Of the two powers, clubs and insurrectionary Commune, the latter exercised the greater influence in Paris, because it had made for itself a revolutionary army. It held under its orders forty- eight committees of National Guards, who asked nothing more than to kill, sack, and, above all, plunder.
The tyranny with which the Commune crushed Paris was frightful. For example, it delegated to a certain cobbler, Chalandon by name, the right of surveillance over a portion of the capital—a right implying the power to send to the Revolutionary Tribunal, and therefore to the guillotine, all those whom he suspected. Certain streets were thus almost depopulated by him.
The Convention struggled feebly against the Commune at the outset, but did not prolong its resistance. The culminating point of the conflict occurred when the Convention wished to arrest Hebert, the friend of the Commune, and the latter sent armed bands who threatened the Assembly and demanded the expulsion of the Girondists who had provoked the measure. Upon the Convention refusing the Commune besieged it on June 2, 1798, by means of its revolutionary army, which was under the orders of Hanriot. Terrified, the Assembly gave up twenty-seven of its members. The Commune immediately sent a delegation ironically to felicitate it upon its obedience.
After the fall of the Girondists the Convention submitted itself completely to the injunctions of the omnipotent Commune. The latter decreed the levy of a revolutionary army, to be accompanied by a tribunal and a guillotine, which was to traverse the whole of France in order to execute suspects.
Only towards the end of its existence, after the fall of Robespierre, did the Convention contrive to escape from the yoke of the Jacobins and the Commune. It closed the Jacobin club and guillotined its leading members.
Despite such sanctions the leaders still continued to excite the populace and hurl it against the Convention. In Germinal and Prairial it underwent regular sieges. Armed delegations even succeeded in forcing the Convention to vote the re-establishment of the Commune and the convocation of a new Assembly, a measure which the Convention hastened to annul the moment the insurgents had withdrawn. Ashamed of its fear, it sent for regiments which disarmed the faubourgs and made nearly ten thousand arrests. Twenty-six leaders of the movement were put to death, and six deputies who were concerned in the riot were guillotined.
But the Convention did not resist to any purpose. When it was no longer led by the clubs and the Commune it obeyed the Committee of Public Safety and voted its decrees without discussion.
"The Convention,'' writes H. Williams, "which spoke of nothing less than having all the princes and kings of Europe brought to its feet loaded with chains, was made prisoner in its own sanctuary by a handful of mercenaries.''
2. The Government of France during the Convention—The Terror.
As soon as it assembled in 1792 the Convention began by decreeing the abolition of royalty, and in spite of the hesitation of a great number of its members, who knew that the provinces were royalist, it proclaimed the Republic.
Intimately persuaded that such a proclamation would transform the civilised world, it instituted a new era and a new calendar. The year I. of this era marked the dawn of a world in which reason alone was to reign. It was inaugurated by the trial of Louis XVI., a measure which was ordered by the Commune, but which the majority of the Convention did not desire.
At its outset, in fact, the Convention was governed by its relatively moderate elements, the Girondists. The president and the secretaries had been chosen among the best known of this party. Robespierre, who was later to become the absolute master of the Convention, possessed so little influence at this time that he obtained only six votes for the presidency, while Petion received two hundred and thirty-five.
The Montagnards had at first only a very slight influence. Their power was of later growth. When they were in power there was no longer room in the Convention for moderate members.
Despite their minority the Montagnards found a way to force the Assembly to bring Louis to trial. This was at once a victory over the Girondists, the condemnation of all kings, and a final divorce between the old order and the new.
To bring about the trial they manoeuvred very skilfully, bombarding the Convention with petitions from the provinces, and sending a deputation from the insurrectional Commune of Paris, which demanded a trial.
According to a characteristic common to the Assemblies of the Revolution, that of yielding to threats and always doing the contrary of what they wished, the men of the Convention dared not resist. The trial was decided upon.
The Girondists, who individually would not have wished for the death of the king, voted for it out of fear once they were assembled. Hoping to save his own head, the Duc d'Orleans, Louis' cousin, voted with them. If, on mounting the scaffold on January 21, 1793, Louis had had that vision of the future which we attribute to the gods, he would have seen following him, one by one, the greater number of the Girondists whose weakness had been unable to defend him.
Regarded only from the purely utilitarian point of view, the execution of the king was one of the mistakes of the Revolution. It engendered civil war and armed Europe against France. In the Convention itself his death gave rise to intestine struggles, which finally led to the triumph of the Montagnards and the expulsion of the Girondists.
The measures passed under the influence of the Montagnards finally became so despotic that sixty departments, comprising the West and the South, revolted. The insurrection, which was headed by many of the expelled deputies, would perhaps have succeeded had not the compromising assistance of the royalists caused men to fear the return of the ancien regime. At Toulon, in fact, the insurgents acclaimed Louis XVII.
The civil war thus begun lasted during the greater part of the life of the Revolution. It was fought with the utmost savagery. Old men, women, children, all were massacred, and villages and crops were burned. In the Vendee alone the number of the killed was reckoned at something between half a million and a million.
Civil war was soon followed by foreign war. The Jacobins thought to remedy all these ills by creating a new Constitution. It was always a tradition with all the revolutionary assemblies to believe in the magic virtues of formula. In France this conviction has never been affected by the failure of experiments.
"A robust faith,'' writes one of the great admirers of the Revolution, M. Rambaud, "sustained the Convention in this labour; it believed firmly that when it had formulated in a law the principles of the Revolution its enemies would be confounded, or, still better, converted, and that the advent of justice would disarm the insurgents.''
During its lifetime the Convention drafted two Constitutions— that of 1793, or the year I., and that of 1795, or the year III. The first was never applied, an absolute dictatorship very soon replacing it; the second created the Directory.
The Convention contained a large number of lawyers and men of affairs, who promptly comprehended the impossibility of government by means of a large Assembly. They soon divided the Convention into small committees, each of which had an independent existence—business committees, committees of legislation, finance, agriculture, arts, &c. These committees prepared the laws which the Assembly usually voted with its eyes closed.
Thanks to them, the work of the Convention was not purely destructive. They drafted many very useful measures, creating important colleges, establishing the metric system, &c. The majority of the members of the Assembly, as we have already seen, took refuge in these committees in order to evade the political conflict which would have endangered their heads.
Above the business committees, which had nothing to do with politics, was the Committee of Public Safety, instituted in April, 1793, and composed of nine members. Directed at first by Danton, and in the July of the same year by Robespierre, it gradually absorbed all the powers of government, including that of giving orders to ministers and generals. Carnot directed the operations of the war, Cambon the finances, and Saint-Just and Collot-d'Herbois the general policy.
Although the laws voted by the technical committees were often very wise, and constituted the lasting work of the Convention, those which the Assembly voted in a body under the threats of the delegations which invaded it were manifestly ridiculous.
Among these laws, which were not greatly in the interests of the public or of the Convention itself, were the law of the maximum, voted in September, 1793, which pretended to fix the price of provisions, and which merely established a continual dearth; the destruction of the royal tombs at Saint-Denis; the trial of the queen, the systematic devastation of the Vendee by fire, the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, &c.
The Terror was the chief means of government during the Convention. Commencing in September, 1793, it reigned for six months—that is, until the death of Robespierre. Vainly did certain Jacobins— Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Herault de Sechelles, &c.—propose that clemency should be given a trial. The only result of this proposition was that its authors were sent to the scaffold. It was merely the lassitude of the public that finally put an end to this shameful period.
The successive struggles of the various parties in the Convention and its tendency towards extremes eliminated one by one the men of importance who had once played their part therein. Finally it fell under the exclusive domination of Robespierre. While the Convention was disorganising and ravaging France, the armies were winning brilliant victories. They had seized the left bank of the Rhine, Belgium, and Holland. The treaty of Basle ratified these conquests.
We have already mentioned, and we shall return to the matter again, that the work of the armies must be considered absolutely apart from that of the Convention. Contemporaries understood this perfectly, but to-day it is often forgotten.
When the Convention was dissolved, in 1795, after lasting for three years, it was regarded with universal distrust. The perpetual plaything of popular caprice, it had not succeeded in pacifying France, but had plunged her into anarchy. The general opinion respecting the Convention is well summed up in a letter written in July, 1799, by the Swedish charge d'affaires, Baron Drinkmann: "I venture to hope that no people will ever be governed by the will of more cruel and imbecile scoundrels than those that have ruled France since the beginning of her new liberty.''
