The Law of Suspects

The outbreak of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror was cast on 17 September 1793 when the Law of Suspects was passed (it was a decree rather than a law). Up until then, the arrests, trials, and executions had been mere footnotes.

COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC SAFETY

Now here is the ultimate oxymoron. This committee was first set up in April 1793 for the purpose of “protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion.” By July 1793, the committee was acting as the de facto French government and its citizen’s rights were about to become severely compromised.

The committee’s twelve members were given broad powers over military, judicial, and legislative issues. Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794) and his radical right hand man, Louis Saint-Just (1767–1794), were appointed to the committee in July 1793 following the elimination of the moderate Girondins.

Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre. Oil painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly (c. 1791). Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre. Oil painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly (c. 1791). Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Louis Antoine de Saint-Just. Oil painting by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1793). Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Louis Antoine de Saint-Just. Oil painting by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1793). Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Between December 1793 and July 1794, the Committee of Public Safety ran the country under Robespierre’s “dictatorship.” It was responsible for four major decrees: Levée en masse (mass-conscription to fight the Revolutionary Wars), Law of the Maximum (price controls), Law of Revolutionary Government (centralized authority in a dictatorship), and the Law of Suspects.

THE LAW OF SUSPECTS

The Committee of Public Safety passed the Law of Suspects in September 1793, one month before Marie Antoinette was tried. The decree pretty much eliminated individual freedoms and contributed to the fear and paranoia that became the Reign of Terror between September 1793 and July 1794.

Anyone could be arrested, tried, and punished based only on the suspicion of being “notoriously suspected of aristocracy and bad citizenship.” The aristocracy connection wasn’t new but the bad citizenship label was. Denouncements about being a bad citizen and enemy of the Revolution became commonplace. People were turned in to the authorities because the accuser might have an axe to grind. Or perhaps the accuser had an economic interest in denouncing a person. Most of the accusations had nothing to do with actual crimes.

Research into the historical records has indicated that more than 500,000 people were arrested and tried under the Law of Suspects with approximately 50,000 casualties, of which 16,594 were executed (it is estimated that more than 40,000 people perished during the Reign of Terror). At the time, there were 28 prisons in Paris. As a result of the Law of Suspects, the prison population in Paris swelled to the point where the overflow of prisoners were put under house arrest.

FRANCE 2016

One of the reasons I’ve written this blog is to point out some familiarities that the Revolution shares with current events. There is no greater example than what is happening in France today with respect to the National Front Party and comments made by its leader, Marine Le Pen.

Marine le Pen at the 1st of May National Front’s rally in honor of Joan of Arc. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2010). PD-CCA Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Wikimedia Commons

Marine le Pen at the 1st of May National Front’s rally in honor of Joan of Arc. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2010). PD-CCA Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Wikimedia Commons

As many of us know, France has experienced some of the most horrific acts of terrorism on its soil. The government is struggling with how to prevent future terrorist acts from occurring again.

Marine Le Pen has called for the deportation of any foreigner “simply suspected of any sort of link with terror.”1

I’m not trying to advocate anything here other than to say her comment reminded me of the Law of Suspects passed during the French Revolution and its ultimate effect.

1 – Bloomberg News, Gregory Viscusi – 3 August 2016.

WORLD WAR II – NAZI OCCUPATION

We will visit the concept of being arrested on suspicions again. It raises its ugly head during the Nazi occupation of Paris. People were always afraid of being denounced and reported to the Gestapo. Many instances were based on suspicions of a third party. The unfortunate person would be taken to one of the Gestapo offices and interrogated (most resulted in torture). The end result was being released or deported to a concentration camp.

YALE UNIVERSITY

Roger Kimball writes in the Wall Street Journal (8 August 2016) about Yale University and some of the similarities to the French Revolution.

The president of Yale recently created the “Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming.” Mr. Kimball points out that during the French Revolution, the calendar was renamed and restarted at zero. The Soviets renamed cities, erased the names of political enemies, and banned scientific theories that didn’t match Marxist doctrine.

Portrait of Elihu Yale. Oil painting by Enoch Seeman (1717). Yale University Art Gallery. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Elihu Yale. Oil painting by Enoch Seeman (1717). Yale University Art Gallery. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Yale also created the new “Committee on Art in Public Spaces” after a janitor smashed and destroyed one of the historical stained glass windows because he didn’t like its depiction of slaves (he was fired but then rehired after the students complained). The committee is to judge whether certain “offensive” art (including stained glass windows) should be permanently removed.

I’m wondering if Yale’s students, professors, and administration will rename the university. You see, Yale University was named after philanthropist and benefactor, Elihu Yale. Mr. Yale was an administrator of India and major slave trader (his policy was to load each of his outbound ships with a minimum of ten slaves). Let’s see what the “Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming” will have to say about that.

Thanks for reading my blog. I’m going to stop here because I suspect I’ve used up too much of your time.

SOMEONE IS COMMENTING ON OUR BLOGS

I’d like to thank Mark V. for his comments on the Revolution books. He took them to Paris and did the Marie Antoinette walk (volume two – walk one). His suggestions were great and it’s always nice to be complemented.

