Saturday, February 27, 2021

Robespierre and the French Revolution (Part 3) 

Robespierre suffered retribution for his violence on 10 Thermidor (July 28), 1794 along with twenty one others, Saint-Just, his sidekick, among them. We can be assured they went to their deaths utterly befuddled as to suddenness of their demise. The Sections of Paris (Parisian mob), so integral to the actors of the Revolution, did little to assist them. Their heads roll into the basket below the guillotine efficiently and speedily. Fouche, Tallien and Barras, those even more dedicated to using Terror against opponents of their revolution, worked behind the scenes to cobble together a coalition to overthrow him. The Convention rose against them.

The parliamentary, mechanisms of the Terror would be dismantled beginning in August 1794. The Convention would repeal the Law of 22 Prairial; end the surveillance committees in the provinces. They weakened the Revolutionary Tribunal. They took away power of the Committee of Public Safety, restricting it to War and Diplomacy. The doors to prison opened with the release of 3500. Incidentally, Tom Paine (English born, American Patriot, elected to the Constituent Assembly) was on schedule for execution 3 days before Robespierre was executed, but the chalk mark indicating for him to be taken to execution was put on the inside of this door not the outside. He was released from prison in November 1794 upon the urging of James Madison.




His political philosophy was based on Rousseau’s belief in natural virtue of the people, whose general will directs the government, not republican institutions that shackled popular will as seen under the U.S. Constitution. It’s as if the French didn’t know their own Montesquieu, albeit a monarchist; with his sagacious system of three separate branches of government so influential in America.

The contrast with the American Constitution could hardly be starker.  An upper chamber (originally elected by state assemblies) granting each state no matter how diminutive, equal representation is separated from the lower popular representative assembly. A Supreme Court, a handful of lifetime appointees, has final voice on the legality of Legislation; few political bodies are less democratic unless members were seated under inherited privilege. A President elected by the Electoral College, selected by popular vote by state. In contrast, insurrection of the people (mob violence) was enshrined in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1793) thus granting public upheaval the approval under law. And of course in practice at times during the French Revolution, the Parisian mob intervened directly into the popular assembly’s workings, assailing the chamber itself. The French concentrated power into a single Legislative Assembly, no executive, no independent courts. America treated completely differently. Power that arose from the people was highly dispersed under the American Constitution, that saw so little appeal in Revolutionary France. The Founding Fathers were students of history and not just the Ancient Greeks and Romans. They studied the Venetian Republic among others. They saw the fragility of the Athenian Democracy, centered exclusively on the Assembly of citizens, the purest form direct form of democracy. The Founders were not democrats.

The sagacious economist and social commentator, Thomas Sowell, expresses it far better than I in his Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles; there are constrained visions like the American Revolution, working within the limitations of a individual plagued with foibles and unconstrained ones like the French Revolution that sees no boundaries to the progress of humankind.  One system didn’t last the decade; the other has survived with warts and all for 230 years.


So the primary question becomes, how did the Revolution become a bloody, violent nightmare? Much of the reason, according to this humble pundit, is the pace at which the Revolution was able to make enemies. Many apologists for the Terror argue that with the ingrained aristocracy and ecclesiastical interests, absent in the American Revolution, had to be destroyed, presenting an ever present danger to the Republic. Though in fact there were any number of ci-devant (former) members of the nobility that participated as agents of the Revolution. A counter argument can be made that striking at foreign powers that backed the émigré nobility (thousands of nobles had fled the country in hopes that foreign powers could reinstate the Ancien Regime) and attempting to crush religious sensibilities created powerful countercurrents. These countercurrents could have been avoided. It was the Revolution that initiated the wars against Austria, then eventually with most of Europe. Robespierre even himself cautioned against these foreign adventures.

