Some of the great personalities of the French Revolution are as follows:
It is desirable to refer to the important personalities of the French Revolution before the rise of Napoleon, and the first in the list is the name of Mirabeau.
The son of a cruel father, he died at the age of 42 after many ups and downs in his life. He was a man of “instincts and insights”.
He had “a brain and heart of fire”. He was eccentric, violent, ambitious, unscrupulous and cynical. He was ugly, but it is stated that his “very ugliness was a power.” He fought duels. His father sent him to prison. He was full of vices and suffered from diseases.
However, he was a practical, clear-headed and far-sighted statesman. He was not a theorist. He was the greatest man of the French Revolution. He has been called the “adventurer of genius in a dissolving society”. It was he who shook old France to its basis and as if with a single hand held it toppling there, still un-fallen.
It is stated that when he died in 1791, the funeral procession was three leagues long and the representatives of the king and the prominent members of Jacobin club followed his procession. There was mourning for three days in Paris. That gives an idea of his personality.
Mirabeau had travelled a lot in his youth and thereby acquired a lot of experience. Carlyle refers to this fact in these words: “In these strange wayfaring’s, what has he not seen and tried? From drill sergeants to Prime Minister, to foreign and domestic booksellers, all manners of men he has seen.” Mirabeau visited England and was impressed by the working of the parliamentary system of that country by which the king and responsible ministers worked in co-operation.
Although Mirabeau belonged to the nobility, he was elected to the Third Estate when elections for the Estates-General were held in 1789. His great personality enabled him to come to the front very soon. When the question arose as to whether the three Estates were to meet separately or together, Mirabeau led the Third Estate and demanded that all the three Estates must meet at one place.
When the members of the Third Estate met in the Tennis Court to take the oath, it was Mirabeau who declared that he and his followers would not disperse unless and until their demand was accepted. It was under these circumstances that Louis XVI had to give way and agree to the transformation of the Estates-General into the National Assembly. Mirabeau was the leader of the National Assembly and its president.
Mirabeau was a moderate and he did not agree with the extreme views of the Jacobins and consequently left the Jacobin party. He wanted to follow the English parliamentary form of government in France. With that object in view, he wanted the king to become a constitutional head and he asked the National Assembly to co-operate with the king.
His scheme failed because both parties refused to play their respective roles. Mirabeau’s view regarding the constitutional framework for France may be explained in these words: “Let the king accept the advice of the Assembly, which was most anxious to co-operate with him, and let the leader of the Assembly, Mirabeau himself, become the Prime Minister. Then Louis XVI, Mirabeau, and the National Assembly would reproduce on the French side of the Channel, the admirable partnership of George III, Pitt and the House of Commons.”
The National Assembly refused to accept the proposal of Mirabeau because it suspected him. The Jacobins condemned him as “the traitor”. The Assembly did not approve of Mirabeau working hand in glove with the king. It refused to play into the hands of reactionary relations and friends of Louis XVI. No wonder, it passed a decree that its members were not to be the members of the king’s ministry.
In this way, the National Assembly summarily rejected the constitutional scheme of Mirabeau. If this was the attitude of the National Assembly, Mirabeau did not get any better treatment at the hands of the king. Although outwardly the king welcomed his proposals and gave him a lot of money, he did not support him sincerely. He was not prepared to play the role which Mirabeau wanted him to.
He hated the very idea of a constitutional head. Mirabeau advised the king to remove the court to Rouen and appeal to the people against the mob-rule of Paris. The king refused to do so, partly because he was afraid of a civil war and partly because of his own habitual lethargy. The queen also did not like the proposal and preferred to get the help of Austria rather than move out of Paris. Both the king and queen did not trust Mirabeau from their inner hearts.
They never forgot that it was Mirabeau who was responsible for all the opposition at the beginning. The result was that they did not give their wholehearted co-operation to Mirabeau and were always willing to discredit him in the eyes of the public by showing that he had been accepting their money.
They forgot that Mirabeau was the only person who was sincerely working for the cause of monarchy and he alone had the strength to save it. By not giving him their effective support, they were destroying their own cause.
