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On the 1 5 th, Pache, the Mayor of Paris, read at
the bar of the Convention a demand on the part of
the Commons for the removal of twenty- two Girondin

^ 13th of April, by 220 to 92. But over a hundred members of the
Badical Left were away on mission to the armies.


deputies; on the i8tli the Commune declared itself
insurrectionary — that is, no longer responsible to the
National Parliament, but taking order and counsel as
it chose. A month the two forces faced each other.
Then, with the close of May, with the coming in of the
warm season and the flowering of '93, the Gironde that
had made such a stout battle for legality fell.

It was on the 17th of May that the Commune united
its armed force, chose a general for it, and prepared for
action. The Gironde countered (still meeting arms with
laws) by naming, next day, a committee of twelve that
should report upon the illegalities committed by the town.
The committee reported openly that the Commune was
conspiring against the whole system of national repre-
sentation, it demanded an increased guard for the Parlia-
ment, and it arrested Herbert — which was like arresting
the Commune in the flesh. On the 2 5 th Isnard, from the
chair, rose before a mass of petitionaries (who were still de-
manding the dismissal or abstention of the twenty-two),
and cried with doom in his deep voice : " If the national
representation be touched, I tell you in the name of all
France that men will soon be looking along the banks
of the river to find if Paris had ever stood by the Seine."

Nothing after this could save the integrity of the
Parliament. The Commune, from a common and furious
enemy, became an enemy specially menaced and insulted ;
within a week it had broken its opponent.

The story of that day of revolt, though Robespierre
himself appeared in it so little, merits the telling, for it
was the victory of his party.

Disaster upon disaster, the victorious march of the
Vendeans, the besieging of Valenciennes (the last for-
tress), culminated in the explosion at Lyons and the
massacre of the Jacobins in that town ; the news of this
reached Paris on the morning that the Convention was


Already, tliree days before, mobs bad moved against
it, bad broken its doors, bad mixed witb the Assembly,
voting with them in a farcical turmoil, and crying out
against the insult offered to the city by the Government's
action in arresting Herbert. The irregular committee at
the Evech^ had, partly by threats, partly by ruse, pro-
duced an apparent unanimity among the sections. A
chance soldier that had never yet been a soldier, Han-
riot,^ was at the head of 120 cannon, and led the few
hundreds of armed men that appeared in the court of
the Carrousel on the morning of the 2nd of June.

There was a long comedy played before the Parliament
accepted its humiliation. Herault de Sechelles, the
Speaker, proposed to go out and meet and parley with the
enemy; thirty members of the Mountain sat unmoved
upon his left, and saw defile before them the uncertain
hundreds of the Convention. They knew that a capitu-
lation could be the only end. In the Carrousel, under
the sunlight, Hanriot at the head of the troops reiterated
the plain demand of the extremists of the city for the
destruction of the Gironde: "You have no orders to
give. Hand over to the people the victims they have

The Convention did not immediately return to debate
upon its own humiliation. It passed through the centre
of the palace to the terrace overlooking the garden, as
though to find help from the National Guard that were
massed in the distance, and whose doubtful attitude
might, had there been sufficient determination in the
Parliament, have been converted into a defence of that
body. They re-entered the theatre to find it invaded by
the crowd in arms, and then necessity compelled them

^ An irregular appointment, purely popular. Hanriot was one of the
few leaders of the Eevolution that had no pretension to birth or letters.
He had been first a servant, then a player in village fairs. He was a
drunkard, and very courageous.


to the self-destruction from which they never raised
themselves till the fall of Eobespierre.

