Transcript for Episode 367: What happened during the Terror?

Category: French History

Discussed in this Episode

  • The Terror is a construct [03:27]
  • Repression linked to crisis [03:59]
  • High-profile people were the victims of the repression in this case [07:14]
  • Recalling Deputies who went against their mandates [09:00]
  • Trouble with provincial bourgeoisie [10:19]
  • This was the age of Revolutions and not just in France [11:55]
  • Reforms made in 1793 and 1794 that were ahead of their time [12:59]
  • The Terror was both the height of repression and of the democratic movement [14:02]
  • Who's a Revolutionary and who's a Counter-Revolutionary? [14:47]
  • Mirabeau and the Pantheon [15:33]
  • The inability to be openly against the Revolution [17:10]
  • The legislative branch over the executive branch [22:23]
  • Revolutionary Tribunal [23:47]
  • Representatives on mission [24:34]
  • Arrests begin [26:17]
  • Law of Prairial [27:15]
  • The law of suspects [29:03]
  • Fourty thousand fell during the Terror [30:33]
  • The role and donwfall of Robespierre [33:44]
  • Why was Robbespierre arrested [37:17]
  • Was Robespierre a dictator? [43:42]
  • Why did the legend of the Terror persist? [44:51]

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is join us in France episode 367 trois-cent-soixante-sept. Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and join us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel during the pandemic. Today, I bring you a conversation with Dr. Suzanne Levin you’ll see her extraordinary ability to explain a dark moment in the French revolution: the terror. Many of us are totally baffled by what happened in 1793 and 1794. But Dr. Levin shines the right kind of light on this whole thing. And I think you’re going to enjoy this episode. The French expression of the week is going to be “Il pédale dans la semoule”.

[00:00:48] Annie Sargent: This is a fun one. I’ll explain in a bit. The state department has raised the level of, for travel to France, to level four, which is, do not travel. I’ll talk about that after it my chat with Suzanne.

[00:01:02] Annie Sargent: If you like what we do here at join us in France, consider supporting us by visiting join us in france.com/boutique to check out my cookbook, Join Us at the Table, my Paris tours on the VoiceMap app and my very popular itinerary review service, where I help you craft the best vacation in France, specifically for you. You’ll be able to purchase your own itinerary planning service after December 26.

[00:01:28] Annie Sargent: Follow Addicted to France on Instagram, to see the photos I took on the top floor of the Carnavalet museum in Paris, which is all about the French Revolution.

[00:01:38] Annie Sargent: The best way to stay in touch with me and with the podcast is to sign up for the newsletter @joinusinfrance.com/newsletter.

[00:01:50] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Suzanne and welcome to Join Us in France.

[00:02:20] Suzanne Levin: Bonjour, thank you. I’m happy to be here.

[00:02:23] Annie Sargent: So welcome back. I should have said, because you were on the show last week, where you told us… you brought us all the way to the terror. So you really explained it very well. And I’m hoping that you can help me untangle the terror in my head, because that is where it gets really complicated.

[00:02:40] Annie Sargent: And, you know, to the, to, to a lay person like me, it sounds like why would they do that? Like, it makes no sense. They killed their friends, they killed one another. It’s like they kept accusing one another of treason, but there was no really, I mean, anyway. Yeah, please explain, what happened?

[00:02:59] Suzanne Levin: And so here’s the thing that, that it’s important to understand about this period.

[00:03:05] Suzanne Levin: A lot of people want to ask the question. Okay. Where does the terror come from? And in my view, that’s kind of a bad question to ask for two reason. I mean, not that it makes, you know, people who ask it bad in and of themselves of course, but I think it’s, it’s the wrong, it’s kind of taking things from the wrong perspective for a couple of reasons.

[00:03:27] Suzanne Levin: First of all, the terror as such, I’m going to, I’m going to blow your mind here, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t really exist. Any more than, you know, the middle ages, any more than the middle ages exists. This is a okay. Yeah. So this is, this is a term that is applied afterwards in very specific circumstances, which I’d like to talk about in a little bit to, to a period to kind of make it appear to be a coherent whole in a way that in a way that it really wasn’t at the time.

[00:03:59] Suzanne Levin: So essentially it’s not particularly unusual to have a situation of repression that is associated with war and crisis. This is something that we see in basically every war that there, some kind of repression that there’s censorship, that people are imprisoned for being on the side of of at least looking like they’re on the side of the enemy, whether or not they actually are et cetera.

[00:04:27] Suzanne Levin: And so this is something that is not particularly unusual either in the time period we’re looking at or throughout history generally. So the question then becomes why. Why is it viewed as why is this particular period of war viewed only in the context of repression and the war is kind of an afterthought, despite the fact that this is a war for the very survival of, of this country and of this new Republic and a war that, that is opposing one country, basically all of Europe and some of, some of its own citizens, so of civil war.

[00:05:03] Suzanne Levin: And we’re not talking about, you know, imaginary, there’s a, there’s a certain, there’s a certain historiography that kind of treats this as if all of this is in the minds of the revolutionaries, that nobody is really opposing them. And they’re just kind of projecting in a way. And it’s, it’s kind of amazing to me that anyone could think that considering the context that we’re looking at you wouldn’t, nobody would ever look at, say the repression from world war one, where you actually start seeing the first concentration camps.

[00:05:31] Suzanne Levin: Just to be clear are different than, you know, what the Nazi death camps that those are often used as synonyms, but they’re, but they’re, but they’re not. But you know, the, this idea that you’re putting people in, in camps this idea that you’re having major press censorship, this idea that you’re shooting deserters et cetera, nobody looks at that and it’s like, well, where does that repression come from?

[00:05:53] Suzanne Levin: Without the context of the war, the war is the main subject. And then you know, th the repression is explained by the war. It’s really only in the case of the French revolution, that this is viewed as completely disconnected. That does not mean that, you know, everything is, everything is explained by, oh, you know, there’s a war on.

[00:06:13] Suzanne Levin: So of course they did X, Y, and Z. No. , In my view, the question is not why was there repression at all in the first place that’s pretty standard and it’s actually, it would actually be more surprising if there weren’t any the, the question is why did it take the form that it did? Right. And in some ways in some ways that form is is you might say worse or, or better then in other situations, for lack of, for lack of a better term worse in the sense that you have all of these high profile cases of of people who are, who are being executed, but also in the sense that most repression, and this is part of the reason why.

