyright ©2004 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.


Rewriting the French Revolution — Part II

The Brave Girondins

Unfortunately, in her book, Radicals: Politics and Republicanism in the French Revolution, Leigh Ann Whaley seems to admire the most radical Jacobins and by bringing down the reputation of the brave Girondins, she hopes to bring all the radicals of the French Revolution to the same level. No easy task! And so it was the Girondins’ fault that they were executed. The purged Girondin Deputies had been “intransigent” and had acted “illegally,” rising against the National Convention, as if this violated legislature was acting lawfully and with legitimate authority. It did not. Anarchy and tyranny had become the order of the day in France, and the Jacobin fanatics without the Girondin opposition were now unopposed and free to begin the Reign of Terror.

Even if the Girondins had been lawfully executed, as Whaley suggests, for rising against the Convention, what can be said then about the extermination of the aristocrats, the monarchists, the clergy, the Feuillants (constitutional monarchist), and later, Danton himself, the titan of the Revolution, and his friends (the “indulgents”)? Why were all of these citizens and factions serially guillotined?

English translation from the 1793 French engraving above reads: On 10 Brumaire of the 2nd year of the French Republic, one and indivisible, Brissot and 20 of his accomplices underwent their judgment on the Place de la Révolution

Eventually, even the very dregs of the revolutionary movement who had risen to the top on the shoulders of the mob would also go to the guillotine: the terrorist René Hébert himself and his friends would “sneeze into the sack.”

By this time as the Terror progressed, Maximilien Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, supported by their fellow radical Jacobins, reasoned that all of these groups, including their fellow terrorists in the left-wing needed to be exterminated, as to eliminate any remaining political opposition. Thus, a continuous stream of victims kept the bloody, cold steel blade of the guillotine busy. Robespierre’s “Republic of Virtue” was founded on rivers of blood. In Whaley’s rewriting (and her convenient but substantive omissions) of history, it’s as though the Great Terror had not taken place and did not follow the early executions of the Year II!

It appears that this book is an extension of a dissertational thesis attempting to prove that the moderate Girondins (the Brissotins) and the Radical Jacobins (Montagnards) were one and the same, painted with the same broad brush, and separated only by personal rivalries and tactics in the supreme struggle for power. To accomplish this tendentious historical task, Whaley attempts to spread culpability equally among the main characters in the drama and thus establish moral equivalence between the two groups. To this effect, it’s necessary to unjustly rewrite history and demean the valiant but unsuccessful efforts of the Brissotins to get the Revolution back on track and avoid the coming mass murder and terror. Whaley, tactfully but systematically, brings disrepute upon the Girondin leaders and the exterminated leadership of the right-wing of the National Convention, while discreetly acting as an apologist for the ultra-radical Jacobins.

Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve

The Girondins admired the ancient Romans and their Republican virtues, and led by Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve had attempted to curtail revolutionary excesses, establish legality and legitimacy to the government, and set the Revolution on a path similar to the United States of America. They did not want the radical Jacobins and their allies, the extremists in the Commune and their supporters in the Parisian mob (the notorious sans-cullotes), to dictate policy for all of France. Indeed, soon after the extermination of the Girondins, the Committee of Public Safety rose to full power and dictated policy based on Terror for all of France.

The Girondins, the champions of the provinces, wanted a referendum to give the people of France a voice, and they sought to save the life of the King without reestablishing the monarchy. Their intention was humanitarian — not only for the King, but for all the people of France in an attempt to prevent the horrible deluge that followed (and predicted by Louis XV). As it turned out, alas, they were unsuccessful and the coming Terror became a hellish reality.

Portrait of Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville by François Bonneville, c. 1790

Whaley misses the forest for the trees when she misreads the intentions and aims of the Girondins in such major events as the Flight to Varennes and the September massacres (1792) in which 1200 prisoners were massacred on the order of the radical elements in the Insurrectionary Commune and the Jacobin leadership, most likely including Marat. Victims of the Massacres, a prelude to the Terror, included the Princess de Lamballe, whose head was taken on a pike to the prison where Queen Marie Antoinette, her intimate friend, was being held prior to her own execution.

