|Name:||Maximilien De Robespierre|
|Birth Day:||May 6, 1758|
|Death Date:||Jul 27, 1794 (age 36)|
|Birth Place:||Arras, France|
As per our current Database, Maximilien De Robespierre died on Jul 27, 1794 (age 36).
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He was chosen out of five hundred students to deliver a speech welcoming King Louis XVI.
Early in July 1764, Madame de Robespierre gave birth to a stillborn daughter; she died twelve days later, at the age of 29. Devastated by his wife's death, François de Robespierre left Arras around 1767. His two daughters were brought up by their paternal aunts, and his two sons were taken in by their maternal grandparents. Already literate at age eight, Maximilien started attending the collège of Arras (middle school). In October 1769, on the recommendation of the bishop fr:Louis-Hilaire de Conzié, he received a scholarship at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. His fellow pupils included Camille Desmoulins and Stanislas Fréron. In school, he learned to admire the idealised Roman Republic and the rhetoric of Cicero, Cato and Lucius Junius Brutus. In 1776 he was awarded first prize for rhetoric. He also studied the works of the Genevan philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was attracted to many ideas, written in his "Contrat Social". Robespierre became intrigued by the idea of a "virtuous self", a man who stands alone accompanied only by his conscience. His study of the classics prompted him to aspire to Roman virtues, but he sought to emulate Rousseau's citizen-soldier in particular. Robespierre's conception of revolutionary virtue and his programme for constructing political sovereignty out of direct democracy came from Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Mably. With Rousseau, Robespierre considered the "volonté générale" or the general will of the people as the basis of political legitimacy.
Robespierre studied law for three years at the University of Paris. Upon his graduation on 31 July 1780, he received a special prize of 600 livres for exemplary academic success and personal good conduct. On 15 May 1781, Robespierre gained admission to the bar. The bishop of Arras, Hilaire de Conzié, appointed him as one of the five judges in the criminal court in March 1782. Robespierre soon resigned, owing to discomfort in ruling on capital cases arising from his early opposition to the death penalty. His most famous case took place in May 1783 and involved a lightning rod in St. Omer. His defence was printed and he sent Benjamin Franklin a copy.
On 15 November 1783, he was elected a member of the literary Academy of Arras. In 1784 the Academy of Metz awarded him a medal for his essay on the question of whether the relatives of a condemned criminal should share his disgrace, which made him a man of letters. He and Pierre Louis de Lacretelle, an advocate and journalist in Paris, divided the prize. Robespierre attacked inequality before the law, the indignity of natural children, the lettres de cachet (imprisonment without a trial) and the sidelining of women in academic life (Robespierre had particularly Louise-Félicité de Kéralio in mind). As president of the academy he became acquainted with the revolutionary journalist Gracchus Babeuf, the young officer and engineer Lazare Carnot and with the teacher Joseph Fouché, all of whom would play a role in his later life. Robespierre also claimed to have seen Rousseau, shortly before he died.
In August 1788, King Louis XVI announced new elections for all provinces and a gathering of the Estates-General for 1 May 1789 to solve France's serious financial and taxation problems. Robespierre participated in a discussion regarding how the French provincial government should be elected, arguing in his Address to the Nation of Artois that if the former mode of election by the members of the provincial estates was again adopted, the new Estates-General would not represent the people of France. In late February 1789, France saw a pressing crisis due to its desire for a new constitution, according to Gouverneur Morris.
In his electoral district, Robespierre began to make his mark in politics with his Notice to the Residents of the Countryside of 1789 in which he attacked the local authorities. With this, he secured the support of the country electors. On 26 April 1789, Robespierre was elected as one of 16 deputies for Pas-de-Calais to the Estates-General; others were Charles de Lameth and Albert de Beaumetz. When the deputies arrived at Versailles they were presented to the king and listened to Jacques Necker's three-hour-long speech about institutional and political reforms. They were informed that all voting would be "by order" not "by head", so their double representation as promised in December 1788 was to be meaningless. It resulted in Abbé Sieyès opposing the veto of the King, suggesting that the Third Estate meet separately and change its name. On 13 June, Robespierre joined the deputies, who would call themselves the National Assembly representing 96% of the nation. On 9 July, the Assembly moved to Paris. It transformed itself into the National Constituent Assembly to discuss a new constitution and taxation system.
