Witnesses to the Festival of the Supreme Being (1794)


Maximilien Robespierre led the procession at the Festival of the Supreme Being in June 1794. The following two extracts, from the writers Baudot and Vilate, reveal the growing distaste for Robespierre:


“As president of the National Convention, Robespierre led the procession. He wore his usual light blue coat and carried a posy of flowers in his hand. People noticed that there was a considerable gap between his colleagues and himself. Some ascribe this to simple deference, others think that Robespierre was using it
to underline his sovereignty. I am inclined to think that it was due to detestation of Robespierre.

It seems certain that his downfall was agreed in that triumphal procession; many were well aware of this, and if the gap was not its chief cause, at any rate his opponents made use of it to increase their numbers and convince others of his dictatorship. For the rest, the ceremony ended with an ambiguous speech without strength or vigour, and Robespierre gained nothing from his intended triumph.”

“With joyful pride Robespierre walked at the head of the Convention, surrounded by a huge crowd, the elegance of his dress responding to the pure radiance of the brilliant day, parading for the first time in the tricolour sash of the people’s representative, his head shaded by floating plumes. Everyone noticed how intoxicated he seemed. But while the rapturous crowds shouted ‘Long live Robespierre!’ — shouts that are a death warrant in a republic — his colleagues, alarmed by his presumptuous claims, provoked him with sarcastic comments.

It was not only members of the National Convention who perceived his theocratic intentions. There was a vigorous expression from a genuine sans culotte, reported by someone who heard it at the Tuileries: ‘Look at the bastard! It’s not enough to be master, he wants to be God as well!”