Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) was one of the leaders and orators of the French Revolution of 1789, best known for his involvement in the Reign of Terror that followed. As a young man, he studied law and had a reputation for honesty and compassion. He sought to abolish the death penalty and refused to pronounce a required death sentence after becoming a judge. But as the revolution approached, Robespierre became head of the powerful Jacobin Club, a radical group advocating exile or death for France's nobility. In 1792, after Paris mobs stormed the palace of the Tuileries and dethroned King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, Robespierre helped organize the new revolutionary governing body, the Commune of Paris. Robespierre now developed great love for power along with a reputation for intolerance, self-righteousness and cruelty. He used his considerable oratory skills to successfully demand the execution of the king and queen, saying Louis XVI "must die that the country may live." In January 1793, the king was executed, followed ten months later by the queen. The Committee of Public Safety then took over the rule of France and began a three year Reign of Terror during which it brutally put down royalist uprisings, conducted wholesale murder of families with royal ancestry and sent thousands to the guillotines without proper trials. At one point during the Reign of Terror, Robespierre sent an atheist, Jacques-Rene Hebert, to the guillotine after Hebert had closed the Catholic churches and started pagan-style worship of the goddess of Reason. Robespierre then introduced the Reign of Virtue and the Festival of the Supreme Being, from which the speech below is taken. Not long after this speech, Robespierre himself was arrested by his political enemies. A rescue attempt followed, during which part of his jaw was shot off. On July 28, 1794, Robespierre and 19 of his comrades were guillotined. After his death, the Reign of Terror subsided, with Robespierre subsequently blamed for much of its horrors. Source: History Place, 2010
Speech on the Convention, 1794: To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to pardon them is barbarity. The rigor of tyrants has only rigor for a principle; the rigor of the republican government comes from charity. Therefore, woe to those who would dare to turn against the people the terror which ought to be felt only by its enemies! Woe to those who, confusing the inevitable errors of civic conduct with the calculated errors of perfidy, or with conspirators' criminal attempts, leave the dangerous schemer to pursue the peaceful citizen! Perish the scoundrel who ventures to abuse the sacred name of liberty, or the redoubtable arms which liberty has entrusted to him, in order to bring mourning or death into patriots' hearts!
This abuse has existed, one cannot doubt it. It has been exaggerated, no doubt, by the aristocracy. But if in all the Republic there existed only one virtuous man persecuted by the enemies of liberty, the government's duty would be to seek him out vigorously and give him a dazzling revenge.
Speech on France’s new God of Reason/Cult of the Supreme Being (to replace Christianity), 1794:
Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice? He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery, and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.
O generous People, would you triumph over all your enemies? Practice justice, and render the Divinity the only worship worthy of Him. O People, let us deliver ourselves today, under His auspices, to the just transports of a pure festivity. Tomorrow we shall return to the combat with vice and tyrants. We shall give to the world the example of republican virtues. And that will be to honor Him still. Hatred of bad faith and tyranny burns in our hearts, with love of justice and the fatherland. Our blood flows for the cause of humanity. Behold our prayer. Behold our sacrifices. Behold the worship we offer Thee.
FRENCH REVOLUTION TIMELINE
- January 24: General unrest occasioned by economic conditions leads to the Summoning of the Estates-General for the first time since 1614 Estates-General and Constituent Assembly
- May 5: Meeting of the Estates-General
- June 10: The Third Estate (Tiers Etat) (commons) votes for the common verification of credentials, in opposition to the First Estate (the clergy) and the Second Estate (the aristocracy)
- June 17: The Third Estate (commons) declares itself as a National Assembly
- June 20: Third Estate/National Assembly are locked out of meeting houses by royal decree; the Third Estate chooses to continue despite decree and decides upon a declarative vow, known as the "serment au Jeu de Paume" (The Tennis Court Oath), not to dissolve until the constitution has been established
- June 23: Two companies of French guards mutiny in the face of public unrest
- June 24: 48 nobles, headed by the Duke of Orleans, side with the Third Estate. A significant number of the clergy follow their example.
- June 27: Louis orders the First and Second estates to join the Third.
- June 30: Large crowd storms left bank prison and frees mutinous French Guards
- December: Retreat of the allies across the Rhine
- December 19: English evacuate Toulon
- December 23: Battle of Savenay crushes the royalist revolt in La Vendée
- January 19: English land in Corsica
- February 4: Abolition of slavery in colonies
- March 24: Execution of the Hébertists
- April 2: Trial of Danton begins
- April 6: Execution of the Dantonists
- May 7: Beginning of Cult of the Supreme Being
- June 8: Festival of the Supreme Being
- June 10: Law of 22 Prairial
- June 26: Battle of Fleurus (1794) (French victory in Belgium)
- July 2-July 13: Battle of the Vosges (French victory on the Rhine)
- July 27: Fall of Maximilien Robespierre (9 Thermidor)
Notes on Robespierre’s Life (include dates if possible), Source: (_____________________________________________)