Lazare Carnot, the man who was to become known as the 'organiser of the victory', was born into a middle-class family in Nolay, Burgundy, on May 13th 1753. As a young man he wanted to be a soldier and when he graduated from military college he served in the garrison at Béthune in Arras. A supporter of the new ideas spreading through French political life, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly and then to the Convention, where he voted in favour of executing the king. This convinced republican's main sphere of activity, however, remained in military matters. He was sent out to visit the republican armies on several occasions, working with an ardent enthusiasm that earned him a place on the Committee for Public Safety in August 1793.
Once in the CPS he worked tirelessly to reform the revolutionary armies, earning the respect of his contemporaries for his zeal and competence. He personally worked alongside Jourdan to achieve the victory at Wattignies. He was a man of integrity and often found himself opposed to the policies proposed by Robespierre Couthon and Saint-Just. He was thus involved in the Thermidor coup which ousted Robespierre and company from power although his name was included in the list of outlawed deputies until one deputy compained that it was outrageous to call into question the loyalty of the 'saviour of the Republic'.
In November 1795 he was elected Director and continued to plan the military campaigns against Austria. Despite his efficient suppression of the BabeufLINK plot he soon fell out with fellow Directors Barras and Rewbell and found himself accused of right-wing sympathies. He took flight to Switzerland when the coup d'etat of September 4th 1797 where he remained until recalled by First Consul Napoleon in January 1800.
Carnot voted against the Life Consulship and against the Emperorship, leaving him marginalised under Napoleon's regime. After more than ten years devoted mainly to scientific research this great patriot, seeing his country threatened with invasion, volunteered his services to Napoleon once again and was given command of Anvers. He surrendered only after receiving the news that the Emperor had abdicated. When Napoleon returned from Elba for the 'hundred days', Carnot agreed to become minister of the interior, with a promise of becoming a peer under the re-established empire. After Waterloo he was outlawed as a regicide and fled first to Warsaw and later to Magdebourg where he died on August 3rd 1823. His remains were returned to France in 1889 and solemnly placed in the Pantheon in Paris.
This entry is part of the French Revolution University Project.