Page images
PDF
EPUB

during which he was a member of the committee, does not extend beyond fifteen months; it began on the fifth of April, 1793, and ended on the third of July, 1794. The remaining period begins on this last day, and ends with his death, on the thirteenth of January, 1841. During the first division, including even his share, as president of the convention, in the trial of Louis XVI., he had acquired the reputation of a gentleman of superior talents and enlightened patriotism, and he enjoyed the respect, the confidence, and the affection of his colleagues and of his country. For the greater part of the last period, he was a prisoner, a fugitive, an exile : but, during the whole of it there is not one act of Barère which can be considered derogatory to the character of an honourable gentleman. It is in the second period, in the fifteen months passed at the committee of

Salut public,' that he acquired the horrible celebrity, which completely obliterated the services of his preceding career, and could not be shaken off from him, even by his misfortunes or by death. A honourable life, during eighty-four years, thus subjected to almost universal execration, by fifteen months of participation in a kind of absolute and uncontrolled power, what a subject for meditation !

We say, 'a kind of absolute and uncontrolled power,' and, perhaps, we are wrong in thus describing the authority of the committee of public safety, and of its members. This committee, though the most generally known, and, we might say, the only one now remembered, was not the only one in existence at the time; and the other committees, especially the committee of 'Sureté générale,' which modern historians completely overlook, in their compositions, had an equal share of authority, and perhaps a greater participation in the domestic transactions, in the atrocities of that epoch, than the committee of 'Salut public. In order to enable our readers to decide on this point, we will say something of the origin and composition of these committees.

The first which was established was that of Défense générale.' At the beginning of the war, in July 1792, the legislative assembly, distrusting many of the generals appointed to the command of the armies, and the ministers whom the court had induced the unfortunate Louis XVI. to choose, in opposition to the majority, decided upon the formation of this committee, to which all matters relating to foreign affairs, to the armament, the equipments, the provisioning and the movements of the forces, and the plans of the generals, were to be submitted. Some active members of the committee, which was composed of twenty-five persons, were soon convinced that the court was urging the invasion of the country; they found sufficient proofs

of this treachery, in intercepted correspondence; and they immediately resolved upon the deposition of the king. The majority of their colleagues in the committee not agreeing in their views, they had recourse to a popular insurrection; and, on the 10th of August, the monarchy fell, and the monarch was left a prisoner at their disposal.

The national convention, which was brought into existence by this event, maintained the committee; the necessity for which was rendered more evident by the conduct of Lafayette, who had 'pronounced,' at the head of his army, against the events of the 10th of August, and who, after failing in his attempt, in behalf of the unfortunate monarch, had left his troops and his country. The new committee was composed of almost the same persons as the first, most of them having been re-elected members of the convention, on the expiration of their powers, as members of the legislative assembly, and belonging to the Girondin party; - Robespierre, Barère, Danton, and Cambon, were among the new members.

But whilst this committee was attending to the foreign affairs, and to the organization and direction of the armies, the convention, too well aware of the intentions and indiscretion of the royalists, in Paris and in several departments, ordered the formation of a second committee, for the purpose of watching the conspiracies, and repressing the attempts which might be made by domestic enemies. This was the committee of Sureté générale. At its first organization, Girondines, and men of moderation, were appointed; but as the fears of the convention and its anger increased, men of a more determined character were chosen. Thus we find in the Moniteur, that on the 21st of January, the day of the execution of Louis XVI., the whole committee was renewed, in consequence of the opinions expressed by many of them during the trial, and it was recomposed of the following members : Barère, Lamarque, Chabot, Legendre, Bernard de Saintes, Rovère, Ruamps, MaribonMontaux, Tallien, Ingrand, Jean de Bry, and Duhem. The previous conduct of all of them, and their violence during the trial of the king, were but too certain guarantees that they would give no mercy to the political adversaries at home, who were subjected to their authority. Innumerable arrests soon followed the reorganization of the committee; but public dangers had not yet prepared the mind of the people of Paris for equally numerous executions.

The most important event of that epoch, the insurrection attempted by General Dumouriez against the convention, and his subsequent flight, when his army refused to follow him in his march on Paris, afforded to the terrorist party the opportunity they had so long wished for, of wreaking their vengeance. Robespierre accused many of his colleagues in the committee of Défense générale, of having, some wilfully and some unwillingly, participated in the conspiracy of Dumouriez. It was principally against the Girondins that this attack was directed : but, fearing that the proposal of their exclusion from the committee would not be successful, and would be considered as the effect of personal hatred, which would deprive him of the support of many impartial men, he thought it preferable to impugn the organization of the committee, the too great number of its members, the publicity and irregularity of its deliberations, and finally the want of executive power. To remedy these real inconveniences, in the alarming state of the country, he proposed the substitution of another committee, which should be renewed every month, composed of only nine members, to whom all matters whatsoever should be referred; the deliberations of which should be secret, and which should have a right to enjoin upon the ministers of every department, and upon all civil and military authorities, the execution of any measure considered necessary for the public safety. Barère entered into the views of Robespierre, and supported the establishment of the committee of 'Salut public,' which was decreed on the 5th of April, 1793. The choice of the convention fell upon Barère, Dalmas, Bréard, Cambon, Jean Debry, Danton, Guiton-Morreau, Threillard, and Lacroix; and, in case one or more were incapacitated from attending, for any cause, they were to be replaced by the following substitutes : Réveillère - Lépaux, Lasource, Isnard, Lindet, Thuriot, Dubois Crancé, Fonfrède, Merlin, and Cambacères. This last measure, however, was immediately rescinded, because the appointment of substitutes was not authorized by the decree which established the committee.

