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Committee of Public Safety

Emblem of the Committee

The Committee of Public Safety (French: Comité de salut public), created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a stage of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence (established in January 1793) and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the Committee—composed at first of nine and later of twelve members—was given broad supervisory powers over military, judicial and legislative efforts. It was formed as an administrative body to supervise and expedite the work of the executive bodies of the Convention and of the government ministers appointed by the Convention. As the Committee tried to meet the dangers of a coalition of European nations and counter-revolutionary forces within the country, it became more and more powerful.

Following the defeat at the Convention of the Girondins in June 1793, a prominent Jacobin identified as a radical, Maximilien Robespierre, was added to the Committee. The power of the Committee peaked between August 1793 and July 1794. In December 1793, the Convention formally conferred executive power upon the Committee.

The execution of Robespierre in July 1794 represented a reactionary period against the Committee of Public Safety. This became known as the Thermidorian Reaction, as Robespierre's fall from power occurred during the month of Thermidor in the French Republican calendar. The Committee's influence diminished[1] and it was abolished in 1795.

Contents

Origins and evolutionEdit

Committee of discussionEdit

 
Lettre anglaise (English Letter) dated 29 June 1793 as published by the National Convention during the French Revolution (1793) to prove English spying and conspiracy

On 5 April 1793, the French military commander and former minister of war General Charles François Dumouriez defected to Austria following the publication of an incendiary letter in which he threatened to march his army on the city of Paris if the National Convention did not accede to his leadership. News of his defection caused alarm in Paris, where imminent defeat by the Austrians and their allies was feared. A widespread belief held that revolutionary France was in immediate peril, threatened not only by foreign armies and by recent anti-revolutionary revolts in the Vendée, but also by foreign agents who plotted the destruction of the nation from within.[2]

The betrayal of the revolutionary government by Dumouriez lent greater credence to this belief. In light of this threat, the Girondin leader Maximin Isnard proposed the creation of a nine-member Committee of Public Safety. Isnard was supported in this effort by Georges Danton, who declared: "This Committee is precisely what we want, a hand to grasp the weapon of the Revolutionary Tribunal".[2]

The Committee was formally created on 6 April 1793. Closely associated with the leadership of Danton, it was initially known as the Danton Committee.[3] Danton steered the Committee through the 31 May and 2 June 1793 journées that resulted in the fall of the Girondins and through the intensifying war in the Vendée. When the Committee was recomposed on 10 July 1793, Danton was not included. Nevertheless, he continued to support the centralization of power by the Committee.[4]

On 27 July 1793, Maximilien Robespierre was elected to the Committee. At this time, the Committee was entering a more powerful and active phase, which would see it become a de facto dictatorship alongside its powerful partner, the Committee of General Security. The role of the Committee of Public Safety included the governance of the war (including the appointment of generals), the appointing of judges and juries for the Revolutionary Tribunal,[5] the provisioning of the armies and the public, the maintenance of public order and oversight of the state bureaucracy.[6]

The Committee was also responsible for interpreting and applying the decrees of the National Convention and thus for implementing some of the most stringent policies of the Terror—for instance, the levée en masse passed on 23 August 1793, the Law of Suspects passed on 17 September 1793 and the Law of the Maximum passed on 29 September 1793. The broad and centralized powers of the Committee were codified by the Law of 14 Frimaire (also known as the Law of Revolutionary Government) on 4 December 1793.[citation needed]

Execution of the Hébertists and DantonistsEdit

On 5 December 1793, journalist Camille Desmoulins began publishing Le Vieux Cordelier, a newspaper initially aimed (with the approval of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety)[7] at the ultrarevolutionary Hébertist faction, whose extremist demands, anti-religious fervor and propensity for sudden insurrections were problematic for the Committee. However, Desmoulins quickly turned his pen against the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, comparing their reign to that of the Roman tyrants chronicled by Tacitus and expounding the indulgent views of the Dantonist faction.[citation needed]

Consequently, though the Hébertists were arrested and executed in March 1794, the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security ensured that Desmoulins and Danton were also arrested. Hérault de Séchelles—a friend and ally of Danton—was expelled from the Committee of Public Safety, arrested and tried alongside them. On 5 April 1794, the Dantonists went to the guillotine.[8]

Committee of ruleEdit

 
Maximilien Robespierre, member of the Committee of Public Safety

The elimination of the Hébertists and the Dantonists made evident the strength of the committees as had their ability to control and silence opposition. The creation in March 1794 of a General Police Bureau—reporting nominally to the Committee of Public Safety, but more often directly to Robespierre and his closest ally, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just—served to increase the power of the Committee of Public Safety and of Robespierre himself.