Some Girondins, including Pierre Brissot and Jean-Marie Roland, intended victims of the September Massacres, escaped this time only to be exterminated later. Billaud-Varenne, an intimate of Robespierre, visited the executioners during the killing and praised them for their work! And what is the authors focus on this event? Not the culpability of the extremists, but the Girondin reaction: Whaley insists that it was only later that the Brissotins denounced the Massacres! The reaction of the Girondin leadership is understandable to anyone familiar with the perilous and anarchic situation in France at the time. Granted, the Brissotins (except perhaps for Madame Manon Philipon Roland), for the first and only time and with good cause, feared for their own lives. Indeed, their existence had been in mortal danger from the time of the formation of the Insurrectionary Commune in Paris (August 9), the Storming of the Tuileries (August 10), Marquis de Lafayette’s defection to the Austrians (August 19) — so that by September 2, when Verdun surrendered to the Prussians, the Girondin’s position was extremely precarious. Denunciation of the Massacres during the brutal period of September 2-6, with their own names on the list of intended victims, would have been foolish and suicidal.

Portrait of Madame Roland by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, c. 1787

The peculiar behavior of Georges Danton is quite perplexing, and I for once agree with Whaley that Madame Roland’s hostility toward Danton, singling him out and blaming him personally for the September Massacres and other Jacobin excesses, was unwise and misguided. An alliance between Danton and the Girondins even at this late point in the autumn of 1792 could have possibly thwarted the seizure of power by Robespierre and prevented the Reign of Terror; unfortunately for France and the world, it did not happen.

One wonders whether an even earlier alliance between (Comte de) Mirabeau, who died untimely in 1791, Georges Danton, and Marquis de Lafayette might have saved the Revolution, preventing the Terror with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, as in England, or a truly enlightened, Constitutional Republic, as in these United States of America. Had this happened the world would, perhaps, have been spared the violence and terror marshalled into the 20th century by the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and the ensuing 100 million hapless deaths of world communism.

If the Girondins vacillated at the time of the September Massacres of 1792, it was understandable. Their renewed courage would thereafter not falter and would be proven, again and again, until their complete extermination. With courage, they faced the cold blade of the guillotine or died without submitting to their tormentors. Of the 29 proscribed Brissotin Deputies and friends, only a few, Louvet, Mercier, and Isnard, would survive to tell the tale. There are some interesting parallels between the Girondins in France, the “Kadet” party of Russia during the Russian Revolution, and the 13th of March Movement during the Cuban Revolution, but such comparative discussion is beyond the scope of this review.

In time, the brutal Montagnards themselves would tremble, fearful of the sanguinary revolutionary (terrorist) monster they had unleashed but now could not control. The Reign of Terror would only end with the Thermidorean Reaction and the end of Robespierre and his bloodthirsty Committee of Public Safety. Despite their fate, the Girondins deserve the admiration that history has justly bestowed upon the great tragedy that was the epochal French Revolution.

(Read Part I)

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is editor emeritus of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (formerly the Medical Sentinel) and author of “Vandals at the Gates of Medicine” (1995), “Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine” (1997) and “Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise” (2002). His website is HaciendaPublishing.com.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Rewriting the French Revolution — Part II. HaciendaPublishing.com, November 21, 2004. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/rewriting-the-french-revolution–part-ii/.

Versions of this article were also posted on NewsMax.com and LaNeuvaCuba.com.

(Leigh Ann Whaley’s “Radicals: Politics and Republicanism in the French Revolution” (2000, Sutton Publishing, 212 pp., ISBN: 07509-22389)

The photographs used to illustrate this article for Hacienda Publishing came from a variety of sources and do not necessarily appear in Whaley’s Radicals: Politics and Republicanism in the French Revolution.

Copyright ©2004 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.


Bastille Day And The French Revolution (Part III): The Denouement

We have seen that the French Revolution did not give the French people a true constitutional republic extending to its citizens the natural rights of man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The French Revolution wanted to go beyond that and create a utopia of happiness, misunderstanding liberty and adding fraternity and equality to the brew. Forced fraternity and equality were proven to be and remain mutually exclusive from individual liberty. While our American republic respected the rule of law and protected the basic concepts of individual rights and freedom — namely, life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness — the French Revolution established mob rule followed by dictatorship. It showed the world and put into practice the scissor strategy of forcing radical change upon society using fear and ultimately, terror as its basis — a methodology that Karl Marx later expounded into dialetical materialism and communism. That philosophy, Marxism, would cost an excess of 100 million people their lives in the tainted 20th century.