With the populace sitting on the benches beside
them (even voting), with the President suggesting names
to be added or cancelled, the Committee of Twelve was
broken and the twenty-two deputies that the Commune
had continually demanded were voted under arrest. Some
had already been willing to resign ; others, like Lanjuinais
the Breton (a man proud of his memories), had inflexibly
remained at their post, defining themselves as members and
limbs of the People, part of the sovereign, an indivisible
portion of the general rule. Others had fled. But every
suggestion to mitigate the full evil of that day had been
made and had failed. Danton had proposed himself a
hostage ; the Commune had even been willing to ofier
as security for the lives of the members that were ex-
pelled a similar number of their own leaders. And this
also should be remarked, that though the Gironde was
sacrificed, no one dared go beyond the proposition that
they should remain under arrest in their own houses.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the mitigations which
surrounded the fate of the Gironde at that moment, it
was evident that the Parliament had consented to pass
under a yoke. It did many great things after that ; it
saved the unity of the nation ; it may be said to have
led the army in the person of its deputies on mission.
It established a hundred of the national institutions,
especially the great schools ; it registered that constitu-
tion which was never put in force, but which surely
marks the most complete scheme of democracy. It was
the Convention that made modern France, and Napoleon
did nothing save defend and organise its work ; but in
spite of all this it lived for a year in servitude. The
Committee, and side by side with the Committee, first
the Herbertists, then the Terror, and at last in a fashion
Robespierre, ruled it.


With the 2nd of June once more Robespierre in-
creased, as, by a kind of fatality, he increased regularly
with every great day of the Revolution.

The arrest of the Girondins and the evident failure
of the Convention, was so profitable to the Jacobins,
and therefore to Robespierre, that he is regarded with
too general a consent as in some part its author. It
was so evidently the close of his two years' battle with
the Rolands, and seemed so complete a revenge for the
insults of the preceding autumn that many see him
planning it. That is a misreading of history. Robespierre,
through the whole of April and May, continued his speeches
upon the most abstract matters. Every time indeed that
Paris growled at the remaining power of the Gironde,
Robespierre at once took up her complaint and urged their
retirement. He was ready to be the organ of the Jacobins
in insisting upon the paralysis that the twenty-two laid
upon the country, and he was especially himself when he
argued against Danton's attempt to conciliate them. But
he did not go to the Evech^, he gave no orders, and he
eould furnish no suggestion save that of " a moral in-
surrection " against men who had for months resisted the
open threat of massacre.

It was the Committee that permitted or made the
2nd of June ; the Committee was already the executive,
stronger even than the Commune. And this the whole
character of the day proves.

The insurrection had in it something unreal; Paris
did not really move. Robespierre the younger said more
than he meant when he marvelled at "a hundred
thousand under arms and no blood spilt." The supreme
folly of the Gironde and of their futile Twelve in sending
Marat to the Revolutionary Tribunal and to triumphant
acquittal, their blindness in arresting Herbert for an
attack upon their party in the Pere Duchesne, would
not in itself have done the work. In this great city of


three-quarters of a million souls, of 200,000 men, it may
be doubted if 5000 met in the sections on the night
that determined the insurrection against the Parliament.
But Paris inert had agreed with Paris active. The
Committee also saw that France under the Gironde lay-
open ; it could not forbear to save the country in spite of
the law.

It may be asked in what way the fall of the Gironde
left Robespierre higher than it found him. It was by
leaving to the Jacobins the initiative in pure politics. The
great Committee would order the armies and the arrests,
but upon all the general legislation of the moment it was
the club of the Rue St. Honore that led the debates and
framed the laws. From that date it dictated them to
the Parliament. Now Robespierre was the head of the
club, its chief exponent ; and the ramifications which the
society sent out throughout France met in his hands or
were known to lie under his central influence. This it
is which explains the innumerable letters and appeals
which begin from that moment to accumulate in the
house of Duplay ; he was the moral head of an organisa-
tion that held the country by a thousand local threads.
Separate from and superior to that organisation had stood
the authority of the Parliament, and when, with the
elimination of the twenty-two, the Parliament sank, the
Jacobins assumed control of all save the executive of the
Revolution. They drafted the new fundamental laws,
they rehearsed the debates of the Convention, they be-
came the arena.

An example of the change may be found in Robes-
pierre's " Declaration of the Rights of Man." It had
been nothing but an academic essay a few Aveeks before ;
he had made no attempt to turn it into a bill, it had
delighted the Jacobins as a literary rather than a political
effort ; but after the 2nd of June, when the new constitu-
tion was discussed, this essay became a code.