[00:06:52] Suzanne Levin: This is part of the reason why we remember this period in particular, most of the victims of repression are anonymous. They’re the anonymous masses. No one knows who they are or they aren’t rich and powerful. You don’t have their life story. If they survive, they don’t go on to write best sellers about their experience. They don’t have the cultural capitals that do that, that might, they might not even know how to write, et cetera.

[00:07:14] Suzanne Levin: And so I think the first reason that we believe that we, you know, remember this period in this way is like this absolute horror is the people who are the victims of the oppression.

[00:07:23] Suzanne Levin: So for once we’re dealing with repression of high-profile people, the governments the, the king and queen, which contrary to to popular to popular belief they were not executed at the same time or for the same reasons. So this is not a matter of you know, They are Royals so, so off with their heads it’s a little, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

[00:07:45] Suzanne Levin: But in any case, the the idea is that you have all these, these high-profile victims, whether they’re initially counter-revolutionaries or whether, as you say, they’re revolutionaries, who are turned on by it, by their colleagues which, you know, obviously that goes both ways.

[00:08:01] Suzanne Levin: And certainly in the case of the Montagnards vs Brissotins, if the Brissotins had won, it’s fairly clear judging, either their rhetoric that they would have done similar to their adversaries. I do want to acknowledge here that this comes from a starting place of of reality. You really do have a number of high profile cases of treason.

[00:08:23] Suzanne Levin: You have generals that try to march their armies against Paris. Lafayette’s included and, and also after him. And do you have generals taking the lead in provincial revolts revolts that are led by that are led by Brissotins deputies after they’re expelled from the convention.

[00:08:41] Suzanne Levin: And I guess I should back up a little bit and talk about that because that’s often viewed as just like, you know, it’s a purge of of undesirables or whatever by the government and that’s not at all what happened. This is not a critic.

[00:08:54] Suzanne Levin: It’s a popular insurrection giving basically the demand for the recall of certain deputies who are believed to have betrayed their their electoral mandate. And it’s important to to recall in this context that they were not dealing with a system where they have something set up already they’re, they’re in the process of writing a constitution, but a lot of people believe, and this is still, you know, a fairly common and I think a legitimate belief that, that people can hold that you know, once you elect your your representative, that doesn’t mean that they now have the powers to do whatever they want, that, you know electors should have the power to recall to recall their elected officials.

[00:09:35] Suzanne Levin: And it’s something, you know, it’s, it’s in a number of places, including in the United States. And so that’s basically what they’re trying to do. They’re out, they’re attempting to exercise this power in kind of a situation of of urgency because the constitution is finished, but they feel that these deputies have betrayed their mandate under our blocking legislation.

[00:09:55] Suzanne Levin: And the idea was absolutely not to imprison these deputies and execute them to begin with. But what basically happened is a lot of them went into the provinces and, and joint uprisings against against the rest of the convention, which is so, so that’s really where we’re getting into more like expansion of the civil war, where it started with resistance to military service.

[00:10:16] Suzanne Levin: And now we also have kind of the provincial the provincial bourgeoisie who are rising up as well. And then from the perspective of the convention, that’s, you know, yet another problem that needs to be dealt with it’s too late for negotiation because we’re into armed revolt here. And so so at this point there’s repression of of these uprisings and that repression is more or less extreme basically, depending on how extreme the uprising was.

[00:10:43] Suzanne Levin: There were places like Lyon where they basically had to besiege them for months. In order to reintegrate Lyon into the Republic, there were other regions where the where the uprising basically just fizzled out because in a lot of places, there was no popular basis for it. It was just kind of led by local administrators.

[00:11:01] Suzanne Levin: And so. So in so in those cases there was a lot less repression. It was more okay. You know, you you, you made a mistake, but it’s, it’s fine. You know, we might take what we would call kind of security measures against you. But we’re not going to consider that your counter-revolutionaries, we’re not going to have you executed or any of that.

[00:11:21] Suzanne Levin: And so so you have really the situation again, where you’re, you’re dealing, you’re continuing to deal with the foreign war, which throughout throughout most of 1793, 1794 France is losing and part of French territory is actually occupied. And of course, to make the stakes very clear part of the parts of French territory that are occupied, they have completely done away with all revolutionary reforms restored the the Ancien Régime and also mercilessly repressed any any revolutionaries that remained in the territory.

[00:11:55] Suzanne Levin: And so, so you, you basically have repression and violence on multiple different sides and also in multiple different countries going on because the, the French revolution, we think about it sometimes as this isolated thing, but it’s actually part of a larger phenomenon that we sometimes call an age of revolutions.

[00:12:15] Suzanne Levin: That goes from mid century revolutions in Geneva Corsica through the American revolution through more revolutions that are happening at the same time as the French revolution and all the way to Latin American independence is going into the 1820s. So you have this, this much broader. And of course the the Haitian revolution, which calls also starts in the French colony of what has been Saint Domingue and will become Haiti. And, and so that’s starting in this period as well. It is very complex and I, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t blame people at all for feeling a little bit, a little bit lost. I guess what kind of gets to me a little bit about that sometimes is people are like, well, it’s complicated and therefore it’s chaos and therefore it’s bad.

[00:12:59] Suzanne Levin: So there are definitely things that are, that are negative about this period. Don’t get me wrong. That is something that I, I do want to get into a little bit more in just a minute, but we’re also dealing with a period where you finally get things like the definitive abolition of feudal dues.

[00:13:13] Suzanne Levin: You’ve got things like major reforms in inheritance law major reforms in education major reforms in terms of. … Not so much women’s political rights (although women have been participating in the revolution this whole time). But in terms of you have basically no fault divorce in 1792. But something that Bonaparte is going to get rid of later on and it won’t come back until the 1970s. So so you have things that are really ahead of their, of their time.

[00:13:40] Suzanne Levin: You have the recognition of quote unquote, illegitimate children. You have the principle of free universal obligatory primary school. You have all of these things that are coming in. And of course the big one is the … the first abolition of slavery, which again, is something that Bonaparte is going to restore. And then it’s going to have to be abolished again in 1848.

