The Psychology of Revolution
Part 4 out of 6
when the latter triumphed over its enemy. This was a natural
consequence of the law already stated, by which the weak
invariably fall under the dominion of the stronger wills.
The influence of great manipulators of men was displayed
in a high degree during the Convention. It was constantly led by
a violent minority of narrow minds, whose intense convictions
lent them great strength.
A brutal and audacious minority will always lead a fearful and
irresolute majority. This explains the constant tendency toward
extremes to be observed in all revolutionary assemblies. The
history of the Convention verifies once more the law of
acceleration studied in another chapter.
The men of the Convention were thus bound to pass from moderation
to greater and greater violence. Finally they decimated
themselves. Of the 180 Girondists who at the outset led the
Convention 140 were killed or fled, and finally the most
fanatical of the Terrorists, Robespierre, reigned alone over a
terrified crowd of servile representatives.
Yet it was among the five hundred members of the majority,
uncertain and floating as it was, that the intelligence and
experience were to be found. The technical committees to whom
the useful work of the Convention was due were recruited from the
More or less indifferent to politics, the members of the Plain
were chiefly anxious that no one should pay particular attention
to them. Shut up in their committees, they showed themselves as
little as possible in the Assembly, which explains why the
sessions of the Convention contained barely a third of the
Unhappily, as often happens, these intelligent and honest men
were completely devoid of character, and the fear which always
dominated them made them vote for the worst of the
measures introduced by their dreaded masters.
The men of the Plain voted for everything they were ordered to
vote for--the creation of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the Terror,
&c. It was with their assistance that the Mountain crushed the
Gironde, and Robespierre destroyed the Hebertists and
Dantonists. Like all weak people, they followed the strong. The
gentle philanthropists who composed the Plain, and constituted
the majority of the Assembly, contributed, by their
pusillanimity, to bring about the frightful excesses of the
The psychological note always prevailing in the Convention was a
horrible fear. It was more especially through fear that men cut
off one another's heads, in the doubtful hope of keeping their
own on their shoulders.
Such a fear was, of course, very comprehensible. The unhappy
deputies deliberated amid the hootings and vociferations of the
tribunes. At every moment veritable savages, armed with pikes,
invaded the Assembly, and the majority of the members no longer
dared to attend the sessions. When by chance they did go it was
only to vote in silence according to the orders of the Mountain,
which was only a third as numerous.
The fear which dominated the latter, although less visible, was
just as profound. Men destroyed their enemies, not only because
they were shallow fanatics, but because they were convinced that
their own existence was threatened. The judges of the
revolutionary Tribunals trembled no less. They would have
willingly acquitted Danton, and the widow of Camille
Desmoulins, and many others. They dared not.
But it was above all when Robespierre became the sole master that
the phantom of fear oppressed the Assembly. It has truly been
said that a glance from the master made his colleagues shrink
with fear. On their faces one read ``the pallor of fear and the
abandon of despair.''
All feared Robespierre and Robespierre feared all. It was
because he feared conspiracies against him that he cut off men's
heads, and it was also through fear that others allowed him to do
The memoirs of members of the Convention show plainly what a
horrible memory they retained of this gloomy period. Questioned
twenty years later, says Taine, on the true aim and the intimate
thoughts of the Committee of Public Safety, Barrere replied:--
``We had only one feeling, that of self-preservation; only one
desire, that of preserving our lives, which each of us believed
to be threatened. You had your neighbour's head cut off so that
your neighbour should not have you yourself guillotined.''
The history of the Convention constitutes one of the most
striking examples that could be given of the influence of leaders
and of fear upon an assembly.
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CONVENTION
1. The activity of the Clubs and the Commune during the
During the whole of its existence the Convention was governed by
the leaders of the clubs and of the Commune.
We have already seen what was their influence on the preceding
Assemblies. It became overwhelming during the Convention. The
history of this latter is in reality that of the clubs and the
Commune which dominated it. They enslaved, not only the
Convention, but also all France. Numerous little provincial
clubs, directed by that of the capital, supervised magistrates,
denounced suspects, and undertook the execution of all the
When the clubs or the Commune had decided upon certain measures
they had them voted by the Assembly then and there. If the
Assembly resisted, they sent their armed delegations thither--
that is, armed bands recruited from the scum of the populace.
They conveyed injunctions which were always slavishly obeyed.
The Commune was so sure of its strength that it even demanded of
the Convention the immediate expulsion of deputies who displeased
While the Convention was composed generally of educated
men, the members of the Commune and the clubs comprised a
majority of small shopkeepers, labourers, and artisans, incapable
of personal opinions, and always guided by their leaders--Danton,
Camille Desmoulins, Robespierre, &c.
Of the two powers, clubs and insurrectionary Commune, the latter
exercised the greater influence in Paris, because it had made for
itself a revolutionary army. It held under its orders forty-
eight committees of National Guards, who asked nothing more than
to kill, sack, and, above all, plunder.
The tyranny with which the Commune crushed Paris was frightful.
For example, it delegated to a certain cobbler, Chalandon by
name, the right of surveillance over a portion of the capital--a
right implying the power to send to the Revolutionary Tribunal,
and therefore to the guillotine, all those whom he suspected.
Certain streets were thus almost depopulated by him.
The Convention struggled feebly against the Commune at the
outset, but did not prolong its resistance. The culminating
point of the conflict occurred when the Convention wished to
arrest Hebert, the friend of the Commune, and the latter sent
armed bands who threatened the Assembly and demanded the
expulsion of the Girondists who had provoked the measure. Upon
the Convention refusing the Commune besieged it on June 2, 1798,
by means of its revolutionary army, which was under the orders of
Hanriot. Terrified, the Assembly gave up twenty-seven of its
members. The Commune immediately sent a delegation ironically to
felicitate it upon its obedience.
After the fall of the Girondists the Convention submitted itself
completely to the injunctions of the omnipotent Commune. The
latter decreed the levy of a revolutionary army, to be
accompanied by a tribunal and a guillotine, which was to traverse
the whole of France in order to execute suspects.
Only towards the end of its existence, after the fall of
Robespierre, did the Convention contrive to escape from the yoke
of the Jacobins and the Commune. It closed the Jacobin club and
guillotined its leading members.
Despite such sanctions the leaders still continued to excite the
populace and hurl it against the Convention. In Germinal and
Prairial it underwent regular sieges. Armed delegations even
succeeded in forcing the Convention to vote the re-establishment
of the Commune and the convocation of a new Assembly, a measure
which the Convention hastened to annul the moment the insurgents
had withdrawn. Ashamed of its fear, it sent for regiments which
disarmed the faubourgs and made nearly ten thousand arrests.
Twenty-six leaders of the movement were put to death, and six
deputies who were concerned in the riot were guillotined.
But the Convention did not resist to any purpose. When it was no
longer led by the clubs and the Commune it obeyed the Committee
of Public Safety and voted its decrees without discussion.
``The Convention,'' writes H. Williams, ``which spoke of nothing
less than having all the princes and kings of Europe brought to
its feet loaded with chains, was made prisoner in its own
sanctuary by a handful of mercenaries.''
2. The Government of France during the Convention--The Terror.
As soon as it assembled in 1792 the Convention began by decreeing
the abolition of royalty, and in spite of the hesitation of a
great number of its members, who knew that the provinces were
royalist, it proclaimed the Republic.
Intimately persuaded that such a proclamation would transform the
civilised world, it instituted a new era and a new calendar. The
year I. of this era marked the dawn of a world in which reason
alone was to reign. It was inaugurated by the trial of Louis
XVI., a measure which was ordered by the Commune, but which the
majority of the Convention did not desire.
At its outset, in fact, the Convention was governed by its
relatively moderate elements, the Girondists. The president and
the secretaries had been chosen among the best known of this
party. Robespierre, who was later to become the absolute master
of the Convention, possessed so little influence at this time
that he obtained only six votes for the presidency, while
Petion received two hundred and thirty-five.
The Montagnards had at first only a very slight influence. Their
power was of later growth. When they were in power there was no
longer room in the Convention for moderate members.
Despite their minority the Montagnards found a way to force the
Assembly to bring Louis to trial. This was at once a victory
over the Girondists, the condemnation of all kings, and a final
divorce between the old order and the new.
To bring about the trial they manoeuvred very skilfully,
bombarding the Convention with petitions from the provinces, and
sending a deputation from the insurrectional Commune of Paris,
which demanded a trial.
According to a characteristic common to the Assemblies of the
Revolution, that of yielding to threats and always doing the
contrary of what they wished, the men of the Convention dared not
resist. The trial was decided upon.
The Girondists, who individually would not have wished for the
death of the king, voted for it out of fear once they were
assembled. Hoping to save his own head, the Duc d'Orleans,
Louis' cousin, voted with them. If, on mounting the scaffold on
January 21, 1793, Louis had had that vision of the future which
we attribute to the gods, he would have seen following him, one
by one, the greater number of the Girondists whose weakness had
been unable to defend him.
Regarded only from the purely utilitarian point of view, the
execution of the king was one of the mistakes of the Revolution.
It engendered civil war and armed Europe against France. In the
Convention itself his death gave rise to intestine struggles,
which finally led to the triumph of the Montagnards and the
expulsion of the Girondists.
The measures passed under the influence of the Montagnards
finally became so despotic that sixty departments, comprising the
West and the South, revolted. The insurrection, which was headed
by many of the expelled deputies, would perhaps have succeeded
had not the compromising assistance of the royalists caused men
to fear the return of the ancien regime. At Toulon, in fact, the
insurgents acclaimed Louis XVII.
