|French First Republic|
Autel de la Convention nationale or
Panthéon de Paris, France, 1913
|Established||20 September 1792|
|Disbanded||2 November 1795|
|Preceded by||Legislative Assembly|
|Succeeded by||The Directory|
|Part of a series on the|
|History of France|
The National Convention (Convention nationale) - a single chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 (4 Brumaire IV under the Convention's adopted calendar) during the French Revolution. It succeeded the Legislative Assembly and founded the First Republic. The Convention was elected in France for the first time with universal male suffrage to give a new constitution after deposition of Louis XVI during insurrection of 10 August 1792. It held legislative and executive powers in France during the first years of the French First Republic and had three distinct periods: Girondin, Montagnard or Jacobin and Thermidorian.
During the insurrection of 10 August 1792, when the populace of Paris stormed the Tuileries Palace on the right bank of the Seine River and demanded the abolition of the Monarchy, the Legislative Assembly decreed the provisional suspension of King Louis XVI and the convocation of a "National Convention" which should draw up a constitution. At the same time it was decided that Deputies to that convention should be elected by all Frenchmen 25 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 universal male suffrage, without distinctions of class. The age limit of the electors was further lowered to 21, and that of eligibility was fixed at 25 years.
Voter turnout in the departments was low — 11.9% of the electorate, compared to 10.2% in 1791 elections in spite of that the number of eligible to vote has doubled. Therefore the impact of the universal suffrage had very little effect. On the whole, electorate had returned the same sort of men that the active citizens had chosen in 1791.
The first session was held 20 September 1792. The following day, the "Proclamation of the abolition of the monarchy" was adopted, and so after almost a thousand years, the Monarchy in France came to a (temporary) end. A little over a year later, 22 September would become the base date of the new French Revolutionary Calendar, the beginning of the Year I of the French Republic.
Structure and membershipEdit
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 in that of the Hall of Spectacles (or Machine), an immense hall in which the Deputies were but loosely scattered. This last hall had tribunes for the public, who often influenced the debate by interruptions or by applause.
The members of the Convention came from all classes of society, but the most numerous were lawyers. Seventy-five 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 Colonies, of whom only some arrived in time to Paris. Besides these, however, the newly formed "départements" annexed to France from 1792 to 1795 were allowed to send deputations.
According to its own ruling, the Convention elected its President every fortnight. He 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 ( Comité de salut public ) and the Committee of General Security ( Comité de sûreté générale ).
The struggle between two opposing Revolutionary factions, the Montagnards and the Girondins, dominated the first period of the Convention. Discredited by a series defeats in the war they promoted against the anti-Revolutionary European coalition, the Girondins were purged from the Convention by the popular insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793.
Girondins tried to avoid the trial of the king, fearing that it would revive the revolution against and reinforces the hostility of European monarchies. But the discovery of the iron cupboard in the Tuileries 20 November 1792 makes 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 "usurper". Following the discussion, the king was convicted by an overwhelming majority of 643 votes against 78. However, he was sentenced to death by a very narrow margin, 365 votes against 356, and after recount for reprieve, by 361 against 360.
King Louis XVI was guillotined the next day, 21 January 1793, Revolution Square. The execution of Louis XVI leads to the formation of the first coalition.
Military setbacks from the First Coalition and the war of Vendée, which began in March 1793 was used as an argument by Montagnards and sans-culottes to picture Girondins as soft and demand exceptional measures which Girondins were reluctant to adopt. The Girondins are forced to accept the creation of the Committee of Public Safety and Revolutionary Tribunal. Social and economic difficulties exacerbate tensions. During insurrection 31 May – 2 June, a crowd of 80,000 armed men with 150 guns invests Convention. After an attempt of deputees to exit collides with guns, the deputies resigned themselves to declare the arrest of 29 leading Girondins.
«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. For 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.
