Fréron on the violence of the White Terror (1795)


Louis-Marie Fréron was a former Convention deputy who opposed Robespierre and participated in the ‘White Terror’ against former Jacobins, which he describes here:


“A new terror, far more productive of crime than that from which they claimed to be freeing themselves, now spread like a devouring lava flood in the departments of the Midi. Marseille, worthy rival of Lyon, disgraced itself by atrocities at which nature sickens. Its prisons, and those of Aix, Aries, Tarascon and almost all the communes of the Rhone delta, were soon crammed with prisoners, most of them detained with no charge specified on the arrest warrants. Royalism too had its ‘suspects’. The representant en mission here issued a decree ordering the arrest of all persons suspected of terrorism [Jacobin republicanism]. God knows what scope that gave to the relentless aristocracy and to private vengeance.

There was not one commune where, following Marseille’s example, daggers were not plunged with joy into republican hearts. Everywhere a kind of rivalry stirred up by the Furies, a contest for a prize to outdo all the rest in massacres. Neither age nor sex were spared. Women, children and old men were ruthlessly hacked to pieces in the name of humanity, by cannibals who fought over the fragments. The departement of the Vaucluse endured the same atrocities. That of the Basses-Alpes, whose people are naturally peaceful, hard working and law abiding, did not escape the contagion.

After this, it was not hard to excite people’s minds to a fury against anyone who could be called a terrorist. The image of the dangers Marseille had just miraculously escaped obsessed everyone’s thoughts. It was necessary in some way to turn the people into criminals. Popular hatred was directed against the ex-terrorists held in Fort Jean in Marseille. Some of the people joined the gangs of hired murderers who went by the name of Compagnie de Jesus [‘Company of Jesus’] or Compagnie du Soleil [‘Company of the Sun’].

These vile and savage perpetrators of every kind of murder committed until then penetrated into the deepest cells, they rushed upon their defenceless and starving victims. Daggers and pistols, bayonets and stilettos were not enough — they loaded cannon with grapeshot and fired it point blank into the prison yards. They threw blazing sulfur in through the ventilators; they set fire to damp straw at the entrances to vaults where scores of prisoners were huddled and suffocated them in the thick smoke. They killed, they slaughtered, they sated themselves on murder. Bodies already pierced a thousand times were slashed and mutilated, their brains dashed out against the walls. The silence of death was only broken now and again by the murderers’ savage cries or the victims’ choking sobs. Knee deep in blood, they could tread only upon corpses, and the last sighs of many a republican were breathed under the feet of the representatives of the people.”