Please see commentary in later blog here: http://carawriteshistory101.blogspot.com/2016/10/a-comment-on-my-history-paper-french.html
1793-1794: The Counterrevolutionary Phase
By Cara Ruegg
Between the years 1793-1794 the French Revolution at last began to face opposition. It had a glorious and far too easy start in the beginning, destroying the Monarchy and establishing their liberal constitution: Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. What resistance did it really face at first? With its sly words and malevolent intentions hidden between the lines, it even seemed to convince the King who, though reluctantly, signed the decree ordering the Religious to take the Civil Oath (Petrie, n.d., p. 4656). Louis XVI did not fight them, not at first; almost no one did, not until the evil was made blatantly apparent by the blood left stinking in the streets. But, by 1793, there was a sudden shift. Peasants, those who the Revolutionaries claimed to protect, began to rise up to defend their Religion and fight against this mockery of freedom the Revolutionaries presented; and even amidst the evil forces there were changes of heart, like with Danton and his followers known as the Dantonists who began the publication of a newspaper entitled: Old Cordelier speaking against the Terror and the great and terrible leader of the Committee of Public Safety and Jacobin Club, Robespierre.
In the beginning, the Girondins, moderate Republicans, were in control of the Revolution, but by 1793 the Jacobins, radical Republicans, had taken over. The Jacobins relied on terror to keep the people in line and prevent any major uprisings against their aim of absolute liberty – this idea that humankind has the right to do as they wish (n.d., Ehmke, n.p.). The ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau issued forth a couple decades before the Revolution were a great influence to the Jacobins. Voltaire stressed reason alone and was adamantly opposed to religion, and Rousseau stressed emotions and not reason; he thought humankind should be totally ruled by their passions (n.d., Ehmke, n.p.).
It is believed that one of the reasons for the start of the Revolution was to protect the lower class that was being maltreated by the nobles and clergy, and strongly taxed. This is probably another thing influenced by Rousseau who “had been born in a lower social stratum and hated the social inequalities and the privileges which their class in society had to endure.” (Mignet, 1906, p. 15). However, ironically enough given the Republic’s “people must not be suppressed by taxes” motto, the Jacobin clubs actually required payment for membership. “The club of Provins issued the following ultimatum to the guilty parties: ‘Are you going to pay, yes or no? If the answer is yes, you can remain one of us. If no, you will be expelled.’” (Kennedy, 1984, pg. 639) Already the hypocrisy of the Jacobin group is clearly shown; this can be seen again in regards to their opposition to the Vendee. In article 122 of the Constitution of 1793 it is stated: “The Constitution guarantees…free exercise of religion” (Lieber, 1883, article 122); however, this clearly was not the case since the Republic tried to force many of the clergy to take the Civil Oath, something that was clearly against their religion since it denied proper authority to the Pope and made it so the French clergy could not recognize other clergy under foreign governments; and the Republic also destroyed many of the Catholic churches, among other injustices shown to religion (Carroll, 2005, p. 159). So, in the end, the Republic did not protect anyone, but rather sacrificed and infringed upon everyone’s rights if they were in any way opposed to theirs.
One of the greatest and most well known social figures of the Jacobins was the infamous Robespierre, a lawyer and member of the Bourgeois; bloodthirsty and starving for power, he is the main figure held responsible for the Reign of Terror (Carroll, 2005, p. 129). Robespierre was president of the Jacobin Club and greatly influential in the Committee of Public Safety, which was the governing body of the Republic. He was attached to this idea of ideal democracy and was willing to kill for it. “The French are the first people of the world who have established real democracy,” he had said in his speech to the Convention on Political Morality delivered on 5 February 1794: “and there, in my judgment, is the true reason why all the tyrants in league against the Republic will be vanquished…Social protection is due only to peaceful citizens; there are no citizens in the Republic but the republicans.” (Bienvenu, 1970, Para. 12). In other words, whoever even seems to oppose the Revolution must be killed, giving excuse for the Terror – the slaughter of France.
Popularity was very important to Robespierre; it was both his strength and his weakness. In The French Revolution From 1789-1815, Francois Mignet said, “Robespierre had the support of an immense and fanatical sect” that “derived its origin from the eighteenth century, certain opinions of which it represented. In politics its symbol was the absolute sovereignty of the ‘Social Contract’ of Rousseau, and for creed it held the deism of ‘The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar.’” (Mignet 1906, p. 219) But Robespierre was strongly insecure and feared always that someone would take away his power, which is why he was so opposed to the Hébertists, the Dantonists and Joseph Fouché; he was afraid they would steal from him the popularity and power he so enjoyed. This insecurity would be what would lead Robespierre to his destruction (Carroll, 2005, p. 270-273). Maybe he could eliminate Hébert and Danton, but Fouché, the president of the Jacobin club, was another story. Robespierre declared Fouché “the ringleader of a conspiracy” and “demanded his head” (Carroll, 2005, p. 273) a day after he issued the law of 22 Prairial, which ordered executions without trial (Carroll, 2005, p. 273). When this denunciation reached Fouché, he went into hiding and, at night, would knock on the doors of the Convention delegates to tell them they were on the list to be guillotined. This stirred up an uneasy feeling amongst the people, and when Robespierre took out the list to read there suddenly arose a tumult; the people rioted and began to denounce Robespierre who was guillotined on July 28th along with his main followers, which included Saint-Just. After this execution, the Reign of Terror ended (1915, Belloc, p.83).
