Maximilien Robespierre

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The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.
Men of all countries are brothers, and the different peoples should help one another to the best of their ability, like citizens of the same state.
I utter this deadly truth with regret, but Louis must die, because the homeland has to live.
The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries...
No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.
If the rich...regarded themselves as... brothers to the poor, it might be possible to recognize no law but the most unlimited freedom; but if it is true that avarice can speculate on the misery and tyranny itself on the despair of the people... then why should not the law repress these abuses?
Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil.
Death is the commencement of immortality.
Happily virtue is natural in the people, [despite] aristocratical prejudices. A nation is truly corrupt, when, after having, by degrees lost its character and liberty, it slides from democracy into aristocracy or monarchy; this is the death of the political body by decrepitude...

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (6 May 175828 July 1794) was a French lawyer and statesman who was one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Jacobin Club, he campaigned for universal manhood suffrage and the abolition both of celibacy for the clergy, and slavery. In 1791, Robespierre was elected as "public accuser" and became an outspoken advocate for male citizens without a political voice, for their unrestricted admission to the National Guard, to public offices, for the right to petition and the right to bear arms in self defence. Robespierre played an important part in the agitation which brought about the fall of the French monarchy on 10 August 1792 and the summoning of a National Convention. His goal was to create a one and indivisible France, equality before the law, to abolish prerogatives and to defend the principles of direct democracy.

A divisive figure during his lifetime, Robespierre remains controversial to this day. His legacy and reputation continue to be subject to ongoing academic and popular debate. To some, Robespierre was the Revolution's principal ideologist and embodied the country's first democratic experience, marked by the often revised and never implemented French Constitution of 1793. To others, he was the incarnation of the Terror itself, and provided in his speeches a justification of civilian armament.

We want, in a word, to fulfil nature’s wishes, to further the destinies of humanity, to keep the promises of philosophy, to absolve providence of the long reign of crime and tyranny. So that France...may become the model for all nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed... That is our ambition, that is our goal.
To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty... Therefore let him beware who should dare to influence the people by that terror which is made only for their enemies!...Death to the villain who dares abuse the sacred name of liberty or the powerful arms intended for her defense, to carry mourning or death to the patriotic heart...



