Danton, Georges Jacques

Danton, Georges Jacques zhōrzh zhäk däNtôNˈ [key], 1759–94, French statesman, one of the leading figures of the French Revolution. A Parisian lawyer, he became a leader of the Cordeliers early in the Revolution and gained popular favor through his powerful oratory. A member of the Commune of Paris, he helped set the stage for the Aug., 1792, attack on the Tuileries and the overthrow of the monarchy. In the new republic, he became minister of justice and virtual head of the Provisional Executive Council. A member of the Convention, the national assembly, he dominated the first Committee of Public Safety (Apr.–July, 1793), created by the Convention as the chief governing body of France. When France suffered military reverses, Danton began to advocate a conciliatory foreign policy. He was not included (July, 1793) in the new Committee of Public Safety, and he retired from the capital. He returned in November when financial scandals involving his friends were revealed. Perhaps to help them, he advocated relaxation of emergency measures, particularly the Reign of Terror, and attacked the dictatorship of the committee. Soon after the committee had eliminated the extremists under Jacques René Hébert, it turned upon Danton and the “Indulgents” or moderates. On Mar. 30, 1794, Danton and his followers were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. The trial was a mockery, and Danton was guillotined. There has been much controversy as to his character, particularly between Alphonse Aulard, who defended him as a great patriot and statesman, and Albert Mathiez, who viewed him as a demagogue and a corrupt politician.

See his Speeches (tr. 1928); biographies by L. Madelin (1914, in French), H. Wendel (tr. 1935), and N. Hampson (1978).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: French History: Biographies