Alongside the Jacobins was the even more radical group, the Hébertists. The Hébertists, led by Jacques-Rene Hébert, a member of the Bourgeoisie and a journalist of the paper Le Pére Duchesne, were a band of radical revolutionaries, even opposed to by Robespierre who saw Hébert as a threat since he did not uphold Robespierre’s idea of the virtue of the Republic, despite the fact both groups were supporters of the same aim: destruction of all opposed to the Revolution. The Hébertists were greatly abhorrent toward the Catholic Faith, so much so that even Robespierre found their attacks too excessive (Carroll, 2005, p. 249) and “was disgusted at the obscene profanities of the ‘feast of reason’ indulged in by the foul Hébert and his associates” which greatly ridiculed the Holy Mass of the Catholics (Petrie, n.d, pg. 4669).
The Hébertists seemed to be greatly influenced by the ideas of Rousseau. They seemed to care only for the fulfillment of their passions; hence their repulsive religious ceremonies that were encompassed with impurities. They were also involved in the September massacre in which priests where killed by the hundreds. Hébert’s newspaper: Le Pére Duchesne was of great influence to the Revolution – it pushed for the king’s death, the purge of the moderate Republics – the Girondins, and the establishment of the “Revolutionary government” (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d., para. 2).
Saint-Just, a Jacobin who was at one point the president of the Convention, like Robespierre, also mistrusted the Hébertists. He influenced Robespierre to strike them down. On March 4th Hébert tried to persuade the Cordelier Club to call for a “popular uprising” due to a food shortage (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d., Para. 4), and Saint-Just saw this as his opportunity to attack. On March 13th he declared that “every faction is…criminal” because it is a “form of isolation from the people and the popular societies” and then declared arrest on the Herbertists who were executed shortly after on March 24th. (Carroll, 2005, p. 255)
The Vendéans, mostly common peasant folk vehemently devoted to their Catholic Religion, began to rise up around the year 1793 to fight against the Republic. Some contemporary historians argue that the motive behind the Vendéans attack against the Republic was due to “Economic and political developments during the Revolution” which did not benefit the peasants in that area, along with the “textile depression” during 1790 (Mitchell, 1968, p. 415), but one can see that that probably was not the initial reason for their revolt. The Vendéans most probably were mainly influenced by a sincere love for their Catholic religion, which the Republic was trying to deny them. In letters composed by an English lady residing in England at that time, she said she could see nothing “barbarous” in the Vendéans, and regarded their loyalty to their clergy not due to just habit but true happiness derived from their authority over them, because it could not be suspected that “whole bodies of men” would risk their lives for those who once oppressed them or for a religion they received no consolation from (Gifford 1798, p. 383).
Around 1793, Catelineau, a baker, dusted the flour off his hands and decided now was the time to fight. His wife insisted he stay, but he resisted and began marching, calling men to arms (Carroll, 2005, p. 202). At the same time, Charette, a nobleman trained as a naval officer was the people’s go-to leader. He initially refused, seeing that it was an impossible cause, but later gave in to their pleas after they accused him of being a disgrace (Carroll, 2005, p. 203). Charette proved to be a noble leader, leading his men to victory many times. Particularly great was his victory at Samuar on June 9th; after this many towns surrounding Samuar gave up without a fight (Carroll, 2005, p. 217). “We are the youth of God, the youth of fidelity!” Charette had said, “And this youth will preserve, for its own and for its children, true humanity and liberty of the soul.” (Carroll, 2005, p. 203)
Catelineau called a council of war in Saumur on June 15th. Some of his men wanted to go directly to Paris, find the son of Louis XVI and crown him, but others argued it was too much of a risk. Another proposed an attack on Nantes, which Catelineau agreed to (Carroll, 2005, p. 219). On June 29th they attacked Nantes, which cost Catelineau’s life and, because of the distraction his being wounded caused, Nantes was not, in the end, taken (Carroll, 2005, p. 221).
December 23rd marked the devastating loss of Vendee to the Republic at Savenay. This was a great discouragement to many of the soldiers, who ended up surrendering to the Republic, leaving only a few to continue the fight such as leaders like Charette and Stofflet (Carroll, 2005, p. 253). On top of this great loss, the Republican, Hoche, busily pursued the Vendéans, separating the “royalist cause from the cause of religion” and employing “priests against the generals”, and taking the cattle “from the inhabitants, and only” restoring “them in return for their arms”, leaving many of the Vendéans weaponless and desperate (Francois, 1906, p. 374).
In the end, it was not the arms of those valiant crusaders that brought an end to the Terror, but rather, it seems, the prayers of devout Catholics. The Carmelite sisters of Compiegne, for instance, offered their lives for the Terror to end, and ten days later it did (Carroll, 2005, p. 278-279).
