Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13, 1793 – Marat Survives Assassination Attempt

Jean-Paul Marat served as a fiery radical behind the French Revolution using newspaper journalism, public speaking, and essays to spread his ideas for the defense of the downtrodden Third Estate. In the past month, he had been one of the three most powerful men in France (along with Danton and Robespierre) as the Girodin political club disintegrated under Jacobin pressure. Change was coming to the Revolution, and Marat's sense of prophecy looked toward better days.

Marat also suffered from a skin disease that caused itching, blistering, and a great deal of discomfort. He would spend most of the time in his bath, his head wrapped in a vinegar-soaked bandana to ease his pain. Meanwhile, a desk had been set over his tub to allow him to write while he soaked.

On the night of July 13, a twenty-four-year-old girl would come to the house of Marat, saying she had knowledge of a Girondist uprising. She had come before and been turned away, but now Marat agreed to see her. The girl was Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer who held Marat as a powerful enemy to the Republic because of his endorsement of violence. For example, she considered Marat responsible for the September Massacres in which mobs slaughtered priests and prisoners out of the panic involved in the Duke of Brunswick's invasion of Verdun. Corday aimed to save the Republic by assassinating Marat, killing “one man to save one hundred thousand.”

After a fifteen minute discussion of the supposed uprising, Corday pulled an eight-inch knife and leaped at Marat. Marat's wife Simonne, having not trusted the girl, leaped at the same moment, subduing her and saving her husband's life. Corday would later be guillotined on grounds of attempted murder.

Marat would go on as a leader of the Jacobins and the Revolution, often knocking heads with his ally Robespierre. While George Danton would rise to higher standing as a more moderating force, the two would target one another enough that each seemed to cancel out the other's radicalism. Though both Robespierre and Marat would call for purges against counterrevolutionaries (what some whispered as a “reign of terror”), much more import was placed on fending off the invasions of the European powers seeking to end the Republic, which had so far become a stalemate. The war finally reversed in 1794 with overwhelming French victories. Politics calmed as fears did, and the Gironists returned to power, though not completely overthrowing the Jacobins.

In 1795 (Year III), a convention amended the constitution, Jacobins managing to keep the Gironists from tossing it out altogether. Maintaining universal suffrage for males, the new constitution at least improved the political flow. Directors (the executive office) often leaned toward corruption, but the biting words of Marat's journalism kept politicians in order for fear of the people. Gradually, the problems in France were becoming solved. In 1799, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte swept elections because of popular wording about his victories from Marat's writing. Marat would die the next year, and the growing fame of Napoleon would leave him all but forgotten. Under the Corsican's leadership, France would be put into financial and judicial order and even come to peace with Britain at the Treaty of Amiens. While some suspected Napoleon and his reforms as ambitions toward something of an emperor, politicians such as “The Incorruptible” Robespierre kept him in check (such as preventing the return of slavery in the French colonies).

Britain would declare war again in May of 1803, and Napoleon would return to the field as a general, leaving the nation much to itself. While many called for the war to be colonial (such as in the proud French colony of Haiti, made up of freed slaves), Napoleon built a European empire for France by defeating the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Coalitions in the field. While Napoleon hoped to invade their ally Russia to enforce his Continental Blockade, the French people would refuse to allow further enemies. Instead, Napoleon built up his massive Grande Armée and began the invasion of Britain by means of a massive earthen-work isthmus across the English Channel. While under nearly continuous bombardment, 400,000 soldiers plus volunteer workers emptied load after load of soil and rock into the sea. The monumental action terrified England enough to call an end to the war, removing troops from Spain and finally giving France its guarantee of a republic.

Fearful that Napoleon would use his fame to overthrow their government, Robespierre and others suggested many schemes including assassination, but finally the military genius was sent into pseudo-exile on expeditions in the colonies, branching out from his bases in the Sahara and Ivory Coast. Though able to conquer enormous tracks of Africa, Napoleon would succumb to yellow fever in 1821, and France's colonial empire would stall. Gradually over the nineteenth century, France would begrudgingly sponsor the puppet republics it had established in Germany, Italy, and Austria to become self-governing as Nationalism grew in public spirit.

France's success, along with that of its longtime ally the United States of America, in the Great Experiment of republicanism would give much credence to the idea. As economic fallout of the Industrial Revolution gave birth to new ideas of socialism and communism, political philosophy would shift again, leading to the Revolutionary Wars in the 1940s. The government of France would be seen as corrupt with a lost vision, and Europe would once again turn upon it as the Commune reformed just as the philosopher Marx had proposed.

In reality, Corday's knife met its target, and Marat would die in minutes. She was guillotined on July 17 on grounds of murder and treason. The fear of counterrevolutionaries would grow as more kingdoms of Europe invaded, giving way to Robespierre's Reign of Terror and, ultimately, Napoleon becoming emperor and wiping away the republic.

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