Ernest Belfort Bax

Gracchus Babeuf

VI. The Projected Insurrection and its Plans

ONE of the most important of the immediate objects now to be attained was deemed to be the adhesion of a sufficient number of the military; and indeed there was some reason for the Babouvists to hope that they might gain over a considerable contingent of the armed forces at the disposal of the government. On the success of the projected coup d’etat, the people of Paris were to elect a national assembly, clothed with supreme authority, and composed of one democrat for each department, to be nominated by the committee or “Secret Directory”, which would not dissolve, but would continue to watch over the conduct of the National Assembly.

Notwithstanding the efforts made to gain over the army, the possibility of a collision with the armed force of the government was not left out of sight. To this end members of the old Jacobin party were summoned from all over France to come to Paris and hold themselves ready for the signal of the insurrection. Lyons was especially regarded by the conspirators as a field of recruitment, and they were in constant communication with the former mayor of the city, Bertrand, who was untiring in stimulating the interest o£ the Jacobins of the city in the new movement. Meanwhile, in Paris itself, secret stores of arms and ammunition were prepared, and the means of access to government stores were carefully noted.

The government party, on its side, was divided into two main centres, the nouveaux riches, the men who had enriched themselves by the Revolution, who had annexed to themselves vast portions o£ the wealth of the nobility and clergy, and who dreaded equally the return to the ancien régime and the ascendancy o£ those who might be disposed to sympathise with it, and the advent again to control o£ the State o£ the popular revolutionary forces. In either case their security of possession was threatened. Among the leaders of this party o£ the new wealthy middle-class, there may again be mentioned Barras, Tallien, Legendre, Fréron, Merlin de Thionville, and Rewbell – as will be seen, mainly renegades of the old revolutionary party of the Mountain. In opposition to this party, which at the moment was dominant, were the Conservatives, the sympathisers with the ancien régime, to whom had rallied many of the old moderates, and notably the former members of the Girondin party, who had been reinstated in the Convention after Thermidor, and who formed a centre of the Conservative block, together with old men of the plain, Boissy d'Anglas, Thibaudeau, Camille Jourdan, etc. On this section of the councils the hopes of the Royalists largely rested. They were prepared, however, as a party, to adopt violent methods i£ they saw any chance of success in such a course. On their side the dominant faction, the party of the nouveaux riches, as I have termed them, did not hesitate, by means of orators and journalists, to denounce all opposed to themselves as enemies of the Republic, confounding in the same category the old revolutionary party, now represented by the Babouvists, and the Royalists, who were openly plotting the restoration of the monarchy, and all it implied. Babeuf had already exposed this trick in one o£ the last numbers of the Tribun du People.

Just at this time, to complicate matters, the “Secret Directory” was confronted with a rival conspiracy on the part of certain members of the old party of the Mountain in the Convention, who had been driven out of the latter body, and been declared ineligible for election to the new councils, and who, it was said, were taking steps to obtain control of the insurrectionary movement. The “Secret Directory” was thus placed in a position of some difficulty. Its members were indisposed to hand over the control to a miscellaneous committee of men, of some of whom the views were doubtful, and others of whom were unreliable in a political crisis, owing to weakness of character. At the same time, the fact remained that these men, all of them, had suffered from being true to the democracy; that they were honest, and that their sympathies at least were in general sound. The Babouvist leaders therefore decided to steer a middle course. They instructed their agents to caution the populace against any movement which might emanate from these persons, and at the same time to circumvent, by warnings and otherwise, any attempts of the government to lay hands on them, attempts of which they were duly notified by their own spies in the ministry of the police.

