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Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

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did he attach his name. There are only two measures to
mark his reign, — one the puerile /^/^ to the Supreme Being,
really a fete to himself, and that most extraordinary de-
cree ever passed, the infamous law of Prairial (of June),
suppressing all testimony and all defence by those accused
before the Revolutionary Tribunal.

It is Robespierre's sad honor to be the exclusive author
of this law, whose efficiency may be seen from the fact, that,
of the 2,085 executed after the death of Danton, only 739
belong to the period before the passage of the law (d/ days),
and 1,346 to the period thereafter {4J days). It is said, and
without doubt correctly, that the use he meant to put the
law to was, to rid himself of his Terrorist fellow-members of
committees. The latter seem to have become aware of it,
and anticipated him.


There is a twofold reason why lie suceumbed. The
Parisians have been eited as an example of popular ingrati-
tude in not saving even their greatest idol. That is wrong.
They were, at all events, not fickle ingrates : they still trusted
in Robespierre ; indeed, there was no one else left for them
to trust in. They would have responded to his call, and
undoubtedly have carried him through, if he had appealed
to them \ but also for that he was too imbecile.

Next, his adversaries succeeded because they played off
the Convention against him. They proposed to aliolish the
absolute committee, and restore power to the Convention ;
they organized the Convention for that purpose, and this
proved the stronger force. But, in destroying the cloak that
had hitherto sheltered them, they were compelled to cease
tlieir Red Terror. Robespierre, who had given a

mock trial to Danton, did not get even that much himself:
lie was simply declared an outlaw, to be guillotined when-
ever laid hands on. A genstfanne fired upon him, breaking
his jaw, before securing him.

With the fall of Robespierre, then, .ends the absolute
"Revolutionary" Government. But, unluckily, at the same
time ends the strong government, advocated by Danton ; and
anarchy virtually reigns for five years, till Bonaparte steps
upon the scene. And with his fiill ends, moreover, the gov-
ernment for the masses ; the plutocrats are again restored to
power, and henceforth France is governed by the plutocrats
for the plutocrats.

Looking back over the episode of the fourteen months'
rule of the Jacobins, the thought occurs to me, that possibly
events might have had another course, if all the leaders had
not been such young men. They were all, at most, thirty
to thirty-five years old when they fL-ll. Mature and ripened
age does, after all, count for something.

210 TERROR. rSummer,

Robespierre's shiljbolelh was Equality, as Liberty for a
time had been Danton's.

Saint-Just, the fanatic youth and Robespierre's closest
friend, ended the speech in wliicli he demanded of the com-
mittees Danton's arrest, with these ominous words : " Our
people must learn to be modest ; the solid, hig/wst good is
obscure probity y The natural conclusion from that was, that
all heads that protruded above this ideal level of " obscure
probity " should be cut off, as " factious."

That, candidly expressed, was Robespierre's philosophy in
a nutshell, and the practical application of it was the execu-
tion of Danton and Lavoisier. The latter was the most
illustrious French representative of science, to whom the
office of a farmer-general of revenue had been conferred by
Louis XVL as a recognition of his scientific contributions.
Under Robespierre, all farmers-general since the accession
of Louis were prosecuted for the large incomes they had
drawn from their offices, and all sentenced to death by tlie
Revolutionary Tribunal, Lavoisier among them. He asked
a few days' grace, in order to write down a discovery by him
in chemistry ; but Robespierre refused tlie prayer, as it
would be a violation of " equality." Danton, it will be re-
membered, was brutally refused the privilege of defending
himself at the bar of the Convention, because " We do not
want any idols." Ecjuality is certainly one requisite of
democracy, but such an interpretation of it as that by
Robespierre would destroy all progress.

Li what, then, does true eciuality consist?