Keep your comments coming. I love hearing from you.

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WALKS THROUGH HISTORY

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Gargoyles and Grotesques

Chimera at Notre-Dame de Paris. Photo by Jawed Karim (2014). PD-CCA Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Wikimedia Commons.

Chimera at Notre-Dame de Paris. Photo by Jawed Karim (2014). PD-CCA Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the icons of Paris and probably one of the first stops for a first-time visitor is Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) or simply, Notre-Dame. It is located on the Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine, and the historic center of the city. What you see is a beautiful and clean gothic cathedral standing in this marvelous public square. The sun shines down on you and you can see both the Right and Left Banks on opposite sides of the Seine. You can move around relatively easily on either side of the ancient street that bisects the island from north to south: Boulevard du Justice. Prior to 1858, none of this was true.

MEDIEVAL ÎLE DE LA CITÉ

During the time Notre-Dame was being constructed (1163–1345) the island was a maze of densely populated working-class houses, churches (twenty-seven of them), and narrow, muddy, winding streets. A new east-west road had to be built (c. 1160) to reach the front of Notre-Dame to allow for delivery of construction materials. It was the widest road in Paris at that time: 16 feet. Read More

One-Eyed Kate

Kate is one of those stories I couldn’t resist putting in the next book Where Did They Burn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of Medieval Paris. While she lived in the 17th-century—more than 100 years after the end of the Middle Ages—Kate was in the right place at the right time.

RUE FRANÇOIS MIRON

I learned about Kate while researching one of the streets in the historical district: Rue François Miron.

If you start at the Place de la Bastille and walk due west, you’ll be following Rue Saint-Antoine. Just before the Métro St. Paul, the road splits: Rue Saint-Antoine becomes Rue de Rivoli—the northern split; and Rue François Miron—the southern split. Rue de Rivoli did not exist until Napoléon’s rule and then finished off in the mid-19th century when it was completed by Baron Haussmann. Read More

Flowers, Birds, a Jewish Community, and a Murder

FLOWERS AND BIRDS

Inside a shop – Marché aux Fleurs de Paris. Photo by Yannick Bammert (2010). PD-CCA 2.0 Generic. Wikimedia Commons.

Inside a shop – Marché aux Fleurs de Paris. Photo by Yannick Bammert (2010). PD-CCA 2.0 Generic. Wikimedia Commons.

In the middle of an island (Île de la Cité) in the middle of the Seine River (France) and in the heart of Paris sits a flower market. It is called the Marché aux Fleurs and you can visit it every day of the week. That is, except on Sunday when it is transformed into the Marché aux Oiseaux (bird market). The market has been in operation since 1808—more than 200 years ago—a very short amount of time when putting it into perspective with the history of Paris.

A JEWISH COMMUNITY

Almost a thousand years ago, this small plot of land was home to the Jewish population of Paris. It was considered one of the first Jewish quarters (or ghettos) in Paris. Today we think of the Marais District as the heart of the contemporary Parisian Jewish community with streets such as Rue Pavée, Rue des Rosiers, Rue des Ecouffes (often used as a derisive word for pawnbroker), and Rue Ferdinand Duval (a.k.a. Rue des Juifs—Street of the Jews—until 1900). Read More

Please, No Pissoirs in Public!

You may recall reading our blog The Pee Ladies of Paris (November 7, 2015). Well, I’m going to take you on another journey into the history of public urination in Paris. Our discussion could easily take place in London or any major European city (e.g., Berlin, Stockholm, or Lisbon).

During the Middle Ages, there were no toilets (unless you were the king and queen or of high nobility), no sewer systems (other than the river and city streets), and no way to relieve oneself in public unless you were female and had your ladies-in-waiting form a circle around you to shield your actions. For the men, it was much easier. They just urinated in public—seemingly no shame in this other than the smell.

PUBLIC URINATION

Public urination was banned in Paris by the 1700s. For convenience purposes, “barrels of easement” were placed on the street corners. Unfortunately, the problems—public views and the stench—were not solved. Read More

A City of Light

I love it when I get feedback from folks who read these blogs (and my books). Thank you for taking the time to write me (yes, I know it’s e-mails but it’s still writing). One of the things I appreciate is constructive feedback. That is one of the best ways for anyone to improve.

SOMEONE’S READING MY STUFF

Christina and her husband live in Australia and recently read one of my books. They are frequent visitors to Paris. She loved the illustrations/images and mentioned how she learned new things about the city from reading the book. It’s that type of feedback which keeps me going.

Fortunately, Christina pointed out an error I made. I referred to Paris as the “City of Lights” when in fact, the proper term is “City of Light.” I greatly appreciated her bringing this to my attention. Not only will we correct that in future editions but also I decided to write this blog on the “City of Light” so as to enlighten all of us. Read More

Marie Antoinette’s Lover?

Was he or wasn’t he? Only Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette know the truth. However, historians accept the fact that Count von Fersen was madly in love with Marie Antoinette (1755–1793). He was at the center of several key events during the French Revolution involving the king and queen. Eventually, like Marie Antoinette, von Fersen met a violent death.