The civil war thus begun lasted during the greater part of the
life of the Revolution. It was fought with the utmost savagery.
Old men, women, children, all were massacred, and villages and
crops were burned. In the Vendee alone the number of the killed
was reckoned at something between half a million and a million.
Civil war was soon followed by foreign war. The Jacobins thought
to remedy all these ills by creating a new Constitution. It was
always a tradition with all the revolutionary assemblies to
believe in the magic virtues of formula. In France this
conviction has never been affected by the failure of experiments.
``A robust faith,'' writes one of the great admirers of the
Revolution, M. Rambaud, ``sustained the Convention in this
labour; it believed firmly that when it had formulated in a law
the principles of the Revolution its enemies would be confounded,
or, still better, converted, and that the advent of justice would
disarm the insurgents.''
During its lifetime the Convention drafted two Constitutions--
that of 1793, or the year I., and that of 1795, or the year III.
The first was never applied, an absolute dictatorship very soon
replacing it; the second created the Directory.
The Convention contained a large number of lawyers and men of
affairs, who promptly comprehended the impossibility of
government by means of a large Assembly. They soon divided the
Convention into small committees, each of which had an
independent existence--business committees, committees of
legislation, finance, agriculture, arts, &c. These committees
prepared the laws which the Assembly usually voted with its eyes
Thanks to them, the work of the Convention was not purely
destructive. They drafted many very useful measures, creating
important colleges, establishing the metric system, &c. The
majority of the members of the Assembly, as we have already seen,
took refuge in these committees in order to evade the political
conflict which would have endangered their heads.
Above the business committees, which had nothing to do with
politics, was the Committee of Public Safety, instituted in
April, 1793, and composed of nine members. Directed at first by
Danton, and in the July of the same year by Robespierre, it
gradually absorbed all the powers of government, including that
of giving orders to ministers and generals. Carnot directed the
operations of the war, Cambon the finances, and Saint-Just and
Collot-d'Herbois the general policy.
Although the laws voted by the technical committees were often
very wise, and constituted the lasting work of the Convention,
those which the Assembly voted in a body under the threats of the
delegations which invaded it were manifestly ridiculous.
Among these laws, which were not greatly in the interests of the
public or of the Convention itself, were the law of the maximum,
voted in September, 1793, which pretended to fix the price of
provisions, and which merely established a continual dearth; the
destruction of the royal tombs at Saint-Denis; the trial
of the queen, the systematic devastation of the Vendee by
fire, the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, &c.
The Terror was the chief means of government during the
Convention. Commencing in September, 1793, it reigned for six
months--that is, until the death of Robespierre. Vainly did
certain Jacobins-- Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Herault de
Sechelles, &c.--propose that clemency should be given a trial.
The only result of this proposition was that its authors were
sent to the scaffold. It was merely the lassitude of the public
that finally put an end to this shameful period.
The successive struggles of the various parties in the Convention
and its tendency towards extremes eliminated one by one the men
of importance who had once played their part therein. Finally it
fell under the exclusive domination of Robespierre. While the
Convention was disorganising and ravaging France, the armies were
winning brilliant victories. They had seized the left bank of
the Rhine, Belgium, and Holland. The treaty of Basle ratified
We have already mentioned, and we shall return to the matter
again, that the work of the armies must be considered absolutely
apart from that of the Convention. Contemporaries understood
this perfectly, but to-day it is often forgotten.
When the Convention was dissolved, in 1795, after lasting for
three years, it was regarded with universal distrust. The
perpetual plaything of popular caprice, it had not succeeded in
pacifying France, but had plunged her into anarchy. The
general opinion respecting the Convention is well summed up in a
letter written in July, 1799, by the Swedish charge
d'affaires, Baron Drinkmann: ``I venture to hope that no people
will ever be governed by the will of more cruel and imbecile
scoundrels than those that have ruled France since the beginning
of her new liberty.''
3. The End of the Convention. The Beginnings of the Directory.
At the end of its existence, the Convention, always trusting to
the power of formulae, drafted a new Constitution, that of the
year III., intended to replace that of 1793, which had never been
put into execution. The legislative power was to be shared by a
so-called Council of Ancients composed of 150 members, and a
council of deputies numbering 500. The executive power was
confided to a Directory of five members, who were appointed by
the Ancients upon nomination by the Five Hundred, and renewed
every year by the election of one of their number. It was
specified that two-thirds of the members of the new Assembly
should be chosen from among the deputies of the Convention. This
prudent measure was not very efficacious, as only ten departments
remained faithful to the Jacobins.
To avoid the election of royalists, the Convention had decided to
banish all emigres in perpetuity.
The announcement of this Constitution did not produce the
anticipated effect upon the public. It had no effect upon the
popular riots, which continued. One of the most important was
that which threatened the Convention on the 5th of October, 1795.
The leaders hurled a veritable army upon the Assembly.
Before such provocation, the Convention finally decided to defend
itself, and sent for troops, entrusting the command to Barras.
Bonaparte, who was then beginning to emerge from obscurity, was
entrusted with the task of repression. With such a leader action
was swift and energetic. Vigorously pounded with ball near the
church at St. Roch, the insurgents fled, leaving some hundreds of
dead on the spot.
This action, which displayed a firmness to which the Convention
was little habituated, was only due to the celerity of the
military operations, for while these were being carried out the
insurgents had sent delegates to the Assembly, which, as usual,
showed itself quite ready to yield to them.
The repression of this riot constituted the last important act of
the Convention. On the 26th of October, 1795, it declared its
mission terminated, and gave way to the Directory.
We have already laid stress upon some of the psychological
lessons furnished by the government of the Convention. One of
the most striking of these is the impotence of violence to
dominate men's minds in permanence.
Never did any Government possess such formidable means of action,
yet in spite of the permanent guillotine, despite the delegates
sent with the guillotine into the provinces, despite its
Draconian laws, the Convention had to struggle perpetually
against riots, insurrections, and conspiracies. The cities, the
departments, and the faubourgs of Paris were continually rising
in revolt, although heads were falling by the thousand.
This Assembly, which thought itself sovereign, fought against the
invincible forces which were fixed in men's minds, and which
material constraint was powerless to overcome. Of these hidden
motive forces it never understood the power, and it struggled
against them in vain. In the end the invisible forces triumphed.
INSTANCES OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE
1. Psychological Causes of Revolutionary Violence.
We have shown in the course of the preceding chapters that the
revolutionary theories constituted a new faith.
Humanitarian and sentimental, they exalted liberty and
fraternity. But, as in many religions, we can observe a complete
contradiction between doctrine and action. In practice no
liberty was tolerated, and fraternity was quickly replaced by
This opposition between principles and conduct results from the
intolerance which accompanies all beliefs. A religion may be
steeped in humanitarianism and forbearance, but its sectaries
will always want to impose it on others by force, so that
violence is the inevitable result.
The cruelties of the Revolution were thus the inherent results of
the propagation of the new dogmas. The Inquisition, the
religious wars of France, St. Bartholomew's Day, the revocation
of the Edict of Nantes, the ``Dragonnades,'' the persecution of
the Jansenists, &c., belonged to the same family as the Terror
and derived from the same psychological sources.
Louis XIV. was not a cruel king, yet under the impulse of
his faith he drove hundreds of thousands of Protestants out of
France, after first shooting down a considerable number and
sending others to the galleys.
The methods of persuasion adopted by all believers are by no
means a consequence of their fear of the dissentient opposition.
Protestants and Jansenists were anything but dangerous under
Louis XIV. Intolerance arises above all from the indignation
experienced by a mind which is convinced that it possesses the
most dazzling verities against the men who deny those truths, and
who are surely not acting in good faith. How can one support
error when one has the necessary strength to wipe it out?
Thus have reasoned the believers of all ages. Thus reasoned
Louis XIV. and the men of the Terror. These latter also were
convinced that they were in possession of absolute truths, which
they believed to be obvious, and whose triumph was certain to
regenerate humanity. Could they be more tolerant toward their
adversaries than the Church and the kings of France had been
We are forced to believe that terror is a method which all
believers regard as a necessity, since from the beginning of the
ages religious codes have always been based upon terror. To
force men to observe their prescriptions, believers have sought
to terrify them with threats of an eternal hell of torments.
The apostles of the Jacobin belief behaved as their fathers had
done, and employed the same methods. If similar events occurred
again we should see identical actions repeated. If a new
belief--Socialism, for example--were to triumph to-morrow, it
would be led to employ methods of propaganda like those of
the Inquisition and the Terror.
But were we to regard the Jacobin Terror solely as the result of
a religious movement, we should not completely apprehend it.
Around a triumphant religious belief, as we saw in the case of
the Reformation, gather a host of individual interests which are
dependent on that belief. The Terror was directed by a few
fanatical apostles, but beside this small number of ardent
proselytes, whose narrow minds dreamed of regenerating the world,
were great numbers of men who lived only to enrich themselves.
They rallied readily around the first victorious leader who
promised to enable them to enjoy the results of their pillage.
``The Terrorists of the Revolution,'' writes Albert Sorel,
``resorted to the Terror because they wished to remain in power,
and were incapable of doing so by other means. They employed it
for their own salvation, and after the event they stated that
their motive was the salvation of the State. Before it became a
system it was a means of government, and the system was only
invented to justify the means.''
