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Fall Of Danton Robespierre Marat And Other Jacobins








These monsters fell victims by the same means they had used for the
destruction of others. Marat was poignarded in 1793, by Charlotte
Corday, a young female, who had cherished in a feeling between lunacy
and heroism, the ambition of ridding the world of a tyrant. Danton was
guillotined in 1794. Robespierre followed soon after. His fall is thus
described by Scott in his life of Napoleon.

At length his fate urged him on to the encounter. Robespierre descended
to the convention, where he had of late but rarely appeared, like the
far nobler dictator of Rome; and in his case also, a band of senators
was ready to poignard the tyrant on the spot, had they not been afraid
of the popularity he was supposed to enjoy, and which they feared might
render them instant victims to the revenge of the Jacobins. The speech
which Robespierre addressed to the convention was as menacing as the
first distant rustle of the hurricane, and dark and lurid as the eclipse
which announces its approach. Anxious murmurs had been heard among the
populace who filled the tribunes, or crowded the entrances of the hall
of the convention, indicating that a second 31st of May (being the day
on which the Jacobins proscribed the Girondists) was about to witness a
similar operation.

The first theme of the gloomy orator was the display of his own virtues
and his services as a patriot, distinguishing as enemies to their
country all whose opinions were contrary to his own. He then reviewed
successively the various departments of the government, and loaded them
in turn with censure and contempt. He declaimed against the supineness
of the committees of public safety and public security, as if the
guillotine had never been in exercise; and he accused the committee of
finance of having counter-revolutionized the revenues of the republic.
He enlarged with no less bitterness on withdrawing the artillery-men
(always violent Jacobins) from Paris, and on the mode of management
adopted in the conquered countries of Belgium. It seemed as if he wished
to collect within the same lists all the functionaries of the state, and
in the same breath to utter defiance to them all.

The usual honorary motion was made to print the discourse; but then the
storm of opposition broke forth, and many speakers vociferously
demanded, that before so far adopting the grave inculpations which it
contained, the discourse should be referred to the two committees.
Robespierre in his turn, exclaimed, that this was subjecting his speech
to the partial criticism and revision of the very parties whom he had
accused. Exculpations and defences were heard on all sides against the
charges which had been thus sweepingly brought forward; and there were
many deputies who complained in no obscure terms of individual tyranny,
and of a conspiracy on foot to outlaw and murder such part of the
convention as might be disposed to offer resistance. Robespierre was but
feebly supported, save by Saint Just, Couthon, and by his own brother.
After a stormy debate, in which the convention were alternately swayed
by their fear and their hatred of Robespierre, the discourse was finally
referred to the committees, instead of being printed; and the haughty
and sullen dictator saw in the open slight, thus put on his measures and
opinions, the sure mark of his approaching fall.

He carried his complaints to the Jacobin Club, to repose, as he
expressed it, his patriotic sorrows in their virtuous bosoms, where
alone he hoped to find succour and sympathy. To this partial audience he
renewed, in a tone of yet greater audacity, the complaints with which he
had loaded every branch of the government, and the representative body
itself. He reminded those around him of various heroic eras, when their
presence and their pikes had decided the votes of the trembling
deputies. He reminded them of their pristine actions of revolutionary
vigour--asked them if they had forgot the road to the convention, and
concluded by pathetically assuring them, that if they forsook him, "he
stood resigned to his fate; and they should behold with what courage he
would drink the fatal hemlock." The artist David, caught him by the hand
as he closed, exclaiming, in rapture at his elocution, "I will drink it
with thee."

The distinguished painter has been reproached, as having, on the
subsequent day, declined the pledge which he seemed so eagerly to
embrace. But there were many of his original opinion, at the time he
expressed it so boldly; and had Robespierre possessed either military
talents, or even decided courage, there was nothing to have prevented
him from placing himself that very night at the head of a desperate
insurrection of the Jacobins and their followers.

Payan, the successor of Hebert, actually proposed that the Jacobins
should instantly march against the two committees, which Robespierre
charged with being the focus of the anti-revolutionary machinations,
surprise their handful of guards, and stifle the evil with which the
state was menaced, even in the very cradle. This plan was deemed too
hazardous to be adopted, although it was one of those sudden and master
strokes of policy which Machiavel would have recommended. The fire of
the Jacobins spent itself in tumult, and threatening, and in expelling
from the bosom of their society Collot d'Herbois, Tallien, and about
thirty other deputies of the mountain party, whom they considered as
specially leagued to effect the downfall of Robespierre, and whom they
drove from their society with execration and even blows.

