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GEORGE JACQUES DANTON
Dumouriez conceived a plan which did honor to his genius. I would render him greater justice and praise than I did recently. But three months ago he announced to the executive power, your General Committee of Defence, that if we were not audacious enough to invade Holland in the middle of winter, to declare instantly against England the war which actually we had long been making, that we would double the difficulties of our campaign, in giving our enemies the time to deploy their forces. Since we failed to recognize this stroke of his genius, we must now repair our faults.
Dumouriez is not discouraged; he is in the middle of Holland, where he will find munitions of war. To overthrow all our enemies, he wants but Frenchmen, and France is filled with citizens. Would we be free ? If we no longer desire it, let us perish, for we have all sworn it. If we wish it, let all march to defend our independence. Your enemies are making their last efforts. Pitt, recognizing he has all to lose, dares spare nothing. Take Holland, and Carthage is destroyed, and England can no longer exist but for liberty ! .
Expediate, then, your commissioners ; sustain them with your energy; let them leave this very night, this very evening. Let them say to the opulent classes, “ The aristocracy of Europe must succumb to our efforts and pay our debt, or you will have to pay it!” The people have nothing but blood,—they lavish it! Go, then, ingrates, and lavish your wealth ! See, citizens, the fair destinies that await you. What! You have a whole nation as a lever, its reason as your fulcrum, and you have not yet upturned the world! To do this we need firmness and character, and of a truth we lack it. I put to one side all passions. They are all strangers to me save a passion for the public good.
In the most difficult situations, when the enemy was at the gates of Paris, I said to those governing : “Your discussions are shameful, I can see but the enemy. You tire me by squabbling in place of occupying yourselves with the safety of the Republic! I repudiate you all as traitors to our country! I place you all in the same line!” I said to them : “What care I for my reputation ! Let France be free, though my name were accursed !” What care I that I am called a “blood-drinker”! Well, let us drink the blood of the eaemies of humanity, if needful ; but let us struggle, let us achieve freedom. Some fear the departure of the commissioners may weaken one or the other section of this convention. Vain fears ! Carry your energy everywhere. The pleasantest declaration will be to announce to the people that the terrible debt weighing upon them will be wrested from their enemies or that the rich will shortly have to pay it. The national situation is cruel. The representatives of value
GEORGE JACQUES DANTON
are no longer in equilibrium in the circulation. The day of the workingman is lengthened beyond necessity. A great corrective measure is necessary! The conquerors of Holland will reanimate in England the Republican party ; let us advance France and we shall go glorified to posterity. Achieve these grand destinies ; no more debates, no more quarrels, and the Farherland is saved.
TO DARE! ALWAYS TO DARE [With this stirring sentence Danton ended his notable speech in defence of the Republic, on September 2, 1792.]
It seems a satisfaction for the ministers of a free people to announce to them that their country will be saved. All are stirred, all are enthused, all burn to enter the combat. You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies, and that its garrison swears to immolate the first one who breathes a proposition to surrender.
One portion of our people will guard our frontiers, another will dig and arm the entrenchments, the third with pikes will defend the interior of our cities. Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and march to the defence of the country. At such a moment you can proclaim that the capital deserves the esteem of all France. At such a moment this National Assembly becomes a veritable committee of war. We ask that you concur with us in directing this sublime movement of the people, by naming commissioners to second and assist all these great measures. We ask that any one refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms, shall meet the punishment of death. We ask that proper instructions be given to the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that carriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here. The tocsin we shall sound is not the alarm signal of danger, it orders the charge on the enemies of France. At such a moment this National Assembly becomes a veritable committee of war. We ask that you concur with us in directing this sublime movement of the people, by naming commissioners to second and assist all these great measures. We ask that any one refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms, shall meet the punishment of death. We ask that proper instructions be given to the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that carriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here. The tocsin we shall sound is not the alarm signal of danger, it orders the charge on the enemies of France. To conquer we have need to dare! to dare again ! always to dare! And France will be saved !
