Maximilien Robespierre was the revolutionary leader during the French Revolution, lawyer and politician.
Robespierre was born on May 6, 1758 in Arras, Artois, France. His father, François Maximilien Barthélémy de Robespierre, was a lawyer at the Conseil d'Artois. He married Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, the daughter of a brewer. The couple went on to have several other children, Charlotte (born in 1760), Henriette (born in 1761), and Augustin (born in 1763).
Sadly, Madame de Robespierre died in 1764, a few days after giving birth to a stillborn child. Maximilien’s father abandoned his family after the death of his wife. He travelled extensively across Europe and only went back home to Arras occasionally. He followed his wife to the grave in November 1777, leaving the children to be raised by his two sisters.
Maximilien Robespierre received his early training from his aunts and was literate by the age of 8. From 1765 he attended the college of the Oratorians at Arras, and in 1769 he was awarded a scholarship to the famous college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he distinguished himself in philosophy and law.
Upon completing his studies, Robespierre took up his father's profession of law in Arras and soon had a successful practice. But he had developed a sense of social justice, and as the Revolution of 1789 loomed, he assumed a public role as an advocate of political change, contributing to the pamphlet and cahier literature of the day, and being elected at the age of 30 a member of the Third Estate delegation from Arras to the Estates General, where he quickly associated himself with the Patriot party.
Robespierre found more receptive listeners at the Paris Jacobin Club. When his term as a legislator ended in September 1791, Robespierre remained in Paris, playing an influential role in the Jacobin Club and shortly founding a weekly political journal. During this period (1791 - 1792) he was an unremitting critic of the King and the moderates who hoped to make the experiment in limited, constitutional monarchy a success. Robespierre, profoundly and rightly suspicious of the King's intentions, spoke and wrote in opposition to the course of events, until August 1792, when events turned in his favor with the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic.
A group of representatives was quickly elected to draft a constitution and to govern the country in the meantime, and Robespierre was elected to attend. As a spokesman for the Jacobins in the National Convention, he was a harsh critic of the king, who was finally placed on trial, convicted, and executed in January 1793. In the months that followed Robespierre turned his anger on a group of moderates (those who prefer less abrupt change) called the Girondins, leading the effort to have their members removed from the convention, arrested, and executed.
In July 1793 Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, which acted to protect the republic during the dual problems of foreign war (most of Europe was fighting against the Revolutionary government in France) and civil war (which threatened to bring down that government). It executed people who were suspected of supporting the king or making plans to take over the government. Thousands were put to death with a quick trial or no trial at all. This became known as the Reign of Terror.
Robespierre faced increased opposition on both sides. Included among these were the Hébertists, a group that controlled the Paris city government and was upset with wartime shortages and increased prices, and the Indulgents, moderate Jacobins who felt that the Reign of Terror should be relaxed since the war had ended. Robespierre had leaders of both groups rounded up and executed, including Georges Jacques Danton (1759–1794), who had once been a close associate of his. Robespierre and his supporters claimed that they wanted to create a Republic of Virtue in which citizens would live honest, moral lives and serve the community.
Opposition to Robespierre continued to grow. More and more of the public, now that the military crisis was over, wanted a relaxation, not an increase, of the terror. In July 1794 Robespierre spoke for the need of the Committee of Public Safety to continue its activities. His opponents took a stand against him and on July 27 they voted for his arrest. He and his followers were quickly released, however, and they gathered to plan a rising of their own. But the opposition leaders rallied their forces; Robespierre and his supporters were captured that night and executed the next day.
Maximilien Robespierre is credited for having been the one who established what is known as Deism or the Cult of the Supreme Being. Deism is a philosophy that believes in a god who can be seen through nature.
His political career didn’t last long, but during the years that he was active, everyone around him was fully aware of what he stood for. He was a staunch member of the Jacobins, and was subsequently made the spokesman for the group at the National Convention. He was known for not mincing his words and speaking very harshly about the monarchy.
The monarchy was not the only group upon which Robespierre unleashed his fury. After the death of the king and queen, Robespierre turned his attention to the Girondins. Even though at the beginning of his career Robespierre had been deeply disturbed by the death sentence, he didn’t seem as concerned in his later years as he fervently fought to have members of the Girondins arrested and guillotined.
It was during this time, in July 1793 that Robespierre was chosen to become a member of the Committee of Public Safety. The Committee was notorious for committing some of the most atrocious crimes. This is the dark period in Robespierre’s life where he sent thousands of people to their death.
Robespierre believed that the people of France were fundamentally good and were therefore capable of advancing the public well-being of the nation.
''The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant''.
"Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie''.
He had simple Spartan life and high sense of personal morality, which won for him the appellation of "the Incorruptible." His appearance was unprepossessing, and his old-fashioned, prerevolutionary style of dress seemed out of place. He lacked the warmth of personality usually associated with a popular political figure. Yet his carefully written and traditionally formal speeches, because of his utter sincerity and deep personal conviction, won him a wide following.
Quotes from others about the person
“"Robespierre's main ideal was to ensure the virtue and sovereignty of the people. He disapproved of any acts which could be seen as exposing the nation to counter-revolutionaries and traitors, and became increasingly fearful of the defeat of the Revolution. He instigated the Terror and the deaths of his peers as a measure of ensuring a Republic of Virtue; but his ideals went beyond the needs and wants of the people of France. He became a threat to what he had wanted to ensure and the result was his downfall. " - Albert Soboul””
Philosophers & Thinkers
Maximilien Robespierre never officially got married, although he was engaged to Eleonore Duplay, who was the daughter of master carpenter Maurice Duplay and his wife, Francoise-Eleonore Vaugeois. Eleonore was born in 1768 in Paris and met Robespierre when he moved into the family home while seeking refuge from persecution. The two were ‘engaged’ but never got married, although they appeared to have maintained a close friendship. The two shared similar political opinions and Robespierre once said of her, she has a ‘noble soul, she would know how to die as well as she knows how to love.’
After Robespierre’s death, Eleonore choose to remain single for the rest of her life, and always wore black until her death. The two did not have any children together.