The Theory of Social Revolutions
By Brooks Adams

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Chapter V - Political Courts

In the eye of philosophy, perhaps the most alluring and yet illusive of all the phenomena presented by civilization is that which we have been considering. Why should a type of mind which has developed the highest prescience when advancing along the curve which has led it to ascendancy, be stricken with fatuity when the summit of the curve is passed, and when a miscalculation touching the velocity of the descent must be destruction?

Although this phenomenon has appeared pretty regularly, at certain intervals, in the development of every modern nation, I conceive its most illuminating example to be that intellectual limitation of caste which, during the French Revolution, led to the creation of those political criminal tribunals which reached perfection with Robespierre.

When coolly examined, at the distance of a century, the Royalist combination for the suppression of equality before the law, as finally evolved in 1792, did not so much lack military intelligence, as it lacked any approximate comprehension of the modern mind. The Royalists proposed to reëstablish privilege, and to do this they were ready to immolate, if necessary, their King and Queen, and all of their own order who stayed at home to defend them. Indeed, speaking generally, they valued Louis XVI, living, cheaply enough, counting him a more considerable asset if dead. “What a noise it would make throughout Europe,” they whispered among themselves, “if the rabble should kill the King.”

Nor did Marie Antoinette delude herself on this score. At Pilnitz, in 1791, the German potentates issued a declaration touching France which was too moderate to suit the emigrants, who published upon it a commentary of their own. This commentary was so revolting that when the Queen read her brother-in-law’s signature appended to it, she exclaimed–"Cain.”

The Royalist plan of campaign was this: They reckoned the energy of the Revolution so low that they counted pretty confidently, in the summer of 1792, on the ability of their party to defend the Tuileries against any force which could be brought against it; but assuming that the Tuileries could not be defended, and that the King and Queen should be massacred, they believed that their own position would be improved. Their monarchical allies would be thereby violently stimulated. It was determined, therefore, that, regardless of consequences to their friends, the invading army should cross the border into Lorraine and, marching by way of Sierk and Rodemach, occupy Châlons. Their entry into Châlons, which they were confident could not be held against them, because of the feeling throughout the country, was to be the signal for the rising in Vendée and Brittany which should sweep down upon Paris from the rear and make the capital untenable. At Châlons the allies would be but ninety miles from Paris, and then nothing would remain but vengeance, and vengeance the more complete the greater the crime had been.

All went well with them up to Valmy. The German advance on August 11, 1792, reached Rodemach, and on August 19, the bulk of the Prussian army crossed the frontier at Rédagne. On August 20, 1792, Longwy was invested and in three days capitulated. In the camp of the Comte d’Artois “there was not one of us,” wrote Las Casas, “who did not see himself, in a fortnight, triumphant, in his own home, surrounded by his humbled and submissive vassals.” At length from their bivouacs at Saint-Remy and at Suippes the nobles saw in the distance the towers of Châlons.

The panic at Châlons was so great that orders were given to cut the bridge across the Marne, but it was not until about September 2, that the whole peril was understood at Paris. It is true that for several weeks the government had been aware that the West was agitated and that Rouërie was probably conspiring among the Royalists and nonjuring priests, but they did not appreciate the imminence of the danger. On September 3, at latest, Danton certainly heard the details of the plot from a spy, and it was then, while others quailed, that he incited Paris to audacity. This was Danton’s culmination.

As we look back, the weakness of the Germans seems to have been psychological rather than physical. At Valmy the numbers engaged were not unequal, and while the French were, for the most part, raw and ill-compacted levies, with few trained officers, the German regiments were those renowned battalions of Frederick the Great whose onset, during the Seven Years’ War, no adversary had been able to endure. Yet these redoubtable Prussians fell back in confusion without having seriously tried the French position, and their officers, apparently, did not venture to call upon them to charge again. In vain the French gentlemen implored the Prussian King to support them if they alone should storm Kellermann’s batteries. Under the advice of the Duke of Brunswick the King decided on retreat. It is said that the Duke had as little heart in the war as Charles Fox, or, possibly, Pitt, or as his own troops. And yet he was so strong that Dumouriez, after his victory, hung back and offered the invaders free passage lest the Germans, if aroused, should turn on him and fight their way to the Marne.

To the emigrants the retreat was terrible. It was a disaster from which, as a compact power, they never recovered. The rising in Vendée temporarily collapsed with the check at Châlons, and they were left literally naked unto their enemy. Some of them returned to their homes, preferring the guillotine to starvation, others, disguised in peasants’ blouses, tried to reach Rouërie in La Vendée, some died from hardship, some committed suicide, while the bulk regained Liège and there waited as suppliants for assistance from Vienna. But these unfortunate men, who had entered so gayly upon a conflict whose significance they could not comprehend, had by this time lost more than lands and castles. Many of them had lost wives and children in one of the most frightful butcheries of history, and a butchery for which they themselves were responsible, because it was the inevitable and logical effect of their own intellectual limitations.