3. The End of the Convention. The Beginnings of the Directory.
At the end of its existence, the Convention, always trusting to the power of formulae, drafted a new Constitution, that of the year III., intended to replace that of 1793, which had never been put into execution. The legislative power was to be shared by a so-called Council of Ancients composed of 150 members, and a council of deputies numbering 500. The executive power was confided to a Directory of five members, who were appointed by the Ancients upon nomination by the Five Hundred, and renewed every year by the election of one of their number. It was specified that two-thirds of the members of the new Assembly should be chosen from among the deputies of the Convention. This prudent measure was not very efficacious, as only ten departments remained faithful to the Jacobins.
To avoid the election of royalists, the Convention had decided to banish all emigres in perpetuity.
The announcement of this Constitution did not produce the anticipated effect upon the public. It had no effect upon the popular riots, which continued. One of the most important was that which threatened the Convention on the 5th of October, 1795.
The leaders hurled a veritable army upon the Assembly. Before such provocation, the Convention finally decided to defend itself, and sent for troops, entrusting the command to Barras.
Bonaparte, who was then beginning to emerge from obscurity, was entrusted with the task of repression. With such a leader action was swift and energetic. Vigorously pounded with ball near the church at St. Roch, the insurgents fled, leaving some hundreds of dead on the spot.
This action, which displayed a firmness to which the Convention was little habituated, was only due to the celerity of the military operations, for while these were being carried out the insurgents had sent delegates to the Assembly, which, as usual, showed itself quite ready to yield to them.
The repression of this riot constituted the last important act of the Convention. On the 26th of October, 1795, it declared its mission terminated, and gave way to the Directory.
We have already laid stress upon some of the psychological lessons furnished by the government of the Convention. One of the most striking of these is the impotence of violence to dominate men's minds in permanence.
Never did any Government possess such formidable means of action, yet in spite of the permanent guillotine, despite the delegates sent with the guillotine into the provinces, despite its Draconian laws, the Convention had to struggle perpetually against riots, insurrections, and conspiracies. The cities, the departments, and the faubourgs of Paris were continually rising in revolt, although heads were falling by the thousand.
This Assembly, which thought itself sovereign, fought against the invincible forces which were fixed in men's minds, and which material constraint was powerless to overcome. Of these hidden motive forces it never understood the power, and it struggled against them in vain. In the end the invisible forces triumphed.
INSTANCES OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE
1. Psychological Causes of Revolutionary Violence.
We have shown in the course of the preceding chapters that the revolutionary theories constituted a new faith.
Humanitarian and sentimental, they exalted liberty and fraternity. But, as in many religions, we can observe a complete contradiction between doctrine and action. In practice no liberty was tolerated, and fraternity was quickly replaced by frenzied massacres.
This opposition between principles and conduct results from the intolerance which accompanies all beliefs. A religion may be steeped in humanitarianism and forbearance, but its sectaries will always want to impose it on others by force, so that violence is the inevitable result.
The cruelties of the Revolution were thus the inherent results of the propagation of the new dogmas. The Inquisition, the religious wars of France, St. Bartholomew's Day, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the "Dragonnades,'' the persecution of the Jansenists, &c., belonged to the same family as the Terror and derived from the same psychological sources.
Louis XIV. was not a cruel king, yet under the impulse of his faith he drove hundreds of thousands of Protestants out of France, after first shooting down a considerable number and sending others to the galleys.
The methods of persuasion adopted by all believers are by no means a consequence of their fear of the dissentient opposition. Protestants and Jansenists were anything but dangerous under Louis XIV. Intolerance arises above all from the indignation experienced by a mind which is convinced that it possesses the most dazzling verities against the men who deny those truths, and who are surely not acting in good faith. How can one support error when one has the necessary strength to wipe it out?
Thus have reasoned the believers of all ages. Thus reasoned Louis XIV. and the men of the Terror. These latter also were convinced that they were in possession of absolute truths, which they believed to be obvious, and whose triumph was certain to regenerate humanity. Could they be more tolerant toward their adversaries than the Church and the kings of France had been toward heretics?
We are forced to believe that terror is a method which all believers regard as a necessity, since from the beginning of the ages religious codes have always been based upon terror. To force men to observe their prescriptions, believers have sought to terrify them with threats of an eternal hell of torments.
The apostles of the Jacobin belief behaved as their fathers had done, and employed the same methods. If similar events occurred again we should see identical actions repeated. If a new belief—Socialism, for example—were to triumph to-morrow, it would be led to employ methods of propaganda like those of the Inquisition and the Terror.
But were we to regard the Jacobin Terror solely as the result of a religious movement, we should not completely apprehend it. Around a triumphant religious belief, as we saw in the case of the Reformation, gather a host of individual interests which are dependent on that belief. The Terror was directed by a few fanatical apostles, but beside this small number of ardent proselytes, whose narrow minds dreamed of regenerating the world, were great numbers of men who lived only to enrich themselves. They rallied readily around the first victorious leader who promised to enable them to enjoy the results of their pillage.
"The Terrorists of the Revolution,'' writes Albert Sorel, "resorted to the Terror because they wished to remain in power, and were incapable of doing so by other means. They employed it for their own salvation, and after the event they stated that their motive was the salvation of the State. Before it became a system it was a means of government, and the system was only invented to justify the means.''
We may thus fully agree with the following verdict on the Terror, written by Emile Ollivier in his work on the Revolution: "The Terror was above all a Jacquerie, a regularised pillage, the vastest enterprise of theft that any association of criminals has ever organised.''
2. The Revolutionary Tribunals.
The Revolutionary Tribunals constituted the principal means of action of the Terror. Besides that of Paris, created at the instigation of Danton, and which a year afterwards sent its founder to the guillotine, France was covered with such tribunals.
"One hundred and seventy-eight tribunals,'' says Taine, "of which 40 were perambulant, pronounced death sentences in all parts of the country, which were carried out instantly on the spot. Between the 16th of April, 1793, and the 9th of Thermidor in the year II. that of Paris guillotined 2,625 persons, and the provincial judges worked as hard as those of Paris. In the little town of Orange alone 331 persons were guillotined. In the city of Arras 299 men and 93 women were guillotined. . . . In the city of Lyons alone the revolutionary commissioner admitted to 1,684 executions. . . . The total number of these murders has been put at 17,000, among whom were 1,200 women, of whom a number were octogenarians.''
Although the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris claimed only 2,625 victims, it must not be forgotten that all the suspects had already been summarily massacred during the "days'' of September.
The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, a mere instrument of the Committee of Public Safety, limited itself in reality, as Fouquier-Tinville justly remarked during his trial, to executing its orders. It surrounded itself at first with a few legal forms which did not long survive. Interrogatory, defence, witnesses— all were finally suppressed. Moral proof—that is, mere suspicion—sufficed to procure condemnation. The president usually contented himself with putting a vague question to the accused. To work more rapidly still, Fouquier-Tinville proposed to have the guillotine installed on the same premises as the Tribunal.
This Tribunal sent indiscriminately to the scaffold all the accused persons arrested by reason of party hatred, and very soon, in the hands of Robespierre, it constituted an instrument of the bloodiest tyranny. When Danton, one of its founders, became its victim, he justly asked pardon of God and men, before mounting the scaffold for having assisted to create such a Tribunal.
Nothing found mercy before it: neither the genius of Lavoisier, nor the gentleness of Lucile Desmoulins, nor the merit of Malesherbes. "So much talent,'' said Benjamin Constant, "massacred by the most cowardly and brutish of men!''
To find any excuse for the Revolutionary Tribunal, we must return to our conception of the religious mentality of the Jacobins, who founded and directed it. It was a piece of work comparable in its spirit and its aim to the Inquisition. The men who furnished its victims—Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon—believed themselves the benefactors of the human race in suppressing all infidels, the enemies of the faith that was to regenerate the earth.
The executions during the Terror did not affect the members of the aristocracy only, since 4,000 peasants and 3,000 working-men were guillotined.
Given the emotion produced in Paris in our days by a capital execution, one might suppose that the execution of so many persons at one time would produce a very great emotion. But habit had so dulled sensibility that people paid but little attention to the matter at last. Mothers would take their children to see people guillotined as to-day they take them to the marionette theatre.
The daily spectacle of executions made the men of the time very indifferent to death. All mounted the scaffold with perfect tranquillity, the Girondists singing the Marseillaise as they climbed the steps.
This resignation resulted from the law of habitude, which very rapidly dulls emotion. To judge by the fact that royalist risings were taking place daily, the prospect of the guillotine no longer terrified men. Things happened as though the Terror terrorised no one. Terror is an efficacious psychological process so long as it does not last. The real terror resides far more in threats than in their realisation.
3. The Terror in the Provinces.
The executions of the Revolutionary Tribunals in the provinces represented only a portion of the massacres effected in the departments during the Terror. The revolutionary army, composed of vagabonds and brigands, marched through France killing and pillaging. Its method of procedure is well indicated by the following passage from Taine:—
"At Bedouin, a town of 2,000 inhabitants, where unknown hands had cut down the tree of liberty, 433 houses were demolished or fired, 16 persons were guillotined, and 47 shot down; all the other inhabitants were expelled and reduced to living as vagabonds in the mountains, and to taking shelter in caverns which they hollowed out of the earth.''
