Frev Friendships — Pétion & Robespierre
Since to me, the friendships between the revolutionaries is one of the most interesting, but also highly myth ridden, areas about the French Revolution, I thought about doing some kind of series where I lay out all primary accounts I can find relating to the relationship between two or more of the revolutionaries. Then we can all judge how close (or not) this hints at them actually being. First out is the relationship between Robespierre and Jérôme Pétion.
What they themselves said regarding their friendship
You probably know, my friend, about my appointment (to the criminal court). I accept. I don't count having you as a colleague as something small. What scared Duport away is what attracts me. I looked for you in the hall and didn't see you. I wanted to go to your house, but I said to myself: I won't find him, he never dines at home. Buzot is a substitute and accepts. Be well, all yours.
This Wednesday evening.
Pétion to Robespierre 15 June 1791
I will say, since the occasion presents itself, that only once in this affair was a relationship established between the citizens gathered on the 15th of this month at the Champ-de-Mars and myself. These citizens had drawn up a petition for the National Assembly; commissioners carried them; they were charged with speaking to those who had risen against the project of the committees, to Grégoire, Robespierre, Prieur and myself, to be their organs with the assembly, and to negotiate their entry to the bar. M. Robespierre and I left the room to listen to these commissioners; and we told them that this petition was useless, that the decree had just been passed. They asked us for a word to see that they had fulfilled their mission; we wrote a letter which breathes the love of order, of peace, and which, I believe, has been able to prevent misfortunes.
Pétion in Lettre de J. Pétion à ses Commettans sur les Circonstances Actuelles (July 1791)
My friend, I violate the decrees, I become solicitor. It is true that my offense is not within the competence of the assembly. I ask you for my relative, my friend and my guest the right to supply medicine to the poor sick prisoners. I was told that this concession was within your competence. That I do not know.
This Friday evening.
Undated letter from Pétion to Robespierre
At Arras itself, the people received me with demonstrations of affection which I cannot describe, and the thought of which still warms my heart. Every possible means was used to express it. A crowd of citizens had come out of town to meet me. They offered a civic crown, not only to me, but to Pétion as well, and in their cheers the name of my friend and companion in arms was often mingled with my own.
Robespierre to Maurice Duplay October 16 1791. Pétion was not with Robespierre on his trip to Arras (as is sometimes stated), having instead gone to London, but his shadow still clearly accompanied him.
I think with sweet satisfaction about the fact that my dear Pétion may have been appointed mayor of Paris as I write. I will feel more keenly than anyone the joy that every citizen should be given by this triumph of patriotism and frank honesty over intrigue and tyranny.
Robespierre to Maurice Duplay November 17 1791
I had supper the same day at Petion’s. With what joy we met again! With what delight we embraced! Pétion occupies the superb house inhabited by the Crosnes, the Lenoirs: but his soul is always simple and pure: this choice alone would suffice to prove the revolution. The burden with which he is charged is immense; but I have no doubt that the love of the people and its versus gives him the necessary means to carry it. I'm having dinner at his house tonight. These are the only times when we can see each other as a family, and talk freely.
Robespierre to Antoine Buissart November 30 1791 on his reunion with Pétion after having spent a month in Arras.
O Pétion! You are worthy of this honor, worthy of deploying as much energy as wisdom in the dangers that menace the fatherland that we have defended together. Come, let us mingle our tears and weapons on the tombs of our brothers, remind ourselves of the pleasures of celestial virtue, and die tomorrow, if need be, from the blows of our common enemies.
Robespierre on Pétion February 10 1792
When I called for the decree, honorable for the Assembly, which excluded all its members from the following legislature, I would have liked to at the same time urge to renounce all public offices, even popular ones, to confine themselves to the role of citizen and free and active overseer of the execution of the laws they had made. I was dissuaded from it only by the fear of opposing more obstacles to the main motion, and by the advice of the one of all my colleagues to whom I was most closely bound, by works, by principles, by common perils, as much as by the ties of the most tender of friendships.
Robespierre on Pétion in a speech held February 15 1792
I respect, like the mayor of Paris, all that is the image of freedom, I will even add that I saw with a great pleasure this omen of the rebirth of freedom; however; enlightened by the reflections and by the same observations made by M. Pétion, I felt urged to present to society the reasons which have just been offered to you, but as I have only patriotism to fight with, I am charmed to be guided by M. Pétion, by a citizen whose civility and love for freedom is foolproof, by a citizen whose heart is ardent and whose head is cold and thoughtful, and who brings together all the advantages, talents and virtues necessary to serve the country, at a time when the most skillful and astute enemies can deal it disastrous blows. I therefore support the proposition which has been presented to your prudence, and it suffices to present it to oneself and to expose that, independently of all the signs which animate the virtuous hearts, regardless of the bill of rights that is engraved on our walls and in our hearts; independently of the chains of the soldiers of Château-Vieux who will soon shine on the way of this temple, and of all the marks of patriotism and courage which have marked patriotic societies. […] I will not repeat to you all the wise reflections of M. Pétion. I will confine myself to recounting a great truth, expressed in this letter, the promulgation of which is very necessary to enlighten the public mind. […] I support M. Pétion's proposals, and I ask that the society decide that its opinion is in conformity with the letter it has received, that it order the printing of this letter and the sending to all affiliated companies.
