The NATIONAL CONVENTION (French: _Convention nationale_) was the third government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly . Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792 , it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 (4 Brumaire IV under the Convention\'s adopted calendar ).
The Convention came about when the Legislative Assembly, which had found it impossible to work with the king, decreed the provisional suspension of King Louis XVI and the convocation of a National Convention to draw up a new constitution with no monarchy. The other major innovation was to decree that deputies to that Convention should be elected by all Frenchmen twenty-five years old or more, domiciled for a year and living by the product of their labor. The National Convention was therefore the first French assembly elected by a suffrage without distinctions of class.
Although the Convention lasted until 1795, power was effectively stripped from the elected deputies and concentrated in the small Committee of Public Safety from April 1793. The eight months from Fall 1793 to Spring 1794, when Maximilien Robespierre and his allies dominated the Committee of Public Safety, represents the most radical and bloodiest phase of the French Revolution. After the fall of Robespierre, the Convention lasted for another year until a new constitution was written, ushering in the French Directory .
* 1 Elections
* 2 Girondin Convention
* 3 Montagnard Convention
* 3.1 Constitution 1793 * 3.2 Federalist revolt, war and counter-revolution
* 3.3 Revolutionary government
* 3.3.1 The economy * 3.3.2 The Army of the Year II
* 3.4 Fall of the factions * 3.5 The Terror * 3.6 Thermidor
* 4 Thermidorian Convention
* 5 Legacy * 6 See also * 7 Notes * 8 References * 9 Sources * 10 External links
The election took place from 2 to 6 September 1792 after the election of the electoral colleges by primary assemblies on 26 August. Owing to the abstention of aristocrats, the anti-republicans, and the fear of victimization the voter turnout in the departments was low – 11.9% of the electorate came, compared to 10.2% in the 1791 elections - in spite of the fact that the number of those eligible to vote had doubled. Therefore, the increased suffrage had very little impact. The electorate returned the same sort of men that the active citizens had chosen in 1791.
In the whole of France, only eleven primary assemblies wanted to
retain the monarchy. Of the electoral assemblies, all tacitly voted
for a republic – though only
The Convention held its first sessions in a hall of the Tuileries Palace , then it sat in the Salle du Manège , and finally from 10 May 1793 it met in the Salle des Machines , an immense hall in which the deputies were loosely scattered. The Salle des Machines had galleries for the public who often influenced the debates with interruptions or applause.
The members of the Convention came from all classes of society, but
the most numerous were lawyers. 75 members had sat in the National
Constituent Assembly , 183 in the Legislative Assembly . The full
number of deputies was 749, not counting 33 from the French colonies,
of whom only some arrived in
According to its own ruling, the Convention elected its President every fortnight, and the outgoing President was eligible for re-election after the lapse of a fortnight. Ordinarily the sessions were held in the morning, but evening sessions also occurred frequently, often extending late into the night. Sometimes in exceptional circumstances the Convention declared itself in permanent session and sat for several days without interruption. For both legislative and administrative the Convention used committees, with powers more or less widely extended and regulated by successive laws. The most famous of these committees included the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security .
The Convention held legislative and executive powers during the first years of the French First Republic and had three distinct periods: Girondin, Montagnard or Jacobin, and Thermidorian.
The abolition of the royalty is a matter you cannot put off till tomorrow. — Collot d\'Herbois
The first session was held on 20 September 1792. The following day,
amidst profound silence, the proposition was put to the assembly,
"That royalty be abolished in
When the Convention met the military situation was undergoing an
extraordinary transformation that seemed to confirm the Girondin
prophecies of easy victory. After Valmy the Prussians withdrew to the
frontier, and in November French troops occupied the left bank of the
THE GIRONDINS AND THE MONTAGNARDS
Most historians divide the
The Montagnards represented a considerably larger, more democratic, portion of the deputies. They were much more radical than the Girondins and held strong connections to the Jacobin Club of Paris They drew their name from the high bleachers that they sat on while the Convention was in session. The Montagnards dominated the Convention.
Three questions dominated the first months of the Convention: revolutionary violence; the trial of the king; and Parisian dominance of politics.
The Plain was a third faction during the Convention. Though some historians consider these men to be closely associated with the Girondins, the Plain was much more centrist in their ideals.The Plain held the largest group of deputies and derived their name from their place on the floor of the Convention. During the start of the Convention, they sided with the Girondins, however, as it progressed and the Montagnards began to push for the execution of Louis, the Plain began to side with them.
