Robespierre: Wikis


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Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre

Robespierre c. 1790, (anonymous), Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France

Deputy and member of the Committee of Public Safety
In office
27 July 1793 – 27 July 1794
Constituency Paris

In office
4 June 1794 – 17 June 1794
In office
22 August 1793 – 5 September 1793

Member of the National Convention
In office
20 September 1792 – 27 July 1794

In office
6 May 1789 – 17 June 1789

Born 6 May 1758(1758-05-06)
Arras, France
Died 28 July 1794 (aged 36)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Political party Jacobin
Alma mater Lycée Louis-le-Grand
Profession Lawyer and Politician
Religion Deism
(Cult of the Supreme Being)

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (IPA: [maksimiljɛ̃ fʁɑ̃swa maʁi izidɔʁ də ʁɔbɛspjɛʁ]) (6 May 1758 – 28 July 1794) is one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. He largely dominated the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror, which ended with his arrest and execution in 1794.

Robespierre was influenced by 18th century Enlightenment philosophes such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu, and he was a capable articulator of the beliefs of the left-wing bourgeoisie. He was described as physically unimposing and immaculate in attire and personal manners. His supporters called him "The Incorruptible", while his adversaries called him the "Tyrant" and dictateur sanguinaire (bloodthirsty dictator).


Early life

Maximilien de Robespierre was born in Arras, France. His family has been traced back to the 12th century in Picardy; some of his direct ancestors in the male line were notaries in the village of Carvin near Arras from the beginning of the 17th century.[1] He is sometimes rumoured to have been of Irish descent, and it has been suggested that his surname could be a corruption of 'Robert Speirs'.[2] Lewes, Hamel, Michelet, Lamartine and Belloc have all cited this theory although there appears little supporting evidence.

His paternal grandfather, Maximilien de Robespierre, established himself in Arras as a lawyer. His father, Maximilien Barthélémy François de Robespierre, also a lawyer at the Conseil d'Artois, married Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, the daughter of a brewer, in 1758. Maximilien was the oldest of four children and was conceived out of wedlock - his siblings were Charlotte, Henriette and Augustin.[3] To hide the fact as best they could, his father and mother had a rushed wedding (which the grandfather refused to attend). In 1764, Madame de Robespierre died in childbirth. Her husband left Arras and wandered around Europe until his death in Munich in 1777, leaving the children to be brought up by their maternal grandfather and aunts.

Maximilien attended the collège (middle school) of Arras when he was eight years old, already knowing how to read and write.[4] In October of 1769, on the recommendation of the bishop, he obtained a scholarship at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Here he learned to admire the idealised Roman Republic and the rhetoric of Cicero, Cato and other classic figures. His fellow pupils included Camille Desmoulins and Stanislas Fréron. He also was exposed to Rousseau during this time and adopted many of the same principles. Robespierre became more intrigued by the idea of a virtuous self, a man who stands alone accompanied only by his conscience.[5]

Shortly after his coronation, Louis XVI visited Louis-le-Grand. Robespierre, then 17 years old, had been chosen out of five hundred pupils to deliver a speech to welcome the king; as a prize-winning student, the choice had been clear. On the day of the speech, Robespierre and the crowd waited for the king and queen for several hours in the rain. Upon arrival, the royal couple remained in their coach for the ceremony and immediately left thereafter.[5] Robespierre would become one of those who eventually sought the death of the king.[5]

Early politics

As an adult, and possibly even as a young man, the greatest influence on Robespierre's political ideas was Jean Jacques Rousseau. Robespierre’s conception of revolutionary virtue and his program for constructing political sovereignty out of direct participatory democracy came from Rousseau, and in pursuit of these ideals he eventually became known during the Jacobin Republic as “the Incorruptible.” [6] Robespierre believed that the people of France were fundamentally good and therefore the people needed only to speak in order to advance the well being of the nation. [7]

After having completed his law studies, Robespierre was admitted to the Arras bar. The Bishop of Arras, Louis François Marc Hilaire de Conzié, appointed him criminal judge in the Diocese of Arras in March 1782. This appointment, which he soon resigned to avoid pronouncing a sentence of death, did not prevent his practicing at the bar. He quickly became a successful advocate and chose in principle to represent the poor. During court hearings he was known to often advocate the ideals of the Enlightenment and argue for the rights of man: i.e. his clients.[8] Later in his career he read widely and also became interested in society in general and became regarded as one of the best writers and most popular young men of Arras.

In December 1783, he was elected a member of the academy of Arras, the meetings of which he attended regularly. In 1784, he obtained a medal from the academy of Metz for his essay on the question of whether the relatives of a condemned criminal should share his disgrace. He and Pierre Louis de Lacretelle, an advocate and journalist in Paris, divided the prize. Many of his subsequent essays were less successful, but Robespierre was compensated for these failures by his popularity in the literary and musical society at Arras, known as the "Rosatia", of which Lazare Carnot, who would be his colleague on the Committee of Public Safety, was also a member.

