Danton (1759-1794) was a leading figure of the French revolution.
Portrait of Danton by Constance-Marie Charpentier (1792)
Danton in the first stage of the French Revolution
Danton studied law and became a lawyer in Paris. His political role in the early stage of the Revolution was important, even if he was not publicly known before 1792. He was involved in the storming of the Bastille and for the move of the King's court from Versailles to the Tuileries. In 1790, he became president of the "Cordeliers" club, along with Marat and Camille Desmoulins. This group believed in popular sovereignty and the need for a radical action to dramatically change the face of the French society. Danton was a very good orator and this ability allowed him to become more and more famous within the people of Paris. On July 31st, 1791 he was elected administrator of the "departement" of Paris. After the Champ de Mars massacre in July 17th, 1791 the people were questioning the constitutional party and Danton had to move to England. Back in Paris in November, he was elected "Procureur de la communes de Paris".
1792, Danton gained a lot of power
He supported the Parisian insurrections on August 10th, 1792, when the people of Paris stormed the Tuileries following the King's failed attempt to escape (The Varennes escape). Soon after, be became Minister of Justice. On September 2nd, 1792 France was close to an Austrian invasion and Danton asked for "De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace" ("We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity!"). He was elected Deputy of Paris on September 5th, 1792. He resigned from his deputy role and joined the Convention, side by side with Marat, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins. He was quickly opposed to Robespierre who he saw as a competitor within the group.
Danton's role during the Terror
Danton voted for the execution of Louis XVI and participated in the creation of a revolutionary's court in March 1793. He became president of this court. He entered the "Comite de Salut public" in April 1793. He voted for the exclusion of the Girondist group, which he considered a obstacle to the development of the Convention.
He was accused of being too soft by counter revolutionaries. Even his Jacobins friends criticize his thirst for power and money. He was then fired from the "Comite de Salut public" and Robespierre took his position. In August 1793, he supported the "sans culottes" and the Terror. In November, he lost power within the "Cordeliers" group where Hebert, a politician who supported very radical revolutionaries ideas, gained all the support. Danton was left alone, with no support from his past friends. On March 30th, 1794 15 days after the execution of the Hebert group, Danton was arrested with Desmoulins. He was accused by the revolutionaries court of being an enemy of the Republique. He was condemned and killed on April 5th, 1794. His last words were: "Do not forget to show my head to the people, it is well worth seeing".