The French Revolution— Volume 3

Author: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine

VI. The Mountain.

Maneuvers of the "Mountain." — The Jacobin Club on the eve of August 11th. — Session of the Convention on the 11th of August. — The Delegates initiate Terror. — Popular consecration of the Jacobin dictatorship.

This volteface has, of course, to appear spontaneous and the hand of the titular rulers remain invisible: the Convention, as usual with usurpers, is to simulate reserve and disinterestedness. - Consequently, the following morning, August 11, on the opening of the session, it simply declares that "its mission is fulfilled:"[41] on the motion of Lacroix, a confederate of Danton’s, it passes a law that a new census of the population and of electors shall be made with as little delay as possible, in order to convoke the primary assemblies at once; it welcomes with joy the delegates who bring to it the Constitutional Ark; the entire Assembly rises in the presence of this sacred receptacle, and allows the delegates to exhort it and instruct it concerning its duties.[42] But in the evening, at the Jacobin Club, Robespierre, after a long and vague discourse on public dangers, conspiracies, and traitors, suddenly utters the decisive words:

"The most important of my reflections was about to escape me[43]. . . The proposition made this morning will only facilitate the replacement of the purified members of this Convention by the envoys of Pitt and Cobourg."

Dreadful words in the mouth of a man of principles! They are at once understood by the leaders, great and small, also by the selected fifteen hundred Jacobins then filling the hall. "No! no! shouts the entire club." The delegates are carried away:

"I demand," exclaims one of them, "that the dissolution of the Convention be postponed until the end of the war." -

At last, the precious motion, so long desired and anticipated, is made: the calumnies of the Girondins now fall the ground; it is demonstrated that the Convention does not desire to perpetuate itself and that it has no ambition; if it remains in power it is because it is kept there; the delegates of the people compel it to stay.

And better still, they are going to mark out its course of action. — The next day, the 12th of August, with the zeal of new converts, they spread themselves through the hall in such numbers that Assembly, no longer able to carry on is deliberations, crowds toward the left and yields the whole of the space on the right that they may occupy and "purify"" it.[44] All the combustible material in their minds, accumulated during the past fortnight, takes fire and explodes; they are more furious than the most ultra Jacobins; they repeat at the bar of the house the extravagances of Rose Lacombe, and of the lowest clubs; they even transcend the program drawn up by the "Mountain." "The time for deliberation is past," exclaims their spokesman, "we must act[45]. . . Let the people rouse themselves in a mass. . . it alone can annihilate its enemies. . . We demand that all ’suspects’ be put under arrest; that they be dispatched to the frontiers, followed by the terrible mass of sans-culottes. There, in the front ranks, they will be obliged to fight for that liberty which they have outraged for the past four years, or be immolated on the tyrants’ cannon. . . . Women, children, old men and the infirm shall be kept as hostages by the women and children of sans-culottes." Danton seizes the opportunity. With his usual lucidity he finds the expression which describes the situation:

"The deputies of the primary assemblies," he says, "have just begun to practice among us the initiative of terror."

He moreover reduces the absurd notions of the fanatics to a practical measure: "A mobilization en masse, yes, but with order" by at once calling out the first class of conscript, all men from eighteen to twenty-five years of age; the arrest of all ’suspects’, yes, but not to lead them against the enemy; "they would be more dangerous than useful in our armies; let us shut them up; they will be our hostages." — He also proposes employment for the delegates who are only in the way in Paris and might be useful in the provinces. Let us make of them "various kinds of representatives charged with animating citizens. . . Let them, along with all good citizens and the constituted authorities, take charge of the inventories of grain and arms, and make requisitions for men, and let the Committee of Public Safety direct this sublime movement. . . . All will swear that, on returning to their homes, they will give this impulse their fellow citizens." Universal applause; the delegates exclaim in one voice, "We swear!" Everybody springs to his feet; the men in the tribunes wave their hats and likewise should the same oath. — The scheme is successful; a semblance of popular will has authorized the staff of officials, the policy, the principles and the very name of Terror. As to the instruments for the operation they are all there ready to be back into action. The delegates, of whose demands and interference the "Mountain" is still in dread, are sent back to their departmental holes, where they shall serve as agents and missionaries.[46] There is no further mention of putting the Constitution into operation; this was simply a bait, a decoy, contrived for fishing in turbid waters: the fishing ended, the Constitution is now placed in a conspicuous place in the hall, in a small monument for which David furnished the design.[47] — The Convention, now, says Danton, "will rise to a sense of its dignity, for it is now invested with the full power of the nation." In other words, artifice completes what violence has begun. Through the outrages committed in May and June, the Convention had lost its legitimacy; through the maneuvers of July and August it recovered the semblance of it. The Montagnards still hold their slave by his lash, but they have restored his prestige so as to make the most of him to their own profit.


Related Resources

French Revolution

Download Options

Title: The French Revolution— Volume 3

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The French Revolution— Volume 3

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, "VI. The Mountain.," The French Revolution— Volume 3, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The French Revolution—Volume 3 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed December 11, 2023,

MLA: Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe. "VI. The Mountain." The French Revolution— Volume 3, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The French Revolution—Volume 3, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 11 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Taine, HA, 'VI. The Mountain.' in The French Revolution— Volume 3, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The French Revolution—Volume 3, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 11 December 2023, from