Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat

Chapter IX

On the 16th of May, the Girondin Isnard was elected President of the Chamber. About the same time the Girondins appointed a commission of twelve to examine into the acts of the Commune, which had been accused, among other things, of imprisoning a Juge de Paix. This commission consisted of six Royalists, three Girondins, and three undecided members. It commenced by arresting the president of a section. Receiving support and approval from its nominators in this action, it continued in the same course, imprisoning Substitute Hébert, whom, however, it was compelled to release the following day. It doubled the guard round the Convention Hall, taking care to compose it of reactionary battalions, &c. Marat opened the sitting of the 27th of May by moving its dissolution.

“They have sought,” he says, “to deceive the people with an imaginary conspiracy to assassinate the hommes d’état. [1] No proof of such a conspiracy exists, or has ever existed.” He asked what other end the Commission of twelve served but the oppression of patriots, at the same time uttering the prophetic words, “if the patriots are driven to insurrection it will be your fault.” “In conclusion, I demand that the commission be suppressed as the enemy of liberty, and as tending to provoke that insurrection of the people only too likely to occur.”

The Minister of the Interior arriving, declares there is no danger. The Mayor also vouches for the quietude of the city. If troops surrounded the Convention, they were those chosen by the Commission. At six o’clock an attempt at adjournment is made, but foiled by the Mountain, who vote Herault-Sechelles, president, in the place of Isnard (who, besides being a Girondin, had achieved unenviable notoriety by his would-be prophetic threat, that the time would come when the traveller would ask on which side the Seine Paris stood), and end by decreeing the dissolution of the Commission and enlargement of the arrested persons, i.e., the original motion of Marat. The following day (the 28th) the contest renewed itself in the chamber, and the Commission was re-established by the Girondin faction. On the 29th nothing noteworthy occurred. On the 30th twenty-seven sections presented themselves in a body, demanding the destruction of the decrees of the Commission, the arrest of all its members, and the sealing of their papers.

The sitting of the 31st opened at six o’clock in the morning to the sound of the generale and tocsin. The memorable insurrection destined to annihilate Girondism, had at last come in very deed. The Minister of the Interior declared it caused by the re-habitation of the Commission. Tremendous excitement ensued in the Convention. But where is Marat?

“I left the Assembly,” he says, “to deliberate on several important matters with the Committee of Public Safety, foreseeing that no measure would be carried in the Convention. From thence I went to the house of a citizen to obtain information respecting some aristocratic leaders of the section, Buttes des haulins. On my return, I discover a great crowd in the Rue Saint Nicaise I am recognised and followed by the crowd. From all sides resound cries against the Mountain’s want of energy. From all sides I hear demanded the arrest of traitor deputies and intriguers. From all sides shouts of ‘Marat, save us.’ Arrived at the Carrousel, I observe multitudes of citizens in arms. The mob increases, always repeating the same cry. I entreat the people not to follow me; I enter the Tuillieries, and then the hotel of the Committee of Public Safety to be quit of them.” (Publiciste, 209)

He there relates all that has happened to the Committee, and insists on the pressing importance of an immediate dissolution of the obnoxious Commission of twelve. From thence he repairs, with the Maire to the Municipality, in order to prevent any disorderly movements. The Maire announces the object of his visit. Marat then says,

“Citizens, the Committee of Public Safety is occupied with important measures for the punishment and repression of traitors. Keep yourselves in readiness; deploy your forces and do not lay down your arms until you have made sure of your safety.”

On the President urging the necessity and duty of employing strictly legal means to attain its ends, Marat characteristically replies that the duty and interests of the people demand an observance of the law and the due support of public functionaries; but that when these mandatories abuse the confidence placed in them, traffic with its rights and betray its interests; when they despoil, vex, and oppress, then the people has a right to restore to itself the powers delegated to them, to employ force to make them return to their duty, to punish those who have betrayed it, and thus to save itself.

“Citizens,” he concludes, “you have no resource but your own energy, present an address to the Convention demanding the punishment of deputies faithless to the nation; keep in readiness, and do not lay down your arms until you have obtained this.”