Meanwhile, the new democratic movement had become so menacing that both of the reactionary parties alike found it prudent to bury their hatchet, and to join forces against the common enemy. No stone was left unturned in the matter of vilification. The leaders were venal, it was said; they aimed at throwing France into a state of anarchy, with the double object of enriching themselves by plunder in the general scramble, and of earning their wages with the Royalists by paving the way for the return of the monarchy. The calumnies were not only repeated at large by the agents of the government, but the executive Directory emphasised them in an official manifesto. Having in this way struck terror into the minds of the timid and well-to-do population generally, but above all into the members of the two councils, on the 27th and 28th of Germinal the Directory laid two bills before the councils, embodying clauses of the most stringent character against the right of public meeting and public discussion. These drastic laws were passed the same day without modification in the Council of Five hundred, with only a minority of twelve against them, and in the Council of the Ancients with unanimity. It now became practically impossible to carry on the work of propaganda and organisation. The final struggle had already begun.

Such was the state of affairs when the cry went out amongst the democrats that the day had come to live free or to die. But, however, our Babouvists’ committee, the Secret Directory, hesitated even now to give the signal for action, as it was anxious to make sure of having all the threads of the movement in its hands before striking. Sufficient discipline reigned in the popular movement itself, combined with a sufficient confidence in the heads of the conspiracy, to prevent a premature outbreak. It was evident now that the revolution would have to be accomplished by a coup de main. The design of the Secret Directory was to proceed at once to make an example of the heads of the usurping power of the executive Directory (of government), together with the whole machinery of the illegitimate constitution of the year III., the opening act of severity to be followed by an immediate amnesty. It was decided that on the day decreed for the rising to take place, banners should be distributed to the revolutionary agents, and that in the name of the Insurrectionary Committee of the “Secret Directory” a proclamation should be issued threatening the death of anyone carrying out an order of the usurpatory government. Babeuf and his friends would thus place themselves at the head of the movement. Finally, after a long and earnest discussion, the following manifesto was adopted, the publication of which throughout Paris was to be the signal for the general rising. It was headed, Act of Insurrection (Acte Insurrecteur) and was as follows:–

French Democrats! Considering that the oppression and misery of the people has reached its height; that the state of tyranny and misfortune is due to the actual government;

Considering that the numerous crimes of governments have always excited against them the daily and always useless complaints of the governed;

Considering that the Constitution sworn to by the people in 1793 was placed by it under the protection of all the virtues; that in consequence, when the entire people has lost all the means guaranteeing it against despotism, it is the most courageous, the most intrepid virtue to take the initiative of insurrection, and to direct the enfranchisement of the masses;

Considering that the ‘rights of man’, recognised at the same epoch of ’93, accord to the whole people, or to each of its sections, as the most sacred of rights, and the most indispensable of duties, to rise in insurrection against any government that violates its rights, and that they enjoin every free man to put to instant death those who usurp the sovereignty;

Considering that a faction has conspired to usurp the sovereignty, in substituting its private will for the public will, freely and legally expressed in the primary assemblies of 1793, in imposing on the French people, by means of the persecution and the assassination of all the friends of liberty, an execrable code called “the Constitution of Anno III” (1795), in place of the democratic pact of 1793, which had been accepted with so much enthusiasm;

Considering the tyrannical Code of 1795 violates the most precious rights, in that it establishes distinction between citizens, interdicts their right to sanction laws, to change the constitution, and to assemble themselves in public meeting, limits their liberty in the choice of public agents, and leaves them no guarantee against the usurpation of rulers;

Considering that the authors of this atrocious code have established themselves in a state of determined rebellion against the people, since they have arrogated to themselves, in contempt of the supreme will, that authority which the nation alone has the right to confer; that they have created either themselves or, with the aid of a handful of factious persons and the enemies of the people, on the one hand, kings under a disguised name, and on the other, independent legislators;

Considering that these oppressors, after having done everything to demoralise the people, after having outraged, abused, and destroyed the attributes and institutions of liberty and democracy, after having assassinated the best friends of the public, recalled and protected its most atrocious enemies, pillaged and exhausted the public treasury, drained all the national resources, totally discredited the public money, made the most infamous bankruptcy, handed over to the avidity of the rich the last remnants of the unfortunate, who have been for well-nigh two years past dying of hunger every day, not content with so many crimes, have come now, by a refinement of tyranny, to rob the people of their right of complaint;

