Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794)
Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre was born, of Irish origin, at Arras,
May 6, 1758. He was admitted avocat in 1781,
and was elected to the Estates General in 1789 by Artois. He attached himself to
the extreme left wing, and soon commanded attention. His influence grew daily, and the mob frantically admired his earnest
cant and his boasted incorruptibility.
In 1791 he carried the motion that no member of the present Assembly should be
eligible for the next, and was appointed public accuser. Next followed the flight to Varennes (June 21), Lafayette's last
effort to control the right of insurrection on the Champ-de-Mars (July 17), the abject terror of Robespierre, his hysterical
appeal to the Club, the theatrical oath taken by every member to defend his life, and his conduct home in triumph by the
mob at the close of the Constituent Assembly (September 30). The Girondist leaders in the new Legislative Assembly were eager
for war. Robespierre offered a strenuous
opposition in the Jacobin Club.
In April 1792 he resigned his post of public accuser. In August he presented to
the Legislative Assembly a petition for a Revolutionary Tribunal and a new Convention. He was elected first deputy for
Paris to the national Convention, where the bitter attacks upon him by the
Girondists threw him into closer union with Danton.
The first Committee of Public Safety was decreed in April 1793, and Robespierre,
elected in July, was now one of the actual rulers of France. Next came the dark intrigues and desperate struggles that sent
Hébert and his friends to the guillotine in March 1794, and Danton and Camille
Desmoulins in April. The next three months Robespierre reigned supreme.
On May 7 Robespierre, who had previously condemned the Cult of Reason, advocated
a new state religion and recommended the Convention to acknowledge the existence
of God. Meanwhile, the pace of the guillotine grew faster; public finance and
government generally drifted to ruin, and Saint-Just demanded the creation of a
dictatorship in the person of Robespierre. At the Convention on the 27th of July,
Saint-Just could not obtain a hearing, and Robespierre was vehemently attacked
(the 9th of Thermidor). A deputy proposed his arrest; at the fatal word
Robespierre's power came to an end.