Birthday: October 26, 1759
Died At Age: 34
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Georges Jacques Danton
Born in: Arcis-sur-Aube
Famous as: Revolutionary
Spouse/Ex-: Antoinette Gabrielle Danton (m. 1787–1793), Louise Sébastienne Danton (m. 1793–1794)
father: Jacques Danton
mother: Mary Camus
children: Antoine Danton, François Danton, François Georges Danton
Died on: April 5, 1794
place of death: Place de la Concorde
Cause of Death: Execution
education: 1784 - Reims University
Who was Georges Danton?
Georges Danton was a French revolutionary, known as one of the key figures who initiated the French revolution to overthrow the monarchist regime in the late 18th century. Due to lack of proper historic records, his exact role in the French Revolution is disputed by historians to this day. Around the late 18th century, France was bankrupt, and a revolution was raising its head. Georges belonged to the French bourgeois, and like several hundreds of his peers, he sided with the revolutionaries to establish a democratic regime in France. Danton was one of the leading men who finally brought the revolution to a pleasant conclusion, with an end to the monarchy. In 1793, he voted for the king’s execution, and in April that year, Danton was made the president of the ‘Committee of Public Safety.’ However, his fall was as quick as his rise, and he ended up making enemies within his own party. His critics accused him of leniency toward the enemies of their cause. He was thus executed in 1794. His true intentions and motives are talked about to this day, due to the fact that most information about him has been retrieved from secondary sources.
Childhood & Early Life
Georges Danton was born on October 26, 1759, into an upper middle-class French family in Arcis-sur-Aube in north-eastern France. He was born to Jacques Danton and Mary Camus. His was a respectable and well-educated lawyer family in the region. His facial scars and mild deformities were caused by animals that had attacked him in childhood. Further damage was done by smallpox.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Danton studied very hard to become a lawyer, and in 1780, he made a move to Paris for better career opportunities. There, he started an internship under a well-established lawyer and learned the tricks of the trade. Within four years of starting his apprenticeship, Danton was selected as one of the members of the bar of Paris.
Danton was not very much in love with his profession and never quite took it seriously in the early phases of his practice. His laid-back attitude kept clients away from him, and as a result, he was often broke and in debt. Like most of his peers, he was highly critical of the policies formed by King Louis XVI. The new liberal France was taking shape, and Danton aspired to become part of the movement to bring it to reality.
He married Antoinette Charpentier in 1787. She belonged to a rich family and from the dowry he got from his wife’s father, Danton cleared his debts. The couple had three sons, but the first one died in infancy. Tired of his law practice, Danton started looking around for ways to fulfill himself, and he ended up becoming a member of the ‘Cordeliers Club.’ He soon became its president. Around the same time, France was drowning in a sea of uncertainty, as its monarchs awaited their ultimate doom.
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The ‘Cordeliers Club’ was a group of French bourgeois gentlemen that was centered on the “popular principle,” which stated that France needed to be a democratic country. They were one of the very first groups of people that had accused the rulers of France of being opposed to the idea of freedom. They raised the loudest voice and urged like-minded liberals to take strict action against the monarchy.
Noticing civil unrest of the highest order, the erstwhile king and the queen of France made a futile and risky attempt to flee the country. Following their capture, they were placed at the ‘Tuileries Palace,’ where they were kept under house arrest for some time before their fate was sealed. The queen of France, Marie Antoinette, proposed that the revolutionaries form a government that would co-exist with the monarchy.
The moderate constitutional settlement, as suggested by the queen, was welcomed by most aristocrats and ace military men, such as Lafayette. What ensued was a bloody massacre known as the ‘Massacre of Champ de Mars’ that took place in 1791. The crowd that opposed the royal decision was shot at by the national guards, killing dozens on the spot. Fearing for his life and feeling the strong anti-revolutionary wave in France, Danton ran away to England.
When he returned to France, he was given the post of a subordinate in the ‘Paris Commune’ on behalf of his party. In April 1792, the ‘Girondist’ government, which was still functioning as the constitutional monarchy, declared war on Austria, a country on the verge of an economic meltdown.
In 1792, after the official fall of the French monarchy, Danton was handed over to the ‘Ministry of Justice,’ owing to his past as a lawyer. He took a number of controversial decisions, one of the most brutal ones resulting in the deaths of thousands of war prisoners from Austria, the order for which was supposedly given by Danton. However, there has been no concrete proof of Danton’s direct involvement in the massacres, though he could have stopped it had he wished to do so.
Owing to his oratory skills and leadership qualities, he was made the leader of the ‘National Convention.’ He also voted for the execution of the king and formed the ‘Revolutionary Tribunal’ and the ‘Committee of Public Safety.’ While he was initially against war, he soon started delivering fiery speeches and urged people to be “bolder.” It was not late before he changed sides again. In the convention, he emerged as a rival to his former ally Maximilien de Robespierre.
Robespierre held a respectable position in the ‘Committee of Public Safety’ and so did Danton, but both of them slowly became poles apart in terms of political ideologies. By mid-1793, Danton’s views turned anti-radical, in contrast to his political party’s ideals. Danton wanted to bring an end to the revolution and sign peace treaties with their enemies across Europe. Maximilien and other leaders of the ‘Committee of Public Safety’ opposed Danton’s views of nation-building. Following this disagreement, Danton resigned from his post.
Robespierre then embarked on a killing spree, which is known in history as the “Reign of Terror.” He killed people who had no revolutionary instincts, and this disturbed Danton deeply. He spent many weeks away from the political landscape of France and returned in late 1793. Danton started protesting against the regime and asked them to stop the killings and halt the revolution. He asked for peace with foreign nations and the restoration of the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.’
His opponents in the party opposed Danton and his followers strongly, accusing them of taking bribes and wanting to attain the leadership of the government this way, if not the throne. There was no concrete evidence that proved Danton’s involvement in wrongful dealings. However, he was accused of taking bribes and forcing anti-revolutionary ideologies on his followers.
Trial & Execution
In March 1794, Georges Danton and many of his followers were arrested and were subsequently charged with corruption. They also faced some serious allegations of attempting to restore monarchy in France. The trial began at Paris’s ‘Revolutionary Tribunal.’
A cunning man and a former lawman, Danton successfully turned the tide in his favor, making the judges believe that he was innocent of the crimes that he was being accused of committing. He further accused Robespierre of many crimes, with concrete evidences against him.
The “Convention,” however, exercised its powers and managed to pressurize the tribunal judges to declare Danton guilty. The judges had no choice but to heed the “warning” from the “Convention” and sentence Danton and his followers to death.
The execution took place on April 5, when Danton and 14 of his supporters were sent to the guillotine. It is said that before being decapitated, he had stated, “My only regret is that I am going before that rat Robespierre.”