Professor Holland Rose points out that the compromise formula of Mirabeau could not succeed in the atmosphere prevailing in the country. The National Assembly was jealous and the king himself was lethargic. Compromise was possible only when all other alternatives had been tried and failed. To quote him. “Not till political experiments had been tried and failed was a compromise between authority and democracy likely to succeed.”
Mirabeau was so much upset over the non-cooperation of the king and the Assembly that he is stated to have remarked: “It is clear that we are perishing royalty, authority, the whole nation. The Assembly is killing itself and us with it. He died on 2 April, 1791, brokenhearted but he made the following prophecy: “I carry in my heart the death-dirge of the monarchy, the dead remains of it will now be the spoil of the factions.” New France lost a pilot.
It is pointed out that “with him perished the greatest man of the revolutionary epoch and the last hope of the French monarchy.” Had he lived, France might have avoided the terrible destruction which it faced after his death. He was the only man who could have brought about a compromise between “the wild asses” of the National Assembly and “the royal cattle” of the court. According to Madame de Campan, “Mirabeau thought himself an Atlas”.
No wonder, after his death there was no other person to shoulder his responsibilities and lead both the people and the king. The regret of Mirabeau was: “I am overwhelmed by the thought that all I have done has been to help on a huge destruction.” Had he not died at the age of 42, he could have avoided the anarchy in the country.
When Mirabeau became a member of the Estates-General, he was heavily in debt. He accepted a large sum of money from the king to pay his debts. He got a monthly salary of £240. If Mirabeau had kept all that a secret, he might have been able to carry the National Assembly with him. However, his childish love of display revealed the secret and consequently the National Assembly lost all faith in him. Events might have taken a different turn if Mirabeau had used more restraint in life.
Mirabeau’s reputation had already been formed before 1789, but that reputation did not inspire the trust of his fellow deputies. They admired him but did not respect him. In spite of his notorious immorality and venality, he set out to win their confidence and with that object in view took part in every debate whether it was on social reform, finances, foreign policy, the church or the constitution. He had no time or inclination to prepare himself for those debates, but he inspired his collaborators and lieutenants to prepare for him. He was never ill-informed. His words always rang with authority.
As a debater, he was not surpassed by anybody. He had the capacity to turn a hostile demonstration into a personal ovation. Whether he read his speech prepared for him by someone or improvised one of his brilliant flights, he commanded silence and attention. He was perhaps the only deputy in the beginning who ventured to speak without a prepared manuscript. Up to the time of his death, the whole course of the Constituent Assembly could be traced through his speeches.
It is true that he was opposed to royal despotism, but he stood for a strong monarchy. He described himself as “the defender of a monarchy limited by law and the apostle of liberty guaranteed by a monarchy”. Ketelbey points out that Mirabeau was a man of “instincts and insights”, of duels, storms, prisons, debts, diseases and vices. He died at the age of 42 worn out by his activities and passions. He was not a theorist. He was not the slave of a formula. He was not the leader of a regular party.
However, he was a practical, clear-sighted, far-seeing man, with a “brain and heart of fire.” “He it was who shook old France to its basis and as if with his single hand held it toppling there, still un-fallen.” When he died, there was mourning for three days. The deputies wept. The representatives of the king walked side by side with those from the Jacobin Club in his funeral procession which was three leagues long. It is pointed out that old France was buried with him.
Prof. Salvemini writes, “What would have become if Mirabeau—confronted, as he was, by suspicion and accusations, the shameful truth of which none knew better than himself—if his exasperation, his frenzied and consuming work, and the brutish pleasures in which he tried to drown his agony and discouragement had not struck him down in the prime of the stormy life if he had lived, for instance, till the flight of the royal family from Paris had revealed the gulf between his ideas and the King’s? Induced by the immorality of his private life to abandon the high road of politics, he had lost his way in the devious paths of intrigue; what, then, would have been his position, between the Court, which had pretended to use him without understanding him, and the revolutionaries who had followed him unaware of his real purpose? The brief and violent malady that carried him off on the morning of April 2nd, 1791, ended all the conflicts and dangers in which step by step he had become involved. He disappeared in the tragic last throes of a world that would not let itself be saved, after a life compounded of brilliance and baseness, glory and dishonour.”