In 1788, he took part in a discussion of how the French provincial government should be elected, showing clearly and forcefully in his Addresse à la nation artésienne that if the former mode of election by the members of the provincial estates were again adopted, the new Estates-General would not represent the people of France. It is possible he addressed this issue so that he could have a chance to take part in the proceedings and thus change the policies of the monarchy. King Louis XVI later announced new elections for all provinces, thus allowing Robespierre to run for the position of deputy for the Third Estate.[5]

Portrait of Robespierre after his election to the Estates General, 1789

Although the leading members of the corporation were elected, Robespierre, their chief opponent, succeeded in getting elected with them. In the assembly of the bailliage rivalry ran still higher, but Robespierre had begun to make his mark in politics with the Avis aux habitants de la campagne (Arras, 1789). With this he secured the support of the country electors and, although only thirty, comparatively poor and lacking patronage, he was elected fifth deputy of the Third Estate of Artois to the Estates-General. When Robespierre arrived at Versailles, he was relatively unknown, but he soon became part of the representative National Assembly which then transformed into the Constituent Assembly.[5]

While the Constituent Assembly occupied itself with drawing up a constitution, Robespierre turned from the assembly of provincial lawyers and wealthy bourgeois to the people of Paris. He was a frequent speaker in the Constituent Assembly; he voiced many ideas for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Constitutional Provisions, often with great success.[5] He was eventually recognized as second only to Pétion de Villeneuve - if second he was - as a leader of the small body of the extreme left; "the thirty voices" as Mirabeau contemptuously called them.

Robespierre soon became involved with the new Society of the Friends of the Constitution, known eventually as the Jacobin Club. This had consisted originally of the deputies from Brittany only. After the Assembly moved to Paris, the Club began to admit various leaders of the Parisian bourgeoisie to its membership. As time went on, many of the more intelligent artisans and small shopkeepers became members of the club. Among such men, Robespierre found a sympathetic audience. As the wealthier bourgeois of Paris and right-wing deputies seceded from the club of 1789, the influence of the old leaders of the Jacobins, such as Barnave, Duport, Alexandre de Lameth, diminished. When they, alarmed at the progress of the Revolution, founded the club of the Feuillants in 1791, the left, including Robespierre and his friends, dominated the Jacobin Club.

On 15 May 1791, Robespierre proposed and carried the motion that no deputy who sat in the Constituent could sit in the succeeding Assembly, his only successful proposition in this assembly.

The flight on 20 June, and subsequent arrest at Varennes of Louis XVI and his family resulted in Robespierre declaring himself at the Jacobin Club to be "ni monarchiste ni républicain" ("neither monarchist nor republican"). But this was not unusual; very few at this point were avowed republicans.

After the massacre of the Champ de Mars on 17 July 1791, in order to be nearer to the Assembly and the Jacobins, he moved to live in the house of Maurice Duplay, a cabinetmaker residing in the Rue Saint-Honoré and an ardent admirer of Robespierre. Robespierre lived there (with two short intervals excepted) until his death. In fact, according to some sources, including his doctor, Souberbielle, Vilate, a juror on the Revolutionary Tribunal, and his host's youngest daughter (who would later marry Philippe Le Bas of the Committee of General Security), he became engaged to the eldest daughter of his host, Éléonore Duplay.

On 30 September, on the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the people of Paris crowned Pétion and Robespierre as the two incorruptible patriots in an attempt to honor their purity of principles, their modest ways of living, and their refusal of bribes.[8]

With the dissolution of the Assembly he returned for a short visit to Arras, where he met with a triumphant reception. In November he returned to Paris to take the position of Public Prosecutor of Paris.[9]

Opposition to war with Austria

Terracotta bust of Robespierre by Louis-Pierre Deseine, 1792 (Musée de la Révolution française)

On February 1792, Jacques Pierre Brissot, one of the leaders of the Girondist party in the Legislative Assembly, urged that France should declare war against Austria. Marat and Robespierre opposed him, because they feared the possibility of militarism, which might then be turned to the advantage of the reactionary forces. Robespierre was also convinced the stability of the internal country was more important; he was suspicious of traitors and counter-revolutionaries hidden among the people.[10] This opposition from expected allies irritated the Girondists and political rivalry arose between them.

In April 1792, Robespierre resigned the post of public prosecutor of Versailles, which he had officially held, but never practiced, since February, and started a journal, Le Défenseur de la Constitution, in his own defence against the accusations of the Girondist leaders.

Because of his popularity, his reputation for virtue and his influence over the Jacobin Club, the strongmen of the Commune of Paris were glad to have Robespierre's aid in the face of food riots and factionalism. On 16 August, Robespierre presented the petition of the Commune to the Legislative Assembly, demanding the establishment of a revolutionary tribunal and the summoning of a Convention.

Robespierre has often been reproached with failing to stop the September Massacres.

In September, he was elected first deputy for Paris to the National Convention. Robespierre and his allies took the benches high at the back of the hall, giving them the label 'the Montagnards'; below them were the 'Manège' of the Girondists and then 'the Plain' of the independents.

At the Convention, the Girondists immediately attacked Robespierre. On 26 September, the Girondist Marc-David Lasource accused Robespierre of wanting to form a dictatorship. Rumours spread that Robespierre, Marat and Danton were plotting to establish a triumvirate. On 29 October, Louvet de Couvrai attacked Robespierre in a speech, possibly written by Madame Roland. On 5 November, Robespierre defended himself and denounced the federalist plans of the Girondists. Robespierre was one of the most popular orators in the Convention and his carefully prepared speeches often made a deep impression.