[00:14:02] Suzanne Levin: But you do have a lot of positive things that are coming out of this period. You have this massive amount of democratic exp experimentation as well. And so that’s kind of the paradox of the period. It’s both the height of the repression and the height of the democratic movements, the height of all of these reforms, many of which are we might consider a ahead of their time and some of which some of which are also very long lasting like even the restoration government.

[00:14:27] Suzanne Levin: That’s when Louis XVI brothers come back to power after the empire, even they never dared to restore a feudal dues. Like that was just not something that was within their power. They would have been they would have been kicked out right away. They had attempted that. And so, you know, it’s not just a matter of who’s in charge. Either there are some lasting reforms in that vein.

[00:14:50] Suzanne Levin: But regardless to get back to the, the question of you know, the terror, what is it? And you know, where, where does it come from? Yeah, I kind of in terms of I think, I think I’ve kind of gone over like where repression in general comes from.

[00:15:04] Suzanne Levin: But in terms of, you know why specifically a lot of the the victims of that repression ended up not being people who said openly, you know, I’m for the monarchy, I’m for the return of Ancien Régime, what we think of as counter-revolutionaries as historians and why a number of those people ended up being people who, if you ask them would say, you know, I’m absolutely for the revolution, you know, I’m a good Republican, it’s actually the the people who are in power now who aren’t good Republicans, they’re the real counter revolutionaries.

[00:15:33] Suzanne Levin: And basically this. And this can be explained by in large part, as I said, these, these repeated instances of treason and you have the bit that keep being discovered kind of after the fact. So you have a very popular rebel revolutionary early on Mirabeau who was actually put into the he, he died in 1791 probably of natural causes. Although there were at the time. Anyways,

[00:16:00] Annie Sargent: And he was young, right? Like 40 something? He was pretty young. Yeah.

[00:16:05] Suzanne Levin: So but you know, apparently he has liver trouble, so, you know, it can before antibiotics, that’s the sort of thing that can, that can take you a pretty, pretty quickly. But in any case, so he was put in the new Panthéon, which was the, the church of , it was re re inaugurated as the Pantheon under the third Republic, you can still see it there.

[00:16:24] Suzanne Levin: And the idea is that they are going to. Illustrious men by burying them there. And now of course it’s illustrious women as well, but at the time that was kind of the notion. And so he was actually buried in the, in, in the Pantheon, or entombed , I guess, would be more, more of a term there’s, there’s no dirt down there, but in any case so yeah, and then they, and then they found out oh, well he was actually being paid off by the court to conspire against the revolution.

[00:16:52] Suzanne Levin: And maybe we don’t want to be honoring this guy as if that’s just one example upon that he talked about yeah. Some, some, some generals in that case. So they remove him from the Pantheon. And they’re, they’re kind of understandably on edge in a situation where, you know, it’s not really. It’s not really possible.

[00:17:10] Suzanne Levin: Once you get into a situation where you’re at war with all of Europe and part of part of France over, you know, whether the Republic is going to survive or not, it’s not really possible at that point to openly proclaim yourself royalist without having the the whole repressive apparatus fall immediately on you.

[00:17:28] Suzanne Levin: And so there’s understandably a, and kind of ironically of a fear of secret royalists that comes out of this, because of course, nobody’s going to say that they’re a royalist, right. And then, and then, and then you also have, you know, these very real cases that are, that are documented of people being in the pay of foreign courts, trying to corrupt the revolution from within.

[00:17:51] Suzanne Levin: And so I think really that’s largely. Largely where this idea comes from that you know, you have conspiracies against the revolution because some of them are, are very real. And the question is where do you draw the line? Because conspiracies are notoriously difficult to pindown, even for historians.

[00:18:10] Suzanne Levin: It’s, it’s very hard for us to know even to what extent any of these fears were founded. Sometimes we have very strong evidence. Sometimes we don’t, but even in cases where we don’t, you know, absence of evidence, isn’t evidence of absence. So you can, you can see where contemporaries in particular would have been would have been very unable to to, to distinguish.

[00:18:30] Suzanne Levin: And so so I think really that’s where this is coming from, and it’s important to note at the same time that this idea of like a culture of of conspiracy. Both as, as a real way of participating in politics and as something that the people are afraid of is something that is kind of inherited from the alternate regime.

[00:18:51] Suzanne Levin: Because remember that I mentioned last time. Under the Ancien Régime. Politics is really not something that you’re allowed to participate as a member of the public. You’re not allowed to participate in it. It’s the King’s private thing. So to the extent that anything happens politically there’s a lot of court intreague going on.

[00:19:09] Suzanne Levin: There is a lot of a lot going on behind the scenes that you can only guess as, as a member of the public. And I mean, I think that that’s like a culture that really continues on into into the revolution. And it’s, it’s not only the revolutionaries who were a little bit paranoid about conspiracies.

[00:19:24] Suzanne Levin: You got these theories coming out of the counter revolution, but the revolution itself is the result of a conspiracy. And that’s where you get these ideas about, oh, as the Freemasons all of this. So, so, so you have this kind of broader culture of fear of conspiracy. You have very real conspiracies, and then you have at the same time, this notion of we need to remain a united front of Republicans against against this onslaught of monarchical.

[00:19:52] Suzanne Levin: Counterrevolution both in the terms of these foreign armies and foreign courts. And in, in the sense that we’re dealing with civil war and given that I think it was, it was very easy for people at a certain point, you have notably the fall of the, the factions in the beginning of 1794.

[00:20:09] Suzanne Levin: So this is year two now of the Republican calendar, if they’ve adopted in the meantime which I would, I would, I would love to get into as well, but I’m sure that time, time is limited in any case. So, so you have these these factions that basically on the one hand you have the indulgence around Denton and sometimes called the dentonistes because of, of that.

[00:20:31] Suzanne Levin: And their idea is basically we need to put an end to all repressive measures and we need to make. Immediately with all of our neighbors. And this is the sort of thing that, that sounds really good on paper in practice would have been a lot more complicated. First of all, in the, in the case of making peace France was very much not winning the war at this point.

[00:20:51] Suzanne Levin: So you have to ask the question of what kinds of concessions would these powers have demanded of revolutionary France. And that’s, you know, where it gets a little bit, a little bit dicey. But so you have, you have the the indulgence on the one hand and then you have the ultras or the hébertistes around the journalists Hébert on the other hand saying, no, we need to go further with all these repressive measures. We need to go further as well. With the influence of the democratic sections of, of of Paris and protect. Because basically larger cities were divided into intersections, but every, every town in France, even the smallest village had its primary assembly which was basically a forum for any, any citizen to, to discuss politics, to petition the convention to to try to, to try to influence both local and national politics.

