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Twelve Who Ruled : The Year of the Terror in…

Twelve Who Ruled : The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution (1941)

by R. R. Palmer

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285461,072 (3.96)4
A reissue of a 1940 study of the twelve men appointed to the Committee of Public Safety in France in 1793 and their attempts to govern the country throughout a year of revolution, war, civil unrest, and foreign invasion.
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This is an excellent account by a premiere twentieth-century historian. ( )
  AlanEJohnson | Aug 27, 2014 |
For two years after the French revolution, France was ruled by a committee of twelve men. At the time of their ascent to power, France was in chaos, its ports closed by the British and foreign armies were driving toward its borders. The "Committee of Public Safety" as it was known, realized that if they failed in their mission to stabilize France, they would be treated as murderers of their king and destroy ers of the few democratic gains that had been accomplished by that time. As we shall see, the term
"democracy" was used very loosely indeed. R. R. Palmer recounts the events of "The Year of Terror" in Twelve Who Ruled.This book was finished in 1941, and it contains oblique (but not opaque) references to invading armies and the dangers of totalitarianism. The twelve were an interesting combination. Robespierre, a lonely bachelor and idealist, who was against capital punishment, fell under the guillotine. Carnot was a mathematical genius, former army officer and engineer. He became a revolutionary because advancement in the army was limited to aristocrats. Barere, like Robespierre a lawyer, was a shifty politician who believed in public participation in government. Saint-Just was the enfant-terrible of the revolution, originally a playboy, but eventually rising to become a dedicated and principled leader.

Saint-Andre was a Protestant minister (before 1787 it had been illegal to be a Protestant) and former ship captain who believed in secular control of religion because religious fervor too often conflicted with public order. Billan-Varenne was a self-educated lawyer and committed anti-Catholic who wanted to confiscate all church property and made good use of the guillotine. He was totally intolerant of others' viewpoints. The sullen Callot was the only one of the twelve not established in a profession. As an actor (considered social outcasts during the 18th century,) he craved recognition. Herault de Sechells was the only nobleman on the Committee, completely amoral and an egoist. Of the other three, Lindet, Pierre- Louis Prieur and Claude-Antoine Prieur (no relation,) not much is known. The peasantry, which comprised 4/5ths of the population, was not represented. None of the twelve had ever done manual labor, all were fairly well-off and except for Herault, were members of the middle class; provincials who knew nothing of the city proletariat. Why should this group lead the revolution and terror? Palmer's explanation is that all were intellectuals, steeped in philosophy, but ensnared in a middle class with no place to go. The aristocracy despised them and placed numerous artificial barriers in their paths. The church was corrupt, badly in need of reform, and had lost all moral and intellectual leadership.

The Committee longed for a simpler more natural form of government and religion. They detested compromise, tolerated no free discussion, even among themselves. Ironically they did not start the revolution but stepped into the vacuum it created. It is paradoxical that the French, who tried so hard to recreate the American Revolution, and who fervently believed in Constitutional government, feared factions and divisive thought. Robespierre's statement of 5 Nivose -- they had invented their own calendar based on the metric system which was mandatory but virtually ignored -- was a dramatic statement of the philosophy of dictatorship and an attempt to suppress factions. He should have read James Madison more thoroughly. Madison believed factions were an essential component of the defense against tyranny. Robespierre wanted to save the people from themselves. For him factionalism was synonymous with treasonable conspiracy (a la McCarthy, Alien and Sedition Acts, etc. -- 20th century Americans would do well to reread Madison.) Of course, the Committee failed politically. As a minority it decided it could succeed only by recourse to the Terror, to which it ultimately succumbed. Their goal was to create a democracy based on a common cause and belief system. Yet, paradoxically, even a century later, the Republic was associated with suppression of liberty, persecution of religion, violence and terror. More faith in diversity and democracy would have been their salvation. Democracy, totalitarianism, and intolerance cannot coexist. ' ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
A very enlightening history of the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution. It begins with the rise of the Jacobins, and ends with the fall of Robespierre. A very detailed book, full of insights for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the motivating factors behind this particular episode in history. ( )
  Devil_llama | May 24, 2011 |
if all histories were this good the world would be a better place. ( )
  lautremont5 | Feb 19, 2010 |
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Anyone who had business with the government of the Reign of Terror directed his steps to the Tuileries, an old palace of the kings of France on the right bank of the Seine between the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, in which then as now children played and chestnut trees blossomed in April.
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