Robespierre at the Jacobins March 19 1792. Robespierre and Pétion get the bonnet rouge depositioned from the Jacobin Club.
The mayor of Paris, they say, is ambitious; we are arsonists who slander the constituted authorities to elevate our ambition at the expense of others; well, prove it. Our goal has been to fight in the constituent assembly all the parties of tyranny, Pétion and I have done it, were it even the means Pétion would guarantee, far from foreseeing then that our principles would triumph over a cabal if strong, we believe that after the constituent assembly we would be immolated and that the principles of our ancestors would be adopted: I saw Pétion, at the time when he was brought to the position of Mayor of Paris, two months before his appointment, at a time when we can remember that the votes of the good citizens floated between him and me, I saw the mayor of Paris determined not to accept this place; he read the same feelings in my heart, and when he accepted it, I guarantee to the whole nation that he only did it because he had only considered it as a terrible pitfall for the citizen who would occupy it in such a stormy circumstance for the public good.
Robespierre at the Legislative Assembly April 13 1792
The session which took place yesterday (sic) at the Jacobins saddened me. Is it possible that we’re tearing ourselves apart like this with our own hands? I don't know what demon thus blows the fire of discord. What! It is when we are at war with the enemies without that we will stir up trouble within. The Society most useful to the progress of the public spirit and of liberty is on the point of being torn apart. We suspect each other, we insult each other, we slander each other, we accuse each other respectively of being traitors and corrupt. Perhaps if the men who present themselves thus were to see themselves in the open they would esteem each other. How hideous human passions are. What, we can't have the calm and energy of free men? We cannot judge objects in cold blood, we scream like children and are furious. I truly tremble when I consider who we are and always wonder if we will retain our freedom. I haven't rested all night, and have only dreamed of misfortunes. A grace, my friend, be aware of the split that is preparing itself. Caution and firmness. I see there men who seem to have the most fervent patriotism and whom I believe to be the most perverse and corrupt men. I see others who are only stunned and inconsequential but who do as much harm by levity as others by combination. Irritated self-esteem, deceived ambitions play the biggest game. When we reach port, must storms arise and the ship run the risk of crashing against the rock? Think about it seriously. Redouble your efforts to get us out of this mess. Be well. Your friend. Pétion.
Pétion to Robespierre April 25 1792. The letter is referencing the session at the Jacobins the same day, which was marked by stormy exchanges between Robespierre and Brissot and Guadet.
My friend, I will go to the Jacobins tonight and ask to speak. I will not speak of people, but of things. I will set forth principles and I will come to conclusions suitable for restoring peace. The situation of this society is getting worse day by day. After having rendered such important services, when it can render still more important ones, it would be terrible if it gave the scandalous example of a split. The spirits are very irritated. One becomes the fable of all malicious people, the newspapers are tearing this Society apart, tearing its members apart, we must put an end to all writings. Your friend,
Pétion in a letter to Robespierre April 29 1792. The speech Pétion is referencing is this one, in which he pleads for reconciliation. When he presented the speech later the same day, Robespierre tried to take the floor, but was refused.
I declare again that I want to keep to the limits fixed by M. Pétion. I only say that the peace process made here has been poisoned by libelists, directed against him, against me, against this society and against the people itself. They prevent me from establishing the proofs of what I had advanced, and after having heard the most violent denunciations leveled against me on this platform, they stifle my voice. Who will henceforth want to be responsible for defending the cause of the people? It is a deplorable thing that we have succeeded in subjugating the majority of this society to make it the instrument of a cabal. I declare that I approve of everything that has happened, but that I disapprove of this weapon being turned against the friends of freedom and above all against me: yes, gentlemen, M. Pétion's approach has been turned against us today. I know he is horrified of plots hatched against me: his heart has spilled over into mine; he cannot see without shuddering these horrible calumnies which assail me from all sides. […] The day that Mr. Pétion came here, one of my adversaries profusely spread a speech at the head of which is a foreword in which he tears me apart.