2. Marat (1742-1793):
If Marat had not taken interest in politics, he might have been known in history as a scientist and a man of letters. He was a physician and he was so skillful in his profession that he had received an honorary degree from St. Andrews University in Scotland. For a time, he was in the service of the Count of Artois.
However, his attention was diverted to politics after summoning of the Estates-General in 1789. There was a feeling in France that Frenchmen should copy the constitutional pattern of Great Britain. This was opposed by Marat whose knowledge of Great Britain convinced him that Great Britain was ruled not by the people but an aristocratic oligarchy. He himself stood for a real reform in which the people of France would have a say and would also be benefited.
From 1789 to 1792, he edited a newspaper called Ami Du Peuple or the Friend of the People. In that newspaper, he attacked the court, the clergy, the nobles and even the National Assembly. He was attached to no party and he sacrificed almost everything for his mission. No poverty, misery or persecution could keep him quiet. He was forced to hide in cellars and sewers and he contracted a loathsome skin disease.
Marat loved the people and the people loved him. For the cause of the people, he was prepared to make any sacrifice. He was ready for bloodshed if that could help the cause of the people. He was responsible for the revolt of May 31, 1793 and the expulsion of the Girondist members from the Assembly and their ultimate execution. He was the man who was feared and hated by the authorities but loved and venerated by the masses of the capital He was assassinated in July, 1793 by Charlotte Corday, a young woman who was fanatically attached to the Girondist faction.
In the death of Marat, people lost their most devoted friend. It is true that Girondins represented him as a blood-thirsty madman who did not even know what he wanted. However, it cannot be denied that when in 1790 and 1791 all the heroism of the people was not able to break the royal power, Marat came to the conclusion that a few thousand aristocratic heads should be sacrificed to make the Revolution a success. Whatever he did was done only with a view to bringing about the victory of the Revolution.
It is pointed out that with his love of the people to guide him Marat was the only revolutionary leader who had a real understanding of events and power of grasping them as a whole, in their intricate bearings on one another. He foresaw what was to come, far better than any of his contemporaries.
Despite his keen intelligence, his sterling honesty and sympathetic advocacy of the poor, Marat was hated and feared. His violent words calling for a dictatorship and mass extermination, his theatrical gestures and his repulsive physical appearance made him one of the most thoroughly loathed of all the deputies. The Girondists made a mistake in attacking him and linking him with Danton and Robespierre.
3. Danton (1759-94):
Danton was the son of a farmer. He studied law and became a lawyer. Before the outbreak of the French Revolution, he acquired reputation as a brilliant young lawyer and a man of liberal tastes. He was fond of books and happy in his domestic life. He possessed a powerful physique and a stentorian voice. He was a skillful debater and a convincing orator. Unlike Mirabeau, he himself remained calm and self-possessed while his audiences were carried away by the enthusiasm. Like Mirabeau, he was interested in the welfare of the class below him. What the nobleman Mirabeau was to the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois Danton was to the Parisian proletariat.
Danton came to the front in the early days of the French Revolution through the favour of Mirabeau. He showed his worth within a very short time. In co-operation with Marat and Desmoulins, Danton founded the Cordelier Club in 1790 and he directed the activities of that club in 1791 and 1792 against the royal family. He was an influential member of the Paris Commune and was largely responsible for the swing of the pendulum in the favour of Republicanism. It is true that Danton was rough and courageous but he was not blood-thirsty. He was a practical statesman who was prepared to adjust his actions according to the need of the situation.
When the Allies surrounded France on all sides in 1792 and the Duke of Brunkswick issued a proclamation asking the people of France to surrender and threatening them with dire consequences if they injured in any way the royal family, there was a revolt in Paris and Danton became the leader. The royal palace was attacked, its guards were murdered and kingship itself was suspended.