When, after the affair of August 10, Danton and his party became masters of the incipient republic, Paris lay between two perils whose relative magnitude no one could measure. If Châlons fell, Vendée would rise, and the Republicans of the West would be massacred. Five months later Vendée did rise, and at Machecoul the patriots were slaughtered amidst nameless atrocities, largely at the instigation of the priests. In March, 1793, one hundred thousand peasants were under arms.

Clearly the West could not be denuded of troops, and yet, if Châlons were to be made good, every available man had to be hurried to Kellermann, and this gigantic effort fell to the lot of a body of young and inexperienced adventurers who formed what could hardly be dignified with the name of an organized administration.

For a long time Marat, with whom Danton had been obliged to coalesce, had been insisting that, if the enemy were to be resisted on the frontier, Paris must first be purged, for Paris swarmed with Royalists wild for revenge, and who were known to be arming. Danton was not yet prepared for extermination. He instituted domiciliary visits. He made about three thousand arrests and seized a quantity of muskets, but he liberated most of those who were under suspicion. The crisis only came with the news, on September 2, of the investment of Verdun, when no one longer could doubt that the net was closing about Paris. Verdun was but three or four days’ march from Châlons. When the Duke of Brunswick crossed the Marne and Brittany revolted, the government would have to flee, as Roland proposed, and then the Royalists would burst the gates of the prisons and there would be another Saint Bartholomew.

Toward four o’clock in the afternoon of September 2, 1792, the prison of the Abbaye was forced and the massacres began. They lasted until September 6, and through a circular sent out by Marat they were extended to Lyons, to Reims, and to other cities. About 1600 prisoners were murdered in Paris alone. Hardly any one has ever defended those slaughters. Even Marat called them “disastrous,” and yet no one interfered. Neither Danton, nor Roland, nor the Assembly, nor the National Guard, nor the City of Paris, although the two or three hundred ruffians who did the work could have been dispersed by a single company of resolute men, had society so willed it. When Robespierre’s time came he fell almost automatically. Though the head of the despotic “Committee of Public Safety,” and nominally the most powerful man in France, he was sent to execution like the vilest and most contemptible of criminals by adversaries who would not command a regiment. The inference is that the September massacres, which have ever since been stigmatized as the deepest stain upon the Revolution, were, veritably, due to the Royalists, who made with the Republicans an issue of self-preservation. For this was no common war. In Royalist eyes it was a servile revolt, and was to be treated as servile revolts during the Middle Ages had always been treated. Again and again, with all solemnity, the Royalists had declared that were they to return as conquerors no stone of Paris should be left standing on another, and that the inhabitants should expire in the ashes of their homes on the rack and the wheel.

Though Danton had many and obvious weaknesses he was a good lawyer, and Danton perceived that though he might not have been able to prevent the September massacres, and although they might have been and probably were inevitable under the tension which prevailed, yet that any court, even a political court, would be better than Marat’s mob. Some months later he explained his position to the Convention when it was considering the erection of the tribunal which finally sent Danton himself to the scaffold. “Nothing is more difficult than to define a political crime. But, if a simple citizen, for any ordinary crime, receives immediate punishment, if it is so difficult to reach a political crime, is it not necessary that extraordinary laws ... intimidate the rebels and reach the culpable? Here public safety requires strong remedies and terrible measures. I see no compromise between ordinary forms and a revolutionary tribunal. History attests this truth; and since members have dared in this assembly to refer to those bloody days which every good citizen has lamented, I say that, if such a tribunal had then existed, the people who have been so often and so cruelly reproached for them, would never have stained them with blood; I say, and I shall have the assent of all who have watched these movements, that no human power could have checked the outburst of the national vengeance.”

In this perversion of the courts lay, as I understand it, the foulest horror of the French Revolution. It was the effect of the rigidity of privilege, a rigidity which found its incarnation in the judiciary. The constitutional decisions of the parliaments under the old régime would alone have made their continuance impossible, but the worst evil was that, after the shell crumbled, the mind within the shell survived, and discredited the whole regular administration of justice. When the National Assembly came to examine grievances it found protests against the judicial system from every corner of France, and it referred these petitions to a committee which reported in August, 1789. Setting aside the centralization and consolidation of the system as being, for us, immaterial, the committee laid down four leading principles of reform. First, purchase of place should be abolished, and judicial office should be recognized as a public trust. Second, judges should be confined to applying, and restrained from interpreting, the law. That is to say, the judges should be forbidden to legislate. Third, the judges should be brought into harmony with public opinion by permitting the people to participate in their appointment. Fourth, the tendency toward rigor in criminal cases, which had become a scandal under the old régime, should be tempered by the introduction of the jury. Bergasse proposed that judicial appointments should be made by the executive from among three candidates selected by the provincial assemblies. After long and very remarkable debates the plan was, in substance, adopted in May, 1790, except that the Assembly decided, by a majority of 503 to 450, that the judges should be elected by the people for a term of six years, without executive interference. In the debate Cazalès represented the conservatives, Mirabeau the liberals. The vote was a test vote and shows how strong the conservatives were in the Assembly up to the reorganization of the Clergy in July, 1790, and the electoral assemblies of the districts, which selected the judges, seem, on the whole, to have been rather more conservative than the Assembly. In the election not a sixth of those who were enfranchised voted for the delegates who, in turn, chose the judges, and these delegates were usually either eminent lawyers themselves, or wealthy merchants, or men of letters. The result was a bench not differing much from an old parliament, and equally incapable of understanding the convulsion about them.

