CHAPTER VII. FROM THE 21ST OF JANUARY, 1793, TO THE 2ND OF JUNE

The death of Louis XVI. rendered the different parties irreconcilable, and increased the external enemies of the revolution. The republicans had to contend with all Europe, with several classes of malcontents, and with themselves. But the Mountain, who then directed the popular movement, imagined that they were too far involved not to push matters to extremity. To terrify the enemies of the revolution, to excite the fanaticism of the people by harangues, by the presence of danger, and by insurrections; to refer everything to it, both the government and the safety of the republic; to infuse into it the most ardent enthusiasm, in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity; to keep it in this violent state of crisis for the purpose of making use of its passions and its power; such was the plan of Danton and the Mountain, who had chosen him for their leader. It was he who augmented the popular effervescence by the growing dangers of the republic, and who, under the name of revolutionary government, established the despotism of the multitude, instead of legal liberty. Robespierre and Marat went even much further than he. They sought to erect into a permanent government what Danton considered as merely transitory. The latter was only a political chief, while the others were true sectarians; the first, more ambitious, the second, more fanatical.

The Mountain had, by the catastrophe of the 21st of January, gained a great victory over the Girondists, whose politics were much more moral than theirs, and who hoped to save the revolution, without staining it with blood. But their humanity, their spirit of justice, proved of no service, and even turned against them. They were accused of being the enemies of the people, because they opposed their excesses; of being the accomplices of the tyrant, because they had sought to save Louis XVI.; and of betraying the republic, because they recommended moderation. It was with these reproaches that the Mountain persecuted them with constant animosity in the bosom of the convention, from the 21st of January till the 31st of May and the 2nd of June. The Girondists were for a long time supported by the Centre, which sided with the Right against murder and anarchy, and with the Left for measures of public safety. This mass, which, properly speaking, formed the spirit of the convention, displayed some courage, and balanced the power of the Mountain and the Commune as long as it possessed those intrepid and eloquent Girondists, who carried with them to prison and to the scaffold all the generous resolutions of the assembly.

For a moment, union existed among the various parties of the assembly. Lepelletier Saint Fargeau was stabbed by a retired member of the household guard, named Paris, for having voted the death of Louis XVI. The members of the convention, united by common danger, swore on his tomb to forget their enmities; but they soon revived them. Some of the murderers of September, whose punishment was desired by the more honourable republicans, were proceeded against at Meaux. The Mountain, apprehensive that their past conduct would be inquired into, and that their adversaries would take advantage of a condemnation to attack them more openly themselves, put a stop to these proceedings. This impunity further emboldened the leaders of the multitude; and Marat, who at that period had an incredible influence over the multitude, excited them to pillage the dealers, whom he accused of monopolizing provisions. He wrote and spoke violently, in his pamphlets and at the Jacobins, against the aristocracy of the burghers, merchants, and statesmen (as he designated the Girondists), that is to say, against those who, in the assembly or the nation at large, still opposed the reign of the Sans-culottes and the Mountain. There was something frightful in the fanaticism and invincible obstinacy of these sectaries. The name given by them to the Girondists from the beginning of the convention, was that of Intrigants, on account of the ministerial and rather stealthy means with which they opposed in the departments the insolent and public conduct of the Jacobins.

Accordingly, they denounced them regularly in the club. "At Rome, an orator cried daily: 'Carthage must be destroyed!' well, let a Jacobin mount this tribune every day, and say these single words, 'The intrigants must be destroyed!' Who could withstand us? We oppose crime, and the ephemeral power of riches; but we have truth, justice, poverty, and virtue in our cause. With such arms, the Jacobins will soon have to say: 'We had only to pass on, they were already extinct.'" Marat, who was much more daring than Robespierre, whose hatred and projects still concealed themselves under certain forms, was the patron of all denouncers and lovers of anarchy. Several of the Mountain reproached him with compromising their cause by his extreme counsels, and by unseasonable excesses; but the entire Jacobin people supported him even against Robespierre, who rarely obtained the advantage in his disputes with him. The pillage recommended in February, in L'Ami du Peuple, with respect to some dealers, "by way of example," took place, and Marat was denounced to the convention, who decreed his accusation after a stormy sitting. But this decree had no result, because the ordinary tribunals had no authority. This double effort of force on one side, and weakness on the other, took place in the month of February. More decisive events soon brought the Girondists to ruin.