Let us for a moment consider its opposite, Carlyle's Jiero
7voi'sJiip, — a sentimental reverence for great men, and con-
tempt for the great mass. It is a prominent Britisli char-
acteristic. Let somebody do a worthy deed, and he will
be appreciated nowhere more than in (Jreat P>ritain. They
have a high sense o{ personal c\\\\\\i^, and that is commend-

1794.1 " MONSIE URr' 211

able; but their souse of human claims is weaker than else-
vvhere, as already remarked by Dr. Johnson : " Sir, we
Englishmen do not yet understand the coniinon riglits of
hiiiiianify." But there is a class among them of

whom Mallock is the representative. If he were ])erfectly
frank he would say, " Life is not worth living to any but an
aristocracy. An aristocracy implies an exclusive class, im-
plies that the mass of men be kept down. Then let them
be kept down, for it is better that life be enjoyed by some
than that it be enjoyed by none." This is a sentiment so
selfish as to be Satanic, and it is false.

I think true equality lies between the two extremes. The
great mass of humanity, the coininomuealth of viankiiui, is a
holy object, to labor for whose welfare is the only worthy
living, the only true life. It is this mass, this commonwealth,
this association of our kind, that every man among us is,
jointly and equally with every other man, dependent upon
for all he is and all he enjoys, and of it and of its well-being
we are equal partakers. But of this well-being we are not
EQUAL PRODUCERS. There are superior men and women.
We all have our superiors, recognized or unrecognized ; and
it is a very unhealthy state of affairs not to recognize our
superiors when we meet them or have to work with them, as
we constantly have to do. It is especially our plu-

tocrats, and not our working-classes, who exhibit a vulgar
arrogance, puerile self-complacency, and wanton insolence
and effrontery towards their true superiors ; and with their
class this unhealthy sentiment will probably disappear.

But it is only when genius works for the general good that
it is entitled to consideration. The greatest genius under
heaven is only a nuisance, and ought unceremoniously to be
swept into oblivion, if he serves but his own individual vanity,
and holds aloof fro in the common life. The reward of the
superior person is his share of the common well-being.

212 TERROR. [1794.

Therefore also it is, that inimorlahty can be admitted only
of what is common to us all, — what unites us to each other,
not of what discriminates us from each other. The religion
of the past nourishes an arrogant, self-seeking, sneaking hope
of and striving after personal private blessings ; and this is
precisely what condemns it as essentially vicious, anti-social.
The religion of the future will teach us that we are, above
all, social beings, and know of no blessings which our fellows
cannot legitimately share. It will inculcate that the same
destiny, whatever it be, is awaiting us all.

The last reported words of Robespierre, spoken when he
was lying on a table in the anteroom of the Convention,
with broken jaws, waiting to be guillotined, indicate that he
was conscious that his " equality " was at an end. Under
the rule of the Jacobins the form of address was always ciio-
yen ("citizen") and citoyenne (" citizeness"), as it, in fact,
is in our days everywhere among French Socialists. But
when a bystander took pity on Robespierre and handed him
a glass of water, he thanked him by using the okl form, so
long in disuse : " Mcrci, Monsieur ! "


July 88, 1794, to our days.

" If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be
fitted to it, the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear,
every hofe, will favor it. Then they who persist in opposing this mighty cur-
rent in humafi affairs will appear to resist rather the decree of Providence itself
than the jnere designs of men." — Burke: Thoughts on the French Revolution.

Plutocrats again in Power. — iSth Brumaire. — " Tiiou hast been
Weighed AND FOUND Wanting." — Present Tendencies of Soci-
eties. — In Proportion as the Mental Preparation is Complete,
WILL THE Coming Revolution be Easy. — " God wills it."

SO the " episode," the interregnum, is at an end ; the
rule for the masses is over. The plutocrats return to
power ; they resume their suspended legitimate dominion, —
the dominion l>y tJie plutocrats for the fiiitocrats. Qa ira !
Indeed, "it goes," without interruption, until our days; yes,
and a little beyond.

It is perfectly in order that the proscribed Girondins, as
many as are yet alive, return to their vacant seats in the
Convention. They can now safely take charge of the helm
of state ; for France and the Revolution are secure, thanks
to the Jacobins, and to Danton especially. Only moderate
firmness is now reciuired.

However, the first exhibition they make of their firmness
is the so-called "White Terror," the terribly bloody revenge
they take on the Jacobins. But so it has always been in
France since that fatal massacre in 1791 on the Champ de


Mars. Whenever a new party gets the upper hand, ivhich-
evcr it is, ahvays the tiger in the Frenchman comes to the
surface. The first thing attended to is always revenge.