The French Revolution had the least amount of success implementing the wealth redistribution policies of some of its adherents. Neither fraternity, liberty, nor economic equality were achieved. Terror was established on all fronts. While the state did confiscate property of the enemies of the revolution, Robespierre and his Jacobins kept such property that was salvaged in the hands of the government, and the rank and file revolutionists had to keep an inventory of such appropriated goods and properties. In a way, this firm, strict accounting of expropriated property (i.e., that was not stolen or destroyed) was helpful in keeping the mob from looting, overrunning and turning France into a wasteland. Robespierre disdained material wealth. Poverty to him was synonymous with virtue. The Incorruptible worshipped not on the altar of wealth and indulgence, but on the stone of abstract altruism, abstinence, and personal power. The fall of Danton was predicated, in part, by the economic and financial misdeeds of some of his close friends such as Chabot and Fabre d’ Eglantine. For this association and Dantons calls for economic freedom, Robespierre called his former friend and colleague a “rotten idol” and sent him to the guillotine.

François-Noël Babeuf

Francois Babeuf, a political activist, was one, if not the first, modern communist.* He espoused collectivism, agrarian reform and economic equality during the French Revolution, but his ideas never took complete hold with the leadership of the Jacobins.

According to David P. Jordan in his book, The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre (1985), a virtual apologia of the Incorruptible, both Saint-Just and Robespierre believed the state had a role to play in providing for “minimal subsistence” to the people. This was “the debt of the rich to the people.” Buissart, an old friend of Robespierre from Arras, wrote that the people “were dying of hunger in the midst of abundance. I believe it is necessary to kill the mercantile aristrocracy just as we killed that of the priests and nobles.”

Robespierre never went as far as that, although he threatened and admonished “the rich egoist may share the fate of the nobles and the King if they continue to behave like them.”

In the summer of 1793, the National Convention, in an effort to ease the worsening economic situation, went so far as to institute wage and price controls as well as regulation of the grain market. The Assembly imposed a ceiling on the price of grain and other grocery items, what amounted to an economic terror. Girondin leader Charles Barbaroux, already a marked man by the Hébertists, nevertheless spoke in opposition. He complained that the ceiling would exacerbate the problem of supply and demand and aggravate the scarcities. Barbaroux also predicted inflation because of the devaluation of the currency and loose fiscal policy. Every prediction he made came to pass.

Vergniaud, the golden-tongued orator and Girondin leader, and Danton opposed these extreme economic measures. Nevertheless, that summer, the Convention implemented price ceilings, maximum wages, relief for the poor via obligatory loans, and exorbitant taxes on the rich and forced acceptance of fiat currency, assignats. Jacques Roux addressed the Convention on June 25, 1793 and accused the new “commercial aristocracy” of being “more terrible than the [old] nobility.” He called for the crushing of the rich in France.

On July 26, the death penalty was passed for hoarders of grain and “blood-sucker” currency speculators. The armées révolutionnaires were empowered to snoop around the towns and countryside to look for hoarders and speculators. They enforced the economic Terror by aint-Justransacking villages and terrorizing rural communities. The monetary policy failed and the deprecated assignats were demonized with the creation of a black market for hard currency. The economic Terror was truly underway by the fall of 1793.

Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just

The Ventose Decrees (February 26, March 3, 1794) proposed by Robespierre’s most trusted lieutenant Saint-Just, provided that the State should confiscate émigré property and distribute it to the needy. Saint-Just and other Jacobins argued that the enemies of the revolution had no civil rights and their property should be confiscated. Robespierre, although supportive of these decrees, never felt he had the support of even the most hardline Jacobins to implement these decrees. These decrees died without enactment.

Earlier, Pierre Chaumette, leader of the Paris Commune, had also militated and demanded that the National Convention authorize the government to confiscate private property and distribute it to the “people.” He had the support of Hanriot, commander of the National Guard, and Pache, the mayor of Paris. Nevertheless, the ruling Jacobins in the National Convention, by this time in control of the sans-culottes army, also rejected this demand, to the chagrin of René Hébert and his ultra-radical followers.

Just before the denouement of 9 Thermidor, Barère had tried to reach a compromise with Saint-Just and Couthon. He would stear through the legislature the Ventrose Decrees, if only Robespierre would stop hurting Deputies in his quest for virtue. Robespierre refused to compromise. In his speech on 8 Thermidor, he would continue to exterminate the wayward Deputies and enemies of the revolution in his quest to build his Republic of Virtue.

