Search results

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 10 items for

  • Author: Jonathan Smyth x
  • Refine by access: All content x
Clear All Modify Search
The search for a republican morality
Author: Jonathan Smyth

In Year 2 of the Revolution (1794) Robespierre, seeking to establish a new deist national morality created the Festival of the Supreme Being celebrated on 20 Prairial Year 2 (8 June 1794). This book begins by tracing the progress in the development of Robespierre’s thinking on the importance of the problem which the lack of any acceptable national moral system through the early years of the Revolution had created, his vision of a new attitude towards religion and morality, and why he chose a Revolutionary Festival to launch his idea. It focusses on the importance of the Festival by showing that it was not only a major event in Paris, with a huge man-made mountain on the Champ de Mars; it was also celebrated in great depth in almost every city, town and village throughout France. It seeks to redefine the importance of the Festival in the history of the Revolution, not, as historians have traditionally dismissed it, merely as the performance of a sterile and compulsory political duty, but on the contrary, as a massively popular national event. The author uses source material from national and local archives describing the celebrations as well as the reaction to the event and its importance by contemporary commentators. This is the first book since the 1980s and the only work in English to focus on this Festival and to redefine its importance in the development of the Revolution.

Abstract only
Jonathan Smyth

The author challenges the classic view that the Festival was a dull and sterile political event, and shows how the estimate of the importance of the Festival changed from that of early historians, who saw the Festival as an event remarkable for its level of public participation, to the later view of it as a purely political oddity unworthy of detailed evaluation He discusses the public controversies as to the importance of the Festival during the celebrations of the Bicentenary of the Revolution and how the new use of previously disregarded or rejected local regional and national archival material has led him to the view that the Festival was, on the contrary a vibrant and important event within the context of the Revolution, and one worthy of more careful and detailed study.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Jonathan Smyth

This chapter attempts to evaluate and examine the development of Robespierre’s thinking on the subject of public morality from his first writing on the subject in his Essay in 1789 from his early speeches to the Assembly and the Jacobin Club through his five great speeches of 1973-4. It traces the development of Robespierre’s language though his references to public virtue and probity and his insistence on the interdependence of freedom and public morality from his speech in defence of religious liberty on 1 Frimaire Year 2 ( 21 November 1793) though his speech on 17 Pluviôse ( 5 February 1794) on the moral principles which must guide the nation, the speech which introduced the Great Terror and leading finally to his speech of 18 Floréal (7 May 1794) inviting France to accept the twin principles of a Supreme Being and of the immortality of the soul and establishing not only the Festival to be held on 20 Prairial (8th June 1794) but also a further thirty-five minor festivals to be held during the year.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Jonathan Smyth

This chapter examines the national reaction to Robespierre’s proclamation of 18 Prairial, using evidence from national, regional and local archives and other sources, such as local newspapers. It also looks at the large body of evidence from both formal responses from official bodies and the considerable number of individual communications sent to the Convention, the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of Public Education. It shows how the national response was not only overwhelmingly positive; the number of responses from public bodies considerably exceeded anything recorded before. As well as the formal and often stilted responses from public bodies the chapter includes a detailed listing showing how individual members of the public responded to Robespierre’s proposal by sending to the Committee for Public Education their poems, prayers, hymns and speeches in support of the Festival.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Jonathan Smyth

This chapter describes in detail the preparations for the great Festival between the speech of 18 Floréal and at the event itself on 20 Prairial. There is a detailed comparison of this festival with the previous Fête de la Réunion in August 1793 with special reference to the attempts to avoid the organisational problems of the 1793 festival. The problems relating to the construction of the major items particular to this Festival, in particular the Statue of Hideous Atheism, set on fire to reveal a Statue of Wisdom and the famous Mountain constructed in the Champs de la Réunion (the Champ de Mars) are discussed in detail. The author is able, for the first time, to estimate reasonably accurately the actual size of the Mountain, using a previously disregarded archival source. The organisation and details of the procession are discussed in detail; the chapter includes a map of the route and illustrations of the major constructions. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the contents of Robespierre’s speeches at the event and the public verbal attacks on him by his enemies in the Convention.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Jonathan Smyth

In this chapter the author uses detailed local and regional archival, press and other records to show how the festival was celebrated throughout France. To demonstrate the wide-ranging nature of the celebrations, records from major cities, in particular Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Angers are used, as are those from large towns such as Amiens, Orleans, Grenoble and Bailleul as well as villages and hamlets in the Ile de France, the Dordogne and the alpine region. These records are analysed to demonstrate the national focus on the festival and how, despite the different ways in which the various communities celebrated it, the general tenor not only closely followed Robespierre’s original design but became genuinely specifically positive and individual local celebrations gives a clear impression of the national acceptance of the idea of a new and republican morality.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Jonathan Smyth

This is probably the most original chapter of the book. No-one has previously attempted to analyse the actual costs of such an event as a Republican Festival. New detailed research in national and local archives by the author has unearthed a series of financial documents, illustrating the costs of the Festival. The costs in Paris are shown in detail and are compared closely with those of previous festivals. The details of the costs in the various provincial towns are sometimes clearly defined, as is the case with Amiens. More often they are either partially detailed while the major expenses are concealed in general expenditure budgets or even completely unavailable. The available evidence, particularly the details in Paris and Amiens, allows the author to propose detailed costs estimates for the major cities and more general estimates of the costs in smaller areas. To establish a true estimate of cost, the details from Paris are compared with the costs of labour and of basic foodstuffs in other areas of France and the equivalent values in England. This permits a final carefully researched evaluation of the average costs throughout France in both large and small communities.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Jonathan Smyth

In this chapter the author attempts to evaluate the genuine reaction within the whole of France by analysing the comments made by persons and organisations who were either involved in the organisation of the Festival or were present at one or other of the actual events. The records are divided between those from official sources and those from individuals and demonstrate. The level of belief which can be given to many of these records, often written in the aftermath of the events of Thermidor is evaluated. Finally the chapter discusses what conclusion can be drawn from the majority of the records

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Abstract only
Jonathan Smyth

What happened after the actual Festival? How the expectations of a new dawn, the possible end of the Terror and the proclamation of the Republic of Virtue were dashed by the Law of 22 Prairial. How Robespierre’s enemies in the Convention and its Committees advanced their conspiracy, finally coming to a head with Robespierre’s last speech of 8 Thermidor and the events of 9 and 10 Thermidor. The chapter also discusses how the desire for the reform of national morality did not disappear after Thermidor but continued through the post-Thermidorean and Directory periods. Despite the attempts to re-energise some form of state religion with Theophilanthropy and other cults, the idea of a Supreme Being persisted until the Napoleonic Concordat of 1801.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being
Abstract only
Jonathan Smyth

Why did the whole idea and ethos of the Supreme Being disappear so quickly and completely? Was the reason that Robespierre took no steps to establish firmly his new moral system because he fatally mis-evaluated the level of public support? What should the final evaluation of the effect of the Festival be both on the problem of and acceptable republican national morality and on the progress of the Revolution? The final analysis of the Festival must be that it was a great day of national solidarity during which the entire nation celebrated joyfully.

in Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being