Robespierre on April 30 1792
M. Robespierre, while applauding the decree which has just lifted the suspension of M. Pétion, points out, however, that this should be less a cause for rejoicing as there are reasons for the true friends of liberty to grieve the fact that this decree was postponed for a fortnight.
Robespierre on July 13 1792, on the lifting of the suspension of Pétion as mayor
On August 7, I saw the mayor of Paris enter my house; it was the first time that I received this honor, although I had been closely connected with you. I conclude that a great motive brings you; you talk to me for a whole hour about the dangers of insurrection. I had no particular influence on the events; but as I quite often frequented the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, where the members of the directory of the federates habitually went, you urged me earnestly to preach your doctrine in that society. You told me that it was necessary to defer resistance to oppression until the National Assembly had pronounced the deposition of the King; but that it was necessary at the same time to leave him the leisure to discuss this great question with all possible slowness. You could not, however, stand surety that the court would adjourn the project of slitting our throats for as long as it pleased the National Assembly to adjourn the forfeiture; and everyone knew that the royalist party was then dominant in the Legislative Assembly; and your Brissot and his friends had delivered long speeches on this question, the sole object of which was to prove that it was necessary to retreat from it, and ceaselessly to postpone the decision. You even know what public disfavor their equivocal conduct had incurred; they saw in it only the project of frightening the court by the fear of an insurrection, in order to force it to take back ministers of their choice. I could have made these comparisons myself; but such was still my confidence in you, and, if it must be said, the feelings of friendship which your unexpected step aroused in my heart, that I believed you up to a certain point; but the people and the federals did not.
Robespierre in Réponse de Maximilien Robespierre à Jérôme Pétion (November 30 1792) on a meeting between him and Pétion right before the Insurrection of August 10. In his response to Robespierre’s letter, Pétion gives his version of this meeting: ”You remind me of a conversation I had at your house, where I told you that it was necessary to postpone the resistance to oppression, until the National Assembly had pronounced the forfeiture of the king. You yourself admit that, in the conference I had with you, (although you do not render it exactly), I felt the necessity of the insurrection; that all that gave me difficulty was the choice of the moment, because in fact this point was decisive and deserved the most serious meditation. It was necessary to take wise measures, so to speak infallible, above all to get along well; so as not to succumb, so as not to imprudently compromise the freedom and the fate of the whole nation.”
You know, my friend, what my feelings are for you, you know that I am not your rival, you know that I have always given you proofs of devotion and friendship. It would be useless to try to divide us, you would have to stop loving liberty in order for me to stop loving you. I have always found more fault with you to your face than behind your back. When I think you too ready to take offence, or when I believe, rightly or wrongly, that you are mistaken about a line of action, I tell you so. You also reproach me for being too trustful. You may be right; but you must not assume too readily that many of my acquaintances are your enemies. People can disagree on a number of unessential points without becoming enemies; and your heart is said to be in the right place. Besides, it is childish to take offence over the things people say against one. Imagine, my friend, the number of people who utter all lands of libels against the mayor of Paris! Imagine how many of them I know to have spread damaging reports about me! Yet it doesn’t worry me, I can assure you. If I am not totally indifferent to what others think about me, at least I value my own opinion more highly. No… you and I are never likely to take opposite sides: we shall always hold the same political faith. I need not assure you that it is impossible for me to join in any movement against you: my tastes, my character and my principles all forbid it. I don’t believe that you covet my position any more than I covet that of the king. But if, when my term of office comes to an end, the people were to offer you the mayoralty, I suppose that you would accept it; whereas in all good conscience I could never accept the crown. Look after yourself, let us march forward, we are in a situation threatening enough to force us to think only of the public good.
Pétion in a letter to Robespierre, August 20 1792
The principal artifice which our enemies employed to destroy us, was to oppose to the assembly of the representatives of the commune the names of Manuel and Pétion, and to claim that our existence is an attack against the authority of which these two magistrates were clothed.
Robespierre in a speech held September 1 1792
Robespierre took pride in the council, and it was difficult for it to not be so, in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, and with the temper of his mind. I heard him deliver a speech which saddened my soul. It was a question of the decree which opened the barriers, and on this subject he gave himself up to extremely animated declamations, to the lapses of a gloomy imagination; he perceived precipices under his feet, liberticidal plots; he pointed out pretended conspirators; he addressed himself to the people, excited the spirits, and occasioned, among those who heard him, the liveliest fermentation. I replied to this speech, to restore calm, to dissipate these black illusions, and to bring the discussion back to the only point which should occupy the assembly. Robespierre and his supporters thus led the commune into inconsiderate moves, into extreme parties. I did not suspect Robespierre's intentions to have been this; I hit his head more than his heart; but the consequences of his dark visions did not cause me less alarm.