By the spring of 1794, the valiant Girondins, Danton, and his friends Camille and Lucile Desmoulins, and even the sanguinary René Hébert — had all been guillotined. The right side of the Convention stood empty; the center, “the Plain,” remained silent, cowed and stupefied; even the radical Jacobins on the left, the Montagnards, were beginning to fear for their lives. The far ends of the political spectrum, like an excessively bent horseshoe, representing the extremes of anarchy (right) and tyranny (left), became separated by a narrow gap, that of anarcho-tyranny, which agent provocateurs, immorality, and chaos had bridged with the establishment of Robespierre’s stern dictatorship.

As the Deputies trembled in fear, and Paris became deserted and terrorized, one man relatively unknown in history senses his own life is in mortal danger. He exhorts and finally convinces his fellow Deputies to act both decisively and swiftly in order to save their lives.oseph Fouche

Joseph Fouché

The rallying figure, Joseph Fouché, is relatively obscure in the annals of history, although the details of his life are well known. He was no saint; as a Jacobin, he was ruthless. He committed atrocities as a représentant-en-mission in Lyons in the early part of the Terror. But at the moment of truth, a fearless determined personality was needed to end the Terror that Robespierre had just recently escalated and did not want to end. Fouché conspired and bred intrigue in the shadows, rallying the conspirators, a motley crew, Vadier, Tallien, Barras, and even the sanguinary Billaud-Varenne and Collot d’ Herbois, both in the Committee of Public Safety. The final showdown would take place in the convention, all or nothing, against Robespierre and his allies.

And on 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794), the unthinkable finally happened at high noon. At the Convention, Robespierre was not allowed to speak. Vainly he rose to speak at the rostrum, but a group of conspirators prevented him from speaking. When he reached the podium, his eloquence uncharacteristically failed him. “The blood of Danton is choking you,” yelled a conspirator. When Robespierre was finally able to speak, he could only utter, “For the last time, will you, let me be heard, President of Assassins!” But, it was of no use. The spell of terror and intimidation had been broken by a group of desperate but, ultimately, courageous men who acted as cornered animals, finally assisted by an embolden Convention. Vive la convention! They cried in unison.

The fall of Robespierre, brought an end to the Terror. Robespierre and his henchmen, his brother Augustin, St. Just, Couthon and Hanriot went to the guillotine. Le Bas shot himself to death at the Hôtel de Ville. Robespierre and those closely associated with him in his Committee of Public Safety dictatorship had come tumbling down to a gruesome end.

It was only after the fall of Robespierre and the Thermidorean Reaction that the French revolutionists, the Thermidoreans and the Directory, instituted laissez faire capitalism. Although the political situation was by no means stable, the government welcomed new businesses and entrepreneurship from 1794-1799. Nevertheless, it all ended with the coup of 19th Brumaire and the ascendancy of Napoleon Bonaparte. The revolution was then formally and quietly ended by a decree of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The political cycle was nearly complete. The French Revolution that had brought about the chaos of mobocracy, anarchy, and tyranny had ended in dictatorship and empire.

Read Part I and Part II of this article.

Footnote

* Francois Babeuf (1760-1797) founded his journal in 1794 and founded the Conspiracy of Equals in 1795, to overthrow the ruling Directory and establish virtual communism in France. In 1797, he was arrested, tried, and executed for leading a plot to overthrow the government.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, M.D. is editor emeritus of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (formerly the Medical Sentinel) and author of Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995), Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997), and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). His books are available at https://HaciendaPublishing.com.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Bastille Day And The French Revolution (Part III): The Denouement. HaciendaPublishing.com, September 22, 2004. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/bastille-day-and-the-french-revolution-part-iii-the-denouement

Copyright ©2021 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.


Bastille Day And The French Revolution (Part II): Maximilien Robespierre — The Incorruptible

The Incorruptible, Maximilien Robespierre, the Voice of Reason, did not give the French people a Republic of Virtue but a bloody reign of terror incited by mob rule, and the descent into barbarism with the mass killings of men, women, and children by their own government, not because of their deeds or misdeeds, or any real crimes, but because of their birth, opinions, and associations — or simply, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre

The guillotine was kept busy during the Terror, and when it was not fast enough cutting commoner and aristocratic heads, other grisly methods were used, such as burning, hacking, stabbing, shootings, even cannonades. In the city of Nantes, the sanguinary Carrier instituted the brutal “republican marriages” whereby naked men and women were tied together and thrown into the Loire River. Others were simply tied to barges that were scuttled with resultant mass drownings, the infamous noyades.