JEAN PAUL MARAT (1743–1793)
“ THE FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE"
ERHAPS no man in all history has won the more universal
reprobation of mankind than the bloodthirsty Marat, the fero
cious enemy alike of royalists and his political opponents, for whose opinions he had but one cure—the guillotine. In 1789 he stirred
up the passions of the mob by his journal, “ The Friend of the People, and was long obliged to live in cellars and sewers to escape the officers of the law, charged to arrest him for his incendiary utter
He was elected to the Convention in 1792, and in conjunction with Danton and Robespierre, inaugurated the “Reign of Terror," he acting as a public accuser of all whom he wished to remove by death. Tried on a charge of outrages against the Convention in May, 1793, he was triumphantly acquitted; but two months afterward the patriotic hand of Charlotte Corday ended the career of this monster in human form. The only charitable view that can be taken of Marat's conduct is that he was the victim of a diseased mind. Certainly his body was so deeply diseased that the knife of the avenger only shortly anticipated his death from natural causes.
A DEFENCE FROM IMPEACHMENT [Threatened with impeachment for his course, Marat defended himself before the Convention in the following specious words, in which he seemed to indicate that his plan for settling the affairs of the state was to give increased activity to the guillotine.]
I shuddered at the vehement and disorderly movements of the people, when I saw them prolonged beyond the necessary point. In order that these movements should not forever fail, and to avoid the necessity of their recommencement, I proposed that some wise and just citizen should be named, known for his attachment to freedom, to take the direction of
them, and render them conducive to the great ends of public freedom. If the people could have appreciated the wisdom of that proposal, if they had adopted it in all its plenitude, they would have swept off, on the day the Bastille was taken, five hundred heads from the conspirators. Everything, had this been done, would now have been tranquil. For the same reason, I have frequently proposed to give instantaneous authority to a wise man, under the name of tribune, or dictator,-the title signifies nothing; but the proof that I meant to chain him to the public service is, that I insisted that he should have a bullet at his feet, and that he should have no power but to strike off criminal heads. Such was my opinion; I have expressed it freely in private, and given it all the currency possible in my writings; I have affixed my name to these compositions ; I am not ashamed of them; if you cannot comprehend them, so much the worse for you. The days of trouble are not yet terminated ; already a hundred thousand patriots have been massacred because you would not listen to my voice; a hundred thousand more will suffer, or are menaced with destruction; if the people falter, anarchy will never come to an end. I have diffused these opinions among the public; if they are dangerous, let enlightened men refute them with the proofs in their hands. For my own part, I declare I would be the first to adopt their ideas, and to give a signal proof of my desire for peace, order, and the supremacy of the laws, whenever I am convinced of their justice.
Am I accused of ambitious views ? I will not condescend to vindicate myself; examine my conduct; judge my life. If I had chosen to sell my silence for profit, I might have now been the object of favor to the court. What, on the other hand, has been my fate? I have buried myself in dungeons ; condemned myself to every species of danger; the sword of twenty thousand assassins is perpetually suspended over me; I preached the truth with my head laid on the block. Let those who are now terrifying you with the shadow of a dictator, unite with me; unite with all true patriots, press the assembly to expedite the great measures which will secure the happiness of the people, and I will cheerfully mount the scaffold any day of my life.
MAXIMILIEN ISIDORE DE ROBESPIERRE
HE character of Robespierre was one of the most extraordinary
to be found in all history. He remains an enigma. By some
he is regarded as a fanatic, with an honest devotion to his country at the basis of his massacres; by others as a crafty and pitiless demagogue. If we should judge by his utterances, we must believe him sincere and deeply religious; if by his acts, it is difficult to find words to express our abhorrence. The remark of Mirabeau may help to solve the enigma of his life : “He will go far, for he believes all he says.” He certainly went far, for he was the inspiring spirit of the frightful Reign of Terror, As an orator Robespierre lacked native powers. He had not the gift of extemporaneous speech, of fine voice, or of commanding personality.
A FINAL APPEAL [If we could judge from Robespierre's speeches, he was a much maligned indi. vidual, a moralist driven to severity by the vices of his enemies. He tells us in his speech on the sentence of the king, “I abhor the punishment of death, inflicted so unsparingly by your laws . ... but Louis must die, because the country must live.” In a later speech, when the guillotine was doing its bloodiest work at his command, he earnestiy, almost pathetically, maintains his belief in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. In his final speech, made the day before his death, to an assembly thirsting for his blood, he poses still as the patriot and the maligned moralist.)
The enemies of the Republic call me tyrant! Were I such they would grovel at my feet. I should gorge them with gold, I should grant them impunity for their crimes, and they would be grateful. Were I such, the kings we have vanquished, far from denouncing Robespierre, would lend me their guilty support. There would be a covenant between them