"Marat Survives Assassination
Attempt" by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present the twenty-eighth story from Jeff
Provine's excellent blog
This Day in
Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this post
do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On July 13th 1793,
on this day Jean-Paul Marat survived an assassination attempt by a
twenty-four-year-old girl Girondin sympathizer called Charlotte Corday.
Marat served as a fiery radical behind the French Revolution using
newspaper journalism, public speaking, and essays to spread his ideas for
the defense of the downtrodden Third Estate. In the past month, he had
been one of the three most powerful men in France (along with Danton and
Robespierre) as the Girodin political club disintegrated under Jacobin
pressure. Change was coming to the Revolution, and Marat's sense of
prophecy looked toward better days.
Marat also suffered from a skin disease that caused itching, blistering,
and a great deal of discomfort. He would spend most of the time in his
bath, his head wrapped in a vinegar-soaked bandanna to ease his pain.
Meanwhile, a desk had been set over his tub to allow him to write while he
On the night of July 13, a twenty-four-year-old girl would come to the
house of Marat, saying she had knowledge of a Girondist uprising. She had
come before and been turned away, but now Marat agreed to see her. The
girl was Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer who held Marat as a
powerful enemy to the Republic because of his endorsement of violence. For
example, she considered Marat responsible for the September Massacres in
which mobs slaughtered priests and prisoners out of the panic involved in
the Duke of Brunswick's invasion of Verdun. Corday aimed to save the
Republic by assassinating Marat, killing "one man to save one hundred
After a fifteen minute discussion of the supposed uprising, Corday pulled
an eight-inch knife and leaped at Marat. Marat's wife Simonne, having not
trusted the girl, leaped at the same moment, subduing her and saving her
husband's life. Corday would later be guillotined on grounds of attempted
Marat would go on as a leader of the Jacobins and the Revolution, often
knocking heads with his ally Robespierre. While George Danton would rise
to higher standing as a more moderating force, the two would target one
another enough that each seemed to cancel out the other's radicalism.
Though both Robespierre and Marat would call for purges against
counterrevolutionaries (what some whispered as a "reign of terror"), much
more import was placed on fending off the invasions of the European powers
seeking to end the Republic, which had so far become a stalemate. The war
finally reversed in 1794 with overwhelming French victories. Politics
calmed as fears did, and the Gironists returned to power, though not
completely overthrowing the Jacobins.
In 1795 (Year III), a convention amended the constitution, Jacobins
managing to keep the Gironists from tossing it out altogether. Maintaining
universal suffrage for males, the new constitution at least improved the
political flow. Directors (the executive office) often leaned toward
corruption, but the biting words of Marat's journalism kept politicians in
order for fear of the people. Gradually, the problems in France were
becoming solved. In 1799, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte swept
elections because of popular wording about his victories from Marat's
writing. Marat would die the next year, and the growing fame of Napoleon
would leave him all but forgotten. Under the Corsican's leadership, France
would be put into financial and judicial order and even come to peace with
Britain at the Treaty of Amiens. While some suspected Napoleon and his
reforms as ambitions toward something of an emperor, politicians such as
"The Incorruptible" Robespierre kept him in check (such as preventing the
return of slavery in the French colonies).
Britain would declare war again in May of 1803, and Napoleon would return
to the field as a general, leaving the nation much to itself. While many
called for the war to be colonial (such as in the proud French colony of
Haiti, made up of freed slaves), Napoleon built a European empire for
France by defeating the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Coalitions in the field.
While Napoleon hoped to invade their ally Russia to enforce his
Continental Blockade, the French people would refuse to allow further
enemies. Instead, Napoleon built up his massive Grande Arm?e and began the
invasion of Britain by means of a massive earthen-work isthmus across the
English Channel. While under nearly continuous bombardment, 400,000
soldiers plus volunteer workers emptied load after load of soil and rock
into the sea. The monumental action terrified England enough to call an
end to the war, removing troops from Spain and finally giving France its
guarantee of a republic.
Fearful that Napoleon would use his fame to overthrow their government,
Robespierre and others suggested many schemes including assassination, but
finally the military genius was sent into pseudo-exile on expeditions in
the colonies, branching out from his bases in the Sahara and Ivory Coast.
Though able to conquer enormous tracks of Africa, Napoleon would succumb
to yellow fever in 1821, and France's colonial empire would stall.
Gradually over the nineteenth century, France would begrudgingly sponsor
the puppet republics it had established in Germany, Italy, and Austria to
become self-governing as Nationalism grew in public spirit.
France's success, along with that of its longtime ally the United States
of America, in the Great Experiment of republicanism would give much
credence to the idea. As economic fallout of the Industrial Revolution
gave birth to new ideas of socialism and communism, political philosophy
would shift again, leading to the Revolutionary Wars in the 1940s. The
government of France would be seen as corrupt with a lost vision, and
Europe would once again turn upon it as the Commune reformed just as the
philosopher Marx had proposed.
says in reality, Corday's knife met its target, and Marat would die in
minutes. She was guillotined on July 17 on grounds of murder and treason.
The fear of counterrevolutionaries would grow as more kingdoms of Europe
invaded, giving way to Robespierre's Reign of Terror and, ultimately,
Napoleon becoming emperor and wiping away the republic.
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Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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