Danton Versus Robespierre: The Quest for Revolutionary Power
Three years later Danton had led the overthrow of the French monarchy, been and by the standards of the merciless Maximilien de Robespierre he was doubtless an angel. But the “marriage of boiling patriotism and moderation” that he promised electors Get incisive analysis on the issues that matter. It is because the French Revolution is a religion and Robespierre is one of its sects. He is a priest Georges Danton, on his way to the guillotine in April Robespierre's relationship with Danton is also the subject of Georg Click here to visit our frequently asked questions about HTML5 video.
When all executive power was conferred upon a Committee of Public Safety 6 AprilDanton had been one of the nine original members of that body. He was dispatched on frequent missions from the Convention to the republican armies in Belgiumand wherever he went he infused new energy into the army. He pressed forward the new national system of educationand he was one of the legislative committee charged with the construction of a new system of government.
He tried and failed to bridge the hostilities between Girondists and Jacobins. The Girondists were irreconcilable, and the fury of their attacks on Danton and the Mountain was unremitting. Fall of the Girondists[ edit ] This section needs additional citations for verification. June Learn how and when to remove this template message Although he was—again in the words of the Britannica—"far too robust in character to lose himself in merely personal enmities", by the middle of May Danton had made up his mind that the Girondists must be politically suppressed.
The Convention was wasting time and force in vindictive factional recriminations, while the country was in crisis. Danton had defended Dumouriez against attacks in Convention, probably to allow Dumouriez to concentrate on the war, before the General's defection, so it decreased Danton's standing with the public and made him lose some of the support of the more moderate members of the Jacobin club.
The French armies were suffering a series of checks and reverses.
A royalist rebellion was gaining formidable dimensions in the west. The Girondists were clamoring for the heads of Danton and his colleagues in the Mountain a name for the group of Jacobins in the General Assembly, stemming from their raised seats in the back of the hallbut they would lose this struggle to the death.
Danton addressing the National Convention. There is no positive evidence that Danton directly instigated the insurrection of 31 May — 2 Junewhich ended in the purge of the Convention and the proscription of the Girondists. He afterwards spoke of himself as in some sense the author of this revolution, because a little while before, stung by some trait of factious perversity in the Girondists, he had openly cried out in the midst of the Convention, that if he could only find a hundred men, they would resist the oppressive authority of the Girondist Commission of Twelve.
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[ edit ] 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. 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.
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. 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.
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[ edit ] 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.Hey Steve: The One Question You Need To Ask Before Taking Your Relationship Next Level
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. 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. Once properly recognised, there was no need for checks and balances in the political system because the realisation of the general will would lead to universal happiness of the people living in a harmonious society.
Everything should be so organised as to enhance the effectiveness of the moral will of the community as a whole …. Is it still the Enlightenment or the beginning of Romanticism in politics? Robespierre was a political maximalist, driven by the desire to shape the society according to Rousseauvian principles. The goal was the Republic of Virtue and there was no sacrifice big enough to divert Robespierre from this path.
For him, ideas preceded reality which was moulded by visionary men of great will. Robespierre was a visionary politician — Manichaean and millenarist. Those who did not share his views were the enemies of the republic and had to be physically eliminated. During the revolution, the guillotine became a tool of political pedagogy.
Robespierre was a gardener. His garden was the French society, his ideas were seeds which had to be fertilised by blood, and dead branches had be cut off lest they poison the body politic. Only then the Republic of Virtue would blossom. Revolutionary violence was methodical, purposeful and impersonal. The fate of individuals mattered only as much as they acted according to the Zeitgeist. The bigger the goal of the revolution, the greater the acceptance of the means leading to it.
Hence the ferocity and radicalism of the revolution. Murder was a political necessity. King Louis XVI had to die because he was not only the monarch but the monarchy itself. For the institution to die, he had to die as a an individual.
An then his wife, Marie Antoinette, had to die too. Their year old son, Louis Charles, died in prison, officially from tuberculosis. The murder was necessary for subjects to be turned into citizens. This was the case of solidarity of murderers. Regicide also created a point of no return.
The dead king could not be liberated by royalists and restored to power. The murder of the divinely anointed monarch marked the beginning of a new world. Monarchy was first desacralised and then eliminated so the Republic could be sacralised. A new calendar was introduced. The year ofwhen the Republic was proclaimed, was the first year of the new world not only for France but also for all humanity.
There was no longer divine sanction for politics which was replaced by metaphysical sanction coming from the will of the people. Robespierre was surprisingly open about the use of terror to institute the Republic of Virtue. If the strength of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the strength of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror; terror without virtue is disastrous, virtue without terror is powerless.
Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue. He was not an atheist — his vision was to seek secularised eschatology but he found little understanding for his attempt to elevate Reason to the sphere of metaphysics.
Reason was celebrated in mass gatherings but without enthusiasm among the populace. The revolution was a case of self-radicalisation at an ever increasing pace.
For Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, stagnation meant decay and only a permanent and ever accelerating movement could prevent revolution from ossification and failure. Robespierre was no doubt a monster … or was he?
Robespierre believed that his motivation was pure. He devoted his life to the well-being of the people. Historian Marisa Linton believes that Robespierre was unfairly treated by history.
Robespierre and Danton | Ideas
He was not solely responsible for terror because France was ruled at that time by a collective body composed of nine, and later of twelve, members, the Committee of Public Safety. She stresses the fact that Robespierre was initially a humanitarian who even advocated the abolition of the capital punishment. In her view, the dynamics of the revolution forced Robespierre to behave like he did.