Considering that they have instigated and favoured plots for continuing the civil war in the departments of the west, while deceiving the nation with a patched-up peace, of which the secret articles stipulated conditions contrary to the will, dignity, security, and interest, of the French people;

Considering that, quite recently, they have invited to themselves a crowd of foreigners, and that all the principal conspirators of Europe are at this moment in Paris in order to consummate the last act of the counter-revolution;

Considering that they have disbanded and treated with indignity those battalions that have had the virtue to refuse to second them in their atrocious designs against the people; that they have dared to indict those who are brave soldiers, who have displayed the most energy against oppression, and that they have joined to this infamy that of ascribing their generous resistance to the will of tyrants, to royalist inspiration;

Considering that it would be difficult and take too long to follow and to retrace completely the course of this criminal government, every thought and every act of which is a national offence, but that proofs of all these crimes are traced in letters of blood throughout the whole Republic, and that from all the departments unanimous cries demand its suppression, it pertains to that portion of the citizens who are nearest the oppressors to attack the oppression; that this portion bears in trust liberty for which it is responsible towards the whole State, and that too long silence would render it the accomplice of tyranny;

Considering, finally, that all the defenders of liberty are ready;

After having constituted themselves an Insurrectionary Committee of Public Safety, that has taken upon its head the responsibility and initiative of the insurrection, it is ordained as follows:–

1. The people’s insurrection is against tyranny.

2. The object of the insurrection is the re- establishment of the Constitution of 1793, the liberty, equality, and the well-being of all.

3. This day, this very hour, citizens and citizenesses will march from all points in their order, without waiting for the movement of neighbouring quarters, which they will cause to march with them. They will rally to the sound of the tocsin and trumpets, under the conduct of the patriots to whom the Insurrectionary Committee shall have confided banners bearing the inscription – “THE CONSTITUTION OF 1793: EQUALITY, LIBERTY, AND COMMON WELFARE.” Other banners will bear the words: ‘When the Government violates the rights of the People, insurrection is for the People, and for each portion of the People, the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.

Those who usurp sovereignty ought to be put to death by free men. Generals of the people will be distinguished by tricolor ribands floating conspicuously round their hats.

4. All citizens shall repair with their arms, or in default of arms, with other instruments of attack, under the sole direction of the above patriots, to the chief places of their respective arrondissements.

5. All kinds of arms shall be seized by the insurgents wherever they find them.

6. The barriers of the banks of the river will be carefully guarded; no one may leave Paris without a formal and special order of the Insurrectionary Committee; no one shall enter but couriers, conductors, porters, and carriers of foodstuff, to whom protection and security will be given.

7. The people shall seize the national treasury, post, the houses of ministers, and every public and private building containing provisions or ammunition of war.

8. The Insurrectionary Committee of Public Safety gives to the sacred legions of the camps surrounding Paris, who have sworn to die for Equality, the order to sustain everywhere the efforts of the people.

9. The patriots in the departments fled to Paris.. and the brave officers who have been dismissed, are called upon to distinguish themselves in this sacred struggle.

10. The two Councils and the Directory, usurpers of popular authority, shall be dissolved, and all the members composing them shall be immediately judged by the people.

11. All power ceasing before that of the people, no pretended deputy, member of the usurping authority, director, administrator, judge, officer, supporter of the national guard, or any public functionary whatsoever, may exercise any act of authority or give any order: those who act to the contrary shall be immediately put to death. Every member of the pretended legislative body or director found in the streets shall be arrested and conducted immediately to the police office in his quarter.

12. All opposition shall be suppressed immediately by force. Those opposing shall be exterminated; those equally shall be put to death who beat or cause to be beaten a générale; foreigners, of whatever nation, who shall be found in the streets; all the presidents, secretaries, and commanders of the royalist conspiracy of Vendémiaire who shall dare to show themselves.

13. All the envoys of foreign powers are ordered to remain in their houses during the insurrection: they are under the safeguard of the people.

14. Provisions of all kinds shall be brought to the people in the public places.

15. All bakers shall be requisitioned to continue to make bread, which shall be distributed gratis to the people: they shall be paid on their declaration.