During the month of June the Montagne played for time. Yet it 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 emigres, 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 very difficult and delicate balance to achieve, a balance that was destroyed in July by the worsening of the crisis. The Convention rapidly voted a constitution and by this means hoped 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 preponderant 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 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 huge margin of more than 1,801,918 for 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-revolutionEdit
Indeed, the Montagnards faced dramatic circumstances - federalist insurrection, war in Vendée, military failures, 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 administration. The communes, which were more popular in composition, showed themselves in general lukewarm or hostile; and federalist leaders, in spite of their sound phrases, lacked faith in their cause and soon became divided among themselves. Sincere republicans among them could not fail to be uneasy about the foreign invasion and the Vandee. 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 Mainz, the symbol of previous successes, capitulated to the Prussians and Austrians captured fortresses of Conde and Valenciennes and invaded northern France. Spanish troops crossed the Pyrenees and began advancing on Perpignan. The Piedmontese took advantage of the diversion of republican forces at Lyons in order to invade France from the East. In Corsica Paoli's revolt expelled the French from island with British support. British troops opened the siege of Dunkirk in August and in October the Allies invaded Alsace. The military situation have been desperate.
In addition there were other incidents which contributed to excitement of fury of the revolutionaries and convinced them that their opponents had abandoned all the restraints of civilized behavior. On 13 July Charlotte Corday murdered sans-culottes' idol Jean-Paul Marat. She had been in touch with Girondin rebels in Normandy and they were believed to have used her as their agent.
The lack of forethought displayed by the Convention during 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. If the federalist revolt, which was the expression of the resentment of defeated politicians, had succeeded, it would certainly have led to a monarchist restoration. The royalist insurrection in the Vandee had already forced the Convention to take a long step in the direction of the Terror — that is to say, the dictatorship of the central power and the suppression of liberties. The Girondin insurrection now prompted it to take a decisive step in the same direction.
«The provisional government of France is revolutionary until there is peace» ( The decree of 10 December 1793 ) 
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 1793.
The summer 1793 saw sansculotte disturbances reach the peak, under a double banner: price-fixing and terror. On top of this came the news of unprecedented treason: Toulon and its squadron had been handed over to the enemy. In the name of the wretched poverty of the people, the leaders of the Enraged, Jacques Roux at their head, called for a planned economy from a Convention which had no liking for the idea. But the revolutionary logic of the mobilization of resources by national dictatorship was infinitely more powerful than economic doctrine. In August, a series decrees gave the authorities virtually discretionary powers over production and circulation of grain, accompanied by ferocious punishments for fraud. "Granary of plenty" were prepared, to stock corn requisitioned by authorities in each district. On 23 August the decree on the levee en masse turned able bodied civilians into soldiers.
On 5 September Paris tried to repeat 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 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; followed the next month by Convention's representatives to the armies, also armed with unlimited powers; enforce acceptance of assignat as the sole legal tender, price controls for grain and the forced loan of billion livres from the rich.
At last France saw a government take shape. Danton resigned from it on 10 July. Couthon, Saint-Just, Jeanbon Saint-Andre, and Prieur of the Marne formed a nucleus of resolute Montagnards who rallied Barrere and Lindet, then successfully added Robespierre on 27 July, Carnot and Prieur of Cote-d'Ore on 14 August, and Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne on 6 September. They had a few clear clear ideas to which they clung: to command, to fight, and to conquer. Their work in common, the danger, the taste of and pride in power created solidarity that made the Committee an autonomous organism.
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. Rober Lindet had qualms about the Terror which, by contrast, was the outstanding theme of Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, latecomers to the committee, forced on it by the sansculottes in September; unlike Robespierre and his friends, Lazare Carnot had given his support only provisionally and for reasons of state to a policy concessions to the people. But the situation which united them in the summer 1793 was stronger than those differences of opinion. The Committee must set itself above all, and choose those popular demands which were most suitable for achieving the Assembly's aims: to crush the enemies of the Republic and dash the last hopes of the aristocracy. To govern in the name of the Convention, at the same time controlling it, and to restrain the people without quenching their enthusiasm — this was a gamble.
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 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, famous sansculotte bastion, was neutralized by coming under its control.
Administrative and economic centralization went hand in hand. The stage of siege forced France into autarky; to save the Republic the government mobilized all the nation's productive forces and reluctantly accepted the need for a controlled economy, which it introduced extemporaneously, as the emergency required. It was necessary to develop war production, revive foreign trade, and find new resources in France itself; and time was short. Circumstances gradually compelled it to assume the economic government of the country. Along with organization of the army, this was the most original feature of its work.
