The Last Days of Absolute Monarchy - The French Revolution

Since the fall of Danton, the committee of safety had ruled with wellnigh unlimited sway, and by repeated executions and arrests had brought the reign of terror to its highest point. But its chiefs had lost the confidence of the people and of the Convention. The friends of Danton were on the watch for the favorable moment of attack, and the number of their enemies was increased, when Robespierre, to put an end to the blasphemous proceedings of the adherents of the worship of Reason, had a resolution passed by the Convention in May, 'That the existence of a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul were truths' and rendered himself at once hateful and ridiculous by his pride at the new festival in honor of the Supreme Being in the Tuileries, at which he officiated as high priest. Among his opponents was Tallien, who at a former period had been guilty of excesses in Bourdeaux, but who had been brought to adopt different principles by the fascinating Fontenay Cabarrus. With him were joined Fréron, Fouché, Vadier, the polished rhetorician Barrère, and others. On the 9th Thermidor, a battle for life or death commenced in the Convention. Robes pierre and his adherents were not allowed to speak; their voices were drowned in the cries of their enemies, who carried through a stormy meeting the resolution, 'That the three chiefs of the committee of safety, Robespierre, St. Just, Couthon, and their confederate, Henriot, should be denounced, and conveyed as prisoners to the Luxembourg palace.' They were liberated by the mob on their way; whereupon the drunken Henriot threatened the Convention with the National Guard, whilst the others betook themselves to the Hotel de Ville. But the National Assembly was beforehand with them by a hasty resolution. A loudly proclaimed sentence of outlawry suddenly dispersed Henriot's army, whilst the citizens who were opposed to the Jacobins arranged themselves around the Convention. The accused were again secured in the Hotel de Ville. Henriot crept into a sewer, whence he was dragged forth by hooks. Robespierre attempted to destroy himself by a pistol-shot, but only succeeded in shattering his lower jaw, and was first conveyed, horribly disfigured, amidst the curses and execrations of the people, before the Revolutionary Tribunal, and then guillotined, with twenty-one of his adherents. On the two following days, seventy-two Jacobins shared the fate of their leaders.

Robespierre's overthrow by the 'Thermidorians' was the commencement of a return to moderation and order. The assemblies of the people were gradually limited, the power of the Common Council diminished, and the lower classes deprived of their weapons. Fréron, converted from a republican bloodhound into an aristocrat, assembled the young men, who from their clothing were called the 'gilded youth,' around him. These, with the heavy stick they usually carried about them, attacked the Jacobins in the streets and in their clubs at every opportunity, and opposed the song of the 'Awakening of the People' to the Marseillaise. At length, the club was shut up and the cloister of the Jacobins pulled down. The Convention strengthened itself by the recall of the expelled members and of such Girondists as were still left, and ordered the worst of the Terrorists, Lebon, Carrier, Fouquier, Tinville, etc., to be executed. But when four of the most active members of the committee of safety, (Barrère, Vadier, Collot d'Herbois, and Billaud-Varennes) were denounced, the Jacobins collected the last remains of their strength, and drove the people, who were suffering from a scarcity and want of money, to a frightful insurrection. Crowds of grisly wretches surrounded the house of assembly, and demanded, with threatening cries, the liberation of the patriots, bread, and the constitution of 1793. Pichegru, who was just at this moment in Paris, came to the assistance of the distressed convention with soldiers and citizens, and dispersed the crowd. The still more formidable insurrection of the 1st Prairial, 1795, in which the mob surrounded the convention both within and without from seven o'clock in the morning till two at night, for the purpose of enforcing a return to the reign of terror, was also suppressed by the courageous president, Boissy d'Anglas. From this time, the power of the Terrorists was no more. Many Jacobins died by their own hands; others were beheaded, imprisoned, or transported. By so much the stronger became the party of the royalists, who wished to have a king again; and when the new government was shortly after determined upon, by which the executive power was to be delivered to the Directory of five persons, the legislative power to a council of Ancients and a council of Five Hundred, the republican members of the Convention feared that in the new election they might be thrust aside by the royalists. They therefore made additions to the original charter of the constitution, wherein it was declared that two-thirds of the two legislative councils must be chosen from members of the Convention. The royalists raised objections to this and some other limitations of the freedom of election; and when these were unattended with success, they occasioned the insurrection of the Sections. Hereupon, the Convention made over to the Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, the suppression of the insurgent royalists, who were joined by all the enemies of the republic and of the revolution. The victory of the 13th Vendemiaire, (October 5, 1795,) which was fought in the streets of Paris, gave the supremacy to the republicans of the Convention, and the command of the Italian army to Napoleon, who was then twenty-six years of age, and who, a short time before, had married Josephine, the widow of General Beauharnais.