Misc Quotes

  • You have driven out the kings: but have you driven out the vices that their fatal domination has bred within you?
  • poverty corrupts the People’s behaviour and degrades its soul; it predisposes it to crime
    • Robespierre: A Revolutionary life, p.43
  • Citizens, imagination usually sets the limits of the possible and the impossible; but when you have the will to do good, you must have the courage to cross these limits.
    • 13 August 1793, Presenting his education plan to the National Convention
  • Man is born to be happy and free, and everywhere he is enslaved and unhappy! Society exists for the purpose of conserving his rights and perfecting his being, and everywhere society degrades and oppresses him! The time has come to remind him of his true destiny.
  • There is one thing more despicable than a tyrant— it is a nation of slaves.
    • Robespierre, J.M Thompson p.135
  • Whoever tries to stop the saying of mass is a worse fanatic than the priest who says it.
    • Attacking the Dechristianization movement
  • It is by the progress of philosophy and by the spectacle of the happiness of France, that you will extend the empire of our revolution, and not by the force of arms and by the calamities of war.
    • Speech to the National Convention, 10th April 1793
  • Freedom can never be found by the use of a foreign force
    • Opposing the annexation of Belgium, 5th February 1793. Robespierre, Oeuvres, v. 270
  • When will the interests of governments be amalgamated with those of the people? Never!
    • Note found in his notebook, after his death
  • Remember, that there is no more formidable enemy to liberty than fanaticism.
    • Leaders of the French Revolution, J.M Thompson
  • Let tyranny reign a single day, and there will be no more patriots the day after. Yet one or the other has to yield.
  • Every citizen fulfilling the conditions of eligibility that you have prescribed has the right to public office.
    • "On Voting Rights for Actors and Jews" (21 December 1789)
  • Things have been said to you about the Jews that are infinitely exaggerated and often contrary to history. How can the persecutions they have suffered at the hands of different peoples be held against them? These on the contrary are national crimes that we ought to expiate, by granting them imprescriptible human rights of which no human power could despoil them. Faults are still imputed to them, prejudices, exaggerated by the sectarian spirit and by interests. But to what can we really impute them but our own injustices? After having excluded them from all honours, even the right to public esteem, we have left them with nothing but the objects of lucrative speculation. Let us deliver them to happiness, to the homeland, to virtue, by granting them the dignity of men and citizens; let us hope that it can never be policy, whatever people say, to condemn to degradation and oppression a multitude of men who live among us. How could the social interest be based on violation of the eternal principles of justice and reason that are the foundations of every human society?
    • "On Voting Rights for Actors and Jews" (21 December 1789)
  • It is indeed a great interest, the conservation of your colonies, but even that interest is connected with your constitution; and the supreme interest of the nation and of the colonies themselves is that you conserve your liberty and do not overturn the foundations of that liberty with your own hands. Faugh! Perish your colonies, if you are keeping them at that price. Yes, if you had either to lose your colonies, or to lose your happiness, your glory, your liberty, I would repeat: perish your colonies.
    • "On the Condition of Free Men of Colour" (31 May 1791)
  • La plus extravagante idée qui puisse naître dans la tête d'un politique est de croire qu'il suffise à un peuple d'entrer à main armée chez un peuple étranger, pour lui faire adopter ses lois et sa constitution. Personne n'aime les missionnaires armés; et le premier conseil que donnent la nature et la prudence, c'est de les repousser comme des ennemis.
    • The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.
    • Opposing proposals to spread the French revolution by war, in Sur la guerre (1ère intervention), a speech to the Jacobin Club (2 January 1792)
  • Le secret de la liberté est d'éclairer les hommes, comme celui de la tyrannie est de les retenir dans l'ignorance
    • The secret of liberty is to enlighten men, as that of tyranny is to keep them in ignorance.
    • Variant translations:
    • The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.
    • As quoted in Human Rights and Freedoms in the USSR (1981) by Fedor Eliseevich Medvedev and Gennadiĭ Ivanovich Kulikov, p. 221
  • Citoyens, vouliez-vous une révolution sans révolution?
    • For all these things have been illegal, as illegal as the Revolution, as the fall of the Monarchy and of the Bastille, as illegal as liberty itself... Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution?
    • Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution that has come to revise, so to speak, the one that broke our chains? But what sure judgement can one make of the effects that can follow these great commotions? Who can mark, after the event, the exact point at which the waves of popular insurrection should break? At that price, what people could ever have shaken off the yoke of despotism? For while it is true that a great nation cannot rise in a simultaneous movement, and that tyranny can only be hit by the portion of citizens that is closest to it, how would these ever dare to attack it if, after the victory, delegates from remote parts could hold them responsible for the duration or violence of the political torment that had saved the homeland? They ought to be regarded as justified by tacit proxy for the whole of society. The French, friends of liberty, meeting in Paris last August, acted in that role, in the name of all the departments. They should either be approved or repudiated entirely. To make them criminally responsible for a few apparent or real disorders, inseparable from so great a shock, would be to punish them for their devotion.
    • "Answer to Louvet's Accusation" (5 November 1792) Réponse à J.- B. Louvet, a speech to the National Convention (5 November 1792)
  • I know we cannot flatter ourselves that we have attained perfection; but holding up a Republic surrounded by enemies, fortifying reason in favour of liberty, destroying prejudice and nullifying individual efforts against the public interest, demand moral and physical strengths that nature has perhaps denied to those who denounce us and those we are fighting.
    • "In Defense of the Committee of Public Safety and Against Briez" (25 September 1793)
  • The policy of the London Cabinet largely contributed to the first movement of our Revolution …Taking advantage of political tempests (the cabinet) aimed to effect in an exhausted and dismembered France a change of dynasty and to place the Duke of York on the throne of Louis XVI … Pitt … is an imbecile, whatever may be said of a reputation that has been much too greatly puffed up. A man who, abusing the influence acquired by him on an island placed haphazard in the ocean, is desirous of contending with the French people, could not have conceived of such an absurd plan elsewhere than in a madhouse.
  • To defend the oppressed against their oppressors, to plead the cause of the weak against the strong who exploit and crush them, this is the duty of all hearts that have not been spoiled by egoism and corruption… It is so sweet to devote oneself to one’s fellows that I do not know how there can be so many unfortunates still without support or defenders. As for me, my life’s task will be to help those who suffer and to pursue through my avenging speech those who take pleasure in the pain of others. How happy I will be if my feeble efforts are crowned with success and if, at the price of my devotion and sacrifices, my reputation is not tarnished by the crimes of the oppressors I will fight.
  • To be armed for personal defence is the right of every man, to be armed to defend freedom and the existence of the common fatherland is the right of every citizen
    • On the organisation of the National Guard (5 December 1790)
  • Death, so much Death! And the wretches cast it upon me. What a memory I shall leave behind if this lasts. Life is a burden to me
  • You constantly allege the declaration of human rights, the principles of liberty, and you yourselves believed in it so little that you constitutionally decreed slavery.
    • Attacking the defense of slavery, Session of National Constituent Assembly 13 May, 1791
  • let all of Europe league against us and Europe will be defeated.
    • Speech on the King's flight to the Jacobin club