[00:21:43] Suzanne Levin: And there were some saying, you know, we’re in the middle of a war. We need to limit that influence to some extent, at least temporarily and others saying, no we’re trying to found a democratic Republic, so, you know, we want to extend it. And so and at the same time, They’re saying this, but they’re also saying, you know, we need to crack down even more on on counter-revolutionaries on aristocrats, which of course in this period is not just a synonym for Nobles.

[00:22:08] Suzanne Levin: It’s basically anybody who supports the counter revolution, whether they’re noble or not can be referred to as an aristocrat. And so basically what happened was that the convention and notably the convention, basically very I should,

[00:22:23] Suzanne Levin: I should maybe back up a little bit and say that one of the very unique things about about this period, one of the unique things about this period is that. Not so much that there’s repression. But that the repression and indeed every other aspect of politics is being led by the legislature. They’re not giving up power to the executive. There’s no president or king or executive, there is an executive council, but it’s kept strictly subordinate the legislature in, in keeping with the principles that the revolutionaries held you, which was that, you know, the law is the voice of the people.

[00:22:58] Suzanne Levin: It’s the expression of popular sovereignty. Whereas the executive should not be making independent decisions. It just exists to execute that decision. So we’re not seeing, we’re not seeing military power, we’re not seeing an increase in the prerogatives of the executive, which is exactly the opposite of what you see in every other period of war and, and crisis, at least every other one that, that I can think of.

[00:23:19] Suzanne Levin: And this is not a new point. By the way, this is a point that the historian Albert Mattié had already made you know, during a world war one comparing how the repression during world war one happened versus versus the French revolution. But in any case, in any case, the the convention basically said, okay, so we need these extraordinary measures, but there’s still extraordinary measures that to some degree should follow revolutionary principles.

[00:23:47] Suzanne Levin: So for example, they establish a revolutionary tribunal, but the revolutionary tribunal does not copy the model of the Ancien Régime, where justice is secret and you can’t have a defender and there’s no jury and et cetera. So they have a jury there’s a defense and there’s things. Yeah. So, so it, it’s, it’s an extraordinary jurisdiction to be sure.

[00:24:10] Suzanne Levin: But they are not just, you know, Throwing all of their principles out the window while they’re doing this, they’re trying to reconcile. Okay. So there were some things that we need to compromise on a little bit, given the crisis situation, but there were some things we want to hold on to. And so one of those things was, again, the power of the, of the legislature over the other branches of government, notably over the military as well.

[00:24:32] Suzanne Levin: And so one of the things that they do is they create an institution called the representatives on mission. So basically what they do is they send deputies from the convention out into the provinces or to the armies to make sure that the law is being executed to, to keep the generals on their toes to ensure that the administrators are not revolting again.

[00:24:51] Suzanne Levin: And so that’s, that’s one thing that they do. And another thing that they do is give extraordinary powers to certain legislative committees the most famous. Of which are the comité de salut public, which is often or today always translated as the committee of public safety, even though it’s more like the committee of public salvation would be would be a more accurate descriptor.

[00:25:14] Suzanne Levin: And then the comité de sûreté générale, which is generally translated as the committee of general security. And that would actually be better translated as the committee of general safety. But in any case, the point is that the committee of general security deals with all of the directly repressive measures so everything dealing with arrests, everything, dealing with sending people before the revolutionary tribunal and so on and the committee of public safety deals with more general issues and notably issues related to the defense.

[00:25:48] Suzanne Levin: And these two committees work. Work together on a, on a number of, of high profile cases, including again, when we get into the, the factions that spring up at the end of 1793, that I already mentioned the dentonistes or the hébertistes or the indulgents and the ultras however you prefer to call them. But in any case, the revolutionary government at this point says, you know, both of these, both of these factions are equally harmful.

[00:26:17] Suzanne Levin: And so we really need to strike at both of them in order to, to get back on track toward winning this war and ultimately founding the Republic that we, that we all want. And so they arrest the major leaders of these factions and. Some of the the least but the least fair in principle trials of the revolution, they basically use, use the revolutionary tribunal to have them executed.

[00:26:43] Suzanne Levin: Right. And it’s it’s important to note as Marisa Linton has done that the revolutionary tribunal basically functions kind of à deux vitesses. There were, there were two different levels if you were a high profile politician going before the revolution, but the revolutionary tribunal, at least after Marat, who was acquitted by it early on, but that’s really another context.

[00:27:05] Suzanne Levin: Your basic, it’s basically a death sentence, but if you are most people, you actually have a better than average chance of being acquitted at least at least up until at least up until the law of Prairial, which which I’ll get to in a minute. And so. So basically from, from my perspective as a historian it’s, it’s not really my, I don’t really see it as my role to hand out judgements, you know, these historical figures are good and these historical figures are bad.

[00:27:32] Suzanne Levin: That, that said I definitely, I definitely view the fall of the factions as one of the bigger mistakes that that the revolutionary is made. I think that. Almost certainly only made things worse, both from a moral perspective and the perspective of posterity. And from a perspective of, you know, you you’ve got the head off of action, but then you have all the people who were behind it.

[00:27:55] Suzanne Levin: And they’re still there and it’s really their ideas that counts. Now that said there was a lot of, kind of simplistic readings of this, that say, for example someone like Camille Desmoulin, who is one of the major figures in, in the indulgent faction who wrote in his newspaper about again, wanting an end to the oppression, unlimited freedom of the press and and enter the war.

[00:28:19] Suzanne Levin: There’s kind of this notion that. If I think that it was a mistake to execute him, that that was something that, that was wrong to do morally tactically, whatever that, that must mean that I think that he was right. And I actually, I actually don’t. So I think that as I mentioned, trying to make peace under those circumstances, there’s no way that the Republic would have survived.

[00:28:42] Suzanne Levin: And many of the principles and reforms that the revolutionaries had been fighting for for years would have gone out the window. And so I absolutely don’t think that they could have just listened to, to I can’t even, I don’t think he was the voice of reason. However, I think it was a mistake to execute him over it, you know, you should be able to do to be wrong and not be executed.