From October 1789, Robespierre lived at 9, Rue de Saintonge in Le Marais. Pierre Villiers claimed he was his secretary for several months, and they shared the apartment on the third floor. Robespierre associated with the new Society of the Friends of the Constitution, commonly known as the Jacobin Club. Originally, this organization (the Club Breton) comprised only deputies from Brittany, but after the National Assembly had moved to Paris, the Friends admitted non-deputies, supporting the changes in France. As time went on, many of the more educated artisans and small shopkeepers joined the Jacobin club. Among these 1,200 men, Robespierre found a sympathetic audience. Equality before the law was the keystone of the Jacobin ideology. In January he held several speeches in response to the decision making the exercise of civil rights dependent on a certain sum in the tax. During the debate on the suffrage, Robespierre ended his speech of 25 January 1790 with a blunt assertion that ‘all Frenchmen must be admissible to all public positions without any other distinction than that of virtues and talents’. He began to acquire a reputation, and on 31 March 1790 Robespierre was elected as their president. On 28 April Robespierre proposed to allow an equal number of officers and soldiers in the court martial. Unlike Niccolò Machiavelli who promoted the creation of local or regional citizen militia, a system which after three centuries seemed to be outdated, Robespierre supported the cooperation of all the National Guards in a general federation on 11 May. On 19 June he was elected secretary of the National Assembly.
In Spring 1790 the departments of France were reorganized; the Paris Commune was divided up in 48 sections and allowed to discuss the election of a new mayor. In July Robespierre demanded "fraternal equality" in salaries. On 2 August Jean Sylvain Bailly became Paris' first elected mayor with 12.500 votes; Georges Danton had 49, Marat and Louis XVI only one. Discussing the future of Avignon Robespierre and his supporters on the galleries succeeded in silencing Mirabeau. Before the end of the year, he was seen as one of the leaders of the small body of the extreme left. Robespierre was one of "the thirty voices", as Mirabeau referred to Barnave with contempt: "That man will go far—he believes everything he says." On 5 December Robespierre delivered a speech on the urgent topic of the National Guard, a police force independent from the army. "To be armed for personal defense is the right of every man, to be armed to defend freedom and the existence of the common fatherland is the right of every citizen". Robespierre coined the famous motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" by adding the word fraternity on the flags of the National Guard. On 18 December it was decreed to supply the National Guard with 50,000 fusils.
In 1791 Robespierre held 328 speeches. On 28 January Robespierre discussed the organisation of the National Guard in the Assembly; for three years a hot topic in French newspapers. Early March provincial militias were abolished and the Paris Department was placed above the Commune in all matters of general order and security. According to Jan ten Brink it had the right to suspend the Commune's decisions and to dispose of the army against her in case of emergency. On 27 and 28 April 1791, Robespierre opposed plans to reorganize the National Guard and restrict its membership to active citizens. It was regarded as too aristocratic. He demanded the reconstitution of the National Guard on a democratic basis. He felt that the National Guard had to become the instrument of defending liberty and no longer be a threat to it.
As Marat, Danton and Robespierre were not elected in the new legislature thanks to the Self-Denying Ordinance, oppositional politics often took place outside the Assembly. On 18 December 1791, Robespierre gave a (second) speech at the Jacobin club against the declaration of war. Robespierre warned against the threat of dictatorship stemming from war, in the following terms:
On 10 February 1792, he gave a speech on how to save the State and Liberty and did not use the word war. He began by assuring his audience that everything he intended to propose was strictly constitutional. He then went on to advocate specific measures to strengthen, not so much the national defences as the forces that could be relied on to defend the revolution. Not only the National Guard but also the people had to be armed, if necessary with pikes. Robespierre promoted a people's army, continuously under arms and able to impose its will on Feuillants and Girondins in the Constitutional Cabinet of Louis XVI and in the Legislative Assembly. The Jacobins decided to study his speech before deciding whether it should be printed.
