The booming of muskets ceased, leaving ears ringing and quiet, but the short lived silence ended no sooner than it began with the crash of the wooden doors of the Hotel de Ville. The soldiers of the National Convention overran the remaining Jacobin loyalists inside, brutally beating the few hold outs not already dead or dying from the half hour fire fight that ended when the loyalists ran out of musket ammunition.
As the soldiers stormed upstairs and began kicking open the doors to the various offices and rooms, there was one last loud bang. The very man the soldiers were looking for had shot himself in the head with a pistol. The soldiers found him bleeding, shaking with shock, but still breathing in a pool of his own blood in one of the candlelit offices. The ball shot had obliterated his right upper molars, then ricocheted out of his mouth through his left jawbone and exploded out of his cheek.
The National Convention soldiers dragged the fugitive, Maximilien de Robespierre, along with twenty-one of his surviving loyalists to the offices of the Committee of Public Safety. They lay Robespierre in abject agony upon a billiards table, bleeding profusely from his gored face until a doctor arrived and bandaged his ruined jaw. It was to this doctor that Robespierre uttered his last reported words, “Merci, monsieur.“
Hours later, he was moved to the same cell in which Queen Marie Antoinette, whom he had personally prosecuted of treason and had executed just nine months earlier, had wept her terrifying final hours alone. It was in this cell, passing in and out of consciousness, the revolutionary awaited the morning’s light. A few hours after sunrise on 28th July 1794, Robespierre was carted out to the guillotine platform caked with the blood and hair of the previous day’s business.
There are apocryphal accounts of his execution that he was laid upon the guillotine’s rack face up, perhaps on account of his ruined jaw, but perhaps so he could see the very doom of his creation coming for him. From the thousands of witnesses to his execution, we do know that when the executioner removed the bandages covering Robespierre’s wounds in order to expose his neck, Maximilien unleashed a blood chilling, gurgling shriek of agony that echoed throughout the plaza even after guillotine silenced him forever.
“Pity is treason.”
-Maximilien de Robespierre-
The French Revolution was inspired by many of the same principles that gave birth to the American Revolution and began in earnest with the noblest of intentions. Save for the famous ineptitude of an effeminate King Louis XVI and the rabid fanaticism of Maximilien Robespierre, France came so very close to a soft landing in early June 1789 if only either of these men had been other than who they were.
Instead, King Louis blundered the first Estates-General meeting in a century, overplaying his hand and dismissing the legitimate complaints of his people, the commoners and low ranking clergy who were suffering near famine economic deprivations. Maximilien and his Jacobin Club allies agitated for immediate and total dissolution of aristocratic political privilege, universal suffrage, and a massive erosion of the monarchy from practically the moment the Estates-General were seated.
Over the course of the next three years, open revolution brakes out. Once Robespierre had King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette put to death, he and his closest political allies took the reigns of the ironically named Committee of Public Safety and sent thousands of dissenters and political rivals to their deaths in what would become known as the Reign of Terror.
Don’t waste an ounce of pity for Robespierre. Whatever pity the man might otherwise have deserved is better spent on the tens of thousands of deaths that he was directly or indirectly responsible for. Between 30,000 and 50,000 French men and women either died in prisons under torture or the tireless fall of the guillotine that made the Great Terror even possible. It is they that deserve your pity, not Robespierre.
“[T]he spring of that government during a revolution is
virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is
destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent.”
-Maximilien de Robespierre-
In the fanatical heights of the Revolution, the Jacobins abandoned all middle ground positions, embraced absolutism to whatever political fever suited them at the time, and betrayed the very principles they claimed to be defending. Robespierre was at the head of the serpent, but he was far from alone. The bloodbath that ensued would have been impossible without thousands of petty, remorseless, self righteous thugs, gleefully brutalizing their countrymen every step of the way.
Failing to show sufficient nationalist pride in the revolutionary government violated the populist ideology and was punishable by death. Speaking kindly of the deposed king or queen, even if only out of pity, violated the populist ideology and was punishable by death. Even holding to traditional forms of the language violated the populist ideology and could call the guillotine down for your head. At its core, the Reign of Terror was a populist nationalist movement, a reactionary uprising of a poor exploited working class rising up against the French Establishment.
To these rabid, self righteous uneducated mobs, absolutely anything became justified. Attacking the character and reputation of anyone that disagreed with the populist uprising became the synonymous with civic virtue. All forms of polite society collapsed, and what had been period of economic and political unrest in one nation’s long history ended up dragging the entire society down into chaos and blood thirst for years, setting the stage for the rise of another dictator just five short years later.
Does any of this sound at all similar to the current presidential election season? It should. Wake up, America. History is repeating itself.
Long live the Republic.
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