Georges Danton


Georges Danton
Georges Danton was, like his contemporaries Maximilian Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat, a leader of the early stage of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror. As first President of the Committee of Public Safety, Danton was described as a chief force in the overthrow of the French monarchy and creation of the First Republic. Not all agreed with this portrayal, however, and he was eventually guillotined after being accused of fraud and counter-revolutionary tendencies.

Danton was born in northeastern France, to a poor but well-respected family. He was given a decent education before obtaining a position as an advocate in Paris. He soon became involved with the pre-Revolutionary movements in the city, and he quickly ascended to the presidency of the Cordeliers Club, an organization that believed in popular sovereignty as the means to rule the French people. Danton took part in the storming of the Bastille as well as the arrest of Jean-Paul Marat, and by 1790, he had been selected as commander of a portion of the National Guard. A year later, the king and queen were arrested, and a bloody revolt known as the massacre of the Champ de Mars resulted, during which the guards were forced to open fire on the angry crowd. Fearful for his life, Danton fled to England.

The National Assembly had finished its work by September of that year, but Danton was not elected to its successor, the Legislative Assembly. Instead, he was able only to procure a low position in the Paris Commune. Within a year, however, the proposed constitutional monarchy had been completely overthrown, and Danton, assisted by powerful allies, was immediately made minister of justice. He joined the Girondist movement, whose war with Austria led only to more panic and the resulting September Massacres, during which over a thousand prisoners were slain. Resigning as minister and leaving the Girondists, Danton took up a membership in the new National Convention. He sat in the highest row of benches, nicknamed “the Mountain” for its elevation and the prominence of the men who sat there. He voted for the death of Louis XVI in January 1793, and several months later he took it upon himself to head the Committee of Public Safety, an organization responsible for the governing of the people during the early Revolution. By this time, Danton realized that the Girondists must be put down permanently. While he may not have taken part in the insurrection that forced out the opposing faction, he certainly took credit for it, glorying in the expulsion of the men that had stood in his way. Now that the Girondists were removed, members of the Mountain found themselves in possession of absolute power. Danton, on the other hand, slowly began to remove himself from the public scene. Then, a year later, he was suddenly arrested on the grounds of financial misdeeds. Numerous allegations began to arise as Danton’s former allies looked more closely into his past. The most serious accusation against him was his alleged involvement in a plot to secure the profits of the French East India Company. He was at once condemned and executed alongside several other members of his party. As he predicted before his trial, his death would begin a domino effect that would eventually lead to the end of the Reign of Terror.

Key events during the life of Georges Danton:

Selected as commander of National Guard's local district
Elected administrator of the Departments of France
Obtained a subordinate position in the Paris Commune
Became minister of justice
Became a member of the National Convention
Execution of Louis XVI
Removal of Girondists from power
Accused of appropriating government funds

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Louis XVI Is Executed  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
End of the Terror  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Reign of Terror  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Danton, no weakness!'
 in  Stories of the French Revolution

Short Biography
Robespierre Key figure of the French Revolution. Leader of the Reign of Terror.
Jean-Paul Marat Radical Doctor who became Leader of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
Louis XVI King during the French revolution. Beheaded by republicans who sought to overthrow the monarchy.