THE TRIAL OF THE KING
Main article: Trial of Louis XVI
Louis must die so that the nation may live. — Maximilien
From the opening of the Convention the
Girondins showed no
inclination to bring the king to trial. They were more interested in
The discovery of the iron chest in the Tuileries 20 November 1792 made the trial inevitable. Documents found in this secret chest proved without any doubt the treachery of Louis XVI.
The trial began on 10 December. The Montagnards put the debate on the ideological level. Louis XVI was classified as an enemy, alien to the body of the nation and as a "usurper". Balloting began on 14 January 1793. Each deputy explained his vote at the rostrum. The vote against the king was unanimous. There was to be no popular referendum as Girondins hoped. The fatal vote started on 16 January and continued until the next day. Of the 721 deputies present, 387 declared themselves for the death penalty, while 334 were opposed. 26 deputies voted for death on condition that he was reprieved. On 18 January the question of reprieve was put to a vote: 380 votes were cast against; 310 for. Each time the Girondins had split. Main article: Execution of Louis XVI
On the morning of 21 January the Convention ordered the entire National Guard to line both sides of the route to the scaffold. Louis was beheaded at the Place de la Revolution. Within the nation, "voters" and "appellants", those that were against the execution of Louis, swore undying hatred of each other. The rest of Europe, fearing the outcome of the French Revolution in their own countries, decreed a war of extermination against regicides.
THE CRISIS AND FALL OF THE GIRONDINS
The Assembly began harmoniously, but within a few days the Girondins
launched a bitter attack on their Montagnard opponents. Conflict
continued without interruption until the expulsion of the Girondin
leaders from the Convention on 2 June 1793. The
Girondins had relied
on votes from the majority of the deputies, many of whom were alarmed
as well as scandalized by the
September massacres , but their
insistence on monopolizing all positions of authority during the
Convention, and their attacks on the Montagnard leaders, soon
irritated them, causing them to regard the party as a faction. One by
one, able deputies such as
Couthon , Cambon , Carnot ,
Girondins were convinced that their opponents aspired to a bloody dictatorship, while the Montagnards believed that the Girondins were ready for any compromise with conservatives, and even royalists, that would guarantee their remaining in power. The bitter enmity soon reduced the Convention to a state of limbo. Debate after debate degenerated into verbal brawling from which no decision could emerged. The political deadlock, which had repercussions all over France, eventually drove men to accept dangerous allies, royalists in the case of Girondins, Jacobins in that of the Montagnards.
Thus the struggle within the Convention continued without results. The decision was to come from outside. _ Journées des 31 Mai 1er et 2 Juin 1793_
Since the king's trial, the sans-culottes had been constantly assailing the "appealers" (_appelants_), and quickly came to desire their expulsion from the Convention. If this were achieved, the government could recover the energy to enable it to deal with the aristocratic plot by arresting suspects and establishing a revolutionary tribunal. Military setbacks from the First Coalition , Dumouriez\'s treason and the war in the Vendée , which began in March 1793, were all used as arguments by Montagnards and _sans-culottes_ to portray Girondins as soft. They demanded that the Girondins take measures to change thing, but the Girondins were reluctant to adopt the proposed measures. The Girondins were forced to accept the Montagnards creation of the Committee of Public Safety and Revolutionary Tribunal . Social and economic difficulties exacerbated the tensions between the groups. The final showdown was precipitated by Jean-Paul Marat 's trial and the arrest of sectional activists.
On 25 May the
On 2 June, 80,000 armed _sans-culottes_ surrounded the Convention. After an attempt of deputies to leave collided with guns, the deputies resigned themselves to declare the arrest of 29 leading Girondins. In this way the Gironde ceased to be a political force. It had declared war without knowing how to conduct it; it had denounced the King but had shrunk from condemning him; it had contributed to the worsening of the economic crisis but had swept aside all the claims made by the popular movement.
_Unité, Indivisibilité de la République; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort_ — Summer 1793
Scarcely had the Gironde been eliminated when the Convention, now under Montagnard leadership, found itself caught between two threats. While forces of counter-revolution were gaining new impetus from the federalist revolt, the popular movement, roused to fury by high prices, was increasing the pressure it exercised on the government. Meanwhile, the Government was proving incapable of controlling the situation. In July 1793 the nation appeared to be on the point of falling apart.