The execution of Louis XVI

In December 1792, personal disputes were overshadowed by the question of the King's trial. In this instance, Robespierre held the position that the King must be executed, whereas previously he had opposed the death penalty. The position of Robespierre was that if one man’s life had to be sacrificed to save the Revolution, there was no alternative: it had to be that of King Louis. In his speech on 3 December 1792, he said:

This is no trial; Louis is not a prisoner at the bar; you are not judges; you are—you cannot but be—statesmen, and the representatives of the nation. You have not to pass sentence for or against a single man, but you have to take a resolution on a question of the public safety, and to decide a question of national foresight. It is with regret that I pronounce, the fatal truth: Louis ought to perish rather than a hundred thousand virtuous citizens; Louis must die, so that the country may live.

Robespierre argued that the King, having betrayed the people when he tried to flee the country, and by being a king in the first place, posed a danger to the State as a unifying entity to enemies of the Republic.

Destruction of the Girondists

After the King's execution, the influence of Robespierre, Danton, and the pragmatic politicians increased at the expense of the Girondists. The Girondists refused to have anything more to do with Danton and because of this the government became more divided.

In May 1793, Desmoulins, at the behest of Robespierre and Danton, published his Histoire des Brissotins, an elaboration on the earlier article Jean-Pierre Brissot, démasqué, a scathing attack on Brissot and the Girondists. Maximin Isnard declared that Paris must be destroyed if it came out against the provincial deputies. Robespierre preached a moral "insurrection against the corrupt deputies" at the Jacobin Club. On 2 June, a large crowd of armed men from the Commune of Paris came to the Convention and arrested thirty-two deputies on charges of counter-revolutionary activities.

The Reign of Terror

To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity.
— Maximilien Robespierre, 1794 [11]

After the fall of the monarchy, France faced more food riots, large popular insurrections and accusations of treasonous acts by those previously considered patriots. A stable government was needed to quell the chaos.[8] On 11 March, a Revolutionary Tribunal was established in Paris. On 6 April, the nine-member Committee of Public Safety replaced the larger Committee of General Defense. On 27 July 1793, the Convention elected Robespierre to the Committee, although he had not sought the position. The Committee of General Security began to manage the country's internal police.

Though nominally all members of the committee were equal, Robespierre has often been regarded as the dominant force and, as such, the de facto dictator of the country. He is also seen as the driving force behind the Reign of Terror—Louis-Sébastien Mercier called him a "Sanguinocrat"—although, after 1794, other participants may have exaggerated his role to downplay their own contribution.

As an orator, he praised revolutionary government and argued that the Terror was necessary, laudable and inevitable. It was Robespierre's belief that the Republic and virtue were of necessity inseparable. He reasoned that the Republic could only be saved by the virtue of its citizens, and that the Terror was virtuous because it attempted to maintain the Revolution and the Republic. For example, in his Report on the Principles of Political Morality, given on 5 February, 1794, Robespierre stated:

If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country. ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.[12]

Robespierre’s popularity and appeal to the community came out mostly in the way that he spoke. His speeches were exceptional, and he had the power to change the views of almost any audience. (This is one of the reasons why he became such a strong force in the Terror.) His speaking techniques included talk of virtue and morals, and also quite often he had a few rhetorical questions in his speeches in order to identify with the audience. He would also gesticulate and use ideas and personal experiences in life to keep the listeners’ attention. And his final method was to state that he was always prepared to die in order to save the Revolution. (Ironically, his death would be an end to the Revolution.) [13]

Robespierre believed that the Terror was a time of discovering and revealing the enemy within Paris, within France, the enemy that hid in the safety of apparent patriotism.[10] Because he believed that the Revolution was still in progress, and in danger of being sabotaged, he made every attempt to instill in the populace and Convention the urgency of carrying out the Terror. In his Report and others, he brought tales and fears of traitors, monarchists, and saboteurs throughout the Republic and also the Convention itself[citation needed].

Robespierre expanded the traditional list of the Revolution's enemies to include moderates and "false revolutionaries". In Robespierre's understanding, these were not only ignorant of the dangers facing the Republic, but also in many cases disguised themselves as active contributors to the Revolution, who simply repeated the work of others, or even impeded the progress of the patriots. Anyone not in step with the decrees of Robespierre's committee is said to have been eventually purged from the Convention, and thoroughly hunted in the general population. While it is debated whether Robespierre targeted moderates to accelerate his own agenda, or out of legitimate concern for France, it is known that his policy led to the execution of many of the Revolution's original and staunchest advocates.

Robespierre saw no room for mercy in his Terror, stating that "slowness of judgments is equal to impunity" and "uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty". Throughout his Report on the Principles of Political Morality, Robespierre assailed any stalling of action in defence of the Republic. In his thinking, there was not enough that could be done fast enough in defence against enemies at home and abroad. A staunch believer in the teachings of Rousseau, Robespierre believed that it was his duty as a public servant to push the Revolution forward, and that the only rational way to do that was to defend it on all fronts. The Report did not merely call for blood but also expounded many of the original ideas of the 1789 Revolution, such as political equality, suffrage, and abolition of privileges. Despite executing a good number of his fellow revolutionaries, Robespierre was still one of them in his theory, even if his practice was questionable.

