Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution 1789-1799 - Vol. 1

By Samuel F. Scott; Barry Rothaus | Go to book overview
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DANTON, GEORGES-JACQUES ( 1759-94), militant, deputy to the National Convention, member of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton was born on 26 October 1759 in Champagne in the town of Arcis-sur-Aube, where he later bought national property and which he visited repeatedly during the Revolution. His father died when Danton was two. In 1773 he entered the Oratorian school at Troyes and there fell in love with the classics. He is supposed to have traveled by foot to Reims, in 1775, "to see how a king is made." By 1780 he was off to Paris to study law. Through brash self-assurance he became a lawyer's clerk. Because of his wretched handwriting, his master sent him to attend the courts, giving him the opportunity to hear the great lawyers of the day. Falling ill, Danton discovered the works of Rousseau, Beccaria, Montesquieu, Buffon, and Diderot, and he learned English and Italian. He still needed a degree and purchased a diploma at Reims; then he returned to Paris to practice. He had few cases initially. But then Danton fell in love with G. Charpentier, daughter of the proprietor of the Café Procope, near the Palais de Justice. They were married, and his father-in-law provided part of the sum with which he purchased the post of advocate to the royal councils ( 1787). Prior to the suppression of this post in 1791, he won a large number of cases.

He came to national attention as a Revolutionary through local Paris politics, but his ascent was gradual and it had its critics and its setbacks. The lawyer C. Lavaux later recalled seeing Danton at the Cordeliers convent, meeting hall for his district. It was 13 July 1789. Danton, in a frenzied voice, was urging his fellow citizens to take arms against 15,000 brigands mobilized at Montmartre and against an army of 30,000 about to pour into Paris and massacre its inhabitants. Although enrolled in the bourgeois guard, Danton did not participate in the siege of the Bastille the next day. In October, after becoming president of his district, he prepared its manifesto, which requested the other Paris districts


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