[00:29:03] Suzanne Levin: So so you know, there so, so that’s, that’s a very specific kind of small piece of of what we Kind of talk about as the terror today more, more broadly things like the law of suspects which is actually a practice that goes further back than the the decree of, of the 17th of September, 1793, which is called the law of suspects.

[00:29:27] Suzanne Levin: But it’s basically the idea that as a safety measure you can have a certain category of people that, you know, you might want to keep an eye on and, or put under house arrest, or even in prison temporarily, at least in total war. And based on things that they may have said in the past, you know, they’re not or categories that they might belong to.

[00:29:45] Suzanne Levin: So if they are a family member of someone who’s immigrated, for example or if they. Are a family member of a refractory priests. So one of those priests who refused the the oath to to the nation and are by this point kind of associated with, with the counterrevolution because again, you know, in a situation of of civil war, when you’re telling people, you know, if you’re for the revolution, you’re going to hell that that becomes a very political stance.

[00:30:10] Suzanne Levin: And so, so in any case so you have kind of this broader idea that, you know, there’s a certain there’s a certain category of people in the population that, you know, they haven’t done anything wrong and they’re not being punished, but, you know, as a precautionary measure we’re going to say, they’re, they’re called suspects and we’re going to potentially in prison a number of them.

[00:30:33] Suzanne Levin: So you have that going on. You also have the. Executions I’m following following the various repression of pockets of, of civil war. And and of course you have the revolutionary tribunal in Paris. And so that’s kind of the broad the broad strokes of what we kind of think of as the as the terror, although to kind of put this in perspective because a lot of people kind of get the impression that you know, they wiped out like a majority of the population, or at least the majority of the aristocrats, which is definitely, definitely very, very far from the case in terms of

[00:31:07] Annie Sargent: What I’ve heard is 40,000 altogether.

[00:31:10] Suzanne Levin: Yeah. So, so 40,000 is including like all of the repression of, of all of the different areas of, of of civil war with the exception, with the exception of the Vendée, which, you know, you get into all kinds of. Problems calculating numbers there because you know, you have on the one hand, people who are trying to, to extrapolate and and kind of guests, basically how many, how many people may have been executed there?

[00:31:37] Suzanne Levin: You also have people using what comparisons of populations, which really doesn’t work because, you know, sometimes somebody isn’t in a given region anymore because they left, especially in a case of civil war, there were a lot of refugees. So, so in any case, so 40,000 is the common number that is but it’s still used, but that’s based on.

[00:31:55] Suzanne Levin: That’s based on Donald Greer’s book from, I believe the 1920s. So it’s getting a little bit, a little bit long in the tooth. I think somebody really needs to tackle this particular dossier and bring it up to date. Those numbers still hold off. But in any case what I realized when I was doing my doctoral research, cause I I researched a representative on mission.

[00:32:19] Suzanne Levin: So one of those deputies that was sent to the provinces on the armies is that, you know, in terms of proportions, even when we’re talking about the suspects and I, by no means. I mean to, to defend this kind of measure, but we’re looking at even in like a really difficult departments, like the Morbihan in Brittany where they are dealing with regular regular uprisings, we’re still dealing with somewhere between a half of a percent and 1% of the population who is imprisoned as a suspect, which is, you know, don’t get me wrong.

[00:32:52] Suzanne Levin: It’s, it’s, it’s a lot. But when you put that in the perspective of say the total number of people who are in prison in in the United States today, you know, when there isn’t a crisis situation and, you know, you might say, you might say, you know, well that that’s, that just goes to show, you know, that they’re, there are major.

[00:33:12] Suzanne Levin: You know justice reforms that need to happen in the, in the U S more than anything else. But, but in any case, it does kind of put it in some kind of in some kind of perspective in, in any case where we really get this idea that, you know, there was the terror as in like, you know, One person decided to declare themselves dictator and then chopped a bunch of heads off that is a myth that was actually invented as we talked about in the other podcast that was actually invented at a very particular moment of the revolution.

[00:33:44] Suzanne Levin: So you have this figure of a Robespierre who is a very well a very well-known revolutionary, although I would not go so far as to say that he’s, you know, the incarnation of the revolution as some people do. I think that that’s kind of an absurd notion that like one, one person incarnates this like massive historical event that that is, is a mass movement.

[00:34:03] Suzanne Levin: But but in any case, so he is somebody who’s a provincial lawyer. He is elected as a deputy to the. Too, from the third estate to the estates general. And he is one of the biggest proponents of of democracy, of universal suffrage, at least universal male suffrage and the full realization of the principles of the declaration of rights under the constituent assembly.

[00:34:26] Suzanne Levin: And then he gains this massive popularity from this. He’s not the only one. Of course. But certainly this is aided by the fact that he gives a lot of a lot of speeches. He really puts himself out there and he always refers back to these principles. So he becomes this very, this very popular figure.

[00:34:45] Suzanne Levin: Right. He was actually the one who said in the, in the constituent assembly, you know, members of this assembly should not be allowed to be a member of the next legislature. So that’s basically the one piece of legislation that he actually manages to pass. So he can’t be elected to the following legislature.

[00:35:01] Suzanne Levin: So he you know, he has a newspaper he’s kind of, you know, continuing to be involved in politics and debates under the legislative assembly, and then he’s elected to the convention and he remains this very, very popular figure. And of course, you know, he’s both loved and hated as often happens with these, with these kinds of cases.

[00:35:20] Suzanne Levin: And he he’s ultimately one of the members of the committee of public safety. He enters the committee at the end of July, 1793. And so for many people, because he’s the best. Of the members of the committee, even at the time, he becomes kind of the face of it. Even though he’s definitely not the person who signed the, the most, what they call arrêtés the most decisions of the, the committee nor is he even the main spokesperson, which is probably Barrère if we, if we think about it.

[00:35:49] Suzanne Levin: But in any case, he becomes kind of the face of the committee and he brought, he, he doesn’t have he doesn’t have any more official power than anyone else, but he does have a lot of influence. And so a number of his colleagues notably become afraid of this influence either because, you know, for principled reasons, they’re afraid of anybody having that kind of influence or because they have been involved in either excessive use of the repressive apparatus.