The Law of 22 Prairial, proposed by the Committee of Public Safety and enacted on 10 June 1794, went further in establishing the iron control of the Revolutionary Tribunal and above it the Committees of Public Safety and General Security. The law enumerated various forms of public enemies, made mandatory their denunciation and severely limited the legal recourse available to those accused. The punishment for all crimes under the Law of 22 Prairal was death. From the initiation of this law to the fall of Robespierre on 27 July 1794, more people were condemned to death than in the entire previous history of the Revolutionary Tribunal.[9]

However, even as the Terror reached its height and with it the Committee's political power, discord was growing within the revolutionary government. Members of the Committee of General Security resented the autocratic behavior of the Committee of Public Safety and particularly the encroachment of the General Police Bureau upon their own brief.[10] Arguments within the Committee of Public Safety itself had grown so violent that it relocated its meetings to a more private room to preserve the illusion of agreement.[11] Robespierre, a fervent supporter of the theistic Cult of the Supreme Being, found himself frequently in conflict with anti-religious Committee members Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne. Moreover, Robespierre's increasingly extensive absences from the Committee due to illness (he all but ceased to attend meetings in June 1794) created the impression that he was isolated and out of touch.

Fall of the Committee and aftermathEdit

When it became evident in mid-July 1794 that Robespierre and Saint-Just were planning to strike against their political opponents Joseph Fouché, Jean-Lambert Tallien and Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier (the latter two of whom were members of the Committee of General Security), the fragile truce within the government was dissolved. Saint-Just and his fellow Committee of Public Safety member Bertrand Barère attempted to keep the peace between the Committees of Public Safety and General Security. However, Robespierre delivered a speech to the National Convention on 26 July 1794 in which he emphasized the need to "purify" the Committees and "crush all factions".[12] In a speech to the Jacobin Club that night, he attacked Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, who had refused to allow the printing and distribution of his speech to the Convention.

On the following day, 27 July 1794 (or 9 Thermidor according to the Revolutionary calendar), Saint-Just began to deliver a speech to the Convention in which he had planned to denounce Collot d'Herbois, Billaud-Varenne and other members of the Committee of Public Safety. However, he was almost immediately interrupted by Tallien and by Billaud-Varenne, who accused Saint-Just of intending to "murder the Convention".[13] Barère, Vadier and Stanislas Fréron joined the accusations against Saint-Just and Robespierre. The arrest of Robespierre, his brother Augustin and Saint-Just was ordered, along with that of their supporters, Philippe Le Bas and Georges Couthon.

A period of intense civil unrest ensued, during which the members of the Committees of Public Safety and General Security were forced to seek refuge in the Convention. The Robespierre brothers, Saint-Just, Le Bas and Couthon ensconced themselves in the Hôtel de Ville, attempting to incite an insurrection. Ultimately, faced with defeat and arrest, Le Bas committed suicide. Saint-Just, Couthon and Maximilien and Augustin Robespierre were arrested and guillotined on 28 July 1794.[14]

The ensuing period of upheaval, dubbed the Thermidorian Reaction, saw the repeal of many of the Terror's most unpopular laws and the reduction in power of the Committees of General Security and Public Safety. The Committees ceased to exist under the Constitution of the Year III (1795), which marked the beginning of the Directory.[citation needed]