On the Silver Mark (1791)

  • The law, the public authority: is it not established to protect weakness against injustice and oppression? It is thus an offence to all social principles place it entirely in the hands of the rich. But the rich, the powerful, have reasoned differently, Through a strange abuse of words, they have restricted the general idea of property to certain objects only; they have called only themselves property owners: they have claimed that only property owners were worthy of the name of citizen; they have named their own particular interest the general interest, and to ensure the success of that claim, they have seized all social power.
  • What is a person who, among men equal in rights, dares to declare his fellows unworthy of exercising theirs, and to take them away for his own advantage!
  • The people only ask for what is necessary, it only wants justice and tranquility, the rich aspire to everything, they want to invade and dominate everything. Abuses are the work and the domain of the rich, they are the scourges of the people: the interest of the people is the general interest, that of the rich is a particular interest...
  • England! Ha! What good are they to you, England and its depraved constitution, which may have looked free to you when you had sunk to the lowest degree of servitude, but which it is high time to stop praising out of ignorance or habit!
  • The National Assembly, imbued with a religious respect for the rights of men, whose maintenance should be the object of all political institutions; Convinced that a constitution designed to ensure the liberty of French people, and to influence that of the world, ought to be established on that principle above all; Declares that all Frenchmen, meaning all men born and domiciled in France, or naturalized, should enjoy fully and equally the rights of the citizen; and are eligible for all public office, without distinction other than that of their virtues and talents!

On Subsistence (2 December 1792)

  • In every country where nature provides for the needs of men with prodigality, scarcity can only be imputed to defects of administration or of the laws themselves; bad laws and bad administration have their origins in false principles and bad morals.
  • Citizens, it is you who will have the glory of making genuine principles prevail, and giving the world just laws. You are certainly not here to plod servilely along the rut of tyrannical prejudices traced by your predecessors; rather you are starting a new career in which no one has preceded you.

