Committee of Public Safety
Comité de salut public (French)
TypeProvisional government
StatusDisestablished
AppointerNational Convention
Constituting instrumentNational Convention
Formation6 April 1793
Abolished25 October 1795
SuccessionExecutive Directory

The Committee of Public Safety (French: Comité de salut public) was a committee of the National Convention which formed the provisional government and war cabinet during the Reign of Terror, a violent phase of the French Revolution. Supplementing the Committee of General Defence, created early January 1793, the Committee of Public Safety was created on 6 April 1793 by the National Convention.[1] It was charged with protecting the new republic against its foreign and domestic enemies, fighting the First Coalition and the Vendée revolt. As a wartime measure, the committee was given broad supervisory and administrative powers over the armed forces, judiciary and legislature, as well as the executive bodies and ministers of the convention.

As the committee, restructured in July, raised the defense (levée en masse) against the monarchist coalition of European nations and counter-revolutionary forces within France, it became more and more powerful. In December 1793, the Convention formally conferred executive power upon the committee. Among the members, the radical Montagnard Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre was one of the most well-known, though he did not have any special powers or privileges.[2] After the arrest and execution of the rival factions of Hébertists and Dantonists, sentiment in the Convention eventually turned against Robespierre, who was executed in July 1794. In the following Thermidorian Reaction, the committee's influence diminished after 26 months and it disappeared on the same day as the National Convention, which was 25 October 1795, but it probably continued till the end of the month.[3][4][5]

Origins and evolution

Social climate of Revolutionary France

The French Revolution brought about an immense shift in society in which citizens desired to bring about a new age of critical rationality, egalitarianism, and patriotism amongst French men.[6] Revolutionary ideals were spread throughout France and a belief in democracy and civilian government was heralded as the new era of French civilization.[7] 1793 would bring a new republican constitution, drafted by the National Assembly.[8] The French Constitution of 1793 and its subsequent government would bring sweeping reforms to French politics and the French social order. Major reforms included comprehensive education, the recognition of rights for illegitimate children and improved rights for married women.[9]

The French Constitution of 1793 outlined the prevailing Enlightenment era ideology of the French government at this stage of the revolutionary period. The constitution outlines a right to the resistance of oppression as well as the right to personal liberty.[10] The equality of all French men is detailed as is the structure of the French Republic.[11] The new constitution and the shift into a republican government centered on the National Assembly created the atmosphere for a radicalized governing authority to take power.[12] Members of the French common classes such as the Sans-Culottes turned to radicalism and inspired militant activism among the French populace.[12]

Committee of discussion

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 revolts in the Vendée, but also by foreign agents who plotted the destruction of the nation from within.[13] Dumouriez's defection 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".[13]

After a proposal by Bertrand Barère on 18 March the committee was created on 6 April 1793. Closely associated with the leadership of Danton, it was initially known as the Danton Committee.[14] Danton steered the Committee through the 31 May and 2 June 1793 journées that saw the violent expulsion 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.[15]

On 27 July 1793, Maximilien Robespierre was elected to the committee. At this time, the committee was entering a more powerful and active phase, alongside its 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,[16] the provisioning of the armies and the public, the maintenance of public order and oversight of the state bureaucracy.[17]

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 General 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 Dantonists

On 5 December 1793, journalist Camille Desmoulins began publishing Le Vieux Cordelier with the approval of Robespierre and the Committee.[18] This newspaper was initially aimed against the ultrarevolutionary Hébertist faction, whose extremist demands, anti-religious fervor and propensity for sudden insurrections troubled 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 Committees had Desmoulins and Danton arrested as well. 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.[19]

Committee of rule

Maximilien Robespierre, member of the Committee of Public Safety

The elimination of the Hébertists and the Dantonists made evident the strength of the Committees to control and silence opposition. The creation in March 1794 of a General Police Bureau—reporting nominally to the Committee of Public Safety—served to increase the power of the Committee of Public Safety.

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 aggressive behavior of the Committee of Public Safety and particularly the encroachment of the General Police Bureau upon their own brief.[20] 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.[21] On 21 May 1794 the revolutionary government decided that the judicial system would be centralised, with almost all the tribunals in the provinces closed and all the capital trials held in Paris.[22]

The Law of 22 Prairial, proposed by the committee and enacted by the convention on 10 June 1794, went further in establishing the control of the Revolutionary Tribunal and above it the Convention and Committees of Public Safety and General Security. The law enumerated various forms of public enemies, required their denunciation, and severely limited the legal recourse available to those accused. The punishment for all crimes covered under this law was death; from its inception to its removal, more people were condemned to death in Paris than in the entire previous history of the Revolutionary Tribunal.[23]

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 among some members that he was isolated and out of touch. Charlotte Robespierre reported in her memoirs that Robespierre had come into conflict with several of the representatives on mission due to their excessive use of violence, which likely also led to the unity of the Committee devolving.[24]

