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Quotes / Maximilien Robespierre

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Quotes by Robespierre

"I will not remind you that the sole object of contention dividing us is that you have instinctively defended all acts of new ministers, and we, of principles; that you seemed to prefer power, and we equality... Why don't you prosecute the Commune, the Legislative Assembly, the Sections of Paris, the Assemblies of the Cantons and all who imitated us? For all these things have been illegal, as illegal as the Revolution, as the fall of the Monarchy and of the Bastille, as illegal as liberty itself... Citizens, do you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution which has directed itself against those who freed us from chains?"

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"The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. The Declaration of the Rights of Man is not a beam of sunlight which shines on all men, and it is not a lightning bolt which strikes every throne at the same time...I am far from claiming that our Revolution will not eventually influence the fate of the world...But I will say that it will not be today.""
On his opposition to the 1792 War.

"Périssent les colonies plutôt qu'un principe!"note 
On his opposition to a defense of slavery in the Constitution.

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"I am not the courtier, nor the moderator, nor the tribune nor the defender of the people, I am the people myself."

"As for myself, I abhor the death penalty administered by your laws, and for Louis I have neither love, nor hate; I hate only his crimes. I have demanded the abolition of the death penalty at your Constituent Assembly, and am not to blame if the first principles of reason appeared to you moral and political heresies ... Yes, the death penalty is in general a crime, unjustifiable by the indestructible principles of nature, except in cases protecting the safety of individuals or the society altogether. Ordinary misdemeanors have never threatened public safety because society may always protect itself by other means, making those culpable powerless to harm it. But for a king dethroned in the bosom of a revolution, which is as yet cemented only by laws; a king whose name attracts the scourge of war upon a troubled nation; neither prison, nor exile can render his existence inconsequential to public happiness; this cruel exception to the ordinary laws avowed by justice can be imputed only to the nature of his crimes. With regret I pronounce this fatal truth: Louis must die so that the nation may live."
His argument for the execution for Louis XVI

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"Only a democratic or republican government— these two words are synonyms despite the abuses in common speech—because an aristocracy is no closer than a monarchy to being a republic...Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are of their own making, do for themselves all that they can do well, and by their delegates do all that they cannot do for themselves...Now, what is the fundamental principle of popular or democratic government, that is to say, the essential mainspring which sustains it and makes it move? It is virtue. I speak of the public virtue which worked so many wonders in Greece and Rome and which ought to produce even more astonishing things in republican France—that virtue which is nothing other than the love of the nation and its laws. But the French are the first people of the world who have established real democracy, by calling all men to equality and full rights of citizenship; and there, in my judgment, is the true reason why all the tyrants in league against the Republic will be vanquished."
His landmark definition of modern democracy

"If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny."
On his defense of the Reign of Terror

Man in Crowd: "It is Danton's blood that is choking you!"
Robespierre: "Danton! It is Danton then you regret? Cowards! Why did you not defend him?"
Robespierre's last recorded exchange

Quotes about Robespierre

This man will go far, he believes what he says.
Mirabeau

"Robespierre listened to me with terror. He grew pale and silent for some time. This interview confirmed me in the opinion that I always had of him, that he unites the knowledge of a wise senator with the integrity of a thoroughly good man and the zeal of a true patriot but that he is lacking as a statesman in clearness of vision and determination."
Jean-Paul Marat

"You'll follow us shortly, your house will be beaten down and salt sown in the place where it stood!"
Georges Danton

" Robespierre was by no means the worst character who figured in the Revolution. He was a fanatic, a monster, but he was incorruptible, and incapable of robbing, or causing the deaths of others, either from personal enmity, or a desire of enriching himself. He was an enthusiast; but one who really believed that he was acting right, and died not worth a sou."

"Robespierre is an immortal figure not because he reigned supreme over the Revolution for a few months, but because he was the mouthpiece of its purest and most tragic discourse."
François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution

"Robespierre is certainly the most tragic subject which history offers, but also the most comic. Shakespeare has nothing like this."
Jules Michelet

"Few historians have been dispassionate about this dandyish, thin-blooded, fanatical lawyer with his somewhat excessive sense of private monopoly in virtue, because he still incarnates the terrible and glorious Year II about which no man is neutral. He was not an agreeable individual; even those who think he was right nowadays tend to prefer...the young Saint-Just. He was not a great man and often a narrow one. But he is the only individual thrown up by the Revolution (other than Napoleon) about whom a cult has grown up."
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolutions.

"Maximilien, with all his faults, which were many, was one of the half-dozen major prophets of democracy."
R. R. Palmer, The Twelve Who Ruled

"Robespierre screamed in pain as the bandages holding his fractured jaw were ripped away by the executioner. Ruault, who was present and who had little love for Robespierre, remarked nevertheless that he showed great courage in his final moments. Despite his suffering, 'his eyes were bright and aware.' In his brief political career he had at times displayed remarkable vision for a brave new world of democracy, social justice, and civic virtue. Yet he had never been able to overcome his debilitating suspicions and his self-absorption, and he had been one of the major instigators - though hardly the only one - of the Great Terror."
Timothy Tackett, The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

"No one at the time of the Revolution, went as far as Robespierre in stating what were later to be recognized as the essential conditions of the democratic state... Universal franchise, equality of rights regardless of race or religion, pay for public service to enable rich and poor alike to hold office, publicity for legislative debates, a national system of education, the use of taxation to smooth out economic inequalities, recognition of the economic responsibilities of society to the individual...religious liberty, local self-government - such were the some of the principles for which he stood, and which are now taken for granted in democratic societies."
Alfred Cobban

"As I continued reading, I was fascinated by how a counterrevolution sprung up and, in a period of about two days, the previous revolution just fell apart. I also remember the joy of leafing through my old Encyclopedia Britannica, the eleventh edition, and reading an article on the French revolution by someone who hated Robespierre; and then reading the biographical entry, which was written by someone who idealized Robespierre. I loved the cognitive dissonance. After the story was published, one reader sent me his high school thesis pointing out how Robespierre was a great man and so on...I could have written something about how Robespierre was a great man too, but that wasn't the tale that I was telling; I needed a story in which he wasn't."
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman Companion, page 146, discussing his story "Thermidor" from Distant Mirrors.

"'Let's overthrow the palace and cut everybody's head off,' said Robespierre, cutting everybody's head off until someone got mad and cut his head off. 'You could make a relig-' no, don't."
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