February 26, March 3, 1794: Saint-Just on the Ventôse Decrees
In 1789, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, son of a retired cavalry officer, was twenty-two. In 1791, at twenty-four, he published a book called Esprit de la révolution et de la constitution de France. The next year, at twenty-five, he was elected to the Convention, where his first speech was an indictment of Louis XVI. During the Terror, Saint-Just was as tireless and unbending as Robespierre, whom he admired and whom he resembled in having a vision of a democratic society that entailed not merely a free play of all the existing social forces by way of a demo-cratic suffrage but the creation of a kind of new personality capable of maintaining such a society. Saint-Just expressed these ideas in a manuscript that was not published until after his death, his Institutions républicains a more radical conception of the tasks of the revolution than his Esprit of 1791. Besides serving as a representative on mission, Saint-Just bore a great part of the political burden of maintaining the ascendancy of the Committee of Public Safety in the Convention and that of the Convention in Paris and in the country at large. In the documents below, he is to be seen introducing social legislation that the historian Mathiez regarded as the key to the long-range program of the Robespierrists, the Ventôse decrees, one of the most controversial aspects of the Terror, difficult to interpret but extremely important because of the problem of how to retain and use political power in the circumstances of 1794.
KeywordsPublic Safety General Security National Convention French People Social Legislation
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