We may thus fully agree with the following verdict on the Terror,
written by Emile Ollivier in his work on the Revolution: ``The
Terror was above all a Jacquerie, a regularised pillage, the
vastest enterprise of theft that any association of criminals has
2. The Revolutionary Tribunals.
The Revolutionary Tribunals constituted the principal means of
action of the Terror. Besides that of Paris, created at the
instigation of Danton, and which a year afterwards sent
its founder to the guillotine, France was covered with
``One hundred and seventy-eight tribunals,'' says Taine, ``of
which 40 were perambulant, pronounced death sentences in all
parts of the country, which were carried out instantly on the
spot. Between the 16th of April, 1793, and the 9th of Thermidor
in the year II. that of Paris guillotined 2,625 persons, and the
provincial judges worked as hard as those of Paris. In the
little town of Orange alone 331 persons were guillotined. In the
city of Arras 299 men and 93 women were guillotined. . . . In
the city of Lyons alone the revolutionary commissioner admitted
to 1,684 executions. . . . The total number of these murders has
been put at 17,000, among whom were 1,200 women, of whom a number
Although the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris claimed only 2,625
victims, it must not be forgotten that all the suspects had
already been summarily massacred during the ``days'' of
The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, a mere instrument of the
Committee of Public Safety, limited itself in reality, as
Fouquier-Tinville justly remarked during his trial, to executing
its orders. It surrounded itself at first with a few legal forms
which did not long survive. Interrogatory, defence, witnesses--
all were finally suppressed. Moral proof--that is, mere
suspicion--sufficed to procure condemnation. The president
usually contented himself with putting a vague question to the
accused. To work more rapidly still, Fouquier-Tinville proposed
to have the guillotine installed on the same premises as the
This Tribunal sent indiscriminately to the scaffold all the
accused persons arrested by reason of party hatred, and very
soon, in the hands of Robespierre, it constituted an instrument
of the bloodiest tyranny. When Danton, one of its founders,
became its victim, he justly asked pardon of God and men, before
mounting the scaffold for having assisted to create such a
Nothing found mercy before it: neither the genius of Lavoisier,
nor the gentleness of Lucile Desmoulins, nor the merit of
Malesherbes. ``So much talent,'' said Benjamin Constant,
``massacred by the most cowardly and brutish of men!''
To find any excuse for the Revolutionary Tribunal, we must return
to our conception of the religious mentality of the Jacobins, who
founded and directed it. It was a piece of work comparable in
its spirit and its aim to the Inquisition. The men who furnished
its victims--Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon--believed
themselves the benefactors of the human race in suppressing all
infidels, the enemies of the faith that was to regenerate the
The executions during the Terror did not affect the members of
the aristocracy only, since 4,000 peasants and 3,000 working-men
Given the emotion produced in Paris in our days by a capital
execution, one might suppose that the execution of so many
persons at one time would produce a very great emotion. But
habit had so dulled sensibility that people paid but little
attention to the matter at last. Mothers would take their
children to see people guillotined as to-day they take them to
the marionette theatre.
The daily spectacle of executions made the men of the time
very indifferent to death. All mounted the scaffold with perfect
tranquillity, the Girondists singing the Marseillaise as they
climbed the steps.
This resignation resulted from the law of habitude, which very
rapidly dulls emotion. To judge by the fact that royalist
risings were taking place daily, the prospect of the guillotine
no longer terrified men. Things happened as though the Terror
terrorised no one. Terror is an efficacious psychological
process so long as it does not last. The real terror resides far
more in threats than in their realisation.
3. The Terror in the Provinces.
The executions of the Revolutionary Tribunals in the provinces
represented only a portion of the massacres effected in the
departments during the Terror. The revolutionary army, composed
of vagabonds and brigands, marched through France killing and
pillaging. Its method of procedure is well indicated by the
following passage from Taine:--
``At Bedouin, a town of 2,000 inhabitants, where unknown hands
had cut down the tree of liberty, 433 houses were demolished or
fired, 16 persons were guillotined, and 47 shot down; all the
other inhabitants were expelled and reduced to living as
vagabonds in the mountains, and to taking shelter in caverns
which they hollowed out of the earth.''
The fate of the wretches sent before the Revolutionary Tribunals
was no better. The first mockery of trial was quickly
suppressed. At Nantes, Carrier drowned and shot down according
to his fancy nearly 5,000 persons--men, women, and children.
The details of these massacres figured in the Moniteur
after the reaction of Thermidor. I cite a few lines:--
``I saw,'' says Thomas, ``after the taking of Noirmoutier, men
and women and old people burned alive . . . women violated, girls
of fourteen and fifteen, and massacred afterward, and tender
babes thrown from bayonet to bayonet; children who were taken
from beside their mothers stretched out on the ground.''
In the same number we read a deposition by one Julien, relating
how Carrier forced his victims to dig their graves and to allow
themselves to be buried alive. The issue of October 15, 1794,
contained a report by Merlin de Thionville proving that the
captain of the vessel le Destin had received orders to embark
forty-one victims to be drowned--``among them a blind man of 78,
twelve women, twelve girls, and fourteen children, of whom ten
were from 10 to 6 and five at the breast.''
In the course of Carrier's trial (Moniteur, December 30, 1794)
it was proved that he ``had given orders to drown and shoot women
and children, and had ordered General Haxo to exterminate all the
inhabitants of La Vendee and to burn down their dwellings.''
Carrier, like all wholesale murderers, took an intense joy in
seeing his victims suffer. ``In the department in which I hunted
the priests,'' he said, ``I have never laughed so much or
experienced such pleasure as in watching their dying grimaces''
(Moniteur, December 22, 1794).
Carrier was tried to satisfy the reaction of Thermidor. But
the massacres of Nantes were repeated in many other towns.
Fouche slew more than 2,000 persons at Lyons, and so many were
killed at Toulon that the population fell from 29,000 to 7,000 in
a few months.
We must say in defence of Carrier, Freron, Fouche and all
these sinister persons, that they were incessantly stimulated by
the Committee of Public Safety. Carrier gave proof of this
during his trial.
``I admit,'' said he (Moniteur, December 24, 1794), ``that 150
or 200 prisoners were shot every day, but it was by order of the
commission. I informed the Convention that the brigands were
being shot down by hundreds, and it applauded this letter, and
ordered its insertion in the Bulletin. What were these deputies
doing then who are so furious against me now? They were
applauding. Why did they still keep me `on mission'? Because I
was then the saviour of the country, and now I am a bloodthirsty
Unhappily for him, Carrier did not know, as he remarked in the
same speech, that only seven or eight persons led the Convention.
But the terrorised Assembly approved of all that these seven or
eight ordered, so that they could say nothing in reply to
Carrier's argument. He certainly deserved to be guillotined, but
the whole Convention deserved to be guillotined with him, since
it had approved of the massacres.
The defence of Carrier, justified by the letters of the
Committee, by which the representatives ``on mission'' were
incessantly stimulated, shows that the violence of the Terror
resulted from a system, and not, as has sometimes been claimed,
from the initiative of a few individuals.
The thirst for destruction during the Terror was by no means
assuaged by the destruction of human beings only; there was an
even greater destruction of inanimate things. The true believer
is always an iconoclast. Once in power, he destroys with equal
zeal the enemies of his faith and the images, temples, and
symbols which recall the faith attacked.
We know that the first action of the Emperor Theodosius when
converted to the Christian religion was to break down the
majority of the temples which for six thousand years had been
built beside the Nile. We must not, therefore, be surprised to
see the leaders of the Revolution attacking the monuments and
works of art which for them were the vestiges of an abhorred
Statues, manuscripts, stained glass windows, and plate were
frenziedly broken. When Fouche, the future Duke of Otranto
under Napoleon, and minister under Louis XVIII., was sent as
commissary of the Convention to the Nievre, he ordered the
demolition of all the towers of the chateaux and the
belfries of the churches ``because they wounded equality.''
Revolutionary vandalism expended itself even on the tomb.
Following a report read by Barrere to the Convention, the
magnificent royal tombs at Saint-Denis, among which was the
admirable mausoleum of Henri II., by Germain Pilon, were smashed
to pieces, the coffins emptied, and the body of Turenne sent to
the Museum as a curiosity, after one of the keepers had extracted
the teeth in order to sell them as curiosities. The moustache
and beard of Henri IV. were also torn out.
It is impossible to witness such comparatively enlightened
men consenting to the destruction of the artistic patriotism of
France without a feeling of sadness. To excuse them, we must
remember that intense beliefs give rise to the worst excesses,
and also that the Convention, almost daily invaded by rioters,
always yielded to the popular will.
This glowing record of devastation proves, not only the power of
fanaticism: it shows us what becomes of men who are liberated
from all social restraints, and of the country which falls into
THE ARMIES OF THE REVOLUTION
1. The Revolutionary Assemblies and the Armies.
If nothing were known of the revolutionary Assemblies, and
notably of the Convention, beyond their internal dissensions,
their weakness, and their acts of violence, their memory would
indeed be a gloomy one.
But even for its enemies this bloodstained epoch must always
retain an undeniable glory, thanks to the success of its armies.
When the Convention dissolved France was already the greater by
Belgium and the territories on the left bank of the Rhine.
Regarding the Convention as a whole, it seems equitable to credit
it with the victories of the armies of France, but if we analyse
this whole in order to study each of its elements separately
their independence will at once be obvious. It is at once
apparent that the Convention had a very small share in the
military events of the time. The armies on the frontier and the
revolutionary Assemblies in Paris formed two separate worlds,
which had very little influence over one another, and which
regarded matters in a very different light.
We have seen that the Convention was a weak Government, which
changed its ideas daily, according to popular impulse; it was
really an example of the profoundest anarchy. It directed
nothing, but was itself continually directed; how, then, could it
have commanded armies?