Installed early in 1791, not a year elapsed before these magistrates became as ill at ease as had been those whom they displaced, and in March, 1792, Jean Debry formally demanded their recall, although their terms properly were to expire in 1796. During the summer of 1792 they sank into contempt and, after the massacres, the Legislative Assembly, just before its dissolution, provided for a new constituency for the judicial elections. This they degraded so far that, out of fifty-one magistrates to be chosen in Paris, only twelve were professionally trained. Nor did the new courts inspire respect. After the 10th of August one or two special tribunals were organized to try the Swiss Guard who surrendered in the Palace, and other political offenders, but these proved to be so ineffective that Marat thrust them aside, and substituted for them his gangs of murderers. No true and permanent political court was evolved before Danton had to deal with the treason of Dumouriez, nor was this tribunal perfected before Danton gave way to the Committee of Public Safety, when French revolutionary society became incandescent, through universal attack from without and through insurrection within.

Danton, though an orator and a lawyer, possibly even a statesman, was not competent to cope with an emergency which exacted from a minister administrative genius like that of Carnot. Danton’s story may be briefly told. At once after Valmy the Convention established the Republic; on January 21, 1793, Louis was beheaded; and between these two events a new movement had occurred. The Revolutionists felt intuitively that, if they remained shut up at home, with enemies without and traitors within, they would be lost. If the new ideas were sound they would spread, and Valmy had proved to them that those ideas had already weakened the invading armies. Danton declared for the natural boundaries of France,–the Rhine, the Alps, and the ocean,–and the Convention, on January 29, 1793, threw Dumouriez on Holland. This provoked war with England, and then north, south, and east the coalition was complete. It represented at least half a million fighting men. Danton, having no military knowledge or experience, fixed his hopes on Dumouriez. To Danton, Dumouriez was the only man who could save France. On November 6, 1792, Dumouriez defeated the Austrians at Jemmapes; on the 14th, he entered Brussels, and Belgium lay helpless before him. On the question of the treatment of Belgium, the schism began which ended with his desertion. Dumouriez was a conservative who plotted for a royal restoration under, perhaps, Louis Philippe. The Convention, on the contrary, determined to revolutionize Belgium, as France had been revolutionized, and to this end Cambon proposed to confiscate and sell church land and emit assignats. Danton visited Dumouriez to attempt to pacify him, but found him deeply exasperated. Had Danton been more sagacious he would have been suspicious. Unfortunately for him he left Dumouriez in command. In February, Dumouriez invaded Holland and was repulsed, and he then fell back to Brussels, not strong enough to march to Paris without support, it is true, but probably expecting to be strong enough as soon as the Vendean insurrection came to a head. Doubtless he had relations with the rebels. At all events, on March 10, the insurrection began with the massacre of Machecoul, and on March 12, 1793, Dumouriez wrote a letter to the Convention which was equivalent to a declaration of war. He then tried to corrupt his army, but failed, and on April 4, 1793, fled to the Austrians. Meanwhile, La Vendée was in flames. To appreciate the situation one must read Carnot’s account of the border during these weeks when he alone, probably, averted some grave disaster. For my purpose it suffices to say that the pressure was intense, and that this intense pressure brought forth the Revolutionary Tribunal, or the political court.

On March 10, 1793, the Convention passed a decree constituting a court of five judges and a jury, to be elected by the Convention. To these was joined a public prosecutor. Fouquier-Tinville afterward attained to a sombre fame in this position. Six members of the Convention were to sit as a commission to supervise drawing the indictments, the preparation of evidence, and also to advise the prosecutor. The punishments, under the limitations of the Penal Code and other criminal laws, were to be within the discretion of the court, whose judgments were to be final.[40] Death was accompanied by confiscation of property.

