French Revolutionaries - Danton

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Georges-Jacques Danton (1759-1794) was active revolutionary and a powerful orator. A man of athletic build, with a strong speaking voice, he was one of life's fighters! Born on October 28th, 1759 in Arcis-sur-Aube, less than 100 miles southeast of Paris, Danton was a hard-working laywer when the Revolution broke out but quickly adopted the new ideas. He went on to play an influential role in many of the key events of the crucial first five years of the revolution.

In May 1790 he founded the Club des Cordeliers1 as a centre for political ideas more extreme left-wing than those in the influential 'Club des Jacobins'. Other illustrious members included Marat, Desmoulins, Hébert. The 'Cordeliers' played an active role in inciting some of the key revolutionary uprisings. They colluded with the 'montagnards' to defeat the 'girondins' but then became divided between 'enragés' and 'indulgents'. When Robespierre acted against the 'factions', most of the survivors joined the 'jacobins'.

After the flight and arrest of the Royal Family at Varennes, Danton was one of the first to demand that the King be deposed. In 1792 he was instrumental in the attack on the Tuileries. Substitute Municipal Prosecutor???

With the fall of the monarchy he became Minister of Justice and was an influential member of the provisional executive council. An ardent patriot, Danton galvanised the nation into action against the imminent foreign invasion, turning a blind eye to the horror of the September massacres.

Elected to the Convention as a deputy for Paris, he sat with the Montagne but sought to create links with the Girondin in the hope of bringing the two sides together. The overtures were rejected, though, apparently in part because of Mme Roland's great dislike of him. The Girondins called for him to prove where the money he had spent as a Minister had gone and he was unable to provide satisfactory accounts.

Towards the end of 1792 Danton voted for the King's execution. All his energies were then turned to the defense of the nation in the wake of the Brunswick Manifesto. He was a founding member of the Committee for Public Welfare; the conscription of the huge revolutionary army; the creation of the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was even sent to Belgium to foment the Revolution there.

In spite of this revolutionary zeal, Robespierre ousted Danton from the CPW on the grounds that he was to 'soft'. Returning to Paris from a brief trip with his young wife, Danton found his popularity waning. He also engaged Camille Desmoulins to advocate 'indulgence' in his paper, Le Vieux Cordelier and made it plain that he was becoming disillusioned with the Terror. In spite of this, he colluded once again with Robespierre in bring down the extremist enragés headed by Hébert.

On March 31st, 1794, shortly after Hébert's downfall, Danton, Desmoulins and some of their 'accomplices' were arrested and later found guilty without being given the opportunity to speak in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal. They were guillotined on April 5th, 1794.

1This was a nickname - the real name was 'The Society of the Friends of the Rights of Man and the Citizen', but that was a bit of a mouthful!

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