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A Residence in France During the Years 1792, 1793,

Were opposed by Collot and Billaud Varennes


It

is rare that a number of men, however well meaning, perfectly agree in the exercise of power; and the combinations of the selfish and wicked must be peculiarly subject to discord and dissolution. The Committee of Public Welfare, while it enslaved the convention and the people, was torn by feuds, and undermined by the jealousies of its members. Robespierre, Couthon, and St. Just, were opposed by Collot and Billaud Varennes; while Barrere endeavoured to deceive both parties; and Carnot, Lindet, the two Prieurs, and St. Andre, laboured in the cause of the common tyranny, in the hope of still dividing it with the conquerors.

For some months this enmity was restrained, by the necessity of preserving appearances, and conciliated, by a general agreement in the principles of administration, till Robespierre, relying on his superior popularity, began to take an ascendant, which alarmed such of his colleagues as were not his partisans, both for their power and their safety. Animosities daily increased, and their debates at length became so violent and noisy, that it was found necessary to remove the business of the Committee to an upper room, lest people passing under the windows should overhear these scandalous scenes. Every means were taken to keep these disputes a profound secret--the revilings which accompanied their private conferences were turned into smooth panegyrics of each other when they ascended the tribune, and their unanimity was a favourite

theme in all their reports to the Convention.*

* So late as on the seventh of Thermidor, (25th July,) Barrere made a pompous eulogium on the virtues of Robespierre; and, in a long account of the state of the country, he acknowledges "some little clouds hang over the political horizon, but they will soon be dispersed, by the union which subsists in the Committees;--above all, by a more speedy trial and execution of revolutionary criminals." It is difficult to imagine what new means of dispatch this airy barbarian had contrived, for in the six weeks preceding this harangue, twelve hundred and fifty had been guillotined in Paris only.

The impatience of Robespierre to be released from associates whose views too much resembled his own to leave him an undivided authority, at length overcame his prudence; and, after absenting himself for six weeks from the Committee, on the 8th of Thermidor, (26th July,) he threw off the mask, and in a speech full of mystery and implications, but containing no direct charges, proclaimed the divisions which existed in the government.--On the same evening he repeated this harangue at the Jacobins, while St. Just, by his orders, menaced the obnoxious part of the Committee with a formal denunciation to the Convention.--From this moment Billaud Varennes and Collot d'Herbois concluded their destruction to be certain. In vain they soothed, expostulated with, and endeavoured to mollify St. Just, so as to avert an open rupture. The latter, who probably knew it was not Robespierre's intention to accede to any arrangement, left them to make his report.

On the morning of the ninth the Convention met, and with internal dread and affected composure proceeded to their ordinary business.--St. Just then ascended the tribune, and the curiosity or indecision of the greater number permitted him to expatiate at large on the intrigues and guilt of every kind which he imputed to a "part" of the Committee.--At the conclusion of this speech, Tallien, one of the devoted members, and Billaud Varennes, the leader of the rival party, opened the trenches, by some severe remarks on the oration of St. Just, and the conduct of those with whom he was leagued. This attack encouraged others: the whole Convention joined in accusing Robespierre of tyranny; and Barrere, who perceived the business now deciding, ranged himself on the side of the strongest, though the remaining members of the Committee still appeared to preserve their neutrality. Robespierre was, for the first time, refused a hearing, yet, the influence he so lately possessed still seemed to protect him. The Assembly launched decrees against various of his subordinate agents, without daring to proceed against himself; and had not the indignant fury with which he was seized, at the desertion of those by whom he had been most flattered, urged him to call for arrest and death, it is probable the whole would have ended in the punishment of his enemies, and a greater accession of power to himself.


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