Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat
The People’s Friend

Chapter VIII
Marat as Adviser to the First Paris Communes and Deputy of the National Convention
(Part 2)

We will not linger over the oft-repeated story of the trial and execution of Louis XVI. Suffice it to say that, when called upon to give his vote, on the occasion of the memorable sitting, Marat did so in the following terms: “In the firm conviction that Louis is the principal author of the crimes which caused the blood of the 10th of August to flow, and of all the massacres which have stained France since the Revolution, I vote for the death of the tyrant within the twenty-four hours.” At the same time that Marat voted in the majority for death without respite, believing the crimes of Louis to merit the last penalty, and its infliction to be necessary for the safety of France and the Revolution, he could show not only fairness, but even pity for the condemned. The following day he writes in the Journal de la République (No.95); “He behaved at the bar with decency. How great would he have been in my eyes in his humiliation had he but been innocent!” Whatever we may think as to the King having been urged to his acts of treachery and cruelty by persons, of stronger character than himself, who surrounded him, we must not forget that these acts were done in his name and with his consent, even where they were not effected by his express orders. The failure of the Gironde and its Moderate supporters to save the life of the King was the first distinct sign of the waning of their influence. It was the first decided victory of the ideas and policy of the Mountain in the Convention. The next day Kersaint, the Girondin, gave in his resignation, on the ground that he would no longer sit in an Assembly where Marat could carry the day against Petion. During the trial the “People’s Friend” received numerous letters from Royalists, offering him money if he would but say one word in favour of the accused. One letter alone offered him as much as a hundred thousand crowns. Marat’s only reply was, “I belong to the people, I shall never belong to any other party; that is my profession of faith.”

The last act performed in unison by all the parties in the Convention was the attendance at the funeral of Lepelletier St. Fargeau, who was assassinated in a café by a Royalist, as one of those who had voted “death” on the evening of the King’s condemnation. In this ceremony singular unanimity was displayed, deputies of various shades – Marat among them – making speeches on the occasion. This over, the battle was renewed in the Salle de Manège with unabated fury.

As for Marat, satisfied with the victory of his party in the matter of the King’s trial, and hoping that the momentary unanimity shown at Lepelletier’s funeral might prove the beginning of a reconciliation of the parties on a working basis, he adopted a more conciliatory tone in his Journal, but to no effect. The event soon proved that he was wrong – that, as he expressed it, “these men cannot change their heart as the serpent can his skin.” “Hence,” says he, “there is no longer any question of living in peace with them, but rather of declaring an eternal war.” Before beginning it, he devoted the number of his Journal (109) in which he makes the above statement to exculpating himself from the more plausible accusations brought against him. Marat at this time practically held the majority of the forty-eight Paris Sections in the hollow of his hand. Even within the Convention, deputies were accused by the Girondins of being Maratists – a term of reproach invented by them, but which, as the wont of such sobriquets, soon became an honourable designation among the Paris Sections. The Moderates seemed now to have definitely organised disturbances, spiced with cries of “To the Abbaye! To the bar! To the guillotine!” whenever the “People’s Friend” mounted the tribune to oppose some reactionary measure or to urge some necessary reform.

Having failed to carry a decree of accusation against Marat on the ground of advocating a dictatorship, the Girondists sought about for other pretexts. They had charged him, without success, of endeavouring to stir up the troops to insubordination. Finally, an incident occurred which afforded them the desired opportunity. The bread-famine in Paris had been for weeks past increasing in intensity. Long files, composed mostly of half-starved-looking women, were to be seen daily at certain hours outside the bakers’ shops, awaiting their turn to be supplied with bad bread at an exorbitant price. On the 24th of February, Chaumette, Procureur of the Commune, made a report on the subject of the want of means of subsistence in Paris before the Council-General. He demanded an immediate advance of four millions to cope with the situation. The Council decided to refer the matter to the Convention. On the report being read, the Girondins, with the hatred of Paris ever in their hearts, objected to this necessary subvention as a special favour shown to one town. On the morning of the next day, the 25th, an article appeared in Marat’s Journal on the famine, in which occurred the following passage:– “In every country where the rights of the people is not an empty phrase, ostentatiously recorded on paper, the sacking of a few shops, at the doors of which the ‘forestallers’ were hanged, would soon put a stop to those malversations which are driving five millions of men to despair, and causing thousands to perish of want! Will the deputies of the people do nothing more than prate about their sufferings, and never propose any remedy to relieve them?” This advice, it is needless to say, was only the practical application of the Rousseauite thesis so clearly expounded by Marat in his Plan de Constitution and Plan de Législation Criminel, the two works which, as already said, formed the theoretical basis of all Marat’s political Faction. In the latter work mentioned, Marat had, twelve years before, categorically laid down the Thesis that, “in a world full of the possessions of others, where the indigent have nothing to call their own, they are obviously reduced to perish of hunger. Now, since they derive nothing but disadvantage from society, are they obliged to respect its laws? Doubtless, no! If society abandons them, they re-enter the state of nature, and when they reclaim by force those rights which they could only alienate in order to ensure for themselves greater advantages, all authority that opposes them is tyrannical, and the judge who condemns them to death is no letter than a cowardly assassin.”

This was just what the Girondins wanted. It mattered not that bread riots had occurred some days before this was written; it sufficed that, on the afternoon and evening of that day, a general pillaging of provision shops went on in the streets of more than one quarter of Paris. Here was proof positive that Marat had not merely incited to unlawful acts, but successfully incited to them, this notwithstanding that Marat’s chief point, the making of an example of a few of the “forestallers”, i.e. of those who were buying up the available supply of bread and selling at exorbitant prices, was not acted upon. The following day, the 26th, a deputation appeared before the Convention, to protest against the riotous scenes of the previous day. Barrère, who led the debate ensuing, spoke of all the trouble as the work of ultra-patriots, hinted at a particularly mischievous ultra-patriot; but did not venture to mention names. The Girondin Sallis then rose. “I come to denounce to you,” said he, “one of the instigators of these troubles, – it is Marat.” He then read the article containing the passage about the “forestallers”. No sooner had he concluded than it seemed as though the whole Assembly rose in indignation. Marat rushed to the tribune, and repeated in substance what he had written the previous day in his; Journal. “It is incontestable,” he said, “that the capitalists, agents, and monopolisers are nearly all supporters of the Ancien Regime. As I see no chance of changing their hearts, I see nothing that can give tranquillity to the State but the total destruction of this accursed conspiracy. To-day it redoubles its energies to distress the people by the exorbitant price of bread, the first necessary of life. Since there is no law to punish monopolisers, the people has the right to take justice into its own hands”. However dreadful it may sound when enunciated by Marat, this is a principle practically adopted under all circumstances where ordinary law is ineffective, but usually in the interest of “rights of property,” rather than against their abuse. It should be remembered too, by those who shudder at the words of Marat, that at this very period, and for long afterwards, the common law of England caused dozens of human beings to be hanged every week for trivial offences, such as stealing a loaf of bread; and yet the supporters of these laws are not execrated as monsters, but are, at most, mildly censured as having been unnecessarily severe in their views of justice. Marat, on the other hand, because under extraordinary circumstances he thought an exceptional example necessary from among those who were reducing the people of Paris to starvation, is by these hypocrites denounced as a sanguinary demagogue.

