Georges Couthon was a leading revolutionary who worked side-by-side with Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Antoine de Saint-Just. He was a member of the radical Jacobin faction and, as a member of the National Convention, voted in favor of the execution of the king. He was also a member of the committee that, with Louis de Saint-Just, wrote a new constitution that legitimated the Reign of Terror. He advocated fiercely for all “enemies of the revolution” to be executed and helped spearhead the moves that led to the deaths of members of more moderate groups, such as the Girondins. He also pushed forward legislation that helped secure the Reign of Terror by ensuring that anyone who resisted the revolution could be swiftly executed.
In July 1794, the Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt against the Reign of Terror. Weary of the excessive executions (as many as 2% of the French people were arrested for supposedly being enemies of the revolution, and 17,000 were guillotined), the reaction led to the arrest of Robespierre, de Saint-Just, and Couthon, amongst other leaders of the Terror. Couthon was executed at the guillotine with the leader that he had so ardently supported. He was one of the last people to die at France’s national razor.
Jacques Cazotte was one of the more interesting figures to be executed in the revolution, and his story illustrates just how far-reaching Madame Guillotine’s fingers were. He was not a politician or otherwise affiliated with the revolution; he was an author and translator who wrote children’s books and translated works by Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire. Some of his works had a mystical element and dealt with supernatural beings, like the devil.
Around 1775, Cazotte employed the teachings of the infamous Illuminati, a primarily misunderstood band of intellectuals and Enlightenment thinkers. As a mystic, though, he embraced a more spiritual side of the group’s teachings and believed himself to be a prophet. In fact, one writer, Jean-Francois de la Harpe, claimed that Cazotte had uncannily prophesied even the most molecular events of the revolution.
During the revolution, Cazotte became a Martinist, a member of an esoteric group that focused on a spiritual return to the divine source through a process of illumination or reintegration. He also considered himself to be a monarchist, albeit a mystical one and wrote letters that were seen as antithetical to the revolution. He was arrested in August 1792 and sent to die at the guillotine.
Today, the French Revolution stands as a pivotal point in Western history, when ideals of democracy and Enlightenment quickly gave way to barbarism and frenzied killing. However, it did achieve many things, including the end of the divine right of kings, the French monarchy, and proof that people could successfully rebel against a government that they deemed to be tyrannical.
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