Thermidorian Reaction

Thermidorian Reaction

The Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror. It was triggered by a vote of the Committee of Public Safety to execute Robespierre, Saint-Just and several other leading members of the Terror. This ended the most radical phase of the French Revolution.

The name "Thermidorian" refers to 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), the date according to the French Revolutionary Calendar when Robespierre and other radical revolutionaries came under concerted attack in the National Convention. "Thermidorian Reaction" also refers to the remaining period until the National Convention was superseded by the Directory; this is also sometimes called the era of the Thermidorian Convention. Prominent figures of Thermidor include Paul François Jean Nicolas Barras, Jean Lambert Tallien and Joseph Fouché.

9 Thermidor

The Reaction began on 27 July 1794, which the French Republican Calendar dates as 9 Thermidor. Robespierre and Saint-Just came under a concerted and organized attack from other members of the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre gambled and appealed to the deputies of the Right to support him. 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 following day, 10 Thermidor (28 July), the new authorities guillotined (without trial, nor even the light formality of a Revolutionary Tribunal) Robespierre, Saint-Just, Georges Couthon, and several other supporters, including members of the Paris Commune (the city government of Paris).


9 Thermidor represents the final throes of the Reign of Terror. With Robespierre the sole remaining strong man of the Revolution (following the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, and the executions of Georges Danton and Jacques Hébert), his apparently total grasp on power was, in fact, increasingly illusory, especially insofar as he seemed to have support from factions to his right. His only real political power at this time lay in the Jacobin Club, which had extended itself beyond the borders of Paris and into the country as a network of "Popular Societies". His tight personal control of the military and his distrust of military might and of banks, along with his opposition to corrupt individuals in government, made Robespierre the subject of a number of conspiracies. The conspiracies came together on 9 Thermidor (July 27) when members of the national bodies of the revolutionary government arrested Robespierre as well as the leaders of the Paris city government.

Conspiratorial groups

Not all of the conspiratorial groupings were ideological in motivation; many who conspired against Robespierre did so for strong practical and personal reasons, most notably self-preservation. The surviving Dantonists, such as Merlin de Thionville for example, wanted revenge for the death of Danton and, more importantly, to protect their own heads.

The Left were opposed to Robespierre on the grounds that he rejected atheism and was not sufficiently radical.

The prime mover, however, for the events of 9 Thermidor (July 27) was a Montagnard conspiracy, led by Jean Lambert Tallien and Bourdon de l'Oise, which was gradually coalescing, and was to come to pass at the time when the Montagnards had finally swayed the deputies of the Right over to their side. (Robespierre and Saint-Just were, themselves, Montagnards.)


On 9 Thermidor (July 27), in the Hall of Liberty in Paris, Tallien impugned Saint-Just while reading a report to the Committee of Public Safety, and then went on to denounce the tyranny of Robespierre. The attack was taken up by Billaud-Varenne. Robespierre leapt to Saint-Just's defence. Cries went up of 'Down with the tyrant! Arrest him!' Robespierre then made his appeal to the deputies of the Right, "Deputies of the Right, men of honour, men of virtue, give me the floor, since the assassins will not." However, the Right was decided, and a debate to arrest Robespierre and his followers ensued which led to the end of Robespierre's rule.

Death of Robespierre

Robespierre was declared an outlaw, and condemned without judicial process. The following day, 10 Thermidor (28 July 1794), he was executed with 21 of his closest associates, including:
*Adrien-Nicolas Gobeau, ex-substitute of the public prosecutor;
*Antoine Gency;
*Antoine Simon, gaoler of the Dauphin;
*Augustin Robespierre;
*Charles-Jacques Bougon;
*Christophe Cochefer;
*Claude-François de Payan;
*Denis-Étienne Laurent, municipal officer;
*Étienne-Nicolas Guérin;
*François Hanriot, ex-commander of the garde nationale;
*Jean-Baptiste de Lavalette, ex-général de brigade;
*Jean-Barnabé Dhazard;
*Jean-Baptiste Fleuriot-Lescot, mayor of Paris;
*Jean-Claude Bernard;
*Jean-Etienne Forestier;
*Jacques-Louis Frédéric Wouarmé.
*Jean-Marie Quenet;
*Georges Couthon;
*Louis-Antoine-Léon Saint-Just;
*Nicolas-Joseph Vivier, judge of the Revolutionary Tribunal;
*René-François Dumas, ex-president of the Revolutionary Tribunal;


Certainly, the events of 9 Thermidor were to prove a watershed in the revolutionary process. The "Thermidorian" regime that followed was, at the very least, less rigid, ending the Reign of Terror and allowing for more individual liberty, especially in areas of religion. At the same time, its economic policies paved the way for rampant inflation. Ultimately, power devolved to the hands of the Directory, an executive of five men who assumed power in France in year III of the French Revolution.