On the conclusion of his speech, Buzot moved that “M. Marat be decreed accused.” “The law is precise,” he said, “but M. Marat quibbles about its expressions; the jury will be embarrassed how to act, and we have no wish to give M. Marat a triumph in the very face of justice.” Several propositions were then made, a resolution being ultimately passed that all the instigators of riots should be, without distinction, cited before the ordinary tribunals. “Good! “exclaimed Marat; “then pass an act of accusation” against myself, that the Convention may prove it is devoid of all shame.” It was finally declared adopted, amid great excitement, that the case should be referred to the ordinary tribunals; though the executive power knew better, in the excited state of public feeling, than to proceed further in the matter. Had they done so, they could not well have succeeded, for not only was there no law against the expression of an opinion, whatever might be the indirect consequences supposed to flow from it, but the liberty of the press, which the Revolution had won, definitely, guaranteed the right to free discussion of public matters. The next two numbers of the Journal de la République are devoted by Marat to defence of his views and a further discussion of the origin of the famine. “The cause of this scourge which distresses us,” writes Marat, “lies in the enormous mass of assignats (paper money; the value of which necessarily diminishes with its multiplication, both in a legal way and by forgery. Now diminution of value unfailingly carries with it an augmentation of the price of provisions. These have already reached an exorbitant figure, soon they will become so dear that it will really be impossible for the poorer classes to acquire them, and these constitute two-thirds of the nation. You may expect therefore to see the most frightful disorders, an perhaps the overturning of all government, for a famished people knows no laws, save the primary law of seeking the means of living. I have foreseen these disorders for three years, and have done all I could to oppose the system of assignats, above all of assignats of small value”. The only effectual means of averting the crisis, Marat declared, was his old proposal to extinguish the public debt, paying the creditors of the State with national bonds, to be issued on the guarantee of the ecclesiastical and other property which had been nationalised. The emission of a vast mass of small paper money had proved, as predicted, a suicidal proceeding. He goes on to show that his own proposal would have obviated all the evil results from which they were then suffering. In another number Marat points out that the confiscation of the Church property, one of the functions of which had been to relieve necessitous persons, had increased the general misery. “The property of the Church,” says Marat, “was the patrimony of the poor; in depriving them of this resource, the Constituent Assembly exposed them to die of hunger. On confiscation, the Church property ought to have been divided into three portions; the first to be used for the payment of priests’ salaries; the second sold, so as to form a sinking fund to pay off Government debts; the third portion, Church lands, should gave been divided in small lots amongst the peasantry.”

Meanwhile the unstable “men of the Plain,” the centre party of the Convention, were becoming gradually detached from their loyalty to the “right,” the Governmental party of the Girondins. The vacillation and want of statesmanship of the latter in the conduct of affairs had led to deep distrust on the part of those outside their immediate party, who at first had been disposed to take them at their own valuation. Marat wrote an eloquent appeal to the “Plain” in his Journal on the 2nd of March; he pointed out that the dictates of humanity; pity, and philanthropy were as dear to him as to them, but that to exercise them towards traitors and conspirators, in a moment of imminent public danger, was nothing less than a crime. “Indulgence to these criminals is barbarity to the people. We must crush them or we shall be crushed by them.”

Early in March the Journal de la République ceased to exist, owing to a resolution, on a motion by Lacroix, in effect forbidding deputies to carry on simultaneously with their legislative functions the occupation of journalist. In consequence of this decree, Marat, on the 14th March, changed the title of his paper to that of Publicists de la République française, ou Observations aux Français, par Marat, l’Ami du Peuple, deputé à la Convention! No one could, of course; object to a deputy merely publishing his observations to his constituents.

But the wiles of reaction were not yet exhausted. What seems to have been dexterously-conceived trap for the Mountain, and especially Marat, was laid on the 12th of March. A section of volunteers presented themselves the bar of the Convention, demanding a decree of accusation against Dumouriez and his État Major; this at a time when, whatever the character and ultimate intentions of Dumouriez were, he was just entering Holland to effect an important diversion by which to relieve French troops and out-manoeuvre the enemy. Another article in the petition demanded the heads of Gensonné, Vergniaud, and Guadet. Marat was fully equal to the occasion. In commenting on the object of the deputation, he observed, “I have already exposed these atrocious plots, the political liaisons of Dumouriez, his relations with the Court; nevertheless I regard him as intimately bound up with the public safety since the 10th August, and more particularly since the head of the tyrant has fallen beneath the sword of the law. He is bound to us by the success of his arms, and I appear in this tribune to combat this insensate motion, as well as to raise my voice against perfidy towards a General. If the proposition were adopted, it would be equivalent to opening our doors to the enemy.” Then passing on to another part of the petition, “I demand that the petitioners read the article of their petition, in which they desire the heads of Gensonne, Vergniaud, and Guadet the Girondist deputies – an atrocious crime tending to the dissolution of the Convention and the loss of the country (unanimous applause). I have already raised my voice against these assassins. I have been to the popular society of the Cordeliers, and have there preached, and confounded these agitators led on by the aristocracy.” Marat, in fact saw the deputation simply as agents provocateurs of the Girondist party, and in the proposition a trap.

About a fortnight later news arrived of the defeat at Neerwinden and of the defection of Dumouriez, after arresting Camus and thre other commissioners sent by the Convention This came on the top of a manifesto from the General threatening to hand them over to the enemy, and, to crown all, to march on Paris, to annihilate the Mountain and dissolve the Convention, in the ostensible interests of Girondism Accordingly a manifesto was issued by Marat “Friends, we are betrayed,” he writes. “To arms! To arms! The hour has come when the defenders of the country must either conquer or bury themselves beneath the ashes of the Republic. Frenchmen, never was your liberty in greater peril! Our enemies have now put the finishing stroke to their perfidies, and to consummate them, Dumouriez and his accomplices are about to march upon Paris. The manifest treason of the Generals in league with him has never admitted of a doubt, no more than that the plan of rebellion, inspired by his insolent boldness, is directed by the criminal faction, which has, until the decisive moment; maintained him, and which has deceived us as to his conduct. The menaces, the defeats, the plots of this traitor – his villainy in placing under arrest four commissioners of the Convention, which he would have attempted to dissolve – are sufficiently well known. But, brothers and friends, your greatest dangers are in the midst of you. It is in the Senate that parricidal hands would tear out your vitals! Yes, the counter-revolution is the Government, in the National Convention! But already indignation inflames your courageous citizenship. Come then, Republicans, let us arm! Let us all rise and arrest the enemies of tar Revolution! Let us exterminate without pity all the conspirators, if we would not be exterminated ourselves! Such delegates are either traitors or Royalists, or incapable men. The Republic repudiates the friends of kings! It is they who partition her, who ruin her, and who have sworn to destroy her. With them liberty is hopeless, and only by their prompt expulsion can the country be saved!”