In the winter of 1793–1794, a majority of the Committee decided that the Hébertist party would have to perish or its opposition within the Committee would overshadow the other factions due to its influence in the Commune of Paris. Robespierre also had personal reasons for disliking the Hébertists for their "atheism" and "bloodthirstiness", which he associated with the old aristocracy.[9]

On the 4th of February 1794 under the leadership of Maxmilien Robespierre, the French Convention voted for the abolition of slavery. The Jacobins had established the idea of liberty, but it was a conception which favoured the emergent bourgeoisie, and it was this idea of liberty signifying the freedom to trade which took precedence over the ideas of equality and fraternity. It was this corruption of the French revolution by a rapacious cabal of the French bourgeoisie that Robespierre fought so fanatically against. In fact, during the Reign of Terror, Robespierre had huge support among the poor of Paris and he is still revered by the poor of Haiti today.

 Centre for Research on Globalization [14]

In early 1794, he broke with Danton who had more moderate views on the Terror and had Camille Desmoulins protest against it in the third issue of Le Vieux Cordelier. Robespierre considered an end of the Terror as meaning the loss of political power he hoped to use to create the Republic of Virtue. Subsequently, he joined in attacks on the Dantonists and the Hébertists.[5] Robespierre charged his opponents with complicity with foreign powers.

From 13 February to 13 March 1794, Robespierre withdrew from active business on the Committee due to illness. On 15 March, he reappeared in the Convention. Hébert and nineteen of his followers were arrested on 19 March and guillotined on 24 March. Danton, Desmoulins and their friends were arrested on 30 March and guillotined on 5 April.

After Danton's execution, Robespierre worked to develop his own policies and hoped that the Convention would pass whatever measures he might dictate. He used his influence over the Jacobin Club to dominate the Commune of Paris through his followers. Two of them, Jean-Baptiste Fleuriot-Lescot and Claude-François de Payan, were elected mayor and procurator of the Commune respectively. Robespierre tried to influence the army through his follower Louis de Saint-Just, whom he sent on a mission to the frontier.

In Paris, Robespierre increased the activity of the Terror. To secure his aims, another ally on the Committee, Georges Couthon, introduced and carried on 10 June the drastic Law of 22 Prairial. Under this law, the Tribunal became a simple court of condemnation without need of witnesses. The result of this was that until Robespierre's death, 1,285 victims were guillotined in Paris.

Cult of the Supreme Being

Robespierre's desire for revolutionary change was not limited to the political realm. He sought to instill a spiritual resurgence in the French nation based on his Deist beliefs. Accordingly, on 7 May 1794, Robespierre had a decree passed by the Convention that established a Supreme Being (Culte de la Raison et de l'Être suprême). The notion of the Supreme Being was based on ideas that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in The Social Contract. In honour of the Supreme Being, a celebration was held on 8 June, which was also the “high holy day of Pentecost.” The festivities were held in the Champ de Mars, and in honor of the Festival it was renamed the Champ de la Réunion ("Field of Reunion") for that day. This was most likely in honor of the Champ de Mars Massacre where the Republicans first rallied against the power of the Crown. [15] Robespierre, as President of the Convention, walked first in the festival procession and delivered a speech in which he emphasised that his concept of a Supreme Being, which he termed a radical Democrat, was far different from the traditional God of Christianity:

Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.[16]

Throughout the "Festival of the Supreme Being", Robespierre was beaming with joy; not even the negativity of his colleagues could disrupt his delight. He was able to speak of the things about which he was truly passionate, including Virtue and Nature, typical deist beliefs, and, of course, his disagreements with atheism. Everything was arranged to the exact specifications that had been previously set before the ceremony; the ominous and symbolic guillotine had been moved to the original standing place of the Bastille, all of the people were placed in the appropriate area designated to them, and everyone was dressed accordingly.[17] Not only was everything going smoothly, but the Festival was also Robespierre’s first appearance in the public eye as an actual leader for the people, and also, as President of the Convention to which he had been elected only four days earlier. [18]

While for some it was an excitement to see him at his finest, many other leaders involved in the Festival agreed that Robespierre had taken things a bit too far. Multiple sources state that Robespierre came down the mountain in a way that resembled Moses as the leader of the people, and one of his colleagues, Jacques-Alexis Thuriot, was heard saying, “Look at the bugger; it’s not enough for him to be master, he has to be God.” While these words may have been a simple release of resentment at the time, this same idea would come back in an attempt to remove Robespierre from his high and lofty position in the very near future.

Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier was not one of Robespierre’s devotees, and was actually attempting to find something that Robespierre had done wrong. Vadier was on a mission to attack Robespierre and his faith, and was also trying to bring down Robespierre’s political stature as well. This is when he found Catherine Théot, who was a seventy-eight-year old, self declared “prophetess” who had, at one point, been imprisoned in the Bastille. [19] By Théot stating that he was the “herald of the Last Days, prophet of the New Dawn,”[20] (due to the fact that his Festival had fallen on the Pentecost, which she claimed would be the day revealing a “divine manifestation”) Catherine Théot made it seem as though Robespierre had made these claims himself to her. Many of her followers were supporters or friends of Robespierre as well, which made it seem as though he was attempting to create a new religion with himself as its god. While Robespierre had nothing to do with Catherine Théot or her followers, many assumed that he was on his way to dictatorship, and it sent a current of fear throughout the Convention, which led to his downfall the following July.


