Monday, March 8, 2010

Think Your Lawyer Is Mean? Compare Him To Maximillien Robespierre! ~by Jethro

Jethro: You might want to do an article about Maximilien Robespierre in your legal publication. The author of an article in Law Hall of Fame re lawyers is not too sympathetic to the subject; but his views are typical of US leaders and lawyers. His article says at the end: "Whatever his legacy, it was quite likely the most fantastic ride for a lawyer in the history of the world; one which, though drenched in blood, showed that a monarchy could be brought down and law-making powers given to the common people's elected body, a concept since much improved-upon but still forming the basis of government in modern democracies."

The author does not mention it but Robespierre was the first world leader to free the slaves and abolish slavery on February 4, 1794. This is more than 70 years before our 'Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Napoleon attempted to impose slavery initially with complicity of slave owner Thomas Jefferson. That all has something to do with Haiti's problems. Don't ask me to do an article as my views are very pro Robespierre and pro-Terror--not common among US lawyers, but I wonder about barristers and solicitors in other countries like Ireland. I am sure Robespierre was popular with the independence (IRA and other ) members.

Pub: Also shared the following:

In the midst of war abroad and severe economic crises at home, the French Revolution moved into a second phase after the King's death, which emphasized social equality and fraternity whereas the earliest years of the revolution accentuated liberty. Men and women from the working class, believing that they had received few benefits from the revolution, began to demand universal suffrage and participatory democracy. Eventually, Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer from Arras, emerged as the head of the Jacobin Club when it gained control of the National Convention. When the National Convention conveyed power to the twelve member Committee of Public Safety, of which Robespierre was a member, he gradually assumed dictatorial control of the country... As head of the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre attempted to rule "in the name of the people" by regulating the economy through the use of price controls and by allowing revolutionary tribunals to execute many individuals identified as traitors. His year of rule has consequently been called "the Reign of Terror," although Robespierre, himself, was personally opposed to the death penalty.
While many politicians and historians are now troubled about celebrating the French Revolution because of the violence of 1793 and 1794, Robespierre's Constitution of the Year III attempted to guarantee men and women the right to work, the right to eat and the right to public assistance if they could not work or eat. Robespierre's government reaffirmed the right of Protestants and Jews to citizenship in France and abolished slavery in 1794.
...The decision to abolish slavery was not uncontroversial. Many colonial interests opposed ending slavery, and Napoleon's armies lost many lives trying to reestablish it in the 1800s. Napoleon finally reestablished slavery in the French colonies in 1802, but Toussaint L'Ouverture and his slaves successfully achieved independence and formed the second republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804 when they created modern-day Haiti and freed all slaves on the island. Several images portrayed revolutionaries extending the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen to freed slaves as one of the greatest promises of the revolution.
end of slavery (France=Robespierre)

Legal Pub: Here is some more on Maximilien Robespierre that we were able to dig up from other sources:

Maximilien Robesierre lived from May 6, 1758 to July of 1794. This lawyer is best know as the "bad @ss lawyer" who played a major role in the French Revolution, which started in 1789. Maximilien brought into vogue the liberal use of death by guillotine without any substantive trial procedure. His hatred for the aristocrat began as early as July of 1775. As a young student, he won an oral contest for which he was to speak to the King, Louis XVI. As legend goes, the King refused to leave his carriage because it was raining. Derobespierre had to exit the auditorium and kneel in the rain while the king and Marie-Antoinette remained in their carriage for his speech.

Derobespierre studied at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. He earned his law degree in 1780. He became licensed to practice law in 1781. By March of 1782, he was a judge of the Episcopal Court in Arras. He was perceived as being vain. For example, after winning a case, he persuaded his client to pay for the transcript so he could distributed it to many public figures including Benjamin Franklin. At some point, he changed his surname from Derobespierre to Robespierre.
(Jethro suggest that he changed his surname from Derobespierre to Robespierre most likely and because the prefix "de" was considered to primarily be used by aristocrats or those who wished they were.)