All material resources were subjected to requisitioning. Farmers surrendered their grain, fodder, wool, flax, 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 Paris for rifles and sidearms. A special appeal was made to scientists. Monge, Vandermonde, Berthollet, Darcet, Fourcroy perfected metallurgy and manufacture of arms.
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 Paris became calmer, because the sansculottes were gradually finding ways to subsist; the levy en masse and the formation of the revolutionary army were thinning their ranks; many now were working in arms and equipment shops, or in the bureaux of the committees and ministries, which were expanded enormously.
The army of the Year IIEdit
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 demibrigade, 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. [note 1]
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 number of soldiers — these are the novel characteristics of the army of the Year II. The technical innovations resulted chiefly from its very mass as well the strategy was developed from it. Old system of cordons lost its prestige. Moving between the armies of the Coalition, the French could manoeuvre along interior lines, deploy part of their troops along the frontiers, and take advantage of inaction of any one of their enemies to beat the others. Acting in masses, 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.
Though the Terror was organized in September 1793, it was not really introduced until October, and that as a result of pressure from the popular movement. New chapter of the Revolutionary Tribunal was opened after 5 September: it was divided in 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 great political trials began in October. The queen was guillotined on October 16. 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 organ, consisting of twelve members elected each month by the Convention, and vested with security, surveillance and police functions, over civil and military authorities as well. 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."
Thus deputies sent as "representatives on mission" by the Committee of Public Safety, armed with full powers, reacted according to both local situation and their own temperaments: Lindet pacified the Girondin west in July without a single death sentence; in Lyon, some months later, Collot d'Herbois and Joseph Fouche relied on frequent summary executions by shooting because the guillotine was not working swiftly enough.[note 2]
Fall of the factionsEdit
As late as September journees there were clearly emergence of two distinct wings among revolutionaries. First was those who later called Hebertists — although Hebert himself was never the leader of a party — were preaching a war to the death and adopted program of the Enragés, because the sans-culottes approved it. If they preferred agreement with the Montagnards, so long as they could hope to control the Convention through them. They dominated the Cordeliers, filled Bouchotte's bureaux, and could carry the Commune with them. Another arose as a response to increasing centralization of the Revolutionary Government and dictatorship of the Committees — Dantonists; and centered around deputies of the Convention: Danton, Delacroix, Desmoulins as most notable among them.
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. For the claims of the popular movement would be jeopardized revolutionary unity, while the demands of the moderates would have undermined both the controlled economy, so essential if support were to guarantee to the war effort, and the Terror which ensured the obedience of all to its decrees. But how could they obtain a balance between the contradictory demands? The policy of Revolutionary Government was that of maintaining a position half-way between moderates ( citras ) and the extremists ( ultras ).
But at the end of the winter 1793 the shortage of foodstuff 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 Ventose Barere presented new general Maximum and on the 8th Saint-Just obtained a decree confiscating the property of suspects and distributing it among the needy (Ventose decrees). The Cordeliers Club felt that if it increased the pressure, it would triumph once and for all. It was talk of insurrection, though it was, probably, as a new demonstration like the one in September. But the Committee decided on 22 Ventose. Year II (12 March 1794) to have done with the Hebertists. To Hebert, Ronsin, Vincent, and Momoro it added the refugees Proli, Cloots and Pereira, so as to present them as parties to the "foreign plot". All were executed on 4 Germinal (24 March). Then the Committee turned to the right, several members of which were implicated in financial corruption. The Convention was bullied into lifting parliamentary immunity of nine deputies. On 5 April Danton, Desmoulins, Delacroix, Philippeaux were executed.
The trials of germinal transformed the whole political situation. The sans-culottes were stunned by the hebertists' execution. All their positions of influence fell one after another: the Revolutionary Army was disbanded, the inspectors of food-hoarding were dismissed, Bouchotte lost the War Office, the Cordideliers Club was reduced to frightened impotence and the Government pressure brought about closing 39 popular societies. The Commune was purged and filled with Committee nominees. With the execution of the Dantonists for the first time the majority of the Assembly went in terror of the Government which it had created.
By losing its source of power the committees found itself at the mercy of the Convention. Having compelled the Convention to deliver the Girondins and Dantonists, it believed it had a safe majority. It was wrong. The Convention never forgave it these sacrifices. The Committee was as mediator between the Assembly and the sans-culottes from which it had acquired its strength. By breaking with the sans-culottes it freed the Assembly, and to complete its destruction, it had only to split internally.
