9. Thermidor

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On Sunday, July 27th, 1794, according to the revolutionary calendar of the 9th Thermidor of the year II, the time of the so-called " reign of terror " ( French Terreur ) in France ended with the fall of Robespierre , which at that time already had 30,000 to 40,000 people of all classes had fallen victim. The 9th Thermidor thus marks the end of the second, radical revolution (1792–1794) in the general three-phase division of the French Revolution .


At the latest with the law on suspects , on September 17, 1793, the French Revolution had reached a point at which, as Danton emphasized, it began to devour its own children. The guillotine , the "scythe of equality", became the epitome of the reign of terror. Power in the state lay with two committees of the National Convention , the Welfare Committee and the Security Committee. Maximilien de Robespierre , since July 1793 at the head of the welfare committee created by Danton, directed the "controlled" terror of the revolutionary government, like Jean-Paul Marat previously the uncontrolled one. "Without virtue," said Robespierre, "terror is fatal, without terror virtue is powerless."

The mountain party (Montagnards) had now split into the Ultras around the journalist Jacques-René Hébert and the indulgent (indulgent) around Danton. In the spring of 1794 the Hébertists (March 24, 1794) and a little later also the Dantonists (April 5, 1794) climbed the steps of the guillotine. Camille Desmoulins wrote in the course of his arrest: "We can take the testimony with us that we will be the last Republicans to go down."

With this procedure, which was mainly due to the preservation of its own power, the group around Robespierre now isolated itself within the mountain party. After the execution of all rivals declared as internal enemies of the republic and the victory of the French over Austria in the Battle of Fleurus in June 1794, the terror could no longer be justified. The welfare committee was at odds while the population grew tired of terror and opposed the cult of the Supreme Being instituted by Robespierre in May . Accusations have been raised that Robespierre sees himself as the highest rational being and strives for dictatorship. Enthusiastic cult groups like those of Catherine Théot or Suzette Labrousse had already transfigured Robespierre into the Messiah; these incidents were picked up and made public by Marc Guillaume Alexis Vadier .

On Saturday July 26th, Robespierre was forced to defend himself. He gave a two-hour speech to the National Convention and repeated it that day at the Jacobin Club. He spoke of slanderers and conspiracies, defended the blamed innocence and virtue and not only justified his actions, but also endeavored to intimidate his opponents by means of hidden threats.

The Thermidor Uprising

Robespierre's arrest on 9th Thermidor
The attack by the National Guard on the Paris City Hall at night; Engraving by Gysin after Duplessis-Bertaux

This no small number of opponents was then forced to act. On the night of the 8th to the 9th Thermidor, it was agreed not to allow Robespierre to speak at the next meeting.

While reading a report from the welfare committee, Saint-Just , supporter and close friend of the incorruptible , as Robespierre was called, was interrupted by Tallien , who sharply accused Robespierre of tyranny. Billaud-Varenne took up the allegations. Shouts were loud: “Down with the tyrant! Arrest him! ”Robespierre demanded the floor without success and appealed to the deputies of the right:“ Members of the right, men of honor, men of virtue, give me the right that the slanderers will not grant me! ”- in vain. While still in the meeting room of the convention, he and his like-minded people (including his younger brother Augustin , Saint-Just, Couthon and others) were arrested. François Hanriot , Commander in Chief of the National Guard, and other Robespierre supporters soon succeeded in freeing the prisoners who were led to the town hall .

The Paris Sections were called to arms by the Welfare Committee as well as by the National Convention. Should the city population split into two hostile camps, for and against Robespierre and the Welfare Committee, bloody street battles, perhaps civil war, threatened. But the call was only followed up hesitantly. Finally, on behalf of the National Convention, the MP Barras attacked the town hall with the Parisian troops who marched against Robespierre ( Thermidorians ). A bullet, unclear whether it was fired with suicidal or murderous intent, shattered Robespierre's lower jaw, and both Couthon and Augustin Robespierre sustained serious injuries when they fell out of the window. In the morning the tense situation calmed down.

The 10th Thermidor

On the following day, July 28, 1794, Robespierre and 21 of his closest followers were guillotined without conviction.

The writer Louis-Sébastien Mercier , who was released from a prison sentence of several months after the 9th Thermidor, impressively described the execution:

The execution of Robespierre and his followers on July 28, 1794

“The roofs are black with people and a colorful crowd of spectators from all walks of life who have only one goal: to see Robespierre being led to death. Instead of sitting on the dictator's throne, he lies halfway in a cart in which his accomplices Couthon and Hanriot are also. [...] On the scaffold, the executioner tore the bandage from his wound, as it were infected by general hatred; he screamed like a tiger: the lower jaw dropped, a gush of blood gushing out, and this human face became a monster visage, the most terrible one can imagine. His two companions looked just as hideous in their torn, bloody clothes [...]. Although he was mortally wounded, public vengeance demanded a second death for him, and people rushed to see the moment when this head would bow under the knife under which it had stuck so many others . They applauded for more than 15 minutes. "

The following people were executed together with Robespierre on July 28, 1794:


After the death of Robespierre and his followers, the rule of the Directory developed in France , whose constitution of 1795 was intended to secure the rule of the upper classes and restore public order through a sophisticated system of legislative and executive institutions. Military defeats and the internal weakness of the Directory finally led to Napoleon's coup d'état of 18th Brumaire VIII on November 9, 1799.


  • Célestin Giuttard de Floriban : Great Conspiracy. About Robespierre's arrest . In: Chris E. Paschold (Ed.): The French Revolution. A reader with contemporary reports and documentation . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-008535-7 , pp. 371-374.
  • Louis-Sébastien Mercier : About the execution of Robespierre . In: Chris E. Paschold (Ed.): The French Revolution. A reader with contemporary reports and documentation . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-008535-7 , pp. 375-378.
  • Maximilien Robespierre : Speech to the Convention (July 26, 1794) . In: Chris E. Paschold (Ed.): The French Revolution. A reader with contemporary reports and documentation . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-008535-7 , pp. 360-369.

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