16. The people shall not take rest until after the destruction of the tyrannical government.

17. All the possessions of emigrants, of conspirators, and of all the enemies of the people, shall be distributed without delay to the defenders of the country and the unfortunate. The unfortunate of the whole Republic shall be immediately lodged in the houses of the conspirators. The objects belonging to the people left in the Mont de Piety (public pawn office) shall be immediately returned gratuitously. The French people adopts the wives and children of the brave who shall have succumbed in this holy enterprise; it will nourish them and bring them up; it shall do the same as regards the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, to whose existence they were necessary. The patriots proscribed and wandering throughout the whole Republic shall receive succour and suitable means to re-enter the bosoms of their families. They shall be indemnified for the losses they have suffered. War against eternal tyranny, being that which is most opposed to the general peace, those of the brave defenders of liberty who shall have helped to terminate it shall be free to return with arms and baggage to their own hearths, where they shall immediately enjoy in addition the rewards so long promised them; those among them who shall wish to continue to serve the Republic shall be also immediately rewarded in a manner worthy of the generosity of a great and free nation.

18. Both public and private property shall be placed under the safeguard of the people.

19. The task of ending the Revolution, and of adding to the Republic, Liberty, Equality, and the Constitution of 1793, shall be confided to a National Assembly, composed of one democrat to each department, elected by the insurrectionary people, on the nomination of the insurrectionary committee.

20. The Insurrectionary Committee of Public Safety shall remain in permanence until the complete accomplishment of the insurrection.

The intention was, on the destruction of the existing government, that the people of Paris should be called together in general assembly in the Place de la Revolution, where the Secret Directory should give an account of its conduct, and should point out as the source of all its evils economical inequality, and, after explaining the advantages which might be expected from the realisation of the Constitution of 1793, should call upon the assembly to ratify the insurrection, after which the provisional government should be nominated by the insurrectionary committee for the approval of the assembly.

On the newly elected Assembly above spoken of being come together, it was proposed to lay before its members the following decree or proclamation

The people of Paris, after having destroyed tyranny, using the rights it had received from nature, recognises and declares to the French people that the unequal distribution of wealth and labour is the inexhaustible source of slavery and public ills; that the labour of all is the one essential condition of the social contract; that property in all the wealth of France resides essentially in the French people, who alone can determine or change its distribution; that it orders the National Assembly, which it has created in the interests and in the name of all Frenchmen, to improve the Constitution of 1793, to prepare its prompt execution, and to assume, by wise institutions, founded on the truths above cited, unalterable equality, liberty, and welfare for the French Republic. It enjoins the same assembly to render an account to the nation, in one year at latest, of the execution of the present decree; and finally it engages to cause the decrees of the said Assembly to be respected in so far as they are conformable to the above orders, and to punish with the penalty of traitors those of its members who shall depart from the duties that it has prescribed for them.

Such were the schemes which the Secret Directory was elaborating in preparation for the rising. Meanwhile, the propaganda with the military made rapid progress, especially amongst the body called the “legion of police”, which was supposed never to be called upon to leave Paris. This it was which specially alarmed the government, the army being the last rampart between them and the deluge. So threatening had two battalions of the “legion of police” become, that in violation of strict legality, the Directory made an order for them to be removed from Paris. This order, which was signed the 9th of Floreal (the 29th of April), was followed by immediate resistance, accompanied by the increase of agitation among the populace. At this moment everything seemed to favour the chances of the insurrection. The revolutionary agents suddenly became more numerous and active than ever amongst the troops. There seemed a fair chance, indeed, of gaining over the whole of the Army of the Interior, as the military forces within and around Paris were at this time called. A committee was even formed in the legion of police itself, in concert with the Secret Directory. Charles Germain was the intermediary between the two committees. A manifesto of the legion was drawn up, prepared for publication. Hundreds of democrats held themselves in readiness; when suddenly the government, annulling the previous order, issued a new one, disbanding the insubordinate battalions. Out of the members of these disbanded battalions, mostly composed of Hébertists, a revolutionary advanced guard was formed, under the auspices of the Secret Directory.