It was under the dictatorship of Danton that it was decided to strike terror into the hearts of internal and external enemies. On that occasion. Danton summed up his policy in these words: “In my opinion, the way to stop the enemy is to terrify royalists. Audacity, more audacity and always greater audacity.” The result of that policy was that thousands of men, women and children were put to death. Even magistrates, priests and bishops who were suspected to have royalist sympathies were murdered in cold blood. Danton infused a new life and spirit into the French armies. It is these arimes that were able to push back the Allies from the French borders and regain their lost possessions. He co-operated with Robespierre during the Reign of Terror. However, he felt in the beginning of 1794 that there was not necessity for the continuation of the Reign of Terror and consequently advised a policy of moderation. That was not liked by persons like Robespierre and St. Just and consequently he and his friend Desmoulins were guillotined. And “with his fall, France lost a statesman who could possibly have dominated the course of events.”
Like a true statesman Danton tried to remove the differences between the Jacobins and the Girondists with a view to keeping all the Republicans working together for the welfare of France. However, he failed to do so on account of the attitude of the Girondists and Danton was very unhappy over his failure. The only result of that was that the Girondists were liquidated.
According to Grant and Temperley, “The figure of Danton is a somewhat strange one in history of the Revolution. He was often regarded as one of the most blood-stained of the Jacobins. He had advocated in the crisis of August 1792, ‘Audacity, Audacity, and always Audacity.’ Yet the more his career is scrutinised the more clearly do we see that, though he was capable of violent action when occasion seemed to call for it, his constant effort was to prevent the Revolution from falling into the abyss of anarchy and bloodshed which we know awaited it. He desired to return in many ways to ancient methods; he advocated, at a time when it was dangerous to do so, mercy, authority, and respect for government. Jacobin though he was, it was his aim at first to co-operate with the Girondist party, and he made overtures to them for that end.”
According to Flenley, Danton and Robespierre were men so different in every way that it was impossible they should work together, save to destroy an enemy or in a crisis. Though both were men of the middle-class, both lawyers, republicans, Jacobins, regicides, there all resemblance ended between the big, generous, careless, jovial Danton, with the voice of thunder, and the small, precise, jealous, severe Robespierre, whose speeches might move the head, but scarcely the heart. Danton had more in common with Mirabeau, or with Gambetta of a later date, with the wide sympathy and the overwhelming oratory of the former, and the fiery patriotism of the latter. Like Mirabeau, too, he had his faults he has been accused of corruption, and he perhaps gave his friendship too easily.
Further, his career was stained by the violence, of August and September 1792. Despite his great influence, during 1793 he seemed to lose interest in politics save in the great question of national defence. Now, he wished to assuage party passions: ‘I have no use for hatred,’ he said. His wife died and he married again; and withdrew to the quiet of his native town of Arois- sur-Aube, to reappear only at intervals. This was not safe, for Robespierre was jealous of power, and seeds of suspicion grew into great trees overnight and that poisoned air. ‘Better be guillotined than guillotine’, was all the answer the changed Danton would vouchsafe. He was attacked, arrested, and roused, too late, to defend himself so vehemently before the tribunal that the very walls of the court seemed to quake with the blast of his thunder. The trial had to be stopped, a fresh conspiracy was invented to secure a sentence, and at sunset on 5th April 1794, the greatest of the Jacobins, together with a dozen others, made his last journey through the streets he knew so well.”
It is contended that Danton was not a conspirator against the Revolution as alleged by Robespierre at the time of his trial. He was sick of the cruelty and abuses of the Reign of Terror. He regretted his inability to save the Queen from the scaffold. He wept at the execution of the Girondins. Danton was a hand-shaking politician who was courageous and loud and coarse in his speech.
He detested men who were wedded to principles, and particularly those principles which threatened his own security. Danton had amassed a fairly large fortune during the Revolution. He owned considerable property near Paris. His new interests as a property owner were threatened by the new policy of the Government.
He was appealing more and more to men of means in the National Convention. He was a close friend of the corrupt deputies. He desired peace because he was an opportunist and wanted to save his own property. Peace could bring prestige and power not only to him but also to his friends. He was sincerely conciliator by nature but conciliation towards the factions would have ended the revolutionary regime and inaugurated a middle class republic which the revolutionaries were not prepared to welcome and hence the death of Danton.