Next, the plutocrats, especially the speculators, indulge
in perfect economic orgies. Immediately they abolish the
maximum ; so glorious Free Competition reigns henceforth
untrammelled. What does it matter that famine once more
decimates the Parisians? A still more important

measure is the re-opening of the Exchange.

Their objective point is, all the time, land, land, of wliich,
as we saw, the State has become seized to an immense
amount. In previous chapters we left the speculators in
possession of a great lot of national estates, — about four
hundred million dollars worth, — for which, as a rule, lliey
had paid but the first instalment of twelve per cent, but
with a decree for the distribution of the communal lands
among the pooi\ and another, promising a milliard's worth
of land to the soldiers in their way. How shall they get
more land into their hands? "Ah, let us get up lot-

teries." Why not? Soon the hideous lottery is in open blast
in Paris, laying the foundation for some of the finest fortunes
of to-day. But the most popular manner of securing posses-
sion of land is to become a riz-pain-scl (rice-bread-salt), —
a contractor for one of the numerous armies, — and take
land in payment, generally by a roundabout process, by
which the nation is enormously swindled in various ways.
One of these ways, of course, is, to furnish poor articles at
extravagant prices ; another, to depreciate the assignais, as
hereafter to be told.

A new constitution, of course, they must have. That is
the one known as the Constitution of '95, — virtually that
of '91, with Montesquieu's pet idea of two chambers intro-
duced. But, in the new constitution, there is an article tliat
shows how anxious the plutocrats are to liave tlieir ])osses-

1886. ] PL UTOCRA TS A GA IN IN PO WER. 2 1 5

sions — their thefts rather — legahzed : it is section 374,
which reads as follows : —

" The French nation proclaims, as a guaranty of public
faith, that the legitimate holder of the national estates, what-
ever the origin of title, shall never be dispossessed."

When, then, French bourgeois prate of society resting on
property, they mean on scandals and robberies.

At last the Convention puts an end to its existence, after
having created an executive power in the Directory, whose
members consist of those exclusively who had voted for
Louis'' death ; for now this test becomes of capital impor-
tance to France. Shortly afterwards the French people — or,
rather, the French electors — get more and more re-action-
ary ; to such an extent, finally, that the majority of the lower
Chamber is royalist. Had Louis XVIII. at that time been
recalled, it might have been fatal to the Revolution ; the old
regime would certainly have been restored in many essential
features. But the fact that the Directory are all regicides
saves it, — saves the republic against the electors by com-
mitting, with the assistance of the young republican general
Hoche, the eoup d'etat of i8th Fructidor, year V. (4th of
September, 1 797) ; that is to say, by arresting fifty monarchic
conspirators, members of the Chamber, and sending them
to Guiana. This coup d'etat was as legitimate as the

insurrection of Aug. 10 ; for nobody, not even a peojile, has
a right to defy the decree of evolution, to re-act against the
current of evolution.

That the government of France, since the fall of Robe-
spierre, is in league with the speculators, is shown by the
depreciation of the assignats. It was they, as we have seen,
that had enabled France to support her numerous armies,
and hurl all her enemies back ; but that had been possible
only by issuing them in quantities, reasonable when com-
pared with the national estates that served as their basis.


and by prohibiting all speculation in thcni. I'p to July 2S,
1 794, there had been issued of paper money seven and a
half milliards, in denominations not exceeding five hundred
francs, and many of fifty, twenty-five, ten, and even two francs
and a half; and on that date the value of national estate
unsold was still very large. The Jacobin party had con-
sidered it a matter of honor to maintain the national credit,
and for that reason sought to bring the assignats ifito the
hands of small traders, artisans, and peasants. But with
the advent to power of the plutocrats quite another system
prevails : it is the evident intention of the government to
depreciate the paper money, shown by the insensate emis-
sions now ordered. Not less than thirty-eight milliards are
issued, in denominations of ten thousand, five thousand, and
two thousand francs, fabricated on their face for the account
of bankers and contractors, who accept of them at a rate
which they themselves, as masters of the money market,
regulate, in order, later on, to exchange them en masse for
land. Other contractors, who, instead of accepting the
assignats, had caused themselves to be inscribed in the
Great Ledger as creditors, later on claim and are allowed
land to as much as twenty times their inscriptions, as if the
depreciation in the paper money had affected their debt
also ; and, when any patriot remonstrates, there comes the
cool reply, " We must humor these contractors, if we wish
our armies to go on conquering."