  • What is the first object of society? It is to maintain the imprescriptible rights of man. What is the first of those rights? The right to life.
  • I defy the most scrupulous defender of property to contest these principles, short of declaring openly that he understands this word as the right to despoil and assassinate his fellows. So how have people been able to claim that any sort of restriction, or rather any regulation of the trade in wheat, was an attack on property, and disguise that barbaric system under the specious name of freedom of trade? Do the authors of this system not perceive that they are inevitably in contradiction with themselves?
  • No doubt if all men were just and virtuous; if cupidity were never tempted to devour the people’s substance; if the rich, receptive to the voices of reason and nature, regarded themselves as the bursars of society, or as brothers to the poor, it might be possible to recognize no law but the most unlimited freedom; but if it is true that avarice can speculate on the misery and tyranny itself on the despair of the people; if it is true that all the passions declare war on suffering humanity, then why should not the law repress these abuses? Why should it not stay the homicidal hand of the monopolist, as it does that of the common murderer? Why should it not concern itself with the subsistence of the people, after caring so long for the pleasures of the great, and the power of despots?
  • The resources necessary to man are as sacred as life itself. Everything that is indispensable for its preservation is a property common to all of society. Only the surplus is private property and is abandoned to the industry of merchants. Any mercantile speculation that I make at the cost of the life of my countrymen is not trade, but brigandage and fratricide.
  • Je prononce à regret cette fatale vérité... mais Louis doit mourir, parce qu'il faut que la patrie vive.
  • Notre révolution m'a fait sentir tout le sens de l'axiome qui dit que l'histoire est un roman ; et je suis convaincu que la fortune et l'intrigue ont fait plus de héros, que le génie et la vertu.
    • Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtue.
    • Lettres à ses commettants, 1ère série, n°10, (21 December 1792)
  • Louis cannot be judged; either he is already condemned or the Republic is not acquitted. Proposing to put Louis on trial, in whatever way that could be done, would be to regress towards royal and constitutional despotism; it is a counter-revolutionary idea, for it means putting the revolution itself in contention.
  • It is a gross contradiction to suppose that the constitution might preside over this new order of things; that would be to assume it had itself survived. What are the laws that replace it? Those of nature, the one which is the foundation of society itself: the salvation of the people. The right to punish the tyrant and the right to dethrone him are the same thing; both include the same forms. The tyrant’s trial is the insurrection; the verdict, the collapse of his power; the sentence, whatever the liberty of the people requires.
  • A dethroned king, in the Republic, is good for only two uses: either to trouble the peace of the state and threaten liberty, or to affirm both of these at the same time.
  • Les peuples ne jugent pas comme les cours judiciaires ; ils ne rendent point de sentences, ils lancent la foudre ; ils ne condamnent pas les rois, ils les replongent dans le néant : et cette justice vaut bien celle des tribunaux. Si c’est pour leur salut qu’ils s’arment contre leurs oppresseurs, comment seraient-ils tenus d’adopter un mode de les punir qui serait pour eux-mêmes un nouveau danger?
    • Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. If it is for their salvation that they take arms against their oppressors, how can they be made to adopt a way of punishing them that would pose a new danger to themselves?
  • I utter this deadly truth with regret, but Louis must die, because the homeland has to live. Among a peaceable, free people, respected at home and abroad, you might listen to the advice being given you to be generous; but a people whose liberty is still being disputed after so many sacrifices and battles, a people in whose country the laws are still only inexorable towards the unfortunate, a people in whose country the crimes of tyranny are still subjects of dispute, such a people must want to be avenged; and the generosity for which you are being praised would resemble too much that of a society of bandits sharing out spoils.
  • When a nation has been forced to resort to the right of insurrection, it returns to the state of nature in relation to the tyrant. How can the tyrant invoke the state of nature in relation to the tyrant. How can the tyrant invoke the social pact? He has annihilated it. The nation can still keep it, if it thinks fit, for everything conserving relations between citizens; but the effect of tyranny and insurrection is to break it entirely where the tyrant is concerned; it places them reciprocally in a state of war. Courts and legal proceeding are only for members of the same side.
  • Aujourd’hui des hommes armés, arrivés à votre insu et contre les lois, ont fait retentir les rues de cette cité de cris séditieux, qui demandent l’impunité de Louis XVI ; aujourd’hui Paris renferme dans son sein des hommes rassemblés, vous a-t-on dit, pour l’arracher à la justice de la nation.
    • Today, armed men who have come unbeknownst to you and in violation of the laws, have made the streets of this city echo with seditious cries demanding impunity for Louis XVI.
  • XIX Tout institution qui ne suppose pas le peuple bon et le magistrat corruptible est vicieuse.
    • Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil.
  • XXIX. Dans tout état libre, la loi doit surtout défendre la liberté publique et individuelle contre l'autorité de ceux qui la gouvernent. Tout institution qui ne suppose pas le peuple bon et le magistrat corruptible est vicieuse.
    • When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and each portion of the people, the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.
  • XXXIII. Les délits des mandataires du peuple doivent être sévèrement et facilement punis. Nul n'a le droit de se prétendre plus inviolable que les autres citoyens.
    • Offences committed by people’s representatives should be severely and promptly punished. No one has the right to claim to be more inviolable than other citizens.
  • XXXV. Les hommes de tous les pays sont frères, et les différents peuples doivent s'entraider selon leur pouvoir comme les citoyens du même état.
    • Men of all countries are brothers, and the different peoples should help one another to the best of their ability, like citizens of the same state.