Considering that this was an extraordinary tribunal, working under extreme tension, which tried persons against whom usually the evidence was pretty conclusive, its record for the first six months was not discreditable. Between April 6 and September 21, 1793, it rendered sixty-three sentences of death, thirteen of transportation, and thirty-eight acquittals. The trials were held patiently, testimony was heard, and the juries duly deliberated. Nevertheless the Terror deepened as the stress upon the new-born republic increased. Nothing more awful can be imagined than the ordeal which France endured between the meeting of the Convention in September, 1792, and the completion of the Committee of Public Safety in August, 1793. Hemmed in by enemies, the revolution glowed in Paris like molten lava, while yet it was torn by faction. Conservative opinion was represented by the Girondists, radical opinion by the Mountain, and between the two lay the Plain, or the majority of the Convention, who embodied the social centre of gravity. As this central mass swayed, so did supremacy incline. The movement was as accurate as that of any scientific instrument for registering any strain. Dumouriez’s treason in April left the northern frontier open, save for a few fortresses which still held out. When those should fall the enemy could make a junction with the rebels in Vendée. Still the Girondists kept control, and even elected Isnard, the most violent among them, President of the Convention. Then they had the temerity to arrest a member of the Commune of Paris, which was the focus of radicalism. That act precipitated the struggle for survival and with it came the change in equilibrium. On June 2, Paris heard of the revolt of Lyons and of the massacre of the patriots. The same day the Sections invaded the Convention and expelled from their seats in the Tuileries twenty-seven Girondists. The Plain or Centre now leant toward the Mountain, and, on July 10, the Committee of Public Safety, which had been first organized on April 6, 1793, directly after Dumouriez’s treason, was reorganized by the addition of men like Saint-Just and Couthon, with Prieur, a lawyer of ability and energy, for President. On July 12, 1793, the Austrians took Condé, and on July 28, Valenciennes; while on July 25, Kleber, starving, surrendered Mayence. Nothing now but their own inertia stood between the allies and La Vendée. Thither indeed Kellermann’s men were sent, since they had promised not to serve against the coalition for a year, but even of these a division was surrounded and cut to pieces in the disaster of Torfou. A most ferocious civil war soon raged throughout France. Caen, Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, declared against the Convention. The whole of the northwest was drenched in blood by the Chouans. Sixty departments were in arms. On August 28 the Royalists surrendered Toulon to the English, who blockaded the coasts and supplied the needs of the rebels. About Paris the people were actually starving. On July 27 Robespierre entered the Committee of Safety; Carnot, on August 14. This famous committee was a council of ten forming a pure dictatorship. On August 16, the Convention decreed the Levée en Masse.

When Carnot became Minister of War to this dictatorship the Republic had 479,000 demoralized soldiers with the colors, under beaten and discredited commanders. Bouillé had conspired against the States-General, Lafayette against the Legislative Assembly, and Dumouriez against the Convention. One year from that time it had a superb force, 732,000 strong, commanded by Jourdan and Pichegru, Hoche, Moreau, and Bonaparte. Above all Carnot loved Hoche. Up to Valmy the old regular army, however shaken, had remained as a core. Then it became merged in a mass of volunteers, and these volunteers had to be armed and disciplined and fed and led against the greatest and strongest coalition which the modern world had ever seen. France, under Camot, became a vast workshop. Its most eminent scientific men taught the people how to gather saltpetre and the government how to manufacture powder and artillery. Horses had to be obtained. Carnot was as reckless of himself as of others. He knew no rest. There was that to be done which had to be done quickly and at any cost; there was that or annihilation.

On October 21, 1794, when the people had gathered in the Champ de Mars to celebrate the Festival of Victories, after the President of the Convention had proclaimed that the Republic had been delivered, Carnot announced what had been accomplished.

France had won twenty-seven victories, of which eight had been pitched battles.

One hundred and twenty lesser combats. France had killed eighty thousand enemies.

Had taken ninety-one thousand prisoners.

Also one hundred and sixteen places or towns, six after siege.

Two hundred and thirty forts or redoubts.

Three thousand eight hundred cannon.

Seventy thousand muskets.

Ninety flags.

As Benjamin Constant has observed, nothing can change the stupendous fact “that the Convention found the enemy at thirty leagues from Paris, ... and made peace at thirty leagues from Vienna.”

Under the stimulus of a change in environment of mind is apt to expand with something of this resistless energy. It did so in the Reformation. It may be said almost invariably to do so, when decay does not supervene, and it now concerns us to consider, in some rough way, what the cost to the sinking class of attempting repression may be, when it miscalculates its power in such an emergency.

I take it to be tolerably clear that, if the French privileged classes had accepted the reforms of Turgot in good faith, and thus had spread the movement of the revolution over a generation, there would have been no civil war and no confiscations, save confiscations of ecclesiastical property. I take it also that there would have been no massacres and no revolutionary tribunals, if France in 1793 had fought foreign enemies alone, as England did in 1688. Even as it was the courts did not grow thoroughly political until the preservation of the new type of mind came to hinge largely on the extermination of the old. Danton’s first and relatively benign revolutionary tribunal, established in March, 1793, was reorganized by the Committee of Public Safety in the following autumn, by a series of decrees of which the most celebrated is that of September 17, touching suspected persons. By these decrees the tribunal was enlarged so that, in the words of Danton, every day an aristocratic head might fall. The committee presented a list of judges, and the object of the law was to make the possession of a reactionary mind a capital offence. It is only in extreme exigencies that pure thinking by a single person becomes a crime. Ordinarily, a crime consists of a malicious thought coupled with an overt act, but in periods of high tension, the harboring of any given thought becomes criminal. Usually during civil wars test oaths are tendered to suspected persons to discover their loyalty. For several centuries the Church habitually burnt alive all those who denied the test dogma of transubstantiation, and during the worst spasm of the French Revolution to believe in the principle of monarchy and privilege was made capital with confiscation of property.