4. Robespierre (1758-94):
Robespierre was born in a middle class family and was a classmate of Desmoulins in the law school of the University of Paris. He practised with some success in his native town of Arras. Although he was appointed a criminal judge, he resigned his post because he could not put up with the idea of inflicting the penalty of death on the accused. He acquired a reputation as a writer and speaker. Robespierre was never a demagogue in the correct sense of the word. He was essentially a man of culture.
He was both sincere and truthful. He was a keen student of Rousseau and liked to translate his philosophy into action. While doing so, he was unmindful of the sufferings of the people. Although he worked hard for the good of the proletariat, he did not adopt their taste. It is stated that to the last day of his life, he continued to use the knee breeches and silk stockings of the old society and wore his hair powdered.
He was elected to the Third Estate in 1789. He took his place among the extreme radicals whom Mirabeau contemptuously called “The Thirty Voices.” As the number of his followers in the National Assembly was small and as Mirabeau dominated the scene, Robespierre could not make much headway in the National Assembly. Under the circumstances, he decided to win over the support of the people of Paris. He was already a member of the Jacobin Club and he became its leader after the withdrawal of its moderate members. After that, he used the Jacobin Club as an instrument for promoting social democracy and he himself became the oracle whom everybody listened.
He co-operated with Danton during the period of the Reign of Terror and when the power of Danton began to decline, he became supreme. He was the leader of the Jacobins and had a lot of influence over the National Convention, the Paris Commune and the Committee of Public Safety. He put an end to the worship of Reason and substituted in its place the worship of the Supreme Being and himself became its high priest.
A festival was held to inaugurate the new faith. There was a procession of the members of the National Convention under the leadership of Robespierre and a large number of images were burnt in the garden of the Tuileries. The celebrations ended with a number of speeches. The new faith was not in harmony with the wishes of the people of France and consequently ended with the death of Robespierre.
On 10 June 1794, a law was passed by which the procedure of the Revolutionary Tribunal was changed and made more quick. The people of France were asked to denounce the traitors of the country and even the members of the National Convention were not to be exempted from arrest. No strict procedure was to be followed by the Revolutionary Tribunal and consequently 1,376 persons were put to death between 10 June and 27 July in Paris alone. In this way, Robespierre gave a direct challenge to his opponents. He was himself determined to become the dictator of France. He was supported in his actions by St. Just.
On 26 July 1794, Robespierre made a speech in the National Convention in which he defended his own action and condemned the attitude of his opponents. He did not name his opponents but merely referred to them in vague terms. It is pointed out that if on that day Robespierre had submitted to the National Convention a list of the persons whom he wanted to be arrested, the National Convention would have agreed to that. However, he lost on account of the vagueness of his attack.
The vagueness created feelings of uneasiness among the members of the National Convention and every one of them found himself in danger of his life. It was under these circumstances that the members of the National Convention took up courage to disapprove of his speech. They were also encouraged in their action by Fouche who was working behind the scenes. Robespierre was not prepared for this rebuff.
He was so indignant that he went to the Jacobin Club and repeated the same speech which was applauded from all quarters. Thus encouraged he decided to strike again. On 27 July, 1794, he went to the National Convention and tried to address its members. His opponents created so much of noise that he was unable to address.
There was a lot of confusion, passion and violence. Ultimately, it was moved and carried that Robespierre, St. Just and his immediate followers should be arrested. They were arrested and handed over to the officers of the Convention to be taken to prison. However, the prison of Paris were conlarge, it decided to use violence and passed a decree declaring Robespierre and his friends.
The result was that Robespierre and his followers were released by the Paris Commune and they were brought to the Town Hall. When the National Convention came to know that its enemies were at large, it decided to use violence and passed a decree declaring Robespierre an outlaw. On 27 July, 1794, military preparations were made on both sides.
The Hotel de Ville where Robespierre and his friends were taking shelter was besieged and after some time its defences were broken. When Robespierre was captured, he was found with a shattered jaw and it is probable that he might have inflicted that wound himself He was lying on a table in that condition. As he had already been declared an outlaw, there was no necessity of any trial and consequently on 28 July, 1794, he was guillotined.