For that matter, a duplicitous Louis XVI could have been deposed and replaced by someone more open to sharing power, possibly his minor son, or even a relative, an Orleanist (the line originated with Philippe, duke d’Orléans, younger brother of Louis XIV) sympathetic to constitutional monarchy, to act as regent.  The English in 1688 in their Glorious Revolution saw William of Orange become their king and a Declaration of Rights issued. Instead his execution under the guillotine enraged Europe and set the monarchs upon Republican France. In the tumult of the French Revolution the peaceful deposition would have been difficult to achieve, I admit.

will, and in practice this was the Paris mob. The people’s right to protest their government was enshrined in 1793 Constitution. The Montagnards, Robespierre as their spokesman, incorporated the sans-coulottes, economic thinking in contrast to the Girondins , who adhered to classic economic practices of the free market.  The raging inflation produced by unrestrained issuance of assignats, was blamed on shopkeeper greed. A price Maximum was instituted. This did nothing to alleviate shortages nor offer true market prices (goods began to be offered in a Black Market).

At the start of May 1793, the Jacobins in Paris began to side with the sans culottes over food policy. It was a calculated shift, designed to gain public support and finish off the Girondins for good. On May 4, 1793, the National Assembly imposed price controls on grain and specified that it could only be sold in public markets under the watchful eye of state inspectors, who were also given the authority to break into merchants’ private homes and confiscate hoarded grain and flour. Destruction of commodities under government regulation was made a capital offense.

During the Jacobin Republic of 1792–1794, a swarm of regulators spread across France imposing price ceilings and intruding into every corner of people’s lives; they imposed death sentences, confiscated wealth and property, and sent men, women, and children to prison and slave labor. The Revolution was bent on rash, often times violent measures to attain its goals, thereby generating tremendous counter currents, only granting the Revolution excuse for more crackdowns.


There are many instances where the violent Revolution could have been averted; the Assembly of Notables (1787-88) is my choice. Here the aristocracy punted their chance to reform the tax and financial system; instead they left responsibility to the Estates, a catastrophic blunder. Not only for them but all of France. And this hesitancy was a product of a residual hostility by the aristocracy, predicated on the Absolutism of French Monarchy that enfeebled the Nobility in the aftermath of The Fronde (1648-1653). The Fronde was a revolt of the Nobility and the Parlement that was suppressed and muzzled by the young King.  Fatigued, they eventually came to live with Louis XIV at Versailles.

The only ones successful at directing the Revolution stood at the forefront of the upheaval, pandering to the Parisian Mob and that includes both the Girondins (Danton and Desmoulins), who supported representative government and constitutional monarchy.   Plus we must include the Jacobins (Robespierre among many others), who all became republicans, after the flight of the King. There was no one active who can hope to successfully accomplish a gradual reform of the monarchy. It was a full bore charge into democracy (something the American Founders had dread fear of) and economic and political chaos and then eventual tyranny and twenty years of war.


Wars are expensive which is what sent the French Monarchy into the abyss in the first place. The Revolutionary government had the same difficulty in financing its wars; considerable amounts of paper currency, called “assignats”, backed by Church confiscated lands, were issued to pay for it. It was argued land was better than gold or silver as a backing for money. Of course land unlike metals isn’t portable or fungible either. And their unrestrained issuance ignited inflation, which the Parisian mob blamed on the small shopkeeper. The authorities printed these to suit the excessive demands of a war time government.  Soon their value had become a fraction of their original issue, which is most often the path of fiat currency of this type. Few understood it at this time but it was the chief cause of massive inflation of prices in the economy. Cost of basic living staples far outpaced the slow to rise income of the poor, as always happens in an inflationary cycle. Price maximums were instituted which is an imprudent gesture, akin to stopping the tides. In this case the tides were volumes of printed currency introduced into the economy. It can be safely stated, the Revolutionaries management of the economy was incompetent and destructive.   

An additional blunder was the assault on the Church. As did Henry VIII in 16th Century England who took extensive church lands (some say 25% of the country) and closed monasteries three centuries before, so did the French Revolution on November 2, 1789. There was much public support to divest the Church of its massive wealth. In addition the buyers of Church property, as with England’s Landed Gentry, would become immediate enthusiasts of the regime. It was a win-win for the Revolution. It was a compelling and inviting grab. Nonetheless, thousands of the religious were thrown on to their own devises and welfare services like hospitals and schools that the church provided ceased. And the French lost a spiritual resource, admitting that many in the society looked upon these religious organizations as leeches on a working body politic. The society lost a most visible moral anchor as well. But this would not have represented an existential misstep for the Revolution.

