Danton Versus Robespierre: The Quest for Revolutionary Power
Georges Danton Georges Jacques Danton (French: ; 26 October – 5 April ) Danton's and Robespierre's relations were also the subject of an opera by As court counselor, he participated in settling succession dispute with the . No relationship in the French Revolution offers more eloquent testimony to the power of The political confrontations between Danton and Robespierre had a. George Jacques Danton biography: lawyer and popular leader of Born in , Georges Jacques Danton was, like his contemporary Maximillien Robespierre, born and relations with England, even as Louis XVI was put on trial and It is not intended to be legal advice and you would be foolhardy to.
At any rate, he certainly acquiesced in the violence of the communeand he publicly gloried in the expulsion of the men who stood obstinately in the way of a vigorous and concentrated exertion of national power. Danton, unlike the Girondists, "accepted the fury of popular passion as an inevitable incident in the work of deliverance.
The authors of the Britannica see him at this time as wishing "to reconcile France with herself; to restore a society that, while emancipated and renewed in every part, should yet be stable; and above all to secure the independence of his country, both by a resolute defence against the invader, and by such a mixture of vigour with humanity as should reconcile the offended opinion of the rest of Europe. In the Constituent Assembly, its members had been a mere 30 out of the of the third estate.
In the Legislative Assembly, they had not been numerous, and none of their chiefs held a seat. In the first nine months of the Convention, they were struggling for their very lives against the Girondists. In Junefor the first time, they found themselves in possession of absolute power. Men who had for many months been "nourished on the ideas and stirred to the methods of opposition" [ Britannica] suddenly had the responsibility of government. Both were chosen out of the body of the Convention.
The drama of the nine months between the expulsion of the Girondins and the execution of Danton turns upon the struggle of the committees especially the former, which would gain ascendancy to retain power: Danton, immediately after the fall of the Girondins, had thrown himself with extraordinary energy into the work to be done.
He was prominent in the task of setting up a strong central authority, taming the anarchical ferment of Paris. It was he who proposed that the Committee of Public Safety be granted dictatorial powers and that it should have copious funds at its disposal. He was not a member of the resulting committee: His position during the autumn of was that of a powerful supporter and inspirer from outside the government which he had been foremost in setting up.
Reign of Terror The French National Convention during the autumn of began to assert its authority further throughout France, creating the bloodiest period of the French Revolution in which some historians assert approximately 40, people were killed in France. Danton also proposed that the Convention begin taking actions towards peace with foreign powers, as the Committee had declared war on the majority of European powers, such as Britain, Spain, and Portugal.
The Reign of Terror was not a policy that could be easily transformed. Indeed, it would eventually end with the Thermidorian Reaction 27 Julywhen the Convention rose against the Committee, executed its leaders, and placed power in the hands of new men with a new policy.
But in Germinal —that is, in March —feeling was not ripe. The committees were still too strong to be overthrown, and Danton, heedless, instead of striking with vigor in the Convention, waited to be struck. His wife had died during his absence on one of his expeditions to the armies; he had her body exhumed so as to see her again.
As he attempted to shift the direction of the revolution, by collaborating with Camille Desmoulins through the production of Le Vieux Cordeliera newspaper that called for the end of the official Terror and dechristianization, as well as launching new peace overtures to France's enemies, those who most closely associated themselves with the Committee of Public Safety, among them key figures such as Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Couthonwould search for any reason to indict Danton for counter-revolutionary activities.
Georges Danton | Revolvy
Financial corruption and accusations Statue of Danton in Tarbes. Toward the end of the Reign of Terror, Danton was accused of various financial misdeeds, as well as using his position within the Revolution for personal gain.
Many of his contemporaries commented on Danton's financial success during the Revolution, certain acquisitions of money that he could not adequately explain. Between andDanton faced many allegations, including taking bribes during the insurrection of Augusthelping his secretaries to line their pockets, and forging assignats during his mission to Belgium. Although the Swedish government never ratified the treaty, on 28 June the convention voted to pay 4 million livres to the Swedish Regent for diplomatic negotiations.
The most serious accusation, which haunted him during his arrest and formed a chief ground for his execution, was his alleged involvement with a scheme to appropriate the wealth of the French East India Company. It was later revived inbacked by royal patronage. The Company was soon liquidated while certain members of the Convention tried to push through a decree that would cause the share prices to rise before the liquidation.
Danton continued to defend Fabre d'Eglantine even after the latter had been exposed and arrested. Arrest, trial, and execution On 30 MarchDanton, Desmoulins, and others of the indulgent party were suddenly arrested. The trial was less criminal in nature than political, and as such unfolded in an irregular fashion. The jury had only seven members, despite the law demanding twelve, as it was deemed that only seven jurors could be relied on returning the required verdict.
