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Maximilien Robespierre

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Maximilien François Marie Odenthalius Jean-Baptiste Isidore de Robespierre (6 May 1758 – 28 July 1794) was a French politician and one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on perspective) leaders of the French Revolution. His supporters gave him the nickname of « l’Incorruptible » , "The Incorruptible". During the Terror, at which time he was a leading member of the Committee for Public Safety, he was regarded by many as a tyrant.

Early life

Maximilien Robespierre was born in Arras, the capital of the northern French province of Artois. Like other leaders of the French Revolution, Robespierre belonged to a bourgeois family. The eldest child of Maximilien Barthélémy François de Robespierre, a lawyer who worked for the Council of Artois, and of Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, the daughter of a brewer, Robespierre had two sisters, Charlotte and Henriette, and a brother, Augustin. Both Charlotte and Augustin were like him active participants in the politics of the their time.

When Robespierre was still a child his mother died in childbirth. The event led his father into depression and drinking. Robespierre’s father eventually abandoned his children, who were given to their close relatives. Maximilien and his brother Augustin were raised by their maternal grandfather, while the girls were educated by the paternal family.

In 1769, at the age of eleven, Maximilien obtained a scholarship at the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, thanks to a recommendation of the bishop of Arras. His classes included the study of the classic authors, as well as the philosophers of The Enlightenment, such as Montesquieu, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Among his classmates were Camille Desmoulins and Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron.

Early career

In 1781 Robespierre obtained a degree in law and returned to Arras, where he worked as a lawyer. He was appointed as a judge in the diocese of Arras, but he resigned from the post because of his opposition to capital punishment. As a lawyer, Robespierre distinguished himself in the defence of the less privileged.

The Estates-General

In 1789 Robespierre was elected deputy of the Third Estate of Artois to the meeting of the Estates-General in Paris, convened by the French King Louis XVI, an event regarded as the beginning of the French Revolution. He then served as a representative in the National Constituent Assembly (1789-1791), where the Constitution of France was drawn. He took part in the elaboration of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence. Robespierre had also become involved in the activities of the Jacobin Club (oficially named the Society of the Friends of the Constitution) and became its president in April 1790.

After the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly on 30 September 1791, Robespierre made a short visit to his home city, returning to Paris in November of the same year.

During the period of the Legislative Assembly (October 1791/September 1792), Robespierre presented his political positions at the Jacobin Club and became an opponent of the the Girondists. The Girondists were an important political faction at the Legislative Assembly, who supported the values of the Revolution, yet were not in favour of radical egalitarianism.

On his speeches at the Jacobin Club, Robespierre spoke against the war that Jacques-Pierre Brissot, a leader from the Girondist party, urged against Austria and other European nations as a means of spreading the values of the Revolution on the continent. Robespierre’s opposition to the war was based on his belief that the French army was not prepared for a war and that this war would ruin the finances of France. He also believe that it would lead to invasion of the country and serve the cause of the counterrevolutionaries.

On 14 April 1792 Robespierre resigned from the post of public prosecutor of Paris, to which he was elected in June 1791. Attacked by the supporters of Brissot, he founded in May 1792 a newspaper, Le Défenseur de la Constitution, to defend his political ideas.

Bibliography

  • James M. Thompson, Robespierre. Blackwell Publishers, 1988. ISBN 0-631-15504-X
  • Norman Hampson, The Life and Opinions of Maximilien Robespierre. Blackwell Pub, 1988. ISBN 0631162267