The Thermidorian Reaction

Thermidorian reaction. July 27th 1794.
The Thermidorian reaction was a revolt in the French revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror. With Robespierre the sole remaining source of strength among the revolutionary leaders, his grasp on power was far from firm and in fact it was increasingly misleading. His only real political power came from the Jacobin Club, which had developed beyond Paris and into the country as a network of ‘popular societies.’
Robespierre became the subject of a number of conspiracies due to his distrust of military might and of banks, not to mention his opposition to corrupt individuals in government. It was on the 9th Thermidor 1794 (July 27) that the conspiracies came together when Robespierre was arrested by members of the national bodies of the Revolutionary government, led by a group of rebellious Jacobins, including members of the Public Safety Committee, who also arrested the leaders of the Paris City Government, including Robespierre’s brother, Saint Just and Couthon.

Robespierre and Saint Just came under a concerted and organised attack from other members of the committee of Public Safety, of whom cried, “Down with the tyrant! Arrest him!” Robespierre gambled and appealed to the deputies of the Right to support him, “Men of honour, men of virtue, give me the floor, since the assassins will not.” However, the deputies of the Right rejected his appeal and the Committee almost unanimously voted against him and his close allies. Robespierre and his allies had alienated even their traditional supporters by indiscriminate violence, and could offer no resistance when the National Convention ordered their arrest.

The Thermidorian Reaction ended the most radical phase of the French Revolution. It was the beginning of a reassertion of conservatism in France that seemed to undermine the advances of the liberal revolution. It terms of the French Revolution, it marked a rejection of the “equality!” rallying cry, in favour of the original call for “liberty!” especially economic.

However the Thermidorian Reaction did not end the French Revolution, instead it constituted a new, third phase of the Revolution. The removal of Robespierre from power allowed the middle class lawyers, doctors and other professionals who had directed the first stage of the French Revolution to storm back onto the scene of the National Convention and reassert their authority. The new power in the Convention eliminated price controls, printed more paper currency and let prices rise, as business interests had demanded since 1793.

Without political power and a galvanizing leader like Robespierre in government, change within the system seemed impossible and the rise in prices hit the working poor and provincial peasantry hard. The commoners of Paris revolted against the government in early 1795, only to be squashed by troops called in by the Convention. Not since the beginning of the Revolution had the popular uprising been put down by a government that made no concessions to the poor.
To avoid a revival of either democracy or dictatorship, the Thermidorians put together a new constitution to re-established order by creating a very strong executive government, once again changing the political climate in which the new heroes of this stage of the Revolution were the respectable and the propertied classes. There was legislative authority vested in two legislative assemblies, the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five-Hundred. Executive power was lodged in a five-man Directory to be chosen by the Council of Ancients from a list of Candidates presented by the Council of Five Hundred.

The ninth of Thermidor marked not so much the overthrow of one man or group of men as the rejection of a form of government, anyone who thought otherwise were swiftly disillusioned.
Tayla Theobold