Main article: French Constitution of 1793 Constitution du Peuple Française du 6 Messidor l'an I (24 June 1793)
During the month of June the Montagnards played for time. Yet the Convention did not overlook the peasants. It was to these latter that the revolution of 31 May (like those of 14 July and 10 August) brought a substantial and permanent profit. On 3 June the sale of the property of emigrants, in small parcels and payable in ten years, was decreed; on the 10th, the optional division of common lands by head; and on 17 July, the abolition, without compensation, of all that remained of manorial rights.
The Montagnards attempted to reassure the middle classes by rejecting any idea of terror, by protecting property rights, and by restricting the popular movement to very narrowly circumscribed limits. It was a delicate balance to achieve, a balance that was destroyed in July by the worsening of the crisis. The Convention rapidly approved the new constitution, hoping to clear itself of the charge of dictatorship and calm the anxieties of the departments_. _
The Declaration of Rights which precedes the text of the Constitution solemnly reaffirmed the nation's indivisibility and the great principles of freedom of the press, equality and resistance to oppression. It went far beyond the Declaration of 1789, adding to it the right to public assistance, work, education and insurrection. No man could impose his will on others. All political and social tyranny was abolished. Although the _montagnards_ had refused to be led further down the road to democracy, the Constitution became the bible of all democrats.
The chief aim of the Constitution was to ensure the major role of the deputies in the Convention, which was seen as being the essential basis for political democracy. The Legislative Assembly was to be elected by direct vote cast for a single member; deputies were elected on receiving a simple majority of the votes cast, and the assembly would sit for one year. The executive council of 24 members was chosen by the Legislative Assembly from among the 83 candidates chosen by the departments on the basis of universal male suffrage, and in this way ministers were made responsible to the representatives of the nation. The exercise of national sovereignty was widened through the institution of the referendum – the Constitution was to be ratified by the people, as were laws in certain precisely defined circumstances.
The Constitution was submitted for popular ratification and adopted by a huge margin of more than 1,801,918 in favour to some 17,610 against. The results of the plebiscite were made public on 10 August 1793, but the application of the Constitution, the text of which was placed in the sacred ark and laid in the debating-chamber of the Convention, was postponed until peace had been made.
FEDERALIST REVOLT, WAR AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION
La Mort de Marat Jacques-Louis David , 1793, Brussels
Indeed, the Montagnards faced dramatic circumstances – federalist insurrection, war in the Vendée, military failures, and a worsening economic situation. Despite everything, a new civil war could not be avoided. By the middle of June, about sixty departments were in more or less open rebellion. Fortunately the frontier departments had remained faithful to the Convention. The rising was widespread rather than deep. It was essentially the work of the departmental and district administrations. The communes, which were more popular in composition, showed themselves in general lukewarm or hostile; and federalist leaders soon became divided among themselves. Sincere republicans among them could not fail to be uneasy about the foreign invasion and the Vendée. Those who were seeing themselves rejected by the people, sought support from the moderates, the Feuillants and even from the aristocrats.
July and August were bad months on the frontiers. Within three weeks
In addition there were other incidents which compounded the fury of
the revolutionaries and convinced them that their opponents had
abandoned all restraint of civilized behavior. On 13 July, Charlotte
Corday murdered _sans-culotte_ idol
Jean-Paul Marat . She had been in
touch with Girondin rebels in
The lack of forethought displayed by the Convention during the first few days was redeemed by its vigor and skill in organizing measures of repression. Warrants were issued for the arrest of the rebellious Girondin leaders; the members of the revolting departmental administration were deprived of their office.
The regions in which the revolt was dangerous were precisely those in which a large number of royalists had remained. There was no room for a third party between the Mountain, which was identified with the Republic, and royalism, which was the ally of the enemy. The royalist insurrection in the Vendée had already led the Convention to take a long step in the direction of the Terror – that is to say, the dictatorship of central power and the suppression of liberties. The Girondin insurrection now prompted it to take a decisive step in the same direction.
The Constituent Assembly had legislated through its commissions. The Convention governed by means of its committees . Two of them were of essential importance: Public Safety and General Security . The second, which had formidable powers, is less well known than the first, which was the true executive authority and was armed with immense prerogatives. It dated from April, but its composition was thoroughly reshuffled during the summer of 1793.