The Girondins planned strategies to out-manoeuvre Robespierre's influence among the Jacobins. He was accused by Brissot and Guadet of trying to become the idol of the people. On 26 March, Guadet accused Robespierre of superstition, relying on divine providence; being against the war he was also accused of acting as a secret agent for the Austrian Committee. When in Spring 1792, under pressure from the Assembly, the king accepted a few Girondin ministers into his cabinet, according to Louvet it was only due to a smear campaign by Robespierre and his followers that he was not also appointed. On 10 April, Robespierre resigned the post of public prosecutor, which he had officially held since 15 February. He explained his resignation to the Jacobin Club, on 27 April, as part of his speech responding to the accusations against him. He threatened to leave the Jacobins, claiming he preferred to continue his mission as an ordinary citizen.
When the Legislative Assembly declared war against Austria on 20 April 1792, Robespierre stated that the French people must rise and arm themselves completely, whether to fight abroad or to keep a lookout for despotism at home. On 23 April Robespierre demanded Marquis de Lafayette to step down. Robespierre responded by working to reduce the political influence of the officer class and the king. While arguing for the welfare of common soldiers, Robespierre urged new promotions to mitigate the domination of the officer class by the aristocratic and royalist École Militaire and the conservative National Guard. Along with other Jacobins, he urged in the fifth issue of his magazine the creation of an "armée révolutionnaire" in Paris, consisting of at least 20,000 men, to defend the city, "liberty" (the revolution), maintain order in the sections and educate the members in democratic principles; an idea he borrowed from Jean-Jacques Rousseau. According to Jean Jaures, he considered this even more important than the right to strike.
On 29 May 1792, the Assembly dissolved the Constitutional Guard, suspecting it of royalist and counter-revolutionary sympathies. In early June 1792, Robespierre proposed an end to the monarchy and the subordination of the Assembly to the General will. Following the king's veto of the Assembly's efforts to suppress nonjuring priests on 27 May, on proposal of Carnot and Servan in the Assembly to raise a (permanent) militia of volunteers on 8 June, and the reinstatement of Brissotin ministers dismissed on 18 June, the monarchy faced an abortive demonstration of 20 June. Sergent-Marceau and Panis, the administrators of police, were sent out by Pétion to urge the Sans-culottes to lay down their weapons, telling them it was illegal to present a petition in arms (to demand the king to apply the constitution, accept the decrees, and recall the ministers). Their march to the Tuileries was not banned. They invited the officials to join the procession and march along with them.
On 2 September 1792 French National Convention election began. At the same time, Paris was organizing its defence, but it was confronted with a lack of arms for the thousands of volunteers. Danton delivered a speech in the assembly and possibly referring to the (Swiss) inmates: "We ask that anyone who refuses to serve in person, or to surrender their weapons, is punished with death. Not long after the September Massacres began. Charlotte Corday held Marat responsible, Madame Roland Danton. Robespierre visited the Temple prison to check on the security of the royal family. The next day on proposal of Collot d'Herbois the Assembly decided excluding royalist deputies from re-election to the Convention. Robespierre made sure Brissot (and his fellow Brissotins Pétion and Condorcet) could not be elected in Paris. According to Charlotte Robespierre, her brother stopped talking to his former friend, mayor Pétion de Villeneuve, accused of conspicuous consumption by Desmoulins, and finally rallied to Brissot. On 5 September, Robespierre was elected deputy to the National Convention but Danton and Collot d'Herbois received more votes than Robespierre. Madame Roland wrote to a friend: "We are under the knife of Robespierre and Marat, those who would agitate the people."
In November 1792 Condorcet considered the French Revolution as a religion and Robespierre had all the characteristics of a leader of a sect, or a cult. As his opponents knew well, Robespierre had a strong base of support among the women of Paris. John Moore (Scottish physician) was sitting in the galleries, and noted that the audience was ‘almost entirely ﬁlled with women’. He is a priest who has his devotees but it is evident that all of his power lies in the distaff. Robespierre tried to appeal to women because in the early days of the Revolution when he had tried to appeal to men, he had failed. The Girondines called on the local authorities to oppose the concentration and centralization of power.