The fate of the wretches sent before the Revolutionary Tribunals was no better. The first mockery of trial was quickly suppressed. At Nantes, Carrier drowned and shot down according to his fancy nearly 5,000 persons—men, women, and children.
The details of these massacres figured in the Moniteur after the reaction of Thermidor. I cite a few lines:—
"I saw,'' says Thomas, "after the taking of Noirmoutier, men and women and old people burned alive . . . women violated, girls of fourteen and fifteen, and massacred afterward, and tender babes thrown from bayonet to bayonet; children who were taken from beside their mothers stretched out on the ground.''
In the same number we read a deposition by one Julien, relating how Carrier forced his victims to dig their graves and to allow themselves to be buried alive. The issue of October 15, 1794, contained a report by Merlin de Thionville proving that the captain of the vessel le Destin had received orders to embark forty-one victims to be drowned—"among them a blind man of 78, twelve women, twelve girls, and fourteen children, of whom ten were from 10 to 6 and five at the breast.''
In the course of Carrier's trial (Moniteur, December 30, 1794) it was proved that he "had given orders to drown and shoot women and children, and had ordered General Haxo to exterminate all the inhabitants of La Vendee and to burn down their dwellings.''
Carrier, like all wholesale murderers, took an intense joy in seeing his victims suffer. "In the department in which I hunted the priests,'' he said, "I have never laughed so much or experienced such pleasure as in watching their dying grimaces'' (Moniteur, December 22, 1794).
Carrier was tried to satisfy the reaction of Thermidor. But the massacres of Nantes were repeated in many other towns. Fouche slew more than 2,000 persons at Lyons, and so many were killed at Toulon that the population fell from 29,000 to 7,000 in a few months.
We must say in defence of Carrier, Freron, Fouche and all these sinister persons, that they were incessantly stimulated by the Committee of Public Safety. Carrier gave proof of this during his trial.
"I admit,'' said he (Moniteur, December 24, 1794), "that 150 or 200 prisoners were shot every day, but it was by order of the commission. I informed the Convention that the brigands were being shot down by hundreds, and it applauded this letter, and ordered its insertion in the Bulletin. What were these deputies doing then who are so furious against me now? They were applauding. Why did they still keep me 'on mission'? Because I was then the saviour of the country, and now I am a bloodthirsty man.''
Unhappily for him, Carrier did not know, as he remarked in the same speech, that only seven or eight persons led the Convention.
But the terrorised Assembly approved of all that these seven or eight ordered, so that they could say nothing in reply to Carrier's argument. He certainly deserved to be guillotined, but the whole Convention deserved to be guillotined with him, since it had approved of the massacres.
The defence of Carrier, justified by the letters of the Committee, by which the representatives "on mission'' were incessantly stimulated, shows that the violence of the Terror resulted from a system, and not, as has sometimes been claimed, from the initiative of a few individuals.
The thirst for destruction during the Terror was by no means assuaged by the destruction of human beings only; there was an even greater destruction of inanimate things. The true believer is always an iconoclast. Once in power, he destroys with equal zeal the enemies of his faith and the images, temples, and symbols which recall the faith attacked.
We know that the first action of the Emperor Theodosius when converted to the Christian religion was to break down the majority of the temples which for six thousand years had been built beside the Nile. We must not, therefore, be surprised to see the leaders of the Revolution attacking the monuments and works of art which for them were the vestiges of an abhorred past.
Statues, manuscripts, stained glass windows, and plate were frenziedly broken. When Fouche, the future Duke of Otranto under Napoleon, and minister under Louis XVIII., was sent as commissary of the Convention to the Nievre, he ordered the demolition of all the towers of the chateaux and the belfries of the churches "because they wounded equality.''
Revolutionary vandalism expended itself even on the tomb. Following a report read by Barrere to the Convention, the magnificent royal tombs at Saint-Denis, among which was the admirable mausoleum of Henri II., by Germain Pilon, were smashed to pieces, the coffins emptied, and the body of Turenne sent to the Museum as a curiosity, after one of the keepers had extracted the teeth in order to sell them as curiosities. The moustache and beard of Henri IV. were also torn out.
It is impossible to witness such comparatively enlightened men consenting to the destruction of the artistic patriotism of France without a feeling of sadness. To excuse them, we must remember that intense beliefs give rise to the worst excesses, and also that the Convention, almost daily invaded by rioters, always yielded to the popular will.
This glowing record of devastation proves, not only the power of fanaticism: it shows us what becomes of men who are liberated from all social restraints, and of the country which falls into their hands.
THE ARMIES OF THE REVOLUTION
1. The Revolutionary Assemblies and the Armies.
If nothing were known of the revolutionary Assemblies, and notably of the Convention, beyond their internal dissensions, their weakness, and their acts of violence, their memory would indeed be a gloomy one.
But even for its enemies this bloodstained epoch must always retain an undeniable glory, thanks to the success of its armies. When the Convention dissolved France was already the greater by Belgium and the territories on the left bank of the Rhine.
Regarding the Convention as a whole, it seems equitable to credit it with the victories of the armies of France, but if we analyse this whole in order to study each of its elements separately their independence will at once be obvious. It is at once apparent that the Convention had a very small share in the military events of the time. The armies on the frontier and the revolutionary Assemblies in Paris formed two separate worlds, which had very little influence over one another, and which regarded matters in a very different light.
We have seen that the Convention was a weak Government, which changed its ideas daily, according to popular impulse; it was really an example of the profoundest anarchy. It directed nothing, but was itself continually directed; how, then, could it have commanded armies?
Completely absorbed in its intestine quarrels, the Assembly had abandoned all military questions to a special committee, which was directed almost single-handed by Carnot, and whose real function was to furnish the troops with provisions and ammunition. The merit of Carnot consisted in the fact that besides directing over 752,000 men at the disposal of France, upon points which were strategically valuable, he also advised the generals of the armies to take the offensive, and to preserve a strict discipline.
The sole share of the Assembly in the defence of the country was the decree of the general levy. In the face of the numerous enemies then threatening France, no Government could have avoided such a measure. For some little time, too, the Assembly had sent representatives to the armies instructed to decapitate certain generals, but this policy was soon abandoned.
As a matter of fact the military activities of the Assembly were always extremely slight. The armies, thanks to their numbers, their enthusiasm, and the tactics devised by their youthful generals, achieved their victories unaided. They fought and conquered independently of the Convention.
2. The Struggle of Europe against the Revolution.
Before enumerating the various psychological factors which contributed to the successes of the revolutionary armies, it will be useful briefly to recall the origin and the development of the war against Europe.
At the commencement of the Revolution the foreign sovereigns regarded with satisfaction the difficulties of the French monarchy, which they had long regarded as a rival power. The King of Prussia, believing France to be greatly enfeebled, thought to enrich himself at her expense, so he proposed to the Emperor of Austria to help Louis on condition of receiving Flanders and Alsace as an indemnity. The two sovereigns signed an alliance against France in February, 1792. The French anticipated attack by declaring war upon Austria, under the influence of the Girondists. The French army was at the outset subjected to several checks. The allies penetrated into Champagne, and came within 130 miles of Paris. Dumouriez' victory at Valmy forced them to retire.
Although 300 French and 200 Prussians only were killed in this battle, it had very significant results. The fact that an army reputed invincible had been forced to retreat gave boldness to the young revolutionary troops, and everywhere they took the offensive. In a few weeks the soldiers of Valmy had chased the Austrians out of Belgium, where they were welcomed as liberators.
But it was under the Convention that the war assumed such importance. At the beginning of 1793 the Assembly declared that Belgium was united to France. From this resulted a conflict with England which lasted for twenty-two years.
Assembled at Antwerp in April, 1793, the representatives of England, Prussia, and Austria resolved to dismember France. The Prussians were to seize Alsace and Lorraine; the Austrians, Flanders and Artois; the English, Dunkirk. The Austrian ambassador proposed to crush the Revolution by terror, "by exterminating practically the whole of the party directing the nation.'' In the face of such declarations France had perforce to conquer or to perish.
During this first coalition, between 1793 and 1797, France had to fight on all her frontiers, from the Pyrenees to the north.
At the outset she lost her former conquests, and suffered several reverses. The Spaniards took Perpignan and Bayonne; the English, Toulon; and the Austrians, Valenciennes. It was then that the Convention, towards the end of 1793, ordered a general levy of all Frenchmen between the ages of eighteen and forty, and succeeded in sending to the frontiers a total of some 750,000 men. The old regiments of the royal army were combined with battalions of volunteers and conscripts.
