1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Couthon, Georges

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COUTHON, GEORGES (1755–1794), French revolutionist, was born at Orcet, a village in the district of Clermont in Auvergne. He studied law, and was admitted advocate at Clermont in 1785. At this period he was noted for his integrity, gentle-heartedness and charitable disposition. His health was feeble and both legs were paralysed. In 1787 he was a member of the provincial assembly of Auvergne. On the outbreak of the Revolution Couthon, who was now a member of the municipality of Clermont-Ferrand, published his L’Aristocrate converti, in which he revealed himself as a liberal and a champion of constitutional monarchy. He became very popular, was appointed president of the tribunal of the town of Clermont in 1791, and in September of the same year was elected deputy to the Legislative Assembly. His views had meanwhile been embittered by the attempted flight of Louis XVI., and he distinguished himself now by his hostility to the king. A visit to Flanders for the sake of his health brought him into close intercourse and sympathy with Dumouriez. In September 1792 Couthon was elected member of the National Convention, and at the trial of the king voted for the sentence of death without appeal. He hesitated for a time as to which party he should join, but finally decided for that of Robespierre, with whom he had many opinions in common, especially in matters of religion. He was the first to demand the arrest of the proscribed Girondists. On the 30th of May 1793 he became a member of the Committee of Public Safety, and in August was sent as one of the commissioners of the Convention attached to the army before Lyons. Impatient at the slow progress made by the besieging force, he decreed a levée en masse in the department of Puy-de-Dôme, collected an army of 60,000 men, and himself led them to Lyons. When the city was taken, on the 9th of October 1793, although the Convention ordered its destruction, Couthon did not carry out the decree, and showed moderation in the punishment of the rebels. The Republican atrocities began only after Couthon was replaced, on the 3rd of November 1793, by Collot d’Herbois. Couthon returned to Paris, and on the 21st of December was elected president of the Convention. He contributed to the prosecution of the Hébertists, and was responsible for the law of the 22nd Prairial, which in the case of trials before the Revolutionary Tribunal deprived the accused of the aid of counsel or of witnesses or their defence, on the pretext of shortening the proceedings. During the crisis preceding the 9th Thermidor, Couthon showed considerable courage, giving up a journey to Auvergne in order, as he wrote, that he might either die or triumph with Robespierre and liberty. Arrested with Robespierre and Saint-Just, his colleagues in the triumvirate of the Terror, and subjected to indescribable sufferings and insults, he was taken to the scaffold on the same cart with Robespierre on the 28th of July 1794 (10th Thermidor).

See Fr. Mège, Correspondance de Couthon ... suivie de “l’Aristocrate converti,” comédie en deux actes de Couthon (Paris, 1872); and Nouveaux Documents sur Georges Couthon (Clermont-Ferrand, 1890); also F. A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention (Paris, 1885–1886), ii. 425–443.