And there was that other force always helping
Robespierre : helping him now. Paris took for her
permanent ensign a name which had been mixed longest
with hers, the name of the man who had led in phrases
her attack upon the Gironde, the name which the Gironde
itself had consented to regard as that of its principal
enemy. And hence Robespierre becomes, as it were, the
title of unity ; the head under which men looked for the
resistance to Federalism, and the consistent landmark to
which the Republic turned in the fierce defence of that
unity which it made during the ensuing year.

And he on his side began to watch with more keen-
ness the growth of his popularity from the immense to
the universal. He gave himself a master, consented to
attune everything he did to this public reputation, and
served almost abjectly his own hunger for a popular name.
It is characteristic of him here, as in his whole career,
that he hesitated before action ; rather permitted action
to be thrust upon him. The pressure was irresistible.
On the eve of the insurrection his two friends, his fore-
runners, St. Just and Couthon, entered the Committee of
Public Safety.-^ He himself for seven weeks more sat
watching from without, receiving the reports from their
lips, and ready when the door was quite opened to him,
to enter.

It is of interest to note the manner in which the
pressure was exercised. Throughout the month of June
he debates, criticises, judges the new constitution, which
was to have been put in force with the cessation of the
war. That constitution was an instrument of the gravest
importance. It was taken to be the final pact between
the nation and the Revolution, to be the final work of
democracy. There has been raised against it the com-
plaint that it was drawn up in a few days as a momen-
tous expedient in order to appease the anger of the

* Added with three others to the original nine on May 30.


departments wliose members liad been expelled and who
were already arming to attack Paris : this opinion has
thrown it into some contempt and neglect, but it is false.
This constitution, which, if it be examined, will be found
to be as complete a model of democracy as that of any
of the western states of America, was the labour of over
six months in committee, it was but the last forms and
half a score of additional clauses that were the result of
the crisis, and even these were nothing new in character ;
they were only the reiteration of principles already deter-
mined, but with regard to which the revolt of Normandy,
of Lyons, of Bordeaux, necessitated a more emphatic

During these debates Robespierre took on an attitude
of censor which no one withstood, and which was witness
to the accession of power the fall of the Gironde had
brought him. He was not in opposition ; on the contrary,
the Constitution was so full of his own spirit, of the
Jacobin essay, that he had no motive to do anything
but applaud — his daily speech with its daily reservations,
doubts, and revisions (often just and clear-sighted) was
but the more evidently an advertisement. He opposed
just so much as a man may who has no purpose in
opposing at all, and by that action betrayed his motive.
The whole was judicial, calm, and pedantic in the true
Jacobin tradition.

Did Rouffron suggest that the inviolability of repre-
sentatives was a danger ? Robespierre defended that in-
violability with every circumstance of careful reasoning
and deference to Rouffron's age : called him " le digne
veillard," and strung out at immense length all the
arguments in favour of immunity with which the con-
stitutional lawyers of this country had provided the

Did the Committee suggest that the electors of every
commune could be called together at any time by the


demand of a certain number among tliem ? Robespierre
gave bis reasons for fixed dates alone being retained, and
when there was a feeling in the committee in favour of
"arbiters" — chance judges chosen by the parties to settle
commercial disputes — Robespierre demanded regular
magistrates ; and the spring of all these preachings, petty
amendments and essays was his determination to press
upon the Committee ; to establish his mastery by