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. But its fall need not have been so rapid, but for other more specific and more intimate causes.
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. But 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.
These capable and honest men were authoritarians. Carnot, in particular, was irritated by the criticisms directed at his plans by Robespierre and Saint-Just, who, exhausted by work and over-excited by the danger, restrained themselves with difficulty. Robespierre, whose health was weakening, proved irritable, and did not forgive easily. Amiable and gentle among friends, but cold and distant elsewhere. Dispute followed dispute. Bickering broke out on the Committee of Public Safety, with Carnot describing Robespierre and Saint-Just as "ridiculous dictators" and Collot making veiled attacks on the Incorruptible. From the end of June until 23 July Robespierre ceased to attend the Committee.
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 uneasy alliance was formed from threatened deputies and members of The Plain. On the next day, 9 Thermidore, Robespierre and his friends were not allowed to speak, and their indictment was decreed. The men of extreme left played the leading roles: Billaud-Varenne, who attacked, and Collot d'Herbois, who presided.
On hearing the news the Paris Commune, loyal to the man who had inspired it, had called for an insurrection and released the arrested deputies in the evening and mobilized two or three thousand militants. The night of 9th — 10th Thermidor was one of great confusions in Paris, as Commune and Assembly competed for the support of the sections and their troops. The Convention proclaimed that the rebels were henceforth outlaws; Barras was given the task of mustering an armed force, and the moderate sections gave this their support. The National Guardsmen and artillerymen assembled outside the Hotel de Ville were left without instructions and little by little they dispersed and left the square deserted. Around two o'clock in the morning column from Gravilliers section led by Léonard Bourdon burst in the Hotel de Ville and arrested insurgents.
On the evening of 10 Thermidor (28 July 1794), Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon and nineteen of their political allies were executed without trial. On the following day it was the turn of a large batch of seventy-one men, the largest mass execution in the entire course of the Revolution.
Whatever reasons Thermidorians had behind 9 Thermidor: personal feud with Robespierre, personal safety, vengeance, events after went beyond the intentions of the conspirators. Evidently the remaining members on the Committees counted on staying in office and currying on the Jacobin dictatorship, as though nothing more had happened than a party purge.
They were speedily undeceived. Robespierrists might go out and Dantonists come in: 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 Prerial Law was repealed and Revolutionary Tribunal shorn of its abnormal powers. Commune was replaced with 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 comite de salut public: by the end of the year they were in prison.
Thus the stability of the government was undermined. Next came the concentration of power, another revolutionary principle. Identification of Committee of Public Safety with executive was carved up 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.
These measures affected, finally, the instruments of the Terror and opened numerous breaches in the apparatus of repression. In few weeks Revolutionary Government was dismantled.
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 any longer believed in it. Because black market was plentifully supplied, the idea took hold that price control equaled 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 percent 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. Paris was active again.
Crushing of the popular movementEdit
«Bread and Constitution of 1793» ( journees rallying slogan ) 
Discontent increased along with the shortages. On 17 March 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 citizen", the faithful nucleus of the National Guard. The trial of strength was approaching.
On 10 Germinal all the sections called their general assemblies. The political geography of Paris emerged clearly from this. Convention debate was centered on two issues: the fate of Barere, Collot, Billaud, Vadier and the implementation of the constitution 1793. While in the sections of the center and the west formal addresses called for the punishment of the "Four" and passed over the food shortages, the sections of the east and the faubourgs demanded measures to deal with the grain crisis, the implementation of the constitution of 1793, the reopening of the popular societies and the release of the imprisoned patriots.
On the morning of 12 Germinal (1 April) crowds gathered on the Ile de la Cite and, pushed aside palace guards, burst into the chamber where the Convention met. Amidst the uproar, spokesmen of the sections outlined 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 liberating utopia - which represented the solution to all evils. There were others who openly regretted the passing of "the reign of Robespierre".
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 tocsin sounded in the faubourgs Saint-Antoine and Marceau. The armed battalions arrived at Carousel and entered the sitting chamber. After an hour of uproar, L'Insurection du People was read. In chaos, none of the ringleaders thought of implementing the key item of the programme: the overthrow of the government.
