Georges Jacques Danton


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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