This manifesto, which was issued in the form of a circular and sent to all the popular societies, bearing date the 5th of April 1793, was made the subject of a furious Girondin attack on the 12th. Guadet, mounting the tribune, read the circular in full. Marat, on its conclusion, contented himself with rising in his place with the words, “It is true.” The remark was followed by the usual storm, accompanied by cries of “To the Abbaye!” and demands for a decree of accusation. This time, however, Marat had the whole of the Mountain behind him, and it was only too apparent that the struggle had now become one of life and death between the two parties. At the first lull, Marat ascended the tribune. “What is the use of this vain talk?” he exclaimed; “they seek to throw dust in your eyes by an imaginary conspiracy, in order to hush up a conspiracy which is only too real. There is no longer any; doubt about it. Dumouriez himself has set the seal to it, by threatening to march on Paris, to effect the triumph of the faction which he calls “the sane portion of the Assembly against the patriots of the Mountain.” Here vehement applause from the benches where the public sat interrupted the speaker. “But wishing to give the whole of France unequivocal proofs of my loyalty,” continued Marat, “I have demanded a decree which shall put a price on the head of the younger Egalité, of the pretended regent of the former Comte d’Artois, and of all the rebel Capets. The Mountain, as you have seen, wished this proposition to be put to the vote, while the conspirators made a horrible clamour, in order to oppose it. It is time that these conspirators should be unmasked, should fall under the sword of the law. I will renew my proposition, and we will see on what side are the supporters of Orleans.” Renewed applause from the public tribunes greeted the speaker’s peroration. This direct thrust hit the Girondins hard, some of whom had been in direct communication with the now discredited Dumouriez with reference to his favourite scheme of a resuscitated Constitutional monarchy, under the son of Philippe Egalité, who, at a later date; became Louis Philippe, “King of the French.” Danton followed in support of Marat’s proposition. After a long and stormy debate the Girondins, however, succeeded in carrying their original demand for a decree of accusation against the “People’s Friend”. The public galleries reserved for whom were now crowded, became furious; meanwhile the sitting was raised and the bulk of the members hastily dispersed. A crowd composed of about fifty deputies of the Mountain and its sympathisers surrounded Marat, who, going towards the door, was confronted by an officer of the Guard with the decree of arrest in his hand. In their hurry, however, “the conspirators” had forgotten to get it signed by the President or the Minister of Justice. Marat, in consequence, refused to allow himself to be arrested. Meanwhile the public descended from the galleries and filled the main body of the hall. In a few minutes Marat left the building with his friends, followed by enormous crowd.

The same evening he indited an address to the Convention, which was read the next day, in which he pointed out that the importance of the persecution to which he was being subjected lay in the fact that it was the first step in an organised conspiracy to effect the political extinction of the Jacobins and the Mountains. If it were mere personal spite which concerned himself alone, it would not matter, but “if they succeed in achieving their criminal projects in my case, soon they will come to Robespierre and Danton and all patriot deputies who have given proof of energy.” He concluded: “Before belonging to the Convention, I belong to the country. I am now going to protect myself against their attempts, continuing to support the cause of liberty by my writings, until the eyes of the nation are opened to their criminal projects. Only a little patience, and they will fall beneath the weight of public execration.” The reading of the document was greeted with rapturous applause by the Mountain. On the demand of Danton, it was laid upon the table, which was immediately besieged by crowds of Montagnards eager to affix their signatures to it. Prolonged tumult followed, but after sundry propositions and a speech from Robespierre protesting against the decree and cautiously defending Marat, the appel nominal, or roll-call of the names, was ordered. In spite of the enthusiastic expressions of many deputies of the mountain in recording their vote, the Girondins still dominated the Plain sufficiently to secure a majority of twenty-eight votes for the decree of accusation. It should be observed that the Committee, in their report on the question, had found it prudent, in the existing temper of public opinion, to drop the question of the original manifesto, on the occasion of Dumouriez’s desertion, which had served as a pretext for the Girondins’ attack, the counts of accusation being now based on two articles – the first one in the Journal de la République for the 5th of January, an article written during the dissensions preceding the King’s trial, in which Marat had suggested the dissolution of the Convention; and the second, that of the 25th of February, relating to the riots, and containing the passage about the “forestallers.” A deputy added to the charge the further count of having demanded a dictator. On the decision of the Convention becoming known, great excitement ensued in the Paris Sections. On the 15th of April, the Mayor of Paris, who was now Pache, a new and zealous recruit of the Mountain – who had previously for a time been Roland’s colleague as Minister for War, but had resigned and been elected to the mayoralty on the 14th of February – appeared person before the Convention to present an address of protest from thirty-five out of the forty-eight Sections. Rousselin, the orator of the deputation which accompanied him, pointed out that, while they did not want a dissolution of the Convention, they wanted the expulsion of twenty-two of the leading Girondist deputies. In truth, the action of the Girondin party in allowing their rancorous hatred of Marat to get such complete control of them was simply suicidal, in view of the suspicion which now fell upon them from all sides of collusion with Dumouriez. It only affords another illustration of the oft-repeated saw “that those whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad.” Marat continued diligently writing, and superintending the publication of his journal, although daily expecting a summons. This did not arrive until the 22nd, and then only on great pressure, from without, as the Girondists were anxious to postpone the hearing of the case till the time for the renewal of the jury lists, when they could “pack” the tribunal with their own men. On the morning of the 23rd a notice of the situation appeared in the Publiciste. “People, to-morrow your incorruptible defender will present himself. before the Revolutionary Tribunal. He has always wished you happiness, his innocence, will triumph. His enemies will be confounded. He will come out of the struggle more worthy of you, and will console himself in this new trouble by the hope of the advantages the cause of liberty will derive from it.” On the evening of the 23rd, Marat constituted himself a prisoner. He was accompanied by numerous colleagues of the Convention, and by a colonel of the National Guard.