The question which the Convention had to meet was how to establish the existence of a criminal mind, when nothing tangible indicated it. The old régime had tortured. To prove heresy the Church also had always used torture. The Revolution proceeded more mildly. It acted on suspicion. The process was simple. The Committee, of whom in this department Robespierre was the chief, made lists of those who were to be condemned. There came to be finally almost a complete absence of forms. No evidence was necessarily heard. The accused, if inconvenient, was not allowed to speak. If there were doubt touching the probability of conviction, pressure was put upon the court. I give one or two examples: Scellier, the senior associate judge of the tribunal, appears to have been a good lawyer and a fairly worthy man. One day in February, 1794, Scellier was at dinner with Robespierre, when Robespierre complained of the delays of the court. Scellier replied that without the observance of forms there could be no safety for the innocent. “Bah!” replied Robespierre,–"you and your forms: wait; soon the Committee will obtain a law which will suppress forms, and then we shall see.” Scellier ventured no answer. Such a law was drafted by Couthon and actually passed on 22 Prairial (June 10, 1794), and yet it altered little the methods of Fouquier-Tinville as prosecuting officer. Scellier having complained of this law of Prairial to Saint-Just, Saint-Just replied that if he were to report his words, or that he was flinching, to the Committee, Scellier would be arrested. As arrest was tantamount to sentence of death, Scellier continued his work.

Without reasoning the subject out logically from premise to conclusion, or being, of course, capable of doing so in the mass, Frenchmen had collectively received the intuition that everything must be endured for a strong government, and that whatever obstructed that government must be eliminated. For the process of elimination they used the courts. Under the conditions in which they were placed by the domestic enemy, they had little alternative. If a political party opposed the Dictatorship in the Convention, that party must be broken down; if a man seemed likely to become a rival for the Dictatorship, that man must be removed; all who conspired against the Republic must be destroyed as ruthlessly at home as on the battle-field. The Republic was insolvent, and must have money, as it must have men. If the government needed men, it took them,–all. If it needed money, and a man were rich, it did not hesitate to execute him and confiscate his property. There are very famous examples of all these phenomena strewn through the history of the Terror.

The Girondists were liberals. They always had been liberals; they had never conspired against the Republic; but they were impracticable. The ablest of them, Vergniaud, complained before the Tribunal, that he was being tried for what he thought, not for what he had done. This the government denied, but it was true. Nay, more; he was tried not for positive but for negative opinions, and he was convicted and executed, and his friends were convicted and executed with him, because, had they remained in the Convention, the Dictatorship, through their opposition, would have lost its energy. Also the form of the conviction was shocking in the extreme. The defence of these twenty-one men was, practically, suppressed, and the jury were directed to bring in a verdict of guilty. Still the prosecutions of the Girondists stopped here. When they refrained from obstruction, they were spared.

Danton and his friends may have been, and probably were, whether intentionally or by force of circumstances, a menace to the Dictatorship. Either Robespierre or Danton had to be eliminated. There was not room for both. On April 1, 1793, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and others were arrested on a warrant signed by such men as Cambacérès, Carnot, and Prieur. Carnot in particular was a soldier of the highest character and genius. He would have signed no such warrant had he not thought the emergency pressing. Nor was the risk small. Danton was so popular and so strong before a jury that the government appears to have distrusted even Fouquier-Tinville, for an order was given, and held in suspense, apparently to Henriot, to arrest the President and the Public Prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal, on the day of Danton’s trial.

Under such a stimulant Fouquier did his best, but he felt himself to be beaten. Examining Cambon, Danton broke out: “Do you believe us to be conspirators? Look, he laughs, he don’t believe it. Record that he has laughed.” Fouquier was at his wits’ end. If the next day the jury were asked if they had heard enough, and they answered, “No,” there would be an acquittal, and then Fouquier’s own head would roll into the basket. Probably there might even be insurrection. Fouquier wrote to the Committee that they must obtain from the Convention a decree silencing the defence. So grave was the crisis felt to be that the decree was unanimously voted. When Fouquier heard that the decree was on its way, he said, with a sigh of relief,–"Faith, we need it.” But when it was read, Danton sprung to his feet, raging, declaring that the public cried out treason upon it. The President adjourned the court while the hall resounded with the protests of the defendants and the shouts of the police as they tore the condemned from the benches which they clutched and dragged them through the corridors toward the prison. They emerged no more until they mounted the carts which took them to the scaffold.

