Gracchus Babeuf 1794
Source: On Veut Sauver Carrier, [n.d. 1794] [n.p.];
Translated: from the original letter, by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2012.
Translator’s note: Jean-Baptiste Carrier (1756-1794) , an uncompromising revolutionary and merciless fighter against enemies of the revolution, was responsible for the bloody repression of the Vendée rebels, including the mass drowning of rebels – the noyades – in the Loire off Nantes. Despite his ferocity, he was at loggerheads with the sans culottes and, ultimately, Robespierre, and participated in the events of 9 Thermidor. When Carrier was put on trial in the fall of 1794 Babeuf was commissioned by the National Convention – in the person of Joseph Fouché – to mount a press campaign against Carrier. Found guilty, Carrier was guillotined December 16, 1794. During his trial at the Convention he told his fellow-legislators: “Everything here is guilty, including the bell.”
The crimes of the people’s representatives and those of their agents must never go unpunished. No one has the right to claim himself more inviolable than other citizens.
Declaration of the Rights of Man, art. 51
The people of Paris, the people of the whole Republic, have issued but one cry since the opening of the trial of the accomplices of the most execrable of depopulators. This cry calls for the most terrible vengeance, vengeance called on to fall not on the head, but on all the sensitive parts of the most monstrous being nature has ever produced. Never have expressions of indignation been so generally, so energetically expressed against an individual. And never has such an accumulation of atrocities better justified public irritation.
Carrier: this horrible name strikes all ears, is issued from all mouths. Merely speaking it causes a shiver of horror. There is not a single Frenchman for whom this word does not suffice to tell the story of the man it designates. It reminds all of his contemporaries of the most irascible of carnivorous beings. Posterity will not be able to find in any tradition an exterminator who was his equal. The crimes of this master villain are recognized by, and proven to, all, and yet he has unofficial defenders in the National Convention, and it even appears that there exists a strong party that wants to save him. Even more, there are signs that announce that there are those who want to influence, even terrify the just tribunal that, with its usual wisdom, is investigating the affair of the infamous drowner who has far surpassed Nero and all the other great executioners.
Are we not scandalized to read in all the newspapers what happened at the Convention during the session of 12 Brumaire, upon the appearance of this ferocious assassin, whose presence at a senate is a continual insult to the people represented? Let us review this session and weigh its astonishing circumstances as they relate to Carrier.
It is a fact that a police officer was charged with an order to hold Carrier in custody, to prevent him from leaving Paris and, if he attempted to do so, to take him to the Commission of the Twenty-One. It is a fact that the police officer was arrested and imprisoned for taking Carrier to this commission.
There is nothing that says that the officer charged with the order didn’t arrest Carrier because he felt that Carrier sought to leave Paris. Given that the order said “if he attempted” to leave Paris, the result was that the vagueness of the word “attempted” left the guard wide latitude. The least movement, the least initiative could have appeared to him to be an attempt at flight; he was the sole judge of this and his responsibility must have seemed so great to him that that it didn’t allow him to run any great risks. And do it is clear that the arrest should not have rendered him reprehensible, and the fact of having carried out this arrest incontestably supposed that there was reason to do so, and we cannot help but see in the treatment of Carrier’s guard a punishment for having carried out his mandate.
But what is more worthy of observation is the tender solicitude that several deputies demonstrate towards their colleague Carrier. The Commission of the Twenty-One manifested great surprise at seeing him accompanied by a gendarme and a police officer; Guyomard finds it to be a terrible attack on the national representation and calls for its punishment.
Concerning the first circumstance I only have this thought: that it’s the last straw that Guyomard wants to maintain respect for the national representation by not suffering respect to be lost for its least respectable members.
Then there is Legendre. He finds malicious those who reveal to their groups their fears of the project to save Carrier. It is consequently a crime to demonstrate alarm over what would, without contradiction, be a great misfortune; that is, seeing the incomparable criminal escape exemplary vengeance.
We are not a little surprised to hear Legendre explain the unforgivable wrong of the arresting officer by saying that he abused his orders by not observing the consideration due to the national representation by arresting Carrier in a manner inappropriate to the dignity of his position. This is why the Committee of General Security set free the representative of the people and arrested the individual who permitted himself this arbitrary act against a member of the Convention.