Completely absorbed in its intestine quarrels, the Assembly had
abandoned all military questions to a special committee, which
was directed almost single-handed by Carnot, and whose real
function was to furnish the troops with provisions and
ammunition. The merit of Carnot consisted in the fact that
besides directing over 752,000 men at the disposal of France,
upon points which were strategically valuable, he also advised
the generals of the armies to take the offensive, and to preserve
a strict discipline.
The sole share of the Assembly in the defence of the country was
the decree of the general levy. In the face of the numerous
enemies then threatening France, no Government could have avoided
such a measure. For some little time, too, the Assembly had sent
representatives to the armies instructed to decapitate certain
generals, but this policy was soon abandoned.
As a matter of fact the military activities of the Assembly were
always extremely slight. The armies, thanks to their numbers,
their enthusiasm, and the tactics devised by their youthful
generals, achieved their victories unaided. They fought and
conquered independently of the Convention.
2. The Struggle of Europe against the Revolution.
Before enumerating the various psychological factors which
contributed to the successes of the revolutionary armies, it will
be useful briefly to recall the origin and the development of the
war against Europe.
At the commencement of the Revolution the foreign sovereigns
regarded with satisfaction the difficulties of the French
monarchy, which they had long regarded as a rival power. The
King of Prussia, believing France to be greatly enfeebled,
thought to enrich himself at her expense, so he proposed to the
Emperor of Austria to help Louis on condition of receiving
Flanders and Alsace as an indemnity. The two sovereigns signed
an alliance against France in February, 1792. The French
anticipated attack by declaring war upon Austria, under the
influence of the Girondists. The French army was at the outset
subjected to several checks. The allies penetrated into
Champagne, and came within 130 miles of Paris. Dumouriez'
victory at Valmy forced them to retire.
Although 300 French and 200 Prussians only were killed in this
battle, it had very significant results. The fact that an army
reputed invincible had been forced to retreat gave boldness to
the young revolutionary troops, and everywhere they took the
offensive. In a few weeks the soldiers of Valmy had chased the
Austrians out of Belgium, where they were welcomed as liberators.
But it was under the Convention that the war assumed such
importance. At the beginning of 1793 the Assembly declared that
Belgium was united to France. From this resulted a conflict with
England which lasted for twenty-two years.
Assembled at Antwerp in April, 1793, the representatives of
England, Prussia, and Austria resolved to dismember France. The
Prussians were to seize Alsace and Lorraine; the Austrians,
Flanders and Artois; the English, Dunkirk. The Austrian
ambassador proposed to crush the Revolution by terror,
``by exterminating practically the whole of the party directing
the nation.'' In the face of such declarations France had
perforce to conquer or to perish.
During this first coalition, between 1793 and 1797, France had to
fight on all her frontiers, from the Pyrenees to the north.
At the outset she lost her former conquests, and suffered several
reverses. The Spaniards took Perpignan and Bayonne; the English,
Toulon; and the Austrians, Valenciennes. It was then that the
Convention, towards the end of 1793, ordered a general levy of
all Frenchmen between the ages of eighteen and forty, and
succeeded in sending to the frontiers a total of some 750,000
men. The old regiments of the royal army were combined with
battalions of volunteers and conscripts.
The allies were repulsed, and Maubeuge was relieved after the
victory of Wattigny, which was gained by Jourdan. Hoche rescued
Lorraine. France took the offensive, reconquering Belgium and
the left bank of the Rhine. Jourdan defeated the Austrians at
Fleurus, drove them back upon the Rhine, and occupied Cologne and
Coblentz. Holland was invaded. The allied sovereigns resigned
themselves to suing for peace, and recognised the French
The successes of the French were favoured by the fact that the
enemy never put their whole heart into the affair, as they were
preoccupied by the partition of Poland, which they effected in
1793-5. Each Power wished to be on the spot in order to obtain
more territory. This motive had already caused the King
of Prussia to retire after the battle of Valmy in 1792.
The hesitations of the allies and their mutual distrust were
extremely advantageous to the French. Had the Austrians marched
upon Paris in the summer of 1793, ``we should,'' said General
Thiebault, ``have lost a hundred times for one. They alone
saved us, by giving us time to make soldiers, officers, and
After the treaty of Basle, France had no important adversaries on
the Continent, save the Austrians. It was then that the
Directory attacked Austria in Italy. Bonaparte was entrusted
with the charge of this campaign. After a year of fighting, from
April, 1796, to April, 1797, he forced the last enemies of France
to demand peace.
3. Psychological and Military Factors which determined the
Success of the Revolutionary Armies.
To realise the causes of the success of the revolutionary armies
we must remember the prodigious enthusiasm, endurance, and
abnegation of these ragged and often barefoot troops. Thoroughly
steeped in revolutionary principles, they felt that they were the
apostles of a new religion, which was destined to regenerate the
The history of the armies of the Revolution recalls that of the
nomads of Arabia, who, excited to fanaticism by the ideals of
Mohammed, were transformed into formidable armies which rapidly
conquered a portion of the old Roman world. An analogous faith
endowed the Republican soldiers with a heroism and intrepidity
which never failed them, and which no reverse could shake
When the Convention gave place to the Directory they had
liberated the country, and had carried a war of invasion into the
enemy's territory. At this period the soldiers were the only
true Republicans left in France.
Faith is contagious, and the Revolution was regarded as a new
era, so that several of the nations invaded, oppressed by the
absolutism of their monarchs, welcomed the invaders as
liberators. The inhabitants of Savoy ran out to meet the troops.
At Mayence the crowd welcomed them with enthusiasm planted trees
of liberty, and formed a Convention in imitation of that of
So long as the armies of the Revolution had to deal with peoples
bent under the yoke of absolute monarchy, and having no personal
ideal to defend, their success was relatively easy. But when
they entered into conflict with peoples who had an ideal as
strong as their own victory became far more difficult.
The new ideal of liberty and equality was capable of seducing
peoples who had no precise convictions, and were suffering from
the despotism of their masters, but it was naturally powerless
against those who possessed a potent ideal of their own which had
been long established in their minds. For this reason Bretons
and Vendeeans, whose religious and monarchical sentiments were
extremely powerful, successfully struggled for years against the
armies of the Republic.
In March, 1793, the insurrections of the Vendee and Brittany
had spread to ten departments. The Vendeeans in Poitou
and the Chouans in Brittany put 80,000 men in the field.
The conflicts between contrary ideals--that is, between beliefs
in which reason can play no part--are always pitiless, and the
struggle with the Vendee immediately assumed the ferocious
savagery always observable in religious wars. It lasted until
the end of 1795, when Hoche finally ``pacified'' the country.
This pacification was the simple result of the practical
extermination of its defenders.
``After two years of civil war,'' writes Molinari, ``the
Vendee was no more than a hideous heap of ruins. About
900,000 individuals--men, women, children, and aged people--had
perished, and the small number of those who had escaped massacre
could scarcely find food or shelter. The fields were devastated,
the hedges and walls destroyed, and the houses burned.''
Besides their faith, which so often rendered them invincible, the
soldiers of the Revolution had usually the advantage of being led
by remarkable generals, full of ardour and formed on the battle-
The majority of the former leaders of the army, being nobles, had
emigrated so that a new body of officers had to be organised.
The result was that those gifted with innate military aptitudes
had a chance of showing them, and passed through all the grades
of rank in a few months. Hoche, for instance, a corporal in
1789, was a general of division and commander of an army at the
age of twenty-five. The extreme youth of these leaders resulted
in a spirit of aggression to which the armies opposed to them
were not accustomed. Selected only according to merit,
and hampered by no traditions, no routine, they quickly succeeded
in working out a tactics suited to the new necessities.
Of soldiers without experience opposed to seasoned professional
troops, drilled and trained according to the methods in use
everywhere since the Seven Years' War, one could not expect
Attacks were delivered simply by great masses of troops. Thanks
to the numbers of the men at the disposal of their generals, the
considerable gaps provoked by this efficacious but barbarous
procedure could be rapidly filled.
Deep masses of men attacked the enemy with the bayonet, and
quickly routed men accustomed to methods which were more careful
of the lives of soldiers. The slow rate of fire in those days
rendered the French tactics relatively easy of employment. It
triumphed, but at the cost of enormous losses. It has been
calculated that between 1792 and 1800 the French army left more
than a third of its effective force on the battle-field (700,000
men out of 2,000,000).
Examining events from a psychological point of view, we shall
continue to elicit the consequences from the facts on which they
A study of the revolutionary crowds in Paris and in the armies
presents very different but readily interpreted pictures.
We have proved that crowds, unable to reason, obey simply their
impulses, which are always changing, but we have also seen that
they are readily capable of heroism, that their altruism is often
highly developed, and that it is easy to find thousands of
men ready to give their lives for a belief.
Psychological characteristics so diverse must naturally,
according to the circumstances, lead to dissimilar and even
absolutely contradictory actions. The history of the Convention
and its armies proves as much. It shows us crowds composed of
similar elements acting so differently in Paris and on the
frontiers that one can hardly believe the same people can be in
In Paris the crowds were disorderly, violent, murderous, and so
changeable in their demands as to make all government impossible.
In the armies the picture was entirely different. The same
multitudes of unaccustomed men, restrained by the orderly
elements of a laborious peasant population, standardised by
military discipline, and inspired by contagious enthusiasm,
heroically supported privations, disdained perils, and
contributed to form that fabulous strain which triumphed over the
most redoubtable troops in Europe.
These facts are among those which should always be invoked to
show the force of discipline. It transforms men. Liberated from
its influence, peoples and armies become barbarian hordes.
This truth is daily and increasingly forgotten. Ignoring the
fundamental laws of collective logic, we give way more and more
to shifting popular impulses, instead of learning to direct them.