The convention's unanimous declaration of a French Republic on 21 September 1792 left the fate of the former king open to debate. A commission was therefore established to examine the evidence against him while the convention's Legislation Committee considered legal aspects of any future trial. Most Montagnards favoured judgment and execution, while the Girondins were more divided concerning how to proceed, with some arguing for royal inviolability, others for clemency, and others advocating lesser punishment or banishment. On 13 November Robespierre stated in the Convention that a Constitution which Louis had violated himself, and which declared his inviolability, could not now be used in his defence. Robespierre had been taken ill and had done little other than support Saint-Just, a former colonel in the National Guard, who gave his first major speech to address and argue against the king's inviolability. On 20 November, opinion turned sharply against Louis following the discovery of a secret cache of 726 documents consisting of Louis's personal communications with bankers and ministers. At his trial, he claimed not to recognize documents clearly signed by himself.
On 2 April the trial began on charges of conspiracy with the Duke of Orléans and Dumouriez. Corruption and a financial scandal involving the French East India Company provided a "convenient pretext" for Danton's downfall. The Dantonists were not serving the people. They had become false patriots, who had preferred personal and foreign interests to the welfare of the nation. "Danton had been a traitor from the beginning of the Revolution and the emergency law voted to stifle his resounding voice make this one of the blackest moments in the whole history of the Revolution." The defendants, of whom nine were députés of the convention, were removed from the room before the verdict was delivered. Fouquier-Tinville asked the tribunal to order the defendants who "confused the hearing" and insulted "National Justice" to the guillotine. Desmoulins struggled to accept his fate and accused Robespierre, the Committee of General Security and the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was dragged up the scaffold by force. On the last day of their trial Lucile Desmoulins was imprisoned. She was accused of organizing a revolt against the patriots and the tribunal to free her husband and Danton. She admitted to having warned the prisoners of a course of events as in September 1792, and that it was her duty to revolt against it. Remarkably Robespierre was not only their eldest friend but also witnessed at their marriage in December 1790, together with Pétion and Brissot.
On 4 December the Convention decreed all the royalist writings illegal. 26 December was the day of the last hearing of the King. On 14 January 1793, the king was unanimously voted guilty of conspiracy and attacks upon public safety. On 15 January the call for a referendum was defeated by 424 votes to 287, which Robespierre led. On 16 January, voting began to determine the king's sentence and the session continued for 24 hours. During this time, Robespierre worked fervently to ensure the king's execution. Of the 721 deputies who voted, at least 361 had to vote for death. The Jacobins successfully defeated the Girondins' final appeal for clemency. On 20 January 1793 Robespierre defended the September massacres as necessary. The next day Louis XVI was guillotined at the Place de la Révolution.
After the execution of the king, the influence of Robespierre, Danton and the pragmatic politicians increased at the expense of the Girondins who were largely seen as responsible for the inadequate response to the Flanders Campaign they had themselves initiated. At the end of February, more than a thousand shops were plundered in Paris. Protesters claimed that the Girondins were responsible for the high prices. On 24 February the Convention decreed the first, but unsuccessful Levée en Masse as the attempt to draft new troops set off an uprising in rural France. The Montagnards lost influence in Marseille, Toulon and Lyon. On 10 March 1793, a provisional Revolutionary Tribunal was established; the Convention appointed Fouquier-Tinville as the public prosecutor and Fleuriot-Lescot as his assistant.
On 3 April Robespierre declared before the Convention that the whole war was a prepared game between Dumouriez and Brissot to overthrow the Republic. On 5 April the Convention substantially expanded the power of the Tribunal révolutionnaire; the Montagne raised the stakes by sending out a circular from the Jacobin Club in Paris to all the sister Jacobin clubs across France, appealing for petitions demanding the recall – that is, the expulsion from the convention – of any deputés who had tried to save the life of ‘the tyrant’. On 6 April the Committee of Public Safety was installed with deputies from the Plaine and the Dantonists but no Girondins or Robespierrists. Robespierre who was not elected was pessimistic about the prospects of parliamentary action and told the Jacobins that it was necessary to raise an army of Sans-culottes to defend Paris and arrest infidel deputies, naming and accusing the Duke of Orleans, Brissot, Vergniaud, Guadet and Gensonné. There are only two parties according to Robespierre: the people and its enemies. Robespierre's speeches during April 1793 reflect the growing radicalization. "I ask the sections to raise an army large enough to form the kernel of a Revolutionary Army that will draw all the sans-culottes from the departments to exterminate the rebels ..." "Force the government to arm the people, who in vain demanded arms for two years." Suspecting further treason, Robespierre on 13 April invited the convention to vote the death penalty against anyone who would propose negotiating with the enemy. On 15 April the convention was stormed by the people of from the sections, demanding the removal of the Girondins. Till 17 April the Convention discussed the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1793, a French political document that preceded that country's first republican constitution. On 18 April the Commune announced an insurrection against the convention after the arrest of Marat. On 19 April Robespierre opposed article 7 on equality before the law; on 22 April the Convention discussed article 29 on the right of resistance. On 24 April 1793 Robespierre presented his version with four articles on the right of property. Robespierre was in effect questioning the individual right of ownership. He advocated a progressive tax and fraternity between the people of all the nations. On 27 April the Convention decreed (on proposal of Danton) to sent 20,000 additional forces to the departments in revolt. Pétion called for the help of supporters of law and order.