Pétion in Discours de Jérôme Pétion, sur l’accusation intentée contre Maximilien Robespierre(November 5 1792) on Robespierre’s above cited speech.
The surveillance Committee launched an arrest warrant against Minister Roland; it was the 4th (September), and the massacres were still going on. Danton was informed of it, he came to the town hall, he was with Robespierre; […] I had an explanation with Robespierre, it was very lively. I tell him; Robespierre, you are doing a lot of harm; your denunciations, your alarms, your hatreds, your suspicions, they agitate the people; explain yourself; do you have any facts? do you have proof? I fight with you; I only love the truth; I only want freedom. You allow yourself to be surrounded, you allow yourself to be warned, he replied; you are disposed against me; you see my enemies every day; you see Brissot and his party. You are mistaken, Robespierre; no one is more on guard than I against prejudices, and judges with more coolness, men and things. You’re right, I see Brissot, however rarely, but you don’t know him, and I know him since his childhood. […] Robespierre insisted, but confined himself to generalities. Allow us to explain ourselves, I told him, tell me frankly what is in your heart, what you know. Well! he replied, I believe that Brissot is at Brunswick’s. What mistake is yours, I exclaimed! it is truly madness; this is how your imagination leads you astray: wouldn't Brunswick be the first to cut his head off? Brissot is not mad enough to doubt it: which of us can seriously capitulate! which of us does not risk his life! Let us banish unjust mistrust. Danton became entangled in the colloquy, saying that this was not the time for arguments; that it was necessary to have all these explanations after the expulsion of the enemies; that this decisive object alone should occupy all good citizens.
Pétion in Discours de Jérôme Pétion sur l’accusation intentée contre Maximilien Robespierre (November 5 1792) on a fight between him and Robespierre regarding the September Massacres.
[…] These events and some of those which preceded the famous day of August 10, the reconciliation of facts and a host of circumstances led to the belief that intriguers had wanted to seize the people, in order to, with the people, to seize authority: Robespierre has been highly designated. One examined his connections; one analyzed his conduct; one collected the words which, it is said, escaped one of his friends; and it was concluded that Robespierre had had the insane ambition to return the dictator of his country. Robespierre's character explains what he did: Robespierre is extremely touchy and defiant; everywhere he sees conspiracies, betrayals, precipices. His bilious temperament, his atrabilious imagination present all objects to him in dark colours; imperious in his opinion, listening only to himself, not supporting contrariety, never forgiving those who have hurt his self-esteem, and never recognizing his faults; denouncing lightly, and being irritated by the slightest suspicion; always believing that he is being looked after in order to persecute him; boasting of his services and speaking of himself with little reserve; not knowing the proprieties, and thereby harming the causes he defends; desiring above all the favors of the people, paying court to them unceasingly, and ringing out their applause with affectation; it is this, it is above all this last weakness, which, piercing through the acts of his public life, has been able to make people believe that Robespierre breathed high destinies, and that he wished to usurp the dictatorial power. As for me, I cannot persuade myself that this chimera seriously occupied his thoughts, that it was the object of his desires, and the goal of his anticipation.
Discours de Jérôme Pétion, sur l’accusation intentée contre Maximilien Robespierre (November 5 1792)
Of the three members of the assembly, one was little known, Robespierre, who had a reputation for patriotism, yet did not enjoy that kind of consideration which wisdom and moderation give in the conduct of public affairs. I saw Robespierre trembling, Robespierre wanting to flee, Robespierre not daring to go up to the assembly… ask him if I trembled. I saved Robespierre himself from persecution, by attaching myself to his fate, when everyone despised him.
Lettre de Jérôme Pétion á la société des Jacobins
What is, my dear Pétion, the instability of human affairs, since you, once my brother in arms and at the same time the most peaceful of all men, suddenly declare yourself the most ardent of my accusers? Don't think that I want to occupy myself here either with you or with me. We are both two atoms lost in the immensity of the moral and political world. It is not your accusations that I want to answer; I am accused of having already shown too much condescension in this way; it is up to your current political doctrine. It would already be a little late, perhaps, to refute your speech: but there is always time to defend truth and principles. Our quarrels are of a day: the principles are of all times. It is only on this condition, my dear Pétion, that I can consent to pick up the gauntlet you threw at me. You will even recognize, in my way of fighting, either the friendship, or the old weakness that I showed for you. If, in this completely philanthropic kind of fencing, you were exposed to some slight injury, it only affects your self-esteem; and you reassured me in advance on that point, by protesting yourself that it was null. Moreover, the right of censorship is reciprocal; it is the safeguard of freedom; and you love principles so much that you will find more pleasure, I am sure, in being the object of them yourself, than you felt in exercising them against me. [he then goes on to accuse Pétion of not treating the Insurrection of August 10th with the respect it deserves, detracting the people of Paris who carried it out, reproaching the general council for not having given up the authority which the people had entrusted to it, feeling sorry for the traitors, speaking positively on Lafayette after the shootings on the Champ de Mars as well as for his friendship with Brissot and other Girondins. He also refutes Pétion’s charges against him].