The time was propitious. There was but one man
that could have been to him at that moment, not an
adversary indeed, but a rival, and Danton a man of wide
view and therefore with no following, a man who was so
bent upon the danger, the civil war and the invasion as
to be consumed with action, was failing. The great
fatigues were falling upon him with the full summer, and
he let drop out of his hand the lever of government
which he had now twice grasped — in the August of the
past year and now in this April — a man so evidently
made to govern that every one was glad when he con-
sented to command. Not only was he failing in political
activity, turned inward upon himself, dragged back by
the memories of his wife, and (full of her last advice)
preparing a second marriage, but he had also in him a
distaste for political speeches. Robespierre, " whom his
congregation asks to speak and who speaks continuously,"
filled up and occupied all the scene. In a time which
still had a passion for hearing its dogmas asserted, re-
asserted, developed, declaimed ; before an audience that
by the accident of the Jacobin organisation held the
nation, and that was just so near to mediocrity as to
demand sermons, he held his pulpit and professed. In the
vigorous and exaggerated phrase of Michelet, " Danton
looked at the perpetual movement and tremor of those
jaws and felt that they were eating him up."

The result was certain. On the loth of July the


Committee — that is, Danton — resigned; in a fortnight
the new Committee was named and Robespierre was a
member of it.

This was the result which Robespierre's watching for
all this while, his pressing upon the doors of govern-
ment by a combination of insistence and vigilance, his
monotony, his popularity and his repeatedly verified sus-
picions, had drawn from the Parliament. By a curious
fatality the date of his entry into the Committee was
exactly a year to a day before the moment that threw
him from power.

There is very little truth in his contention that he
entered with reluctance upon the responsibilities of power.
He was proposed by a man fully in his confidence,
thoroughly his friend ; a man who a few days before and
a few days later, was to appear as his principal supporter in
the affair of Custine. He entered it as the only member
who would under the circumstances be supported by at
least two other members, satellites, Couthon and St. Just ;
what was called with some exaggeration, the Triumvirate.

Nevertheless, when he said that he was reluctant to
take office in the circumstances of the Terror (and under
the immediate memory of the death of Marat), it was not
a hypocritical speech ; it was the expression of something
that certainly always lay in his mind — the desire to be
free to criticise, to exercise a sovereignty wholly moral,
and the instinct that his power lay in opposition. He
was indeed able for a year to build up the foundations of
positive action, but his very fibre told him the whole
time that such an effort on the part of such a man as he,
could not finally succeed.

I have said that Danton, wearied, already ill, oppressed
by the fears and feverish heat which were mixed up with
the growing Terror, had slipped from government. He
had used this great instrument of the arbitrary Com-
mittee which covered all Prance with a buckler, en-


forced unity and fed the armies, doing its work as piti-
lessly as a conqueror or as the devastations of nature. It
was in his character, its great energies and its necessities
for repose, to let drop almost at the moment of its crea-
tion the levers of the thing he had made. His heart was
troubled. The imprisoned Girondins, with whom he had
partly lived, and between whom and the Mountain he
twice offered to throw a bridge, haunted him. The
increasing momentum of the Terror, escaping control and
becoming a frenzy, terrified him ; it was the first thing he
had yet come upon in his powerful life of which he felt him-
self unable to be a master ; nor does anything bewilder and
weaken men of strong simplicity more than the presence
of a force stronger and simpler than themselves. To this
impression of weakness and of despair his fever and his
sickness added. He lapsed from government, to speak
only once or twice, with the same principles, but with a
failing voice, at last to take refuge in his home and in
the country sides. When he reappeared it was to curb,
if possible, if not to fall in curbing, the storm which he
had himself let loose.

Robespierre replacing him at such a moment (for the
popular voice counted enormously even in the Committee,
and even the Committee demanded some head) was a
man by nature opposed to the Terror, but so much colder
and self-concentrated than Danton that, for the sake of
success, he would permit it. Throughout June and July
it became evident that a man who would appear to govern
must yield to the crisis. Danton fled from it; Robes-
pierre, being much less of a man, was content to yield.

The enemy advanced almost without a check ; Valen-
ciennes, long besieged, was on the point of falling ; a week
after the expulsion of the Gironde, the Vendean revolt
had reached the Loire, Saumur had been taken, and the
Girondins fanned the furnace. The members who were
detained in their houses escaped if they chose from the



single gendarme that guarded each of them ; those who
remained, remained only through pride. Petion/ Bar-
baroux, Guadet, Buzot, and the rest, left Paris at their
opportunity. They aroused the civil war.

