The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/On the Situation in France (Cambon)

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2473590The World's Famous Orations (Volume 7: Continental Europe) — On the Situation in FrancePierre-Joseph Cambon




Born in 1754, died in 1820; elected to the Assembly in 1791, to the. Convention in 1792, and a member of the Committee of Public Safety in 1793; the greatest financier of the Revolution.

The Committee of Public Safety charged me to apprise you yesterday of the condition of the Republic at the time of its establishment and of its actual condition, as well as to give you a summary of the operations it has conducted. I have just finished this task.

I will first remind you that, at the period of the establishment of the committee, the Republic was betrayed. Dumouriez had disorganized the army of the North and the Ardennes, and there remained but about two thousand five hundred men in the garrisons of that whole frontier; the forts lacked provisions and munitions to sustain a siege, and this perfidious general, after having delivered to the Austrians the stores and arms for a considerable sum, would also have delivered up the fortifications without defense, or have seized them with the armies of the Republic.

You know that this general abandoned at Liege 10,000 guns and 20,000 to 25,000 uniforms, which he had stored for the benefit of our enemies, while the soldiers of the Republic were in need of them; and to draw them over to his side, he made this hall ring with his hypocritical plaints of the destitution of the army, for the purpose of casting the blame upon this Convention.

The armies of the Rhine and the Moselle were obliged to retire and to abandon the vicinity of Mayence. They fell back in points along the frontier, and were in a sort of disorganization — the inevitable result of a forced retreat.

The Spaniards attacked on the side of Bayonne and Perpignan; the armies of the Eastern and Western Pyrenees, of which we had heard so much, and which we were constantly told were on the point of organizing, were totally destitute. They needed generals, there were no field guns, almost no carriages for their siege guns, almost no stores or food, and few soldiers.

The commissioners, Isnard, Aubry, and Despinassy, whom you sent to Perpignan, made you a very reassuring report on the condition of that frontier; nevertheless the representatives of the people, who were there at the time of the first invasion of the Spaniards, write you that it was totally abandoned; that the forts were nearly all dismantled; that most of the cannon found in the works were without mounts; that there were almost no stores, and that they were unprovided with food.

As to our situation in the interior, fanaticism had raised armies in la Vendée, in la Loire Inférieure and adjoining departments; several cities, forts and islands were in the power of the rebels. It was hoped, at first, that the courage of the Republicans would strangle this rebellion in its birth; and it being impossible to send disciplined troops there — only forces raised by local requisition and some small bodies of paid troops, unfortunately intrigues of which you are aware cooled the public spirit in part of the departments. The citizens did not show the energy necessary to combat fanaticism, which has an energy of its own; the bravery of the soldiers was not seconded or else was paralyzed by perfidious chiefs; we lost arms, cannon, and munitions, which were used against ourselves.

At the same time we had to defend the Brest and Cherbourg coast. There were but a few scattered troops in the garrisons; on the coasts of Brittany, where revolts had broken out, there were hardly 5,000 paid troops — an insufficient number for the crews of the ships of the line.

The coasts and seaports of the Republic were not in a reassuring state of defense. Everywhere calls were made for cannon, mounts, and men to defend the redoubts; but little activity was displayed in fitting out the fleets of the Republic; the ports of Brest, Rochefort, and Lorient had but six vessels of the line fit to put to sea, and the Mediterranean fleet was undergoing repairs at Toulon.

You had one hundred and seventy representatives of the people in the departments to excite the patriotism of the citizens for the enlistment of 300,000 men, or on various missions of superintendence; but one of the maneuvers of the enemy was to calumniate them in order to block the success of their operations. Nothing was left undone to decry them, to discredit their authority, and to create enemies for them; everywhere a word was used which has since become a party name: they were called "Maratists"[2] — a name invented by our enemies to decry the most energetic patriots. It was said that the "Maratists" were assassins, partizans of the agrarian laws and of royalty for the Duke of Orleans. Soon the same epithet was applied to a portion of this Assembly.

Such was the condition of the Republic when the Committee of Public Safety was organized.

  1. From a speech in the Convention on July 11, 1793. Translated by Scott Robinson for this edition from the text as given by Stephens. This speech was technically a report from Cambon and Danton, members of the Committee of Public Safety, who had been rejected at the election of the new committee, in which Robespierre became the dominant figure, and which ruled France for the next year with a despotic and bloody hand.
  2. From Marat, who was assassinated two days after this speech was delivered.

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