On Property (24 April 1793)

  • Mean spirits, you whose only measure of value is gold, I have no desire to touch your treasures, however impure may have been the source of them.
  • I can hardly believe that it took a revolution to teach the world that extreme disparities in wealth lie at the root of many ills and crimes, but we are not the less convinced that the realization of an equality of fortunes is a visionary’s dream.
  • Ask that merchant in human flesh what property is. He will tell you, pointing to the long coffin that he calls a ship and in which he has herded and shackled men who still appear to be alive: “Those are my property; I bought them at so much a head.” Question that nobleman, who has lands and ships or who thinks that the world has been turned upside down since he has had none, and he will give you a similar view of property.
    • (Condemning the view of Slavery, Galleys and Serfdom as property)
  • Citizens whose incomes do not exceed what is required for their subsistence are exempted from contributing to state expenditure; all others must support it progressively according to their wealth.

"On Political Morality" (5 February 1794)

  • By sealing our work with our blood, we may see at least the bright dawn of universal happiness. That is our ambition, that is our goal.
  • We want, in a word, to fulfil nature’s wishes, to further the destinies of humanity, to keep the promises of philosophy, to absolve providence of the long reign of crime and tyranny. So that France, once illustrious among enslaved countries, eclipsing the glory of all the free peoples that have existed, may become the model for all nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed, the ornament of the universe.
  • Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are its own work, does for itself all that it can do properly, and through delegates all that it cannot do for itself.
  • Indulgence for the royalists, cry certain men, mercy for the villains! No! mercy for the innocent, mercy for the weak, mercy for the unfortunate, mercy for humanity.
  • If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the mainspring of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is disastrous; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a specific principle as a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our homeland’s most pressing needs.
  • The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.
  • We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror.
  • We wish in our country that morality may be substituted for egotism, probity for false honour, principles for usages, duties for good manners, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, a contempt of vice for a contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, magnanimity for vanity, the love of glory for the love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for tinsel show, the attractions of happiness for the ennui of sensuality, the grandeur of man for the littleness of the great, a people magnanimous, powerful, happy, for a people amiable, frivolous and miserable; in a word, all the virtues and miracles of a Republic instead of all the vices and absurdities of a Monarchy.
  • Since virtue and equality are the soul of the republic, and that your aim is to found, to consolidate the republic, it follows, that the first rule of your political conduct should be, to let all your measures tend to maintain equality and encourage virtue, for the first care of the legislator should be to strengthen the principles on which the government rests. Hence all that tends to excite a love of country, to purify manners, to exalt the mind, to direct the passions of the human heart towards the public good, you should adopt and establish.
  • All that tends to... debase them into selfish egotism, to awaken an infatuation for littlenesses, and a disregard for greatness, you should reject or repress. In the system of the French revolution that which is immoral is impolitic, and what tends to corrupt is counter-revolutionary. Weaknesses, vices, prejudices are the road to monarchy. Carried away, too often perhaps, by the force of ancient habits, as well as by the innate imperfection of human nature, to false ideas and pusillanimous sentiments, we have more to fear from the excesses of weakness, than from excesses of energy.
  • The warmth of zeal is not perhaps the most dangerous rock that we have to avoid; but rather that languour which ease produces and a distrust of our own courage. Therefore continually wind up the sacred spring of republican government, instead of letting it run down. I need not say that I am not here justifying any excess. Principles the most sacred may be abused: the wisdom of government should guide its operations according to circumstances, it should time its measures, choose its means; for the manner of bringing about great things is an essential part of the talent of producing them, just as wisdom is an essential attribute of virtue....
  • Happily virtue is natural in the people, [despite] aristocratical prejudices. A nation is truly corrupt, when, after having, by degrees lost its character and liberty, it slides from democracy into aristocracy or monarchy; this is the death of the political body by decrepitude....
  • But, when, by prodigious effects of courage and of reason, a whole people break asunder the fetters of despotism to make of the fragments trophies to liberty; when, by their innate vigor, they rise in a manner from the arms of death, to resume all the strength of youth when, in turns forgiving and inexorable, intrepid and docile, they can neither be checked by impregnable ramparts, nor by innumerable armies of tyrants leagued against them, and yet of themselves stop at the voice of the law; if then they do not reach the heights of their destiny it can only be the fault of those who govern.
  • To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty. The severity of tyrants has barbarity for its principle; that of a republican government is founded on beneficence. Therefore let him beware who should dare to influence the people by that terror which is made only for their enemies! Let him beware, who, regarding the inevitable errors of civism in the same light, with the premeditated crimes of perfidiousness, or the attempts of conspirators, suffers the dangerous intriguer to escape and pursues the peaceable citizen! Death to the villain who dares abuse the sacred name of liberty or the powerful arms intended for her defence, to carry mourning or death to the patriotic heart...