The allies were repulsed, and Maubeuge was relieved after the victory of Wattigny, which was gained by Jourdan. Hoche rescued Lorraine. France took the offensive, reconquering Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine. Jourdan defeated the Austrians at Fleurus, drove them back upon the Rhine, and occupied Cologne and Coblentz. Holland was invaded. The allied sovereigns resigned themselves to suing for peace, and recognised the French conquests.
The successes of the French were favoured by the fact that the enemy never put their whole heart into the affair, as they were preoccupied by the partition of Poland, which they effected in 1793-5. Each Power wished to be on the spot in order to obtain more territory. This motive had already caused the King of Prussia to retire after the battle of Valmy in 1792.
The hesitations of the allies and their mutual distrust were extremely advantageous to the French. Had the Austrians marched upon Paris in the summer of 1793, "we should,'' said General Thiebault, "have lost a hundred times for one. They alone saved us, by giving us time to make soldiers, officers, and generals.''
After the treaty of Basle, France had no important adversaries on the Continent, save the Austrians. It was then that the Directory attacked Austria in Italy. Bonaparte was entrusted with the charge of this campaign. After a year of fighting, from April, 1796, to April, 1797, he forced the last enemies of France to demand peace.
3. Psychological and Military Factors which determined the Success of the Revolutionary Armies.
To realise the causes of the success of the revolutionary armies we must remember the prodigious enthusiasm, endurance, and abnegation of these ragged and often barefoot troops. Thoroughly steeped in revolutionary principles, they felt that they were the apostles of a new religion, which was destined to regenerate the world.
The history of the armies of the Revolution recalls that of the nomads of Arabia, who, excited to fanaticism by the ideals of Mohammed, were transformed into formidable armies which rapidly conquered a portion of the old Roman world. An analogous faith endowed the Republican soldiers with a heroism and intrepidity which never failed them, and which no reverse could shake When the Convention gave place to the Directory they had liberated the country, and had carried a war of invasion into the enemy's territory. At this period the soldiers were the only true Republicans left in France.
Faith is contagious, and the Revolution was regarded as a new era, so that several of the nations invaded, oppressed by the absolutism of their monarchs, welcomed the invaders as liberators. The inhabitants of Savoy ran out to meet the troops.
At Mayence the crowd welcomed them with enthusiasm planted trees of liberty, and formed a Convention in imitation of that of Paris.
So long as the armies of the Revolution had to deal with peoples bent under the yoke of absolute monarchy, and having no personal ideal to defend, their success was relatively easy. But when they entered into conflict with peoples who had an ideal as strong as their own victory became far more difficult.
The new ideal of liberty and equality was capable of seducing peoples who had no precise convictions, and were suffering from the despotism of their masters, but it was naturally powerless against those who possessed a potent ideal of their own which had been long established in their minds. For this reason Bretons and Vendeeans, whose religious and monarchical sentiments were extremely powerful, successfully struggled for years against the armies of the Republic.
In March, 1793, the insurrections of the Vendee and Brittany had spread to ten departments. The Vendeeans in Poitou and the Chouans in Brittany put 80,000 men in the field.
The conflicts between contrary ideals—that is, between beliefs in which reason can play no part—are always pitiless, and the struggle with the Vendee immediately assumed the ferocious savagery always observable in religious wars. It lasted until the end of 1795, when Hoche finally "pacified'' the country. This pacification was the simple result of the practical extermination of its defenders.
"After two years of civil war,'' writes Molinari, "the Vendee was no more than a hideous heap of ruins. About 900,000 individuals—men, women, children, and aged people—had perished, and the small number of those who had escaped massacre could scarcely find food or shelter. The fields were devastated, the hedges and walls destroyed, and the houses burned.''
Besides their faith, which so often rendered them invincible, the soldiers of the Revolution had usually the advantage of being led by remarkable generals, full of ardour and formed on the battle- field.
The majority of the former leaders of the army, being nobles, had emigrated so that a new body of officers had to be organised. The result was that those gifted with innate military aptitudes had a chance of showing them, and passed through all the grades of rank in a few months. Hoche, for instance, a corporal in 1789, was a general of division and commander of an army at the age of twenty-five. The extreme youth of these leaders resulted in a spirit of aggression to which the armies opposed to them were not accustomed. Selected only according to merit, and hampered by no traditions, no routine, they quickly succeeded in working out a tactics suited to the new necessities.
Of soldiers without experience opposed to seasoned professional troops, drilled and trained according to the methods in use everywhere since the Seven Years' War, one could not expect complicated manoeuvres.
Attacks were delivered simply by great masses of troops. Thanks to the numbers of the men at the disposal of their generals, the considerable gaps provoked by this efficacious but barbarous procedure could be rapidly filled.
Deep masses of men attacked the enemy with the bayonet, and quickly routed men accustomed to methods which were more careful of the lives of soldiers. The slow rate of fire in those days rendered the French tactics relatively easy of employment. It triumphed, but at the cost of enormous losses. It has been calculated that between 1792 and 1800 the French army left more than a third of its effective force on the battle-field (700,000 men out of 2,000,000).
Examining events from a psychological point of view, we shall continue to elicit the consequences from the facts on which they are consequent.
A study of the revolutionary crowds in Paris and in the armies presents very different but readily interpreted pictures.
We have proved that crowds, unable to reason, obey simply their impulses, which are always changing, but we have also seen that they are readily capable of heroism, that their altruism is often highly developed, and that it is easy to find thousands of men ready to give their lives for a belief.
Psychological characteristics so diverse must naturally, according to the circumstances, lead to dissimilar and even absolutely contradictory actions. The history of the Convention and its armies proves as much. It shows us crowds composed of similar elements acting so differently in Paris and on the frontiers that one can hardly believe the same people can be in question.
In Paris the crowds were disorderly, violent, murderous, and so changeable in their demands as to make all government impossible.
In the armies the picture was entirely different. The same multitudes of unaccustomed men, restrained by the orderly elements of a laborious peasant population, standardised by military discipline, and inspired by contagious enthusiasm, heroically supported privations, disdained perils, and contributed to form that fabulous strain which triumphed over the most redoubtable troops in Europe.
These facts are among those which should always be invoked to show the force of discipline. It transforms men. Liberated from its influence, peoples and armies become barbarian hordes.
This truth is daily and increasingly forgotten. Ignoring the fundamental laws of collective logic, we give way more and more to shifting popular impulses, instead of learning to direct them.
The multitude must be shown the road to follow; it is not for them to choose it.
PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LEADERS OF THE REVOLUTION
1. Mentality of the Men of the Revolution. The respective Influence of Violent and Feeble Characters.
Men judge with their intelligence, and are guided by their characters. To understand a man fully one must separate these two elements.
During the great periods of activity—and the revolutionary movements naturally belong to such periods—character always takes the first rank.
Having in several chapters described the various mentalities which predominate in times of disturbance, we need not return to the subject now. They constitute general types which are naturally modified by each man's inherited and acquired personality.
We have seen what an important part was played by the mystic element in the Jacobin mentality, and the ferocious fanaticism to which it led the sectaries of the new faith.
We have also seen that all the members of the Assemblies were not fanatics. These latter were even in the minority, since in the most sanguinary of the revolutionary assemblies the great majority was composed of timid and moderate men of neutral character. Before Thermidor the members of this group voted from fear with the violent and after Thermidor with the moderate deputies.
In time of revolution, as at other times, these neutral characters, obeying the most contrary impulses, are always the most numerous. They are also as dangerous in reality as the violent characters. The force of the latter is supported by the weakness of the former.
In all revolutions, and in particularly in the French Revolution, we observe a small minority of narrow but decided minds which imperiously dominate an immense majority of men who are often very intelligent but are lacking in character
Besides the fanatical apostles and the feeble characters, a revolution always produces individuals who merely think how to profit thereby. These were numerous during the French Revolution. Their aim was simply to utilise circumstances so as to enrich themselves. Such were Barras, Tallien, Fouche, Barrere, and many more. Their politics consisted simply in serving the strong against the weak.
From the outset of the Revolution these "arrivists,'' as one would call them to-day, were numerous. Camille Desmoulins wrote in 1792: "Our Revolution has its roots only in the egotism and self-love of each individual, of the combination of which the general interest is composed.''
If we add to these indications the observations contained in another chapter concerning the various forms of mentality to be observed in times of political upheaval, we shall obtain a general idea of the character of the men of the Revolution. We shall now apply the principles already expounded to the most remarkable personages of the revolutionary period.
2. Psychology of the Commissaries or Representatives "on Mission.''
In Paris the conduct of the members of the Convention was always directed, restrained, or excited by the action of their colleagues, and that of their environment.