At the time of the King’s Trial, many deputies spoke, acted, and voted in fear of their lives (even Danton alluded to this, “it’s our heads or theirs,” according to author, Stanley Loomis), after all, they were deliberating in the belly of the Revolution, in the midst of Paris, surrounded by the ever threatening radical mobs. Many, perhaps most, deputies who were from “The Plain” and voted for regicide did so in fear of and to protect their own lives (it’s the King’s head or my own!), and not because of the persuasive skills of the sanguinary figures, Robespierre and Saint-Just. The Deputies spoke, debated, and voted in fear of their lives in the various people’s assemblies up to the National Convention, fearing the Parisian mobs (and in the summer and fall of 1792 also of the dreaded federe, who inspired the revolutionary hymn Le Marseillaise) and their incitement by the various radical leaders such as Marat and later Hébert, as well as Danton and Robespierre.

Despite Robespierre’s incessant reference to the virtue of the people, he only trusted the people as an abstract concept, like democracy, when the mob’s passion could be rallied to serve the purposes of the revolution. The mob’s violence was justified in the eyes of Robespierre when it answered his own personal call to carry out political riots and revolutionary insurrections. Jacobins, like Robespierre, harangued the convention from above, while the mob intimidated the convention from below to force it to move radically to the far left of the political and social spectrum. This is the very effective political/revolutionary scissors strategy of applying simultaneous pressure from above and below to attain radical change at work predating Hegelian dialectics (dialectical idealism), Marx’s dialectical materialism, and Gramsci’s revolutionary theories for the overturning of society.

Indeed, we have seen the scissors strategy of applying pressure from above and below when the bloodthirsty mobs of the French Revolution, the sans culottes, and the Paris Commune intimidated the National Assembly and the Legislative Assembly with their swords and pikes, marching outside the Convention at the Tuileries demanding change in “government” policy or pleading for the blood of their enemies, while the leaders of the Jacobin Club serving as Deputies clubbed the Convention from within, haranguing the assembly from the speaker’s podium, calling for slightly less of but essentially the same changes as the mob in the name of the people.

Robespierre recognized this fact and throughout the period of 1789-1793, aligned himself with the most vociferous and violent, minority of the elected “representatives of the people.” Later, after assuming effective control of the Committee of Public Safety and his dictatorship was operational, Robespierre came, particularly in late 1793 and 1794, to no longer have any use for the mobs, and then his references to the people became a complete abstraction.

Between 1792-1794, The Incorruptible was instrumental in setting the stage for, and then presided over, the Reign of Terror. His technique was simple but time-tested — namely, the Machiavellian tactic of divide et impera (“divide and conquer”). And, he did so with gruesome efficiency eliminating one by one his divided opposition — i.e., first the monarchists followed by the Feuillants; then Girondins; then the Hébertists; then the Dantonists, its leader Camille Desmoulins and their followers; and finally then anyone who stood in the his way and the continuation of the Terror. Robespierre had succeeded in establishing institutionalized terror as an instrument of State power. He presided over it and used it against his enemies. For him, the end justified the means.

Robespierre sought to create a heaven on earth with himself as high priest, as became evident to many revolutionaries, on the occasion of the Festival of the Supreme Being (June 8, 1794; 20 Prairial). The reality is that while imbibing of this display of virtue and reason, he was accelerating the already rapid action of the guillotine. The Law of Suspects, which had been in effect since Sept. 1793, provided that those persons who by conduct or language were “enemies of liberty” were suspect and liable for immediate arrest. Sharpening the efficiency of the revolutionary tribunals to unimaginable levels of tyranny, the law of 22 Prairial eliminated the rules of evidence and the right of legal defense of suspects. Thus, in the six weeks preceding the Thermidorean Reaction (July 27, 1794), Robespierre had set the stage for institutionalized, legal mass murder, and 1376 victims were executed at the Place du Trône alone by the guillotine.

Before that, of course, the young, idealistic Girondins had been executed en masse with concocted evidence that everyone knew was penned by Robespierre’s young friend, Camille Desmoulin. Later Camille cried when he realized his bearing false witness would send his former friends and colleagues, now political enemies, to the guillotine. The heads of 22 brave Girondin leaders, including Madame Roland, Vergniaud and Brissot rolled. Maximilien Robespierre, the ultimate hero (or anti-hero) of the French Revolution, a national event still magnificently celebrated today in France, believed in and defended the institution of mass murder in the name of the revolution. The country lawyer from Arras was totally devoid of mercy, even when it came to sending revolutionary heroes and former friends to the guillotine.