Remainder of the Montagnards, The Crest ( la Crête de la Montagne ), managed to obtain the passage of favorable to rebels decrees. 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 Prerial 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 Prerial surrendered and was disarmed. Uncertainty about how to react and hesitancy in action, lack of revolutionary leadership had doomed the popular movement to throw away its last chance in battle.
4 Prerial 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. This is the date which should be taken as the end of the Revolution. Its mainspring was now broken.
The victors now could set up new constitution, the task National Convention was originally elected for. The Commission of Eleven (Daunou, Lanjuinais, Boissy d'Anglas, Thibaudeau and La Révellière - most notable members) drafted a text which would reflect the new balance of forces. It was presented on 5 Messidor (23 June) and passed on 22 August 1795 (5 Fructidor of the Year III).
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 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 citizen. Only citizen 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 much as in 1791. Guided by the 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 with rights to propose laws and Council of the Ancients, 250 deputies, with powers to accept or reject proposed laws. Executive power was to be shared between five Directors chosen by the Ancients from the list drawn by Five Hundred. One of the Directors to renew each year with reelection after five years. As one of the practical precautions, no military were allowed in 60 miles of sitting assembly and it could relocate in case of danger. Directory still retained great power, including emergency powers to curb freedom of the press and freedom of association.
The Constitution generally was accepted favorably, even on the right, who were hopeful for the upcoming elections and even more happy to get rid of legislative body so hated by them.
But how to make sure that the new elected body will not overturn the constitution as it was before with Legislative Assembly? Thermidorians done it on 5 Fructidor (22 August) by a vote for a decree on ″formation of 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". That was the famous 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 Paris sections who were against Two-Thirds decrees and failed to provide precise vote figures: forty-seven Parisian sections had rejected the decrees. Eighteen of the Paris sections contested the result. The Lepeletier section issued a call to insurrection. By 11 Vendemiaire seven sections were in state of revolt. The Convention declared itself en permanence. The conventionnels knew the score. They knew the art of insurrection by heart and to bring down muscadins was easier than the sans-culottes. Five members including Barras were appointed to deal with the crisis. A decree of 12 Vendemiaire (4 October) repealed the former disarmament of the former terrorists and appeal to sans-culottes was issued.[note 3]
The uprising developed on the night of 12 — 13 Vendemiaire, with the complicity of General Menou, commander of the Army of the Interior. The major part of the capital was in the hands of the rebels, some 20,000 or so, an insurrectional central committee was formed and Convention besieged. Barras had recruited a young unemployed general, a former Robespierrist: Napoleon Bonapart, among other generals - Carteaux, Brune, Loison, Dupont. Future Maréchal, captain Murat managed to seize the cannons from the Camp of the Sablons, and the rebels, lacking any artillery, were thrown back and dispersed.[note 4]
Moderate repression ensued and 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 famous enduring edition of 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 France from a civil war and invasion, that it founded the system of public education (Museum, École Polytechnique, École Normale Supérieure, École des langues orientales, Conservatoire), created institutions of capital importance, like that of the Grand Livre de la Dette publique, and definitely established the social and political gains of the Revolution." By a decree of 4 February 1794 (16 pluviôse) it also ratified and expanded to the whole French colonial empire the 1793 abolition of slavery on Saint-Domingue by civil commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel, though this did not affect Martinique or Guadeloupe and was abolished by the law of 20 May 1802.
- 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 Robespierre brothers. So many years later, even men like Marmont and Soult were moved with emotion by the memory of the shining hours they had known in the service of the "Indivisible Republic".
( Lefebvre (1963), p.98 )
- 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 Rhone and Paris. In six departments no executions were recorded; in 31, there were fewer than 10; in 32, fewer than 100; and only in 18 were there more than 1,000. Charges of rebellion and treason were by far the most frequent grounds for execution (78%), followed by federalism (10%), crimes of opinion (9%) and economic crimes (1.25%). Artisans, shopkeepers. wage-earners and humble folk made up the largest contingent (31%), concentrated in Lyons, Marseilles and neighboring small towns. Because of vendeens, peasants are more heavily represented (28%) than the federalist and merchant bourgeoisie. Nobles (8.25%) and priests (6.5%), who would seem to have been relatively spared, actually provided a higher proportion of victims than other social categories. In the most sheltered regions, they were the only victims.