The summer of 1793 saw _sans-culotte_ disturbances reach a peak under
a double banner: price-fixing and terror. On top of this came the news
of unprecedented treason:
On 5 September, Parisians tried to repeat the revolt of 2 June. Armed _sections_ again encircled the Convention to demand the setting up of an internal revolutionary army, the arrest of suspects and a purge of the committees. It was probably the key day in the formation of the revolutionary government: the convention yielded, but kept control of events. It put Terror on the agenda on 5 September, on 6th elected Collot d\'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne to the Committee of Public Safety, on the 9th created the revolutionary army, on the 11th decreed the Maximum for grain and fodder (general controls for prices, and wages on the 29th), on the 14th reorganized the Revolutionary Tribunal , on the 17th voted in the law on suspects, and on the 20th gave the local revolutionary committees the task of drawing up lists of them.
The dictatorship of the Convention and the committees, simultaneously supported and controlled by the Parisian sections, representing the sovereign people in permanent session, lasted from June to September. It governed through a network of institutions set up haphazardly since spring in March, the Revolutionary Tribunal and representatives on missions in the departments; was followed the next month by the Convention's representatives to the armies, also armed with unlimited powers; and enforced acceptance of _assignat_ as the sole legal tender, price controls for grain and the forced loan of a billion livres from the rich.
The committee was always managed collegially, despite the specific
nature of the tasks of each director: the division into "politicians"
and "technicians" was a Thermidorian invention, intended to lay the
corpses of the Terror at the door of the Robespierrists alone. Many
things, however, set the twelve committee members at loggerheads;
Barrere was more a man of the Convention than of the committee and was
a link with the Plaine. Robert
The ensemble of institutions, measures and procedures which constituted it was codified in a decree of 14 Frimaire (4 December) which set the seal on what had been the gradual development of centralized dictatorship founded on the Terror. In the center was the Convention, whose secular arm was the Committee of Public Safety, vested with immense powers: it interpreted the Convention's decrees and settled their methods of application; under its immediate authority it had all state bodies and all civil servants (even ministers would disappear in April 1794); it directed military and diplomatic activity, appointed generals and members of other committees, subject to ratification by the Convention. It held responsibility for conducting war, public order and the provisioning of the population. The Commune of Paris, a famous _sans-culotte_ bastion, was neutralized by coming under its control.
Administrative and economic centralization went hand in hand. The
state of siege forced
All material resources were subjected to requisitioning. Farmers
surrendered their grain, fodder, wool, flax, and hemp. Artisans and
merchants gave up their manufactured products. Raw materials were
carefully sought out – metal of all kinds, church bells, old paper,
rags and parchments, grasses, brushwood, and even household ashes for
manufacturing of potassium salts, and chestnuts for distilling. All
businesses were placed at the disposal of the nation – forests,
mines, quarries, furnaces, forges, tanneries, paper mills, large cloth
factories and shoe making workshops. The labor of men and the value of
things were subject to price controls. No one had a right to speculate
at the cost of _Patrie_ while it was in danger. Armaments caused more
concern. As early as September 1793 efforts were made to create a
large factory in
Only to the wage earners did the Maximum seem thoroughly
advantageous. It increased wages by one-half in relation to 1790, and
commodities by only one-third. But since the Committee did not ensure
that it was respected (except for bread), they would have been duped
had they not been benefiting from the favorable conditions that a
great war always offers the labor force. Still
The Army Of The Year II
Main article: French Revolutionary Army
Surprise them like a flash of lightning and smash them like a thunderbolt. — Lazare Carnot
During the summer the requisition of the levy was completed and by July the total strength of the army reached 650,000. The difficulties were tremendous. The war production just started in September. The army was in the middle of the purge. In the spring of 1794 the amalgamation was undertaken. Two battalions of volunteers joined one battalion of regulars to constitute a demi-brigade, or regiment. At the same time the command was reconstituted. The purge ended with most of the nobles excluded. The new generation reached the highest ranks, and the War College (_Ecole de Mars_) received six young men from each district to improve the staff. Army commanders were to be appointed by the Convention.