The multitude must be shown the road to follow; it is not for
them to choose it.
PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEADERS OF THE REVOLUTION
1. Mentality of the Men of the Revolution. The respective
Influence of Violent and Feeble Characters.
Men judge with their intelligence, and are guided by their
characters. To understand a man fully one must separate these
During the great periods of activity--and the revolutionary
movements naturally belong to such periods--character always
takes the first rank.
Having in several chapters described the various mentalities
which predominate in times of disturbance, we need not return to
the subject now. They constitute general types which are
naturally modified by each man's inherited and acquired
We have seen what an important part was played by the mystic
element in the Jacobin mentality, and the ferocious fanaticism to
which it led the sectaries of the new faith.
We have also seen that all the members of the Assemblies were not
fanatics. These latter were even in the minority, since in the
most sanguinary of the revolutionary assemblies the great
majority was composed of timid and moderate men of neutral
character. Before Thermidor the members of this group
voted from fear with the violent and after Thermidor with the
In time of revolution, as at other times, these neutral
characters, obeying the most contrary impulses, are always the
most numerous. They are also as dangerous in reality as the
violent characters. The force of the latter is supported by the
weakness of the former.
In all revolutions, and in particularly in the French Revolution,
we observe a small minority of narrow but decided minds which
imperiously dominate an immense majority of men who are often
very intelligent but are lacking in character
Besides the fanatical apostles and the feeble characters, a
revolution always produces individuals who merely think how to
profit thereby. These were numerous during the French
Revolution. Their aim was simply to utilise circumstances so as
to enrich themselves. Such were Barras, Tallien, Fouche,
Barrere, and many more. Their politics consisted simply in
serving the strong against the weak.
From the outset of the Revolution these ``arrivists,'' as one
would call them to-day, were numerous. Camille Desmoulins wrote
in 1792: ``Our Revolution has its roots only in the egotism and
self-love of each individual, of the combination of which the
general interest is composed.''
If we add to these indications the observations contained in
another chapter concerning the various forms of mentality to be
observed in times of political upheaval, we shall obtain a
general idea of the character of the men of the Revolution. We
shall now apply the principles already expounded to the
most remarkable personages of the revolutionary period.
2. Psychology of the Commissaries or Representatives ``on
In Paris the conduct of the members of the Convention was always
directed, restrained, or excited by the action of their
colleagues, and that of their environment.
To judge them properly we should observe them when left to
themselves and uncontrolled, when they possessed full liberty.
Such were the representatives who were sent ``on mission'' into
the departments by the Convention.
The power of these delegates was absolute. No censure
embarrassed them. Functionaries and magistrates had perforce to
A representative ``on mission'' ``requisitions,'' sequestrates,
or confiscates as seems good to him; taxes, imprisons, deports,
or decapitates as he thinks fit, and in his own district he is a
Regarding themselves as ``pashas,'' they displayed themselves
``drawn in carriages with six horses, surrounded by guards;
sitting at sumptuous tables with thirty covers, eating to the
sound of music, with a following of players, courtezans, and
mercenaries. . . .'' At Lyons ``the solemn appearance of Collot
d'Herbois is like that of the Grand Turk. No one can come into
his presence without three repeated requests; a string of
apartments precedes his reception-room, and no one approaches
nearer than fifteen paces.''
One can picture the immense vanity of these dictators as
they solemnly entered the towns, surrounded by guards, men whose
gesture was enough to cause heads to fall.
Petty lawyers without clients, doctors without patients,
unfrocked clergymen, obscure attorneys, who had formerly known
the most colourless of lives, were suddenly made the equals of
the most powerful tyrants of history. Guillotining, drowning,
shooting without mercy, at the hazard of their fancy, they were
raised from their former humble condition to the level of the
most celebrated potentates.
Never did Nero or Heliogabalus surpass in tyranny the
representatives of the Convention. Laws and customs always
restrained the former to a certain extent. Nothing restrained
``Fouche,'' writes Taine, ``lorgnette in hand, watched the
butchery of 210 inhabitants of Lyons from his window. Collot,
Laporte, and Fouche feasted on days of execution (fusillades),
and at the sound of each discharge sprang up with cries of joy,
waving their hats.''
Among the representatives ``on mission'' who exhibit this
murderous mentality we may cite as a type the ex-cure Lebon,
who, having become possessed of supreme power, ravaged Arras and
Cambrai. His example, with that of Carrier, contributes to show
what man can become when he escapes from the yoke of law and
tradition. The cruelty of the ferocious commissary was
complicated by Sadism; the scaffold was raised under his windows,
so that he, his wife, and his helpers could rejoice in the
carnage. At the foot of the guillotine a drinking-booth was
established where the sans-culottes could come to drink.
To amuse them the executioner would group on the pavement, in
ridiculous attitudes, the naked bodies of the decapitated.
``The reading of the two volumes of his trial, printed at Amiens
in 1795, may be counted as a nightmare. During twenty sessions
the survivors of the hecatombs of Arras and Cambrai passed
through the ancient hall of the bailiwick at Amiens, where the
ex-member of the Convention was tried. What these phantoms in
mourning related is unheard of. Entire streets dispeopled;
nonagenarians and girls of sixteen decapitated after a mockery of
a trial; death buffeted, insulted, adorned, rejoiced in;
executions to music; battalions of children recruited to guard
the scaffold; the debauchery, the cynicism, the refinements of an
insane satrap; a romance by Sade turned epic; it seems, as we
watch the unpacking of these horrors, that a whole country, long
terrorised, is at last disgorging its terror and revenging itself
for its cowardice by overwhelming the wretch there, the scapegoat
of an abhorred and vanished system.''
The only defence of the ex-clergyman was that he had obeyed
orders. The facts with which he was reproached had long been
known, and the Convention had in no wise blamed him for them.
I have already spoken of the vanity of the deputies ``on
mission,'' who were suddenly endowed with a power greater than
that of the most powerful despots; but this vanity is not enough
to explain their ferocity.
That arose from other sources. Apostles of a severe faith, the
delegates of the Convention, like the inquisitors of the Holy
Office, could feel, can have felt, no pity for their victims.
Freed, moreover, from all the bonds of tradition and law,
they could give rein to the most savage instincts that primitive
animality has left in us.
Civilisation restrains these instincts, but they never die. The
need to kill which makes the hunter is a permanent proof of this.
M. Cunisset-Carnot has expressed in the following lines the grip
of this hereditary tendency, which, in the pursuit of the most
harmless game, re-awakens the barbarian in every hunter:--
``The pleasure of killing for killing's sake is, one may say,
universal; it is the basis of the hunting instinct, for it must
be admitted that at present, in civilised countries, the need to
live no longer counts for anything in its propagation. In
reality we are continuing an action which was imperiously imposed
upon our savage ancestors by the harsh necessities of existence,
during which they had either to kill or die of hunger, while to-
day there is no longer any legitimate excuse for it. But so it
is, and we can do nothing; probably we shall never break the
chains of a slavery which has bound us for so long. We cannot
prevent ourselves from feeling an intense, often passionate,
pleasure in shedding the blood of animals towards whom, when the
love of the chase possesses us, we lose all feeling of pity. The
gentlest and prettiest creatures, the song-birds, the charm of
our springtime, fall to our guns or are choked in our snares, and
not a shudder of pity troubles our pleasure at seeing them
terrified, bleeding, writhing in the horrible suffering we
inflict on them, seeking to flee on their poor broken paws or
desperately beating their wings, which can no longer support
them. . . . The excuse is the impulse of that imperious
atavism which the best of us have not the strength to resist.''
At ordinary times this singular atavism, restrained by fear of
the laws, can only be exercised on animals. When codes are no
longer operative it immediately applies itself to man, which is
why so many terrorists took an intense pleasure in killing.
Carrier's remark concerning the joy he felt in contemplating the
faces of his victims during their torment is very typical. In
many civilised men ferocity is a restrained instinct, but it is
by no means eliminated.
3. Danton and Robespierre.
Danton and Robespierre represented the two principal personages
of the Revolution. I shall say little of the former: his
psychology, besides being simple, is familiar. A club orator
firstly, impulsive and violent, he showed himself always ready to
excite the people. Cruel only in his speeches, he often
regretted their effects. From the outset he shone in the first
rank, while his future rival, Robespierre, was vegetating almost
in the lowest.
At one given moment Danton became the soul of the Revolution, but
he was deficient in tenacity and fixity of conduct. Moreover, he
was needy, while Robespierre was not. The continuous fanaticism
of the latter defeated the intermittent efforts of the former.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing spectacle to see so powerful a
tribune sent to the scaffold by his pale, venemous enemy and
Robespierre, the most influential man of the Revolution and the
most frequently studied, is yet the least explicable. It is
difficult to understand the prodigious influence which
gave him the power of life and death, not only over the enemies
of the Revolution but also over colleagues who could not have
been considered as enemies of the existing Government.
We certainly cannot explain the matter by saying with Taine that
Robespierre was a pedant lost in abstractions, nor by asserting
with the Michelet that he succeeded on account of his principles,
nor by repeating with his contemporary Williams that ``one of the
secrets of his government was to take men marked by opprobrium or
soiled with crime as stepping-stones to his ambition.''
It is impossible to regard his eloquence as the cause of his
success. His eyes protected by goggles, he painfully read his
speeches, which were composed of cold and indefinite
abstractions. The Assembly contained orators who possessed an
immensely superior talent, such as Danton and the Girondists; yet
it was Robespierre who destroyed them.