The next day, the 24th of April, the trial came on. The hall of the tribunal was early crowded, many persons having remained over’ night to ensure for themselves good places. The Revolutionary Tribunal had been established on the 10th of March previously on the motion of Danton, and it was before the Revolutionary Tribunal that Marat was cited. The proceedings began at nine o’clock, Marat introducing himself with the words; “Citizens, it is not a criminal whom you see before you, it is the apostle and martyr of liberty; it is only a group of factious persons and intriguers who have obtained this, decree of accusation against me.” The presiding judge, Montané by name, calling upon the accused to declare his name, quality, and residence, received the reply: My name is Jean-Paul Marat, aged forty-nine years, a doctor in medicine, and deputy to the National Convention, residing in Paris, Rue de Cordeliers, No.36.” The usher of the court then reads the accusation, as formulated by the Committee, of the decree of the Convention, which states that Marat is declared accused of having in his paper provoked to murder and massacre, the contempt and dissolution of the Convention, and the establishment of a power destructive to liberty, and is ordered to appear before the Revolutionary Tribunal; the Minister of justice to be charged with the execution of this decree. The public prosecutor then reads passages from Marat’s writings, tending to support the allegations in the decree as formulated by the Committee. Marat, on interrogation, unhesitatingly avows the incriminated writings. Witnesses are then called, the first being an Englishman, who deposed through an interpreter that, being at the house of Thomas Paine, deputy to the Convention, he had heard an article read which had been inserted in the journal of M. Brissot, and which quoted passages alleged to have been written by Marat, advocating the massacre of all Englishmen. And that about that time a young Englishman named Johnson, who lived in the same house in the Faubourg St. Denis with Paine, stabbed himself, leaving behind him a scrap of paper on which were the words, “Day of liberty! Marat has murdered it by preaching Anarchy, which is much more cruel than despotism. I can no longer endure these atrocities, which are repugnant to the virtue of a Republican.” Marat, on the invitation of the judge, asked if the witness had not seen Brissot and others at Paine’s house. The witness replied that he had not. The public prosecutor then demands that Brissot should be at once cited to appear before the tribunal as a witness. A letter was accordingly sent to the President of the Convention from the presiding judge of the tribunal. On applause breaking out from the public, the prisoner turned to them and said “Citizens! my cause is yours. I defend my country; I request you to preserve the most profound silence, to deprive our enemies of the opportunity of saying that the court has been influenced in any way.” The editor of Brissot’s journal, Le Patriot français, who was now under examination, declared that the paragraph had been sent to Brissot by Thomas Paine. The accused then wished to know who had furnished Brissot with articles, since the decree interdicting journalism to deputies. Through the presiding judge Marat again interrogates the witness as to whether he possesses the manuscript of the note he alleges Thomas Paine to have given to Brissot, relative to the young Englishman who he stated had stabbed himself. The witness replies that probably the printer had it. A subpoena, to appear immediately, was issued against the printer, also to the young Englishman Johnson, who according to Brissot’s journal was dead, but who was otherwise alleged to be alive. Thomas Paine is next called, and deposes that he had communicated the fact to Brissot without giving him the document. The young Englishman had stabbed himself because he had the impression that Marat was about to denounce his friend Paine as one of those who voted for the King’s respite. Paine, on being shown the paragraph as it appeared in the paper, then declared it to have been utterly mutilated and disfigured. The printer now arrived, and deposed that he had been ill for some time, and had had to leave a substitute in his place; he knew nothing of the matter. He had, however, brought with him several slips of copy, which, on the demand of Marat, were handed over to the usher of the court. The public prosecutor, knowing the fact that the law forbade printers to destroy within a certain time manuscripts entrusted to them, procured an order from the court that the particular manuscript n question should in any case be delivered within eight days. The young Englishman Johnson, who had stabbed himself, having entered the court, was then examined, but nothing further of importance was elicited. Without waiting for the arrival of Brissot, the President called upon the prisoner for his defence against the charges contained in the decree of accusation.

Marat began: “Citizens, if the Girondin and Brissotin faction, and the other satellites of despotism – if, I say, this horde of criminals, who do not cease to persecute ‘patriots,’ had not accused me of being a man of blood, an inciter to crime, I should never have permitted myself to express such opinions as those contained in the numbers of my journal that have been cited. Citizen jurors, the rectitude of my judgment and purity of my intentions are known, and if I have printed the things that have been read to you, it was with no bad intention. My most earnest solicitude has always been that the Convention should receive the confidence of the people. To wish to dissolve it as I am accused of doing is farthest from my thoughts. Examine my conduct; I ask no mercy of you, still less indulgence, I claim only justice, and to be punished if guilty.” He then briefly recalls his various services to Liberty, from the publication of the Chains of Slavery up to that moment. He refutes the idea of there being any criminal intention in aught he had written, and briefly but scathingly exposes the administration of the Girondins, especially their conduct towards the chiefs of the Mountain, the Commune, and the Paris Sections. He also dwells on the fact that his accusers had been compelled by popular pressure to abandon the original basis of the indictment, and to substitute for this two new charges (or rather old charges revived) which had nothing to do with it, thereby exhibiting the malicious intent actuating them. “Full of confidence in the judgment, equity, and good citizenship of the tribunal, I myself desire the most rigid examination of this affair ... I claim nevertheless a consecutive reading of the denounced numbers, for it is not from isolated and excised passages that one can judge the meaning of an author; it is only by reading what precedes and what follows that we can estimate his intentions rightly ... If, after such a perusal, there remain any doubts, I am here to dispose of them.”

Marat in conclusion expressed his willingness to accept the judgment of the jury on all the incriminated numbers. The public prosecutor then recapitulated the facts contained in the decree of accusation, after which the President summed up, stating the questions for the jury’s decision as follows:–

“Is it proved that there are in the writings entitled the Ami du Peuple and the Publiciste Parisien passages provoking to murder, pillage, and the dissolution of the national representation? And further, is it true that Marat the admitted writer of these journals, has published them with counter-revolutionary intent?” The prisoner then withdrew. After a deliberation of three-quarters of an hour, the foreman gave the following verdict of the jury: – “We have examined with care the passages cited from the journals of Marat, and the better to appreciate them, we have not lost sight of the known character of the accused and the time of revolution during which he had written, and we cannot impute criminal intentions to the intrepid defender of the rights of the people. It is difficult for an ardent patriot to keep back his just indignation when he sees his country betrayed on all sides. And we declare that we have observed nothing in these writings of Marat calculated to substantiate the crimes which are imputed to him.” All the other jurymen expressed their adhesion to the foregoing statement, which was at once registered as their unanimous verdict. The Presiding judge then announced that, having herd the report of the jury, he acquitted Jean-Paul Marat of the accusations brought against him, and further ordered that he be immediately set at liberty, and that the present judgment be published officially, and placarded in the usual public places. Marat, turning to the court, said, “Citizens, jurors, and judges, who compose the Revolutionary Tribunal, the fate of the traitors to their country is in your hands; protect the innocent, punish the guilty, and the country will be saved!”

