Febrary 5 1794
But, to found and consolidate
democracy, to achieve the peaceable reign of the constitutional
laws, we must end the war of liberty against tyranny and pass
safely across the storms of the revolution: such is the aim of
the revolutionary system that you have enacted. Your conduct,
then, ought also to be regulated by the stormy circumstances in
which the republic is placed; and the plan of your administration
must result from the spirit of the revolutionary government combined
with the general principles of democracy.
Now, what is the fundamental
principle of the democratic or popular government-that is, the
essential spring which makes it move? It is virtue; I am speaking
of the public virtue which effected so many prodigies in Greece
and Rome and which ought to produce much more surprising ones
in republican France; of that virtue which is nothing other than
the love of country and of its laws.
But as the essence of
the republic or of democracy is equality, it follows that the
love of country necessarily includes the love of equality.
It is also true that
this sublime sentiment assumes a preference for the public interest
over every particular interest; hence the love of country presupposes
or produces all the virtues: for what are they other than that
spiritual strength which renders one capable of those sacrifices?
And how could the slave of avarice or ambition, for example, sacrifice
his idol to his country?
Not only is virtue the
soul of democracy; it can exist only in that government ....
. . .
Republican virtue can be considered in relation to the people
and in relation to the government; it is necessary in both. When
only the govemment lacks virtue, there remains a resource in the
people's virtue; but when the people itself is corrupted, liberty
is already lost.
Fortunately virtue is
natural to the people, notwithstanding aristocratic prejudices.
A nation is truly corrupted when, having by degrees lost its character
and its liberty, it passes from democracy to aristocracy or to
monarchy; that is the decrepitude and death of the body politic....
But when, by prodigious
efforts of courage and reason, a people breaks the chains of despotism
to make them into trophies of liberty; when by the force of its
moral temperament it comes, as it were, out of the arms of the
death, to recapture all the vigor of youth; when by tums it is
sensitive and proud, intrepid and docile, and can be stopped neither
by impregnable ramparts nor by the innumerable ammies of the tyrants
armed against it, but stops of itself upon confronting the law's
image; then if it does not climb rapidly to the summit of its
destinies, this can only be the fault of those who govern it.
. . .
From all this let us deduce a great truth: the characteristic
of popular government is confidence in the people and severity
The whole development
of our theory would end here if you had only to pilot the vessel
of the Republic through calm waters; but the tempest roars, and
the revolution imposes on you another task.
This great purity of
the French revolution's basis, the very sublimity of its objective,
is precisely what causes both our strength and our weakness. Our
strength, because it gives to us truth's ascendancy over imposture,
and the rights of the public interest over private interests;
our weakness, because it rallies all vicious men against us, all
those who in their hearts contemplated despoiling the people and
all those who intend to let it be despoiled with impunity, both
those who have rejected freedom as a personal calamity and those
who have embraced the revolution as a career and the Republic
as prey. Hence the defection of so many ambitious or greedy men
who since the point of departure have abandoned us along the way
because they did not begin the journey with the same destination
in view. The two opposing spirits that have been represented in
a struggle to rule nature might be said to be fighting in this
great period of human history to fix irrevocably the world's destinies,
and France is the scene of this fearful combat. Without, all the
tyrants encircle you; within, all tyranny's friends conspire;
they will conspire until hope is wrested from crime. We must smother
the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with
it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought
to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by
If the spring of popular
government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular
government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue,
without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is
powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe,
inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not
so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general
principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.
It has been said that
terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government
therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in
the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that with which the
henchmen of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern by terror
his brutalized subjects; he is right, as a despot. Subdue by terror
the enemies of liberty, and you will be right, as founders of
the Republic. The government of the revolution is liberty's despotism
against tyranny. Is force made only to protect crime? And is the
thunderbolt not destined to strike the heads of the proud?
. . .
. . . Indulgence for the royalists, cry certain men, mercy for
the villains! No! mercy for the innocent, mercy for the weak,
mercy for the unfortunate, mercy for humanity.
Society owes protection
only to peaceable citizens; the only citizens in the Republic
are the republicans. For it, the royalists, the conspirators are
only strangers or, rather, enemies. This terrible war waged by
liberty against tyranny- is it not indivisible? Are the enemies
within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who
tear our country apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences
that hold the people's mandate; the traitors who sell them; the
mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people's cause, to
kill public virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and
to prepare political counterrevolution by moral counterrevolution-are
all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom
Source: Robespierre: On the Moral and Political Principles of