We have really no acceptable explanation of the ascendancy which
the dictator finally obtained. Without influence in the National
Assembly, he gradually became the master of the Convention and of
the Jacobins. ``When he reached the Committee of Public Safety
he was already,'' said Billaud-Varennes, ``the most important
person in France.''
``His history,'' writes Michelet, ``is prodigious, far more
marvellous than that of Bonaparte. The threads, the wheels, the
preparation of forces, are far less visible. It is an honest
man, an austere but pious figure, of middling talents, that
shoots up one morning, borne upward by I know not what cataclysm.
There is nothing like it in the Arabian Nights. And in a moment
he goes higher than the throne. He is set upon the altar.
Certainly circumstances helped him considerably. People turned
to him as to the master of whom all felt the need. But then he
was already there, and what we wish to discover is the cause of
his rapid ascent. I would willingly suppose in him the existence
of a species of personal fascination which escapes us to-day.
His successes with women might be quoted in support of this
theory. On the days when he speaks ``the passages are choked
with women . . . there are seven or eight hundred in the
tribunes, and with what transports they applaud! At the
Jacobins, when he speaks there are sobs and cries of emotion, and
men stamp as though they would bring the hall down.'' A young
widow, Mme. de Chalabre, possessed of sixteen hundred pounds a
year, sends him burning love-letters and is eager to marry him.
We cannot seek in his character for the causes of his popularity.
A hypochondriac by temperament, of mediocre intelligence,
incapable of grasping realities, confined to abstractions, crafty
and dissimulating, his prevailing note was an excessive pride
which increased until his last day. High priest of a new faith,
he believed himself sent on earth by God to establish the
reign of virtue. He received writings stating ``that he
was the Messiah whom the Eternal Being had promised to reform
Full of literary pretensions, he laboriously polished his
speeches. His profound jealousy of other orators or men of
letters, such as Camille Desmoulins, caused their death.
``Those who were particularly the objects of the tyrant's rage,''
writes the author already cited, ``were the men of letters. With
regard to them the jealousy of a colleague was mingled with the
fury of the oppressor; for the hatred with which he persecuted
them was caused less by their resistance to his despotism than by
their talents, which eclipsed his.''
The contempt of the dictator for his colleagues was immense and
almost unconcealed. Giving audience to Barras at the hour of his
toilet, he finished shaving, spitting in the direction of his
colleague as though he did not exist, and disdaining to reply to
He regarded the bourgeoisie and the deputies with the same
hateful disdain. Only the multitude found grace in his eyes.
``When the sovereign people exercises its power,'' he said, ``we
can only bow before it. In all it does all is virtue and truth,
and no excess, error, or crime is possible.''
Robespierre suffered from the persecution mania. That he had
others' heads cut off was not only because he had a mission as an
apostle, but because he believed himself hemmed in by enemies and
conspirators. ``Great as was the cowardice of his colleagues
where he was concerned,'' writes M. Sorel, ``the fear he had of
them was still greater.''
His dictatorship, absolute during five months, is a striking
example of the power of certain leaders. We can understand that
a tyrant backed by an army can easily destroy whom he pleases,
but that a single man should succeed in sending to death a large
number of his equals is a thing that is not easily explained.
The power of Robespierre was so absolute that he was able to send
to the Tribunal, and therefore to the scaffold, the most eminent
deputies: Desmoulins, Hebert, Danton, and many another. The
brilliant Girondists melted away before him. He attacked even
the terrible Commune, guillotined its leaders, and replaced it by
a new Commune obedient to his orders.
In order to rid himself more quickly of the men who displeased
him he induced the Convention to enact the law of Prairial, which
permitted the execution of mere suspects, and by means of which
he had 1,373 heads cut off in Paris in forty-nine days. His
colleagues, the victims of an insane terror, no longer slept at
home; scarcely a hundred deputies were present at sessions.
David said: ``I do not believe twenty of us members of the
Mountain will be left.''
It was his very excess of confidence in his own powers and in the
cowardice of the Convention that lost Robespierre his life.
Having attempted to make them vote a measure which would permit
deputies to be sent before the Revolutionary Tribunal, which
meant the scaffold, without the authorisation of the Assembly, on
an order from the governing Committee, several Montagnards
conspired with some members of the Plain to overthrow him.
Tallien, knowing himself marked down for early execution, and
having therefore nothing to lose, accused him loudly of tyranny.
Robespierre wished to defend himself by reading a speech which he
had long had in hand, but he learned to his cost that although it
is possible to destroy men in the name of logic it is not
possible to lead an assembly by means of logic. The
shouts of the conspirators drowned his voice; the cry ``Down with
the tyrant!'' quickly repeated, thanks to mental contagion, by
many of the members present, was enough to complete his downfall.
Without losing a moment the Assembly decreed his accusation.
The Commune having wished to save him, the Assembly outlawed him.
Struck by this magic formula, he was definitely lost.
``This cry of outlawry,'' writes Williams, ``at this period
produced the same effect on a Frenchman as the cry of pestilence;
the outlaw became civilly excommunicated, and it was as though
men believed that they would be contaminated passing through the
air which he had breathed. Such was the effect it produced upon
the gunners who had trained their cannon against the Convention.
Without receiving further orders, merely on hearing that the
Commune was `outside the law,' they immediately turned their
Robespierre and all his band--Saint-Just, the president of the
Revolutionary Tribunal, the mayor of the Commune, &c.,--were
guillotined on the 10th of Thermidor to the number of twenty-one.
Their execution was followed on the morrow by a fresh batch of
seventy Jacobins, and on the next day by thirteen. The Terror,
which had lasted ten months, was at an end.
The downfall of the Jacobin edifice in Thermidor is one of the
most curious psychological events of the revolutionary period.
None of the Montagnards who had worked for the downfall of
Robespierre had for a moment dreamed that it would mark the end
of the Terror.
Tallien, Barras, Fouche, &c., overthrew Robespierre as he had
overthrown Hebert, Danton, the Girondists, and many others.
But when the acclamations of the crowd told them that the death
of Robespierre was regarded as having put an end to the Terror
they acted as though such had been their intention. They were
the more obliged to do so in that the Plain--that is, the great
majority of the Assembly--which had allowed itself to be
decimated by Robespierre, now rebelled furiously against the
system it had so long acclaimed even while it abhorred it.
Nothing is more terrible than a body of men who have been afraid
and are afraid no longer. The Plain revenged itself for being
terrorised by the Mountain, and terrorised that body in turn.
The servility of the colleagues of Robespierre in the Convention
was by no means based upon any feeling of sympathy for him. The
dictator filled them with an unspeakable alarm, but beneath the
marks of admiration and enthusiasm which they lavished on him out
of fear was concealed an intense hatred. We can gather as much
by reading the reports of various deputies inserted in the
Moniteur of August 11, 15, and 29, 1794, and notably that on
``the conspiracy of the triumvirs, Robespierre, Couthon, and
Saint-Just.'' Never did slaves heap such invectives on a fallen
We learn that ``these monsters had for some time been renewing
the most horrible prescriptions of Marius and Sulla.''
Robespierre is represented as a most frightful scoundrel; we are
assured that ``like Caligula, he would soon have asked the French
people to worship his horse . . . He sought security in
the execution of all who aroused his slightest suspicion.''
These reports forget to add that the power of Robespierre
obtained no support, as did that of the Marius and Sulla to whom
they allude, from a powerful army, but merely from the repeated
adhesion of the members of the Convention. Without their
extreme timidity the power of the dictator could not have lasted
a single day.
Robespierre was one of the most odious tyrants of history, but he
is distinguished from all others in that he made himself a tyrant
We may sum up his doctrines by saying that he was the most
perfect incarnation, save perhaps Saint-Just, of the Jacobin
faith, in all its narrow logic, its intense mysticism, and its
inflexible rigidity. He has admirers even to-day. M. Hamel
describes him as ``the martyr of Thermidor.'' There has been
some talk of erecting a monument to him. I would willingly
subscribe to such a purpose, feeling that it is useful to
preserve proofs of the blindness of the crowd, and of the
extraordinary docility of which an assembly is capable when the
leader knows how to handle it. His statue would recall the
passionate cries of admiration and enthusiasm with which the
Convention acclaimed the most threatening measures of the
dictator, on the very eve of the day when it was about to cast
4. Fouquier-Tinville, Marat, Billaud-Varenne, &c.
I shall devote a paragraph to certain revolutionists who were
famous for the development of their most sanguinary instincts.
Their ferocity was complicated by other sentiments, by
fear and hatred, which could but fortify it.
Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary
Tribunal, was one of those who have left the most sinister
memories. This magistrate, formerly reputed for his kindness,
and who became the bloodthirsty creature whose memory evokes such
repulsion, has already served me as an example in other works,
when I have wished to show the transformation of certain natures
in time of revolution.
Needy in the extreme at the moment of the fall of the monarchy,
he had everything to hope from a social upheaval and nothing to
lose. He was one of those men whom a period of disorder will
always find ready to sustain it.
The Convention abandoned its powers to him. He had to pronounce
upon the fate of nearly two thousand accused, among whom were
Marie-Antoinette, the Girondists, Danton, Hebert, &c. He had
all the suspects brought before him executed, and did not scruple
to betray his former protectors. As soon as one of them fell
into his power--Camille Desmoulins, Danton, or another--he would
plead against him.
Fouquier-Tinville had a very inferior mind, which the Revolution
brought to the top. Under normal conditions, hedged about by
professional rules, his destiny would have been that of a
peaceable and obscure magistrate. This was precisely the lot of
his deputy, or substitute, at the Tribunal, Gilbert-Liendon.
``He should,'' writes M. Durel, ``have inspired the same horror
as his colleague, yet he completed his career in the upper ranks
of the Imperial magistracy.''