But the Revolution went further; they strived to make the Faithful the enemy. They insisted that the Church become a quasi-department of the State. The Revolutionaries invaded the spiritual arena and banned religious vows on February 13, 1790. On July 12, 1790 the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was proclaimed. Knowing that deep opposition to the Revolution resided in the Clergy, the clergy were forced to swear their highest allegiance to the French State, not the Roman Pope, in order to preside over the Holy Sacraments of the Church. They would be paid a salary. Clergy would be elected, whether Protestant or Jews. Vast numbers of the clergy abjured. They would no longer be allowed to lead their congregation. This created great opposition and unrest in many parts of the country.

Finally, a campaign to de-Christianize the society was launched. The anti-Christian program spawned violent opposition in many parts of the country, including an outright civil war in the Vendee. Churches were desecrated as was Notre Dame, where the Cult of Reason was celebrated (Fête de la Raison), featuring a seductively attired female Liberty at the Altar. Fouche, one of the conspirators toppling Robespierre, previously led a fanatical de-Christianizing campaign in jurisdictions, where he held sway as representative-on-mission. He ordered all crosses and statues removed from graveyards, and he gave the cult one of its elemental tenets and he decreed that all cemetery gates must bear only one inscription—"Death is an eternal sleep”. Hundreds of thousands of French citizens were killed suppressing it, if one includes the slaughter in the Vendee. *

I forget to mention the Federalist revolt. May 31 to June 2, 1793 upon intimidation and threats of the Parisian mob the National Convention expelled Girondins.  Opposition arose in response to expulsion of the Girondins from the National Convention. The revolts appeared in Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes, Rouen and others locations (France was re-organized into 83 departments then districts, cantons and communes in 1790). These too were excuses for Robespierre and the Jacobins to pursue a policy of Terror. The revolts had temporary success but soon representatives on mission sent from the National Convention re-gained control and brutally crushed these revolts. On instance of the crackdown of the Federalist an astounding 1600 homes, largely of the commercial elites, were destroyed. 1604 were shot or guillotined in the suppression were executed. Joseph Fouche (infamous in several ways but eventually he found himself useful to Napoleon, as police chief) would arrive in November and commit more atrocities.

The opposition to these became all the more forceful granting excuse for even more continue Terror.


The Robespierre, the principal spokesman of the Terror, was one among many who rode upon the wave of popular Revolutionary upheaval. He cheered the destruction of foreign and monarchial opposition to the Revolution and directed violence against his political opponents (the Girondins, Herbert, Danton and Desmoulins). He like many others was destroyed by this Revolutionary mechanism he’d helped to create, once all began to fear they’d fall under the executioner’s blade.


A final observation, I notice parallels between Robespierre and the Russian Revolutionary Trotsky (Bronstein). Both were intellectually inclined, both were journalists, Robespierre published Le Défenseur de la Constitution beginning May 1792, a Republican journal. Trotsky wrote a biography of Stalin and an extensive History of Russian Revolution. Neither was from the class of common working folk they claimed to represent. Robespierre’s father as an attorney, worked in close association with provincial court elites, as did Maximilien. Trotsky was a son of a wealthy Jewish farmer and was sent to the large city, Odessa, to obtain an advanced education. Unlike Dickens they never were made to suffer the indignities of hellish factory work. Both were the leading lights of their Party. Their key downfall was that, being self-assured in the superiority of their abilities and ideals, neither one worked to construct a political coalition and were outmaneuvered by those that had the political ingenuity to cobble confederates together. Trotsky was readily outmaneuvered by one, Stalin. Robespierre was outflanked by Fouche, Billaud, Tallien, Collot d'Herbois, and others, many of whom were more bloodthirsty than Robespierre himself.  Both men readily relied on violence to achieve their ends. They lived frugally and had no truck with luxury. They both isolated themselves for periods of time, which in Trotsky’s case allowed Stalin to work his machinations. Neither, actually maintained a constituency of support in the polity or led a faction of the party, whether Jacobin or Communist. They were easily outmaneuvered by what were supposed to be their political allies.

