For a time the government, while keeping itself informed of his activities, left him alone; for it suited the Directory to let the socialist agitation continue, in order to frighten the people from joining in any royalist movement for the overthrow of the existing regime. Moreover the mass of the ouvriers, even of extreme views, were repelled by Babeuf's bloodthirstiness; and the police agents reported that his agitation was making many converts - for the government. The Jacobin club of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine refused to admit Babeuf and Lebois, on the ground that they were "égorgeurs." With the development of the economic crisis, however, Babeuf's influence increased. After the club of the Pantheon was closed by Bonaparte, on the 27th of February 1796, his aggressive activity redoubled. In Ventôse and Germinal he published, under the nom de plume of "Lalande, soldat de la patrie," a new paper, the éclaireur du peuple, ou le défenseur de vingt-cinq millions d'opprimés, which was hawked clandestinely from group to group in the streets of Paris. At the same time No. 40 of the Tribun excited an immense sensation.
In this he praised the authors of the September massacres as "deserving well of their country," and declared that a more complete "September 2nd" was needed to annihilate the actual government, which consisted of "starvers, bloodsuckers, tyrants, hangmen, rogues and mountebanks." The distress among all classes continued to be appalling; and in March the attempt of the Directory to replace the assignats (q.v.) by a new issue of mandats created fresh dissatisfaction after the breakdown of the hopes first raised. A cry went up that national bankruptcy had been declared, and thousands of the lower class of ouvrier began to rally to Babeuf's flag. On the 4th of April it was reported to the government that 500,000 people in Paris were in need of relief. From the 11th Paris was placarded with posters headed Analyse de la doctrine de Baboeuf (sic), tribun du peuple, of which the opening sentence ran: "Nature has given to every man the right to the enjoyment of an equal share in all property," and which ended with a call to restore the constitution of 1793. Babeuf's song Mourant de faim, mourant de froid (Dying of hunger, dying of cold), set to a popular air, began to be sung in the cafés, with immense applause; and reports were current that the disaffected troops in the camp of Grenelle were ready to join an émeute against the government.
The Directory thought it time to act; the bureau central had accumulated through its agents, notably the ex-captain Georges Grisel, who had been initiated into Babeuf's society, complete evidence of a conspiracy for an armed rising fixed for Floréal 22, year IV. (11th of May 1796), in which Jacobins and socialists were combined. On the 10th of May Babeuf was arrested with many of his associates, among whom were A. Darthé and P. M. Buonarroti, the ex-members of the Convention, Robert Lindet, J. A. B. Amar, M. G. A. Vadier and Jean Baptiste Drouet, famous as the postmaster of Saint-Menehould who had arrested Louis XVI., and now a member of the Council of Five Hundred.
The coup was perfectly successful. The last number of the Tribun appeared on the 24th of April, but Lebois in the Ami du peuple tried to incite the soldiers to revolt, and for a while there were rumours of a military rising. The trial of Babeuf and his accomplices was fixed to take place before the newly constituted high court of justice at Vendôme. On Fructidor 10 and 11 (27th and 28th of August), when the prisoners were removed from Paris, there were tentative efforts at a riot with a view to rescue, but these were easily suppressed. The attempt of five or six hundred Jacobins (7th of September) to rouse the soldiers at Grenelle met with no better success. The trial of Babeuf and the others, begun at Vendôme on the 20th of February 1797, lasted two months. The government for reasons of their own made the socialist Babeuf the leader of the conspiracy, though more important people than he were implicated; and his own vanity played admirably into their hands. On Prairial 7 (26th of April 1797) Babeuf and Darthé were condemned to death; some of the prisoners, including Buonarroti, were exiled; the rest, including Vadier and his fellow-conventionals, were acquitted.
Drouet had succeeded in making his escape, according to Barras, with the connivance of the Directory. Babeuf and Darthé were executed at Vendôme on Prairial 8 (1797).
Babeuf's character has perhaps been sufficiently indicated above. He was a type of the French revolutionists, excitable, warm-hearted, half-educated, who lost their mental and moral balance in the chaos of the revolutionary period. Historically, his importance lies in the fact that he was the first to propound socialism as a practical policy, and the father of the movements which played so conspicuous a part in the revolutions of 1848 and 1871.
See V. Advielle, Hist. de Gracchus Babeuf et de Babouvisme (2 vols., Paris, 1884); P. M. Buonarroti, Conspiration pour l'égalité, dite de Babeuf (2 vols., Brussels, 1828; later editions, 1850 and 1869), English translation by Bronterre O'Brien (London, 1836); Cambridge Modern History, vol. viii.; Adolf Schmidt, Pariser Zustände wahrend der Revolutionszeit von 1789-1800 (Jena, 1874). French trans. by P. Viollet, Paris pendant la Révolution d'après les rapports de la police secrète, 1789-1800 (4 vols., 1880-1894); A. Schmidt, Tableaux de la Révolution française, etc. (Leipzig, 1867-1870), a collection of reports of the secret police on which the above work is based. A full report of the trial at Vendôme was published in four volumes at Paris in 1797, Débats du procès, etc.
(W. A. P.)