Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre
French revolutionary politician. Born 1758, died 1794.
A lawyer in his native city of Arras, Robespierre was elected to the Estates-General in 1789. In the Estates-General, he soon made a name for himself as an advocate of the poor, and he was soon the most prominent leader of the Jacobins.
In September 1792, Robespierre was elected to the National Convention, where he became the spokesman of the montagnards, supported by, among others, Saint-Just and Couthon. In the National Convention, Robespierre agitated for the execution of Louis XVI.
On June 2, 1793, following a bitter power struggle, Robespierre managed (with the aid of the sansculottes) to purge the leaders of the Gironde. Subsequently, he joined the Committee of Public Safety and became the leading figure in the Terror.
In March 1794, Robespierre succeeded in eliminating the extremist Hébertists, with the support of the moderate Dantonists. In April, he saw to it that the Dantonists, in turn, were convicted and guillotined.
As the leader of the National Convention, the Commune of Paris and the Jacobins, Robespierre expressed his Rousseau-inspired idea of a "Supreme Being" and the immortality of the soul, in an attempt to provide the Revolution with a moral and religious content. The Feast of the Supreme Being in Paris, on June 8, 1794, marked the culmination of his political career.
Robespierre's political opponents, notably Billaud-Varenne in the Committee of Public Safety and Vadier in the Committee of General Security, had formed a conspiracy against him. On July 27, 1794 (9 Thermidor, according to the French Revolutionary Calendar), Robespierre and Saint-Just were prevented from speaking in the National Convention. Both were arrested, along with their supporters. Later, they were freed and taken to the city hall, but the city hall was stormed during the night by troops loyal to the National Convention. During the fighting, Robespierre was gravely injured. The following day, he and his adherents were taken to the guillotine, ending the Terror.
As a politician, Robespierre was no doubt a man of principle. In his struggles with the various factions in 1794, he showed considerable resourcefulness and decisiveness. These traits were remarkably absent in connection with the events leading to his own fall. Posterity has been of divided opinion on Robespierre. Some have accused him of corrupting the Revolution, leading it down an unsuitably authoritarian path. Others have noted his contributions to democracy.
Whether one views him as misguided democrat or evil dictator, Robespierre certainly leaves behind an impression of a considerable intelligence and forceful personality.