L’Incorruptible thus sent Camille, his protégé, now a friend of Danton and the man who led the attack on the Bastille on July 14, 1789, to the guillotine. A few days later Camille’s wife, Lucile followed him to the scaffold. She had pleaded with Robespierre to save her husband’s life in the name of their infant son, Horace, to whom Robespierre was godfather — but to no avail.

Georges Danton

Robespierre also sent the “Titan of the Revolution,” Georges Danton — the man who had transformed the Paris Commune into the Insurrectionary Commune(i.e., in preparation for the storming of the Tuileries), the man who had inspired the Miracle of Valmy, and the revolution’s greatest orator and hero — to the guillotine. Danton had finally come to his senses and had tried to stop the Terror. He also pleaded, along with Camille Desmoulins, to end the excesses of the revolution and to free 73 Girondin Deputies held in prison among the 150 representatives of former assemblies or of the sitting National Convention. Robespierre, implacable as ever, refused to ease the Terror. The Incorruptible, thought he was in firm control of the Committee of Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunals and held all the cards. Hébert and his friends had already “been shaved by the national razor.” Camille and Danton and their friends had followed that same spring of 1794. General Westermann, one of the military leaders of the storming of the Tuileries and the overthrow of the monarchy, August 10, 1793, voluntarily joined his friends and went with the Dantonists to receive the cold blade of the guillotine.

And yet, Robespierre tried to dissociate himself as much as possible from those decisions that could later incriminate him. When he signed Danton’s death warrant, which had to be signed by the members of the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, he scribbled his signature in very small letters towards the corner and in between two other xecution of Robespierresignatures, as furtively as possible, trying to escape responsibility for his action. Vacillation and acting stealthily against his enemies were two of Robespierre’s modus operandi.

With these tactics, Robespierre nearly succeeded in having others do his dirty work while working stealthily against his divided enemies — all the while trying to avoid responsibility. He never frontally attacked his enemies unless assured of victory. But, in the end, all of these precautions were of no use; it all collapsed when the erstwhile calls for Vive la République! Vive Robespierre became “Down with the Tyrant!” (Execution of Robespierre, above) But I am getting ahead of myself.

In his book, Robespierre: The Fool as Revolutionary, Otto Scott writes, “Robespierre simply died, but folly has a virulence that outlasts its inventor. He inspired more communes, more voices of virtue, more Lenins, and Castros and Maos, more murder and hatred, more death and misery, than any other of the Sacred Fools that have emerged to plague honest men.”

The scissors strategy of having seemingly desperate forces acting together towards a common subversive goal and to force destructive change was assimilated as dialectics by Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto. It was learned well and followed by communists in the consolidation of power in their totalitarian regimes. We have seen this methodology followed in the 20th century in varied forms in Red China, the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and other former Soviet satellites during the Cold war.

In the Paris Jacobin Club from 1791-1793, Maximilien Robespierre developed the methods of public self-criticism, “purifying scrutiny” as he called it, which preceded purges of individuals and which amounted to their death warrants. Mass arrests and executions followed these purges. This methodology of mass purges were later emulated and surpassed by totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, particularly Joseph Stalin’s. To facilitate the arrest and apprehension of political opponents, 20th century tyrants also followed the lead of the French revolutionists. They also established neighborhood committees (for public surveillance), revolutionary tribunals (for the administration of swift “people’s” justice), and mass executions. The radical journals and pamphlets together with the publication of the most radical speeches delivered at the revolutionary clubs paved the way for manipulation of the press, the application of mass psychology for State indoctrination, etc.

As a guiding light, the revolutionists had stated that “all is permitted to those who act in the revolutionary direction.” Using similar language shortly after the triumph of his revolution, the 20th century dictator, Fidel Castro, would admonish Cuban writers and intellectuals, “With the Revolution everything, against the Revolution, nothing.” At the time, he was already instituting neighborhood committees and administering people’s justice to consolidate his power.

In Part III of this essay, “The Denouement,” we will conclude our discussion of Bastille Day and the French Revolution and its aftermath.

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D., is an Associate Editor-in-Chief and a World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI); Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine. He served under President George W. Bush as member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2002-05); Realclearhistory Author (2012-present); Founder & Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Sentinel (1996-2002); Editor Emeritus; Author, Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995), Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine (1997), and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). His website is https://HaciendaPublishing.com.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Bastille Day and the French Revolution (Part II): Maximilien Robespierre —The Incorruptible. NewsMax.com, July 21, 2004. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/bastille-day-and-the-french-revolution-part-ii-maximilien-robespierre–the-incorruptible

Copyright ©2015 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.