*Freedom for Economic Education


Robespierre typified a variety of the French Revolution that granted upmost confidence in the people’s 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Robespierre and the French Revolution (Part 2)

 The first part of this humble monograph concluded with France fighting the preponderance of Europe in March 1793. Internal opposition to the war arose as well.

A revolt in the Vendee region against the Revolution, ignited by massive war time conscription, broke out and Federalist revolts (Girondins inspired) in Bordeaux, Lyon and elsewhere rose up in opposition to the Parisian centrist control of the Revolution. At the same time as the Vendee the Revolutionary Tribunal and the Committee for Public Safety, and “deputies-on-mission”, the initial steps toward the Terror were established in March and April under Danton’s Girondins Leadership. Opposition to the Revolution was bloodily and brutally suppressed; hundreds of thousands of royalists in the region would die in the conquest. One of the most odious incidents, four thousands of royalist sympathizers and others suspected of not supporting the Revolution were killed in Nantes in the Loire River in a series of mass drownings led by a one, Jean-Baptiste Carrier, a deputy-on-mission. This revolt would be crushed but it would take years to be completely extinguished.


In response to the Brunswick Manifesto on May 25, 1793 Robespierre at the Jacobin Club called the people to revolt. The powerful Parisian sections (48) had their own militia. Robespierre crystalized the violent demands of the Parisian mob (divided into 48 sections as they are called). Paris and the country were suffering shortages, largely brought on by the ravaging inflation, precipitated by the demands of war. It no longer profited the peasantry to sell their goods; basic commodities were scarce. The Parisian mob demanded solutions.



Robespierre buttressed mob violence in his speech, “On Subsistence of Goods”. He would counter Girondins advocacy of the free market. Among other ideas he would posit that, “The first social law is thus that which guarantees to all society’s members the means of existence; all others are subordinated to it. Property was only instituted or guaranteed to cement it. It is in order to live that we have property in the first case.” And further, “No man has the right to build up mountains of wheat, beside his fellow man dying of hunger.” He took the moral position that free markets, in the guise of hoarders and monopolists, couldn’t be allowed to fully seek optimum prices that would lead to starvation of the populace. This is a powerful argument but nonetheless when this inflation is largely a function of the Revolutionary government printing unlimited Assignats, then Robespierre’s solution is to demonize retailers and businesses caught in the vise of higher prices demanded of them to purchase their inventory and the rabid populace incensed with the higher prices for goods for sale.  He’s advocating an irrational, demented policy.

Shortly thereafter, a most dramatic moment occurred on May 30-31 and June 2; the Parisian mob in the thousands would invade the National Assembly’s legislative chambers to intimidate the Convention into expelling Girondinist delegates. They would be detained by the Commandant Hanriot, leader of the Parisian Sections militia. This would end the Girondins as a party in the Convention. Robespierre would continue to utilize this mob to spur the government into a policy of unhinged terror.

The surrender of the naval port by the Royalist sympathizers at Toulon to the British Navy would add to the general paranoia. Shortly thereafter on September 5, 1793, Robespierre as President of the National Convention oversees a vote on ‘terror as the order of the day’.

Some months prior to this, Robespierre, in his eyes the only one able to truly direct the Revolution, makes his first strike against the Left, denouncing former priest, enrage, Jacques Roux, proto-Marxist and champion of the sans culotte and working class earlier in June. Roux would be imprisoned and later commit suicide. Robespierre would strike again at the Left in the future. Only he would know the true course of the Revolution, according to his own estimation, and no one else. This eliminated opposition of the Left.

The Paris mob, organized into the 48 Sections, was crucial, having again intervened in the legislative process by invading the Convention’s meeting hall, the salle de machines that seated up to 8,000 spectators within the Tuileries palace on September 5, 1793. This assault would frighten once again the Convention to take a draconian measure.