Some may deem these details unnecessary, and may say that they are not to be found in the memoirs we are examining Though Barère and his editors have thought proper to overlook many circumstances, this is not a reason for us to follow their example, when, even as mere reviewers, we meet with facts which appear to us of some importance, as in the present instance. If, at the mere sound of these words, 'Comité de salut public,' every one shudders, and utters an imprecation upon all who formed part of it, why should we not try to establish a distinction which justice claims, and which may lead impartial judges to a better appreciation of the men and the political events of those dreadful times? We give the names composing this first committee, because to them nobody can attach the reproach of undue severity, of sanguinary destruction. So long as the members we have mentioned compose the cornmittee, far from showing any exasperation, they resisted the popular irritation, and even the more formidable commands of Robespierre and of the Montagne. Five days after their appointment on the 10th of April, Robespierre renewed, in concluding one of his speeches, the demand for the trial of Marie Antoinette, and the committee refused to support him, and to act upon his motion. But there is a much stronger case in their favour. The wife and the two sisters of General Dumouriez, the Countess of Schomberg and the Abbesse of Fervacques, had been arrested and hurried to Paris, just when popular indignation against the general was at its highest pitch, and when three hundred thousand francs had been promised, by the convention, to any one who would bring his head; and yet the wife and the sisters of Dumouriez were at once protected, and afterwards saved.

To this committee, therefore, which was re-elected in May and June, the praise of humanity is due. It is just, also, to declare that, during that interval of time, the · Girondins,' were heroically struggling against the well known designs of the

Montagne,' headed by Robespierre and the Commune of Paris, and that their resistance to legislative and popular vengeance greatly assisted the committee: but when the Girondins succumbed, when Robespierre had obtained the ascendancy in the assembly, the committee was still so refractory that it was found necessary to recompose it. This was done on the 10th of July, 1793, and the new members elected were : Jean bon S'André, Barère, Gasparin, Couthon, Thuriot, St.Just, Prieur de la Marne, Hérault de Séchelles, and Robert Lindet. Gasparin having resigned soon afterwards, Robespierre had himself appointed in his place, and, one month later, two members, Carnot and Prieur de la Cote d'or, were added to the committee, which had hitherto been composed of civilians, to superintend the military affairs. Such was the composition of the second-of the pitiless committee of Salut public. Barère was the only member of this one who had belonged to the first; and this circumstance is, by many, considered as a proof that he was in opposition to the moderation of his former colleagues, and, in the opinion of the convention, a fit associate of the new ones. Let us not be unjust even towards Barère. We have ascertained that, in the first committee, not only did Barère constantly coincide with the moderate and merciful views of the majority of his colleagues, but that, on many occasions he outstepped them all in indulgence and commiseration towards the conquered party. His re-election was owing to a deplorable aptitnde which he had exhibited, even during the constituent assembly, for resuming a discussion, omitting no important point, for seizing the principal

of them, and clearly arranging the whole, so as to justify the conclusion arrived at. This, he was at all times ready to do; and as few had an equal facility for this kind of legislative work, he was usually chosen as reporter, by whatever committee he was appointed to, after his first appearance, in the States General of 1789. To this fatal talent and indefatigable activity he owed his reappointment, and the choice made of him, by his colleagues, as Rapporteur du Comité de Salut Public.

Our justification of him can go no farther; and we sincerely lament it. It would be a source of gratification to us, to be able to urge, as valid, on our readers, all the explanations which he gave us of his conduct in the second committee, and all the arguments which he urged upon us, when, pressing our hands in his, and with tears in his eyes, he was imploringly saying, 'Jevoudrais vous convaincre !' We must admit that the circumstances under which the second committee was appointed and set to act, were much more critical thañ' those which led to its establishment and composition. It is true that civil war had been added to foreign invasion. It is true that thirty-two departments of France had successively revolted against the authority of the convention : some in support of the cause of their Girondist representatives, who were the neither imprisoned, previous to a mock trial, and beheaded, or fugitives from the fury of their persecutors; some in behalf of the monarchy and of its legitimate representatives. It is true that the divisions, the convulsions from within, vastly increased the already alarming dangers from without—that the plan for the federalization of France, however advantageous to the country, could not, at that time, but assist the European coalition in carrying out their own plan for the partition of France; and that, therefore, this was not a time for moderation, indulgence, and conciliation. It is true, in fine, that the second committee of public safety mastered all the adverse elements, and eventually triumphed over their internal and external enemies; and that it preserved France from the greatest perils that a country was ever exposed to. But all this has no weight upon our mind, when urged as an excuse for the means employed to obtain even such a result; for the divisions, the convulsions of the interior, the appalling dangers which were conquered, had been prepared, promoted, and carried to their pitch, by the atrocious party of the convention, which established the second committee, and by that committee itself. The events of the 31st of May, the violation of the national representation, by the proscription of the Gironde, were the signal for civil dissensions, and for a struggle in support of the electoral and representative inviolability; and besides that, in favour of men whose genius, eloquence, virtue, and pa

« PreviousContinue »