CompositionEdit

1st Committee (25 March – 6 April 1793)Edit

Party breakdown
13
9
3
Member Department Affiliation
  Charles Barbaroux Bouches-du-Rhône Gironde
  Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
  Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Mountain
  François Buzot Eure Gironde
  Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès Hérault Plain
  Armand-Gaston Camus Haute-Loire Mountain
  Nicolas de Condorcet Aisne Gironde
  Georges Danton Seine Mountain
  Jean Debry Aisne Mountain
Jean-François-Bertrand Delmas Haute-Garonne Mountain
  Camille Desmoulins Seine Mountain
  Edmond Dubois-Crancé Ardennes Mountain
  Fabre d'Églantine Seine Mountain
  Armand Gensonné Gironde Gironde
  Élie Guadet Gironde Gironde
  Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau Côte-d'Or Mountain
  Maximin Isnard Var Gironde
Marc-David Lasource Tarn Gironde
  Jérôme Pétion Jr. Eure-et-Loir Gironde
  Pierre Louis Prieur Marne Mountain
Nicolas Marie Quinette Aisne Mountain
  Maximilien Robespierre Seine Mountain
  Philippe Rühl Bas-Rhin Mountain
  Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès Sarthe Plain
  Pierre Vergniaud Gironde Gironde

2nd Committee (6 April – 10 July 1793)Edit

Party breakdown
7
2
Member Department Affiliation
  Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
  Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Mountain
  Pierre-Joseph Cambon Hérault Mountain
  Georges Danton Seine Mountain
  Jean Debry Aisne Mountain
  Jean-François Delacroix Eure-et-Loir Mountain
Jean-François-Bertrand Delmas Haute-Garonne Mountain
  Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau Côte-d'Or Mountain
  Jean-Baptiste Treilhard Seine-et-Oise Plain

3rd Committee (10 July – 5 September 1793)Edit

Party breakdown
6
3
Member Department Affiliation
  Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
  Georges Couthon Puy-de-Dôme Mountain
  Thomas-Augustin de Gasparin Bouches-du-Rhône Plain
  André Jeanbon Lot Mountain
  Robert Lindet Eure Plain
  Pierre Louis Prieur Marne Mountain
  Louis de Saint-Just Aisne Mountain
  Jean Hérault de Séchelles Seine Mountain
  Jacques-Alexis Thuriot Marne Mountain
Changes

4th Committee (5 September 1793 – 31 July 1794)Edit

Party breakdown
10
2
Member Department Affiliation
  Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
  Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne Seine Mountain
  Lazare Carnot Pas-de-Calais Mountain
  Jean-Marie Collot Seine Mountain
  Georges Couthon
(Before 27 July 1794)
Puy-de-Dôme Mountain
  André Jeanbon Lot Mountain
  Robert Lindet Eure Plain
  Pierre Louis Prieur Marne Mountain
  Claude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois Côte-d'Or Mountain
  Maximilien Robespierre
(Before 27 July 1794)
Seine Mountain
  Louis de Saint-Just
(Before 27 July 1794)
Aisne Mountain
  Jean Hérault de Séchelles
(Before 17 March 1794)
Seine Mountain
Changes
  • On 29 December 1793, Hérault de Séchelles (Mountain) was admitted to the Committee.
  • On 17 March 1794, Hérault de Séchelles (Mountain) was arrested for treason, leaving his post vacant.
  • On 27 July 1794, Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon (Mountain) were arrested and executed the following day.
  • On 27 July 1794, the three were substitued by Jean-Lambert Tallien (Mountain).

5th-6th Committees (1 September – 7 November 1794)Edit

Party breakdown
11
1
5th Committee
(September–October)
6th Committee
(October–November)
Member Department Affiliation Member Department Affiliation
  Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Thermidorian Renewed
  Lazare Carnot Pas-de-Calais Thermidorian   Pierre Louis Prieur Marne Thermidorian
Jean-François-Bertrand Delmas Haute-Garonne Thermidorian Renewed
  Joseph Eschassériaux Charente-Inférieure Thermidorian Renewed
  Antoine François de Fourcroy Seine Thermidorian Renewed
Pierre-Antoine Laloy Haute-Marne Thermidorian Renewed
  Charles Cochon de Lapparent Deux-Sèvres Thermidorian Renewed
Jean-Baptiste Matthieu Oise Thermidorian Renewed
  Philippe-Antoine Merlin Nord Thermidorian Renewed
  Claude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois Côte-d'Or Thermidorian   Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau Côte-d'Or Thermidorian
  Jean-Baptiste Treilhard Seine-et-Oise Thermidorian Renewed
  Jacques-Alexis Thuriot Marne Crest Renewed