Danton made lengthy and violent attacks on the Committee of Public Safety and the accused demanded the right to have witnesses appear on their behalf; they submitted requests for several, including, in Desmoulins' case, Robespierre. The Court's President, M. Hermanwas unable to control the proceedings until the aforementioned decree was passed by the National Convention, preventing the accused from further defending themselves.
These facts, together with confusing and often incidental denunciations for instance, a report that Danton, while engaged in political work in Brussels, had appropriated a carriage filled with two or three hundred thousand pounds' worth of table linen  and threats made by prosecutor Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville towards members of the jury, ensured a guilty verdict.
Danton and the rest of the defendants were condemned to death, and at once led, in company with fourteen others, including Camille Desmoulins and several other members of the Indulgentsto the guillotine. Robespierre will follow me; he is dragged down by me. Ah, better be a poor fisherman than meddle with the government of men! Another perspective of Danton emerges from the work of Lamartinewho called Danton a man "devoid of honor, principles, and morality" who found only excitement and a chance for distinction during the French Revolution.
He was merely "a statesman of materialism" who was bought anew every day. Any revolutionary moments were staged for the prospect of glory and more wealth. According to Robinet, Danton was a committed, loving, generous citizen, son, father, and husband. He remained loyal to his friends and the country of France by avoiding "personal ambition" and gave himself wholly to the cause of keeping "the government consolidated" for the Republic. He always had a love for his country and the laboring masses, who he felt deserved "dignity, consolation, and happiness".
One of his fierce sayings has become a proverb. Against the Duke of Brunswick and the invaders, "il nous faut de l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace"—"We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity! Danton is a central character in Romanian playwright Camil Petrescu 's play of the same name. Danton appears in the Hungarian play The Tragedy of Man and the animated movie of the same name as one of Adam's incarnations throughout Lucifer's illusion.
Danton's life from until his execution was the subject of the German film, Danton. Danton's and Robespierre 's quarrels were turned into a film Danton directed by Andrzej Wajda. Danton's and Robespierre's relations were also the subject of an opera by American composer John EatonDanton and Robespierre In his novel Locus Solus, Raymond Roussel tells a story in which Danton makes an arrangement with his executioner for his head to be smuggled into his friend's possession after his execution.
The nerves and musculature of the head ultimately end up on display in the private collection of Martial Canterel, reanimated by special electrical currents and showing a deeply entrenched disposition toward oratory.
The sovereign -- that it to say the people -- may legitimately take away the goods of everyone, as was done at Sparta in the time of Lycurgus. It became the basis for all his actions while in power; it is virtually the same as asserting that he did what he did "because France demanded it. Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing; it is love of the republic; it is a sensation, and not a consequence of acquired knowledge, a sensation that may be felt by the meanest as well as by the highest person in the state.
When the common people adopt good maxims, they adhere to them more steadily than those whom we call gentlemen. The love of our country is favorable to a purity of morals, and the latter is again conducive to the former. Faith in the divine was necessary for the health of the nation, both spiritually and politically. Atheism they considered immoral and punishable by death; it was a form of treason and as such in opposition and potentially harmful to the general will.
Some of his ideas crystallized during his period of law practice in Arras. Robespierre received his bachelor of law degree on July 31, and his license on May 15, ; he was admitted to the Paris bar three months later. His practice of law increased his growing concern for humanity. As he told Charlotte, The duty of pleading the case of the weak against the strong is that of every heart not so poisoned by egoism and corruption.
My life's task will be to aid those who suffer and to pursue with vengeful words those who, without pity for humanity, enjoy the suffering of others.
There is evidence from this period that the sense of absolute conviction that so colored his later years was not yet fixed with rigidity. Charlotte reports one incident that occurred while Robespierre was serving a term as Episcopal Judge in He kept repeating, 'I know he is to blame.
He is a rascal. After his resignation as Episcopal judge, Robespierre enjoyed immediate success in his practice and earned a reputation as a protector of the poor and downtrodden, a reputation which he carefully cultivated.
Nonetheless, he usually won his cases, and his success and the example of Rousseau inspired him to publish many of them.
These pamphlets served to further increase his notoriety and reputation. He took to active campaigning, especially through his personal manifesto, "An appeal to the Artesian People. He accomplished this through skillful political maneuvering and popular oratory, appealing to the prevailing opinions and spirit of change in the air.