Scarcely was the acquittal pronounced than shouts of applause resounded from court, from staircase, from antechambers, and from corridors. As the news spread, the crowds outside in the; street took up the joyful acclamation, and it was with difficulty the “People’s Friend” resisted being then and there borne aloft shoulder-high by enthusiastic patriots. Crowds thronged the streets between the Palais de Justice and the Hall of the Convention. Bouquets of spring flowers and garlands rained upon the people’s hero. The cortège was stopped every moment to receive the congratulations of the heads of Sections. A chair had been secured, and the “People’s Friend”, escorted by National Guards, was carried along amid deafening cheers, crowned with oak garlands. These he was compelled to wear, notwithstanding that he repudiated them when first offered. Rarely was such a triumph known before in Paris. Crowds lined the streets, shouting and waving hats. The crowds reached the Convention doors, forced their way in, and bore Marat to President Lasource’s chair. The feelings of this Girondin, the arch-enemy of Marat, may be better imagined than described. A sapper named Rocher took upon himself the part of spokesman, and thus addressed him; “Citizen President, we return to you our brave Marat. We know well how to confound all his enemies. I have already defended him at Lyons, and I shall defend him here, and he who would take the head of Marat must first take the head of the sapper.” After an objection of the President’s had been overruled by the powerful voice of Danton, permission to defile past the President’s chair was accorded. Men, women, and children rushed in shouting, “Long live the Republic, the Mountain, and Marat!” Marat ascended the tribune;

“Legislators, the proofs of good citizenship and of joy which resound throughout this building are a homage rendered to the national representation, to a colleague in whose person the sacred rights of a deputy have been violated. I have been perfidiously inculpated; a solemn judgment has assured the triumph of my innocence; I bring you back a pure heart, and I shall continue to defend the ‘rights of Man,’ of the citizen, and of the people, with all the; energy nature has given to me.” A roar of applause followed, pikes were flourished, Phrygian caps thrown up, National Guards bearing Marat in triumph to his place in the bosom of the Mountain, after which the concourse gradually dispersed. Marat had become the personification of the French Revolution, the embodiment, in his own short, thick-set, rough, and unkempt figure, of the current ideal of liberty, of the sovereignty of the people. Paris rang with his praises, and congratulations poured in daily from all the departments. From end to end of France the name of the popular tribune was a household word to be loved or feared.

The acquittal of Marat was especially noteworthy as a symptom of public feeling outside the Salle de Manège, inasmuch as the tribunal was at this time by no means composed, as it was later, of avowed Jacobins. The names of the jury are almost all those of completely unknown men, the only eminent one among them being that of Cabanis, the well-known physiological writer and psychologist, noted for his unhappy analogy between the brain and the stomach, to the effect that the one secreted thought much as the other secreted bile. The presiding judge himself would seem to have been, in fact, an unattached Moderate. Michelet, with the dishonest partiality and perversion of fact which characterise his history of the French Revolution, when it is a question of calumniating the Jacobin leaders, and above all the “People’s Friend,” represents the tribunal as at this time, as it was later, composed solely of pronounced Jacobins, and hence insists that Marat’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion. He even has the effrontery to expressly compose it of the personnel of a year subsequently, although not a single individual composing the tribunal in its phase under the “terror” was functioning upon it in April 1793.

Marat’s triumph sounded the death-knell of the Girondins. It was plain that the Convention in its present form would not work. Either the Gironde or the Mountain must conquer, and in its conquest annihilate the opposite party. All could now clearly see that the two parties could not live in the same assembly. The Girondins, however, still retained a certain supremacy over the Plain in the Convention, a fact indicated by their success in getting their own men elected to the post of President. On the 10th of May the sittings ceased to be held at the old Riding School, the Convention transferring itself to the private Royal Theatre in the Tuileries, which had been recently prepared for its reception. It was this building – that a century before had witnessed the first nights of Molière’s comedies, to then delectation of high dames and courtiers - which was now about to form the stage of many a tableau of the great drama of the French Revolution. It was here that the final passage in the struggle between Mountain and Gironde took place.

On the 16th of May the attack was begun by the Girondins, their partisan, Isnard, having been voted to the presidency. Once more it was Guadet who led the assault. The question on the order of the day concerned an allegedly illegal arrest of a magistrate by the Commune. Guadet, in an indignant speech, charged the Commune and the Jacobins with being in a conspiracy to destroy the Convention; in consequence, he proposed the immediate dissolution of the Commune, and the transference of the legislative power to Bourges, on the ground that in Paris it was in the midst of a hostile population, at the call of leaders who were actively plotting against it. The Committee of Public Safety, which had been instituted soon after the Revolutionary Tribunal, in March – but which did not at first have the power it subsequently possessed – through the mouth of its spokesman, Barrère, opposed the motion of Guadet as to the transference of the Supreme Assembly to Bourges; and as regards the dissolution of the Commune, posed a middle course, that a commission of twelve members of the Convention should be appointed to examine and report on the illegal acts of which the Commune was accused, before any other measures were adopted. The amendment of the Committee was at once agreed to, and the Commissioners appointed, the reactionary parties carrying the day completely in the election of its personnel. It was composed of six Royalists, three Girondins, and three members of the Plain. Beginning at once to show itself in its true colours, it arrested the chief of a Section, and sequestrated the papers of his Revolutionary Committee. Finding itself supported by the reaction alike within and outside the Chamber, it became bolder, summarily arresting Hébert, the popular substitute of the Procureur of the Commune, the second most important man in to Municipality. Matters now looked serious for the popular party, which, had it not been for the energetic action of the Commune and of the leaders of the Mountain, was in a fair way of being crushed. Reports were already abroad that the Commission of Twelve were contemplating an early remanning of the Revolutionary Tribunal, whereby it should become a fitting instrument of their counter-revolutionary plots. The two great popular clubs, the Jacobins and the Cordeliers, together with the Paris Sections, declared themselves sitting en permanence. On the following day the Commune lodged a protest with the Convention, and the Commission of Twelve doubled the guards at the entrance to the Tuileries.