[00:36:15] Suzanne Levin: So, so basically you know particularly in, in the provinces. A lot of oversight immediately of the representatives on mission and some of them have used their power. And so, so they’re either involved in excessive use of force or in corruption and they’re afraid of, Robespierre for that reason because he has this reputation for incorruptibility.

[00:36:37] Suzanne Levin: And so basically what ends up happening is that there is this group of deputies other members of the committee of public safety members of the committee of general security, and then just other members of the convention who don’t really have anything in common, except the fact that they all hate and or fear Robespierre.

[00:36:54] Suzanne Levin: And so they ultimately they ultimately get together and they they have him arrested, they have his friends arrested and The, the interesting thing about this. I want to get this out of the way right away is anytime you have any kind of narrative about these events, it’s necessarily it’s necessarily going to be a little bit wrong, at least most likely.

[00:37:17] Suzanne Levin: And the reason for it is, is we don’t really have any immediate sources on it that are not wildly biased because in terms of, if you want to think about like the minutes of the assembly, for example, they were not recorded at the time. They were written down like a year later. So lots of, lots of time to to kind of mess with the official records.

[00:37:38] Suzanne Levin: And in terms of, in terms of like pamphlet literary, That comes out after Robespierre has already been executed which he, he will be following this. And so it’s naturally a very hostile to him and all of his friends and all of that. So say you have kind of the situation where you have this major event that we’re trying to reconstruct, but we don’t have very good tools with which to do it.

[00:38:02] Suzanne Levin: But the long story short, his friends are his friends are arrested, he’s arrested, they’re sent to separate prisons but the prisons refuse to take them in. And, you know, there’s all kinds of debates over whether the prisons refused to take them in because they were friendly to them or because they were hostile to them because you also have this idea that you can declare someone outside the law.

[00:38:26] Suzanne Levin: So if you declare someone an outlaw, you don’t need to give them a trial, you can just have them executed. So this is something, this is something that they. Came up with notably for some of the the brissotin leaders who subsequent to the failure of the, of the movements of, of revolts in the provinces you know, went on the run.

[00:38:44] Suzanne Levin: And so this is, this is something that they, they came up with to say, you know, we already know that you wed this movement of revolt. You know, this is something where you can, you can basically kill someone on site. And so this was not very widely used but it does become massively used with with Termidor on the reason it’s called Termidor it’s just the date in the revolutionary calendar of the ninth and 10th of Termidor. So the end of July 1794. And basically, so these prisons were refused to take. And so there they go to the the which they try, they, they kind of halfheartedly try to to stage an insurrection.

[00:39:19] Suzanne Levin: Again our sources on this are not very good. So the question is, did the reason that the insurrection not work, w was it just because they didn’t have enough support or was it because Robespierre and his friends were themselves hesitating over the legitimacy of attacking the convention? There’s a great deal of debate about that, notably because our sources are not good.

[00:39:39] Suzanne Levin: But in any case ultimately the convention sends troops to to repress this, this uprising Robespierre and his friends are rearrested and he, and his friends from the convention and the vast majority of the the municipality or Communeof Paris that took his side are all executed without trial..

[00:40:01] Suzanne Levin: Over the next three days. And then basically in the words of Ronislaw Washlow???. And I really sincerely apologize for the mispronunciation of, of his name. I do not speak Polish at all, but in any case, so famously he calls Termidor and events in search of a meaning basically. And that’s very much true because as I said, basically the only thing that people who were attacking Robespierre had in common was that for various reasons, they didn’t like Robespierre.

[00:40:31] Suzanne Levin: So immediately you have this question of, you know, what does this mean? Exactly. You know, we’ve, we’ve just executed one of the most popular revolutionaries, most, one of the most influential revolutionaries, what is the meaning of all of this? What, what can we kind of take from this? And there were there were definitely a number of people, you know, including among the ones who were.

[00:40:48] Suzanne Levin: Against Robespierre who we call thermidorians who, you know, just didn’t like Robespierre and kind of wanted things to continue going as, as they had been. And you know, didn’t necessarily didn’t necessarily even have that much in the way of political differences with, with Robespierre of a they wanted, they had a similar view of the Republic and how to, how to establish it.

[00:41:08] Suzanne Levin: And so on, they just kind of feared his personal power. But you also have people who, who kind of view this as an opportunity to to go back on kind of the more democratic and social reforms of the revolution and to say, okay, you know, this, this has been this has been chaos and our problem is not really, I mean, sure.

[00:41:30] Suzanne Levin: We’re going to frame it in terms of, you know, bloodshed and, and all of this, but that’s not really our problem. Our real problem is what they call the anarchy of the previous period. You know, everybody deliberating at once and you know, what we really need is stability and a Republic of property owners.

[00:41:47] Suzanne Levin: And this is a good, this is a good opportunity to arrive at that point because we can just kind of amalgamate everything that happened in the last year or so say that it was a system of terror that Robespierre care came up with all on his own. But the convention was just paralyzed in fear of him.

[00:42:03] Suzanne Levin: And that we can now agree to move on from to move on from this whole period and to say, you know, the, the democratic constitution that we wrote you know, this doesn’t happen immediately. Mentioned it happens over several months. But you know, th this democratic constitution that we wrote, you know, it goes too far, it’s too democratic.

[00:42:22] Suzanne Levin: We’re scrapping it. We’re going to limit, limit, voting rights again, make sure that, because I, I mean, I don’t want to make it sound as if there’s no sincerity at all in this kind of association between you know, repression and bloodshed and and democracy democratic participation and the idea of a certain, a certain limited amount of property redistribution with, as I mentioned, inheritance law and and also the sale of a church and noble property and small lots, that kind of thing.

[00:42:52] Suzanne Levin: So there, and also, you know, public welfare programs starting to come in, so there. I think some of them are sincere in their association between these two things. I don’t think it’s necessarily 100% a cynical manipulation, but certainly the idea that, you know, everything was, was the idea of is one person at he forced us into it.

[00:43:12] Suzanne Levin: And, you know, we should just, you know, bury this with him and we shouldn’t have to face any kind of repercussions. That was definitely a cynical move on, on the part of people like like Talien and and Fouchet were the ones who really came up with this myth of, you know instead of this just being like, you know, kind of an improvised response to foreign and civil war, that this was all, you know, this one person’s master plan, because he was not even actually a dictator, he was just a spy you’re aspiring to dictatorship.