What gradually emerged was a military command unequaled in quality: Marceau , Hoche , Kleber , Massena , Jourdan , and a host of others, backed by officers who were sound both in their abilities as soldiers and in their sense of civic responsibility.
For the first time since antiquity a truly national army marched to war, and for the first time, too, a nation succeeded in arming and feeding great numbers of soldiers – these are the novel characteristics of the army of the Year II. The technical innovations resulted chiefly from its sheer size as well the strategy that developed from it. The old system of cordons lost its prestige. Moving between the armies of the Coalition, the French could maneuver along interior lines, deploy part of their troops along the frontiers, and take advantage of the inaction of any one of their enemies to beat the others. Acting _en masse_, and overwhelming the foe by sheer numbers – such were Carnot's principles. They were still untried, and not until Bonaparte appeared did they enjoy any great success.
FALL OF THE FACTIONS
As late as September 1793, there were two distinct wings among the
revolutionaries. Firstly those who were later called
although Hébert himself was never the official leader of a party –
advocated war to the death and adopted the program of the _
ostensibly because the _sans-culottes_ approved it. The Hebertists
preferred to side with the Montagnards, so long as they could hope to
control the Convention through them. They dominated the Cordeliers
Club , filled Bouchotte\'s offices, and could generally carry the
Commune with them. The other wing was that of the
Dantonists , which
formed in response to the increasing centralization of the
Revolutionary Government and the dictatorship of the Committees. The
Dantonists were led predominately by deputies of the Convention
(rather than the sans-culottes), including Danton , Delacroix , and
Putting the needs of national defense above all other considerations, the Committee of Public Safety had no intentions of giving in to the demands of either the popular movement or the moderates. Following the Hebertists would jeopardize revolutionary unity, while the giving in to the demands of the moderates would have undermined the both the Terror and the controlled economy. However, unity, centralization, and the Terror were all considered essential to the war effort. In order to balance the contradictory demands of these two factions, the Revolutionary Government attempted to maintain a position halfway between the moderate Dantonists (_citras_) and the extremist Hebertists (_ultras_).
But at the end of the winter of 1793-4, the shortage of food took a
sharp turn for the worse. The
Hebertists incited _sans-culottes_ to
demand stringent measures, and at first the Committee did prove
conciliatory. The Convention voted 10 million for relief, on 3
Barere presented a new general Maximum, and on the 8th
Saint-Just obtained a decree confiscating the property of suspects and
distributing it to the needy (Ventose decrees). The
that if they increased the pressure, they would triumph once and for
all. Although the call appeared like one for insurrection it was
probably just for a new demonstration, like the one in September. But
Committee of Public Safety decided on 22 Ventose Year II (12 March
1794) that the
Hebertists posed too serious a threat. The Committee
linked Hebert , Ronsin , Vincent , and Momoro to the emigres Proli,
Cloots and Pereira, so as to present the
Hebertists as parties to the
"foreign plot". All were executed on 4 Germinal (24 March). This move
largely silenced the Hebertists, now without their leadership. Having
succeeded in stifling dissent on the left, the Committee then turned
on the Dantonists, several members of which were implicated in
financial corruption. The Committee forced the Convention to lift the
parliamentary immunity of nine Dantonist deputies, allowing them to be
put on trial. On 5 April Dantonist leaders Danton , Delacroix ,
The execution of the leaderships of both rival factions caused some
to become disillusioned. Many _sans-culottes_ were stunned by the
Hebertists' execution. All the positions of influence traditionally
held by the sans-culottes were eliminated: the Revolutionary Army was
disbanded, the inspectors of food-hoarding were dismissed, Bouchotte
lost the War Office, the
Cordeliers Club was forced to self-censor and
the Government pressure brought about closing 39 popular societies.
Ultimately, the Committee had undermined its own support by eliminating the Dantonists and Hebertists, both of which had backed the Committee. By compelling the Convention to allow the arrests of the Girondins and Dantonists , the Committee believed it had destroyed its major opposition. However, the trials demonstrated the Committee's lack of respect for members of the Convention (several of whom had been executed). Many Convention members who had sided with the Committee in the past by mid-1794 no longer supported it. The Committee had acted as mediator between the Convention and the _sans-culottes_ from which they both had acquired their strength. By executing the Hebertists and alienating the _sans-culottes_, the Committee became unnecessary to the Assembly.