Matters now became pressing; popular effervescence and impatience had reached a point where it became evident to the Secret Directory that further delay would imperil the movement. Accordingly, on the 11th of Floreal (the 1st of May) our Secret Directory convoked some military advisers, to wit, Fion, Germain, Rossignol, Massart, and Grisel, to the last mentioned of whom much importance was attached, owing to the influence he was believed to have in the camp at Grenelle. This important meeting was attended by Babeuf, Buonarroti, Debon, Darthé, Maréchal, and Didier. To the five officers was entrusted the task of directing the military side of the insurrection. They formed a committee which held its first sitting the following day at Rey’s, in the Rue du Mont Blanc. Though the military committee maintained outward unity, it was known that the two conventionals, Fian and Rossignol, made no secret of regretting the absence of their old colleagues of the Mountain from the Secret Directory. From this time the meetings of the Secret Directory were transferred to a house in the Faubourg Montmartre. Again, Charles Germain was the intermediary between the latter and the military committee.

Long and earnest discussions took place at this committee as to the conduct of the insurrection. The views of tried revolutionaries from the “legion of police” were heard. One proposition was to enlist the Royalists in the task of overthrowing the executive Directory, but this was at once rejected. Another was by two officers of the legion to poignard that very night the members of the (governmental) Directory, and thus inaugurate the rising. But the want of money at this moment hampered the actions of the conspirators in various directions, while at the same time the question of the old deputies of the Mountain caused much embarrassment. As we have seen, Fion and Rossignol were very dissatisfied at the Mountainist committee being left out in the cold. Much discussion took place in the Secret Directory upon this question, Germain counselling concessions. An amalgamation of the two committees was out of the question.

On the 15th of Floreal, Germain brought to the Secret Directory a delegate from the Mountainist Committee, Ricord. The whole situation was explained to him, the “Act of Insurrection”, already given, was handed to the Mountainist deputy to read, and a discussion was entered into concerning the modifications to be made, especially in the article respecting the provisional authority. It was agreed that the old Mountainists of the Convention should form part of the supreme power, but only on condition of their giving irrefragable guarantees of the purity of their democratic aims.

The conditions as agreed to finally between Ricord and the Secret Directory were: – 1. The reinstatement of the sixty proscribed Mountainist members of the National Convention in the governing body, which was to consist, in addition, as provided for in the Act of Insurrection, of one democrat for every department, to be elected by the people, on the nomination of the Secret Directory. 2. The dispositions of article 18 of the Act of Insurrection to be carried out without reserve and immediately. 3. The decrees issued by the people of Paris on the day of insurrection to be submitted to. 4. The suspension of all laws and ordinances made since the 9th of Thermidor, year II. 5. The expulsion of all the returned emigrants. Ricord, who accepted these conditions, then left to submit them to his colleagues of the Mountainist committee. The next day he returned to announce their rejection of the terms offered. What they required was in effect the reinstallation, on the success of the insurrection, of the sixty proscribed deputies of the Mountain, without any guarantees or conditions whatever. The addition of a democrat for every department was rejected by the proscribed deputies as a violation of the national sovereignty, which they claimed, under the existing circumstances, resided in their own body alone. The rejoinder of the Secret Directory to this response was interesting: – “In agreeing to the provisional reestablishment of a part of the Convention, we only seek to serve the people. The only recompense to which we aspire is the complete triumph of Equality. We shall fight and expose our lives to give back to the people the fullness of its rights, but we cannot conceive that anyone has the right to claim to be generous towards the master of everything. If you really desire to work with us in the great enterprise we have in view, take care lest you put forward propositions and make offers which throw a bad light upon your intentions.” This referred to some phrases in the reply of the Mountainist committee, intimating its willingness to satisfy the social demands of the Babouvists, but rather as an act of grace than as the recognition of a right.