On September 17, 1793 the Law of Suspects granted the Committee of Public Safety broad arrest powers of which Robespierre is in the complete agreement. Citizens were required to possess certificates of civism, attests to condition of being a citizen in good standing. Under the Law of Suspects additional powers were granted the Committee of Public Safety. It would now oversee armies, supervise the economy, and mobilize manpower and supplies. Later, it was granted it even more power, including the ability to suspend local elections and appoint national agents to influence provincial politics. This law directed every commune in France to set up surveillance committees and arrest suspects— people simply related to émigrés or nobles or given support by emigres.

In another move to ensure control of the Parisian sections, Robespierre supports limiting meetings to two per week of which they’d be paid in a sop. Robespierre would know the revolution better than anyone; he would even say at one point,I am not the courtier, nor the moderator, nor the tribune nor the defender of the people, I am the people myself”.

In June 1793 former allies then rivals would become enemies of the Revolution, and find themselves arrested. The Girondins, who advocated for a constitutional monarch, a limited suffrage, for war with foreign powers, for a decentralized Revolution, (under “Federalism”), who under Danton had utilized violence in September 1792, and who themselves began to question the influence of the Parisian mob, become objects of the Terror. They would go under the guillotine in October 1793.

Robespierre, along with Desmoulins and Danton, found enemies on the Left in the group called the Hebertists, led by Jacques Hebert, a journalist. They advocated the de-Christianization campaign and state intervention into economic matters as in governmental purchase of wine and grain to insure adequate supply for the poor. Robespierre vigorously opposed de-Christianization, fearing it would set the populace against the Revolution. Part of the de-Christianization campaign was promotion of the Cult of Reason. An official nationwide Fête de la Raison was supervised by Hébert. Churches across France were transformed into modern Temples of Reason. Even the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris held a ceremony where the altar was replaced by an altar to Liberty with the inscription "To Philosophy" carved in stone over the cathedral's doors.

March 2, 1794 Jacque-Baptiste Carrier, a Herbertist, was recalled from his slaughter of anti-revolutionary opposition in the Vendee in Nantes. He and Herbert called to remove Robespierre and the rest of the Montagard from the Convention. They had hoped to intimidate the Convention, as it was done earlier to remove the Girondins, by summoning the Sections, the Paris mob on March 4, 1794. The Paris Commune was not enticed and failed to provide military support. They were arrested on March 13, were tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal and Hebert went to the guillotine on March 24. Carrier dodged this round of Revolutionary retribution only to be harvested in December.

During this moment, Robespierre would go on to defend his brand of Revolutionary violence under the Terror, which had a mere pretense of law:

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."

Two former political allies and associates of Robespierre would find themselves subject to the fierceness of the Terror. Georges Danton leader of the former Girondins, the remainder of whom were now termed Indulgents, and a boyhood friend, former classmate at the College Louis-le-Grand, Camille Desmoulins encountered the displeasure of the Montagnards. Danton and Desmoulins were contributing to a newspaper, Le Vieux Cordelier critical of the Terror, calling for the end of the de-Christianization campaign, negotiations to conclude the foreign wars, conclusion of the terror and personal attacks on Robespierre. This alienated the members of the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre deemed them to be misguided and during the Terror that could only me one thing. They would be guillotined on April 5, 1794.

Thus Robespierre had dispatched opposition on the Left and the Right; under the axiom I am myself, the people. He embodied the Revolution. The fanatic will abandon principles to achieve the objective; all measures no matter how extreme are salutary when directed against the enemies of the Revolution! They ignore that their own draconian measures and bungling policies created much of the opposition in the first place.

On May 7 Robespierre made his speech on the Cult of the Supreme Being. He thought a full scale campaign by the atheists to suppress Christianity would cause too much opposition, be counterproductive and possibly de-rail the Revolution. In addition he espouses the thoughts of Rousseau, his intellectual founder, by saying, “Nature tells us that Man is born for freedom, and the experience of the centuries shows us Man enslaved. His rights are inscribed in his heart, and his humiliation in history…”. (Note the stark contrast to the American Constitution where inalienable rights are from God and does not rely on the putative justice of the public or the forbearance of the State.)

