The national subscription to save the Robespierre manuscripts: a review of an initiative undertaken by citizens and activists
In late April 2011, the Société des études robespierristes learned that there was to be an auction at Sotheby’s in Paris, of unpublished manuscripts by Robespierre and Le Bas. After the initial shock, also shared by the Institut d’histoire de la Révolution française and by many fellow associations, came the response. In early May, the Société des études robespierristes launched an unprecedented national subscription, which aimed to collect as much money as possible to keep the Incorruptible’s precious drafts within the public collections, or at least to try to influence the conservation authorities in order to encourage them to act. The subscription was a success, supported by the National Assembly and the Senate and widely publicised by the media; soon the State was able to pre-empt and then purchase the two lots that were up for sale. For several weeks, letters accompanied by donations flooded in from all over the country; inspired and indignant, more than a thousand people joined in this subscription and thus played a direct part in this civic operation to safeguard a piece of the national heritage. Two years later, it is time to return to this unprecedented movement, to grasp its dynamic, to create a group portrait of the donors and to measure and understand their action, without which, needless to say, these manuscripts would most likely not have been preserved in the collections of the National Archives.