To judge them properly we should observe them when left to themselves and uncontrolled, when they possessed full liberty. Such were the representatives who were sent "on mission'' into the departments by the Convention.
The power of these delegates was absolute. No censure embarrassed them. Functionaries and magistrates had perforce to obey them.
A representative "on mission'' "requisitions,'' sequestrates, or confiscates as seems good to him; taxes, imprisons, deports, or decapitates as he thinks fit, and in his own district he is a ''pasha.''
Regarding themselves as "pashas,'' they displayed themselves "drawn in carriages with six horses, surrounded by guards; sitting at sumptuous tables with thirty covers, eating to the sound of music, with a following of players, courtezans, and mercenaries. . . .'' At Lyons "the solemn appearance of Collot d'Herbois is like that of the Grand Turk. No one can come into his presence without three repeated requests; a string of apartments precedes his reception-room, and no one approaches nearer than fifteen paces.''
One can picture the immense vanity of these dictators as they solemnly entered the towns, surrounded by guards, men whose gesture was enough to cause heads to fall.
Petty lawyers without clients, doctors without patients, unfrocked clergymen, obscure attorneys, who had formerly known the most colourless of lives, were suddenly made the equals of the most powerful tyrants of history. Guillotining, drowning, shooting without mercy, at the hazard of their fancy, they were raised from their former humble condition to the level of the most celebrated potentates.
Never did Nero or Heliogabalus surpass in tyranny the representatives of the Convention. Laws and customs always restrained the former to a certain extent. Nothing restrained the commissaries.
"Fouche,'' writes Taine, "lorgnette in hand, watched the butchery of 210 inhabitants of Lyons from his window. Collot, Laporte, and Fouche feasted on days of execution (fusillades), and at the sound of each discharge sprang up with cries of joy, waving their hats.''
Among the representatives "on mission'' who exhibit this murderous mentality we may cite as a type the ex-cure Lebon, who, having become possessed of supreme power, ravaged Arras and Cambrai. His example, with that of Carrier, contributes to show what man can become when he escapes from the yoke of law and tradition. The cruelty of the ferocious commissary was complicated by Sadism; the scaffold was raised under his windows, so that he, his wife, and his helpers could rejoice in the carnage. At the foot of the guillotine a drinking-booth was established where the sans-culottes could come to drink. To amuse them the executioner would group on the pavement, in ridiculous attitudes, the naked bodies of the decapitated.
"The reading of the two volumes of his trial, printed at Amiens in 1795, may be counted as a nightmare. During twenty sessions the survivors of the hecatombs of Arras and Cambrai passed through the ancient hall of the bailiwick at Amiens, where the ex-member of the Convention was tried. What these phantoms in mourning related is unheard of. Entire streets dispeopled; nonagenarians and girls of sixteen decapitated after a mockery of a trial; death buffeted, insulted, adorned, rejoiced in; executions to music; battalions of children recruited to guard the scaffold; the debauchery, the cynicism, the refinements of an insane satrap; a romance by Sade turned epic; it seems, as we watch the unpacking of these horrors, that a whole country, long terrorised, is at last disgorging its terror and revenging itself for its cowardice by overwhelming the wretch there, the scapegoat of an abhorred and vanished system.''
The only defence of the ex-clergyman was that he had obeyed orders. The facts with which he was reproached had long been known, and the Convention had in no wise blamed him for them.
I have already spoken of the vanity of the deputies "on mission,'' who were suddenly endowed with a power greater than that of the most powerful despots; but this vanity is not enough to explain their ferocity.
That arose from other sources. Apostles of a severe faith, the delegates of the Convention, like the inquisitors of the Holy Office, could feel, can have felt, no pity for their victims. Freed, moreover, from all the bonds of tradition and law, they could give rein to the most savage instincts that primitive animality has left in us.
Civilisation restrains these instincts, but they never die. The need to kill which makes the hunter is a permanent proof of this.
M. Cunisset-Carnot has expressed in the following lines the grip of this hereditary tendency, which, in the pursuit of the most harmless game, re-awakens the barbarian in every hunter:—
"The pleasure of killing for killing's sake is, one may say, universal; it is the basis of the hunting instinct, for it must be admitted that at present, in civilised countries, the need to live no longer counts for anything in its propagation. In reality we are continuing an action which was imperiously imposed upon our savage ancestors by the harsh necessities of existence, during which they had either to kill or die of hunger, while to- day there is no longer any legitimate excuse for it. But so it is, and we can do nothing; probably we shall never break the chains of a slavery which has bound us for so long. We cannot prevent ourselves from feeling an intense, often passionate, pleasure in shedding the blood of animals towards whom, when the love of the chase possesses us, we lose all feeling of pity. The gentlest and prettiest creatures, the song-birds, the charm of our springtime, fall to our guns or are choked in our snares, and not a shudder of pity troubles our pleasure at seeing them terrified, bleeding, writhing in the horrible suffering we inflict on them, seeking to flee on their poor broken paws or desperately beating their wings, which can no longer support them. . . . The excuse is the impulse of that imperious atavism which the best of us have not the strength to resist.''
At ordinary times this singular atavism, restrained by fear of the laws, can only be exercised on animals. When codes are no longer operative it immediately applies itself to man, which is why so many terrorists took an intense pleasure in killing. Carrier's remark concerning the joy he felt in contemplating the faces of his victims during their torment is very typical. In many civilised men ferocity is a restrained instinct, but it is by no means eliminated.
3. Danton and Robespierre.
Danton and Robespierre represented the two principal personages of the Revolution. I shall say little of the former: his psychology, besides being simple, is familiar. A club orator firstly, impulsive and violent, he showed himself always ready to excite the people. Cruel only in his speeches, he often regretted their effects. From the outset he shone in the first rank, while his future rival, Robespierre, was vegetating almost in the lowest.
At one given moment Danton became the soul of the Revolution, but he was deficient in tenacity and fixity of conduct. Moreover, he was needy, while Robespierre was not. The continuous fanaticism of the latter defeated the intermittent efforts of the former. Nevertheless, it was an amazing spectacle to see so powerful a tribune sent to the scaffold by his pale, venemous enemy and mediocre rival.
Robespierre, the most influential man of the Revolution and the most frequently studied, is yet the least explicable. It is difficult to understand the prodigious influence which gave him the power of life and death, not only over the enemies of the Revolution but also over colleagues who could not have been considered as enemies of the existing Government.
We certainly cannot explain the matter by saying with Taine that Robespierre was a pedant lost in abstractions, nor by asserting with the Michelet that he succeeded on account of his principles, nor by repeating with his contemporary Williams that "one of the secrets of his government was to take men marked by opprobrium or soiled with crime as stepping-stones to his ambition.''
It is impossible to regard his eloquence as the cause of his success. His eyes protected by goggles, he painfully read his speeches, which were composed of cold and indefinite abstractions. The Assembly contained orators who possessed an immensely superior talent, such as Danton and the Girondists; yet it was Robespierre who destroyed them.
We have really no acceptable explanation of the ascendancy which the dictator finally obtained. Without influence in the National Assembly, he gradually became the master of the Convention and of the Jacobins. "When he reached the Committee of Public Safety he was already,'' said Billaud-Varennes, "the most important person in France.''
"His history,'' writes Michelet, "is prodigious, far more marvellous than that of Bonaparte. The threads, the wheels, the preparation of forces, are far less visible. It is an honest man, an austere but pious figure, of middling talents, that shoots up one morning, borne upward by I know not what cataclysm. There is nothing like it in the Arabian Nights. And in a moment he goes higher than the throne. He is set upon the altar. Astonishing story!''
Certainly circumstances helped him considerably. People turned to him as to the master of whom all felt the need. But then he was already there, and what we wish to discover is the cause of his rapid ascent. I would willingly suppose in him the existence of a species of personal fascination which escapes us to-day. His successes with women might be quoted in support of this theory. On the days when he speaks "the passages are choked with women . . . there are seven or eight hundred in the tribunes, and with what transports they applaud! At the Jacobins, when he speaks there are sobs and cries of emotion, and men stamp as though they would bring the hall down.'' A young widow, Mme. de Chalabre, possessed of sixteen hundred pounds a year, sends him burning love-letters and is eager to marry him.
We cannot seek in his character for the causes of his popularity. A hypochondriac by temperament, of mediocre intelligence, incapable of grasping realities, confined to abstractions, crafty and dissimulating, his prevailing note was an excessive pride which increased until his last day. High priest of a new faith, he believed himself sent on earth by God to establish the reign of virtue. He received writings stating "that he was the Messiah whom the Eternal Being had promised to reform the world.''
Full of literary pretensions, he laboriously polished his speeches. His profound jealousy of other orators or men of letters, such as Camille Desmoulins, caused their death.
