Thermidorian Coup

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Thermidorian Coup


the counterrevolutionary coup d’etat of July 27–28, 1794 (9 Thermidor, Year II, of the republican calendar), in France, which led to the fall of the revolutionary democratic Jacobin dictatorship.

The Thermidorian coup was a response to the crisis brought about by the intensification of the internal contradictions of the Jacobin dictatorship. Having united the petite and middle bourgeoisies, the peasantry, and the urban plebeian masses in the struggle against foreign and domestic counterrevolution, the Jacobins had been able within a very short time to solve the main tasks of the bourgeois revolution—to abolish feudalism and ensure the national unity of France. Nevertheless, although the Jacobins strictly regulated the sphere of distribution (for example, the Maximum and requisitions), they did not alter the mode of production itself, which was based on private property, and therefore could not stem the rapid growth of the economic power of the big bourgeoisie, especially the nouveaux riches, who had enriched themselves through speculation.

The threat of a feudal restoration compelled the bourgeoisie and the well-to-do peasantry to come to terms for the time being with the revolutionary dictatorship. When victories on the various fronts eliminated the danger of a restoration, however, these social strata, whose lead was followed by the middle peasantry, sought deliverance from the regime that was oppressing them; this development made the downfall of the Jacobin dictatorship inevitable. At the same time, the contradictory nature of the Jacobins’ policies (for example, the imposition of a Maximum not only on necessities but also on workers’ wages and the retention of the Le Chapelier Law) also provoked dissatisfaction among the urban plebian masses and rural poor, who had supported the revolutionary government up to this time.

Thus, a favorable climate for a conspiracy against the revolutionary government led by M. Robespierre was created. The leaders of the conspiracy, J. Fouché, J.-L. Tallien, and P. Barras, brought together Dantonist splinter groups, enlisted the support of the Marais, and established ties with the Girondins. In class terms, the leading force behind this bloc was the new, recently enriched bourgeoisie, which had gone over to a counterrevolutionary position; it was represented by the right Thermidorians. Also drawn into the conspiracy were the remnants of the Hébertists, although they did not share the goals of the chief conspirators, who feared for their fate. Other participants included the left Thermidorians J. Collot d’Herbois and J. Billaud-Varenne and some members of the Committee of Public Safety. Although the leaders of the revolutionary government knew of the preparations for the conspiracy, they did not take energetic measures, as they had done in the past, to suppress it.

At a session of the Convention on 9 Thermidor, the conspirators prevented L. Saint-Just, who was attempting to expose the planned counterrevolutionary coup, from speaking and pushed through a resolution providing for the arrest of the leaders of the revolutionary government. In response, the plebeian masses of Paris rose spontaneously to defend Robespierre and his followers and freed them from arrest. Robespierre, Saint-Just, and G. Couthon remained in the Hôtel de Ville under the protection of the people, and armed sanscullottes moved against the conspirators. The preponderance of force, however, was with the Thermidorians, and Robespierre’s group was indecisive. Having a majority in the Convention, the Thermidorians declared Robespierre and his associates outlaws. Robespierre and the others were arrested again in the predawn hours of 10 Thermidor and, in the morning, were guillotined without trial.

The counterrevolutionary essence of the Thermidorian coup, which had been masked by the slogan “Revolution against tyranny,” soon became evident. The democratic social achievements of the Jacobin dictatorship were abolished, the Maximum was repealed, and a counterrevolutionary terror was initiated. The Thermidorian coup put in power the big bourgeoisie, whose interests were expressed by the Directory that was formed in 1795.


Kareev, N. I. Rol’ Parizhskikh sektsii v perevorote 9 Termidora. Petrograd, 1914.
Dobroliubskii, K. P. Termidor. Odessa, 1949.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.