Louis Antoine de Saint-Just
As Robespierre remarked at the time, "Everything in France is going to change now. He was also somewhat disillusioned by many of the prominent and popular leaders Mounier, Target, Malouse -- who did not seem to him revolutionary at all. Robespierre played almost no part in the events leading up to the Tennis Court Oath of June 20 after which the Estates-General came to be called the National Constituent Assembly or the storming of the Bastille on July His speeches shortly after this, though, began to express his belief that the guilty must be executed as traitors, so the people would not lose faith in the laws.
His patriotic speeches began to win him the support of the common people who flocked each day to the proceedings. By autumn the Assembly had split into four definite camps. On the extreme right were the monarchist, totally opposed to any reform.
They soon realized their impotence, however, and eventually ceased attending. The second group was made up of those monarchists who had begun the Revolution but who now felt it had gone too far and should be stopped. The third group, and the majority, were constitutional monarchists, who advocated more reforms and a system of government balanced between the king and the assembly the feudal class structure had been abolished in early August. The fourth group consisted of the extreme leftists, unknown radicals who had gained the ear of the public: A settlement might have been forthcoming, which would have resulted in a victory for the moderates, had not Louis XVI been so obstinately opposed to compromise.
At last, with high prices and rumors of famine circulating throughout Paris, a mob of angry Parisian women five or six thousand strong marched on Versailles, at the instigation of Marat, and "escorted" the royal family to Paris where they could be watched.
Needless to say, Louis was now more open to suggestion. A few days later, the Assembly also transferred to Paris in order to be closer to the king for debate and negotiation. In Paris, Robespierre began his rise to prominence in the Jacobin Club. He turned to the Jacobins because he was neglected and frustrated by the Assembly. The Jacobins owe much of their success to Robespierre; it was he who effected the organization of provincial branches of the club through personal visits, letters and his published speeches.
Part of the reason lies in the fact that the Jacobins were more willing to use force and terror than their opponents such as the Girondists and the Dantonists. Robespierre encouraged the provincial club members to make their voices heard as much as possible in the Assembly; by shouting the loudest, they appeared to be the majority.
The Jacobins became the molders of public opinion -- there is much truth to the saying that whoever controlled the mob in Paris controlled the Revolution.
The Jacobins provided Robespierre with a power base more than anything else. He provided for them a sense of stability, a rallying-point, as it were, in a chaotic, confused time.
In September of the Constitution of was adopted; the National Assembly was replaced by the Legislative Assembly. This lasted for a year. In September ofthe Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention and the monarchy was officially abolished. At this time, the insurrectionary Paris Commune gained control of the convention and established the Revolutionary Tribunal the forerunner of the Committee of Public Safety to deliver summary justice to enemies of the Revolution.
They reappeared after the elections to the Convention. Robespierre appealed to the Jacobins and the people, who, as usual, rallied around him. The following months were marked by hot disputes between Robespierre's radical revolutionaries and the moderate Girondists. A key question of debate was the fate of the king.
Robespierre and his faction scored a major victory when Louis was found guilty of treason and beheaded despite attempts by the Girondists to save him by delaying his trial. Up until Louis' execution, the Girondists had still been pushing for a constitutional monarchy even though monarchy in France had already been abolishedbut now all hope of that was gone. Part of the reason for Robespierre's success was the war that France was fighting with most of Europe; the European allies had announced their intentions of restoring the Bourbon monarchy, but the French Republican army had been winning victories of late and so popular sentiment was very anti-royalist.
In attacking the Mountain faction, the Girondists had also specifically attacked Robespierre as their leader. Where Robespierre and the Mountain had merely cooperated before, Robespierre now assumed leadership as the two factions joined against the common enemy.
By attempting to overthrow Robespierre and weaken the Mountain, the Girondists had accomplished the exact opposite -- Robespierre was stronger than before. However, it must be emphasized that Robespierre did not hold supreme power in the Committee. In theory, the power was divided more or less equally among its twelve members, each with his own area of specialization; in practice, some tended to wield more power than others. The Committee possessed a collective responsibility in that any one member might sign for all the others as well; consequently R.
Palmer asserts that it is not easy to discover who exactly did what. Moreover, not everyone on the Committee liked or even approved of Robespierre; several times he met with strong opposition. However, Palmer also asserts that despite all this, Robespierre was the most valuable member because "as political expert he protected the others from hostile party onslaught.
Opposition was usually dealt with through systematic purges, both of the Convention and the Jacobin Club. Once on the Committee, however, authority was given and Robespierre often took advantage of the expedience of having opposition permanently disposed of. Of course, he always maintained that he was acting in the best interest of the state and according to the general will, and again, he probably believed he was.
But while his motives may have been pure, his methods were bloody. Before Danton's death in April ofthe Terror had only one hundred and sixteen victims; between late April and early June five hundred more were added; and between June 10 22nd Prairial and July 27 9th Thermidor another one thousand three hundred and sixty-six were executed.