Many of your colleagues have betrayed the confidence of the people, and we should be infinitely more reprehensible than they if we consented to again deliver the people over to their passions and their weaknesses. In order to re – establish the sovereignty of the people, we ought not to employ the instruments which have caused its loss. It is to those in whom the nation expects the destruction of tyranny that it necessarily delegates the right to take the provisional and indispensable measures to this end. We will not destroy an oppressive government in order to substitute for it another equally so. It is well to pardon error, but it would be folly to confide once more the future of the country to those whose errors have lost it. Better to perish by the hands of the patriots who, indignant at our inaction, may accuse us of cowardice and treason, or by those of the government, who may conceivably obtain knowledge of our schemes, than to put the people again at the mercy of those who immolated its best friends on the 9th of Thermidor, and who since then have basely allowed republicans to be proscribed, and the democratic edifice to be demolished.

Ricord again retired to communicate this definitive resolution to his friends. It was on the 18th Floral (7th May) that Darthé reported to the Secret Directory concerning a meeting of the Mountainist committee at which he had been present, that, after a violent debate, the addition of one democrat for every department, as well as the clauses respecting social legislation, had been agreed to, after strong speeches in their favour from the old committeemen of the Convention, Amar, and especially Robert Lindet, both of whom strongly championed the position taken up by the Secret Directory. The news of the entente between the two organising bodies was immediately communicated to the agents of Babeuf and his colleagues, and renewed activity was shown in hastening on the crisis.

There were now three bodies concerned in organising the insurrection – the Mountainist Committee, the Secret Directory, and the Military Committee appointed by the latter. The arrangements proposed by the Military Committee, and accepted by the others, were, that the insurrection should take place in the daytime, that the generals under the orders of the Secret Directory should lead the people against the enemy, that the insurgents should be divided according to their arrondissement and subdivided by section; that each arrondissement should have its chief, and each section its sub-chief; and finally, that all subordination to the existing authorities should be broken off, and every act recognising their legitimacy punished with instant death. For the final ratification of these conditions and settling of details, a general meeting of the three committees was called together on the evening of the 19th of Floréal (8th of May), at the house of Drouet, in the Place des Piques.

Meanwhile, wholly unsuspected by his colleagues, a traitor had been working alongside of them, George Grisel, of the Grenelle camp, who, as member of the military committee, had taken part in the innermost counsels of the conspiracy. Grisel, it would appear, had for some days been in communication with the (governmental) Directory in the person of Carnot. A written denunciation of the proceedings of the Secret Directory by Grisel, the 15th Floréal (4th May), exists, in which precise details are given of the latest meetings, notably that of the 11th of Floral, at which he himself had been presented by Darthé to Babeuf and the others. The traitor, in professing to give an account of the “Act of Insurrection,” entirely perverts its sense, depicting Babeuf as a bloodthirsty tiger, enjoining the wholesale massacre of the rich. He emphasises the part played by Drouet in the conspiracy, and discloses the plan of attack against the Directory, the Councils, and the État major.

In consequence of these disclosures, Carnot, on the 17th of Floréal, submitted to the Directory a list of 245 persons against whom he wished to issue mandates of arrest, as the heads of the dangerous conspiracy. Amongst the names given were, of course, all those with whom the reader is by this time familiar. The proposition was agreed to by the Directory, and on the 19th Floréal the mandates of arrest were issued. Of those against whom the mandates were launched, thirty-five of them were singled out, amongst whom was Buonarroti, to be brought before the Minister of Police, in order to be interrogated concerning the facts of the conspiracy. Grisel, it should be said, made himself notable for the vehemence of his democratic sentiments, and for the boldness of the measures he proposed. He was never tired of affirming the devotion of the soldiers at Grenelle to the democratic principles animating the movement. The government at once took steps to execute the warrants. By a mistake, the residence of Ricord was descended upon on the 18th Floréal, but no one was found there. But Grisel’s information as regards the following day was unfortunately only too correct. As a member of the military committee, he was able to give the government precise information as to the place and time of the meeting of the 19th (Floreal), though, as events showed, owing to clumsily given instructions, the project of the government again miscarried.

