Robespierre is considered responsible for the excesses of the Terror. He was 36 when he climbed the scaffold.
Tirelessly pleads the cause of the people
Maximilien de Robespierre was born in Arras, in the north of France. At 11, he left his hometown to continue his studies in Paris, at the Louis le Grand high school, where he was an excellent student, then at the law school where he prepared for the profession of lawyer. It was at this time that he became enthusiastic about the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which he later endeavored to put into practice. Elected representative of the Third Estate for Arras in 1789, Robespierre made himself known to the constituent assembly as a democrat : he demanded universal suffrage, spoke out for freedom of the press, for compulsory education, against the death penalty, and tirelessly pleads the cause of the people, “this multitude that I defend”. It is to him that we owe the motto Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. His qualities as a precise and meticulous orator, the depth of his convictions gradually won him great consideration in the Assembly. He also defends his opinions at the Jacobin club, of which he will take over the presidency.
An unexpected opportunity
Danton’s retirement – entirely temporary – when he left the management of the Committee of Public Safety was an unexpected opportunity for him. He deserves to seize his chance and imposes himself on his colleagues to replace his rival. He has in his hands the supreme power of the republican institutions. It therefore gives a new direction to the Revolution. The time for half-measures, for softness is over. The country discovers the firmness of the Incorruptible. In 1793, the situation no longer allowed for lukewarmness or doubts. The foreign armies are at the borders of the country, the Vendée has chosen the Monarchy. Dozens of departments are in revolt against Paris. Maximilian did not want war. In 1792, he was one of the few to denounce the outbreak of hostilities with Austria. He also proposes the abolition of the death penalty, of which he fears the excesses. In this, too, he is not understood. His conduct remains the same until the end: to save the Republic from its enemies at all costs, even if blood has to be shed for it.
He sees enemies everywhere
Wanting to preserve the achievements of 1789 stems from a good feeling. The trouble is that Robespierre sees enemies everywhere in France. The admirer of Rousseau wants to do so well that he ends up forgetting the principles of tolerance, kindness that he appreciates so much in the philosopher. He becomes the dictator of a totally terrorized France. Robespierre imposes his measures on a Convention which hardly dares to protest. In the mind of the leader, only inflexibility can save the achievements of 1789. The time for hesitation is over. The Terror gives free rein to his passions. Until July 1794, the same tragic spectacle played out every day on the cobblestones of the capital: that of these carts leading to the guillotine dozens of people guilty of clumsy speech or ambiguous behavior. Most of the condemned are no less Republican than others: perhaps they dared to express a little loudly their weariness of all the bloodshed. But at the time of the Terror, that was enough to perish on the Place de la Révolution. Over the months, Robespierre, increasingly isolated among his supporters, locked himself in an implacable destructive logic.
The time of terror
The political companions of the day before quickly become the enemies of France that must be eliminated. When the month of July 1794 comes, Robespierre lives the last weeks of his career and his existence. Man gets lost in philosophical conceptions cut off from the realities of the moment. The deputies begin to fear for their own lives: the dictator is uncontrollable, he must be eliminated otherwise others will in turn take the path of the guillotine.
On July 26, he was prevented from speaking at the podium and arrested. The government of Paris, the Commune, decided on an insurrection to free the man who had been declared an “outlaw” on the 27th. In the evening, Robespierre took refuge at the Hôtel de Ville when an armed column stormed the ‘building. He allegedly attempted suicide with a pistol. Wounded in the jaw, he was arrested. Leaving the courthouse in the middle of the afternoon, Robespierre was led with other condemned prisoners, including his brother Augustin, to the Place de la Révolution. The scaffold is permanent there. Transported on carts, the condemned arrive around 6:15 p.m. A total of 22 men were executed. Maximilien Robespierre was the penultimate. His head was shown to the crowd who came to watch the execution. All the bodies and heads were buried in a common grave, in an old cemetery in the 8th arrondissement opened for the guillotines. After Robespierre, those close to the Commune were put on the scaffold: 71 on July 29, 12 on July 30. The death of Robespierre marked the end of the Terror, an exceptional regime during which several thousand “counter-revolutionaries ” were killed.