Nor was it safe to hesitate if one were attached to this court. Fouquier had a clerk named Paris-Fabricius. Now Paris had been a friend of Danton and took his condemnation to heart. He even declined to sign the judgment, which it was his duty to do. The next day, when he presented himself to Fouquier, Fouquier looked at him sourly, and observed, “We don’t want men who reason here; we want business done.” The following morning Paris did not appear. His friends were disturbed, but he was not to be found. He had been cast into a secret dungeon in the prison of the Luxembourg.

So, if a man were too rich it might go hard with him. Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d’Orleans, afterward known as Égalité, was one of the most interesting figures among the old nobility. The great-great-great-grandson of Louis XIII, he was a distant cousin of Louis XVI, and ranked as the first noble of France beyond the royal family. His education had been unfortunate. His father lived with a ballet-dancer, while his mother, the Princess Henriette de Bourbon-Conti, scandalized a society which was not easily shocked. During the Terror the sans culottes everywhere averred that the Duke was the son of a coachman in the service of the banker Duruet. Doubtless this was false, but the princess had abundant liaisons not much more reputable. Left to himself at sixteen years old, Égalité led a life of extreme profligacy, but he married one of the most beautiful and charming women of the age, whom he succeeded in inspiring with a devoted affection. Born in 1747, his father died in 1785, leaving him, just at the outbreak of the Revolution, the master of enormous wealth, and the father of three sons who adored him. The eldest of these was the future king, Louis-Philippe. The man must have had good in him to have been loved as he was throughout life. He was besides more intelligent touching the Revolution and its meaning than any man approaching him in rank in France. The Duke, when a young man, served with credit in the navy, but after the battle of Ushant, in 1778, where he commanded the blue squadron, he was received with such enthusiasm in Paris, that Marie-Antoinette obtained his dismissal from the service. From this period he withdrew from court and his opposition to the government began. He adopted republican ideas, which he drew from America, and he educated his children as democrats. In 1789 he was elected to the States-General, where he supported the fusion of the orders, and attained to a popularity which, on one occasion, according to Madame de Campan, nearly made the Queen faint from rage and grief. It was from the garden of his palace of the Palais Royal that the column marched on July 14, wearing his colors, the red, white and blue, to storm the Bastille. It seemed that he had only to go on resolutely to thrust the King aside and become the ruler of France. He made no effort to do so. Mirabeau is said to have been disgusted with his lack of ambition. He was charitable also, and spent very large sums of money among the poor of Paris during the years of distress which followed upon the social disorders. The breach with the court, however, became steadily wider, and finally he adhered to the party of Danton and voted for the condemnation of the King. He sent two of his sons to serve in the army. The elder was still with Dumouriez at the time of his treason. On April 6, 1793, when Dumouriez’s treachery had become known, the Assembly ordered the arrest of the whole Bourbon family, and among them the Duke was apprehended and sent to Marseilles.

Thus it appears that whatever complaint his own order may have had against Égalité, the Republic certainly had none. No man could have done more for modern France than he. He abandoned his class, renounced his name, gave his money, sent his sons to the war, and voted for his own relative’s death. No one feared him, and yet Robespierre had him brought to Paris and guillotined. His trial was a form. Fouquier admitted that he had been condemned before he left Marseilles. The Duke was, however, very rich and the government needed his money. Every one understood the situation. He was told of the order for his arrest one night when at supper in his palace in Paris with his friend Monsieur de Monville. The Duke, much moved, asked Monville if it were not horrible, after all the sacrifices he had made and all that he had done. “Yes, horrible,” said Monville, coolly, “but what would you have? They have taken from your Highness all they could get, you can be of no further use to them. Therefore, they will do to you, what I do with this lemon” (he was squeezing a lemon on a sole); “now I have all the juice.” And he threw the lemon into the fireplace. But yet even then Robespierre was not satisfied. He harbored malice against this fallen man. On the way to the scaffold he ordered the cart, in which the Duke sat, to stop before the Palais Royal, which had been confiscated, in order that the Duke might contemplate his last sacrifice for his country. The Duke showed neither fear nor emotion.

All the world knows the story of the Terror. The long processions of carts carrying victims to the guillotine, these increasing in number until after the Law of Prairial they averaged sixty or seventy a day in Paris alone, while in the provinces there was no end. At Nantes, Carrier could not work fast enough by a court, so he sank boat loads of prisoners in the Loire. The hecatombs sacrificed at Lyons, and the “Red Masses” of Orange, have all been described. The population of Toulon sank from 29,000 to 7,000. All those, in fine, were seized and slain who were suspected of having a mind tinged with caste, or of being traitors to the Republic. And it was the Centre, or the majority of the Convention, who did this, by tacitly permitting it to be done. That is to say, France permitted it because the onslaught of the decaying class made atrocities such as these appear to be a condition of self-preservation. I doubt if, in human history, there be such another and so awful an illustration of the possible effects of conservative errors of judgment.