When we hear Legendre speak in this way are we not tempted to say that he too is finished, that returning to the countryside has ruined him? But if for these people it’s a matter of showing proper consideration, it is to the blights of this world that they want us to grant consideration. What do they mean by the consideration due the national representation in the person of Carrier, by the dignity of Carrier’s position? I see nothing but Carrier in Carrier; I see no dignity inherent in his position. And as for the national representation, I see the indignity of Carrier’s sullying the title. What is this fanaticism concerning positions, that calls for respect for what is no longer respectable? Are we going to return to superstitious times, when lying priests also spoke of a position to be respected in their persons? I only know men, and not positions. I respect them when they deserve to be respected. When they are like Carrier I abhor them. It will be said that he hasn’t yet been judged. But he has been judged by public opinion, and this is enough. It is even too much.
Duhem has just revealed his intention of shielding the devourer of mankind from national justice. The newspapers say, “He speaks of posters that have as their object the capturing of the opinions of the people and the jurors of the Revolutionary Tribunal. He is surprised that the public prosecutor at this tribunal has not been ordered to appear at the bar to account for his conduct in this regard. He accuses the leaders of the tribunal of being a faction that wants to pursue several members of the Convention, notably the deputies, who did everything it was possible to do to save the Fatherland in the Vendée.”
This is the plan of the accomplice of the exterminator of peoples. They'll intimidate, they'll silence the tribunal, they'll even attempt to put it on trial. And they'll justify the mass killer of the west with the excuse that the terrorism he provided the earth an example of was necessary for the salvation of the Fatherland.
Exterminable system! It was necessary for the salvation of France to erase the entire population of its western parts! It was necessary for the salvation of the Fatherland to turn its most beautiful countryside into a horrible desert, to make it the lair of voracious animals both terrestrial and aquatic by covering the waters, fields, and woods with corpses! Ferocious Duhem, you sanction these horrifying devastations, you absolve the murderers of a quarter of France: your no less barbarous soul would have done the same as them. Where did republicans find legislators like you? What evil genius led them towards executioners instead of guiding them among the wise? To save the Fatherland the latter would have found means other than depopulating the most beautiful regions. Phélipeaux and Dubois-Crancé said that the Vendée could have been converted by less atrocious means. Battalions of missionaries, apostles of freedom should have been sent there who, capable of presenting their doctrine with all its charms would, without bloodshed easily have brought around a people that was abused by a horde of imposters. Men of blood and death, do you think you attenuate the general horror your frightful exploits inspired by the charlatanism of a coldly abominable phrase: “All they did was everything it was possible to do to save the Fatherland.” These sinister and insidious words will not work. Do all you will to quell indignation, we for our part will do all we can to keep it alive, to prevent the worst possible villainy from escaping the vengeance that all Frenchmen demand and expect. If we must every day retrace the most revolting horrors of our cannibals, then we will; we will not allow the people to forget. Let us begin this task. Rest easy, many manes; the people will not grow cold to the satisfaction that is due you. You shall be avenged.
In order to save the Fatherland were the 23 noyades of Nantes, one of 600 children, needed? Were “republican marriages” necessary, where young boys and girls tied together naked were knocked unconscious with saber blows and then tossed into the Loire? (Deposition by Philippe Tronjoli and Bourier) Was it necessary (another deposition of 25 Vendémiaire) to cause to die in the prisons of Nantes through hunger, infection, and misery, 10,000 citizens, 30,000 if we include the executions and noyades? Were the sabrades necessary (deposition of Laéné) on the departmental square, which occupied 300 men for six weeks filling the mass graves with those who perished from this torture? Was it necessary for Carrier (deposition of Tronjoli of the 27) to sleep with three beautiful women and then drown them? Was it necessary to execute (deposition of Renaudot) infantry and cavalry detachments of the rebel army who had voluntarily surrendered? Was it necessary to drown or execute (deposition of Thomas) 500 children, the oldest of whom wasn’t fourteen and who Carrier called vipers that must be suppressed? Was it necessary (same deposition) to drown 30- 40 women eight and eight and a half months pregnant and to offer horrified eyes the still palpitating corpses of the babies tossed into a tub filled with excrement? Was it necessary (deposition of Abraham and goodwife Puchotte) to kill in one night by suffocation (caused by infection and lack of air) 50-60 prisoners