 In this speech Robespierre offers his State sponsored religious alternative. State backed festivals, directed towards the Divine Being, could inspire the citizenry to patriotic virtue and devotion to the Revolution. Belief in a Divine Being and a higher moral code, he said, were "constant reminders of justice" and thus essential to a republican society. These public festivals were conceived to replace the antiquated, outdated Catholic religious rituals.

The promotion of a Civic Deity culminated at the Festival of Supreme Being on June 8, 1794. It is said nearly all of Paris turned out, some half a million Parisians. It was a colossal event. Nonetheless, there appears to have been some undercurrent of discontent, gauging by audible sneers and innuendo. A former member of the Committee of Public Safety, an ally of Danton, was heard to mutter: “Look at the bugger. It is not enough for him to be master. He has to be God.”

Robespierre here did the upmost to create a stupefying celebration. He employed the famous artist Jacques-Louis David to construct a colossal plaster of paris mountain some five stories high with a Liberty on top, a 2400 member chorus, a pageant to the Champ de Mars, all geared to impress the multitude. Despite the monumental effort cracks began to appear in Robespierre’s image; he had overdone things, reached too far in his effort to produce a religious cult of the Revolution.

Two days after the Festival the Convention passed the Law of 22 Prairial, written by Robespierre, that reduced the trial of anti-revolutionary suspects to a mere formality. It seems too many brought before Revolutionary Tribunal were being acquitted. Jails in Paris were filled to the brim. Under this law no defense attorney would be in attendance, nor evidence need be presented. Juries were to come to judgement entirely on the basis of the accusation and the accused's own defense. Among the charges 'slandering patriotism', 'seeking to inspire discouragement', 'spreading false news' and 'depraving morals, corrupting the public conscience and impairing the purity and energy of the revolutionary government'.

On June 26, 1794 a watershed battle was fought and won by the French Revolutionary army at Fleurus over the First Coalition (Britain, Hanover, Dutch Republic and Austria) that halted the immediate threat to the French Republic. France could take a breath from its enemies or could it? According to Robespierre danger continued to lurk in hidden internal enemies. The Terror would need to be continued.

There was beginning to be dissension in the Committee of Public Safety; there were those on the Committee fearful of Robespierre. Those connected to the Hebertists (largely struck down by the guillotine) were anxious because of the associations and those associated with Joseph Fouche (member of the Jacobin Club), who led a brutal repression in Lyon of those deemed to be enemies of the Revolution, as well had reason to wonder if they would be next. Agents of the Committee like Fouche and Carrier who were overzealous in their repressions were right to be uneasy. Robespierre, despite his advocacy of continued Terror, looked askance at these butchers, who gave the Revolution a bad name. Incidentally, Carrier and Fouche had shared wine and poetry six years earlier with Robespierre, who you have noted saw his classmate, Desmoulins go under the blade. When Fouche mocked Robespierre’s Festival of the Supreme Being, Robespierre exchanged an angry message with him and then Robespierre attempted to throw him out of the Club June 14. Fouche, in hiding, actively worked to gather support against him.

On June 28 a stormy argument took place within the joint meeting of the Committee of Public Safety and General Security (police).  Carnot, an associate on the Committee of Public Safety, delegated to  military matters, accused Robespierre and his co-delegate, Saint Just, (adept on military matters) of being ridiculous dictators. Robespierre stormed out and didn’t attend the Committee for a month. He did attend the Jacobin Club sporadically and made a speech on July 9, outlining the threats to the Revolutionary Government, responding to calls to relax vigilance. The vigilance (Terror) couldn’t cease until “execution of the laws of nature, which require that every man be just, and in virtue, the fundamental basis of society”. Man would need to become more virtuous before this Terror would end, it seems.

Under the new Law of 22 Prairial convictions increased. 726 were guillotined between June 19 and July 18, nearly doubling the number. That is only one out of five were ruled innocent as opposed to prior when about half.