Then the land-grabbers attack the decree for distributing
communal lands. They have a law passed forbidding the
communes to distribute these lands, unless, in every case, a
special law be passed authorizing them to proceed. That is
the last that is heard of tliat matter. Everywhere

they gorge themselves with lands, many paying not even the
thirtieth |)a!-t of their real value.

No womlcr there was consternation in their canij) when.


one (lay, they suddenly heard of tlie aceidcntal discovery of
a determined attempt to settle, once for all, with them, and
to introduce Communism by force into France. This so-
called " conspiracy of Babeuf," for which the latter and his
principal abetter suffered death, had every chance to suc-
ceed at the start ; but that also would have been doomed
to final failure, for it was another false interpretation of
" God's mysterious text." Babeuf 's plan contemplated
common possession of ei'ery thing, "common labor and com-
mon enjoyment," or ^'^/^(z/ enjoyment, irrespective of talent,
zeal, activity, or quality of labor, — a scheme certain to
create a dead level, a petrified civilization ; and, in order
to work such a system, a human nature very different from
what we know would evidently be required. But then, it
was precisely a part of the plan of Babeuf to change
human nature, as Robespierre had proposed to dc. His
disciple Buonarotti tells us that he designed, " instructed by
the lessons and experience of the great men of antiquity " (like
Robespierre), "to gwQiicw manners to the French people."
* * *

Shortly afterwards the plutocrats heard of the victories of
Bonaparte. What a splendid young man, who took the sans-
culotte armies to pillage in Italy and Egypt, and thereby
diverted their thoughts from the national estates at home,
promised them by that annoying decree ! Indeed, from that
tune it is never spoken of: the ribbon of the "Legion of
Honor " takes the place of land.

No wonder Bonaparte's coup d'etat of iSth Bruniaire
(Nov, 9, 1799) had an immense popularity. The pluto-
crats had really, for some time, been talking among them-
selves about what a skilful guardian he would make. There
was no one to dispute him the leadership, since that sincere
rei)ublican, the hero of iSth Fnutidor, young Gen. Hoche,
was dead.


Thesc plutocrats were more clear-headed than the histo-
rians who have asserted that this coup cVilat was a death-
blow to the Revolution. It never occurred to them to see in
that event the termination of the grand movement com-
menced, as they put it, July 14, 17S9 ; and they were riglu.

Many years afterward the nephew of Bonaparte wrote in
a pamphlet, Les Idees Napoleonienncs : " Without Napoleon
the Revolution would have been drowned in the CQunter-
Revolution. He rooted the Revolution in France, and
introduced its principal benefits throughout Europe. He
recalled the emigres, without repealing the latos which con-
fiscated their properties'' The nephew was right :
Bonaparte did root the Revolution in France. Danton had
crushed the counter-Revolution to the ground, but Bona-
parte finished the work by making it iinpossildc for the
ancient regime ever to return. Louis XVHI. in power in
I 799 would have been just as dangerous to the Revolution
as two years earlier.

For also under Bonaparte the plutocrats remained the
real social power. The first thing they tliought of, as in
every change of government, was the security of their booty.
Bonaparte quieted them. He wrote in tlie Imperial Con-
stitution of 1804, —

" Any law adopted by the Legislative Chamber may be
vetoed by any senator if it be contrary to the irrevocability
of all sales of tiie national estates."

He did more: he granted, 1803, to the capitalists the
incorporation of the Bank of France, instead of making it
a national institution, — a power which the nepliew later on
extended till 1897.

The Constituent Assembly had made all mines national
property. Bonaparte reversed that policy, and ga\-e tliem,
1 8 10, into the private hands of the plutocrats, by payment to
the State of an insignificant royalty.


For ten years he gave them all Europe to plunder, and
monstrous armies to purvey.

