Danton, Georges Jacques


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Danton, Georges Jacques

(zhōrzh zhäk däNtôN`), 1759–94, French statesman, one of the leading figures of the French RevolutionFrench Revolution,
political upheaval of world importance in France that began in 1789. Origins of the Revolution

Historians disagree in evaluating the factors that brought about the Revolution.
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. A Parisian lawyer, he became a leader of the CordeliersCordeliers
, political club of the French Revolution. Founded (1790) as the Society of the Friends of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, it was called after its original meeting place, the suppressed monastery of the Cordeliers (Franciscan Recollects).
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 early in the Revolution and gained popular favor through his powerful oratory. A member of the Commune of ParisCommune of Paris,
insurrectionary governments in Paris formed during (1792) the French Revolution and at the end (1871) of the Franco-Prussian War. In the French Revolution, the Revolutionary commune, representing urban workers, tradespeople, and radical bourgeois, engineered
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, he helped set the stage for the Aug., 1792, attack on the Tuileries and the overthrow of the monarchy. In the new republic, he became minister of justice and virtual head of the Provisional Executive Council. A member of the Convention, the national assembly, he dominated the first Committee of Public Safety (Apr.–July, 1793), created by the Convention as the chief governing body of France. When France suffered military reverses, Danton began to advocate a conciliatory foreign policy. He was not included (July, 1793) in the new Committee of Public Safety, and he retired from the capital. He returned in November when financial scandals involving his friends were revealed. Perhaps to help them, he advocated relaxation of emergency measures, particularly the Reign of TerrorReign of Terror,
1793–94, period of the French Revolution characterized by a wave of executions of presumed enemies of the state. Directed by the Committee of Public Safety, the Revolutionary government's Terror was essentially a war dictatorship, instituted to rule the
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, and attacked the dictatorship of the committee. Soon after the committee had eliminated the extremists under Jacques René HébertHébert, Jacques René
, 1757–94, French journalist and revolutionary. An ardent supporter of the French Revolution, he gained the support of the working classes through his virulent paper Le Père Duchesne and was prominent in the Cordeliers.
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, it turned upon Danton and the "Indulgents" or moderates. On Mar. 30, 1794, Danton and his followers were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. The trial was a mockery, and Danton was guillotined. There has been much controversy as to his character, particularly between Alphonse AulardAulard, Alphonse
, 1849–1928, French historian. He was the first professional historian of the French Revolution, and he devoted his life to this study. A professor at the Univ.
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, who defended him as a great patriot and statesman, and Albert MathiezMathiez, Albert
, 1874–1932, French historian, an authority on the French Revolution. He studied under Aulard, whose scientific method he adopted, although it led him to different conclusions.
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, who viewed him as a demagogue and a corrupt politician.

Bibliography

See his Speeches (tr. 1928); biographies by L. Madelin (1914, in French), H. Wendel (tr. 1935), and N. Hampson (1978).

Danton, Georges Jacques

 

Born Oct. 28, 1759, in Arci-sur-Aube; died Apr. 5, 1794, in Paris. Active figure in the Great French Revolution.

The son of a procurator, Danton was a lawyer by education. In 1780 he began to practice law in Paris, and in 1787, before the beginning of the revolution, he became an attorney in the king’s court. In the first days of the revolution, Dan-ton’s advanced views and oratorical talent won him wide popularity. Defending the democratic demands of the Cordelier Club, Danton acquired great influence. However, for a long time he considered it necessary to preserve the monarchy, and even during the crisis provoked by Louis XVI’s flight to Varennes (June 21, 1791). he did not decide to demand its abolition. In July 1791, in order to escape government repression, he fled to England.

Returning to Paris in September 1791, Danton took part in the democratic movement and drew closer to the Jacobins. He was elected assistant procurator of the Paris Commune (1789–94), and he took part in the uprising of Aug. 10, 1792, which overthrew the monarchy, after which he occupied the post of minister of justice in the new government. During the critical days in August and September 1792, when the troops of the Austrian and Prussian interventionists were attacking Paris, Danton displayed enormous energy, initiative, and determination, calling on the people to defend the revolutionary fatherland. He was elected to the Convention in September 1792, and in 1793 he joined the first Commitee of Public Safety, becoming its de facto leader. Devoting a great deal of attention to questions of foreign policy, Danton championed the idea of natural boundaries, rejecting plans for revolutionary war—that is, the forcible destruction of feudal systems in other states.

As the struggle between the Montagnards and the Girondins intensified, Danton took an increasingly evasive position on questions of internal policy and sought a compromise between the warring parties. His conciliatory position toward the Girondins impelled the Jacobins to remove him and his supporters from the new Committee of Public Safety, which was created in July 1793.

In the autumn of 1793, Danton temporarily left Paris and lived in the countryside, handling his private affairs and increasing his wealth. At the same time, he continued to follow events in the political arena intently. Remaining outwardly one of the leaders of the revolution, Danton gradually became a center of attraction for the noveaux riches, who were discontented with the policy of the revolutionary dictatorship. In the winter of 1793–94, the right wing of the Jacobins (including C. Desmoulins and Fabre d’Eglantine), which had grown up around Danton, formed an opposition group. They demanded mitigation of the revolutionary terror, and abolition of the Law of the Maximum, and they sharply attacked the Jacobin government. On Apr. 2, 1794, Danton and his friends were tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal, and on Apr. 5, 1794, they were executed.

WORKS

Oeuvres.... Paris, 1866.
Discours. Paris, 1910.

REFERENCES

Narochnitskii, A. L. “Krushenie diplomatii Dantona ν iiune-iiule 1793 g.” Doklady i soobshcheniia Istoricheskogo fakul’teta MGU, 1947, issue 6.
Dalin, V. M. “Novye dokumenty ob otnoshenii Babefa k Dantonu.” Voprosy istorii, 1959, no. 4.
Mathiez, A. Novoe o Dantone. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928. (Translated from French.)
Fridliand. Ts. Danton, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1965.
Bougeart, A. Danton: Documents authentiques pour servir à l’histoire de la Révolution française. Brussels, 1861.
Aulard. F. A. Danton. Paris, 1884.
Robinet, J. F. E. Centenaire de 1789: Danton homme d’Etat. Paris, 1889.
Madelin, L. Danton. Paris, 1914.
Belloc, H. Danton. New York, 1928.
Wendel, H. Danton. Berlin. 1930.

A. Z. MANFRED