After first visiting the Committee of Public Safety, he returns to the Convention. There he finds a renewed demand has been made for a decree of accusation against the twenty-two designated members, in addition to those constituting the Commission. Marat proposes the erasure from the list of inculpated of the names of Dussaulx, Lanthénas, and Ducas, whom he deemed more weak than sinning. On the Sunday perfect calm reigned in Paris, although the populace continued under arms. On the 2nd day of June a deputation from the Commune demanded anew the decree of accusation as the only means of ensuring order. Instead of accepting this, the Convention simply invited those who were the objects of the discord to resign. Marat thereupon offered to give in his own resignation if the decree were passed, a proposition which was about being carried, when an announcement was made that the Hall was surrounded by armed bands, meant to prevent the deputies from leaving until they had acceded to the popular demands. The fact being apparently verified, it was decided that the President should go forth at the head of the Convention.

“He descends from his seat,” writes Marat, “nearly all the members following him, forces open the bronze door, while the guard makes way. Instead of at once returning and demonstrating thereby the falsity of these clamours, he conducts the Convention in procession round the terraces and gardens. [2] I had remained at my post in the company of about thirty other ‘Montaignards.’ The tribunes, impatient at not seeing the Assembly return, began to murmur loudly; I sought to appease them, rushed after the Convention, and found it at the Pont-Tournant. I exhort it to return to its post; it returns, and re-assumes its functions. The proposition is re-opened upon the decree of accusation; it passes by a large majority, and the people retire peaceably. Thus passed without the shedding of blood, without outrage of any sort, without disorder, a day of alarms which saw a hundred thousand citizens assembled in arms, provoked by six months of machinations and attempts, besides atrocious calumnies, perpetrated by their cowardly oppressors.” (Publiciste, 209.)

Such was the end of the Girondist faction, thirty-two placed under arrest, and the remainder escaping into the provinces, there to experience divers fates, for the most part worse, than that of their brethren in Paris. The same day Marat addressed the following letter to the Convention:–

“Impatient to open the eyes of the nation, abused as to my intentions by so many hired libellers, unwilling to be regarded as an object of discord, and ready to sacrifice all to the return of peace – I hereby renounce the exercise of my function as deputy, until judgment has been passed on the accused representatives. May the late scandalous scenes never be repeated in the Convention! May all its members sacrifice their passions to their duties! May my colleagues of the Mountain let the whole nation see that if they have not as yet fulfilled all their pledges, it is because their efforts have been thwarted by wicked men.” (Publiciste, No.209)

From the time of Marat’s acquittal by the tribunal, a great change had been noticeable in the Publiciste. Numbers entirely from his pen had become rare, the paper was filled up for the most part with letters, to which were added simply the editor’s reflections. The excitement of the trial, coupled with the enthusiasm attending its result, proved too great a strain for his powers, already enfeebled by upwards of three years of suffering and privation of every kind. The inflammatory disease, long slumbering in his system, showed signs of awakening; on the 5th of June he took to his bed. M. Bougeart remarks,

“The redaction of the Publiciste, is a veritable bulletin of his health. When the articles are long, the invalid is better; when they are but a few lines his prostration is complete.” (Bougeart, Vol. II., 254).

The truth of his words, “I am for the people; I shall never be but for them,” he made good up to his last moment for in the midst of agonising suffering his one thought was for the triumph of liberty and the true principles of the Revolution. He complains in No.224 of the Publiciste, that he had addressed several letters on public affairs to the President of the Convention which had not been so much as read. Ten days afterwards, he writes, regarding the rumour that the Girondin volunteers of the departments were about combining to march on Paris:

“Let them come; they will find Thuriot, Lindet, St. Just, all the brave Montaignards; they will see Danton, Robespierre, Panis, &c., so often calumniated; they will find in them intrepid defenders of the people. Perhaps they will come to see the dictator, Marat; they will behold a poor devil who would give all the dignities of the earth for a few days’ health, but always a hundred times more concerned for the welfare of the people than for his malady.”

In the last number of the Publiciste, that of the 14th of July, appeared one of his most truly prophetic judgments of character – it was concerning Barrère. It is to be found in an article on the composition of the Committee of Public Safety.

“Among its members there is one ... whom I regard as the most dangerous enemy of the country. It is Barrère, whom Saint Foix indicated to the monarch as one of those Constitutionalists of whom he could make the most. As regards myself, I am convinced that he swims between two streams, to see which one will gain the ascendant; it is he who has paralysed all efforts of vigour, and who enchains us with a view of strangling us. I challenge him to furnish proof to the contrary when, in conclusion, I denounce him as a disguised Royalist”


1. The Girondins having pretended that the Mountain and the Jacobins were plotting an insurrection in which to immolate them.

2. The Convention was sitting in the Tuillieries.

Last updated on 15.7.2006