Marat, who, as we may imagine, had been active the last few days at the Hotel de Ville organising the opposition with his friends of the Commune, opened the Convention-sitting of the 27th on behalf of the latter, by moving the suppression of the Commission. “It has been sought,” he said, “to deceive the people through making it believe in the existence of a plot to assassinate the Statesmen,” the sobriquet for the Girondins, especially for the immediate followers of Brissot. This story of a plot to assassinate the twenty-two previously designated Girondins; had been diligently circulated within the last few days by the reactionary party. “The proof that this plot does not exist,” continues Marat, “is that not one of you has received so much as a scratch.” Marat proceeds to denounce the Commission, adding the significant words, “The mass of the people is patriotic; it detests a senatorial despotism as much as a royal despotism; if patriots are driven to insurrection it will be your work.” He concludes by demanding the suppression of the Commission of Twelve as the enemy of liberty, and as tending to provoke the insurrection already threatening. A deputation from one of the interior Sections then Presented itself, demanding not merely the suppression of a the Commission, but the trial of its member before the Revolutionary Tribunal. “The Section,” it said, “would know how to save the Republic of themselves, if they were forced to do it.” The President, Isnard, then pompously rose, and in solemn tones announced, “If the Convention were outraged through any of those disturbances in Paris which had been so frequent since the 10th of March, and which within the last week had become a daily occurrence in all quarters of the city, if they should take the shape of even an attempt to coerce the national representation, I tell you,” said he, with melodramatic mien – “I tell you, in the name of the whole of France, that Paris will be annihilated. Yes, France will take such a vengeance on the guilty city, that it would soon be necessary to inquire on which bank of the Seine the capital had once stood.” Scarcely were the words uttered when a storm arose throughout the Assembly, in the midst of which Danton’s voice was heard crying, “This impudence is beginning to be too much for us; we shall resist you. Let there be no more truce between the Mountain and the cowards who wished to save the tyrant.” This attitude of Danton’s was significant, for up to this time, although reckoning himself as belonging to the Mountain, he had endeavoured to play the part of peacemaker. The confusion continued; the Mountain and the occupants of the public galleries shook their fists and hurled menaces at the Gironde and its partisans. More Parisian deputations streamed into the house. The Commandant of the Convention Guard then appeared. He alleged that, while he was endeavouring with a posse of men to clear the lobbies, which had become thronged with excited sectionaries, Marat, pointing a pistol at his head, had demanded by whose orders he was acting. He had refused to show them to any but the President, whereupon Marat had ordered some sectionaries to arrest him. Marat only replied that the fellow was lying impudently.

Guadet, the minister of the Interior, then obtained a hearing to report upon the state of Paris. He endeavoured to calm the alarmed deputies by assuring them that the Convention was in no way in danger. Meanwhile, certain of the Moderate deputies had heroically beaten a retreat. Numbers of sectionaries having broken through the bar, were sitting amongst the deputies in the body of the house. A tumultuous demand arose that Isnard should quit the chair; this he was ultimately compelled to do, and was replaced by Danton’s friend Hérault de Séchelles. “The force of reason and the force of the people,” announced the new President, “are the same thing. You ask for a municipal officer and for justice; the deputies of the people will grant it you,” He then put the question as, to the suppression of the Commission of Twelve and the release of all persons arrested by it. It was declared carried amid tumult, the tumult on the President’s announcement of the result at once changing to enthusiastic cheering, which speedily passed from the crowd within the building to those outside.

The next day the reaction was again victorious within the Convention, and declaring that the vote of the preceding night had been obtained by terrorism and intrusion of outside persons, it procured the re-establishment of the Commission. Hébert, who had been liberated, was now once more at the Hotel de Ville. On the re-establishment of the obnoxious Commission, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Chaumette the Procureur of the Commune, and Pache the Mayor of Paris, constituted themselves into an informal committee, to organise, with the aid of the Commune and the Revolutionary Committees of the Sections, the insurrection which they now saw to be inevitable.

For the next thirty-six hours the preparations were unremitting. On the 30th, twenty-seven Sections presented themselves at the bar of the Convention. The same day, the Commune, the Clubs, and the Revolutionary Committees of the Sections held a joint meeting, and declared themselves in a state of insurrection. As the result of the deliberations of the preceding day, it had been agreed to model the new movement precisely on that of the 10th of August. This was so strictly carried out that it was considered necessary to go through the farce of formally annulling the then council of the Commune, to be immediately re-elected as before, because, forsooth, on the night before the 10th of August, the old reactionary Council of the Municipality had been dissolved in order to be replaced by the new insurrectionary body. Henriot was then constituted Commandant of the armed force of Paris, and the Sansculottes of the Sections had each forty sous per day accorded them.

The sitting of the Convention for the 31st opened at six o’clock in the morning to the sound of the générale, and the tocsin. The memorable insurrection destined to annihilate Girondism had at last begun in very deed. The popular forces then started to lay siege to the Tuileries. The Minister of the Interior declared the movement caused the rehabilitation of the Commission three days before. Tremendous excitement ensued in the Convention. Pache was summoned to the bar, to explain the meaning of the ominous sounds outside. He professed to have left no stone unturned to maintain order, assuring the Convention that its guard had been doubled and that he had given orders that no alarm-gun should be fired. He had scarcely finished speaking when an alarm-gun was heard. Great consternation on all sides! Barrère, in the name of the Committee of Public Safety, begs that the Commission of Twelve may be dissolved. The beating of the call-drum, the clanging of the tocsin, with the boom of alarm-guns at; intervals, continuing, alarmed the Plain, who abandoned their colleagues of the Gironde and promptly joined the Mountain in voting the abolition of the Commission in accordance with the proposal of Barrère and his Committee. But where is Marat? “I left the Assembly,” he says, “to deliberate on several important matters with the Committee of General Security, [The “Committee of General Security” was the second of the two Committees of Government. It had in its hand the control of police and “justice”. The twin-body, the Committee of Public Safety, was responsible for the initiation of public measures and the general work of government.] believing that no measures would be carried in the Convention. From there I went to the house of a citizen, to obtain information respecting some aristocratic leaders of the Section Buttes des Moulins. On my return, I discover a great crowd in the Rue Saint Nicaire; 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 crowd increases, always repeating the same cry. I entreat the people not to follow me; I enter the Tuileries and then the pavilion of the Committee of General Security to be quit of them” (Publiciste, No. 209.) To the Committee he relates all that has happened, and insists on the pressing importance of an immediate dissolution of the Commission of Twelve. But Marat could not evade the crowds which followed him, for he found it necessary to visit personally the Committee of Public Safety, then assembled together with the ministers, Pache, and other functionaries. Arrived at the Committee, he insists on the inadequacy of the mere suppression of the incriminated Commission, and urges then necessity of the immediate arrest of the twenty-two Girondins, together with the members of the Commission of Twelve. He then repairs, at the suggestion of the Committee, to the Municipality, to overlook matters, and avert any premature action. Returning to the Convention in the precincts of the Tuileries, in the corridors and lobbies leading to the theatre, Marat found renewed demands being made by the Mountain, through the mouth of Robespierre, for the indictment of the designated deputies, together with the members of the Commission, the proposition being backed by the acclamations of the public galleries and the sectionaries at the bar. All agreed that liberty was in danger so long as these traitors remained at large. Marat, the implacable, the bloodthirsty, as his enemies represent him, now mounted the tribune, not so much to support the measure demanded by the popular party to clinch its victory, but mainly to secure the erasure of three names from the list of inculpated, the bearers of which he regarded as more weak than sinning. “As to the really guilty,” said Marat, “it was not on account of their action with regard to the tyrant that they merited punishment, this would be to attempt to suppress liberty of opinion, without which there can be no public liberty at all. Their real guilt lies in their long series of machinations and slanders against the Parisians, and their complicity with Dumouriez, together with the protection they have always accorded to traitors. “The decree of accusation was not, however, voted on this occasion; but, on the motion of Barrère, a second report on the incriminated deputies was ordered from the Committee of Public Safety. The Convention then adjourned and the populace dispersed.