Collot d'Herbois, thus outraged, went straight from the meeting of the
Jacobins to the place where the committee of public safety was still
sitting, in consultation on the report which they had to make to the
convention the next day upon the speech of Robespierre. Saint Just, one
of their number, though warmly attached to the dictator, had been
intrusted by the committee with the delicate task of drawing up that
report. It was a step towards reconciliation; but the entrance of Collot
d'Herbois, frantic with the insults he had received, broke off all hope
of accommodation betwixt the friends of Danton and those of Robespierre.
D'Herbois exhausted himself in threats against Saint Just, Couthon, and
their master, Robespierre, and they parted on terms of mortal and avowed
enmity. Every exertion now was used by the associated conspirators
against the power of Robespierre, to collect and combine against him the
whole forces of the convention, to alarm the deputies of the plain with
fears for themselves, and to awaken the rage of the mountaineers,
against whose throat the dictator now waved the sword, which their short
sighted policy had placed in his hands. Lists of proscribed deputies
were handed around, said to have been copied from the tablets of the
dictator; genuine or false, they obtained universal credit and currency;
and these whose names stood on the fatal scrolls, engaged themselves for
protection in the league against their enemy. The opinion that his fall
could not be delayed now became general.

This sentiment was so commonly entertained in Paris on the 9th
Thermidor, or 27th July, that a herd of about eighty victims, who were
in the act of being dragged to the guillotine, were nearly saved by
means of it. The people, in a generous burst of compassion, began to
gather in crowds, and interrupted the melancholy procession, as if the
power which presided over these hideous exhibitions had already been
deprived of energy. But the hour was not come. The vile Henriot,
commandant of the national guards, came up with fresh forces also on
the day destined to be the last of his own life, proved the means of
carrying to execution this crowd of unhappy and doubtless innocent
persons.

On this eventful day, Robespierre arrived in the convention, and beheld
the mountain in close array and completely manned, while, as in the case
of Catiline, the bench on which he himself was accustomed to sit, seemed
purposely deserted. Saint Just, Couthon, Le Bas (his brother-in-law,)
and the younger Robespierre, were the only deputies of name who stood
prepared to support him. But could he make an effectual struggle, he
might depend upon the aid of the servile Barrere, a sort of Belial in
the convention, the meanest, yet not the least able, amongst those
fallen spirits, who, with great adroitness and ingenuity, as well as wit
and eloquence, caught opportunities as they arose, and was eminently
dexterous in being always strong upon the strongest, and safe upon the
safest side. There was a tolerably numerous party ready, in times so
dangerous, to attach themselves to Barrere, as a leader who professed to
guide them to safety if not to honour; and it was the existence of this
vacillating and uncertain body, whose ultimate motions could never be
calculated upon, which rendered it impossible to presage with assurance
the event of any debate in the convention during this dangerous period.

Saint Just arose, in the name of the committee of public safety, to
make, after his own manner, not theirs, a report on the discourse of
Robespierre on the previous evening. He had begun a harangue in the tone
of his patron, declaring that, were the tribune which he occupied the
Tarpeian rock itself, he would not the less, placed as he stood there,
discharge the duties of a patriot. "I am about," he said, "to lift the
veil."--"I tear it asunder," said Tallien, interrupting him. "The public
interest is sacrificed by individuals, who come hither exclusively in
their own name, and conduct themselves as superior to the whole
convention." He forced Saint Just from the tribune, and a violent debate
ensued.

Billaud Varennes called the attention of the assembly to the sitting of
the Jacobin club on the preceding evening. He declared the military
force of Paris was placed under the command of Henriot, a traitor and a
parricide, who was ready to march the soldiers whom he commanded,
against the convention. He denounced Robespierre himself as a second
Catiline, artful as well as ambitious, whose system it had been to nurse
jealousies and inflame dissentions in the convention, so as to disunite
parties, and even individuals from each other, attack them in detail,
and thus destroy those antagonists separately, upon whose combined and
united strength he dared not have looked.