For France never loved the Terror or the loathsome instruments, such as Fouquier-Tinville, or Carrier, or Billaud-Varennes, or Collot-d’Herbois, or Henriot, or Robespierre, or Couthon, who conducted it. On this point there can, I think, be neither doubt nor question. I have tried to show how the Terror began. It is easy to show how and why it ended. As it began automatically by the stress of foreign and domestic war, so it ended automatically when that stress was relieved. And the most curious aspect of the phenomenon is that it did not end through the application of force, but by common consent, and when it had ended, those who had been used for the bloody work could not be endured, and they too were put to death. The procession of dates is convincing.

When, on July 27, 1793, Robespierre entered the Committee of Public Safety, the fortunes of the Republic were near their nadir, but almost immediately, after Carnot took the War Department on August 14, they began to mend. On October 8, 1793, Lyons surrendered; on December 19, 1793, the English evacuated Toulon; and, on December 23, the insurrection in La Vendée received its death blow at Savenai. There had also been success on the frontiers. Carnot put Hoche in command in the Vosges. On December 23, 1793, Hoche defeated Wurmser at Freschweiller, when the Austrians, abandoning the lines of Wissembourg, fell back across the Rhine. Thus by the end of 1793, save for the great border fortresses of Valenciennes and Condé to the north, which commanded the road from Brussels to Paris, the soil of France had been cleared of the enemy, and something resembling domestic tranquillity had been restored at home. Simultaneously, as the pressure lessened, rifts began to appear in the knot of men who held the Dictatorship in the Republic. Robespierre, Couthon, and Saint-Just coalesced, and gained control of the police, while Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d’Herbois, and, secretly and as far as he dared, Barère, formed an opposition. Not that the latter were more moderate or merciful than Robespierre, but because, in the nature of things, there could be but one Dictator, and it became a question of the survival of the fittest. Carnot took little or no part in active politics. He devoted himself to the war, but he disapproved of the Terror and came to a breach with Saint-Just. Robespierre’s power culminated on June 10, 1794, with the passage of the Law of 22 Prairial, which put the life of every Frenchman in his hand, and after which, save for some dozen or two of his most intimate and devoted adherents like Saint-Just, Couthon, Le Bas, Fouquier, Fleuriot the Mayor of Paris, and Henriot, the commander of the national guard, no one felt his head safe on his shoulders. It needed but security on the northern frontier to cause the social centre of gravity to shift and Robespierre to fall, and security came with the campaign of Fleurus.

Jourdan and Pichegru were in command on the Belgian border, and on June 26, 1794, just sixteen days after the passage of the Law of Prairial, Jourdan won the battle of Fleurus. This battle, though not decisive in itself, led to decisive results. It uncovered Valenciennes and Condé, which were invested, closing the entrance to France. On July 11, Jourdan entered Brussels; on July 16, he won a crushing victory before Louvain and the same day Namur opened its gates. On July 23, Pichegru, driving the English before him, seized Antwerp. No Frenchman could longer doubt that France was delivered, and with that certainty the Terror ended without a blow. Eventually the end must have come, but it came instantly, and, according to the old legend, it came through a man’s love for a woman.

John Lambert Tallien, the son of the butler of the Marquis of Bercy, was born in 1769, and received an education through the generosity of the marquis, who noticed his intelligence. He became a journeyman printer, and one day in the studio of Madame Lebrun, dressed in his workman’s blouse, he met Thérézia Cabarrus, Marquise de Fontenay, the most seductive woman of her time, and fell in love with her on the instant. Nothing, apparently, could have been more hopeless or absurd. But the Revolution came. Tallien became prominent, was elected to the Convention, grew to be influential, and in September, 1793, was sent to Bordeaux, as representative of the Chamber, or as proconsul, as they called it. There he, the all-powerful despot, found Thérézia, trying to escape to Spain, in prison, humble, poor, shuddering in the shadow of the guillotine. He saved her; he carried her through Bordeaux in triumph in a car by his side. He took her with him to Paris, and there Robespierre threw her into prison, and accused Tallien of corruption. On June 12 Robespierre denounced him to the Convention, and on June 14, 1794, the Jacobins struck his name from the list of the club. When Fleurus was fought Thérézia lay in La Force, daily expecting death, while Tallien had become the soul of the reactionary party. On the 8 Thermidor (July 26,1794) Tallien received a dagger wrapped in a note signed by Thérézia,–"To-morrow they kill me. Are you then only a coward?"[41]

On the morrow the great day had come. Saint-Just rose in the Convention to read a report to denounce Billaud, Collot, and Camot. Tallien would not let him be heard. Billaud followed him. Collot was in the chair. Robespierre mounted the tribune and tried to speak. It was not without reason that Thérézia afterwards said, “This little hand had somewhat to do with overthrowing the guillotine,” for Tallien sprang on him, dagger in hand, and, grasping him by the throat, cast him from the tribune, exclaiming, “I have armed myself with a dagger to pierce his heart if the Convention dare not order his accusation.” Then rose a great shout from the Centre, “Down with the tyrant, arrest him, accuse him!” From the Centre, which until that day had always silently supported the Robespierrian Dictatorship. Robespierre for the last time tried to speak, but his voice failed him. “It’s Danton’s blood that chokes him; arrest him, arrest him!” they shouted from the Right. Robespierre dropped exhausted on a bench, then they seized him, and his brother, and Couthon, and Saint-Just, and ordered that the police should take them to prison.