Réponse de Maximilien Robespierre à Jérome Pétion (November 30 1792)
Today Louis shares the mandataries of the people; we speak for and we speak against him. Who would have suspected two months ago that it would be a question here, whether he was inviolable? But since a member of the National Convention (Pétion) presented the question, whether the King could be judged, as the object of serious deliberation, preliminary to any other question, the inviolability of which the conspirators of the Constituent Assembly covered up his first perjuries, was invoked, to protect his latest attacks. O crime! O shame!
Robespierre on December 3 1792
Robespierre, I have just read your answer; it surprised me. You say of me what you do not think; you say it with bitterness, with passion; you allow yourself sarcasm, irony, mind games beyond all propriety. From time to time you do not lack address, but you do lack truth; you distort the best known, most indisputable facts, with a tone of assurance that I find it hard to conceive. [he then goes on to refute all of Robespierre’s charges against him, claiming he made them in order to ”indispose the public against me, and make it favorable to you. If it is clever, it is neither fair nor just.”] […] I dare not pick up the word you are talking about: justify myself! This word makes me indignant, and I confess to you that at this moment I am forced to believe in the baseness and wickedness of your heart. […] I always answered; you are mistaken, you do not know Robespierre; he would not stay two months at this post (mayor), not only would he find himself overwhelmed by often minute details, and above all without glory, but, as one must sometimes know how to resist the aberrations of public opinion, how one must know how to momentarily incur the disgrace of the people, he would never have the strength to tell them that he is in the wrong: he would believe his reputation or popularity lost. When I was told that you were my enemy, that you were eaten up with jealousy against me, that you would never forgive me the favor I enjoyed, I defended you with all my soul, I took your side against all odds: a thousand people kept telling me, we cannot understand your blindness. Today, I am reduced to believing it, and what caused the blindfold to fall off my eyes is what I heard you say myself at the Jacobins, a month or two ago. You only uttered one word, and it was more treacherous than a whole speech. You seemed to throw it away accidentally: you said, going back to the time of the Constituent Assembly, that then I was fighting intriguers, and that I embraced the right party, as if I had never ceased to pursue yre both traitors and enemies of liberty. Don't worry, I won't let them rest. I was well aware of the system of calumny and persecution directed against me; but I thought, I confess, that it would be without result, and I deigned to do so. I believed above all that you were not immersed in this intrigue. […] I do not think, and I do you this justice, that you are a man to ever allow yourself to be influenced by the lure of riches; but let Pon know how to skilfully caress your vanity; let the most salutary project be presented to you like an intrigue woven by your enemies, like a conspiracy, like a betrayal, your imagination immediately catches fire, you lose yourself in an abyss of conjectures, and you give in to the first panel held out to you. I will show you twenty of your opinions which are absolutely in the same direction as that of the court and of the counter-revolutionaries. If these opinions had been held by anyone other than you, his reputation would be lost, and he would be regarded as a traitor to his country. I saw men of good faith, without any interest who were not your enemies, who said to me : is it possible that Robespierre is sold, I always told them not to worry, but that you had a bad head, and that you lead to the delirium of your imagination. I have always added at the same time that you would sacrifice everything for a quarter of an hour of popular favour.
