The Eleventh of Thermidor

During the night of the 9th and 10th, with the outcome in doubt, deputies opposing Robespierre went to speak in the sections, hoping to convince the activists of the rightness of their cause. Whether out of political exhaustion, loss of their ability to organize rapidly, disbelief that the liberty of the Republic was any longer in doubt, or simply dissatisfaction with Robespierre’s leadership, not enough sections mobilized to turn the day, and the coup succeeded. It culminated on 10 Thermidor with the guillotining of Robespierre, Saint–Just, and the others. The Convention declared that "justice" should replace "terror" as the order of the day.


(Paris, 11 Thermidor, Year II [29 July 1794])

To Laffitte, executive officer of the district administration at Saint-Sever

Robespierre has gone to join Camille Desmoulins. He was guillotined yesterday with Saint-Just, Le Bas, and Couthon, who will not be going to our département, you can tell Besselère.

The speeches Couthon made at the Jacobin club against certain members of the Convention had already antagonized people. For a month Robespierre had not attended the meetings of the Committee of Public Safety and this antagonized people more. Finally the speech he delivered against the two committees on the 8th [Thermidor] brought dissatisfaction to the most extreme degree. The evening session at the Jacobin club was the culmination. In it, Collot d'Herbois was mocked and Robespierre alone triumphed.

On the 9th, an attack on him was led by Tallien, whose head was almost touching the guillotine. Robespierre asked for the floor in order to reply; he called us all assassins because the floor was given to another first, for he was to have it next. His brother joined with him. The assembly, already very irritated, enacted the decree for his arrest. Here is what went wrong: the Committees of Public Safety and General Security, charged with carrying it out, delivered the accused persons to men who, having been unable to get the Luxembourg opened, took the prisoners to the Commune. All the friends and favorites of Robespierre were there. They embraced each other, sounded the tocsin; the people gathered; thirty cannon bristled in the avenues off the Place de Grève. All this was going on, and in the evening, at seven o'clock, when we went to the Convention, nobody knew anything about it. We had been saying trivial things from the rostrum for almost an hour, when suddenly we were told that the Committee on General Security had been forcibly entered and that [Hanriot] the chief of the National Guard and seventeen of his adjutants, who had been held there under arrest, were freed. If Hanriot had then moved against us, only two steps away, we would have been lost. If Robespierre, instead of having fun drawing up orders at the Hôtel de Ville, had marched at the head of the eight or ten thousand men who filled the Place de Grève, and if with Couthon's help he had aroused the people by his speeches, we would have been lost; but destiny decided otherwise. We finally had the sense to take some measures instead of declaiming to one another that we had to die at our post.

Robespierre was abandoned, and he is no more!

It is too bad, for the Republic, that this event can be counted among the great events. The death of one man in a free state ought to make no commotion. We shall now have to wait several days to know what course events will take. I very much wish it were clear that we knew how to take advantage of liberty and that passions would cool.

Salut et Fraternité.

Source: From THE NINTH OF THERMIDOR by Richard Bienvenu. Copyright (c) 1970 by Oxford University Press, Inc., 234–35. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.