The Thermidorian regime excluded the remaining Montagnards from power, even those who had joined in conspiring against Robespierre and Saint-Just. The White Terror resulted in numerous imprisonments and several hundred executions, almost exclusively of people on the political left. These numbers, while significant, were considerably smaller than those associated with the previous Reign of Terror.

End of the Reaction

The Thermidorian Convention continued until 26 October 1795 (4 Brumaire Year IV), when the National Convention was succeeded by the French Directory.

For historians of revolutionary movements, the term "Thermidor" has come to mean the phase in some revolutions when power slips from the hands of the original revolutionary leadership and a radical regime is replaced by a more conservative regime, sometimes to the point where the political pendulum may swing back towards something resembling a pre-revolutionary state. Leon Trotsky, in his book "The Revolution Betrayed", refers to the rise of Stalin and the accompanying post-revolutionary bureaucracy as the "Soviet Thermidor".

Other "Thermidorian Reactions"

Throughout history, following the pattern outlined in Crane Brinton's work, "The Anatomy of Revolution", many revolutions have undergone equivalents of the Thermidorian Reaction. Some examples of this are:
*English Civil War: The restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 can be seen as a repudiation of Cromwell's Commonwealth and the point at which moderates once again regained control of the English Revolution.
*Iranian Revolution: The election of the moderate Mohammad Khatami to the Presidency of Iran in 1997 was seen by many as a Thermidorian Reaction, cf the anthropological work "Being Modern In Iran" by Fariba Adelkhah (2000)


*Becker Marianne, Maximilien, "Histoire de Robespierre", tome 1 (1989); fiction.
*Becker Marianne, Maximilien, "Histoire de Robespierre", tome 2 (1994); fiction.
*Becker Marianne, Maximilien, "Histoire de Robespierre", tome 3 (1999); fiction.
*Bouloiseau Marc, "Robespierre, Que sais-je?", Presses Universitaires de France (1956).
*Bouloiseau Marc, "La republique Jacobin (10 août 1792 - 9 thermidor an II)". Paris. (1972)
*Brunel Françoise, "Thermidor, la chute de Robespierre", Ed. Complexe (1989).
*Domecq Jean Philippe, "Robespierre, derniers temps", Seuil (1984).
*Frère Jean-Claude, "Robespierre, la victoire ou la mort", Flammarion (1983).
*Gallo Max, "L'homme Robespierre, histoire d'une solitude", Librairie Acad. Perrin (1984).
*Guillemin Henri, "Robespierre politique et mystique", Seuil (1987).
*Hamel Ernest, "Histoire de Robespierre", A. Cinqualbre, Paris (1885).
*Hamel Ernest, "Thermidor", Jouvet & Cie Editeur (1891).
*Jacob Louis, "Robespierre vu par ses contemporains", (1938).
*Pierre-Toussaint Durand de Maillane, "L'Histoire de la Convention Nationale". Paris: Baudouin (1825)
*Madelin Louis, "Fouché, de la Révolution à l'Empire", tome 1, Nouveau Monde Editions, Reedition (2002)
*Massin Jean, "Robespierre", Club français du livre (1959).
*Mathiez Albert, "Autour de Robespierre", Payot.
*Mathiez Albert, "Robespierre terroriste", (1921).
*Mathiez Albert, "Etudes sur Robespierre", S.E.R.(1927).
*Robespierre Maximilien, "Discours et rapports à la Convention", Ed. 10/18 (1965).
*Robespierre Maximilien, "Textes choisis", Ed. Sociales (1973).
*Sollet Bertrand, "Robespierre", Messidor (1988).
*Walter Gèrard, "Robespierre", Gallimard (1961).

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