The meeting at the house of Drouet took place, and lasted from eight in the evening until a quarter to eleven. Babeuf, Buonarroti, Darthé, Didier, Fion, Massart, Rossignol, Robert Lindet, Drouet, Ricord, Langelot, and Jauveux were present, and, in addition, the infamous Grisel. A member of the Secret Directory opened the proceedings with an eloquent adjuration to those present in the traditional style of eighteenth century revolutionary oratory. The ex-member of the Committee of Public Safety, Robert Lindet, also spoke, on behalf of the Mountainists, on the justice of the proposed insurrection, justifying the reinstatement of the remains of the old Mountain, as the Convention insisted on the necessity of impressing the stamp of the most strict equality upon the Revolution, and of giving it a thoroughly popular character. Grisel then rose. “As for me,” he said, “I speak for my brave comrades of the camp of Grenelle; and to show you how I take to heart the triumph of Equality, I will tell you that I have succeeded in extracting from my aristocrat uncle the sum of 10,000 livres (francs), which I intend to devote to procuring refreshments for the insurgent soldiers.” The Act of Insurrection, as amended, was formally approved by the Mountainists, who by their delegates promised on the day of insurrection to repair to the place that might be indicated by the Secret Directory, and sincerely to co – operate in the common work. Massart, in the name of the Military Committee, explained the basis of the plan of attack proposed. The twelve arrondissements of Paris, united in three divisions, should be marched by as many generals upon the legislative bodies, the executive Directory, and the État Major of the Army of the Interior. The advanced guard was to be formed of the most ardent democrats. He added that the committee required further information of the numbers of the insurgents and of the capacity of some of them; also as to the places where arms and ammunition were stored, which it would be necessary to seize at the first start – off The meeting decided that the Secret Directory should hasten the dénoûement of the conspiracy; that it should give its agents instructions conformably to the plan of the Military Committee; that it should meet again two days later and hear a final report on the state of affairs and fix a day for the movement.

The meeting had not long been dissolved before the Minister of Police, with a detachment of infantry and cavalry at his heels, in defiance of the law which forbade domiciliary visits during the night, broke into the house, but found only Drouet and Darthé there, whom he did not consider it prudent to arrest by themselves. He accordingly withdrew with his escort. The event, notwithstanding, as might be imagined, at once aroused suspicion of treachery, which for the moment fell unfairly enough, as Buonarroti informs us, on Charles Germain, owing to the fact of his absence from the meeting on the occasion in question, – an absence caused by a prosecution having already been begun against him. But the astute Grisel soon succeeded in explaining away the occurrence, and fatally allaying all suspicion. He used the blundering proceeding of the government in making their raid after the meeting was over, and the fact that they had not taken action at the meeting of the previous week, when they were all assembled at the house where Babeuf was lodging, and where all the documents relating to the movement were kept, as an argument to prove that the raid was not due to any internal treachery, but a piece of official bluff on the part of the Minister of Police to single out old Mountainists known to be disaffected to the existing government as the object of his domiciliary visit.

The insurrection, as represented by the Secret Directory, with the allied committees, had at this moment at its disposal, on a careful estimate made, as Babeuf and his friends show, about 17,000 men, upon whom absolute reliance could be placed. These were composed of the most military members of the old revolutionary sections, disbanded members of the Army of the Interior, revolutionaries of the departments come to Paris to join in the movement, almost the whole of the legion of police, the grenadiers of the legislative body, and the corps consigned at the Invalides; this formed the nucleus of the revolutionary army. But, in addition, the leaders of the movement, of course, reckoned upon the popular masses of St Marceau and St Antoine, and, in fact, large numbers of the lower – middle and working class throughout Paris, to join in the movement when once set on foot. The desperate economic situation of such, they assumed, must inevitably drive large numbers into a revolt, the first aim of which was an economic revolution that would make an end, not merely of the existing state itself, as the inevitable social condition of the majority of mankind.

Last updated on 15.3.2004