Meanwhile the popular forces of Paris remained under arms, patrolling the streets, but in a perfectly orderly manner. Negotiations went on during the whole of the 1st of June, between the Committee of Public Safety and the insurrectionary Commune. The Committee hit upon the brilliant expedient of a voluntary and reciprocal resignation of the leaders of the two parties. Robespierre and the Mountain would have none of it, however. Active preparations were now made, and continued throughout the night. The tocsin sounded and the générale beat in all the principal thoroughfares at break of day, while vast crowds gathered at different points. At eight o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 2nd of June, Henriot presented himself at the Hotel de Ville, to inform the Commune of the measures he had taken, and that all were determined not to lay down their arms till they had obtained the arrest of the designated deputies, together with the Twelve. After having harangued the vast concourse in the square in front, he led his devoted bands to the Place du Carrousel before the Tuileries. They were then deployed around the Palace.

Though most of the obnoxious deputies kept away, Lanjuinais opened the sitting by demanding the annulment of the Revolutionary authorities and the outlawing of their members. He had no sooner finished than the petitioners of the Sections came to demand the arrest of the deputies, himself included. Their address concluded with the ominous words, “The people are tired of having their happiness postponed they leave it but a moment in your hands, save it, or we declare the people will save it themselves!” Instead of considering the petition; the Convention, at the instance of the Right, passed to the order of the day. At this the deputation of the Sections withdrew in a threatening manner, while large numbers of the public quitted the galleries and followed it. Shouts of “To arms!” were heard outside. The Committee of Public Safety, through its spokesman Barrère, made its report on the situation. It now formally recommended that the Convention should ask the incriminated members to voluntarily suspend themselves. Some of those implicated accepted this solution, but the majority refused. Marat, speaking in the discussion, expressed his willingness, for his part, to suspend himself, on condition that the decree of accusation were passed, with the modification that the names of the three persons he had already designated as unjustly included in the list should be eliminated, and those of Fermont and Valazé should be put in their place. At that moment the Dantonist, Lacroix, who had been absent for some time, returned in a state of violent agitation, declaring the Convention to be no longer free, that it was surrounded by troops at the order of the Commune, in short, that the Assembly was virtually a prisoner in its own house. At this news even the Mountain was for a moment staggered, the Dantonist section giving vent to expressions of indignation. But who was the soul of this movement? It was Marat. He it was who, the previous evening, had mounted the tower of the Hotel de Ville and sounded the tocsin; who had kept alive the energy of the Commune and its determination to obtain the decree of accusation at all costs – by force if necessary. He it was who, on the morning of the Sunday, had gone up and down the ranks of Henriot’s men, exhorting them to be induced neither by threats nor promises lay down their arms until the momentous crisis had actually passed.

The upshot of Lacroix’ announcement and the consternation produced was the proposal that the President, Hérault de Séchelles, should pass out at the head of the Convention. This suggestion was adopted. What followed we give in Marat’s own words. “He descends from his seat,” writes Marat, “nearly all the members following him, forces open the bronze doors, while the guard makes way. Instead of at once returning and demonstrating thereby the falsity of the clamours, he conducts the Convention in procession round the terraces and gardens. I had remained at my post in the company of about thirty other Montagnards. The galleries, 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 reassumes its functions. The motion for the decree of accusation is made once more, and this time is carried by a large majority, and the people retire peaceably. Thus passed, without the shedding of blood, without outrage of any sort, without even disorder, a day of alarms which saw a hundred thousand citizens assembled in arms, provoked as they were by six months of machination and intrigues, added to atrocious calumnies, fabricated by their cowardly oppressors”. (Publiciste, No.209.)

Marat, with a modesty which ill accords with the reputation of self-assertion his enemies have sought to fasten on him, omits the fact vouchsafed by other witnesses, that the Convention, on appearing before the armed force without, was greeted with unanimous cries of “Long live Marat and the Mountain!” thus constituting him the personification of Jacobin principles. He also omits to mention how its the concluding proceedings within the Convention on that memorable day, he found himself, by the sheer force of circumstances, in the position practical dictator to the august Assembly; how the erasure of the names eliminated by him, and the insertion of that of Valazé, was carried without discussion on his mere demand. Marat at this moment might without exaggeration gave been designated the uncrowned King of France.

Such was the end of the Girondin faction – thirty-two placed under arrest and the remainder escaping into the provinces, many of them there to suffer divers fates, if anything worse than that of their brethren in Paris. The names of those arrested were as follows: – Gensonne, Guadet, Brissot. Gorsas, Pétion, Vergniaud, Sallés, Barbaroux, Chamlon, Buzot, Birotteau, Lidon, Rabaud, Lasource, Lanjuinais, Grangeneuve, Lehardi, Lesage, Louvet, Valazé, Lebrun (the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Clavière (Minister for Contributions, Kerleregan, Gardieu, Rabaud-Saint-Etienne, Boileau, Bertrand, Virgée, Molleveau, Henri-Larivière, Gomère, and Bergonin. It is supposed to be the correct thing in a historian to speak of the “courage of the Girondins.” Yet, while not denying that individual members of the party, Lanjumais for instance, on occasion showed some pluck, where the courage of the party as a whole comes in it is difficult to see. It tacitly acquiesced in, and even by the mouth of Roland condoned, the September massacres at the time, while afterwards, when it thought them a convenient stick with which to beat Marat and the Commune, overflowed with horror at them as a monstrous crime. It professed to wish to save the King, at all events his life, and yet, when the time comes, dread of unpopularity induced at least one section to vote the death-sentence like any ordinary truculent Montagnard. The crucial day of the 2nd of June found the majority of its members absent from their places in the Tuileries theatre. To crown all, there was a disorganised sauve qui peut of the remainder of the party not under arrest into the provinces. On the other hand if we have no evidence of courage on the part of the Girondins as a whole, but rather, considerable indications of cowardice, we have distinct proofs of mutual dissension within the party, the only unanimity being shown in perfidious machinations with treacherous generals on the frontiers, in back-stairs intrigue at home against the Parisian representation, alike parliamentary and municipal, and last but not least, in the fabrication of the most barefaced and slanderous lies against all who differed from their principles and policy. Yet this wretched assortment of politicians has been patronised by the average writer on the Revolution ever since And why is this? The reason is not far off. The Girondins were the last bulwark, at this stage of the Revolution, of property, privilege and class-order, against the desperation of the masses.