Main article: Reign of Terror
That which constitutes a Republic is the total destruction of that which opposes it. — Saint-Just
Though the Terror was organized in September 1793, it was not introduced until October. It had resulted from a popular movement. A new chapter of the Revolutionary Tribunal was opened after 5 September, divided into four sections: the Committees of Public Safety and General Security were to propose the names of judges and jurymen; Fouquier-Tinville stayed as public prosecutor, and Herman was nominated president. The Terror was meant to discourage support for the enemies of the Revolution by condemning outspoken critics of the Montagnards.
The great political trials began in October. The queen was guillotined on 16 October. A special decree stifled the defense of 21 Girondins, including Vergniaud and Brissot , and they perished on the 31st.
At the summit of the apparatus of the Terror sat the Committee of General Security , the state's second organization. It consisted of twelve members elected each month by the Convention, and vested with security, surveillance and police functions, including over civil and military authorities. It employed a large staff, headed the gradually constituted network of local revolutionary committees, and applied the law on suspects by sifting through the thousands of local denunciations and arrests which it then had to try.
It struck down the enemies of the Republic whoever and wherever they
were. It was socially indiscriminate and politically perspicacious.
Its victims belonged to the classes which hated the Revolution or
lived in the regions where rebellion was most serious. "The severity
of repressive measures in the provinces," wrote Mathiez, "was in
direct proportion to danger of revolt." Many outspoken members of the
community were tried and executed for claims of treason: Camille
Deputies sent as "representatives on mission" by the Committee of
Public Safety , armed with full powers, reacted according to both the
local situation and their own temperaments:
The Revolution has grown cold; all its principles are weakened; there remains only red caps worn by intriguers. — Saint-Just 9 Thermidor
The Jacobin dictatorship could only hope to remain in power so long as it was dealing successfully with a national emergency. As soon as its political opponents had been destroyed, and its foreign enemies defeated, it would lose the chief force that kept it together. The Jacobin fall happened more rapidly than expected because of issues within the party.
So long as it remained united, the Committee was virtually
invulnerable, but it had scarcely attained the apogee of its power
before signs of internal conflict appeared. The Committee of Public
Safety had never been a homogeneous body. It was a coalition cabinet.
Its members were kept together less by comradeship or common ideals
than by calculation and routine. The press of business which at first
prevented personal quarrels also produced tired nerves. Trifling
differences were exaggerated into the issues of life and death. Small
disputes estranged them from one another. Carnot , in particular, was
irritated by the criticisms directed at his plans by
Realizing the danger of fragmentation, they attempted a
reconciliation. Saint-Just and
Couthon favored it, but Robespierre
doubted sincerity of his enemies. It was he who brought about the
fatal intervention of the Convention. On 8 Thermidor, Year II (26 July
1794), he denounced his opponents, and demanded that "unity of
government" be realized. When called upon to name those whom he was
accusing, however, he refused. This failure destroyed him, for it was
assumed that he was demanding a blank cheque. This night an uneasy
alliance was formed from threatened deputies and members of The Plain.
On the next day, 9 Thermidor,
On hearing the news the
On the evening of 10 Thermidor (28 July 1794),
Whatever reasons the conspirators had behind 9 Thermidor, the events afterwards went beyond their intentions. Evidently the remaining members on the Committees counted on staying in office and currying the favour of the Jacobin dictatorship, as though nothing more had happened than a party purge.
Main article: Thermidorian Reaction
They were speedily disabused of this notion. Robespierrists might go out and Dantonists come in; the Convention had recovered its initiative and would put an end, once and for all, to the dictatorial committees government which had ousted it from power. It was decreed that no member of governing committees should hold office for more than four months. Three days later the Prairial Law was repealed and the Revolutionary Tribunal shorn of its abnormal powers. The Commune was replaced with a Commission of Civil Administrators (_commission des administrateurs civils_) from the ranks of the Conventions. In November the Jacobin club was closed. Not merely anti-Robespierrist but anti- Jacobin reaction was in full flood. At the beginning of September Billaud , Collot and Barere left the Committee of Public Safety; by the end of the year they were in prison.
The stability of the government was weakening. Next came the concentration of power, another revolutionary principle. The identification of the Committee of Public Safety with the executive was ended on 7 Fructidor (24 August), restricting it to its former domain of war and diplomacy. The Committee of General Security kept its control over the police. There was now to be a total of sixteen committees. _Conventionnels_, while aware of the dangers of fragmentation, were even more worried by its experience of monopoly of powers. In a few weeks the revolutionary government was dismantled.