Last Speech to the National Convention (26 July 1794)


(full text online)

  • Death is not "an eternal sleep!" Citizens! efface from the tomb that motto, graven by sacrilegious hands, which spreads over all nature a funereal crape, takes from oppressed innocence its support, and affronts the beneficent dispensation of death! Inscribe rather thereon these words: "Death is the commencement of immortality!"
  • But there do exist, I can assure you, souls that are feeling and pure; it exists, that tender, imperious and irresistible passion, the torment and delight of magnanimous hearts; that deep horror of tyranny, that compassionate zeal for the oppressed, that sacred love for the homeland, that even more sublime and holy love for humanity, without which a great revolution is just a noisy crime that destroys another crime; it does exist, that generous ambition to establish here on earth the world’s first Republic.
  • This egotism of non-degraded men, which finds a heavenly delight in the calmness of a pure conscience and in the ravishing spectacle of the public good, you feel it in this moment which burns in your souls; I feel it in mine.
  • The confirmation of the Republic has been my object; and I know that the Republic can be established only on the eternal basis of morality.
  • But how would our vile calumniators la feel it? How would the man born blind not have the idea of light? Nature has refused them a soul; they have some right to doubt, not only the immortality of the soul, but its existence.
  • People, remember that, if justice doesn’t reign with absolute power in the Republic, and if this word doesn’t mean the love of equality and of the patrie, liberty is but a vain name! People, you who are feared, whom one flatters and is misunderstood; you, recognized [as] sovereign, which is always treated as a slave, remember that everywhere where justice doesn’t reign, the passions of the magistrates [do], and that the people has changed [its] shackles, and not [its] fate!
  • I leave to the oppressors of humanity a terrible testament, which I proclaim with the independence befitting one whose career is so nearly ended; it is the awful truth: “Thou shalt die!”
  • I am made to combat crime, not to govern it. The time is not here where good men can serve their patrie with impunity; the defenders of liberty will only be outcasts, as long as the horde of rogues is in control.
  • My life? Oh, my life I abandon without a regret! I have seen the Past; and I foresee the Future. What friend of his country would wish to survive the moment when he could no longer serve it — when he could no longer defend innocence against oppression?
  • With this speech, I have signed my own death sentence. I saw today that the league of miscreants is too strong, that I cannot hope to escape. I die without regrets, I leave you my legacy, it will be dear to you and you will defend it.
    • Said to the Jacobin club after repeating his last speech