As the French revolution approached, he openly opined that the government ought to be an unalienable right of the people, and not the Royal Family. At 30, he was elected to the Estates General. They became an independent body, the National Assembly. Robespierre belonged to the National Assembly when they passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man on August 26, 1789. (It was based on the American Bill of Rights.)

In June of 1791, Louis XVI was arrested. Robespierre was named as public prosecutor of Paris. Pending war with Austria, Louis XVI was convicted of treason. Robespierre sought the death penalty: "... Louis ought to perish rather than a hundred thousand virtuous citizens; Louis must die, so that the country may live."

Robespierre allowed ruthless state violence to prevail. He supported the Committee of Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunal. Both were known for violence. He led the Committee and its search to punish anyone suspected of anti-revolutionary thoughts. He became known for loving swift "justice" and a sharp guillotine. Robespierre wrote: "If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror..." Robespierre favored punishment: "To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty."

In criminal procedure, he abolished the need for witnesses testimony before passing judgment.
The Loi des suspects (Law of Suspects) of September 17, 1793 made all nobles or aristocrats automatically enemies of the Revolution. Serial executions known as the
Reign of Terror lasted from October 1793 to Robespierre's death in July 1794. Among the executions was Queen Marie Antoinette on October 16, 1793. While he advocated democracy, the rich were executed just because of their wealth. 20,000 were guillotined in the name of the Revolution. No one was safe from summary conviction and the ensuing execution. For example, fellow lawyers Camille Desmoulins and Georges Jacques Danton were executed, foreshadowing things to come.

On July 27, 1794, Robespierre was accused of crimes against the state. His protests were shouted down. When cornered by soldiers, Robespierre allegedly pulled out a gun and tried to commit suicide. Other accounts say he was wounded by a soldier. Regardless, injured, he was thrown into a small jail cell. The next day he met his fate with the guillotine blade. Robespierre is seen by some as a father of modern government and democracy. Others contend he was a vicious sadistic terrorist. A monster or a virtuous martyr? Perhaps it mattered what side of the guillotine you were on execution day. Clearly he orchestrated the destruction of a monarchy and provided a blue print for common citizens to elect a governing body. But at what cost?

Duhaime, Lloyd, Camille Desmoulins and Family, 1792
Carr, J. L., Robespierre: The Force of Circumstance (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1972).
Furet, F., La Révolution Française (Paris: Hachette Littératures, 1988)
Hibbert, C., The French Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1980).
McGowen, T., Robespierre and the French Revolution (Aldershot: Enslow Publishers, 2000).
Original of painting of Robespierre's death held at the Musée de l'histoire vivant, Montreuil, France. ► The Law Museum ► Duhaime's Timetable of World Legal History ► The Law's Hall of Fame


Legal Pub said...

Many thanks to Jethro for the time he put in on this piece and to the lawyer who submitted it. Please keep the stories and story ideas coming. Not all scholarly articles need to be on current law topics or current events.

As for you comedians, don't let the lawyers show you up!

Anonymous said...

This was more reading than I could handle.

Anonymous said...

Maximillien is probably the type of lawyer Shakespear was thinking about when he advocated that the first thing that needed to be done was to get rid of all the lawyers.

Anonymous said...

History teacher are we?

Maximillien in the end became corrupt like the very politicians the revolution sought to overthrow.

Anonymous said...

Loved it! Interesting read!

Legal Pub said...

An editor's comments. The title was not Jethro's. (One suspects from Jethro's text that he perceives Robspierre as a great lawyer, leader and statesman. But not all share his views.) By way of explanation, a follow up comment from Jethro is as follows:

"The reason for the actions of the Jacobins proffered by republican writers of later times, and some modern scholars, is that France was menaced by civil war within, and by a coalition of hostile powers without, requiring the discipline of the Terror to mold France into a united Republic capable of resisting this double peril. Robespierre, the Jacobins, and the Terror fulfilled that role."

Legal Pub said...