[00:43:42] Suzanne Levin: Right. So, and, and this, this kind of becomes over time amalgamated into. You know, he wasn’t just aspiring to dictatorship. He definitely was a dictator. And you know, this is just everything was fine until one day, this one, this one person decided I’m going to be dictator and I’m going to have everyone disagrees with be executed.

[00:44:03] Suzanne Levin: And that’s really what I that comes from is, is initially people like. Like the representative on mission Tallien, who had some very shady dealings in, in Bordeaux you know and was somebody who was involved in some of the excesses of the repression there as a way for him to say no, no, it wasn’t me. It was this other guy.

[00:44:24] Suzanne Levin: And then later, later to say, okay, well, you know, we noticed that there were some, some more democratic reforms and some more kind of social reforms that happened in this period. And, you know, we don’t really want that. We want our revolution just, you know, for us and our interests as property owners. And if we can associate those reforms with with this idea of bloodshed and, and and terror then we can get rid of. everything with one in one fell swoop.

[00:44:51] Suzanne Levin: So, so basically, so that’s where you get the origins of this legend, but you can kind of ask yourself, you know, why, why did it stick, right? Why, why is this still the way that we think about this period? Why do we think about it as like this extraordinary. Violent, chaotic and horrible time period as opposed to like all other periods in history, like for example, you know, you can have a whole documentary on the court of Versailles and Louis XIV and never once mention the dragonnades were massacred Protestants or you know he’s a conquest of the flat or any of that, like that’s considered off topic, but you can’t mention any part of the revolution without people being like, but what about the terror? So how did, how do we get, how did we get to this point?

[00:45:36] Suzanne Levin: And honestly I think that it’s a narrative that was. Was very helpful for certain people at certain points. It was a way of saying, and this up to the present day, you know, don’t try to change society too radically because look what happens. It always ends badly. You know, it’s kind of used as a, as a scarecrow in that sense.

[00:45:57] Suzanne Levin: And I think it also just, it kind of seems plausible to people from the perspective of, you know, I can, I can believe that that somebody is too good to be true. You know, they say that they have these these ideals and that they and then they are really, you know, just power hungry.

[00:46:14] Suzanne Levin: Like that’s a, that’s a more that’s a more satisfying kind of story that, that kind of fits into our ideas of, you know, there was this. Looked like they were someone like Robespierre who looked like they were you know, positive in favor of democracy and everything. And they turned out to be a monster or it got there, comeuppance.

[00:46:31] Suzanne Levin: And it’s very kind of like a Hollywood sort of, sort of, sort of the scenario. Yeah. And then, and then again, as I mentioned, you know, I think that people do have a lot of sympathy for, for the victims of the repression of this period, just because there are people whose stories we know a lot of the time, as I mentioned, active progression, you don’t know who they are.

[00:46:53] Suzanne Levin: You don’t, and it’s also kind of paradoxically, I think easier for people to. To kind of the, the upper echelons of the society, because I think it’s hard for most people to relate to like an illiterate peasants. That’s not like your life and your experience. And so even if, you know, that’s, you know, most of our ancestors and not, you know, like the the, the king and queen and aristocracy, I think that there is, there’s kind of that idea as well.

[00:47:19] Suzanne Levin: And then of course, you know, I don’t want to deny that there is our reality to to this repression. I’m absolutely not saying, you know, it was sunshine and roses, you know, the greatest period ever, but but the idea of yang that there was, there was good and bad in it, you know, there. There were these major reforms that finally got through some of which, you know, are still kind of our horizon for us today that we can kind of think of, you know, these are things that, that got started that, that never have gotten finished others, which were ahead of their time in the sense that they, you know, ultimately came to fruition and in the course of the 20th century and you know others of which, you know, we’re, we’re actually.

[00:48:00] Suzanne Levin: Durable from the beginning, like with the overthrow of the feudal system that doesn’t, that doesn’t come back. So definitely. Yeah.

[00:48:08] Annie Sargent: Oh, you’re an optimistic American. Even when you look at the French revolution, you’re still an optimistic American. You, you see the good in it.

[00:48:16] Suzanne Levin: Yeah, so, I mean, I guess I don’t really, I don’t really see the point in saying, you know there’s a good revolution and a bad revolutions.

[00:48:23] Suzanne Levin: This is a revolution, that’s a failure. And therefore there’s nothing we can take from it, except don’t do that. You know, especially since we sometimes get into this idea of, you know, you can either have good gradual reform or bad, violent revolution, but in reality, it doesn’t work that way. You know, the revolutionaries started asking some reforms and by the time you’re like wrapped up in a revolution, you can’t put it back in the bottle, you know, it’s like,

[00:48:48] Annie Sargent: Well, Napoleon put a few things back in the bottle, but not most of it. So, you know. Yeah.

[00:48:56] Suzanne Levin: Yeah. And I mean, in, in terms of, by the time you get to Bonaparte, I with, unfortunately I’ve done the thing that everybody always does. That’s kind of ignored the Directoire. Some some sometime sometime I’ll have to prioritize talking about that because that’s also a very interesting period.

[00:49:12] Annie Sargent: I did that on a different episode because it is interesting. It is very interesting what led, because you think it’s a step back, you know, and then you, you think that with Napoleon the third, when they finally gave the vote to every male in the country who did they pick?. Napoleon the third, you know, they picked a royalist. And so yeah, French people are very ambivalent when it comes to these things. They want, they say they want the saying, but eh, maybe they don’t entirely want that thing.

[00:49:46] Suzanne Levin: Yeah, no, it’s definitely, it’s definitely complicated. And you know, the ways in which the, the countryside notably became a much more conservative in the 19th century as, as a whole other, a whole other fandom.

[00:49:57] Annie Sargent: Right, right. Anyway, fascinating stuff. Thank you so much for talking to me. It was really, really interesting. Is, did you ever, have you written a book about this yet?

[00:50:08] Annie Sargent: So you’re very very, welcome. To start with I actually have my first book coming out, which is from my thesis, so on this representative omission very shortly.

[00:50:17] Suzanne Levin: So that is unfortunately in French, I, I’ve only written one article in English up to this point, actually. Ironically

[00:50:25] Annie Sargent: I would love to have a link to it, so, so people can read it because there are some of my listeners are really a very big history is history gate geeks. So they might want to read all of that stuff, even in French. It’s fascinating.