- Danton, Georges Jacques 1759-1794
- Georges Danton
- Madame Roland
There is every indication that had Robespierre lived, the numbers would have risen ever higher. Previously, the Dantonist faction had aligned itself with the Robespierrist in order to purge the Convention of Girondists. On February 26,the attack began. Saint-Just delivered a speech before the Convention Robespierre and Couthon were ill, and Saint-Just was the most ardent disciple of Robespierre in which he advocated implementation of Hebertists Terrorist plans. He directed the assault against Danton, claiming that the Dantonists wanted to slow down the Terror and the Revolution.
Such a course, argued Saint-Just, would only lead to reactionism. The Republic must be strong, and Terror was the strength of the Republic see the appendix for Robespierre's speech of February 5, for his view of the goals of the Revolution and the use of Terror.
Saint-Just then turned his invective against the Hebertists, denouncing them as self-serving parasites, a crowd of "profitmongers," revolutionaries only so far as it benefited them. While perhaps not a Christian himself, Robespierre certainly had faith in the Supreme Being, and anyone who did not was a subversive. Robespierre also charged the Hebertists and the Dantonists with complicity in a plot with William Pitt to undermine the French Republic. Whether or not this accusation is true is not known for certain; Eagan believes it is merely something of a formality -- all the accused during the Terror were charged with foreign conspiracy, among other things.
However, Eagan sees no "fundamental" reason for the attack on the Dantonists, claiming they were as patriotic and nationalistic as Robespierre. Belloc asserts, however, that by this time Danton was intent on halting the Terror. It is quite clear that by this point in time, Robespierre identified his beliefs as the expression of the general will; naturally any attack on him personally would be viewed as an attack on France.
Nonetheless, after Danton's trial and execution, Robespierre had ceased to be a leader and had become instead a tyrant, a wielder of brute force. Thus it was that Robespierre doomed himself to fall. His own shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness, once so essential to his rise, took away his objectivity and blinded him to the inevitable end of the course he had chosen.
Of course, the mere fact that the number of executions increased so dramatically after Danton's fall may indicate that subconsciously Robespierre realized the tenuousness of his hold and that he was trying to hold on in the only way he knew how: While it is unquestionable that many admired Robespierre, it is equally unquestionable that he had also made a great number of enemies.
The famous law of 22nd Prairial June 10, gave him a virtual carte blanche to indict anyone on the flimsiest of charges: The enemies of the Revolution are those who by any means whatever and under no matter what pretext have tried to hamper the progress of the Revolution and prevent the establishment of the Republic.
The due penalty for this crime is death; the proofs requisite for condemnation are all information, of no matter what kind, which may convince a reasonable man and a friend of liberty. The guide for passing sentence lies in the conscience of the judge, enlightened by love of justice and of his country, their aim being the public welfare and the destruction of the enemies of the fatherland. The opposition to Robespierre was "disparate and disunited;" it basically included "everyone who felt threatened by him," including some of his compatriots on the Committee, old friends of Danton, and members of the Assembly whom Robespierre had hinted might soon be up before the Tribunal.
In addition, it included those members of the Assembly who had originally understood that the Terror was necessary so long as France was at war, but no longer necessary now that she was winning. Robespierre apparently agreed on 4th Thermidor July 22but on 8th Thermidor July 26 denounced his opponents before the Convention to thunderous applause. It seemed the Incorruptible would soon add "the Invincible" to his name.
That evening at the Jacobin Club he had Billaud-Varenne and Collot d'Herbois expelled and apparently intended for them to go before the Tribunal. With the Jacobins on his side he refused to listen to the advice of some friends asking that he use soldiers to purge his opposition, confident that he would be victorious in the conflict that everyone knew would come the following day.
But he was interrupted by Tallien who was supported by the Convention and Saint-Just spoke no more that day. Billaud-Varenne then began his indictment of Robespierre, revealing past actions of his contrary to the pride of the Convention.
Robespierre tried to speak but was shouted down. While others spoke against him, he continually tried to speak, but was continually shouted down. His arrest, along with that of Saint-Just and Couthon, was decreed. The three were guillotined the following day along with Robespierre's brother Augustin, to cries from the crowds of "Down with the tyrant! It had grown inconceivable to him that anyone should oppose him successfully, and when someone did, the blow numbed him into inaction for a while.
Although he started out with the best of motives, it came to the point where protection of the ideals for which he stood was everything to him, whereas protection of the people whom the ideals were originally to protect meant nothing.
Before the Terror it seems that Robespierre's leadership was of the type James MacGregor Burns describes as transforming. It also followed the process of Burns' concept of revolutionary leadership.