7th-8th Committees (7 November 1794 – 7 January 1795)Edit

Party breakdown
10
1
1
7th Committee
(November–December)
8th Committee
(December–January)
Member Department Affiliation Member Department Affiliation
  Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Thermidorian Vacant
Jean-François-Bertrand Delmas Haute-Garonne Thermidorian Renewed
  Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès Hérault Thermidorian Renewed
  Lazare Carnot Pas-de-Calais Thermidorian Renewed
  Antoine François de Fourcroy Seine Thermidorian Renewed
  Charles Cochon de Lapparent Deux-Sèvres Thermidorian Vacant
Jean-Baptiste Matthieu Oise Thermidorian Renewed
  Philippe-Antoine Merlin Nord Thermidorian Renewed
  Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau Côte-d'Or Thermidorian Renewed
Jean Pelet Lozère Conservative Renewed
  Pierre Louis Prieur Marne Thermidorian Renewed
  Jacques-Alexis Thuriot Marne Crest André Dumont Somme Thermidorian

9th-10th Committees (7 January – 5 March 1795)Edit

Party breakdown
7
1
9th Committee
(January–February)
10th Committee
(February–March)
Member Department Affiliation Member Department Affiliation
  Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Thermidorian Renewed
André Dumont Somme Thermidorian Renewed
  Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès Hérault Thermidorian Renewed
  Lazare Carnot Pas-de-Calais Thermidorian Renewed
Vacant   Antoine François de Fourcroy Seine Thermidorian
  Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau Côte-d'Or Thermidorian Jean-Baptiste Matthieu Oise Thermidorian
Jean Pelet Lozère Conservative Renewed
  Pierre Louis Prieur Marne Thermidorian   Philippe-Antoine Merlin Nord Thermidorian

11th-12th Committees (5 March – 5 May 1795)Edit

Party breakdown
5
1
11th Committee
(March–April)
12th Committee
(April–May)
Member Department Affiliation Member Department Affiliation
  Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Thermidorian Renewed
André Dumont Somme Thermidorian Denis Toussaint Lesage Eure-et-Loir Thermidorian
  Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès Hérault Thermidorian Renewed
  Antoine François de Fourcroy Seine Thermidorian Renewed
Jean-Baptiste Matthieu Oise Thermidorian Renewed
  Philippe-Antoine Merlin Nord Thermidorian Renewed
Vacant Jacques Antoine Creuzé-Latouche Vienne Conservative


13th Committee (3 June – 27 October 1795)Edit

Party breakdown
3
2
Member Department Affiliation
  Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès Hérault Thermidorian
Pierre Henry-Larivière Calvados Conservative
  Louis-Marie de La Révellière Maine-et-Loire Conservative
Denis Toussaint Lesage Eure-et-Loir Thermidorian
  Philippe-Antoine Merlin Nord Thermidorian

Use of the term during the Algerian WarEdit

During the May 1958 crisis in France, an army junta under General Jacques Massu seized power in Algiers on the night of 13 May 1958 and General Salan assumed leadership of a body calling itself the Committee of Public Safety.

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ "Committee of Public Safety". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  2. ^ a b Belloc (1899), p. 210.
  3. ^ Mantel (2009).
  4. ^ Belloc (1899), p. 235.
  5. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 284.
  6. ^ Furet (1992), p. 134.
  7. ^ Furet (1992), p. 141.
  8. ^ "Danton Versus Robespierre: The Quest for Revolutionary Power". ucumberlands.edu. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  9. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 328.
  10. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 331.
  11. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 340.
  12. ^ Madelin (1916), p. 418.
  13. ^ Madelin (1916), p. 422.
  14. ^ "Maximilien Robespierre, Master of the Terror". loyno.edu. Retrieved 20 September 2017.

ReferencesEdit

  • Belloc, Hillaire (1899). Danton: A Study. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Furet, François (1992). Revolutionary France, 1770–1880. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Linton, Marisa (2013). Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution. Oxford University Press.
  • Madelin, Louis (1916). The French Revolution. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Mantel, Hilary (6 August 2009). "He Roared". London Review of Books. 3 (15): 3–6. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  • Palmer, R. R. (September 1941). "Fifty Years of the Committee of Public Safety". Journal of Modern History. 13 (3): 375–397. JSTOR 1871581.
  • ——— (1970). Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05119-4.
  • Schama, Simon (1989). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Scurr, Ruth (2006). Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. New York: Owl Books.