Observations de Jérôme Pétion sur la lettre de Maximilien Robespierre
My dear Pétion, you seem dissatisfied with my first letter. You suspect that I used irony; you claim that I slandered you, and, what is worse, mocked you. You reproach me for having pinched you too sharply with the whip of ridicule; you make me understand that you would have been less sensitive to the rod of the satyr; and you look like you're asking for a commutation. My dear Pétion, your complaints seem unjust to me. Is it my fault if I cannot write to you in a grave and melancholy tone? Why have you gained such ascendancy over my mind that I cannot take care of you without an involuntary feeling of gaiety seizing me? Even your example cannot seduce me, and I did not know how to imitate either your anger or your seriousness. Such is still my weakness, that I take in good part all that comes from you; and that what I would call, in any other, insults, calumnies, bad practices, intrigues, does not appear to me in y you only the relaxations of a great philosopher, only pleasant fictions, or at least quite excusable pranks. Besides, my dear Petion, passionate friends of the country find so few opportunities to laugh! You will not be cruel enough to dispute my right to seize the one you offer me, nor to envy me the advantage of proving to you that you possess at least the gift of clearing up the clouds which you claim my forehead is eternally covered. [He then goes on to refute all of Pétion’s charges against him, reinststate his old ones and add a couple new ones] You were a very good municipal, especially in times of peace; you could even have been the rival of Cato, Edile, or Quaestor: but it would have been unjust to want you to be Cato at the tribune, thundering against Clodius, and fighting against Caesar. You could with honor confine yourself to this sphere, and agree on all the facts, without detours. Without that, it was impossible for you to extricate yourself from the embarrassment into which you had thrown yourself. […] Pétion, this excess of atrocity exempts me from all the consideration that I persisted in keeping with you; and henceforth you will owe my moderation only to my contempt. I leave you to that of all the citizens who have seen and heard me on the spot, and who contradict you. I leave you to that of all judicious men, who, in your expressions, as vague as they are artificial, perceive at the same time the hatred, the lie, the improbability, the contradiction, the insult made at the same time. to the public, to the patriotic magistrates, as much as to myself. Pétion, yes, you are now worthy of your masters; you are worthy of cooperating with them in this vast plan of calumny and persecution, directed against patriotism and against equality. But no; I am wrong to get angry with you, whatever your intentions; for you take care to parry yourself all the blows you want to strike; and following a dash of wickedness, I see a hundred ridiculous things arrive, which you give yourselves expressly for my petty pleasures. […] Yes, Pétion, I understood you; in those moments of enthusiasm and intoxication, in the bosom of that immortal triumph, you were told of the supreme magistracy... But you, not with the false modesty of Caesar, but with sincere horror, you rejected the diadem offered to your forehead... Posterity will never want to believe it: but it is a fact known to many people that I could prove myself, in more than one way, independently of the confidence you make to us here ; you had got it into your head that France had a fancy to make you king, or at least regent; that you would have a serious fight to sustain against it, to defend yourself from it; and you trembled that the Federals had come expressly to enthrone you!... And you say, my dear Pétion, that you are not good... Ah! be kind, I beg you, for your honor, and above all don't be angry. Good God ! we would therefore have had a king named Jérôme I ! What happiness! [he then adresses Pétion as ”Sire” or ”Your majesty” throughout the rest of the letter].
Deuxième lettre de Maximilien Robespierre en réponse au second discours de Jérôme Pétion (December 21 1792)
Robespierre: I demand the censure of those who protect the traitors.
(Pétion rushes to the tribune, some murmurs rise)
Robespierre: And their accomplices.
Pétion: Yes, their accomplices, and you yourself. It is finally time for all these infamies to end, it is time at last for all this infamy to end; it is time for traitors and slanderers to lay their heads on the scaffold; and I pledge here to pursue them to death.
Robespierre: Answer the facts.
Pétion: It’s you I will be pursuing. Yes, Robespierre will have to be branded at last, as the slanderers used to be.
Exchange at the Convention between the two April 14 1793
It will be done, this rapport, but it must be complete, in the meantime, since the accomplices of the Brissots, the Gensonnés, the Gaudets, the Pétions and others, are no more delicate than these conspirators, in order to prevent them from, like them, carrying fire civil war in the departments.
Robespierre at the Convention, June 24 1793
And I too was a friend of Pétion; as soon as he unmasked himself, I abandoned him; I also had liaisons with Roland; he betrayed, and I denounced him. Danton wants to take their place, and in my eyes he is nothing more than an enemy of the patrie.
Robespierre admits to having been friends with Pétion on April 1 1794, in order to justify sending the dantonists on trial
Barère and Robespierre are known for being the greatest cowards on earth. In my view, the trick is Barère's distinctive character. Robespierre is no less perfidious; but what distinguishes him is that in danger he loses his head, he discovers in spite of himself the fear which torments him, he speaks only of assassinations, only of freedom lost, he sees the entire Republic destroyed in his person, whereas Barère, more dissimulated, without being less cowardly, is always coldly atrocious and preserves until the end the hope of succeeding.
Observations de Pétion, presumably written somewhere between his escape in the summer of 1793 and death in June 1794
What contemporaries said regarding their relationship
One cannot speak about Robespierre without thinking about Pétion.
Desmoulins in number 55 of Révolutions de France et de Brabant
I had as witnesses Péthion (sic) and Robespierre, the elite of the National Assembly, Sillery, who wanted to be there, and my two colleagues Brissot de Warwille and Mercier, the elite among the journalists. […] The dinner was at my house, only M. and Mdm Duplessis, their daughter Adèle, the witnesses and le celébrant.