"Those who were particularly the objects of the tyrant's rage,'' writes the author already cited, "were the men of letters. With regard to them the jealousy of a colleague was mingled with the fury of the oppressor; for the hatred with which he persecuted them was caused less by their resistance to his despotism than by their talents, which eclipsed his.''
The contempt of the dictator for his colleagues was immense and almost unconcealed. Giving audience to Barras at the hour of his toilet, he finished shaving, spitting in the direction of his colleague as though he did not exist, and disdaining to reply to his questions.
He regarded the bourgeoisie and the deputies with the same hateful disdain. Only the multitude found grace in his eyes. "When the sovereign people exercises its power,'' he said, "we can only bow before it. In all it does all is virtue and truth, and no excess, error, or crime is possible.''
Robespierre suffered from the persecution mania. That he had others' heads cut off was not only because he had a mission as an apostle, but because he believed himself hemmed in by enemies and conspirators. "Great as was the cowardice of his colleagues where he was concerned,'' writes M. Sorel, "the fear he had of them was still greater.''
His dictatorship, absolute during five months, is a striking example of the power of certain leaders. We can understand that a tyrant backed by an army can easily destroy whom he pleases, but that a single man should succeed in sending to death a large number of his equals is a thing that is not easily explained.
The power of Robespierre was so absolute that he was able to send to the Tribunal, and therefore to the scaffold, the most eminent deputies: Desmoulins, Hebert, Danton, and many another. The brilliant Girondists melted away before him. He attacked even the terrible Commune, guillotined its leaders, and replaced it by a new Commune obedient to his orders.
In order to rid himself more quickly of the men who displeased him he induced the Convention to enact the law of Prairial, which permitted the execution of mere suspects, and by means of which he had 1,373 heads cut off in Paris in forty-nine days. His colleagues, the victims of an insane terror, no longer slept at home; scarcely a hundred deputies were present at sessions. David said: "I do not believe twenty of us members of the Mountain will be left.''
It was his very excess of confidence in his own powers and in the cowardice of the Convention that lost Robespierre his life. Having attempted to make them vote a measure which would permit deputies to be sent before the Revolutionary Tribunal, which meant the scaffold, without the authorisation of the Assembly, on an order from the governing Committee, several Montagnards conspired with some members of the Plain to overthrow him. Tallien, knowing himself marked down for early execution, and having therefore nothing to lose, accused him loudly of tyranny. Robespierre wished to defend himself by reading a speech which he had long had in hand, but he learned to his cost that although it is possible to destroy men in the name of logic it is not possible to lead an assembly by means of logic. The shouts of the conspirators drowned his voice; the cry "Down with the tyrant!'' quickly repeated, thanks to mental contagion, by many of the members present, was enough to complete his downfall. Without losing a moment the Assembly decreed his accusation.
The Commune having wished to save him, the Assembly outlawed him. Struck by this magic formula, he was definitely lost.
"This cry of outlawry,'' writes Williams, "at this period produced the same effect on a Frenchman as the cry of pestilence; the outlaw became civilly excommunicated, and it was as though men believed that they would be contaminated passing through the air which he had breathed. Such was the effect it produced upon the gunners who had trained their cannon against the Convention. Without receiving further orders, merely on hearing that the Commune was 'outside the law,' they immediately turned their batteries about.''
Robespierre and all his band—Saint-Just, the president of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the mayor of the Commune, &c.,—were guillotined on the 10th of Thermidor to the number of twenty-one.
Their execution was followed on the morrow by a fresh batch of seventy Jacobins, and on the next day by thirteen. The Terror, which had lasted ten months, was at an end.
The downfall of the Jacobin edifice in Thermidor is one of the most curious psychological events of the revolutionary period. None of the Montagnards who had worked for the downfall of Robespierre had for a moment dreamed that it would mark the end of the Terror.
Tallien, Barras, Fouche, &c., overthrew Robespierre as he had overthrown Hebert, Danton, the Girondists, and many others. But when the acclamations of the crowd told them that the death of Robespierre was regarded as having put an end to the Terror they acted as though such had been their intention. They were the more obliged to do so in that the Plain—that is, the great majority of the Assembly—which had allowed itself to be decimated by Robespierre, now rebelled furiously against the system it had so long acclaimed even while it abhorred it. Nothing is more terrible than a body of men who have been afraid and are afraid no longer. The Plain revenged itself for being terrorised by the Mountain, and terrorised that body in turn.
The servility of the colleagues of Robespierre in the Convention was by no means based upon any feeling of sympathy for him. The dictator filled them with an unspeakable alarm, but beneath the marks of admiration and enthusiasm which they lavished on him out of fear was concealed an intense hatred. We can gather as much by reading the reports of various deputies inserted in the Moniteur of August 11, 15, and 29, 1794, and notably that on "the conspiracy of the triumvirs, Robespierre, Couthon, and Saint-Just.'' Never did slaves heap such invectives on a fallen master.
We learn that "these monsters had for some time been renewing the most horrible prescriptions of Marius and Sulla.'' Robespierre is represented as a most frightful scoundrel; we are assured that "like Caligula, he would soon have asked the French people to worship his horse . . . He sought security in the execution of all who aroused his slightest suspicion.''
These reports forget to add that the power of Robespierre obtained no support, as did that of the Marius and Sulla to whom they allude, from a powerful army, but merely from the repeated adhesion of the members of the Convention. Without their extreme timidity the power of the dictator could not have lasted a single day.
Robespierre was one of the most odious tyrants of history, but he is distinguished from all others in that he made himself a tyrant without soldiers.
We may sum up his doctrines by saying that he was the most perfect incarnation, save perhaps Saint-Just, of the Jacobin faith, in all its narrow logic, its intense mysticism, and its inflexible rigidity. He has admirers even to-day. M. Hamel describes him as "the martyr of Thermidor.'' There has been some talk of erecting a monument to him. I would willingly subscribe to such a purpose, feeling that it is useful to preserve proofs of the blindness of the crowd, and of the extraordinary docility of which an assembly is capable when the leader knows how to handle it. His statue would recall the passionate cries of admiration and enthusiasm with which the Convention acclaimed the most threatening measures of the dictator, on the very eve of the day when it was about to cast him down.
4. Fouquier-Tinville, Marat, Billaud-Varenne, &c.
I shall devote a paragraph to certain revolutionists who were famous for the development of their most sanguinary instincts. Their ferocity was complicated by other sentiments, by fear and hatred, which could but fortify it.
Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal, was one of those who have left the most sinister memories. This magistrate, formerly reputed for his kindness, and who became the bloodthirsty creature whose memory evokes such repulsion, has already served me as an example in other works, when I have wished to show the transformation of certain natures in time of revolution.
Needy in the extreme at the moment of the fall of the monarchy, he had everything to hope from a social upheaval and nothing to lose. He was one of those men whom a period of disorder will always find ready to sustain it.
The Convention abandoned its powers to him. He had to pronounce upon the fate of nearly two thousand accused, among whom were Marie-Antoinette, the Girondists, Danton, Hebert, &c. He had all the suspects brought before him executed, and did not scruple to betray his former protectors. As soon as one of them fell into his power—Camille Desmoulins, Danton, or another—he would plead against him.
Fouquier-Tinville had a very inferior mind, which the Revolution brought to the top. Under normal conditions, hedged about by professional rules, his destiny would have been that of a peaceable and obscure magistrate. This was precisely the lot of his deputy, or substitute, at the Tribunal, Gilbert-Liendon. "He should,'' writes M. Durel, "have inspired the same horror as his colleague, yet he completed his career in the upper ranks of the Imperial magistracy.''
One of the great benefits of an organised society is that it does restrain these dangerous characters, whom nothing but social restraints can hold.
Fouquier-Tinville died without understanding why he was condemned, and from the revolutionary point of view his condemnation was not justifiable. Had he not merely zealously executed the orders of his superiors? It is impossible to class him with the representatives who were sent into the provinces, who could not be supervised. The delegates of the Convention examined all his sentences and approved of them up to the last. If his cruelty and his summary fashion of trying the prisoners before him had not been encouraged by his chiefs, he could not have remained in power. In condemning Fouquier-Tinville, the Convention condemned its own frightful system of government. It understood this fact, and sent to the scaffold a number of Terrorists whom Fouquier-Tinville had merely served as a faithful agent.
Beside Fouquier-Tinville we may set Dumas, who presided over the Revolutionary Tribunal, and who also displayed an excessive cruelty, which was whetted by an intense fear. He never went out without two loaded pistols, barricaded himself in his house, and only spoke to visitors through a wicket. His distrust of everybody, including his own wife, was absolute. He even imprisoned the latter, and was about to have her executed when Thermidor arrived.
Among the men whom the Convention brought to light, Billaud- Varenne was one of the wildest and, most brutal. He may be regarded as a perfect type of bestial ferocity.