THE SWEDISH NOBLE

Axel Fersen. Oil Painting by Carl Frederik von Breda (18th century). Löfstad Castle, Sweden. PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.

Axel Fersen. Oil Painting by Carl Frederik von Breda (18th century). Löfstad Castle, Sweden. PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.

Hans Axel, Count von Fersen (1755–1810), was a Swedish noble, diplomat, and soldier. As a young officer in the French army, von Fersen met the French Dauphine in 1771—they were both sixteen at the time. She soon invited him to Versailles and von Fersen quickly became one of Marie Antoinette’s favored guests. By 1781, von Fersen was serving with other French officers in the American War of Independence. Marie Antoinette became queen during his years away from France and the two of them frequently exchanged letters. Read More

The Street of Horrors

On Monday, 22 March 1944, the crumpled and broken body of Pierre Brossolette (1903-1944) lay on the ground outside the building located at 84, avenue Foch in an upscale Parisian neighborhood of the 16th arrondissement (district).

After two and a half days of torture by the Gestapo, Brossolette recovered enough consciousness to determine he was about to divulge information about his colleagues in the French Resistance. He stood up in his cell and flung himself out the sixth floor window. His last words were “all will be fine Tuesday.”

THE STREET OF HORRORS

11, rue des Saussaies à Paris. One of the Gestapo headquarters. Photo by Erwmat (2013). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

11, rue des Saussaies à Paris. One of the Gestapo headquarters. Photo by Erwmat (2013). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Upon entering Paris on 14 June 1940, the Germans and the various military and civilian units began to immediately appropriate hotels, vacated buildings (many by Jewish citizens), French government buildings, vacant embassies, or just kicked out the existing residents of a building they wanted to occupy.

The different departments of the Nazi police system (commonly grouped under one name: Gestapo) annexed many of the buildings on Avenue Foch. It didn’t take long for the Germans to settle into Paris. The Abwehr (German Intelligence Service) had been operating in Paris during the 1930s and it was clear they had “mapped” out the entire city and identified all potential sites for the Germans to occupy.

The building at 84, avenue Foch became the main headquarters for the Gestapo. The sixth floor was converted to torture rooms and cells. Throughout the Nazi Occupation, the neighbors could hear the screams from the victims of Gestapo torture. Parisians quickly determined this street was not a place you wanted to visit.

Avenue Foch became known to the French as The Street of Horrors.

POLICE

Read More

Twenty Years After the End of World War II: Dutch Memories

Twenty Years After the End of World War II: Dutch Memories

Posting this blog on the fifth of each May has become a tradition for me.

Today is Liberation Day (also known as Freedom Day) for Holland. It was 5 May 1945 that Canadian forces along with other Allied forces were able to obtain the surrender of German forces in the small Dutch town of Wageningen. This led to the complete surrender and liberation of the country.

NETHERLANDS AMERICAN CEMETERY (MARGRATEN)

American World War II Cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands. Photo by Kees Verburg (2014). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

American World War II Cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands. Photo by Kees Verburg (2014). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

There is a cemetery near Maastricht. It is the final resting spot for 8,301 American soldiers and a memorial for the 1,722 men missing in action. They were casualties of Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944) and other battles aimed at liberating Holland. Operation Market Garden was a failed Allied attempt to liberate Holland.  There are other military cemeteries nearby for the British and Canadian men who did not survive the battle.

John J. Lister killed in action on 7 April 1945 – 48 Infantry Batalion – 7th Armored Division – C Company. Photo by Erfgoed in Beeld (2006). PD-CCA-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

John J. Lister killed in action on 7 April 1945 – 48 Infantry Batalion – 7th Armored Division – C Company. Photo by Erfgoed in Beeld (2006). PD-CCA-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Individual Dutch families have adopted every man who perished in the battle. Each man’s grave is kept up and decorated by their adopted family. Even a portrait of their adopted soldier sits in their respective homes.

HONGERWINTER

Read More

They Listened to What I Said

The United States government finally listened to what I had to say.

Worth $100,000 in mint condition!

Inverted Jenny – 1918. Photo by SabreCEO (2006). PD-USGOV. Wikimedia Commons.

Effective 10 April 2016, the Post Office reduced its rate on first class mail from 49 cents to 47 cents. This was the first time they lowered the cost of a stamp in 100 years. Why? I have no clue. Seems stupid to me considering their financial condition. But hey, I’ll take a 4% cut in any of our expenses.

MY CONVERSATIONS WITH THE GREEN HILLS POST OFFICE

I have a lot of interaction with the Post Office. I have a P.O. Box there to collect mail for Southeast Business Forums and Yooper Publications. One at a time and when requested, I mail my books to Amazon from the Green Hills post office (presumably someone has put an order in for a book). After Amazon conducts their quarterly inventory count and finds too many of my books are taking up shelf space, I receive the extra ones back. Happy Face!! Oh, I also buy my stamps from the nice folks behind the counter. Read More