One of the great benefits of an organised society is that it does
restrain these dangerous characters, whom nothing but social
restraints can hold.
Fouquier-Tinville died without understanding why he was
condemned, and from the revolutionary point of view his
condemnation was not justifiable. Had he not merely zealously
executed the orders of his superiors? It is impossible to class
him with the representatives who were sent into the provinces,
who could not be supervised. The delegates of the Convention
examined all his sentences and approved of them up to the last.
If his cruelty and his summary fashion of trying the prisoners
before him had not been encouraged by his chiefs, he could not
have remained in power. In condemning Fouquier-Tinville, the
Convention condemned its own frightful system of government. It
understood this fact, and sent to the scaffold a number of
Terrorists whom Fouquier-Tinville had merely served as a faithful
Beside Fouquier-Tinville we may set Dumas, who presided over the
Revolutionary Tribunal, and who also displayed an excessive
cruelty, which was whetted by an intense fear. He never went out
without two loaded pistols, barricaded himself in his house, and
only spoke to visitors through a wicket. His distrust of
everybody, including his own wife, was absolute. He even
imprisoned the latter, and was about to have her executed when
Among the men whom the Convention brought to light, Billaud-
Varenne was one of the wildest and, most brutal. He may be
regarded as a perfect type of bestial ferocity.
``In these hours of fruitful anger and heroic anguish he
remained calm, acquitting himself methodically of his task--and
it was a frightful task: he appeared officially at the massacres
of the Abbaye, congratulated the assassins, and promised them
money; upon which he went home as if he had merely been taking a
walk. We see him as president of the Jacobin Club, president of
the Convention, and member of the Committee of Public Safety; he
drags the Girondists to the scaffold: he drags the queen thither,
and his former patron, Danton, said of him, `Billaud has a dagger
under his tongue.' He approves of the cannonades at Lyons, the
drownings at Nantes, the massacres at Arras; he organises the
pitiless commission of Orange; he is concerned in the laws of
Prairial; he eggs on Fouquier-Tinville; on all decrees of death
is his name, often the first; he signs before his colleagues; he
is without pity, without emotion, without enthusiasm; when others
are frightened, hesitate, and draw back, he goes his way,
speaking in turgid sentences, `shaking his lion's mane'--for to
make his cold and impassive face more in harmony with the
exuberance that surrounds him he now decks himself in a yellow
wig which would make one laugh were it on any but the sinister
head of Billaud-Varenne. When Robespierre, Saint-Just, and
Couthon are threatened in turn, he deserts them and goes over to
the enemy, and pushes them under the knife. . . . Why? What is
his aim? No one knows; he is not in any way ambitious; he
desires neither power nor money.''
I do not think it would be difficult to answer why. The thirst
for blood, of which we have already spoken, and which is very
common among certain criminals, perfectly explains the
conduct of Billaud-Varennes. Bandits of this type kill for the
sake of killing, as sportsmen shoot game--for the very pleasure
of exercising their taste for destruction. In ordinary times men
endowed with these homicidal tendencies refrain, generally from
fear of the policeman and the scaffold. When they are able to
give them free vent nothing can stop them. Such was the case
with Billaud-Varenne and many others.
The psychology of Marat is rather more complicated, not only
because his craving for murder was combined with other elements--
wounded self-love, ambition, mystic beliefs, &c.--but also
because we must regard him as a semi-lunatic, affected by
megalomania, and haunted by fixed ideas.
Before the Revolution he had advanced great scientific
pretensions, but no one attached much importance to his
maunderings. Dreaming of place and honour, he had only obtained
a very subordinate situation in the household of a great noble.
The Revolution opened up an unhoped-for future. Swollen with
hatred of the old social system which had not recognised his
merits, he put himself at the head of the most violent section of
the people. Having publicly glorified the massacres of
September, he founded a journal which denounced everybody and
clamoured incessantly for executions.
Speaking continually of the interests of the people, Marat became
their idol. The majority of his colleagues heartily despised
him. Had he escaped the knife of Charlotte Corday, he certainly
would not have escaped that of the guillotine.
5. The Destiny of those Members of the Convention who survived
Beside the members of the Convention whose psychology presents
particular characteristics there were others--Barras, Fouche,
Tallien, Merlin de Thionville, &c.--completely devoid of
principles or belief, who only sought to enrich themselves.
They sought to build up enormous fortunes out of the public
misery. In ordinary times they would have been qualified as
simple scoundrels, but in periods of revolution all standards
of vice and virtue seem to disappear.
Although a few Jacobins remained fanatics, the majority renounced
their convictions as soon as they had obtained riches, and became
the faithful courtiers of Napoleon. Cambaceres, who, on
addressing Louis XVI. in prison, called him Louis Capet, under
the Empire required his friends to call him ``Highness'' in
public and ``Monseigneur'' in private, thus displaying the
envious feeling which accompanied the craving for equality in
many of the Jacobins.
``The majority of the Jacobins,'' writes M. Madelin ``were
greatly enriched, and like Chabot, Bazire, Merlin, Barras,
Boursault, Tallien, Barrere, &c., possessed chateaux and
estates. Those who were not wealthy as yet were soon to become
so. . . In the Committee of the year III. alone the staff of the
Thermidorian party comprised a future prince, 13 future counts, 5
future barons, 7 future senators of the Empire, and 6 future
Councillors of State, and beside them in the Convention there
were, between the future Duke of Otranto to the future Count
Regnault, no less than 50 democrats who fifteen years
later possessed titles, coats of arms, plumes, carriages,
endowments, entailed estates, hotels, and chateaux.
Fouche died worth L600,000.''
The privileges of the ancien regime which had been so
bitterly decried were thus very soon re-established for the
benefit of the bourgeoisie. To arrive at this result it was
necessary to ruin France, to burn entire provinces, to multiply
suffering, to plunge innumerable families into despair, to
overturn Europe, and to destroy men by the hundred thousand on
the field of battle.
In closing this chapter we will recall what we have already said
concerning the possibility of judging the men of this period.
Although the moralist is forced to deal severely with certain
individuals, because he judges them by the types which society
must respect if it is to succeed in maintaining itself, the
psychologist is not in the same case. His aim is to understand,
and criticism vanishes before a complete comprehension.
The human mind is a very fragile mechanism, and the marionettes
which dance upon the stage of history are rarely able to resist
the imperious forces which impel them. Heredity, environment,
and circumstances are imperious masters. No one can say with
certainty what would have been his conduct in the place of the
men whose actions he endeavours to interpret.
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN ANCESTRAL INFLUENCES AND REVOLUTIONARY
THE LAST CONVULSIONS OF ANARCHY--THE DIRECTORY
1. The Psychology of the Directory.
As the various revolutionary assemblies were composed in part of
the same men, one might suppose that their psychology would be
At ordinary periods this would have been so, for a constant
environment means constancy of character. But when circumstances
change as rapidly as they did under the Revolution, character
must perforce transform itself to adapt itself thereto. Such was
the case with the Directory.
The Directory comprised several distinct assemblies: two large
chambers, consisting of different categories of deputies, and one
very small chamber, which consisted of the five Directors.
The two larger Assemblies remind one strongly of the Convention
by their weakness. They were no longer forced to obey popular
riots, as these were energetically prevented by the Directors,
but they yielded without discussion to the dictatorial
injunctions of the latter.
The first deputies to be elected were mostly moderates. Everyone
was weary of the Jacobin tyranny. The new Assembly dreamed of
rebuilding the ruins with which France was covered, and
establishing a liberal government without violence.
But by one of those fatalities which were a law of the
Revolution, and which prove that the course of events is often
superior to men's wills, these deputies, like their predecessors,
may be said always to have done the contrary of what they wished
to do. They hoped to be moderate, and they were violent; they
wanted to eliminate the influence of the Jacobins, and they
allowed themselves to be led by them; they thought to repair the
ruins of the country and they succeeded only in adding others to
them; they aspired to religious peace, and they finally
persecuted and massacred the priests with greater rigour than
during the Terror.
The psychology of the little assembly formed by the five
Directors was very different from that of the Chamber of
Deputies. Encountering fresh difficulties daily, the directors
were forced to resolve them, while the large Assemblies, without
contact with realities, had only their aspirations.
The prevailing thought of the Directors was very simple. Highly
indifferent to principles, they wished above all to remain the
masters of France. To attain that result they did not shrink
from resorting to the most illegitimate measures, even annulling
the elections of a great number of the departments when these
Feeling themselves incapable of reorganising France, they left
her to herself. By their despotism they contrived to dominate
her, but they never governed her. Now, what France needed more
than anything at this juncture was to be governed.
The convention has left behind it the reputation of a strong
Government, and the Directory that of a weak Government. The
contrary is true: it was the Directory that was the strong
Psychologically we may readily explain the difference between the
Government of the Directory and that of the preceding Assemblies
by recalling the fact that a gathering of six hundred to seven
hundred persons may well suffer from waves of contagious
enthusiasm, as on the night of the 4th of August, or even
impulses of energetic will-power, such as that which launched
defiance against the kings of Europe. But such impulses are too
ephemeral to possess any great force. A committee of five
members, easily dominated by the will of one, is far more
susceptible of continuous resolution--that is, of perseverance in
a settled line of conduct.
The Government of the Directory proved to be always incapable of
governing, but it never lacked a strong will. Nothing
restraining it, neither respect for law nor consideration for the
citizens, nor love of the public welfare, it was able to impose
upon France a despotism more crushing than that of any Government
since the beginning of the Revolution, not excepting the Terror.