"In these hours of fruitful anger and heroic anguish he remained calm, acquitting himself methodically of his task—and it was a frightful task: he appeared officially at the massacres of the Abbaye, congratulated the assassins, and promised them money; upon which he went home as if he had merely been taking a walk. We see him as president of the Jacobin Club, president of the Convention, and member of the Committee of Public Safety; he drags the Girondists to the scaffold: he drags the queen thither, and his former patron, Danton, said of him, 'Billaud has a dagger under his tongue.' He approves of the cannonades at Lyons, the drownings at Nantes, the massacres at Arras; he organises the pitiless commission of Orange; he is concerned in the laws of Prairial; he eggs on Fouquier-Tinville; on all decrees of death is his name, often the first; he signs before his colleagues; he is without pity, without emotion, without enthusiasm; when others are frightened, hesitate, and draw back, he goes his way, speaking in turgid sentences, 'shaking his lion's mane'—for to make his cold and impassive face more in harmony with the exuberance that surrounds him he now decks himself in a yellow wig which would make one laugh were it on any but the sinister head of Billaud-Varenne. When Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon are threatened in turn, he deserts them and goes over to the enemy, and pushes them under the knife. . . . Why? What is his aim? No one knows; he is not in any way ambitious; he desires neither power nor money.''
I do not think it would be difficult to answer why. The thirst for blood, of which we have already spoken, and which is very common among certain criminals, perfectly explains the conduct of Billaud-Varennes. Bandits of this type kill for the sake of killing, as sportsmen shoot game—for the very pleasure of exercising their taste for destruction. In ordinary times men endowed with these homicidal tendencies refrain, generally from fear of the policeman and the scaffold. When they are able to give them free vent nothing can stop them. Such was the case with Billaud-Varenne and many others.
The psychology of Marat is rather more complicated, not only because his craving for murder was combined with other elements— wounded self-love, ambition, mystic beliefs, &c.—but also because we must regard him as a semi-lunatic, affected by megalomania, and haunted by fixed ideas.
Before the Revolution he had advanced great scientific pretensions, but no one attached much importance to his maunderings. Dreaming of place and honour, he had only obtained a very subordinate situation in the household of a great noble. The Revolution opened up an unhoped-for future. Swollen with hatred of the old social system which had not recognised his merits, he put himself at the head of the most violent section of the people. Having publicly glorified the massacres of September, he founded a journal which denounced everybody and clamoured incessantly for executions.
Speaking continually of the interests of the people, Marat became their idol. The majority of his colleagues heartily despised him. Had he escaped the knife of Charlotte Corday, he certainly would not have escaped that of the guillotine.
5. The Destiny of those Members of the Convention who survived the Revolution.
Beside the members of the Convention whose psychology presents particular characteristics there were others—Barras, Fouche, Tallien, Merlin de Thionville, &c.—completely devoid of principles or belief, who only sought to enrich themselves.
They sought to build up enormous fortunes out of the public misery. In ordinary times they would have been qualified as simple scoundrels, but in periods of revolution all standards of vice and virtue seem to disappear.
Although a few Jacobins remained fanatics, the majority renounced their convictions as soon as they had obtained riches, and became the faithful courtiers of Napoleon. Cambaceres, who, on addressing Louis XVI. in prison, called him Louis Capet, under the Empire required his friends to call him "Highness'' in public and "Monseigneur'' in private, thus displaying the envious feeling which accompanied the craving for equality in many of the Jacobins.
"The majority of the Jacobins,'' writes M. Madelin "were greatly enriched, and like Chabot, Bazire, Merlin, Barras, Boursault, Tallien, Barrere, &c., possessed chateaux and estates. Those who were not wealthy as yet were soon to become so. . . In the Committee of the year III. alone the staff of the Thermidorian party comprised a future prince, 13 future counts, 5 future barons, 7 future senators of the Empire, and 6 future Councillors of State, and beside them in the Convention there were, between the future Duke of Otranto to the future Count Regnault, no less than 50 democrats who fifteen years later possessed titles, coats of arms, plumes, carriages, endowments, entailed estates, hotels, and chateaux. Fouche died worth L600,000.''
The privileges of the ancien regime which had been so bitterly decried were thus very soon re-established for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. To arrive at this result it was necessary to ruin France, to burn entire provinces, to multiply suffering, to plunge innumerable families into despair, to overturn Europe, and to destroy men by the hundred thousand on the field of battle.
In closing this chapter we will recall what we have already said concerning the possibility of judging the men of this period.
Although the moralist is forced to deal severely with certain individuals, because he judges them by the types which society must respect if it is to succeed in maintaining itself, the psychologist is not in the same case. His aim is to understand, and criticism vanishes before a complete comprehension.
The human mind is a very fragile mechanism, and the marionettes which dance upon the stage of history are rarely able to resist the imperious forces which impel them. Heredity, environment, and circumstances are imperious masters. No one can say with certainty what would have been his conduct in the place of the men whose actions he endeavours to interpret.
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN ANCESTRAL INFLUENCES AND REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES
THE LAST CONVULSIONS OF ANARCHY—THE DIRECTORY
1. The Psychology of the Directory.
As the various revolutionary assemblies were composed in part of the same men, one might suppose that their psychology would be very similar.
At ordinary periods this would have been so, for a constant environment means constancy of character. But when circumstances change as rapidly as they did under the Revolution, character must perforce transform itself to adapt itself thereto. Such was the case with the Directory.
The Directory comprised several distinct assemblies: two large chambers, consisting of different categories of deputies, and one very small chamber, which consisted of the five Directors.
The two larger Assemblies remind one strongly of the Convention by their weakness. They were no longer forced to obey popular riots, as these were energetically prevented by the Directors, but they yielded without discussion to the dictatorial injunctions of the latter.
The first deputies to be elected were mostly moderates. Everyone was weary of the Jacobin tyranny. The new Assembly dreamed of rebuilding the ruins with which France was covered, and establishing a liberal government without violence.
But by one of those fatalities which were a law of the Revolution, and which prove that the course of events is often superior to men's wills, these deputies, like their predecessors, may be said always to have done the contrary of what they wished to do. They hoped to be moderate, and they were violent; they wanted to eliminate the influence of the Jacobins, and they allowed themselves to be led by them; they thought to repair the ruins of the country and they succeeded only in adding others to them; they aspired to religious peace, and they finally persecuted and massacred the priests with greater rigour than during the Terror.
The psychology of the little assembly formed by the five Directors was very different from that of the Chamber of Deputies. Encountering fresh difficulties daily, the directors were forced to resolve them, while the large Assemblies, without contact with realities, had only their aspirations.
The prevailing thought of the Directors was very simple. Highly indifferent to principles, they wished above all to remain the masters of France. To attain that result they did not shrink from resorting to the most illegitimate measures, even annulling the elections of a great number of the departments when these embarrassed them.
Feeling themselves incapable of reorganising France, they left her to herself. By their despotism they contrived to dominate her, but they never governed her. Now, what France needed more than anything at this juncture was to be governed.
The convention has left behind it the reputation of a strong Government, and the Directory that of a weak Government. The contrary is true: it was the Directory that was the strong Government.
Psychologically we may readily explain the difference between the Government of the Directory and that of the preceding Assemblies by recalling the fact that a gathering of six hundred to seven hundred persons may well suffer from waves of contagious enthusiasm, as on the night of the 4th of August, or even impulses of energetic will-power, such as that which launched defiance against the kings of Europe. But such impulses are too ephemeral to possess any great force. A committee of five members, easily dominated by the will of one, is far more susceptible of continuous resolution—that is, of perseverance in a settled line of conduct.
The Government of the Directory proved to be always incapable of governing, but it never lacked a strong will. Nothing restraining it, neither respect for law nor consideration for the citizens, nor love of the public welfare, it was able to impose upon France a despotism more crushing than that of any Government since the beginning of the Revolution, not excepting the Terror.
Although it utilised methods analogous to those of the Convention, and ruled France in the most tyrannical manner, the Directory, no more than the Convention, was never the master of France.
This fact, which I have already noted, proves once more the impotence of material constraint to dominate moral forces. It cannot be too often repeated that the true guide of mankind is the moral scaffolding erected by his ancestors.
Accustomed to live in an organised society, supported by codes and respected traditions, we can with difficulty represent to ourselves the condition of a nation deprived of such a basis. As a general thing we only see the irksome side of our environment, too readily forgetting that society can exist only on condition of imposing certain restraints, and that laws, manners, and custom constitute a check upon the natural instincts of barbarism which never entirely perishes.
The history of the Convention and the Directory which followed it shows plainly to what degree disorder may overcome a nation deprived of its ancient structure, and having for guide only the artificial combinations of an insufficient reason.