Furthermore, the "Great Terror" is hardly distinguishable from the rest. In June and July 1794, it accounted for 14% of executions, as against 70% from October 1793 to May 1794, and 3.5% before September 1793. if one adds executions without trial and deaths in prison, a total of 50,000 seems likely, that is 2 per 1,000 of the population.
- Barras reference to "Foubaurg Saint-Antoin whose attachment to the cause of liberty is well known" in subsequent report offers curious commentary to the official evolution since journees of prairial
( Hampson (1988), p.247 )
- It is just a legend that depicts rebels shot down by gunfire from Bonaparte stationed on the steps of the Église Saint-Roch church.
( Lefebvre (1964), p.204; Hampson (1988), p.247 )
- Dupuy 2005, p. 34-40.
- The Stage, 1792–1794
- The National Convention 1906
- Thompson 1959, p. 356.
- Soboul 1974, p. 313.
- Lefebvre (1963), p.55
- Soboul 1974, p. 314.
- Bouloiseau 1983, p. 67.
- Soubul 1974, p. 316.
- Mathiez 1929, p. 338.
- Mathiez 1929, p. 336.
- Hampson 1988, p. 189.
- Mathiez 1929, p. 337.
- Mathiez 1929, p. 340.
- Furet (1996), p.134
- Furet (1996), p.132
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 68.
- Furet 1996, p. 133.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 62.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 64.
- Bouloiseau 1983, p. 100.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 100.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 104.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 101.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 109.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 71.
- Soboul 1974, p. 403.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 96.
- Soubul 1974, p. 400.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 99.
- Greer 1935, p. 19.
- Soubul 1974, p. 341.
- Furet 1996, p. 135.
- Furet 1996, p. 138.
- Bouloiseau 1983, p. 210.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 61.
- Soubul 1974, p. 359.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 88.
- Hampson 1988, p. 220.
- Hampson 1988, p. 221.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 90.
- Andress 2006, p. 288.
- Thompson 1959, p. 502.
- Hampson (1988), p.229
- Thompson 1959, p. 508.
- Lefebvre (1963), p.134
- Furet 1996, p. 150.
- Soubul 1974, p. 411 — 412.
- Thompson (1959), p.516
- Woronoff 1984, p. 2.
- Woronoff 1984, p. 9 — 10.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 142 — 143.
- Soubul 1974, p. 444.
- Woronoff 1984, p. 15.
- Woronoff 1984, p. 17.
- Woronoff 1984, p. 20.
- Lefebvre 1963, p. 145.
- Woronoff 1984, p. 29.
- Furet 1996, p. 166.
- Hampson 1988, p. 247.
- Woronoff 1984, p. 31.
- Soboul (1974), p.473
- Furet 1996, p. 167.
- Lefebvre, Georges (1962). The French Revolution: from its Origins to 1793. vol. I. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08599-0.
- Lefebvre, Georges (1963). The French Revolution: from 1793 to 1799. vol. II. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-02519-X.
- Lefebvre, Georges (1964). The Thermidorians & the Directory. New York: Random House.
- Soboul, Albert (1974). The French Revolution:: 1787-1799. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-47392-2.
- Mathiez, Albert (1929). The French Revolution. New York: Alfred a Knopf.
- Woronoff, Denis (1984). The Thermidorean regime and the directory: 1794-1799. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-28917-3.
- Bouloiseau, Marc (1983). The Jacobin Republic: 1792-1794. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-28918-1.
- Furet, François (1996). The French Revolution: 1770-1814. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-631-20299-4.
- Thompson, J. M. (1959). The French Revolution. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Hampson, Norman (1988). A Social History of the French Revolution. Routledge: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-710-06525-6.
- Dupuy, Roger (2005). La République jacobine. Terreur, guerre et gouvernement révolutionnaire (1792—1794). Paris: Le Seuil, coll. Points. ISBN 2-020-39818-4.
- Andress, David (2006). The Terror: the merciless war for freedom in revolutionary France. Farrar: Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-27341-3.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Presidents of the National Convention: 1792–1795
- National Convention pamphlets and documents from the Ball State University Digital Media Repository
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