Although it utilised methods analogous to those of the
Convention, and ruled France in the most tyrannical manner, the
Directory, no more than the Convention, was never the master of
This fact, which I have already noted, proves once more the
impotence of material constraint to dominate moral forces. It
cannot be too often repeated that the true guide of mankind is
the moral scaffolding erected by his ancestors.
Accustomed to live in an organised society, supported by codes
and respected traditions, we can with difficulty represent to
ourselves the condition of a nation deprived of such a basis. As
a general thing we only see the irksome side of our environment,
too readily forgetting that society can exist only on condition
of imposing certain restraints, and that laws, manners, and
custom constitute a check upon the natural instincts of barbarism
which never entirely perishes.
The history of the Convention and the Directory which followed it
shows plainly to what degree disorder may overcome a nation
deprived of its ancient structure, and having for guide only the
artificial combinations of an insufficient reason.
2. Despotic Government of the Directory. Recrudescence of the
With the object of diverting attention, occupying the army, and
obtaining resources by the pillage of neighbouring countries, the
Directors decided to resume the wars of conquest which had
succeeded under the Convention.
These continued during the life time of the Directory. The
armies won a rich booty, especially in Italy.
Some of the invaded populations were so simple as to suppose that
these invasions were undertaken in their interest. They were not
long in discovering that all military operations were
accompanied by crushing taxes and the pillage of churches, public
The final consequence of this policy of conquest was the
formation of a new coalition against France, which lasted until
Indifferent to the state of the country and incapable of
reorganising it, the Directors were principally concerned in
struggling against an incessant series of conspiracies in order
to keep in power.
This task was enough to occupy their leisure, for the political
parties had not disarmed. Anarchy had reached such a point that
all were calling for a hand powerful enough to restore order.
Everyone felt, the Directors included, that the republican system
could not last much longer.
Some dreamed of re-establishing royalty, others the Terrorist
system, while others waited for a general. Only the purchasers
of the national property feared a change of Government.
The unpopularity of the Directory increased daily, and when in
May, 1797, the third part of the Assembly had to be renewed, the
majority of those elected were hostile to the system.
The Directors were not embarrassed by a little thing like that.
They annulled the elections in 49 departments; 154 of the new
deputies were invalidated and expelled, 53 condemned to
deportation. Among these latter figured the most illustrious
names of the Revolution: Portalis, Carnot, Tronson du Coudray,
To intimidate the electors, military commissions condemned to
death, rather at random, 160 persons, and sent to Guiana 330, of
whom half speedily died. The emigres and priests who
had returned to France were violently expelled. This was known
as the coup d'etat of Fructidor.
This coup, which struck more especially at the moderates, was
not the only one of its kind; another quickly followed. The
Directors, finding the Jacobin deputies too numerous, annulled
the elections of sixty of them.
The preceding facts displayed the tyrannical temper of the
Directors, but this appeared even more plainly in the details of
their measures. The new masters of France also proved to be as
bloodthirsty as the most ferocious deputies of the Terror.
The guillotine was not re-established as a permanency, but
replaced by deportation under conditions which left the victims
little chance of survival. Sent to Rochefort in cages of iron
bars, exposed to all the severities of the weather, they were
then packed into boats.
``Between the decks of the Decade and the Bayonnaise,''
says Taine, ``the miserable prisoners, suffocated by the lack of
air and the torrid heat, bullied and fleeced, died of hunger or
asphyxia, and Guiana completed the work of the voyage: of 193
taken thither by the Decade 39 were left alive at the end of
twenty-two months; of 120 taken by the Bayonnaise 1 remained.
Observing everywhere a Catholic renascence, and imagining that
the clergy were conspiring against them, the Directors deported
or sent to the galleys in one year 1,448 priests, to say nothing
of a large number who were summarily executed. The Terror was in
reality completely re-established.
The autocratic despotism of the Directory was exercised in all
the branches of the administration, notably the finances. Thus,
having need of six hundred million francs, it forced the
deputies, always docile, to vote a progressive impost, which
yielded, however, only twelve millions. Being presently in the
same condition, it decreed a forced loan of a hundred millions,
which resulted in the closing of workshops, the stoppage of
business, and the dismissal of domestics. It was only at the
price of absolute ruin that forty millions could be obtained.
To assure itself of domination in the provinces the Directory
caused a so-called law of hostages to be passed, according to
which a list of hostages, responsible for all offences, was drawn
up in each commune.
It is easy to understand what hatred such a system provoked. At
the end of 1799 fourteen departments were in revolt and forty-six
were ready to rise. If the Directory had lasted the dissolution
of society would have been complete.
For that matter, this dissolution was far advanced. Finances,
administration, everything was crumbling. The receipts of the
Treasury, consisting of depreciated assignats fallen to a
hundredth part of their original value, were negligible. Holders
of Government stock and officers could no longer obtain payment.
France at this time gave travellers the impression of a country
ravaged by war and abandoned by its inhabitants. The broken
bridges and dykes and ruined buildings made all traffic
impossible. The roads, long deserted, were infested by brigands.
Certain departments could only be crossed at the price of buying
a safe-conduct from the leaders of these bands. Industry
and commerce were annihilated. In Lyons 13,000 workshops and
mills out of 15,000 had been forced to close. Lille, Havre,
Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, &c., were like dead cities. Poverty
and famine were general.
The moral disorganisation was no less terrible. Luxury and the
craving for pleasure, costly dinners, jewels, and extravagant
households were the appanage of a new society composed entirely
of stock-jobbers, army contractors, and shady financiers enriched
by pillage. They gave Paris that superficial aspect of luxury
and gaiety which has deluded so many historians of this period,
because the insolent prodigality displayed covered the general
The chronicles of the Directory as told in books help to show us
of what lies the web of history is woven. The theatre has lately
got hold of this period, of which the fashions are still
imitated. It has left the memory of a joyous period of re-birth
after the gloomy drama of the Terror. In reality the drama of
the Directory was hardly an improvement on the Terror and was
quite as sanguinary. Finally, it inspired such loathing that the
Directors, feeling that it could not last, sought themselves for
the dictator capable of replacing it and also of protecting them.
3. The Advent of Bonaparte.
We have seen that at the end of the Directory the anarchy and
disorganisation were such that every one was desperately calling
for the man of energy capable of re-establishing order. As early
as 1795 a number of deputies had thought for a moment of re-
establishing royalty. Louis XVIII., having been tactless
enough to declare that he would restore the ancien regime in
its entirety, return all property to its original owners, and
punish the men of the Revolution, was immediately thrown over.
The senseless expedition of Quiberon finally alienated the
supporters of the future sovereign. The royalists gave a proof
during the whole of the Revolution of an incapacity and a
narrowness of mind which justified most of the measures taken
The monarchy being impossible, it was necessary to find a
general. Only one existed whose name carried weight--Bonaparte.
The campaign in Italy had just made him famous. Having crossed
the Alps, he had marched from victory to victory, penetrated to
Milan and Venice, and everywhere obtained important war
contributions. He then made towards Vienna, and was only twenty-
five leagues from its gates when the Emperor of Austria decided
to sue for peace.
But great as was his renown, the young general did not consider
it sufficient. To increase it he persuaded the Directory that
the power of England could be shaken by an invasion of Egypt, and
in May, 1798, he embarked at Toulon.
This need of increasing his prestige arose from a very sound
psychological conception which he clearly expounded at St.
``The most influential and enlightened generals had long been
pressing the general of Italy to take steps to place himself at
the head of the Republic. He refused; he was not yet strong
enough to walk quite alone. He had ideas upon the art of
governing and upon what was necessary to a great nation
which were so different from those of the men of the
Revolution and the assemblies that, not being able to act alone,
he feared to compromise his character. He determined to set out
for Egypt, but resolved to reappear if circumstances should arise
to render his presence useful or necessary.''
Bonaparte did not stay long in Egypt. Recalled by his friends,
he landed at Frejus, and the announcement of his return provoked
universal enthusiasm. There were illuminations everywhere.
France collaborated in advance in the coup d'etat prepared
by two Directors and the principal ministers. The plot was
organised in three weeks. Its execution on the 18th of Brumaire
was accomplished with the greatest ease.
All parties experienced the greatest delight at being rid of the
sinister gangs who had so long oppressed and exploited the
country. The French were doubtless about to enter upon a
despotic system of government, but it could not be so intolerable
as that which had been endured for so many years.
The history of the coup d'etat of Brumaire justifies all
that we have already said of the impossibility of forming exact
judgments of events which apparently are fully understood and
attested by no matter how many witnesses.
We know what ideas people had thirty years ago concerning the
coup of Brumaire. It was regarded as a crime committed by the
ambition of a man who was supported by his army. As a matter of
fact the army played no part whatever in the affair. The little
body of men who expelled the few recalcitrant deputies were not
soldiers even, but the gendarmes of the Assembly itself. The
true author of the coup d'etat was the Government itself, with
the complicity of all France.
4. Causes of the Duration of the Revolution.
If we limit the Revolution to the time necessary for the conquest
of its fundamental principles--equality before the law, free
access to public functions, popular sovereignty, control of
expenditures, &c.--we may say that it lasted only a few months.
Towards the middle of 1789 all this was accomplished, and during
the years that followed nothing was added to it, yet the
Revolution lasted much longer.
Confining the duration to the dates admitted by the official
historians, we see it persisting until the advent of Bonaparte, a
space of some ten years.
Why did this period of disorganisation and violence follow the
establishment of the new principles? We need not seek the cause
in the foreign war, which might on several occasions have been
terminated, thanks to the divisions of the allies and the
constant victories of the French; neither must we look for it in
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