Both an idealist revolutionary and a bon vivant sensitive to the advantages of money, Georges danton has long been opposed to Robespierre the virtuous, described as cold and psychorigid. True force of nature, with a face of powerful ugliness that made him nickname the Mirabeau de la canaille, Danton found in the French Revolution the opportunity to develop his energetic temperament and quickly established himself as a popular tribune. Considered the savior of revolutionary France threatened by European monarchies, he animated the patriotic resistance at the head of the government. Overwhelmed by the excesses of the Terror and accused of corruption, he will call for reason and reconciliation but will lose his final duel against Robespierre.
Danton, tribune of the Revolution
Georges Jacques Danton, born October 26, 1759, is the son of a prosecutor from the Bailiwick of Arcis sur Aube. A pupil of the Oratorians of Troyes then a law student in Paris, lawyer at the King's Council (1787), nothing foreshadows in Danton, so close to the summits of the Ancien Régime, a revolutionary commitment. However, as early as July 1789, the lawyer became politically involved and skillfully harangued the Parisian crowd. During the days of October, he calls on his district, that of the Cordeliers, to take up arms. Having become president of the Cordeliers club, which he founded in May 1790, he steadily gained in popularity, notably thanks to his qualities as a speaker.
After the king's flight to Varennes and the shooting at Champ-de-Mars (June-July 1791), the repression against fraternal societies and Danton's predilection for a unicameral constitutional monarchy forced him to go into exile in Grande- Brittany. Returning to France the following fall, he took on the post of administrator of the Seine department. After reselling his position as a lawyer (which provided him with a good income), he became more and more involved in politics. Obtained at the end of 1791, the status of second deputy prosecutor of the Paris Commune is an important political promotion for the one who asserts himself as the rising figure of the Jacobins - to which the Cordeliers are affiliated.
At the head of the revolutionary government
Its role in the preparation of the day of August 10, 1792 which marks the end of the monarchy remains rather obscure. To believe it, it was considerable. The day after the event, Danton joined the Executive Council. Minister of Justice, he was a true head of government. Keeping his cool in the onset of panic caused by the Prussian invasion of Champagne, he rekindled the energies. In a famous speech to the Legislative Assembly on September 2, 1792, he passionately called for the organization of the defense of Paris and France: "... daring, more daring, always daring ... ”.
The battle of Valmy (September 20) removed the threat and marked the Republic's first victory. However, he allows the September massacres (which he has long been accused of instigating) to be carried out. Yet it was the same man who then affirmed his unwavering attachment to freedom of thought and expression.
Elected deputy of Paris to the Convention in September 1792, he would have liked to maintain the collaboration between Girondins and Montagnards, but the distrust of the chiefs of the Gironde in him, in particular of Mme Roland, threw him back towards the Mountain. However, he does not share its extremism, except on the issue of National Defense. Despite his moderation, he voted for the death of King Louis XVI in January 1793. The same month, he decided at the Convention for an annexation of Belgium, invoking the theory of “natural borders”.
Between terror and conciliation
Attacked by the Gironde, which denounced him, not without reasons, as a concussionnary minister, he had to rely more and more on the Montagnards, although he was already in favor of compromise measures and the search for a solution. negotiated peace. It was he who made decide the creation of the Committee of Public Safety (April 6, 1793), of which he was, until July, the de facto president. He took no active part in the elimination of the Girondins, but let it happen, as in September 1792. In reality, he tried to delay the time of revolutionary government, going so far as to demand the abolition of the surveillance committees and was making secret overtures to the English Foreign Minister, Lord Grenville.
Danton then enjoys the same notoriety as Maximilien de Robespierre. But he suffers from the fact that he does not know, at the head of the Committee of Public Safety, to establish a policy allowing to muzzle the counter-revolutionaries. The Convention blames him, among other things, for not having been able to prevent the betrayal of Dumouriez despite the investigation with which he was charged in November 1792. As for his fellow Jacobins, they blame him for his image of a bon vivant inclined to enrich himself. , a quirk contrary to the idealization of revolutionary "virtue".
Danton's last fight
On July 10, 1793, Danton was eliminated from the Committee of Public Safety, which Robespierre entered. Enriched by the Revolution, remarried after a few months of widowhood with a young girl of seventeen, he moved away from politics for a time, which greatly affected his popularity. When he returned to the Convention (November 1793), he was opposed, like Robespierre, to the policy of de-Christianization launched by the extremists, but he himself aspired to the end of the Terror and to the application of the Constitution of 1793. He advocates the return to a normal government, based on the broadest layers of the bourgeoisie, guaranteed to survive thanks to the victories won at the borders by the revolutionary years at the end of the year 1793.
With his friends, especially Camille Desmoulins, who launched his club Le Vieux Cordelier, Danton launched a campaign in favor of clemency. But the Jacobins resumed the attacks against his political amorality, launched a few months earlier by the Girondins. The Dantonists, denounced as the "Indulgents" faction, were slaughtered just six days after the execution of the opposing Hebertist faction. During the night of March 29 to 30, 1794, Danton was arrested as well as his friends, among others Desmoulins, Hérault de Séchelles, Fabre d´Églantine. Before the Revolutionary Tribunal, where he was brought on April 2, he defended himself with such energy that the Convention, fearing that his eloquence would overthrow the crowd, hastily voted a decree allowing to judge outside the debates any accused who would insult justice People. Without being able to make himself heard, he was therefore condemned to death and executed on April 5, 1794. “You will show my head to the people,” he said to the executioner, “it is worth it. "
- Danton: The giant of the Revolution, by David Lawday. Albin Michel, 2012.
- Danton - The Myth and History, by Michel Biard. Armand Colin, 2016.
- When Robespierre and Danton invented France, by André Stil. Grasset, 1988.