The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/Invective Against Danton

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Born in 1757, died in 1794; elected to the Convention in 1792; served as a member of the Committee of Public Safety; became a chief promoter of the Reign of Terror; opposed Danton, securing his overthrow, and involved in the final downfall of Robespierre.

Danton, you have served the cause of tyranny. You were, it is true, opposed to Lafayette; but Mirabeau, Orleans, Dumouriez were also opposed to him. Dare you deny that you were sold to these three men, the most violent of conspirators against liberty? It was by the protection of Mirabeau that you were named administrator of the department of Paris, at a time when the electoral assembly was decidedly royalist. All the friends of Mirabeau openly boasted that they had shut your mouth. Moreover, as long as that frightful personage lived you remained silent. At that time you charged a rigid patriot in the course of a dinner that he would compromise the good cause by stepping aside from the path along which Barnave and Lameth, who abandoned the popular party, were moving.

Amid the first gleams of the Revolution you displayed a threatening attitude toward the court; you spoke against it with vehemence. Mirabeau, who meditated a change of dynasty, scented the price of your audacity and seized you. Thenceforward you strayed from rigid principles, and you were no longer spoken of until the massacre of the Champs de Mars. Then you supported, at the Jacobin Club, the motion of Laclos, which was a baleful pretext, paid for by the enemies of the people, for the unfurling of the red flag and an attempt at tyranny. The patriots who were not initiated in this conspiracy had ineffectually combated your sanguinary opinion. You were named with Brissot to draw up the petition of the Champs de Mars, and you both escaped the fury of Lafayette, who caused 2,000 patriots[2]to be massacred. Brissot went about peaceably after that in Paris; and you, you passed away happy hours at Arcis-sur-Aube — if a person who conspired against his country could be happy. Is not the calm of your retreat at Arcis-sur-Aube comprehensible? You, one of the authors of the petition; while of those who had signed it some were loaded with chains, others were massacred; Brissot and you, were you not objects of tyranny's gratitude since you were not objects of its hatred and terror?

What shall I say of your cowardly and constant abandonment of the public cause in the midst of crises, when you always took the part of retreat?

Mirabeau dead, you conspired with the Lameths and supported them. You remained neutral during the Legislative Assembly, and you held your peace during the sore struggle of the Jacobins against Brissot and the Girondist faction. At first you supported their opinion upon the war. Pressed afterward by the reproaches of the best citizens, you declared that you would observe the two parties, and you retired into silence. Allied with Brissot in the affair of the Champs de Mars you thereafter shared his tranquillity and his liberty-killing principles; then, given over entirely to this victorious party, you said of those who held aloof from it, that since they were alone in their opinion upon the war, and since they wished to ruin themselves, your friends and you must abandon them to their fate. But when you saw the storm of the tenth of August gathering, again you betook yourself to Arcis-sur-Aube. However, urged by shame and reproaches, and when you knew that the fall of tyranny was well prepared and inevitable, you returned to Paris on the 9th of August. You hid yourself during that terrible night. Your section, which had nominated you its president, long awaited you; they dragged you out of a shameful repose. You presided for an hour; you quitted the chair at the moment the tocsin sounded; at the same instant the satellites of tyranny entered and thrust the bayonet through the heart of him who had replaced you. You, you slept!

You detached yourself from the Mountain amid the dangers which it ran. You publicly claimed it as a merit not to have denounced Gensonné, Gaudet, and Brissot; you incessantly held out to them the olive branch, a pledge of your alliance with them against the people and strict republicans. The Girondists made a mock war against you; in order to force you to declare yourself it demanded a reckoning of you ; it accused you of ambition. Your far-sighted hypocrisy conciliated all, and contrived to maintain itself in the midst of parties, always ready to dissimulate before the strongest without offending the weakest. During stormy debates, your absence and your silence were commented on with indignation; you, you spoke of the country, of the delights of solitude and idleness, but you could quit your apathy to defend Dumouriez, Westermann, his boasted creature, and his accomplices, the generals.

You knew how to allay the wrath of the patriots; you represented our misfortunes as the result of the feebleness of our armies, and you turned attention from the treachery of the generals to occupy yourself with new levies of men. You were associated in the crimes of Lacroix, a long denounced conspirator of impure soul, with whom one could not be united save by the knot which binds conspirators. Lacroix was always more than suspected, hypocritical and perfidious: he has never spoken with good faith within these precincts; he had the audacity to praise Miranda and to propose the renewing of the Convention; his conduct with Dumouriez was the same as yours. Lacroix has often testified his hatred for the Jacobins. Whence came the pomp with which he was surrounded? But why recall so many horrors when your evident complicity with Orleans and Dumouriez in Belgium suffices for justice to smite you.

Unworthy citizen, you have plotted; false friend, you spoke evil two days ago of Desmoulins, an instrument whom you have lost, and you attributed shameful vices to him. Wicked man, you have compared public opinion to a woman of loose life; you have said that honor was absurd, that glory and posterity were a folly. These maxims were to conciliate you with the aristocracy; they were those of Catiline. If Fabre is innocent, if Orleans, if Dumouriez were innocent, then doubtless you are innocent. I have said too much: you shall answer to justice.[3]

  1. This attack on Danton was made in the " Report on the Conspiracy of the Dantonists," delivered by St. Just before the Convention on March 31, 1794, material for it having been furnished by Robespierre. Translated by Scott Robinson from the text given by Stephens. Thiers, in commenting on this speech, says St. Just urged against Danton "the falsest accusations, and distorted known facts in the most atrocious manner."
  2. Stephens remarks that this is "a gross exaggeration," only about three hundred persons being killed in the massacre of July 17, 1791
  3. Danton had been arrested the day before St. Just delivered this speech, which was intended as a justification for getting rid of him. He was executed six days later, April 5, 1794, prophesying that Robespierre himself would soon fall. On the twenty-eighth of the following July Robespierre and St. Just with others perished on the guillotine.

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