The convention echoed with applause every violent expression of the
orator, and when Robespierre sprung to the tribune, his voice was
drowned by a general shout of "down with the tyrant!" Tallien moved the
denunciation of Robespierre, with the arrest of Henriot, his
staff-officers, and of others connected with the meditated violence on
the convention. He had undertaken to lead the attack upon the tyrant he
said, and to poignard him in the convention itself, if the members did
not show courage enough to enforce the law against him. With these words
he brandished an unsheathed poignard, as if about to make his purpose
good. Robespierre still struggled hard to obtain audience, but the
tribune was adjudged to Barrere; and the part taken against the fallen
dictator by that versatile and self-interested statesman, was the most
absolute sign that his overthrow was irrecoverable. Torrents of
invective were now uttered from every quarter of the hall, against him
whose single word was wont to hush it into silence.

This scene was dreadful; yet not without its use to those who may be
disposed to look at it as an extraordinary crisis, in which human
passions were brought so singularly into collision. While the vaults of
the hall echoed with exclamations from those who had hitherto been the
accomplices, the flatterers, the followers, at least the timid and
overawed assentors to the dethroned demagogue--he himself, breathless,
foaming, exhausted, like the hunter of classical antiquity when on the
point of being overpowered and torn to pieces by his own hounds, tried
in vain to raise those screech-owl notes, by which the convention had
formerly been terrified and put to silence. He appealed for a hearing
from the president of the assembly, to the various parties of which it
was composed. Rejected by the mountaineers, his former associates, who
now headed the clamour against him, he applied to the Girondists, few
and feeble as they were, and to the more numerous but equally helpless
deputies of the plain, with whom they sheltered. The former shook him
from them with disgust, the last with horror. It was in vain he reminded
individuals that he had spared their lives, while at his mercy. This
might have been applied to every member in the house; to every man in
France; for who was it during two years that had lived on other terms
than under Robespierre's permission? and deeply must he internally have
regretted the clemency, as he might term it, which had left so many with
ungashed throats to bay at him. But his agitated and repeated appeals
were repulsed by some with indignation, by others with sullen, or
embarrassed and timid silence.

A British historian might say, that even Robespierre ought to have been
heard in his defence; and that such calmness would have done honour to
the convention, and dignified their final sentence of condemnation. As
it was, they no doubt treated the guilty individual according to his
deserts: but they fell short of that regularity and manly staidness of
conduct which was due to themselves and to the law, and which would have
given to the punishment of the demagogue the effect and weight of a
solemn and deliberate sentence, in place of its seeming the result of
the hasty and precipitate seizure of a temporary advantage.

Haste was, however, necessary, and must have appeared more so at such a
crisis, than perhaps it really was. Much must be pardoned to the terrors
of the moment, the horrid character of the culprit, and the necessity of
hurrying to a decisive conclusion. We have been told that his last
audible words, contending against the exclamations of hundreds, and the
bell which the president was ringing incessantly, had uttered in the
highest tones which despair could give to a voice naturally shrill and
discordant, dwelt long on the memory, and haunted the dreams of many who
heard him:--"President of assassins," he screamed, "for the last time I
demand privilege of speech!" After this exertion, his breath became
short and faint; and while he still uttered broken murmurs and hoarse
ejaculations, the members of the mountain called out, that the blood of
Danton choked his voice.

The tumult was closed by a decree of arrest against Robespierre, his
brother, Couthon, and Saint Just; Le Bas was included on his own motion,
and indeed could scarce have escaped the fate of his brother-in-law,
though his conduct then, and subsequently, showed more energy than that
of the others. Couthon hugging in his bosom the spaniel upon which he
was wont to exhaust the overflowing of his affected sensibility,
appealed to his decrepitude, and asked whether, maimed of proportion and
activity as he was, he could be suspected of nourishing plans of
violence or ambition. "Wretch," said Legendre, "thou hast the strength
of Hercules for the perpetration of crime." Dumas, president of the
revolutionary tribunal, with Henriot, commandant of the national guards,
and other satellites of Robespierre, were included in the doom of
arrest.