On the day following the revolution which had destroyed the Girondins as a party, Marat addressed a letter to the Convention, published in the Publiciste (No.209); “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 to 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!” Thus Marat kept the promise he had made of resignation, after the voting of the decree he regarded as essential to the public welfare.

For some weeks past a change had been noticed in the composition of the Publiciste. Numbers entirely from Marat’s pen had become rare, the paper being now mainly composed of letters from outside, to which the “People’s Friend” simply added his reflections. M. Bougeart would connect this with the excitement following the acquittal. “It was that the emotion,” he says (Marat, vol.ii, p.253), “caused by the judgment, and without doubt by the testimony of public sympathy, had been so deep in a nature so sensitive, that the “People’s Friend” had not been able to resist it; he had been taken ill. Since the middle of April he had complained of increased indisposition. Serious symptoms seem to have developed themselves at this time in the left lung. He was seen no more at the Assembly till the time of the indictment of the Girondins; then he only seemed to acquire new vigour from the over excitement of fever; but this supreme effort sufficed to exhaust him. After the great revolution which established the Jacobins and the Mountain as the supreme power in France, the public saw little more of Marat. Privation, nervous excitement, and overwork had produced their effect. The distressing skin disease from which Marat continued to suffer, though not mortal in itself, no doubt acted on, and in its turn was reacted on by, the state of alternate excitement and prostration produced by the above causes. For a whole fortnight, during, this month of June, Marat did not quit his bed, but the publication of the journal continued all the same. As M. Bougeart says (vol.ii,. p.254), “The editing 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.” The journal and the reports of the Convention sittings, together with his enormous correspondence, were daily brought to Marat’s bedside; and, so far as his strength permitted, were read and commented on. Though he had made up his mind under no circumstances again to attend the sittings of the Convention till the Girondins had been adjudicated upon, Marat continued to address his colleagues of the Convention in writing. In No.224. of the Publiciste, however, he complains of the lack of attention his communications have received. This being the case, he feels it would be a neglect of his duty to remain longer from his post. “Since the days of my voluntary suspension, I have addressed several letters to the Convention, in which I proposed useful measures on important subjects. They have not been read. Yesterday again the letter that I sent to the President of the Convention has had the same fate. I had flattered myself that I had an alternative to my own presence, but my hopes have been deceived The danger of the country recalls me to my post. The profound silence that I have kept for a fortnight ought to suffice to dissipate all the clouds that overshadow me. I declare then that I go at once to resume my functions.” He did indeed with a great effort raise himself from his bed of sickness to be present in his place in the Convention. But he was only seen there for two days. On the second day he returned to his room, never again to leave it alive. But the journal now once again appeared with almost perfect regularity, forming the only outlet left for this man of truly superhuman energy. From the 23rd of June, the day following his fast visit to the Convention, to the 14th of July, the day after his assassination, only three numbers failed to appear, and assuredly the “People’s Friend” must have indeed been ill on those days. Times had changed now with him from the day when, some six months before, he apologised to his readers and excused himself, in No. 93 of the Journal de la République, for the numerous gaps in the publication of the paper. “Several of my readers,” he then writes in an introductory note, “have murmured at the interruption of my paper for some days. I owe them an explanation which will show them that I have not had an instant to prepare it, overburdened as I am with the weight of occupation. In the first place, I may tell them that, of the twenty-four hours of the day, I only devote two to sleep, and one only to the table, toilette, and domestic concerns. Outside those that I consecrate to my duties as deputy of the people, I regularly employ six to receive the complaints of a crowd of unfortunate and oppressed, of whom I am the defender, to test and make note on their complaints, to read and reply to a multitude of letters, to overlook the publication of a work I have in the press, to take notes of all the interesting events of the Revolution, to jot down my impressions on paper, to receive denunciations, to assure myself of the bona-fides of the denunciators, and finally to bring out my paper. These are my daily occupations. I can hardly, I think, be accused, of laziness. For nearly three years I have not had a quarter of an hour of recreation. In addition I have had to find time to work at some speeches for the tribune of the Convention. This I could only do by suspending less urgent occupations, and as such is the reason of the interruption of my journal, it will doubtless find grace in your eyes.”

Such was the fearful pressure at which the “People’s Friend” lived, so long as it was physically possible. In addition, it must be remembered that he literally starved himself, not merely, as above appears, to save the time of eating for his public work, but through giving away to “patriots” who needed help all he had but the barest pittance. At the beginning of July (Publiciste, No.234), Marat writes respecting a report that the Girondin volunteers of the departments were combining to march on Paris: “Let them come; they will find Thuriot, Lindet, Saint Just, all the brave Montagnards; they will see Danton, Robespierre, Panis, etc., 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 in his bed who would give all the dignities of the earth for a few days’ health, but always a hundred times more concerned for the misfortunes of the people than for his malady.” This article proves, if nothing else, Marat’s complete disinterestedness and the absence of all feelings of petty jealousy as regards his colleagues of the Mountain. The only fault we have to find with it is, in fact, an excessive generosity, which seems to have blinded even Marat to the true character of Robespierre.

Marat, although he had voted for the establishment, with great powers, of the Committee of Public Safety, in accordance with his often expressed views respecting the necessity of a strong Revolutionary Government, was nevertheless much dissatisfied with the existing composition of that body. He had written several articles on the subject, the last appearing in the very number of the Publiciste which he was correcting at the time of his assassination, and which appeared the day following, Speaking of the members of the Committee, he characterises them as “for the most part easy-going persons, who are present scarcely two hours in the twenty-four at the sittings of the Committee. They are ignorant of almost everything that is done there. ... Among their number is one, moreover, whom the Mountain very imprudent) nominated, and 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 out 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; it is he who enchains us with a view to strangling us. I challenge him to furnish proof to the contrary when, in conclusion, I denounce him as a Royalist.”

With the foregoing article Marat’s political life ends. The closing scene of his personal life belongs to our next chapter.


Last updated on 21.6.2003