But it was one thing for the Convention to seize Robespierre singly, and within its own hall; it was quite another for it to hold him and send him to the guillotine. The whole physical force of Paris was nominally with Robespierre. The Mayor, Fleuriot, closed the barriers, sounded the tocsin, and forbade any jailer to receive the prisoners; while Henriot, who had already been drinking, mounted a horse and galloped forth to rouse the city. Fleuriot caused Robespierre, Couthon, and Le Bas to be brought to the City Hall. A provisional government was completed. It only remained to disperse the Assembly. Henriot undertook a duty which looked easy. He seems to have collected about twenty guns, which he brought to the Tuileries and trained on the hall of the Convention. The deputies thought all was over. Collot-d’Herbois took the chair, which was directly in range, put on his hat, and calmly said, as Henriot gave the order to fire, “We can at least die at our post.” No volley came–the men had mutinied. Then the Convention declared Henriot beyond the protection of the law, and Henriot fled to the City Hall. The Convention chose Barras to command their armed force, but save a few police they had no force. The night was wearing away and Fleuriot had not been able to persuade Robespierre to take any decisive step. Robespierre was, indeed, only a pettifogging attorney. At length he consented to sign an appeal to arms. He had written two letters of his name–"Ro"–when a section of police under Barras reached the City Hall. They were but a handful, but the door was unguarded. They mounted the stairs and as Robespierre finished the “o”, one of these men, named Merda, fired on him, breaking his jaw. The stain of blood is still on the paper where Robespierre’s head fell. They shot Couthon in the leg, they threw Henriot out of the window into a cesspool below where he wallowed all night, while Le Bas blew out his brains. The next day they brought Robespierre to the Convention, but the Convention refused to receive him. They threw him on a table, where he lay, horrible to be seen, his coat torn down the back, his stockings falling over his heels, his shirt open and soaking with blood, speechless, for his mouth was filled with splinters of his broken jaw. Such was the man who the morning before had been Dictator, and master of all the armies of France. Couthon was in little better plight. Twenty-one in all were condemned on the 10 Thermidor and taken in carts to the guillotine. An awful spectacle. There was Robespierre with his disfigured face, half dead, and Fleuriot, and Saint-Just, and Henriot next to Robespierre, his forehead gashed, his right eye hanging down his cheek, dripping with blood, and drenched with the filth of the sewer in which he had passed the night. Under their feet lay the cripple Couthon, who had been thrown in like a sack. Couthon was paralyzed, and he howled in agony as they wrenched him straight to fasten him to the guillotine. It took a quarter of an hour to finish with him, while the crowd exulted. A hundred thousand people saw the procession and not a voice or a hand was raised in protest. The whole world agreed that the Terror should end. But the oldest of those who suffered on the 10 Thermidor was Couthon, who was thirty-eight, Robespierre was thirty-five, and Saint-Just but twenty-seven.

So closed the Terror with the strain which produced it. It will remain a by-word for all time, and yet, appalling as it may have been, it was the legitimate and the logical result of the opposition made by caste to the advent of equality before the law. Also, the political courts served their purpose. They killed out the archaic mind in France, a mind too rigid to adapt itself to a changing environment. Thereafter no organized opposition could ever be maintained against the new social equilibrium. Modern France went on steadily to a readjustment, on the basis of unification, simplification of administration, and equality before the law, first under the Directory, then under the Consulate, and finally under the Empire. With the Empire the Civil Code was completed, which I take to be the greatest effort at codification of modern times. Certainly it has endured until now. Governments have changed. The Empire has yielded to the Monarchy, the Monarchy to the Republic, the Republic to the Empire again, and that once more to the Republic, but the Code which embodies the principle of equality before the law has remained. Fundamentally the social equilibrium has been stable. And a chief reason of this stability has been the organization of the courts upon rational and conservative principles. During the Terror France had her fill of political tribunals. Since the Terror French judges, under every government, have shunned politics and have devoted themselves to construing impartially the Code. Therefore all parties, and all ranks, and all conditions of men have sustained the courts. In France, as in England, there is no class jealousy touching the control of the judiciary.


[40] Histoire du Tribunal Revolutionaire de Paris, H. Wallon, I, 57.

[41] “C’est demain qu’on me tue; n’êtes-vous donc qu’un lache?”


Chapter I - The Collapse of Capitalistic Government  •  Chapter II - The Limitations of the Judicial Function  •  Chapter III - American Courts As Legislative Chambers  •  Chapter IV - The Social Equilibrium  •  Chapter V - Political Courts  •  Chapter VI - Inferences

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