2. Despotic Government of the Directory. Recrudescence of the Terror.
With the object of diverting attention, occupying the army, and obtaining resources by the pillage of neighbouring countries, the Directors decided to resume the wars of conquest which had succeeded under the Convention.
These continued during the life time of the Directory. The armies won a rich booty, especially in Italy.
Some of the invaded populations were so simple as to suppose that these invasions were undertaken in their interest. They were not long in discovering that all military operations were accompanied by crushing taxes and the pillage of churches, public treasuries, &c.
The final consequence of this policy of conquest was the formation of a new coalition against France, which lasted until 1801.
Indifferent to the state of the country and incapable of reorganising it, the Directors were principally concerned in struggling against an incessant series of conspiracies in order to keep in power.
This task was enough to occupy their leisure, for the political parties had not disarmed. Anarchy had reached such a point that all were calling for a hand powerful enough to restore order. Everyone felt, the Directors included, that the republican system could not last much longer.
Some dreamed of re-establishing royalty, others the Terrorist system, while others waited for a general. Only the purchasers of the national property feared a change of Government.
The unpopularity of the Directory increased daily, and when in May, 1797, the third part of the Assembly had to be renewed, the majority of those elected were hostile to the system.
The Directors were not embarrassed by a little thing like that. They annulled the elections in 49 departments; 154 of the new deputies were invalidated and expelled, 53 condemned to deportation. Among these latter figured the most illustrious names of the Revolution: Portalis, Carnot, Tronson du Coudray, &c.
To intimidate the electors, military commissions condemned to death, rather at random, 160 persons, and sent to Guiana 330, of whom half speedily died. The emigres and priests who had returned to France were violently expelled. This was known as the coup d'etat of Fructidor.
This coup, which struck more especially at the moderates, was not the only one of its kind; another quickly followed. The Directors, finding the Jacobin deputies too numerous, annulled the elections of sixty of them.
The preceding facts displayed the tyrannical temper of the Directors, but this appeared even more plainly in the details of their measures. The new masters of France also proved to be as bloodthirsty as the most ferocious deputies of the Terror.
The guillotine was not re-established as a permanency, but replaced by deportation under conditions which left the victims little chance of survival. Sent to Rochefort in cages of iron bars, exposed to all the severities of the weather, they were then packed into boats.
"Between the decks of the Decade and the Bayonnaise,'' says Taine, "the miserable prisoners, suffocated by the lack of air and the torrid heat, bullied and fleeced, died of hunger or asphyxia, and Guiana completed the work of the voyage: of 193 taken thither by the Decade 39 were left alive at the end of twenty-two months; of 120 taken by the Bayonnaise 1 remained.
Observing everywhere a Catholic renascence, and imagining that the clergy were conspiring against them, the Directors deported or sent to the galleys in one year 1,448 priests, to say nothing of a large number who were summarily executed. The Terror was in reality completely re-established.
The autocratic despotism of the Directory was exercised in all the branches of the administration, notably the finances. Thus, having need of six hundred million francs, it forced the deputies, always docile, to vote a progressive impost, which yielded, however, only twelve millions. Being presently in the same condition, it decreed a forced loan of a hundred millions, which resulted in the closing of workshops, the stoppage of business, and the dismissal of domestics. It was only at the price of absolute ruin that forty millions could be obtained.
To assure itself of domination in the provinces the Directory caused a so-called law of hostages to be passed, according to which a list of hostages, responsible for all offences, was drawn up in each commune.
It is easy to understand what hatred such a system provoked. At the end of 1799 fourteen departments were in revolt and forty-six were ready to rise. If the Directory had lasted the dissolution of society would have been complete.
For that matter, this dissolution was far advanced. Finances, administration, everything was crumbling. The receipts of the Treasury, consisting of depreciated assignats fallen to a hundredth part of their original value, were negligible. Holders of Government stock and officers could no longer obtain payment.
France at this time gave travellers the impression of a country ravaged by war and abandoned by its inhabitants. The broken bridges and dykes and ruined buildings made all traffic impossible. The roads, long deserted, were infested by brigands.
Certain departments could only be crossed at the price of buying a safe-conduct from the leaders of these bands. Industry and commerce were annihilated. In Lyons 13,000 workshops and mills out of 15,000 had been forced to close. Lille, Havre, Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, &c., were like dead cities. Poverty and famine were general.
The moral disorganisation was no less terrible. Luxury and the craving for pleasure, costly dinners, jewels, and extravagant households were the appanage of a new society composed entirely of stock-jobbers, army contractors, and shady financiers enriched by pillage. They gave Paris that superficial aspect of luxury and gaiety which has deluded so many historians of this period, because the insolent prodigality displayed covered the general misery.
The chronicles of the Directory as told in books help to show us of what lies the web of history is woven. The theatre has lately got hold of this period, of which the fashions are still imitated. It has left the memory of a joyous period of re-birth after the gloomy drama of the Terror. In reality the drama of the Directory was hardly an improvement on the Terror and was quite as sanguinary. Finally, it inspired such loathing that the Directors, feeling that it could not last, sought themselves for the dictator capable of replacing it and also of protecting them.
3. The Advent of Bonaparte.
We have seen that at the end of the Directory the anarchy and disorganisation were such that every one was desperately calling for the man of energy capable of re-establishing order. As early as 1795 a number of deputies had thought for a moment of re- establishing royalty. Louis XVIII., having been tactless enough to declare that he would restore the ancien regime in its entirety, return all property to its original owners, and punish the men of the Revolution, was immediately thrown over. The senseless expedition of Quiberon finally alienated the supporters of the future sovereign. The royalists gave a proof during the whole of the Revolution of an incapacity and a narrowness of mind which justified most of the measures taken against them.
The monarchy being impossible, it was necessary to find a general. Only one existed whose name carried weight—Bonaparte. The campaign in Italy had just made him famous. Having crossed the Alps, he had marched from victory to victory, penetrated to Milan and Venice, and everywhere obtained important war contributions. He then made towards Vienna, and was only twenty- five leagues from its gates when the Emperor of Austria decided to sue for peace.
But great as was his renown, the young general did not consider it sufficient. To increase it he persuaded the Directory that the power of England could be shaken by an invasion of Egypt, and in May, 1798, he embarked at Toulon.
This need of increasing his prestige arose from a very sound psychological conception which he clearly expounded at St. Helena:—
"The most influential and enlightened generals had long been pressing the general of Italy to take steps to place himself at the head of the Republic. He refused; he was not yet strong enough to walk quite alone. He had ideas upon the art of governing and upon what was necessary to a great nation which were so different from those of the men of the Revolution and the assemblies that, not being able to act alone, he feared to compromise his character. He determined to set out for Egypt, but resolved to reappear if circumstances should arise to render his presence useful or necessary.''
Bonaparte did not stay long in Egypt. Recalled by his friends, he landed at Frejus, and the announcement of his return provoked universal enthusiasm. There were illuminations everywhere. France collaborated in advance in the coup d'etat prepared by two Directors and the principal ministers. The plot was organised in three weeks. Its execution on the 18th of Brumaire was accomplished with the greatest ease.
All parties experienced the greatest delight at being rid of the sinister gangs who had so long oppressed and exploited the country. The French were doubtless about to enter upon a despotic system of government, but it could not be so intolerable as that which had been endured for so many years.
The history of the coup d'etat of Brumaire justifies all that we have already said of the impossibility of forming exact judgments of events which apparently are fully understood and attested by no matter how many witnesses.
We know what ideas people had thirty years ago concerning the coup of Brumaire. It was regarded as a crime committed by the ambition of a man who was supported by his army. As a matter of fact the army played no part whatever in the affair. The little body of men who expelled the few recalcitrant deputies were not soldiers even, but the gendarmes of the Assembly itself. The true author of the coup d'etat was the Government itself, with the complicity of all France.
4. Causes of the Duration of the Revolution.
If we limit the Revolution to the time necessary for the conquest of its fundamental principles—equality before the law, free access to public functions, popular sovereignty, control of expenditures, &c.—we may say that it lasted only a few months. Towards the middle of 1789 all this was accomplished, and during the years that followed nothing was added to it, yet the Revolution lasted much longer.
Confining the duration to the dates admitted by the official historians, we see it persisting until the advent of Bonaparte, a space of some ten years.
Why did this period of disorganisation and violence follow the establishment of the new principles? We need not seek the cause in the foreign war, which might on several occasions have been terminated, thanks to the divisions of the allies and the constant victories of the French; neither must we look for it in the sympathy of Frenchmen for the revolutionary Government. Never was rule more cordially hated and despised than that of the Assemblies. By its revolts as well as by its repeated votes a great part of the nation displayed the horror with which it regarded the system.