Fall of the Committee and aftermath

Comité de Salut public, An II

When it became suspected 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 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".[25] 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 (9 Thermidor according to the Republican calendar), Saint-Just began to speak before the ConventionHowever, he was almost immediately interrupted by Tallien and by Billaud-Varenne, who accused him of intending to "murder the Convention".[26] Barère, Vadier and Stanislas Fréron joined the accusations against Saint-Just and Robespierre. The Convention ordered the arrest of Robespierre, his brother Augustin, and Saint-Just, along with that of their supporters, including 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, while Saint-Just, Couthon, and Maximilien and Augustin Robespierre were arrested and guillotined on 28 July 1794.[27]

The ensuing period of upheaval, dubbed the Thermidorian Reaction, saw the repeal of many of the previous year's most unpopular laws and the restriction 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]

Composition

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Committee of General Defence (25 March – 6 April 1793)

Party breakdown
13
9
3
Member Department Affiliation
Charles Barbaroux Bouches-du-Rhône Girondins
Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Mountain
François Buzot Eure Girondins
Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès Hérault Plain
Armand-Gaston Camus Haute-Loire Mountain
Nicolas de Condorcet Aisne Girondins
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 Girondins
Élie Guadet Gironde Girondins
Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau Côte-d'Or Mountain
Maximin Isnard Var Girondins
Marc-David Lasource Tarn Girondins
Jérôme Pétion Jr. Eure-et-Loir Girondins
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 Girondins

1st Committee (6 April – 10 July 1793)

Party breakdown
6
3
Member Department Affiliation
Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
Jean-Jacques Bréard Charente-Inférieure Mountain
Pierre-Joseph Cambon Hérault Plain
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

2nd Committee (10 July – 5 September 1793)

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

3rd Committee (5 September 1793 – 31 July 1794)

Party breakdown
9
3
Member Department Affiliation
Bertrand Barère Hautes-Pyrénées Plain
Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne Seine Mountain
Lazare Carnot Pas-de-Calais Plain
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

4th–5th Committees (1 September – 7 November 1794)

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

6th–7th Committees (7 November 1794 – 7 January 1795)

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

8th–9th Committees (7 January – 5 March 1795)

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

10th–11th Committees (5 March – 5 May 1795)

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

12th Committee (3 June – 25 October 1795)

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 War

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 also

Bibliography

  1. Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 121. ISBN 9780674425163
  2. Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 121–122. ISBN 9780674425163
  3. Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 245. ISBN 9780674425163
  4. Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 313. ISBN 9780674425163
  5. The Committee of Constitution (1793). The New Constitution of France. London: London: Printed for J. Ridgway. p. 3.
  6. The Committee of Constitution (1793). The New Constitution of France. London: London: Printed for J. Ridgway. pp. 4–7.
  7. Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780674425163
  8. Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780674425163

Notes

  1. ^ Raphaël Matta-Duvignau, Gouverner, administrer révolutionnairement : le Comité de salut public (6 avril 1793–4 brumaire an IV), Paris, L'Harmattan, 2013
  2. ^ "Committee of Public Safety". Encyclopædia Britannica. 11 May 2020. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  3. ^ Raphaël Matta-Duvignau, Gouverner, administrer révolutionnairement : le Comité de salut public (6 avril 1793–4 brumaire an IV), Paris, L'Harmattan, 2013 [1]
  4. ^ "Committee of Public Safety". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  5. ^ Vol. 67 (Brumaire an IV ; 23 octobre–26 octobre 1795) Collection Baudouin
  6. ^ Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mas: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 121. ISBN 9780674425163.
  7. ^ Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 121–122. ISBN 9780674425163.
  8. ^ Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 245. ISBN 9780674425163.
  9. ^ Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 313. ISBN 9780674425163.
  10. ^ The Committee of Constitution (1793). The New Constitution of France. London: London: Printed for J. Ridgway. p. 3.
  11. ^ The Committee of Constitution (1793). The New Constitution of France. London: London: Printed for J. Ridgway. pp. 4–7.
  12. ^ a b Tackett, Timothy (2015). The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780674425163.
  13. ^ a b Belloc (1899), p. 210.
  14. ^ Mantel (2009).
  15. ^ Belloc (1899), p. 235.
  16. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 284.
  17. ^ Furet (1992), p. 134.
  18. ^ Furet (1992), p. 141.
  19. ^ "Danton Versus Robespierre: The Quest for Revolutionary Power". ucumberlands.edu. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  20. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 331.
  21. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 340.
  22. ^ The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny by Ian Davidson, p. xiv
  23. ^ Scurr (2006), p. 328.
  24. ^ Robespierre, Charlotte. Memoirs of Charlotte Robespierre. pp. Ch. 5.
  25. ^ Madelin (1916), p. 418.
  26. ^ Madelin (1916), p. 422.
  27. ^ "Maximilien Robespierre, Master of the Terror". loyno.edu. Retrieved 20 September 2017.

References