Jethro also submitted his own conclusion:

"Robespierre was one of the most incorruptible world leaders, and eaned the nickname '"The Incorruptible." Deaths occurred during the Terror. They occur during any revolution or major political or industrial change, such as from an agrarian to an industrial society. As far as the tally of the Terror, raw number totals are usually cited. They are relatively small in number for a country the size of France. Of those executed no one has plausibly claimed that a great number were not traitors to the revolution or others acting in one form or another against it. Take for example the Girondists. The Girondists certainly were not all republican. They only consented to overthrow the monarchy when they found that Louis XVI was impervious to their counsels. Once the republic was established, they were anxious to arrest the revolutionary movement which they had helped to set in motion. See The King and the Austrian-born Habsburg queen as well as the Monarchy they were and symbolized had to be physically eliminated and the Monarchy that they represented all had to be abolished by their physical removal. "

K.O. said...

The average reader may not find this topic amusing, but if my standup starts to fail, I am going to pull this stuff out and start reading it. That way, even if I starve as a comedian, I will be able to set up a small grocery store with the volume of produce that will be thrown at me.


Anonymous said...

K.O. I don't want to follow you....

Jethro said...

The US revolution resulted in freedom and rights to vote etc., but primarily for the propertied class. Slavery was still maintained. The American revolution was a great leap forward from earlier "revolutions' and "republics" such as that of England under Oliver Cromwell who committed genocide against the Irish. It was during Cromwell's rule when Shakespeare's Dick the Butcher stated "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78. At that time lawyers almost exclusively represented propertied classes. The American Revolution was a huge step forward from Cromwell's Republic which resulted in genocide against the Irish and other atrocities and was not an improvement over the English monarchy. The American Revolution also served as a model for what followed a few years later in France. However the French under Robespierre and the Committee of General Security did not limit the freedoms to the propertied classes, though certain in the convention such as the Girondists would have. They enlarged it to include the sans-culottes or poorer people. On February 4, 1794 under the leadership of Maxmilien Robespierre, during The Terror the French Convention voted for the abolition of slavery. His was the firs freeing of the slaves and predated America's greatest president's act of freeing them by some 70 years! American president and slave owner Thomas Jefferson at first conspired with Napoleon in 1802 to rein-slave them.

The notions of Equality of citizens, not just freedoms for certain classes which had been advocated by various writers first gained concrete realization under Maxmilien Robespierre during The Terror. Jethro

Anonymous said...

JEthro: you sound very intelligent and very much the authority on Maximillien. Thanks a million!

Anonymous said...

Jethro? got anymore inside scoop on Max? Was he a ladies man?

Jethro said...

Anonymous asked: "Jethro? got anymore inside scoop on Max? Was he a ladies man?"
Maximillien was a fastidious dresser and some might have considered him a dandy. However his great loves were France and the Revolution. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica noted "Robespierre's private life was always respectable: he was always emphatically a gentleman and man of culture, and even a little bit of a dandy, scrupulously honest, truthful and charitable." An anonymous author stated: "ELEGANT and careful of his dress and person,
he must have been pleasing to women. Among
those whom he knew, which did he love?" There was at the time of his last days the idea that he indeed had a soft spot for the daughter of his landlord. No one knows for sure. Jethro

Jethro said...

Éléonore Duplay was the lady referred to above. Robespierre said of her, "âme virile, elle saurait mourir comme elle sait aimer" ("noble soul, she would know how to die as well as she knows how to love"). They often walked together in the Champs-Élysées or the woods of Versailles or Issy. Many contemporaries and historians have suggested that she may have been his mistress, including Vilate, a juror on the Revolutionary Tribunal, who said, that Robespierre "lived maritally with the eldest daughter of his hosts," in reference to Éléonore. After his death she wore black for the rest of her life, never marrying, and was known as la Veuve Robespierre (the Widow Robespierre). Jethro

Cindi said...

Jethro, you make it so romantic sounding. Not normally a period in history I think of when I think of romance. thanks for changing my image of the time.