Sunday, May 06, 2007


Maximillian de Robespierre was born on this day in 1758 in Arras, France.

A lawyer known for his advocacy on behalf of the poor, Robespierre entered politics with his election to the States General in 1789, and shortly thereafter he became a leader of the Jacobins on the Left. He called for the trial of Louis XVI after Louis revealed his disapproval of the subordination of Catholic administration to the civil government and attempted to flee France by way of Varennes in July 1791, and Robespierre advocated the outright overthrow of the monarchy a year later.

After the king was deposed in August 1792, Robespierre was among the most bitter enemies of compromise, encouraging the mobs to attack the moderate Girondins and calling for Louis' execution; as the tide turned toward the radicals, he became a member of the ruling Committee of Public Safety (CPS) in July 1793.

There he showed himself to be a ruthless tactician, less for the benefit of his own position than for his guiding principles -- stamping out excessive wealth and advocating state provision of resources for the citizens. When his rivals (such as Hebert and Danton) threatened to compromise these principles or his methods of achieving them, he skillfully maneuvered them to the guillotine in the belief that humane policies encouraged revived conspiracies, asserting that "Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe and inflexible [and] it is therefore an emanation of virtue."

His Law of Prairial (June 1794) dispensed with even the appearance of fair trials, leading to the execution of 1,376 people in just 47 days. Feeling indestructible, Robespierre publicly lashed out against the more moderate members of the CPS the following month; they responded by having him arrested. He was quickly released by his supporters, and although a popular uprising from among the local Parisian government came to Robespierre's aid, at the eleventh hour of the military standoff against the National Guard, Robespierre lost his nerve, admitting that he did not have any confidence that he would succeed. He submitted to arrest again, and was summarily guillotined on July 28, 1794, along with 21 of his supporters. With Robespierre out of the way, the worst excesses of the Great Terror soon subsided.



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