The Vendéans were not the only ones influenced by religion and, due to that influence, opposed to the Revolution; Danton, the man who had played a part in the September Massacres and had been involved in the deplorable ceremonies the Hébertists approved of (Carroll, 2005, p. 174), was also influenced by religion. What caused this sudden change of heart? Louise Gély; she was a young girl, a friend of Danton’s now dead wife and the caretaker of his children; discreet, intelligent, and devoutly Catholic she seemingly won Danton’s heart. On June 12th, 1793, Gély agreed to marry Danton on two conditions: first, that he “go to confession before a priest in communion with the pope”; and second, that they should be married by “such a priest”, and on that same day Danton agreed to those conditions (Carroll, 2005, p. 215). It seems his marriage with such a pious Catholic greatly influenced him and possibly converted his stone heart. Shortly after Danton’s confession and marriage, he began to separate himself from the Jacobin club, and resigned from the Committee of Public Safety July 13th, 1793, going off to the country to spend time with his family (Carroll, 2005, p. 217).
But Danton could not remain away forever. He knew he had to face the horror he had begun, and so he did. Slowly, but surely, as a sheep in wolf skin, he started to oppose Robespierre and the Terror, teaming up with Camille and forming a group of followers known later as the Dantonists (Belloc, 1899, p. 275). However, Danton and his followers did not break away from the appearance of members of the Cordelier Club, a club that was founded to support the radical Revolutionary movement. He probably knew well enough that he could do more harm to the Republic working within its walls than working outside them.
With the help of Camille, Danton published the newspaper: Old Cordeliers (Carroll, 2005, p. 247). At first, they got Robespierre’s permission for the publication of the first issue and their words in opposition were very carefully hidden, but as time drew on and the newspaper grew more and more popular, Danton’s courage increased and, without the approval of Robespierre, he and Camille began to publish issues that were blatantly offensive to Robespierre and even seemingly in favor of the Vendéans, suggesting the Jacobins’ measures against them were too harsh (Carroll, 2005, p. 245-247). Camille even went so far as to accuse Robespierre of going against the Declaration of Rights since there is nothing in there that demands imprisonment for those who are merely suspected, and then Camille suggested a “Committee of Mercy” (Carroll, 2005, pg. 249) would go much further than that of fear.
Robespierre was furious with the paper, but he did not want to forever lose Camille who Danton had led to his side. On January 7th, 1794 Robespierre stated that Camille’s “writings are dangerous” since they “give hope to our enemies and they stir up public malignity…” however, Camille “once had good inclinations” and has only been led astray by “bad companions” and therefore “we must use severity toward his paper…[but] keep Camille among us” (Carroll, 2005, p. 250). Then Robespierre ordered the burning of the newspaper. Danton used this opportunity to speak out against Robespierre, warning the people that this would be a “deadly blow against the freedom of the press!” (Carroll, 2005, p. 250) which, was stated as a right in the French Constitution of the 24th of June 1793, article 122: “The Constitution guarantees…absolute liberty of the press…” (Lieber, 1883, article 122). But, unfortunately, Danton’s clever tactics did not work. On March 31st, he was arrested and sent to Luxemburg Prison along with some of his followers. On April 2nd, the trial began. Danton was such a successful speaker that it seemed he might actually escape the butcher’s knife. Saint-Just, seeing this, ordered the Convention to decree that: “every accused person who resisted or insulted the national justice should be forbidden to plead” and thus ended Danton’s possibility of escape (Carroll, 2005, p. 261).
On April 5th, Danton, the penitent, the good thief, mounted the steps to the guillotine, stepping, perhaps, on the blood of his friend Camille who was not spared after all. Once there, before the weapon that had caused so many deaths, a weapon he once cherished and now abhorred, he looked upon the faces in the crowd. It is said that the same priest who married Danton and his second wife raised his hand then to give him absolution (Belloc, 1899, p. 280). When the hand of the executioner was placed on his shoulder, Danton did not flinch. “Show my head to the people; it is well worth the while,” he said (Belloc, 1899, p. 281). This last request of his was done, and soon as it was “the sun set” and “there rose at once the confused noise of a thousand voices that rejoiced, or questioned, or despaired, and in the gathering darkness the Parisians returned…to their homes” (Belloc, 1899, p. 281). And so died Danton, the man who had played such a large part in the September Massacres, who killed so many innocent lives and scoffed in the direction of pious Catholics, so died the man whose soul God possibly touched and showed mercy to, the man who at the end died fighting for a cause that was just.
So it was in the years 1793-1794 that the French Revolution was at last opposed and slowly destroyed by the pious Catholic’s prayers and the rebellious sheep in wolf skin, such as those rebels within the Cordeliers Club – Danton and Camille, along with Joseph Fouché, desperate to save his life. The Revolution’s aftereffects might always remain, but God draws the greater good out of every evil, and the martyrs of the guillotine would soon prove to be water to nourish the universal garden of souls, hopefully giving an example of strength for the persecutions that would doubtless follow.
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