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Race, Revolution, and Robespierre

He was such an impressive young man that, even though only a private, he married the daughter of his well-to-do landlord. It was a marriage that would last as a love match through distance, deprivation, political disfavor, and betrayal.

An avid believer in the stated egalitarian views of the French Revolution, Dumas was the kind of revolutionary who captured the imaginations of such American Founders as Thomas Jefferson. He distinguished himself in conflict and quickly moved up the ranks.

But even the man who should have been the propaganda poster boy for the proclaimed value of égalité was not immune from the Reign of Terror that eventually gripped France. Dumas’ refusal to engage in systematic and unnecessary brutality put him constantly under suspicion from the infamous Committee of Public Safety, and his well-connected superiors often were writing to assure Paris of Dumas’s fidelity to the Revolution.

But it was his brilliant service in the brutal campaign in the Alps that nearly earned him a visit to Madame Guillotine. After the Revolution, France invaded most of its neighbors to “liberate” their citizens. Dumas, who commanded the Army of the Alps, was constantly sent impossible and suicidal orders from the Committee about the speed with which he must attack the fortresses of the Piedmont.