The execution of Robespierre

On 25 May, only two days after the attempted assassination of Collot d’ Herbois, Robespierre’s life was also in danger as a young girl by the name of Cécile Renault approached him with two small knives in an attempt to murder him. At this point in time, the decree of 22 Prairial was introduced to the public without the consultation from the Committee of General Security, which in turn doubled the amount of executions permitted by the Committee of Public Safety. [21]

This law permitted executions to be carried out even under simple suspicion of citizens thought to be counter- revolutionaries without extensive trials. By allowing this law to be passed, the people of France began to question Robespierre and the Committee because of the fact that they were executing people for seemingly meaningless reasons, and also because they had passed a law without the help of the Committee of General Security. This was part of the beginning of Robespierre’s downfall. [22]

Reports were coming into Paris about excesses committed by the envoys sent en-mission to the provinces particularly Jean-Lambert Tallien in Bordeaux and Joseph Fouché in Lyons. Robespierre had them recalled to Paris to account for their actions and expelled from the Jacobins club. However they evaded arrest. Fouché spent the evenings moving house to house with a spurious whispering campaign among members of the Convention warning them that Robespierre was after them and set about organising a coup d'état. [23]

Robespierre appeared at the Convention on 26 July (8th Thermidor, year II, according to the Revolutionary calendar), and delivered a two-hour-long speech. He defended himself against charges of dictatorship and tyranny, and then proceeded to warn of a conspiracy against the Republic. Robespierre implied that members of the Convention were a part of this conspiracy, though when pressed he refused to provide any names. The speech however alarmed members particularly given Fouché's warnings. These members who felt that Robespierre was alluding to them tried to prevent the speech from being printed, and a bitter debate ensued until Bertrand Barère forced an end to it. Later that evening, Robespierre delivered the same speech again at the Jacobin Club, where it was very well received.[24]

The next day, Saint-Just began to give a speech in support of Robespierre. However, those who saw him working on his speech the night before expected accusations to arise from it. He only had time to give a small part of his speech before Jean-Lambert Tallien interrupted him. While the accusations began to pile up, Saint-Just remained uncharacteristically silent. Robespierre then attempted to secure the tribune to speak but his voice was shouted down. Robespierre soon found himself at a loss for words after one deputy called for his arrest and another, Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier, gave a mocking impression of him. When one deputy realised Robespierre's inability to respond, the man shouted, "The blood of Danton chokes him!"[25]

The Convention ordered the arrest of Robespierre, his brother Augustin, Couthon, Saint-Just, François Hanriot and Le Bas. Troops from the Commune, under General Coffinhal, arrived to free the prisoners and then marched against the Convention itself. The Convention responded by ordering troops of its own under Barras to be called out. When the Commune's troops heard the news of this, order began to break down, and Hanriot ordered his remaining troops to withdraw to the Hôtel de Ville, where Robespierre and his supporters also gathered. The Convention declared them to be outlaws, meaning that upon verification the fugitives could be executed within twenty-four hours without a trial. As the night went on, the forces of the Commune deserted the Hôtel de Ville and, at around two in the morning, those of the Convention under the command of Barras arrived there. In order to avoid capture, Augustin Robespierre threw himself out of a window; Couthon was found lying at the bottom of a staircase; Le Bas committed suicide; another radical jumped out of the window, only to break both of his legs; yet another shot himself in the head. Robespierre tried to kill himself with a pistol but only managed to shatter his jaw.[26], although some sources [27] claimed that Robespierre was shot by Charles-André Merda.

For the remainder of the night, Robespierre was moved to a table in the room of the Committee of Public Safety where he awaited execution. He lay on the table bleeding abundantly until a doctor was brought in to fix up his jaw. Although Robespierre was known for his speeches, the last words that have been recorded of him saying are, “Merci, monsieur,” to a man that had kindly given him a handkerchief to sop up some of the blood from his face and his clothing. [28] Later, Robespierre was held in the same containment chamber where Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI, had been held.

The next day, 28 July 1794, Robespierre was guillotined without trial in the Place de la Révolution. His brother Augustin, Couthon, Saint-Just, Hanriot and twelve other followers, among them the cobbler Simon, were also executed. Only Robespierre was guillotined face-up. When clearing Robespierre's neck the executioner tore off the bandage that was holding his shattered jaw in place, producing an agonising scream until the fall of the blade silenced him. [29] Together with those executed with him, he was buried in a common grave at the newly-opened Errancis cemetery (cimetière des Errancis) (March 1794-April 1797)[30] (now the Place de Goubeaux). Between 1844 and 1859 (probably in 1848), the remains of all those buried there were moved to the Catacombs of Paris.


Maximillien Robespierre remains a controversial figure to this day. His defenders, such as Marxist historian Albert Soboul, viewed most of the measures of the Committee for Public Safety necessary for the defense of the Revolution and mainly regretted the destruction of the Hébertists and other enragés.

Robespierre’s main ideal was to ensure the virtue and sovereignty of the people. He disapproved of any acts which could be seen as exposing the nation to counter-revolutionaries and traitors, and became increasingly fearful of the defeat of the Revolution. He instigated the Terror and the deaths of his peers as a measure of ensuring a Republic of Virtue; but his ideals went beyond the needs and wants of the people of France. He became a threat to what he had wanted to ensure and the result was his downfall.[5]

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica sums up Robespierre as a bright young theorist but out of his depth in the matter of experience:

A well-educated and accomplished young lawyer, he might have acquired a good provincial practice and lived a happy provincial life had it not been for the Revolution. Like thousands of other young Frenchmen, he had read the works of Rousseau and taken them as gospel. Just at the very time in life when this illusion had not been destroyed by the realities of life, and without the experience which might have taught the futility of idle dreams and theories, he was elected to the states-general.

