1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cambon, Pierre Joseph

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CAMBON, PIERRE JOSEPH (1756–1820), French statesman, was the son of a wealthy cotton merchant at Montpellier. In 1785 his father retired, leaving the direction of the business to Pierre and his two brothers, but in 1788 Pierre turned aside to politics, and was sent by his fellow-citizens as deputy suppléant to Versailles, where he was little more than a spectator. In January 1790 he returned to Montpellier, was elected a member of the municipality, was one of the founders of the Jacobin club in that city, and on the flight of Louis XVI. in 1791, he drew up a petition to invite the Constituent Assembly to proclaim a republic,—the first in date of such petitions. Elected to the Legislative Assembly, Cambon became noted for his independence, his honesty and his ability in finance. He was the most active member of the committee of finance and was often charged to verify the state of the treasury. Nothing could be more false than the common opinion that as a financier his sole expedient was to multiply the emissions of assignats. His remarkable speech of the 24th of November 1791 is a convincing proof of his sagacity. In politics, while he held aloof from the clubs, and even from parties, he was an ardent defender of the new institutions. On the 9th of February 1792, he succeeded in having a law passed sequestrating the possessions of the émigrés, and demanded, though in vain, the deportation of refractory priests to French Guiana. He was the last president of the Legislative Assembly. Re-elected to the Convention, he opposed the pretensions of the Commune and the proposed grant of money to the municipality of Paris by the state. He denounced Marat’s placards as inciting to murder, summoned Danton to give an account of his ministry, watched carefully over the furnishing of military supplies, and was a strong opponent of Dumouriez, in spite of the general’s great popularity. Cambon then incurred the hatred of Robespierre by proposing the suppression of the pay to the clergy, which would have meant the separation of church and state. His authority grew steadily. On the 15th of December 1792 he got the Convention to adopt a proclamation to all nations in favour of a universal republic. In the trial of Louis XVI. he voted for his death, without appeal or postponement. He attempted to prevent the creation of the Revolutionary Tribunal, but when called to the first Committee of Public Safety he worked on it energetically to organize the armies. On the 3rd of February 1793 he had decreed the emission of 800 millions of assignats, for the expenses of the war. His courageous intervention in favour of the Girondists on the 2nd of June 1793 served Robespierre as a pretext to prevent his re-election to the Committee of Public Safety. But Cambon soon came to the conclusion that the security of France depended upon the triumph of the Mountain, and he did not hesitate to accord his active co-operation to the second committee. He took an active share in the various expedients of the government for stopping the depreciation of the assignats. He was responsible, especially, for the great operation known as the opening of the Grand Livre (August 24), which was designed to consolidate the public debt by cancelling the stock issued under various conditions prior to the Revolution, and issuing new stock of a uniform character, so that all fund-holders should hold stock of the revolutionary government and thus be interested in its stability. Each fund-holder was to be entered in the Great Book, or register of the public debt, for the amount due to him every year. The result of this measure was a rise in the face value of the assignats from 27% to 48% by the end of the year. In matters of finance Cambon was now supreme; but his independence, his hatred of dictatorship, his protests against the excesses of the Revolutionary Tribunal, won him Robespierre’s renewed suspicion, and on the 8th Thermidor Robespierre accused him of being anti-revolutionary and an aristocrat. Cambon’s proud and vehement reply was the signal of the resistance to Robespierre’s tyranny and the prelude to his fall. Cambon soon had reason to repent of that event, for he became one of those most violently attacked by the Thermidorian reaction. The royalist pamphlets and the journals of J. L. Tallien attacked him with fury as a former Montagnard. He was charged with being responsible for the discredit of the assignats, and even accused of malversations. On the 21st of February 1795 the project which he presented to withdraw four milliards of assignats from circulation, was rejected, and on the 3rd of April he was excluded from the committee of finance. On the 16th Germinal, Tallien procured a decree of accusation against him, but he was already in safety, taking refuge probably at Lausanne. In any case he does not seem to have remained in Paris, although in the riot of the 1st Prairial some of the insurgents proclaimed him mayor. The amnesty of the 4th Brumaire of the year IV. (the 5th of October 1795), permitted him to return to France, and he withdrew to his estate of Terral near Montpellier, where, during the White Terror, he had a narrow escape from an attempt upon his life. At first Cambon hoped to find in Bonaparte the saviour of the republic, but, deceived by the 18th Brumaire, he lived throughout the whole of the empire in peaceful seclusion. During the Hundred Days he was deputy for Hérault in the chamber of representatives, and pronounced himself strongly against the return of the Bourbons, and for religious freedom. Under the Restoration the “amnesty” law of 1816 condemned him as a regicide to exile, and he withdrew to Belgium, to St Jean-Ten-Noode, near Brussels, where he died on the 15th of February 1820.  (R. A.*) 

See Bornarel, Cambon (Paris).