These measures affected, finally, the instruments of the Terror and
opened numerous breaches in the apparatus of repression. The law of 22
Prairial was repealed, the prisons were opened and "suspects" were
released: 500 in
The destruction of the system of revolutionary government eventually brought about the end of the Economic Terror. _Maximum_ was relaxed even before 9 Thermidor. Now nobody believed in it any longer. Because the black market was plentifully supplied, the idea took hold that price control equalled scarcity and that free trade would bring back abundance. It was generally supposed that prices would rise but that then they would fall as a result of competition. This illusion was to be shattered in the winter. Formally the Convention put the end to the _maximum_ on 4 Nivose Year III (24 December 1794).
The abandonment of the controlled economy provoked a frightful catastrophe. Prices soared and the rate of exchange fell. The Republic was condemned to massive inflation and its currency was ruined. In Thermidor, Year III, _assignats_ were worth less than 3% of their face value. Neither peasants nor merchants would accept anything but cash. The debacle was so swift that economic life seemed to come to standstill.
The crisis was greatly aggravated by famine. Peasants, finally, stopped bringing any produce, because they did not wish to accept _assignats_. The government continued to provision Paris, but was unable to supply the promised rations. In provinces local municipalities resorted to some sort of regulations, provided not direct coercion in obtaining provisions. The misery of rural day laborers, abandoned by everyone, was often appalling. Inflation ruined creditors to the advantage of debtors. It unleashed an unprecedented speculation.
At the beginning of spring, scarcity was such that more unrest
appeared almost everywhere.
CRUSHING OF THE POPULAR MOVEMENT
Bread and Constitution of 1793 — _Journees_ rallying slogan Journée du 1er Prairial de l'an III
Discontent increased along with the shortages. On 17 March a delegation from _faubourgs Saint-Marceau and Saint-Jacques_ complained that "We are on the verge of regretting all the sacrifices that we have made for the Revolution." Police law was passed which lay down the death penalty for use of seditious language. Arms were distributed to the "good citizens", the faithful nucleus of the National Guard. The trial of strength was approaching. Main article: Insurrection of 12 Germinal, Year III
On 10 Germinal (30 March) all the sections called their general
assemblies. The political geography of
On the morning of 12 Germinal (1 April) crowds gathered on the _Ile de la Cité_ and, pushing aside the palace guards, burst into the chamber where the Convention met. Amidst the uproar, spokesmen of the sections outlined the people's grievances. Reliable battalions of National Guard were called and demonstrators, lacking arms and leaders, were forced to withdraw. For the most people it was the constitution of 1793 – seen as a liberating utopia – which represented the solution to all evils. There were others who openly regretted the passing of "the reign of Robespierre". Main article: Insurrection of 1 Prairial
But it was not the end. A new explosion was on the horizon. Insurrection was being openly prepared. On 1 Prairial (20 May 1795) the alarm bells sounded in the _faubourgs_ Saint-Antoine and Marceau. The armed battalions arrived at Place du Carousel and entered the sitting chamber. After an hour of uproar, "The Insurrection of the People" (_L'Insurection du Peuple_) was read. In the chaos, none of the ringleaders thought of implementing the key item of the program: the overthrow of the government.
The remainder of the Montagnards, The Crest (_la Crête de la Montagne_), managed to obtain the passage of decrees favorable to the rebels. But at 11:30 p.m. two armed columns entered the chamber and cleared out the rioters. The next day insurgents repeated the same mistakes and after receiving promises from the deputies to take speedy measures against the famine, returned to the sections.
On 3 Prairial the government assembled loyal troops, chasseurs and dragoons, national guardsmen, selected from those "who had fortune to preserve" — 20,000 men in all. Faubourg Saint-Antoine was surrounded and on 4 Prairial surrendered and was disarmed. Uncertainty about how to react, hesitancy in action, and lack of revolutionary leadership had doomed the popular movement to throw away its last chance in battle.
4 Prairial Year III is one of the crucial dates of the revolutionary period. The people had ceased to be a political force, participants in history. They were now no more than victims or spectators.
