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Committee of Public Safety

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COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Comitd de Saint Publique, the name given to a committee of mem bers of the National Convention, who exercised a dictatorial power in France for about fifteen months, which is known by the name of the Reign of Terror. The National Convention having abolished the royal authority at the end of 1792, and proclaimed the republic, found them selves invested with the whole sovereign power. They delegated the executive part of it to several committees or departments of government, and placed a Committee of Public Safety over all. This com mittee consisted of ten members of the Convention, appointed for three months, but re-eligible indefinitely : they were commonly called the decemvirs. Their business was to watch over the conduct of the public authorities, and to promote the cause of the revolution. By degrees their powers attained a most extensive range ; all the constituted authorities and public functionaries, civil and military, were placed under their immediate in spection. This was after the successful insurrection on the 31st of May, 1793, when the Mountain or terrorist party in the Convention gained the victory, by means of the armed multitudes of Paris, over their fellow-deputies of the Gironde party, who wished to govern the republic according to legal forms, and when the leaders of the Girondins were sent to prison and to the scaffold. From that time Robespierre and his friends monopo lized all the power of the Committee of Public Safety. By a decree of the Con vention, 4th of December, 1793, the committee had the power of appointing and removing all the administrative au thorities, all the agents and commissioners sent to the departments and to the various armies, and the agents sent to foreign countries. They were to watch and direct public opinion, and denounce all suspected persons. By another decree, of 28th July, 1793, the committee was invested with the power of issuing war rants of arrest. There was another com mittee, called de Surete G6ndrale, which has been sometimes confounded with the Committee of Public Safety, but was subordinate to it, and concerned itself with the internal police and judicial affairs. " The Committee of Public Safety," says a witness and a member of the Convention, " did not manifest its ambition at the outset; it was useful at first. But that prudent conduct ceased after the revolt of the 31st of May, when the Convention, its several committees, and especially that of General Security, fell under the yoke of the Committee of Public Safety, which acted the part of the Council of Ten and of the three inquisitors of the Venetian government. Its power was monstrous, because it was in a manner concealed—because it veiled its acts amidst the multitude of other committees—because, by renewing itself perpetually from among men of the same stamp, it took away the responsibility from its members, although its measures were ever the same. The committee concentrated itself at last in three of its members : Robespierre, who was the real chief, though half-concealed from view, and Couthon and St. Just. There was perfect unanimity among these three down to the moment of their fall ; in pro portion as the Mountain itself became divided, and its chiefs perished on the scaffold, the alliance between the three became more firmly cemented. There is

reason to believe that they had resolved to perpetuate their power by establishing a supreme council of three consuls, in which Robespierre would have had the perpetual presidency, with the departments of justice, exterior, and finance ; Couthon that of the interior, and St. Just the war department." (Histoire pittoresque de la Convention Nationale, par un Ex-Con ventional, 4 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1833.) The means by which these men contrived to maintain their usurped power are shown by Mignet in his History of the French Revolution.' Acting in the name of the National Convention, the Committee was in fact master of that assembly, which it compelled to adopt its reports and re solutions ; it decreed the proscription of any member who resisted its will ; it had at its command the armed multitudes of Paris and the suburbs, whose passions and fears it kept constantly excited by suspicions of royalists and traitors ; it was supported by the numerous clubs and revolutionary committees distributed all over the country, the poorer members of which received by a decree of the Convention, extorted from that assembly on the 31st of May by the armed mob, an allowance of forty sole a day ; and it sent commissioners to the armies, who impeached every general suspected of disaffection, and easily prevailed on the deluded soldiers to give him up. " It had at its command the law against the suspected passed by the Convention, by which it could arrest any citizen ; the re volutionary tribunals which summarily sent the accused to the scaffold ; and the decrees of confiscation, forced loans and requisitions, and the maximum upon pro visions, by which it disposed of the pro perty of all." This law of the maximum fixed the highest legal price of provisions and other necessaries, both for wholesale and retail dealers, and forbade them to ask more. ( Tableau du Maximum de la Republique Francaise decrete par la Con vention Nationale le 6 Ventose, An II.) The net was so widely spread that it took in all France ; and a few obscure men exercised in the name of liberty a tyranny infinitely greater than that of the most arbitrary king of the old dynasty. In the Convention, from which nominally they derived their power, they were supported by a few bold men, who fright ened the rest with the pikes of the mob and with threats of the scaffold. But when these men, Tallien, Barras, and others, discovered that they themselves stood in the way of Robespierre's ambi tion, and were destined to the common lot of the guillotine, they turned upon him and his friends of the Committee, and the majority of the Convention, which had through fear acquiesced in all their measures, immediately sided with them ; the National Guards, weary of useless proscriptions, stood by their re presentatives, and Robespierre and his few friends found themselves alone, with out any military man to support them. Even in the Committee of Public Safety, Collot d'Herbois and Billaud Varennes turned against Robespierre. On the 9th Thermidor, July 28, 1794, Robespierre, Couthon, and St. Just were executed. From that time the moderate party gradually, though slowly, acquired the ascendency in the Convention.