He established for his motto, " La carricre oiivcrte aux
taleiis " (" All careers open to talent "), which is nothing but
the middle-class principle of free competition, " private en-

But that was during the first years of his rule. Later on
he degenerated into a vulgar fortune-hunter. He wanted
to establish a dynasty j that is to say, he, like the \>\wVo-
crats, repudiated his own motto : both he and the plutocrats,
after securing an advantageous position, insisted on retaining
it for themselves and their posterity. Later on still,

he conceived the notion of throwing the plutocrats over-
board. We now know that he intended to abolish the con-
tract system for furnishing his armies ; this the plutocrats
found out, and decided to throw him overboard. It was
they who made the campaign against Russia so disastrous
by intentionally delaying the provisions for the armies.
When they heard of the defeat at AVaterloo, they caused
rentes to go up from 59 to 85.

They had, however, made sure of Louis XVHL before-
hand. They had stipulated that the new charter should
contain this provision : —

" All property shall be inviolable, no exception being made
as to the present holders of tJie former national estates P

But when his brother and successor seemed inclined to
do without them, the plutocrats threw him overboard also,
and put on the throne a man right after tlieir own heart.

If Danton, the patriot, had been spared to France, affairs
might have taken a very different turn.

Bonaparte — to whom patriotism was an unknown senti-
ment, who preferred himself to all humanity — would very
likely have been unnecessary and im])ossible ; France, in
that case, would not have been seduced by the " glory "


which he dangled before its eyes, nor would the immense
forces which the Revolution placed at the disposal of the
leader of France have been used to drench Europe in blood.

The revolutions of 1830 and 1S48 would then have been

The Church and State would have remained separate in

Paris would not have been demoralized by the nephew
into a city of mere pleasure, and that of the lowest and
vilest pleasures.

France might by this time have solved the social problem,
instead of being divided into two hostile camps ready to
tear each other to pieces.

Events in Great Britain, even, might have taken a very
different turn. The great Chartist party collapsed, because
the many small tradesmen and middle-class men that com-
posed it got scared by the revolution that so miexpectedly
broke out in Paris in 1848 ; and if that party had succeeded
in its demands, who can tell how much more advanced
Great Britain might now be ?

* * *

One of Danton's noblest disciples, Roussclin de Saint-Albin,
strenuously attempted, after the revolution in 1830, to infuse
his master's spirit into the victorious bourgeoisie. He held
aloft before their eyes their great mission to direct all social
activities for the benefit of the whole society. He even
tried to persuade Louis Philippe to forego the -civil list.
But the bourgeoisie would not hear any nonsense about its
" mission." On the contrary, corruption now became a
system with them, and Saint-Albin finally ceased his efforts
in 1838.

For the last time this must be insisted upon (if for no
other reason, simply in order to explain the hatred and
resentment which the French working-classes feel toward


them) : that the French bourgeoisie, the French plutocrats,
have been in e\-ery way the worst of any country. Not
alone have they been more neglectful of their duties than
any other middle classes, but they have continued tj ll.e
present day the fraudulent and swindling operations with
which they commenced their career. The reason

why Edouard Drumont's book, La France Jiiive {The
"yezi's of France), has been so popular, that about a hun-
dred editions were published in one year, is, that it is a
revelation of the financial rascalities of the French " Jews,"
whether Christian, Hebrew, or Infidel.

This " Jewish " talent of theirs has made them try to
impose on the nation in another matter, — that of taxation.
The plutocrats of all countries have tried, l)y the trickery of
indirect taxation, to escape their just share of the public
burdens ; but the French bourgeoisie have been much
smarter and bolder in that respect. Before the

Revolution, as we know, the clergy and nobles were ex-
empt from taxation, which fell with crushing force on the
rest of the nation, particularly the peasants. It is a com-
monplace to say that this was the principal grievance at
the time. But the Revolution has certainly not diminished
taxation — far from it. There is probably no nation to
whom taxes are so burdensome as to the French. The rich
middle classes have done all they could in order to enjoy
the former immunity of clergy and nobles, and have fancied
they could effect this, and throw the load especially on the
work-people of the cities, by an indirect tax called the octroi.

This is an impost levied on nearly all articles of consump-
tion and prime necessity on entering the cities and towns.
It was known during the ancient regime, abolished by
the Revolution, resurrected by the plutocrats in 1 79

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