On 27 July 1793, Robespierre was added to the Committee of Public Safety and replaced Gasparin the only member of a sleeping subcommittee of war. It was the second time he held any executive office to coordinate the war effort. It may seem Robespierre behaved as a kind of Minister without Portfolio, apparently as the unofficial prime-minister but the committee was non-hierarchical.
In the following years, the slaves of St. Domingue effectively liberated themselves and formed an army to oppose re-enslavement. Robespierre denounced the slave trade in a speech before the Convention in April 1793 about Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1793 On June 4, 1793, a delegation of sans-culottes and men of color, led by Chaumette, presented to the convention a petition requesting the general freedom of the Blacks in the colonies. On 6 July Marat was elected to the board of the colonial Convention. The radical 1793 constitution supported by Robespierre and the Montagnards, which was ratified by a national referendum, granted universal suffrage to French men and explicitly condemned slavery. However, the French Constitution of 1793 was never implemented. On 17 November 1793, Robespierre insulted the people who denied the existence of the French republic, calling them imbeciles, the deputies from the Gironde, calling them pygmies, and criticized the former Governor of Saint-Domingue Léger-Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, who had freed slaves on Haïti, but then proposed to arm them. Robespierre denounced the French minister to the newly formed United States, Edmond-Charles Genêt, who had sided with Sonthonax, and informed the Committee not to count on the whites to manage the colony.
By 1794, French debates concerning slavery reached their apogee. The discussions focused on the question if the colonies had to impose the same laws as in France. In late January, a small delegation of mixed color, representing the slaveholders, their opponents, as well as a former slave arrived in France. After being briefly imprisoned, the member opposing slavery was freed on the orders of the Committee of Public Safety. The National Convention then passed a decree banning slavery on 4 February and examine the behavior of Sonthonax and Polverel. On the day after the emancipation decree, Robespierre delivered a speech in the Convention arguing that terror and virtue were necessary. He praised the French as the first to "summon all men to equality and liberty, and their full rights as citizens," using the word slavery twice but without specifically mentioning the French colonies. Despite petitions from the slaveholding delegation, the Convention decided to endorse the decree in full. However, the decree was only implemented and applied in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and French Guyane.
He attended a meeting of the Jacobin club in June 1794 to support a decree ending slavery, and later signed orders to ratify it. The decree led to a surge in popularity for the Republic among Black people in St-Domingue, most of whom had already freed themselves and were seeking military alliances to guarantee their freedom.
Robespierre's desire for revolutionary change was not limited only to the political realm. He also opposed the Catholic Church and the pope, particularly their policy of clerical celibacy. Having denounced the Cult of Reason and other perceived excesses of dechristianization undertaken by political opponents in France, he sought to instil a spiritual resurgence across the nation predicated on Deist beliefs. On 6 May 1794 Robespierre announced to the Convention that in the name of the French people, the Committee of Public Safety had decided to recognize the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul. Accordingly, on 7 May, Robespierre delivered a long presentation to the Convention ‘on the relation of religious and moral ideas to republican principles, and on national festivals’. Robespierre supported a decree that the Convention passed to establish an official state religion called the Cult of the Supreme Being. The notion of the Supreme Being was based on the creed of the Savoy chaplain that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in Book IV of Emile.