The convention had declared their sitting permanent, and had taken all
precautions for appealing for protection to the large mass of citizens,
who, wearied out by the reign of terror, were desirous to close it at
all hazards. They quickly had deputations from several of the
neighbouring sections, declaring their adherence to the national
representatives, in whose defence they were arming, and (many
undoubtedly prepared beforehand) were marching in all haste to the
protection of the convention. But they heard also the less pleasing
tidings, that Henriot, having effected the dispersion of those citizens
who had obstructed, as elsewhere mentioned, the execution of the eighty
condemned persons, and consummated that final act of murder, was
approaching the Tuilleries, where they had held their sitting, with a
numerous staff, and such of the Jacobinical forces as could hastily be
collected.

Happily for the convention, this commandant of the national guards, on
whose presence of mind and courage the fate of France perhaps for the
moment depended, was as stupid and cowardly as he was brutally
ferocious. He suffered himself without resistance, to be arrested by a
few gens d'armes, the immediate guards of the convention, headed by two
of its members, who behaved in the emergency with equal prudence and
spirit.

But fortune, or the demon whom he had served, afforded Robespierre
another chance for safety, perhaps even for empire; for moments which a
man of self-possession might have employed for escape, one of desperate
courage might have used for victory, which, considering the divided and
extremely unsettled state of the capital, was likely to be gained by the
boldest competitor.

The arrested deputies had been carried from one prison to another, all
the jailers refusing to receive under their official charge
Robespierre, and those who had aided him in supplying their dark
habitations with such a tide of successive inhabitants. At length the
prisoners were secured in the office of the committee of public safety.
But by this time all was in alarm amongst the commune of Paris, where
Fleuriot the mayor, and Payan the successor of Hebert, convoked the
civic body, despatched municipal officers to raise the city and the
Fauxbourgs in their name, and caused the tocsin to be rung. Payan
speedily assembled a force sufficient to liberate Henriot, Robespierre,
and the other arrested deputies, and to carry them to the Hotel de
Ville, where about two thousand men were congregated, consisting chiefly
of artillerymen, and of insurgents from the suburb of Saint Antoine, who
already expressed their resolution of marching against the convention.
But the selfish and cowardly character of Robespierre was unfit for such
a crisis. He appeared altogether confounded and overwhelmed with what
had passed and was passing around him; and not one of all the victims of
the reign of terror felt its disabling influence so completely as he,
the despot who had so long directed its sway. He had not, even though
the means must have been in his power, the presence of mind to disperse
money in considerable sums, which of itself would not have failed to
insure the support of the revolutionary rabble.

Meantime the convention continued to maintain the bold and commanding
front which they had so suddenly and critically assumed. Upon learning
the escape of the arrested deputies, and hearing of the insurrection at
the Hotel de Ville, they instantly passed a decree outlawing Robespierre
and his associates, inflicting a similar doom upon the mayor of Paris,
the procureur, and other members of the commune, and charging twelve of
their members, the boldest that could be selected, to proceed with the
armed force to the execution of the sentence. The drums of the national
guards now beat to arms in all the sections under authority of the
convention, while the tocsin continued to summon assistance with its
iron voice to Robespierre and the civic magistrates. Every thing
appeared to threaten a violent catastrophe, until it was seen clearly
that the public voice, and especially amongst the national guards, was
declaring itself generally against the terrorists.

The Hotel de Ville was surrounded by about fifteen hundred men, and
cannon turned upon the doors. The force of the assailants was weakest in
point of number, but their leaders were men of spirit, and night
concealed their inferiority of force.

The deputies commissioned for the purpose read the decree of the
assembly to those whom they found assembled in front of the city hall,
and they shrunk from the attempt of defending it, some joining the
assailants, others laying down their arms and dispersing. Meantime the
deserted group of terrorists within conducted themselves like scorpions,
which, when surrounded by a circle of fire, are said to turn their
stings on each other, and on themselves. Mutual and ferocious upbraiding
took place among these miserable men. "Wretch, were these the means you
promised to furnish?" said Payan to Henriot, whom he found intoxicated
and incapable of resolution or exertion; and seizing on him as he spoke,
he precipitated the revolutionary general from a window. Henriot
survived the fall only to drag himself into a drain, in which he was
afterwards discovered and brought out to execution. The younger
Robespierre threw himself from the window, but had not the good fortune
to perish on the spot. It seemed as if even the melancholy fate of
suicide, the last refuge of guilt and despair, was denied to men who had
so long refused every species of mercy to their fellow-creatures. Le Bas
alone had calmness enough to despatch himself with a pistol shot. Saint
Just, after imploring his comrades to kill him, attempted his own life
with an irresolute hand, and failed. Couthon lay beneath the table
brandishing a knife, with which he repeatedly wounded his bosom, without
daring to add force enough to reach his heart. Their chief, Robespierre,
in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself, had only inflicted a
horrible fracture on his under-jaw.