At Paris he wasn't understood till he met with his audience of fellow disciples of Rousseau at the Jacobin Club. His fanaticism won him supporters; his singularly sweet and sympathetic voice gained him hearers; and his upright life attracted the admiration of all. As matters approached nearer and nearer to the terrible crisis, he failed, except in the two instances of the question of war and of the king's trial, to show himself a statesman, for he had not the liberal views and practical instincts which made Mirabeau and Danton great men. His admission to the Committee of Public Safety gave him power, which he hoped to use for the establishment of his favourite theories, and for the same purpose he acquiesced in and even heightened the horrors of the Reign of Terror. It is here that the fatal mistake of allowing a theorist to have power appeared:

Billaud-Varenne systematised the Terror because he believed it necessary for the safety of the country; Robespierre intensified it in order to carry out his own ideas and theories. Robespierre's private life was always respectable: he was always emphatically a gentleman and man of culture, and even a little bit of a dandy, scrupulously honest, truthful and charitable. In his habits and manner of life he was simple and labourious; he was not a man gifted with flashes of genius, but one who had to think much before he could come to a decision, and he worked hard all his life.


Cultural depictions

Mixed media portrait sculpture of Robespierre by artist George S. Stuart, Ojai, CA in the permanent collection of the Museum of Ventura County, Ventura, CA
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge together with Robert Southey wrote a verse drama, The Fall of Robespierre in 1794, Coleridge writing Act 1 and Southey, Acts 2 and 3, although the work was published under Coleridge's name. Coming very soon after Robespierre's execution, it may be regarded as the first literary portrayal of the man. Indeed, much of the material was drawn from contemporary newspaper accounts of the events in Paris.
  • In Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, Robespierre and Rousseau are mentioned being deeply admired by the character Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries.
  • In another novel by Hugo, Quatrevingt-treize, Robespierre is featured in the "Three Gods" scene, along with Danton and Marat.
  • Robespierre is a significant character in the 1912 novel The Gods Will Have Blood by Anatole France, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Robespierre's dispute against Joseph Fouché, and the coup against Robespierre are described in Stefan Zweig's 1929 biography of Fouché, Portrait of a Politician.
  • He appears frequently in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. He also plays a prominent role in the BBC mini-series version.
  • Robespierre is featured in the play Danton's Death, written by German playwright Georg Buchner.
  • A highly-idealized Robespierre is featured in the anime and manga series Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda. He's initially shown in his younger and more idealistic self, prior to the Terror days, and as the series advances he becomes closer to the embittered leader usually portrayed in media. He's voiced by Katsuji Mori.
  • A more cruel and ruthless portrayal of Robespierre is featured in Tow Ubukata's novel (later adapted as an anime series) Le Chevalier D'Eon. He appears as a villain of the story and a mysterious occultist. He is voiced by Takahiro Sakurai. However, the Robespierre known to history (as seen in the anime, being beheaded at the end of the Terror) is the main character named Robin, who assumed the name after the first Robespierre's death.
  • He plays an important role in the short story "Thermidor" from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, serving as the antagonist to Lady Johanna Constantine's protagonist, with his guillotining depicted at the conclusion.
  • He, along with Louis de Saint-Just, gives his name and role to Rob S. Pierre in the Honorverse.
  • One of the two primary plot lines of Katherine Neville's 1988 novel The Eight features Robespierre alongside other famous figures of the French Revolution.
  • In the 1927 silent film Napoléon, he is played by Edmond Van Daële. Although this six-hour long epic is about the rise of Napoleon, it does incorporate some aspects of Robespierre's presence.
  • In the 1949 film The Black Book (also known as Reign of Terror), Robespierre is played as a bloodthirsty tyrant by Richard Basehart, with Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl as adversaries.
  • The 1964 Doctor Who serial The Reign of Terror concerns the involvement in this period of history of the time-travelling Doctor and his friends. It portrays Robespierre as an implacable tyrant obsessed with increasing the pace of executions, despite the Doctor's attempts (in disguise) to influence him for the good. The time-travellers play a small part in his downfall, with his arrest and imprisonment, even the infamous shot to the mouth, included at the serial's climax (albeit with the violence itself taking place off-camera).
  • In the 1983 French and Polish film Danton, Robespierre is played by Wojciech Pszoniak. The film depicts the last days of Danton and is based on The Danton Case by Stanislawa Przybyszewska. While Przybyszewska's Robespierre is a heroic figure, Wajda's film radically deviates from the play and portrays him in a negative light.
  • In the 1989 film La Révolution Française, he is played by Andrzej Seweryn; this film spans six hours, or the entire revolution from 1789 to 1794.
  • "The Palace of Versailles", a song about the French Revolution from the 1978 Al Stewart album Time Passages, includes the lyrics "We burned out all their mansions/In the name of Robespierre."
  • In Frank Wildhorn's 1997 The Scarlet Pimpernel (musical), Robespierre, played by David Cromwell in the original Broadway cast, makes a brief appearance.
  • In The French Revolution, a 2005 History Channel documentary, he is played by George Ivascu.[31]
  • In Joni Mitchell's song "Sex Kills", she sings "Doctor's pills give you brand new ills and the bills bury you like an avalanche, and lawyers haven't been this popular since Robespierre slaughtered half of France."
  • In an episode of Blackadder The Third, Edmund Blackadder claims to have broken into Monsieur Robespierre's bedroom and left him a box of chocolates and an insulting note.
  • The 1996 Marge Piercy novel; City of Darkness, City of Light, features Robespierre as one of six first-person characters.
  • The Brooklyn-based punk band Team Robespierre is named after him.
  • It is customary for practitioners of socionics to refer to the Logical Intuitive Introvert personality type as "Robespierre", who is a recognized representative of the type.
  • Famous British children's series ChuckleVision has featured Robespierre as a villain trying to steal the Countess and defeat the Purple Pimple (who is actually Sir Percy with a purple headcover in the series). Citizen Robespierre calls himself "the best swordsman of France". He was featured in Series 17 and 18 (2005/2006), where Barry and Paul go back in time during the French Revolution.
  • Robespierre is featured in Hilary Mantel's novel A Place of Greater Safety, along with Camille Desmoulins and George-Jacques Danton. The novel traces the lives of the three men beginning when they meet as young men through to the end of their respective careers.