The Cotentin, which is the garden of the north,
remained faithful, but Calvados rose ; the town of Caen
issued a manifesto directly federal, menacing Paris, and
it armed a battalion to march on the capital. The Eure,
even Evreux, asleep in its hollow, was awakened ; Buzot
called up yet another battalion there, and they took the
road to Paris. Vendt^e was for the King, Central Nor-
mandy for the pure Republic of the Girondins, but they
were each opposed to the " monsters " — the legend of the
anarchy in Paris ; and who could tell that they would not
join hands ? They were but three long marches one from
the other.

On the 24 th of June Amar demanded on the part of the
lower committee, who were the police, that the Girondins
remaining should be taken from their nominal arrest and
imprisoned. On the 8th of July St. Just presented the
report which has been unjustly accused of severity, and
which should rather be judged by its principal phrase.
" If you punish these men, remember that you may not
punish opinion. Outlaw those who have fled, for they
are rebels, but try none of those that remain on the score
of politics." On the same day Condorcet, violent and
embittered as were all his well-bred clique against the
Mountain, and who had published a violent attack on
the Montagnarde constitution, was impeached, and

Wimpfen, from the army of the north, had already
said that he would " obey the Convention and return to

1 Potion's flight is typical of the laxity with which the Girondins were
guarded, and of the lightness of their arrest. He went out to dine with
a friend. The policeman told off to watch him went down to eat in the
kitchen, and Potion walked out of the door. In ten days he had raised


Paris, but at the head of 60,000 men." All June and July
were a challenge, and at the moment that Kobespierre
entered the committee the violence of the " mad dogs,"
the " enrages,' was coming as surely as the breaking of
thunder, or the tension of an unnatural day in our
northern summers. Valenciennes, Cond^, Mayence had
gone ; Caesar's Camp (as they called it) within a hundred
miles of Paris, had surrendered. The French in Frank-
fort had been butchered. For the men that followed
Herbert, for the extreme men that will in all times of
revolution preach revolt and that think to find liberty
in the negation of law, it was a moment of opportunity,
or (as they doubtless thought it) of providential freedom.
They began their clamour for mere vengeance ; the fury
of '93 seized them, and if from some further place their
souls can remember Europe, they can still boast that they
created a wild moment in which no restraint stood be-
tween man instinctive and his complete licence.

How was that tyranny permitted ? The govern-
ment a secret thing, hidden in the Committee, the
government which Danton would have made open and
the proof of whose existent unity was perhaps not
evident until Carnot had joined the great committee,
might, had it been clearly a master, have prevented the
sudden wind of death that arose as Mediterranean winds
blow from Africa : the sirocco that made hotter the hot
month of July and with August and with the first days
of September was to blast the nation.

It was not only the danger in which France found
herself, it was much more the impossibility of driving
the mad energy of the moment into useful channels
that pushed things on to their extreme. On either side
it was the individual that was killing, and there was
nothing to restrain the individual. In Normandy the
members of the Gironde who had escaped, inflamed
one individual soul, the soul of a woman, poor and noble


and silent ; she came up to Paris and she killed Marat.^
In Lyons it was the individual, the noble or the priest, that
organised an immediate revolt and killed Chalier. In Paris
the effect of this was still revenge and individual passion.
It was Herbert, peculiarly himself, hardly representing a
community, that pushed on the Terror. It was more
the terror of opinion and of readiness for evil than of
acts.^ It was a terror which oppressed the mind and
prepared it for the madness of the autumn, rather than
a terror of the revolutionary tribunal; but under the
pressure of it and for the moment Robespierre sank,
afraid that were he to oppose it he would be opposing
something corporate and would be throwing to the winds
the popularity which, as he thought, already gave him
the aspect of complete power.

On this account he would not discover his personal
action until the end of that violent moment of prepara-
tion. When he did appear at the end of September it

Online LibraryHilaire BellocRobespierre → online text (page 21 of 32)