On this date in 1795, the Mountain that had so recently dominated revolutionary France was destroyed by the blade.
This largely forgotten date is actually a significant milestone of those years’ imbroglio: the date on which the French bourgeoisie achieved its revolution by slaying the last sans-culottes-affiliated deputies in punishment for the last sans-culottes uprising.
In the year since the fall of Robespierre, a White Terror had purged his former adherents — or in class terms, had put Madame Guillotine to work pushing the Paris working class out of its former political authority.
The latter’s last hurrah of resistance was the Prairal Rebellion of May 20, 1795, when a mob stormed the Convention.
In the florid narration of Thomas Carlyle,
[I]t billows free through all Corridors; within and without, far as the eye reaches, nothing but Bedlam, and the great Deep broken loose! … Insurrection rages; rolls its drums; will read its Paper of Grievances, will have this decreed, will have that.
… National Representation, deluged with black Sansculottism, glides out; for help elsewhere, for safety elsewhere; here is no help.
About four in the afternoon, there remain hardly more than some Sixty Members: mere friends, or even secret leaders; a remnant of the Mountain-crest, held in silence by Thermidorian thraldom. Now is the time for them; now or never let them descend, and speak! They descend, these Sixty, invited by Sansculottism: Romme of the New Calendar, Ruhl of the Sacred Phial, Goujon, Duquesnoy, Soubrany, and the rest. Glad Sansculottism forms a ring for them; Romme takes the President’s chair; they begin resolving and decreeing. Fast enough now comes Decree after Decree, in alternate brief strains, or strophe and antistrophe, — what will cheapen bread, what will awaken the dormant lion. And at every new decree,* Sansculottism shouts “Decreed, decreed!” and rolls its drums.
Fast enough; the work of months in hours, — when see, a Figure enters … And then Gilt Youth, with levelled bayonets, countenances screwed to the sticking-place! Tramp, tramp, with bayonets gleaming in the lamp-light: what can one do, worn down with long riot, grown heartless, dark, hungry, but roll back, but rush back, and escape who can? The very windows need to be thrown up, that Sansculottism may escape fast enough. Money-changer Sections and Gilt Youth sweep them forth, with steel besom, far into the depths of Saint-Antoine. Triumph once more! The Decrees of that Sixty are not so much as rescinded; they are declared null and non-extant. Romme, Ruhl, Goujon and the ringleaders, some thirteen in all, are decreed Accused. Permanent-session ends at three in the morning. Sansculottism, once more flung resupine, lies sprawling; sprawling its last.
The so-called Cretois were hailed before a tribunal; six were condemned to death on this date.**
They dramatically attempted to cheat the headsman by stabbing themselves after the trial, somehow passing down the line without intervention a single knife smuggled by Goujon.
Three of them died of their self-inflicted injuries. The other three went immediately to the guillotine.
“They were,” Carlyle concludes, “the Ultimi Romanorum … Sansculottism sprawls no more. The dormant lion has become a dead one; and now, as we see, any hoof may smite him.”
* According to A Popular History of France from the First Revolution to the Present Time, one of the decrees was abolition of the death penalty “except in the case of emigrants and forgers of assignats.”
** Other less treasonably culpable former Montagnards who had not cast their lot squarely with the Thermidorians were proscribed or otherwise cut off from power in the aftermath of the Prairal rebellion.