The Committee of Public Safety

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In the spring of 1793 the situation reached a crisis. A coalition was formed against France and the Vendée was up in arms. On April 6th 1793 the Assembly created the Committee for Public Safety (CSP). It was based on the model of the Committee for General Security, formed on October 2nd 1792 as the Convention's political police and defence against counter-revolutionary activities. The new CSP quickly

In it's earliest incarnation the CSP comprised nine members (unofficially led by Danton and includng Barère, Cambon and Lindet) elected for a mandate of one month and eligible for re-election. With the fall of the Girondins came three new appointments; Robespierre's supporters Hérault de Séchelles, Saint-Just and Couthon. Robespierre now questioned Danton's leadership, accusing him of being too soft to deal with the difficulties facing France in the summer of 1793. Danton was voted off the CSP and on July 27th Robespierre was voted on. For the next 12 months the 'incorruptible' would hold the reins of power as unofficial but effective leader of the all-powerful 'Grand Committee'.

In his first days on the committee Robespierre set up the principle that the national crisis demanded a strong revolutionary government to save the republic from its enemies within and the threat of invastion from without. Their was much to do and the tasks were divided between the members. Robespierre, with the aid of Saint-Just and Couthon, took control of all the most important business. Carnot ran the war effort, Prieur (de la Cote-d'Or) was responible for arms and munitions, Lindet for food supplies, Jean Bon Saint-André and Prieur (de la Marne) the navy, Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne for home affairs and Barére took the role of spokesman for the committee in the Convention. The Committee had full powers except in financial matters. It ruled as a centralised dictatorship, sending out orders carried to the provinces and to the armies by their commissioners. Committees were set up in all major towns across France to carry out the orders of these commissioners.

In March 1794 the committee struck at the radical revolutionary Hébertistes, sending the popular sans-culottes leader and his closest supporters to the guillotine on March 24th. Barely a week later the moderate left-wing leaders Danton and Desmoulins (known as the 'indulgents'), who had helped Robespierre to suppress the enragés, found themselves next in line. Accused of treason and denied the opportunity to speak in his own defence in the Convention that he had once so dominated, Danton fell victim of the instrument of power he had created.

There were serious divisions below the surface of the apparently unified CPS, though, and after Robespierre so brutally eradicated his critics the enragés and the indulgents, many deputies and some members of the CPS itself feared that they may be next if Robespierre were not stopped. The danger of invasion from the international anti-revolutionary coalition had been repelled, if not entirely dispelled, and the danger of counter-revolution from within France had subsided. And yet the number of executions was rising daily! The Convention were tired of the slaughter created by the Terror and a plot was hatched to topple Robespierre by accusing him of tyranny and wishing to make himself king.

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