CHAPTER IX. FROM THE DEATH OF DANTON, APRIL, 1794, TO THE 9TH THERMIDOR, (27TH JULY, 1794)
While he thus endeavoured to tempt the assembly by the return of its power and the end of its slavery, he addressed the moderate party, by reminding them that they were indebted to him for the lives of the Seventy-Three, and by holding forth hopes of returning order, justice, and clemency. He spoke of changing the devouring and trickster system of finance, of softening the revolutionary government, of guiding its influence, and punishing its prevaricating agents. Lastly, he invoked the people, talked of their necessities, and of their power. And when he had recalled all that could act upon the interests, hopes, or fears of the convention, he added: "We say, then, that there exists a conspiracy against public liberty; that it owes its strength to a criminal coalition which intrigues in the very heart of the convention; that this coalition has accomplices in the committee of general safety; that the enemies of the republic have opposed this committee to the committee of public safety, and have thus constituted two governments; that members of the committee of public safety are concerned in this plot; that the coalition thus formed seeks the ruin both of patriots and of the country; What remedy is there for this evil? Punish the traitors; compose anew the committee of general safety; purify this committee, and make it subordinate to the committee of public safety; purify the latter committee itself; constitute the unity of the government under the supreme authority of the convention; crush every faction under the weight of national authority, and establish on their ruins the power of justice and liberty."
Not a murmur, not a mark of applause welcomed this declaration of war. The silence with which Robespierre was heard continued long after he had ceased speaking. Anxious looks were exchanged in all parts of the doubting assembly. At length Lecointre of Versailles arose and proposed that the speech should be printed. This motion was the signal for agitation, discussion, and resistance. Bourdon de l'Oise opposed the motion for printing the speech, as a dangerous measure. He was applauded. But Barrere, in his ambiguous manner, having maintained that all speeches ought to be published, and Couthon having moved that it should be sent to all the communes of the republic, the convention, intimidated by this apparent concord of the two opposite factions, decreed both the printing and circulation of the speech.
The members of the two committees thus attacked, who had hitherto remained silent, seeing the Mountain thwarted, and the majority undecided, thought it time to speak. Vadier first opposed Robespierre's speech and Robespierre himself. Cambon went further. "It is time," he cried, "to speak the whole truth: one man paralyzed the resolution of the national assembly; that man is Robespierre." "The mask must be torn off," added Billaud-Varennes, "whatever face it may cover; I would rather my corpse should serve an ambitious man for his throne, than by my silence to become the accomplice of his crimes." Panis, Bentabole, Charlier, Thirion, Amar, attacked him in turn. Freron proposed to the convention to throw off the fatal yoke of the committees. "The time is come," said he, "to revive liberty of opinion; I move that the assembly revoke the decree which gives the committee power to arrest the representatives of the people. Who can speak freely while he fears an arrest?" Some applause was heard; but the moment for the entire deliverance of the convention was not yet arrived. It was necessary to contend with Robespierre from behind the committees, in order subsequently to attack the committees more easily. Freron's motion was accordingly rejected. "The man who is prevented by fear from delivering his opinion," said Billaud-Varennes, looking at him, "is not worthy the title of a representative of the people." Attention was again drawn to Robespierre. The decree ordering his speech to be printed was recalled, and the convention submitted the speech to the examination of the committees. Robespierre who had been surprised at this fiery resistance, then said: "What! I had the courage to place before the assembly truths which I think necessary to the safety of the country, and you send my discourse for the examination of the members whom I accuse." He retired, a little discouraged, but hoping to bring back the assembly to his views, or rather, bring it into subjection with the aid of the conspirators of the Jacobins and the commune.
In the evening he repaired to the popular society. He was received with enthusiasm. He read the speech which the assembly had just condemned, and the Jacobins loaded him with applause. He then recounted to them the attacks which had been directed against him, and to increase their excitement he added: "If necessary, I am ready to drink the cup of Socrates." "Robespierre," cried a deputy, "I will drink it with you." "The enemies of Robespierre," cried numbers on all sides, "are the enemies of the country; let them be named, and they shall cease to live." During the whole night Robespierre prepared his partisans for the following day. It was agreed that they should assemble at the commune and the Jacobins, in order to be ready for every event, while he, accompanied by his friends, repaired to the assembly.