CHAPTER IX. FROM THE DEATH OF DANTON, APRIL, 1794, TO THE 9TH THERMIDOR, (27TH JULY, 1794)

During the four months following the fall of the Danton party, the committees exercised their authority without opposition or restraint. Death became the only means of governing, and the republic was given up to daily and systematic executions. It was then were invented the alleged conspiracies of the inmates of the prisons, crowded under the law des suspects, or emptied by that of the 22nd Prairial, which might be called the law des condamnes; then the emissaries of the committee of public safety entirely replaced in the departments those of the Mountain; and Carrier, the protege of Billaud, was seen in the west; Maigret, the protege of Couthon, in the south; and Joseph Lebon, the protege of Robespierre, in the north. The extermination en masse of the enemies of the democratic dictatorship, which had already been effected at Lyons and Toulon by grape-shot, became still more horrible, by the noyades of Nantes, and the scaffolds of Arras, Paris, and Orange.

May this example teach men a truth, which for their good ought to be generally known, that in a revolution all depends on a first refusal and a first struggle. To effect a pacific innovation, it must not be contested; otherwise war is declared and the revolution spreads, because the whole nation is aroused to its defence. When society is thus shaken to its foundations, it is the most daring who triumph, and instead of wise and temperate reformers, we find only extreme and inflexible innovators. Engendered by contest, they maintain themselves by it; with one hand they fight to maintain their sway, with the other they establish their system with a view to its consolidation; they massacre in the name of their doctrines: virtue, humanity, the welfare of the people, all that is holiest on earth, they use to sanction their executions, and to protect their dictatorship. Until they become exhausted and fall, all perish indiscriminately, both the enemies and the partisans of reform. The tempest dashes a whole nation against the rock of revolution. Inquire what became of the men of 1789 in 1794, and it will be found that they were all alike swept away in this vast shipwreck. As soon as one party appeared on the field of battle, it summoned all the others thither, and all like it were in turn conquered and exterminated; constitutionalists, Girondists, the Mountain, and the Decemvirs themselves. At each defeat, the effusion of blood became greater, and the system of tyranny more violent. The Decemvirs were the most cruel, because they were the last.

The committee of public safety, being at once the object of the attacks of Europe, and of the hatred of so many conquered parties, thought that any abatement of violence would occasion its destruction; it wished at the same time to subdue its foes, and to get rid of them. "The dead alone do not return," said Barrere. "The more freely the social body perspires, the more healthy it becomes," added Collot-d'Herbois. But the Decemvirs, not suspecting their power to be ephemeral, aimed at founding a democracy, and sought in institutions a security for its permanence in the time when they should cease to employ executions. They possessed in the highest degree the fanaticism of certain social theories, as the millenarians of the English revolution, with whom they may be compared, had the fanaticism of certain religious ideas. The one originated with the people, as the other looked to God; these desired the most absolute political equality, as those sought evangelical equality; these aspired to the reign of virtue, as those to the reign of the saints. Human nature flies to extremes in all things, and produces, in a religious epoch, democratic Christians - in a philosophical epoch, political democrats.