Desmoulins on his wedding witnesses in a letter to his father January 5 1791
Madame de Sillery is coming to dine at my house with Pétion and Robespierre, I dare to ask your lovable and beautiful wife to do me this honor as well.
Sillery in a letter to Desmoulins March 3 1791
Pétion and Robespierre came out last, arm in arm. Citizens with oak crowns tied with tricolor ribbons in their hands embraced them and said to them: Receive the price of your good citizenship and your incorruptibility; we give, by crowning you, the signal to posterity; and the applause, the bravos, the shouts of ”long live Pétion and Robespierre! Long live the spotless deputies!” mingled with the chords of military music placed on the terrace of the foliage, filled all hearts with the sweetest intoxication. In vain, the two legislators wanted to hide from these testimonies of public recognition: as they fled, a young lady whom they met on the stairs which lead to the storage room said to them: ”allow at least that my child embraces you”; and this they could not resist. To escape the chorus of applause who were pursuing them, the two deputies, who had taken refuge in a house in the rue Saint-Honoré, got into a carriage. Immediately, in the delirium of enthusiasm, the horses were unhitched, and a thousand biases hastened to drag the carriage; degrading idolatry, of which those who were the object of it were afflicted and indignant. At this moment the honorable Robespierre, seized with holy indignation, hastily alighted from the carriage. “Citizens, he said, what are you doing? What humiliating posture will you take? Is this the price of my work for you for two years? Don't you already remember that you are a free people? And he quickly got back into the carriage where his worthy colleague was. The attitude and admiration of the citizens at this moment cannot be described: sublime spectacle! You make delicious tears flow. One let the carriage roll off to the sound of fanfares, applause, cries and the most energetic blessings. May those who could have deserved such a triumph dry up in spite, comparing this excess of gratitude to the silence of contempt, or to the curses of hatred who accompanied them. Above all, may this touching example produce Pétions and Robespierres in the new legislation.
Le Thermomètre du Jour describing the exit of the two after the closing of the National Assembly September 30 1791
Before finishing, he (Robespierre) had taken care to name M. Pétion, and to establish between them a community of ideas, a relation of feelings on the objects which divide the society. He knows very well that M. Pétion is far from approving his follies, or rather his fury, but he also knows that he could not disarm him without losing a large part of his popularity, so the goal was not missed, and Robespierre's party was swelled with all the worthy friends of the worthy Pétion.
Chronique de Paris on speech held by Robespierre April 27 1792
I agree with Manuel on the comparison that he made in saying that Pétion and Robespierre were the twins of freedom; he meant that they were stars like Castor and Pollux; that they would appear in turn, but I ask that Robespierre be the summer star, and Pétion the winter star.
Collot d’Herbois at the Jacobins November 5 1792
In 1791 and 1792, Robespierre had the most intimate liasons with Pétion, Buzot and Roland, how can he accuse them today without accusing himself? Gensonné accuses Robespierre in 1793
It was on the motion of Robespierre that the honors of the Pantheon were awarded to Mirabeau. Pétion reproached him for it the same day, he reproached him for it in my presence.
Memoirs of Brissot, written in 1793
Pétion and Manuel ordered, organized, if I may say so, the massacres of September 2 and 3, and at that time these two ferocious beasts were devoted to Robespierre.
Histoire de la Conjuration de Maximilien Robespierre (1795) by Galart de Montjoie
From the first days of the Constituent Assembly, [Pétion] figured there, because he spoke well and was a member of the Tiers. Inseparable friend of Robespierre, their principles were then so consistent and their intimacy so marked, that they were called the two fingers of the hand. They continued to be placed under the same accolade until the end of 1792. It is true that at that time they had already cordially parted ways. Robespierre was no longer anything, he even wanted to be nothing, because he reserved himself for anarchy: for he was not made to shine in a purely constitutional career. Pétion, on the contrary, had abandoned England, where he lived with Madame de Genlis, to succeed Bailly in the functions of mayor of Paris; and he had acquired such popularity in that place, especially after his dismissal following the events of the 20th of June, that Robespierre was no longer in a condition to forgive him for the idolatry that was brought upon him. He no longer looked at him except with envy; he was no longer anything but a rival in his eyes, since the people were crying: Vive Pétion! Pétion ou la mort! since this exclamation was read on all the hats, on all the walls.
Nouveau Tableau de Paris (1797) by Louis Sebastien Mercier
Robespierre had gotten it into his head to make a solemn declaration with Petion on the events which preceded the revolution of the 10th of August. Pétion was willing to lend himself to it, for he had a kind of inexcusable weakness for Robespierre. […] Pétion wanted me to esteem Robespierre.
