Committee of General Security

The Committee of General Security (French: Comité de sûreté générale) was a French parliamentary committee which acted as police agency during the French Revolution that, along with the Committee of Public Safety, oversaw the Reign of Terror.

The Committee supervised the local police committees in charge of investigating reports of treason, and was one of the agencies with authority to refer suspects to the Revolutionary Tribunal for trial and possible execution by guillotine.[1]

The Committee of General Security was established as a committee of the National Convention in October 1792.[2] It was designed to protect the Revolutionary Republic from its internal enemies.[3] By 1794 the Committee became part of the opposition to Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety and members were involved in the 9 Thermidor coup d'état.[4] On 4 November 1795, along with the end of the National Convention, the Committee of General Security dissolved.

Origins and evolution

On 2 October 1792, the National Convention created the Committee of General Security from its predecessors: the Search Committee (Comité des recherches) and the Committee of Surveillance (Comité de Surveillance).[5] The Committee was not large and never exceeded 16 members.[5] The Committee's main responsibility was the internal security of France and to protect the Republic from both external and internal enemies.[6][7] One way of ensuring the security of France was through the passport system. Through this system the members of the Committee had the knowledge of who was entering France and where they were going.[7] The Committee had the authority to decide who was sent to the Revolutionary Tribunal for judgment during the Reign of Terror.[7] Once the evidence was fully considered in an individual case the members of the Committee made the decision on the innocence or guilt of the suspect, which determined if that person would be released or sent to the Tribunal.[8]

Throughout, the existence of the committee it contributed to a large number of people being sent to the guillotine. On March 29, 1794, the committee ordered twenty-four former members of the parlements of Paris and Toulouse to be sent to the Tribunal, where they were subsequently executed.[8] Shortly after, another twenty-eight people that were a part of the Farmers-General, were investigated by the Committee and sent to the Tribunal for trial. After the trial the men were found guilty and executed.[8]

A proposal of Danton on 13 September 1793 marked a turning point in the composition of the committee: from then on its members were appointed directly by the Committee of Public Safety and were no more than twelve in number. The regulation of 19 October 1793 stated that the committee should sit every day from eight o'clock till eleven o'clock in the evening, later if circumstances required that. The Law of 14 Frimaire (4 December 1793), voted on the report of Billaud-Varenne, restored a degree of equality between the two committees. On 16 April 1794 the Committee of Public Safety received the power to search and to bring the accused before the Revolutionary Tribunal, in the same way as the Committee of General Security. The Committee of General Security and the Committee of Public Safety worked alongside one another. Their responsibilities became overlapping which caused tensions between the two groups.[5][6] The Law of 22 Prairial year II (10 June 1794) deepened this rivalry as it enabled the two committees to send the accused directly before the Revolutionary Tribunal. The law was introduced to the public without consultation from the Committee of General Security, which, in turn, doubled the number of executions permitted by the Committee of Public Safety.[9] On 22 and 23 July the two committees met in a plenary session. Saint-Just declared in negotiations with Barère to be prepared to make concessions on the subordinate position of the Committee of General Security.[10][11] Couthon agreed with more cooperation between the two committees. For Robespierre, the Committee of General Security had to remain subordinate to the Committee of Public Safety. Both committees were responsible for suppressing counterrevolution, but ended targeting each other.[12]

The tensions grew and contributed to the downfall of Robespierre.[6] One example of the rising tension was when two members of the Committee of General Security, Jean-Pierre-André Amar and Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier, participated in the 9 Thermidor coup against Robespierre.[5] During the same time at the National Convention, Vadier also used false accusations implementing Catherine Théot in a plot to overthrow the Republic, which was also connected to Robespierre and the Cult of the Supreme Being.[13]

The Committee of General Security had more than 160 employees on the eve of the 9 Thermidor. The Committee of General Security dissolved with the end of the National Convention in November 1795.[5]

Prominent members

The Committee of General Security had a significant number of members : there were 144 member of the Convention elected in the Committee between 2 October 1792-November 4, 1795.

See also


  1. Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Neely, Sylvia (2008), A concise history of the French Revolution, Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 178–179, ISBN 0-7425-3411-1
  3. Palmer, R. R.; Colton, J. G. (1965), A History of the Modern World (3rd ed.), Knopf, pp. 359–360, ISBN 1-4091-0338-2
  5. Hanson, Paul (2004). Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Oxford: the Scarecrow Press. pp. 73–74.
  6. Andress, David (2005). The Terror: the Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. p. 385.
  7. Walker, Emma (1961). "André Amar and His Role in the Committee of General Security". The Historian. 23: 467–469. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.1961.tb01702.x. JSTOR 24437800.
  8. Dowd, David (1952). "Jacques-Louis David, Artist Member of the Committee of General Security". The American Historical Review. 57: 873–883. doi:10.2307/1844239. JSTOR 1844239.
  9. Schama 1989, p. 836.
  10. Albert Soboul, p. 345, 347
  11. Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship, and Authenticity in the French Revolution by Marisa Linton
  12. Deep Republicanism: Prelude to Professionalism by Donald Clark Hodges, p. 94
  13. Garrett, Clarke (1974). "Popular Piety in the French Revolution: Catherine Théot". The Catholic Historical Review. 60: 215. JSTOR 25019540.


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