Although Robespierre was not the author of the Reign of Terror, he was undoubtedly its most active promoter. He resorted to the Reign of Terror not for its own sake but for the sake of achieving his ideas. His great ambition was to establish the Reign of Virtue and his feeling was that that could be done only by a Reign of Terror.’ In his pursuit of the Utopia, he was “the anaemic embodiment” of the ideals of Rousseau.
There are different views about Robespierre. The masses admired him without measure. Most of his colleagues respected him and some detested and feared him with deep passion. Some historians consider him as a great humanitarian and an apostle of social justice. There are others who consider him an owlish and scheming intriguer, ambitious and unscrupulous. He was undoubtedly an ambitious person. He sincerely believed that all his actions were for the good of humanity.
He was fanatically sincere. In his private life, he was austere and simple to the point of asceticism. He was aloof in his personal contacts. He described himself as “one of the most suspicious and melancholy of patriots.” To begin with, he was diffident but later on learnt to talk extempore with eloquence and appeal. If Robespierre was not personally responsible for the butcheries, he did nothing to prevent them. He was considered by the people the personification of the Reign of Terror and no wonder with his death the Reign of Terror ended.
According to Grant and Temperley, “Robespierre was without question an extremely popular figure in Paris, supported by a large number of admiring and devoted friends. It was the tragedy of his life and the cause of his failure that the attempts which he made for the reconstitution and regeneration of France had to be made in an atmosphere of war and of violence. Their failure was probably in any case certain; it was under the circumstances rapid and almost immediate and fatal to himself.
He had, as we shall see, a short hour of triumph, and then immediately came his overthrow. His good qualities must not blind us to his obvious defects; he was a man essentially timid and like many timid men easily induced to adopt measures of cruelty. He was vain, and his vanity was increased by the admiration of his friends. Thus it comes to pass that the period during which this prophet of humanity and disciple of Rousseau dominated France is also the period when the Reign of Terror was seen at its worst and most destructive.”
According to David Thomson, “Of all the great French revolutionary personalities, Robespierre remains somehow the most memorable and the most symbolic; more than Mirabeau, who was a better orator and a greater statesman; more than Lafayette, whose statecraft failed to measure up to his inflated reputation; more even than Danton, an infinitely more attractive figure and the generous inspiration of national resistance to invasion and reaction. It is strange that so tumultuous and heroic an event as the French Revolution should remain personified in the slight, bespectacled, and unglamorous figure of this fastidious little provincial attorney. Is it that he in some sense represented the precise mixture of social and ideological impulses which triumphed in the Revolution? Socially, he was the archetype of the provincial lawyer, who predominated in the revolutionary assemblies, the feline party intriguer and critic, fluent in the idealistic phrases that so constantly rang through those inexperienced parliamentary bodies. He was the little man of humble origin made great by the upheaval of revolution. In purpose and principle he stood for all that Jacobinism stands for in modem history a doctrinaire idealism, exalting the principle of the sovereignty of the people, the liberty, equality, and fraternity of all men, the national republic ‘one and indivisible’. In his own experience and career, he personified the Jacobin revolutionary impulses.”
According to Kropotkin, “Robespierre has been often mentioned as a dictator; his enemies in the Convention called him ‘the tyrant,’ and it is true that as the Revolution drew to a close Robespierre acquired so much influence that he came to be regarded both in France and abroad as the most important person in the Republic.
It would, however, be incorrect to represent Robespierre as a dictator, though certainly many of his admirers desired a dictatorship for him. We know, indeed, that Cambon exercised considerable authority within his special domain, the Committee of Finance, and that Carnot wielded extensive powers in matters concerning the war, despite the ill-will borne him by Robespierre and St. Just. But the Committee of Public Safety was too jealous of its controlling power not to have opposed a dictatorship, and, besides, some of its members detested Robespierre.
Moreover, even if there were in the Convention a certain number who were not actually averse to Robespierre’s preponderating influence, these would have been nonetheless unwilling to submit to the dictatorship of a Montagnard so rigorous as he in his principles. Nevertheless, Robespierre’s power was really immense. Nearly every one of his enemies as well as his admirers felt that the disappearance of his party from the political arena would mean, as indeed it proved, the triumph of reaction.