Quotes about Robespierre

Alphabetised by author
  • Only this is certain, that he remains the most hateful character in the forefront of history since Machiavelli reduced to a code the wickedness of public men.
    • Lord Acton, 'Robespierre' (c. 1895–1899), Lectures on the French Revolution, eds. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (1910), p. 300
  • He is and will be a lawyer only for the poor.
    • Gracchus Babeuf, Jean-Marc Shiappa, ed (1991). in Gracchus Babeuf avec les Egaux. Les éditions ouvrières. p. 73
  • We shall distinguish in Robespierre two men, apostle of liberty, and Robespierre the most infamous of tyrants.
    • Gracchus Babeuf, Jean-Marc Shiappa, ed (1991). in Gracchus Babeuf avec les Egaux. Les éditions ouvrières. p. 79
  • I confess today in good faith that I am angry with myself for having formerly seen in a bad light, within the revolutionary government, Robespierre and Saint-Just. I believe that these two men were better on their own than all the revolutionaries together.
    • Gracchus Babeuf, Jean-Marc Shiappa, ed (1991). in Gracchus Babeuf avec les Egaux. Les éditions ouvrières. p. 69.
  • [Robespierre was] a man without personal ambition, a republican to the fingertips...would to Heaven there were in the Chamber of Deputies today someone to point to those who conspire against our freedom! We were then in the middle of a war, and we did not understand the man. He was a nervous, choleric individual who twitched when he spoke. He was a great man and posterity will not refuse him the title.
    • Bertrand Barere, memoires, pg 104
  • I have the double regret — I should say the double remorse — of having overthrown Robespierre on the 9th of Thermidor and raised Bonaparte on the 13th of Vendemiaire.
  • we were wrong that day [Thermidor] if someone were to ask me how [Robespierre] succeeded in taking so much ascendancy over public opinion I would answer that it was by displaying the most austere virtues, the most absolute devotion, the purest principles.
  • We did not realize that in killing Robespierre, we would kill the Republic
  • No one at the time of the Revolution, went as far as Robespierre in stating what were later to be recognized as the essential conditions of the democratic state. His draft Declaration of Rights, stands out above the Revolutionary talk like a beacon. It illuminates the Revolution and it explains the greatness of Robespierre. Universal franchise, equality of rights regardless of race or religion, pay for public service to enable rich and poor alike to hold office, publicity for legislative debates, a national system of education, the use of taxation to smooth out economic inequalities, recognition of the economic responsibilities of society to the individual, the right of national autonomy, religious liberty, local self-government - such were the some of the principles for which he stood, and which are now taken for granted in democratic societies.
    • Alfred Cobban, Political Ideas of Maximilien Robespierre
  • One wonders why there are so many women who follow Robespierre to his home, to the Jacobins, to the Cordeliers and to the Convention. It is because the French Revolution is a religion and Robespierre is one of its sects. He is a priest with his flock… Robespierre preaches, Robespierre censures, he is furious, serious, melancholic and exalted with passion. He thunders against the rich and the great. He lives on little and has no physical needs. He has only one mission: to talk. And he talks all the time.
  • Of no one of whom so much has been written is so little known
  • The whole corpus of Robespierre studies is a hall of mirrors
  • [Robespierre] couldn't even boil an egg.
  • You will follow us soon! Your house will be beaten down and salt sown in the place where it stood!
    • Georges Danton's exclamation upon passing Robespierre's house on the way to the guillotine, quoted in the memoirs of Paul vicomte de Barras.
  • There are two ways of totally misunderstanding Robespierre as a historical figure: one is to detest the man, the other is to make too much of him. It is absurd, of course, to see the lawyer from Arras as a monstrous usurper, the recluse as a demagogue, the moderate as a bloodthirsty tyrant, the democrat as a dictator. On the other hand, what is explained about his destiny once it is proved that he really was the Incorruptible? The misconception common to both schools arises from the fact that they attribute to the psychological traits of the man the historical role into which he was thrust by events and the language he borrowed from them. Robespierre is an immortal figure not because he reigned supreme over the Revolution for a few months, but because he was the mouthpiece of its purest and most tragic discourse.
  • rather than thinking of Robespierre as the man who ruined the revolution, we should see him as a man that the revolution ruined.
  • He was never well-informed. He had forgotten all his sterile college studies and what he picked up during his legal practice. In working for the prize essays offered by provincial academies, he had acquired some ideas which were philanthropical rather than philosophical. That was the extent of his knowledge. He never had the faintest idea about government, administration and diplomacy.
