Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, 1758 - 1794
Oil on fabric by unknown artist (ca. 1790)
Born: 6 May 1758, Arras, France
Died: 28 July 1794, Paris, France
Robespierre was a man of humble birth, born to a working-class family in Arras, France, who learned early the contempt in which the nobility held commoners. Politically, the greatest influence on his life and philosophy was Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose writings on revolutionary virtue and government by democracy also inspired America's Founding Fathers. He wrote many essays on the rights of man, helped to draft the new constitution of France, and was part of the Constituent Assembly. He became part of the Jacobin Club, and was well-known for his modest lifestyle and refusal to take bribes — a fact that lead to his being hailed as an incorruptible patriot by the people of Paris. He was named Public Prosecutor of Paris in February 1792, but resigned in April to start the journal Le Défenseur de la Constitution, in which he sought to counter the influence of the royal court in public policy and bring the economic plight of the masses to light. After France declared war on Austria, Robespierre worked for the welfare of the common soldier by speaking against the political influence of the officers and urging the creations of militias to defend France.
The unrest in France erupted once again, tearing down the monarchy and forming the National Assembly, the ruling organization of the new Republic of France. Robespierre became the most influential member. In December 1792, Robespierre successfully argued for the execution of Louis XVI as a destabilizing influence. Louis XVI was one of the first victims of the Reign of Terror, a series of violent reprisals against the "enemies of the state", a group which included not only traitors and monarchists but moderates and "false revolutionaries". He advocated swift and merciless justice, with little or no trial for the accused, a policy which led to his death. He was accused by the Convention of being a dictator and an enemy of the people; he attempted to shoot himself but only shattered his jaw, he was guillotined the next day.
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Maximilien Robespierre quotes:
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- Again, it may be said, that to love justice and equality the people need no great effort of virtue; it is sufficient that they love themselves. permalink
- Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil. permalink
Article 19, Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (21 April 1793)
- Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is not a law at all. permalink
- Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular. permalink
- By sealing our work with our blood, we may see at least the bright dawn of universal happiness. permalink
"The principles of political morality" speech (5 February 1794)
- Citizens, did you want a revolution without revolution? permalink
speech to the National Convention (5 November 1792)
- Crime butchers innocence to secure a throne, and innocence struggles with all its might against the attempts of crime. permalink
- Death is the beginning of immortality. permalink
last speech to the National Convention (26 July 1794)
- Is it to be thought unreasonable that the people, in atonement for wrongs of a century, demand the vengeance of a single day? permalink
- It has been said that terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that with which the henchmen of tyranny are armed. permalink
- It is with regret that I pronounce the fatal truth: Louis must die that the country may live. permalink
speech to the National Convention (3 December 1792)
- Omelettes are not made without breaking eggs. permalink
- Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtue. permalink
letter (21 December 1792)
- Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. permalink
- Pity is treason. permalink
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