“How then is the power of Robespierre and his group to be explained? First of all, Robespierre had been incorruptible in the midst of a host of men who readily yielded to the seductions of riches and power, and this is a very important trait in time of revolution. While the majority of the middle- class men about him shared in the spoils of the national estates when they were put up for sale by the Revolution, and took part in the stock-jobbery; while thousands of Jacobins secured posts under Government for themselves, Robespierre remained an upright judge, steadfastly reminding them of the higher principles of republicanism and threatening those keenest after spoil with the guillotine.
In all he said and did during those five troubled years of revolution, we feel even now, and his contemporaries must have felt it still more, that he was one of the very few politicians of that time who never wavered in their revolutionary faith nor in their love for the democratic republic.
In this respect Robespierre was a real force, and if the communists had been able to oppose him with another force equal to his own in strength of will and intelligence, they would undoubtedly have succeeded in leaving a far deeper impress of their ideas on the Great Revolution.
These qualities, however, which even his enemies acknowledge in Robespierre, would not suffice alone to explain the immense power he possessed towards the end of the Revolution. The fact is his fanaticism, which sprang from the purity of his intention, kept him incorruptible in the midst of a widespread corruption. At the same time, he was striving to establish his authority over men’s minds, and to accomplish this he was ready, if necessary, to pass over the dead bodies of his opponents.
In the work of establishing his authority he was powerfully seconded by the growing middle classes as soon as they recognised in him the ‘happy mean’—equally removed from the extremists and the moderates—the man who offered them the best guarantee against the ‘excesses’ of the people.
“The bourgeoisie felt that here was a man who by the respect he inspired in the people, the moderate scope of his aims and his itch for power, was just the right man to establish a strong government, and thus put an end to the revolutionary period.
So long, therefore, as the middle classes had anything to fear from the advanced parties, so long did they refrain from interfering with Robespierre’s work of establishing the authority of the Committee of Public Welfare and of his group in the Convention. But when Robespierre had helped them to crush those parties, they crushed him in his turn, in order that middle-class Girondins should be restored to power in the Convention, after which the Therm idorean reaction was developed to its fullest extent.”
5. St. Just:
St. Just was a friend and collaborator of Robespierre and was also guillotined along with him on the same day. He played a very important part during the Reign of Terror. If Carnot is called the organiser of victory, the contribution of St. Just was second to none. He was the person who inspired the people of France with the fanaticism to die for the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. He moved from the headquarters to the borders of the country and encouraged the troops to fight valiantly for the cause of their country. He encouraged the patriots and terrified the traitors and the cowards. He was partly responsible for transforming France into a nation in arms.
6. Carnot (1753-1823):
Carnot was one of the most important personalities during the period of the National Convention. It was under his determined leadership that the National Convention inaugurated a system of militarism which was unique in the history of the world. In February 1793, a compulsory levy of half a million men was decreed.
In August 1793, it was decreed that every Frenchman between the ages of 18 and 25 was liable to military service. Carnot worked day and night to make these laws effective. He drafted men, silenced complaints, secured volunteers, drilled the troops and sent them to the frontiers. He prepared plans of campaigns and not only appointed trusted officers to take the command but also infused energy and faith in them.
It is stated that as a result of his efforts, France had about 770,000 men under arms by the end of 1793. Most of those troops were fanatics for their cause and were prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of their country. Even the bourgeoisie supported his military measures. Artisans and peasants joined the army in large numbers and went to the front displaying the banner of liberty, equality and fraternity and singing the Marseillais.
Carnot carried out a large number of reforms in the army. He created the division as a military unit. He improved the machinery of supply and thereby made his troops more mobile than those of the enemies. He sent the members of the Government as “deputies on mission” with a view to watching the activities of the generals and soldiers. If there was a complaint against any person, he was liable to be guillotined without any explanation.
The militarism of Carnot was based on the revolutionary principles of “the nation in arms!” The soldiers were to work not as mercenaries but as missionaries for their cause. No wonder, the invaders were driven out from the soil of France and the war was pressed into the Netherlands, along the Rhine, in Savoy and across the Pyrenees. Carnot was so much successful in his work that his popular title of “Organiser of Defence” was changed into that of “Organiser of Victory”.