According to David P. Jordan: "Any comprehensive bibliography would be virtually impossible. In 1936 Gérard Walter drew up a list of over 10,000 works on Robespierre, and much has been done since."
Robespierre's reputation has gone through several cycles of re-appraisal. His name peaked in the press in the middle of the 19th century, between 1880-1910 and in 1940. On 5 February 1791 Robespierre declared: True religion consists in punishing for the happiness of all, those who disturb society. The laborious Buchez, a democratic mystic, was producing volumes (forty in all) in which the Incorruptible rose up as the Messiah and sacrificial being of the Revolution. For Jules Michelet, he was the "priest Robespierre" and for Alphonse Aulard Maximilien was a "bigot monomaniac" and "mystic assassin". In the 1920s the influential French Marxist Albert Mathiez argued that he was an eloquent spokesman for the poor and oppressed, an enemy of royalist intrigues, a vigilant adversary of dishonest and corrupt politicians, a guardian of the French Republic, an intrepid leader of the French Revolutionary government, and a prophet of a socially responsible state. François Crouzet collected many interesting details from French historians dealing with Robespierre. According to Marcel Gauchet Robespierre confused his private opinion and virtue.
In 1941 Marc Bloch, a French historian, sighed disillusioned (a year before he decided to join the French Resistance): "Robespierrists, anti-robespierrists ... for pity's sake, just tell us who was Robespierre?" Soboul argues that Robespierre and Saint-Just "were too preoccupied in defeating the interest of the bourgeoisie to give their total support to the sans-culottes, and yet too attentive to the needs of the sans-culottes to get support from the middle class." According to R.R. Palmer: the easiest way to justify Robespierre is to represent the other Revolutionists in an unfavourable or disgraceful light. This was the method used by Robespierre himself. For Peter McPhee, Robespierre's achievements were monumental, but so was the tragedy of his final weeks of indecision. The members of the committee, together with members of the Committee of General Security, were as much responsible for the running of the Terror as Robespierre." They may have exaggerated his role to downplay their own contribution and used him as a scapegoat after his death. J-C. Martin and McPhee interpret the repression of the revolutionary government as a response to anarchy and popular violence, and not as the assertion of a precise ideology. Martin keeps Tallien responsible for Robespierre's bad reputation, and that the "Thermidorians" invented the "Terror" as there is no law that proves its introduction. Many historians neglected Robespierre's attitude towards the French National Guard from July 1789 till August 1792, and promoting civilian armament between July 1792 and 2 June 1793. Within a year, Carnot the minister of war reversed several measures and became the enemy of Saint-Just. Also Barère changed his mind; the voluntary Guards and militant Sans-culottes lost influence quickly.
Robespierre is one of the few revolutionaries not to have a street named for him in the centre of Paris. At the liberation, the municipal council (elected on 29 April 1945 with 27 communists, 12 socialists and 4 radicals out of 48 members), decided on 13 April 1946, to rename the Place du Marché-Saint-Honoré ‘Place Robespierre’, a decision approved at prefectorial level on 8 June. However, in the wake of political changes in 1947, it reverted to its original name on 6 November 1950. Streets in the so-called ‘Red belt’ bear his name, e.g. at Montreuil. There is also a Metro station ‘Robespierre’ on Line 9 (Mairie de Montreuil - Pont de Sèvres), in the commune of Montreuil, named during the era of the Popular Front. There are, however, numerous streets, roads and squares named for him elsewhere in France.
Peter McPhee stated in 2015 there is a long line of historians "who blame Robespierre for all the less attractive episodes of the Revolution." Thus Jonathan Israel is sharply critical of Robespierre for repudiating the true values of the radical Enlightenment. He argues, "Jacobin ideology and culture under Robespierre was an obsessive Rousseauiste moral Puritanism steeped in authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia, and it repudiated free expression, basic human rights, and democracy." He refers to the Girondin deputies Thomas Paine, Condorcet, Daunou, Cloots, Destutt and Abbé Gregoire denouncing Robespierre's ruthlessness, hypocrisy, dishonesty, lust for power and intellectual mediocrity. According to Hillary Mantel: He could not survive if he trusted nobody, and could not work out who to trust.
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