In this situation they were found like wolves in their lair, foul with
blood, mutilated, despairing, and yet not able to die. Robespierre lay
on a table in an anti-room, his head supported by a deal box, and his
hideous countenance half hidden by a bloody and dirty cloth bound round
the shattered chin.

The captives were carried in triumph to the convention, who, without
admitting them to the bar, ordered them, as outlaws, for instant
execution. As the fatal cars passed to the guillotine, those who filled
them, but especially Robespierre, were overwhelmed with execrations from
the friends and relatives of victims whom he had sent on the same
melancholy road. The nature of his previous wound, from which the cloth
had never been removed till the executioner tore it off, added to the
torture of the sufferer. The shattered jaw dropped, and the wretch
yelled aloud to the horror of the spectators. A masque taken from that
dreadful head was long exhibited in different nations of Europe, and
appalled the spectator by its ugliness, and the mixture of fiendish
expression with that of bodily agony.

Thus fell Maximilian Robespierre, after having been the first person in
the French republic for nearly two years, during which time he governed
it upon the principles of Nero or Caligula. His elevation to the
situation which he held, involved more contradictions than perhaps
attach to any similar event in history. A low-born and low-minded tyrant
was permitted to rule with the rod of the most frightful despotism a
people, whose anxiety for liberty had shortly before rendered them
unable to endure the rule of a humane and lawful sovereign. A dastardly
coward arose to the command of one of the bravest nations in the world;
and it was under the auspices of a man who dared scarce fire a pistol,
that the greatest generals in France began their careers of conquest. He
had neither eloquence nor imagination; but substituted in their stead a
miserable, affected, bombastic style, which, until other circumstances
gave him consequence, drew on him general ridicule. Yet against so poor
an orator, all the eloquence of the philosophical Girondists, all the
terrible powers of his associate Danton, employed in a popular
assembly, could not enable them to make an effectual resistance. It may
seem trifling to mention, that in a nation where a good deal of
prepossession is excited by amiable manners and beauty of external
appearance, the person who ascended to the highest power was not only
ill-looking, but singularly mean in person, awkward and constrained in
his address, ignorant how to set about pleasing even when he most
desired to give pleasure, and as tiresome nearly as he was odious and
heartless.

To compensate all these deficiencies, Robespierre had but an insatiable
ambition, founded on a vanity which made him think himself capable of
filling the highest situation; and therefore gave him daring, when to
dare is frequently to achieve. He mixed a false and overstrained, but
rather fluent species of bombastic composition, with the grossest
flattery to the lowest classes of the people; in consideration of which,
they could not but receive as genuine the praises which he always
bestowed on himself. His prudent resolution to be satisfied with
possessing the essence of power, without seeming to desire its rank and
trappings, formed another art of cajoling the multitude. His watchful
envy, his long-protracted but sure revenge, his craft, which to vulgar
minds supplies the place of wisdom, were his only means of competing
with his distinguished antagonists. And it seems to have been a merited
punishment of the extravagances and abuses of the French revolution,
that it engaged the country in a state of anarchy which permitted a
wretch such as we have described, to be for a long period master of her
destiny. Blood was his element, like that of the other terrorists and he
never fastened with so much pleasure on a new victim; as when he was at
the same time an ancient associate. In an epitaph, of which the
following couplet may serve as a translation, his life was represented
as incompatible with the existence of the human race:--

"Here lies Robespierre--let no tear be shed:
Reader, if he had lived, thou hadst been dead."

The fall of Robespierre ended the "Reign of Terror." Most of the
leaders who had acted a conspicuous part in these horrid scenes, met a
doom similar to that of their leaders. It is impossible to convey to the
reader any adequate conception of the atrocities committed in France
during this gloomy period, in the name of liberty. Men, women, and
children were involved in the massacres which took place at the
instigation of the Jacobin chiefs. Hundreds of both sexes were thrown
into the Loire, and this was called republican marriage and republican
baptism. And it should never be forgotten, that it was not till France
as a nation, had denied the existence of a Deity, and the validity of
his institutions, that she was visited by such terrible calamities. Let
it be "burnt in on the memory" of every generation, that such is the
legitimate tendency of infidel opinions. They first destroy the
conscience--blunt the moral sense--harden the heart, and wither up all
the social and kindly affections, and then their votaries are ripe for
any deed of wickedness within the possibility of accomplishment by human
agency.