See also


  1. ^ "Généalogie de Robespierre". 
  2. ^ Robespierre: the force of circumstance by J. L. Carr (Constable, 1972) p.10
  3. ^ "In Memory Of Maximillien (The Incorruptible) De Robespierre". Christian Memorials. Retrieved 10 April 2009. 
  4. ^ Robespierre: the force of circumstance. 1972. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Fatal Purity. 2006. 
  6. ^ William Doyle and Colin Haydon, Robespierre (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 56.
  7. ^ Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004), 73.
  8. ^ a b c Robespierre: Portrait of a Revolutionary Democrat. 1975. 
  9. ^ a b Robespierre: Or the tyranny of the Majority. 1971. 
  10. ^ a b Robespierre. 1999. 
  11. ^ Modern History SourceBook, by Paul Halsall, 1997 Web Link Also David Jordan in Robespierre and the Politics of Virtue, Yearbook of European Studies, European Cultural Foundation, 1996: [1]Original: Punir les oppresseurs de l'humanité, c'est clémence; leur pardonner, c'est la barbarie. La rigueur des tyrans n'a pour principe que la rigueur : celle du gouvernement républicain part de la bienfaisance. "To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency, to pardon them is barbarity. The rigour of tyrants has only rigour for its principle. That of republican government derives from social good." The quote was made in reference to how he felt that the aristocrats - and the king in particular - did not deserve mercy or protection of the laws (namely, proper trials), for they were not and had never been citizens living under the law.
  12. ^ "On the Principles of Political Morality, February 1794". Modern History Sourcebook. 1997. 
  13. ^ Schama 1989, p. 579.
  14. ^ France and the History of Haiti by Gearóid Ó Colmáin, Global Research, January 22, 2010
  15. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007. 307
  16. ^ Robespierre, M. "The Cult of the Supreme Being," in Modern History Sourcebook, 1997
  17. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007. 308
  18. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007. 308
  19. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007. 323
  20. ^ Andress, David, The Terror, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007, p. 323
  21. ^ Schama 1989, p. 836.
  22. ^ Carr, John Lawrence, "Robespierre: the Force of Circumstance", St. Martin's Press, New York, 1972. 154
  23. ^ Paris in the Terror, Stanley Loomis
  24. ^ Schama 1989, p. 841-842
  25. ^ Schama 1989, p. 842–844.
  26. ^ John Laurence Carr, Robespierre; the force of circumstance, Constable, 1972, p. 54.
  27. ^ Jan Ten Brink (translated by J. Hedeman), Robespierre and the red terror, Hutchinson & Co., 1899, p. 399.
  28. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007. 343
  29. ^ Schama 1989, p. 845-846.
  30. ^ (French)
  31. ^ The French Revolution (2005) (TV)
  • Baker, Keith Michael (ed.) (1987). The Old Regime and the French Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226069354.  Good summary that relies almost entirely on primary source documents with short summarizing essays that explain those documents
  • Carlyle, Thomas (2002). The French Revolution: A History, Volume III: The Guillotine. Cambridge, MA: ISBN 1404303987.  A Romantic account more useful for historiographical studies than as accurate history
  • Carr, John. (1972). Robespierre: the force of circumstance. New York: St. Martin’s Press.. 
  • Doyle, William, Haydon, Colin (eds.) (1999). Robespierre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521591163.  A collection of essays covering not only Robespierre's thoughts and deeds but also the way he has been portrayed by historians and fictional writers alike.
  • Eagan, James Michael (1978). Maximilien Robespierre: Nationalist Dictator. New York: Octagon Books. ISBN 0374924406.  Presents Robespierre as the origin of Fascist dictators.
  • Hampson, Norman (1974). The Life and Opinions of Maximilien Robespierre. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0715607413.  Presents three contrasting views
  • Jordan, David P. (1989). The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226410374.  Sympathetic but not un-critical left-wing study
  • Lenotre, G., Robespierre's Rise and Fall, London: Hutchinson & Co. (1927) Critical
  • Matrat, Jean. (1971). Robespierre: or the tyranny of the Majority. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. ISBN 0-684-14055-1. 
  • Linton, Marisa. "Robespierre and the Terror", History Today, August 2006, Volume 56, Issue 8, pp. 23–29
  • Palmer, R.R. (1941). Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05119-4.  A sympathetic study of the Committee of Public Safety.
  • Rudé, George (1976). Robespierre: Portrait of a Revolutionary Democrat. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0670601284.  Sympathetic Marxist analysis comparing him with Lenin and Mao.
  • Schama, Simon (1989). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0394559487.  A revisionist account.
  • Scurr, Ruth. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. London: Metropolitan Books, 2006 (ISBN 0-8050-7987-4).
  • Sobel, Robert, The French Revolution (1967)
  • Soboul, Albert. "Robespierre and the Popular Movement of 1793–4", Past and Present, No. 5. (May, 1954), pp. 54–70.
  • Thompson, James M. (1988). Robespierre. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-15504-X.  Traditional biography with extensive and reliable research.
  • Tucker, Florence. (2005). 999 Little Known Facts. Oxford: Jonathan and Associates. ISBN 0-631-15504-X. 
  • Merriman, John(2004). "Thermidor"(2nd ed.). A history of modern Europe: from the Renaissance to the present,p 507. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd. ISBN 0-393-92495-5