During the month of July absent the Convention, Robespierre ordered the release of 320 suspects in the department of Aube, the recall of nine other deputies-on-mission (carrying out the dictates of the Committee of Public Safety in the departments), and expulsion of Fouche from the Jacobin. As already stated these raised the suspicions of the many nervous there would be a purge of those who had been excessive in their repression of anti-revolutionary elements. Robespierre had continued to meet with those on board of the Revolutionary Tribunal (court of those put on trial for revolutionary offenses) and continued to order some arrests. The divisions on the Committee were becoming more heated. Several attacking Robespierre and Saint Just for their utopianism.

On 23 July the Commune published a new wage maximum, limiting the wages of employees (in some cases by half) and provoking a sharp protest in the sections. Almost all the workers in Paris were on strike. This could not have endeared the sans-culottes to the Commune. This would have import shortly.

On July 26, after nearly a month’s absence, he addressed the Convention in a largely vague two hour speech. He reaffirmed his belief in virtue.

Virtue is a natural passion no doubt… this profound horror of tyranny, this sympathetic zeal for the oppressed , this sacred love of the patrie, this most sublime and most holy love of humanity….you can feel it at this very moment burning in your souls; I feel it in mine…

The crisis was not over, he would declaim. He repeated that there was a criminal conspiracy a foot that reached into the Convention and even into the Committees. He distanced himself from the innocents that had fallen under the guillotine, claiming instead his enemies had wanted to place the blame on him.

This speech put everyone on edge. He hadn’t named names. All were suspect. Robespierre delivered the same speech at the Jacobin Club that evening.

The next day on July 27 (9 Thermidor) there was upheaval in the Convention when first Saint Just attempted to speak then Robespierre stepped to the podium. Shouts were heard “down with the tyrant!” He was silenced with cries of “Down with him! Down with him!” He was not allowed to speak. Others shouted, “It’s Danton’s blood that is choking him”, as he struggled in shock to speak. The Convention arrested Robespierre, his brother Augustin, Saint Just and two other delegates of the Committee of the Public Safety, among other arrestees. They were eventually sent to various prisons, but no one wanted to risk taking them. They found their way to the Hotel de Ville. And here Hanriot (leader of the militia of the sections), Paris’ mayor and others summoned a special meeting of the Commune then called the National Guard and closed the city gates. A call went out to the forty eight sections to mobilize. Only thirteen Sections responded but those couldn’t be persuaded to march on the Convention. Execution of the Hebertists and the faction represented by Danton and Desmoulins (Robespierre’s boyhood friend) severed connection between the sans-culottes and the Convention.

As for the Convention it declared the five delegates lawbreakers. It collected armed forces of its own. The Parisian sections (the Paris mob) had melted away in front of the Hotel de Ville by this time. In the midst of signing his frantic petition to his Sections des Piques, Robespierre was interrupted. The document was blood spattered. Robespierre’s section chose to ignore the call to arms. This lack of response would not be a complete surprise, since the Jacobins had been attempting to reduce the influence of the Parisian Sections and their political clubs by eliminating the Herbertists (Left Opposition) and restricting the Sections to meet only 2 times a Revolutionary Ten day week. The Convention in efforts to dilute the fervor of the sections began to pay attendees, insuring participation of less zealous attendees.

The Convention’s forces broke in the Hotel de Ville to arrest the delegates once again at 2:30 AM. An associate LeBas, a former Convention’s Commissioner to the armies, had two pistols and committed suicide. It’s seems plausible that Robespierre used one of them and attempted the same, only shattering his left cheek, teeth and jaw in the process. At 3:30 AM he was taken to a waiting room at the Convention. At 5 AM he was administered bandages to soak up the blood. He was taken to be condemned to death at 11:00 AM, where he could only moan in response to the accusations. Twenty one other prisoners accompanied him at 6:00PM in three carts by a long journey through taunting crowds to the guillotine. At 7:30 PM the executions would begin. He would be 21st to die. Just before his seventeen hours of torture would be ended, his bandages were ripped off; he gave out a hideous scream of agony. The pain would end when his head fell into the basket. His younger brother, Augustin, joined him under the guillotine.