CONSTITUTION OF THE YEAR III
Main article: Constitution of the Year III
A middle way between royalty and anarchy. — Antoine Thibaudeau Constitution de la République Française du 5 Fructidor l'an III (22 août 1795)
The victors now could set up a new constitution, the task the
The new constitution went back to the constitution of 1791 as to the dominant ideology of the country. Equality was certainly confirmed, but within the limits of civil equality. Numerous democratic rights of the constitution 1793 – the right to work, to relief, to education – were omitted. The Convention wanted to define rights and simultaneously reject both the privilege of the old order and social leveling.
The constitution went back to the distinction between active and passive citizens. Only citizens over twenty-five years old, disposing of an income of two hundred days of work, were eligible to be electors. This electoral body, which held the real power, included 30,000 people, half as many as in 1791. Guided by recent experience, institutions were set up to protect the Republic from two dangers: the omnipotence of an assembly and dictatorship.
Bicameral legislature as a precaution against sudden political
fluctuations was proposed: the
Council of Five Hundred
The Constitution generally was accepted favorably, even by those on the right, who were hopeful for the upcoming elections and even more happy to get rid of the legislative body so hated by them.
But how to make sure that the new elected body would not overturn the constitution as it was before with Legislative Assembly? Thermidorians attempted this on 5 Fructidor (22 August) by voting for a decree on "formation of a new legislative body". Article II stipulated: "All members presently active in the Convention are re-eligible. Election assemblies may not take fewer than two-thirds of them to form the legislative body". This was known as the Law of the Two-Thirds.
On 23 September the results were announced: the constitution was accepted by 1,057,390 votes, with 49,978 against. The Two-Thirds decrees obtained only 205,498 votes in favor and 108,754 against.
But the Convention had not taken into account those
During the nights of Vendemiaire 12-13 (October 4–5), General
Jacques de Menou de Boussay was tasked with putting down the royalist
rebels and keep them from attacking the Convention. He recruited other
generals to help aid in quelling the insurrection such as, Napoleon
Bonaparte. The rebels outnumbered the Army by the thousands, but
because of their preparations the night before, Bonaparte and the
armies were able to line the road into
Moderate repression ensued and the White Terror in the south was stopped. On 4 Brumaire Year IV, just before breaking up, the Convention voted a general amnesty for "deeds exclusively connected with the Revolution".
The article on the Convention in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
concludes, "The work of the Convention was immense in all branches of
public affairs. To appreciate it without prejudice, one should recall
that this assembly saved
* ^ The Convention had therefore been elected by small minority of the population, but those who were the most determined. That explains the ambiguity of the word "popular" when it is applied to this period: "popular" the French Revolution was certainly _not_ in the sense of participation by the people in public affairs. But if the word "popular" is taken to mean that revolutionary policy was formed under pressure from the _sans-culotte _ movement and organized minorities, and received an egalitarian impetus from them, then yes, the Revolution had well and truly entered its "popular" age. * ^ During the early meetings of the Convention the deputies had sat indiscriminately, where they pleased. But it was noticed that, as the quarrel between Jacobins and Girondins developed, they grouped themselves to the right and left of the President's chair, whiles the extreme Jacobins found a place of vantage in the higher seats at the end of the hall, which came to be called the Mountain (_La Montagne_).
* ^ As opposed to the English Revolution, the French Revolution
killed not only the king of France, but royalty itself. In this sense,
even if the _Conventionnels_ had only transformed into a national
tragedy what the last century of absolutism had already marked out as
inevitable, they had accomplished their aim: to strip royalty from the
nation's future. By executing the king, they had severed France's last
ties with her past, and made the rupture with the _ancien régime_
* ^ The revolutionaries turned soldiers did not forget their
attachments. Hoche had been a Maratist, Kleber and Marceau praised the
activity of Carrier , and Bonaparte attached himself to the
* ^ Based on recent figures of the Terror:
17,000 victims names distributed according to specific geographical
areas: 52% in the Vendee, 19% in the south-east, 10% in the capital
and 13% in the rest of France. Distinction is between zones of turmoil
and an insignificant proportion of quite rural areas. Between
departments, the contrast becomes more striking. Some were hard hit,
the Loire-Inferieure, the Vendee, the Maine-et-Loire, the
* ^ Dupuy 2005 , p. 34-40.
* ^ Thompson 1959 , p. 310.
* ^ Furet 1996 , p. 115.
* ^ The