Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/François-Noel Babeuf
BABEUF, François-Noel, surnamed by himself Gracchus Babeuf, the earliest of the French socialists, was bom in 1762, in the department of Aisne. From his father, a major in the Austrian army, he received special instruction in mathematics, but was deprived of him by death at the age of sixteen. Established as a land-sur veyor at Eoye, in the Somme department, he became a fervid advocate of the Revolution, and wrote articles in the Gorrespondant Picard, for which he was prosecuted in 1790. He was acquitted on that occasion, and was afterwards elected an administrator of the department; but a charge of forgery being brought against him, he was condemned by the Somme tribunal to twenty years imprisonment in 1793. Escaping to Paris, he became secretary to the Relief Committee of the Commune, and joined Garin in his denunciation of the Committee of Public Safety. This led to his incarceration, ostensibly under the former sen tence. This was, however, annulled by the Court of Cassa tion; and he was also discharged by the Aisne tribunal (18th July 1794), to which he had been remitted. Return ing to Paris, he entered on a violent crusade against the remains of the Robespierre party, and started the Journal de la Liberte de la Presse to maintain his views. In the following year (1795) the Girondists acquired supremacy in the Convention ; Babeuf s journal was suspended, and him- . self imprisoned first in Paris and then at Arras. Thrown into the society of certain partisans of Robespierre, he was Avon over by them, and was ready, on his release, to become the indiscriminatiag defender of the very men whom he had previously attacked (No. 34 of the Tribun, as he now called iiis journal). In April 1796 Babeuf, Lepelletier, and others, constituted themselves a " Secret Directory of Public Safety," and took the title of the " Equals;" while another association of self-styled " Conventional" and " Patriots" met at the house of Ainar. The latter party aimed at the re-establishment of the revolutionary government, while Babeuf and his friends wanted besides to realise their schemes for the organisation of common happiness. Dis putes naturally arose; and to reconcile the Equals and the Patriots, it was agreed, first, to re-establish the constitu tion of 1793; and secondly, to prepare for the adoption of true equality by the destruction of the Government. Every thing was ready by the beginning of May 179G, and the number of adherents in Paris was reckoned at 17,000; but on the 10th the Government succeeded in arresting the main leaders of the plot. The army protected the ^Government, and the people of Paris looked on. The trial was opened at Vendome on Feb. 2, 1797, and lasted three months. Babeuf and Darthc were sentenced to death; Germain, Buonarroti, and five others, to transportation; Amar, Vadier, Duplay, and the remaining fifty-three, were acquitted. On the announcement of the sentence, Babeuf and Darthe stabbed themselves, but the wounds were, not mortal. They passed a frightful night, and next morning were borne bleeding to the scaffold. Ardent and generous, heroic and self-sacrificing, Babeuf had neither solid knowledge nor steadiness of judgment. " The aim of society is happiness, and happiness consists in equality," is the centre of his doctrine. Propagated under the name of Babouvism, it became the germ of contemporary com munism. Babeuf s influence was fatal in a threefold way, because he re-established the memory of Robespierre among French Republicans, connected them with the theories of Rousseau, and paved the way for that school of Socialists which left the lessons of experience and observation forUtopian dreams.
Babeuf s ^voiks are 1. Cadastre pcrpetuel, dedie a 1 Assembles Rationale, a Paris, i an 1789 et le premier de la Liberte Frangaise, System de Depopulation, ou la vie et les crimes de Carrier, par Grac chus Babeuf, Paris, an III, in 8vo. See also, in addition to legal documents and the histories of the time, Buonarroti s H istoire de la Conspiration de Babeuf, of which there is an English translation by Bronterre, London, 1836.