Says an eloquent writer--"When the Sabbath was abolished in France, the
Mighty God whose being they had denied, and whose worship they
abolished, stood aloof and gave them up,--and a scene of proscription,
and assassination, and desolation, ensued, unparalleled in the annals of
the civilized world. In the city of Paris, there were in 1803, eight
hundred and seven suicides and murders. Among the criminals executed,
there were seven fathers who had poisoned their children, ten husbands
who had murdered their wives, six wives who had poisoned their husbands,
and fifteen children who had destroyed their parents."

It may be profitable here to record the end of several other Jacobin
leaders who had been conspicuous during these scenes of atrocity and
bloodshed. Public opinion demanded that some of the most obnoxious
members should be condemned. After hesitating for some time, at length
the convention, pressed by shame on the one side and fear on the other,
saw the necessity of some active measure, and appointed a commission to
consider and report upon the conduct of the four most obnoxious Jacobin
chiefs, Collot d'Herbois, Billaud Varennes, Vadier, and Barrere. The
report was of course unfavourable; yet upon the case being considered,
the convention were satisfied to condemn them to transportation to
Cayenne. Some resistance was offered to this sentence, so mild in
proportion to what those who underwent it had been in the habit of
inflicting; but it was borne down, and the sentence was carried into
execution. Collot d'Herbois, the demolisher and depopulator of Lyons, is
said to have died in the common hospital, in consequence of drinking off
at once a whole bottle of ardent spirits. Billaud Varennes spent his
time in teaching the innocent parrots of Guiana the frightful jargon of
the revolutionary committee; and finally perished in misery.

These men both belonged to that class of atheists, who, looking up
towards heaven, loudly and literally defied the Deity to make his
existence known by launching his thunderbolts. Miracles are not wrought
on the challenge of a blasphemer more than on the demand of a sceptic;
but both these unhappy men had probably before their death reason to
confess, that in abandoning the wicked to their own free will, a greater
penalty results even in this life, than if Providence had been pleased
to inflict the immediate doom which they had impiously defied.

Encouraged by the success of this decisive measure, the government
proceeded against some of the terrorists whom they had hitherto spared,
but whose fate was now determined, in order to strike dismay into their
party. Six Jacobins, accounted among the most ferocious of the class,
were arrested and delivered up to be tried by a military commission.
They were all deputies of the mountain gang. Certain of their doom, they
adopted a desperate resolution. Among the whole party, they possessed
but one knife, but they resolved it should serve them all for the
purpose of suicide. The instant their sentence was pronounced, one
stabbed himself with this weapon; another snatched the knife from his
companion's dying hand, plunged it in his own bosom, and handed it to
the third, who imitated the dreadful example. Such was the consternation
of the attendants, that no one arrested the fatal progress of the
weapon--all fell either dead or desperately wounded--the last were
despatched by the guillotine.

After this decisive victory, and last dreadful catastrophe, Jacobinism,
considered as a pure and unmixed party, can scarce be said to have again
raised its head in France, although its leaven has gone to qualify and
characterize, in some degree, more than one of the different parties
which have succeeded them. As a political sect, the Jacobins can be
compared to none that ever existed, for none but themselves ever thought
of an organized, regular, and continued system of murdering and
plundering the rich, that they might debauch the poor by the
distribution of their spoils. They bear, however, some resemblance to
the frantic followers of John of Leyden and Knipperdoling, who occupied
Munster in the seventeenth century, and committed, in the name of
religion, the same frantic horrors which the French Jacobins did in that
of freedom. In both cases, the courses adopted by these parties were
most foreign to, and inconsistent with, the alleged motives of their
conduct. The Anabaptists practised every species of vice and cruelty, by
the dictates, they said, of inspiration--the Jacobins imprisoned three
hundred thousand of their countrymen in the name of liberty, and put to
death more than half the number, under the sanction of fraternity.






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