Mémoires sur la Révolution française, par Buzot, député à la Convention nationale, précédés d’un précis de sa vie et de recherches historiques sur les Girondins (1828)
However, there was this great difference between Pétion and me — he had a particular deference for Robespierre, and I had an invincible aversion for this man who had the face of a cat.
Mémoires inédits de Buzot (1866) (it would appear Buzot wrote two separate memoirs….?)
The Lamenths and Pétion in the early days, quite rarely Legendre, Merlin de Thionville and Fouché, often Taschereau, Desmoulins and Teault, always Lebas, Saint-Just, David, Couthon and Buonarotti.
The elderly Élisabeth Lebas on visitors to the Duplay’s during the revolution
But Pétion, who had nothing to do with the events of August 10, ceased at this time to be the idol of the people. A more powerful party, that of Robespierre, of who he had long been a friend, of Danton, Marat, etc, stole his popularity.
Biographie Nouvelle des Contemporains (1824) by Antoine-Vincent Arnault
There was a M. Decritot, a great cloth manufacturer at Louvierz, who had a charming villa near Poissy, which all the world went to see. He was of the gauche; and meeting me one day on horseback, he asked me to dine with him so that I might see the villa and meet some members of the Assembly; so I went, and there amongst the guests were Pétion and Robespierre. Pétion was big and fat, good-humoured and talkative, but heavy withal. He talked on, Robespierre said not a word, and I took little notice of him, he looked like a cat lapping vinegar. Pétion was rallying him on being so taciturn and farouche, and said they must find him a wife to apprivoiser him: upon which Robespierre opened his mouth for the first and last time with a kind of scream, ��I will never marry!”
The Croker Papers: the Correspondence and Diaries of the late right honourable John Wilson Croker… (1885) volume 3, page 209. Anecdote told by Louis-Philippe in 1850.
My older brother united with several of his colleagues from the Assembly. He was closest with Pétion, whose popularity then equaled his. They were both leaders of the republican opposition which had formed in the Constituent, and fought for the cause of the people, like two generous imitators who looked to surpass each other in noble sentiments. Public opinion, which associated them in its esteem, called them to the two premier posts of Paris; Pétion was elected mayor, and Maximilien public prosecutor. Following this, Pétion’s friendship for my brother cooled singularly. This high charge of mayor of Paris, these honors which surrounded him and which perhaps developed the germ of an ambition he had at first been unaware of, turned his head and made him abandon the line of conduct that he had followed since the beginning of the revolution. The rapports in which his functions as mayor placed him even with the court, spoiled him to the point that he misread his former friends. Some days after the events of 2 and 3 September, Pétion came to see my brother. Maximilien had disapproved of the prison massacres, and had would have wanted each prisoner to be sent before judges elected by the people. Pétion and Robespierre conversed on these latest events. I was present at their interview, and I heard my brother reproach Pétion for not having interposed his authority to stop the deplorable excesses of the 2nd and 3rd. Pétion seemed piqued by this reproach, and replied dryly enough: All I can tell you is that no human power could have stopped them. He rose some moments later, left, and did not return. Any kind of relations ceased, from this day, between him and my brother. They did not see each other again until the Convention, where Pétion sat with the Girondins and my brother on the Montagne.
Mémoires de Charlotte Robespierre sur ses deux frères (1834). Keep in mind that Charlotte didn’t actually come to Paris until the fall of 1792, and thus can’t have been an eye witness to the good days of the relationship. Her version of Robespierre’s and Pétion’s discussion on the September Massacres is also a bit dubious, since she most likely didn’t come to Paris until the end of the month, as a result of Augustin being elected for the National Convention on the 17th, yet still claims to have been present ”a few days” after the massacres.
Throughout 1789, 1790 and 1791, Pétion and Robespierre very often rose up together to fight for the same topics, and are therefore very often mentioned next to each other in the press. Looking at just Oeuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, I count this happening a total of 27 times (May 22, August 29 and October 2, October 21 and October 29 1789, May 18, June 22, June 25, December 28 and December 30 1790, January 11, February 5 and 28, March 3, 5, 9 and 13, April 1 and 6, May 4, 9, 10, 16 and 30, July 7, August 15, September 3 1791), and there’s probably way more if you start studying other minutes as well.
Robespierre and Pétion always use vouvoiement when adressing each other. However, the first example of Robespierre using tutoiment with anyone outside his family is from February 1793, when he had already broken with Pétion.
Pétion lived on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré n. 6, while Robespierre settled at rue de Saintonge 30 after moving to Paris. Today, walking between those two places takes around an hour.
Pétion committed suicide on June 24 1794, and when his body was found the next day, it had been devoured by wild dogs. Could learning about this (assuming he did) have been something that influenced Robespierre’s withdrawal from public life in general and the CPS in particular from June 29 and forward?