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Maximilien Robespierre article)

From Wikiquote

Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (6 May 175828 July 1794) was one of the leaders of the French Revolution. Also known as "the Incorruptible". He was an influential member of the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror that ended with his arrest and execution.


  • The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.
    • Original French: La plus extravagante idée qui puisse naître dans la tête d'un politique est de croire qu'il suffise à un peuple d'entrer à main armée chez un peuple étranger, pour lui faire adopter ses lois et sa constitution. Personne n'aime les missionnaires armés; et le premier conseil que donnent la nature et la prudence, c'est de les repousser comme des ennemis.
    • From Sur la guerre (1ère intervention), speech to the Jacobin Club, January 2, 1792.
  • Citizens, did you want a revolution without revolution?
    • Original French: Citoyens, vouliez-vous une révolution sans révolution?
    • From Réponse à J.- B. Louvet, speech to the National Convention, November 5, 1792.
  • It is with regret that I pronounce the fatal truth: Louis must die that the country may live.
    • Original French: Je prononce à regret cette fatale vérité... mais Louis doit mourir, parce qu'il faut que la patrie vive.
    • From the speech to the National Convention on the judgment of Louis XVI, December 3, 1792.
  • Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtue.
    • Original French: Notre révolution m'a fait sentir tout le sens de l'axiome qui dit que l'histoire est un roman ; et je suis convaincu que la fortune et l'intrigue ont fait plus de héros, que le génie et la vertu.
    • From Lettres à ses commettants, 1ère série, n°10, December 21, 1792.
Robespierre's arrest
  • Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil.
  • Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.
    • Original French: La terreur n'est autre chose que la justice prompte, sévère, inflexible; elle est donc une émanation de la vertu ; elle est moins un principe particulier, qu’une conséquence du principe général de la démocratie, appliqué aux plus pressants besoins de la patrie.
    • From Sur les principes de morale politique, speech to the National Convention, February 5, 1794.
  • The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.
    • Original French: Le gouvernement de la révolution est le despotisme de la liberté contre la tyrannie.
    • From a speech to the National Convention, February 5, 1794.
  • By sealing our work with our blood, we may see at least the bright dawn of universal happiness.
    • Original French: En scellant notre ouvrage de notre sang, nous puissions voir au moins briller l'aurore de la félicité universelle.
    • From a speech to the National Convention, February 5, 1794.
  • We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror.
    • Original French: Il faut étouffer les ennemis intérieurs et extérieurs de la République, ou périr avec elle ; or, dans cette situation, la première maxime de votre politique doit être qu’on conduit le peuple par la raison, et les ennemis du peuple par la terreur.
    • From a speech to the National Convention, February 5, 1794.
Robespierre's execution
  • The attribute of popular government in a revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror. Virtue without terror is fatal; terror without virtue is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue."
    • As quoted in Red Star Over Southern Africa (1988) by Morgan Norval, p. xvi
    • Variant translation: If the mainspring of popular government in peace time is virtue, its resource during a revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror; virtue without which terror is merely terrible; terror without which virtue is simply powerless.
      • As quoted in Rousseau, Robespierre and English Romanticism (1999) by Gregory Dart

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Proper noun


  1. The French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794. Often used as a byword for a murderous demagogue or tyrant.
    • 1863, Edward Dicey, Spectator of America[1], 1971 Quadrangle ed., page 25:
      Why, Greeley wants to be blood-thirsty — he wants to be a little Robespierre.
    • 1922 October 2, “Gonatas Not a Robespierre”, Boston Daily Globe:
      "I am not, as you have seen, a Robespierre, and I don't even want to be thought of as a military dictator," said Col Gonatas, leader of the revolutionary movement, []
    • 2007, Peter Heller, The Whale Warriors[2], ISBN 1416532463, page 64:
      During communications blackouts when Allison, who was the Robespierre of the ship, forbade all outside contacts, Taggart lurched out onto the aft deck, []


Proper noun


  1. A French surname.


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