in a galleon whose side panels were shut expressly to cause suffocation? Was it necessary, after the execution of a group of women by firing squad (deposition of Delamarie) to make a pile of their corpses and to joke in poor taste, calling it a Mountain? Was it necessary (deposition of Coron) to tear their fruits from women about to give birth, to carry them at the tips of bayonets and then throw them in the river? Was it necessary to spread among the soldiers of the Marat Company the horrible doctrine that each of them should be capable of drinking a cup of blood? Was it necessary (deposition of Forget) to make the warden of the prison the sole judge of his detainees? Was it necessary to allow the generals to openly proclaim themselves the butchers of the Convention? Was it necessary (deposition of Jeanne Laillet) that Carrier himself give the special order to guillotine the six young Lamettries sisters; that the sorrowful cries of these unfortunates who demanded judges only made an impression on the executioner, who died three days later of sorrow because he carried out this execution? Was it necessary (deposition of Lavigne) for Carrier to openly profess his execrable jurisprudence through these terrible words: “Bah, you judges need a hundred proofs, a hundred witnesses to guillotine a man. Toss them all in the river; that’s what you should have done.” Was it necessary (deposition of Tabouret) for the unfortunates who were being taken by ship to a noyade who passed their arms through openings in the side panels to beg for mercy, to have their arms struck with sabers as they asked for pity from their executioners? Was it necessary (deposition of Moutier) for Carrier to publicly say in Nantes that they should play petanque with the heads of all the residents of Nantes?
Ah, Carrier, ah, Duhem, and all of you unofficial defenders of them.
If it is only in this way that you know how to save the Fatherland, then the murdered Fatherland is rising up against your blood-stained hands and will deal the death blow before your atrociously insatiable hearts have realized their obvious wish: to bury all of humankind in the abysses of destruction and to rule over corpses and deserts. What do you take the French people for by thinking that they will allow perfected cannibalism to emerge triumphant from horrors which will astound centuries and nations. No. Count on it that the judgment of public opinion, which has never pronounced itself so unanimously against a guilty man, will not bow before the insane appeals of a few vociferators who shared and share his populicide dogmas. Nature will not allow, has never allowed the assassins of this earth to harvest the fruits of their barbarity with impunity. The blood of men has always splashed on those who caused it to spill. Carrier’s death is being loudly called for. It is the goal of a universal wish; it is necessary for the repose of the Republic, none of whose regions will be safe from the unheard of furies of such an executioner if a frightening example isn’t imposed on whoever would be tempted to imitate him. Far from listening to the appeals for pity provoked in favor of the monster vomited up by the Cantal, it is perhaps neither impolitic nor unphilosophical to solicit for this extraordinary being, for this enemy of nature, a particular punishment. Nero, his mentor, wished that humanity could have but one head so that he could annihilate it with one blow. Shouldn’t humanity then wish that Nero and Carrier had a thousand heads so they could suffer a thousand deaths? No, one blow of the guillotine is not enough for such execrable beings. The shades of the victims of the departments of the west will not be satisfied with so small a sacrifice. What would happen if a Caligulaite cabal were to find itself strong enough to have thanks voted for the ferocious drowner and depopulator and to rank this man-eater among the saviors of the Fatherland? These tearful shades will join their cries of despair to the cries of the living, and the latter will want only to reach the fatal shores before the era when the hordes of the unpunished Carrier spread across the four parts of France to turn it into a vast cemetery.
But no, the Revolutionary Tribunal, whose fair conduct consoles and gives confidence to all good citizens, will know how to remain firm against all the suggestions of ruse, crime, and even power. It will render itself worthy of the honorable post to which it has been raised. It will not forget that the eyes of all of France are fixed on it, that the fate of the French people depends in large part on the support of the march it has led in the important affair whose first threads it holds in its hands. And the greatest of all the perpetrators of massacres will soon see his final hour, despite the generous efforts of doctor Duhem and his band.
GRACCHUS BABEUF, editor of the “Journal de la Liberté de la Presse” and subsequently the “Tribun du Peuple.”
Note: I openly sign this. I am not one of those timid ones who tremblingly write anonymously. I will soon be seen rising up prouder than ever and giving Merlin de Thionville reason to blush for his infamous slanders of me and which the enslaved newspapers embellished and spread.
I just learned of a scientific production (a slap in the face to imposture); I will reply to this as well.