  • As a judge, history also undermines the claims of leaders to omniscience. Dictators, perhaps because they know their own lies so well, have usually realized the power of history. Consequently, they have tried to rewrite, deny, or destroy the past. Robespierre in revolutionary France and Pol Pot in 1970s Cambodia each set out to start society from the beginning again. Robespierre’s new calendar and Pol Pot’s Year Zero were designed to erase the past and its suggestions that there were alternative ways of organizing society. The founder of China, the Qin Emperor, reportedly destroyed all the earlier histories, buried the scholars who might remember them, and wrote his own history. Successive dynasties were not as brutal but they, too, wrote their own histories of China’s past. Mao went one better: He tried to destroy all memories and all artifacts that, by reminding the Chinese people of the past, might prevent him from remodelling them into the new Communist men and women.
  • Robespierre is certainly the most tragic subject which history offers, but also the most comic. Shakespeare has nothing like this.
  • Robespierre was the first prototype for the modern European dictator: his sanctimonious vision of republican virtue and terror, and the brutal slaughter he unleashed in its name, were studied reverently by the Russian Bolsheviks and helped inspire the totalitarian mass-killings of the 20th century. Known as ‘the Sea-green Incorruptible’, his name has become a byword for the fatal purity and degenerate corruption of the ‘Reign of Terror’ which followed the French Revolution of 1789 and climaxed with the execution of King Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. The Terror illustrated not only the corrupt dangers of utopian monopolies of ‘virtue’, but how ultimately such witch hunts consume their own children.
  • Some see Robespierre as one of the founding fathers of social democracy, his revolutionary excesses occasioned by his championing the cause of the people. Many more though view him as a brutal dictator who manipulated the Parisian mob for his own ends — a hypocritical despot whose terror was the precursor of the totalitarian butchery of Hitler and Stalin in modern times.
  • This man will go far, because he believes everything he says.
    • Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau
  • Robespierre was by no means the worst character who figured in the Revolution. He was a fanatic, a monster, but he was incorruptible, and incapable of robbing, or causing the deaths of others, either from personal enmity, or a desire of enriching himself. He was an enthusiast; but one who really believed that he was acting right, and died not worth a sou.
  • You who supports the tottering country against the torrent of despotism and intrigue, you whom I only know, like God, through his miracles... I do not know you, but you are a great man. You are not only the deputy of a province, you are one of humanity and of the Republic.
  • Robespierre was quite incapable of separating the personal element from differences of opinion. That every polemical argument became in Robespierre's mouth a torrent of personal denunciation may be explained by his implicit conviction that as there is only one truth, he who disagreed with it was prompted by evil motives. But less explicable seems Robespierre's habit of declaring himself a victim of persecution, of embarking upon a dirge of self-pity and of invoking death as solace, every time he was opposed. Here we are faced with a paranoiac streak, a strange combination of a most intense and mystical sense of mission with a self-pity that expressed itself in an obsessive preoccupation with martyrdom, death and even suicide. It is the psychology of the neurotic egoist, who must impose his will—rationalized into divine truth—or wallow in an ecstasy of self-pity.
    • Jacob Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (1952; 1970), p. 81
  • So long as the French Revolution is regarded, not as ‘the suicide of the eighteenth century,’ but as the birth of ideas that enlighten the nineteenth, and of hopes that still inspire our own age; and so long as its leaders are sanely judged, with due allowance for the terrible difficulties of their task; so long will Robespierre, who lived and died for the Revolution, remain one of the great figures of history
  • It would be easy to say that the Jacobins were in love with power or that Robespierre established a personal dictatorship. The first statement would be partly true, the second mostly false; neither would really explain what happened.
  • To hear Robespierre, he is the only defender of liberty; he is giving up for lost, he is going to quit everything; he is a man of rare modesty (laughter), and he has a perpetual refrain: "I am oppressed; they won't give me the floor"; and he is the only one with anything useful to say, for his will is always done. He says: "So-and-so conspires against me, I who am the best friend of the Republic; therefore he conspires against the Republic." That is novel.
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