[00:50:42] Suzanne Levin: Oh yeah, for sure. I will, I will definitely give you a link once that becomes available. It’s going to be coming out next year with metal. And so it’s on. On prelim, Maryland, who is someone that no one has heard us, but you know, as a case study. So it talks about a lot of the themes that we touched on today.

[00:51:01] Annie Sargent: Right. All right. Well, thank you very much, Suzanne, and I wish you a great time in Italy where you’re going next. And thank you again for coming on the podcast because every now and then it’s good to get some real you know, meaty topic. One, one last question though, if you want it to see revolutionary things in Paris, the one place you would go,

[00:51:25] Suzanne Levin: oh, definitely the one place I would go in Paris would be the Musée Carnavalet, which actually recently reopened.

[00:51:32] Suzanne Levin: So you now have the offer here, need the opportunity to do that.

[00:51:36] Suzanne Levin: Excellent. Thank you very much.

[00:51:40] Suzanne Levin: Thank you.

[00:51:40] Suzanne Levin: Au revoir !

[00:51:43] Suzanne Levin: Au revoir !

[00:51:44] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for supporting the show and giving back patrons, get several exclusive rewards for doing so you can see them at patrien.com/joinus, pat, our. Thank you all for supporting the show. Some of you have been doing it for a long time, and I really appreciate that. And a shout out this week to new patrons, Sandra Hendricks and Jacob Owen.

[00:52:09] Annie Sargent: Thank you so much for becoming patrons and making this podcast possible. My thanks also to Anne Hubbell and Sarah Lewis for sending in a one-time donation by using the green button on any page on join us in france.com that says, tip your guide up. Sarah wrote Merry Christmas. I wanted to tip my guide since I’m asking so many questions in the Facebook group.

[00:52:33] Annie Sargent: Thank you. Thank you. You’re very kind. Yeah. I mean, I enjoy answering the questions, but it’s very kind of you to think about that. Let’s go directly to the French expression of the week “il pédale dans la semoule” or “elle pédale dans la semoule” or “je pédale dans la semoule”

[00:52:52] Annie Sargent: let’s break it down. pédaler is to pedal and la semoule is semolina. So imagine someone peddling in a pool of semolina, this person is getting exhausted and going nowhere in English. You’d probably say this person is going around in circles, but in French, we have to imagine this poor person peddling in semolina, which I hope is not going to happen to any of us.

[00:53:19] Annie Sargent: This week in French news. Well, now France used to be on level three. As far as the us department of state was concerned, level three was reconsidered travel and we’re now on level four, do not. Mind you I’m told that all us states are also on level four, so they just don’t want us to travel, which, Hey, it makes sense.

[00:53:43] Annie Sargent: The way I look at it is if you have a trip booked come anyway, because vaccine coverage is still higher in France than in the U S mask compliance is still higher. We have the health pass, even if not enough restaurants check it. In my opinion, hospitals in France are not overwhelmed except in a few towns where you guessed it.

[00:54:05] Annie Sargent: Vaccination rates are lower than average. Overall conditions are not more dangerous in France. And in the U S even though we are experiencing a fifth wave of COVID, it’s still the Delta variant that is sending unvaccinated people to the hospital time will tell what the omicron variant will do, and to see the granular detail of how things are evolving in France.

[00:54:31] Annie Sargent: Go to COVID tracker dot F R will this change anything on the ground in France? No France is not going to shut down because the state department raised the level two four nightclubs have been mandated to close until after the holidays. But that’s the only thing that’s closing. There are new rules and testing regiments for school kids, but that’s, shouldn’t change your travel plans.

[00:55:00] Annie Sargent: So restaurants, cafes, hotels, museums, they’re all open and that’s not going to change. I mean, never say never, you know, this is a pandemic, but I am confident that President Macron and his government want to keep things as open as possible. Given the fact that we have plenty of vaccine, the number of shots administered week to week in France is up by 82% and more vaccination centers are opening every day.

[00:55:26] Annie Sargent: So if you’ve booked already just come, but if you have not booked anything, just wait for now. You know, let the holidays pass and revisit later. My family and I we’ve booked a trip to the us to spend Christmas with family. And I’m really, really looking forward to it. I don’t look forward to the flight, but I never look forward to the flight, but you know, that’s really the only part that worries me.

[00:55:53] Annie Sargent: We bought the best travel insurance that money can buy. We’re well-prepared we’re triple Vaxxed we’ll be careful, but we’re going. It’s a risk, but it’s a managed risk. So the next COVID update from me will be on January 9th, but the podcast will continue to come out every Sunday during the holidays because you know, I’m very lucky.

[00:56:15] Annie Sargent: I have Elyse and various guests who love talking about France and they come on the podcast. And so I can, I can release those, but you have to wait until January 9th for more time. Specific information. And for the end of this year, I would like to ask you to do me a big favor. I would love to pick your brain as to what I can do to make the podcast more interesting.

[00:56:41] Annie Sargent: Are there things that I’m doing too much things I’m not doing enough? You know, I don’t ask for a lot of feedback. I mean, I do get feedback from people, but usually people tell me, oh, I love it. Thank you so much. Whatever it is, very vague like that. If you have specific recommendations, I would love to read them send your feedback to annie@joinusinfrance.com.

[00:57:04] Annie Sargent: And I would love to talk to you about about this and pick your brains about this, because I’m sure if you listened to this podcast, you probably listened to other podcasts and you probably have some good ideas. Show notes for this episode are on join us in france.com/ 367, where you can see a recap of what we’ve discussed.

[00:57:24] Annie Sargent: And it was a lot of history this week. And if you enjoy the show, introduce a friend to the podcast and tell them how you listen and why you listen and what you enjoy about this podcast next week on the podcast, an episode about how to best enjoy the Christmas season in Paris. These are the places that are incontournables in Paris and incontournable meaning it’s a must-see. You must go there. It’s it’s, that’s where the stuff happens. And so we list them all in a next week’s episode. And maybe you’re not coming to Paris this year for Christmas. Hopefully you’ll do it someday. Send questions or feedback to Annie and join us in france.com. Thank you so much for listening and I hope you join me next time.

[00:58:10] Annie Sargent: So we can look around France together. Au revoir ! The join us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2021. By addicted to France. It is released under a creative commons attribution. Non-commercial no derivatives license. .

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Category: French History