A Lesson in Reckless Rhetoric
This week, the House select committee investigating January 6 will hold public hearings broadcast live in primetime. The committee is expected to focus squarely on the role former President Donald Trump played in the violent attack on the Capitol. Nearly a year and half out from the attack, many of his supporters still deny his role and dismiss criticism of the former president. This includes Rep. Lauren Boebert, who recently tweeted, “Ready for the mean tweets to come back yet?” In this way, Trump supporters often imply there was nothing wrong with Trump or his actions and that opponents are merely overly sensitive to his crude and hyperbolic rhetoric. However, history shows that a leader’s rhetoric can lead to tragedy, and such leadership must not be rewarded. Many members of the mob outside the Capitol, and even members of Congress, referred to the events of the day as their “1776 moment.” But history shows us that Trump’s words and his followers’ actions that day were not in the spirit of 1776. They were reminiscent of another revolution, a much more violent revolution. They did not reflect the ideals of 1776, they echoed the horrors of 1793, and the reign of terror.
In October 1793, Lyons, the second city of France, lay prostrate at the feet of the revolutionary government in Paris. The fighting had been bitter, with revolutionary forces shelling the beleaguered rebel city for two months. In many ways, the capitulation of Lyons represented the high water mark of the dictatorship of Maximillian Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. This was an important victory over the domestic enemies of the revolution and moved the government in Paris closer to national consolidation under the tricolor flag. However, this moment of triumph is forever stained with the violence that followed the surrender of Lyons. Liberty and equality may have been the rallying cry, but terror was the order of the day.
Lyons had been a commercial powerhouse before the revolution with a large merchant class built by the success of the city’s international silk industry. The revolution, with its chaotic domestic policy and international isolation, struck at this prosperity and led the city to become a bastion for enemies of the revolution. By May 1793, the city was in open revolt against Paris with royalists and moderate republicans uniting under the shared motto of “peace and freedom without anarchy and violence.”
Five months later, Lyons was brought back into the national fold by force. In response to the fall of Lyons, the Committee of Public Safety, the acting executive authority in Paris, issued the following proclamation: “Lyons made war on Liberty. Lyons is no more.” In addition to this public declaration, the committee instructed the government agents in Lyons as follows: