TheFrench RevolutionNameCourseDate IntroductionAtthe onset of the French Revolution was a ray of hope as intellectuals were keento have their ideas of enlightenment put into action.
The revolution symbol wasthe “Declaration of the Rights of Man”, which decreed rights of man includingthe right to vote, and freedom of speech. Nevertheless, with Jacobins Clubgaining control, French revolution took a U-turn, a dark turn, whereby bloodand guillotine took over as the new symbol of the French radical revolutionheaded by Robespierre in what famously came to be referred to as the Reign ofTerror. The Terror could have been avoided; it was not an inevitable outcome ofthe French Revolution, and it was unjustifiable. Terrorizing and victimizinginnocent people to pass a message that anyone can be a target, and, therefore,everyone must abide to the decreed dictatorial powers can never be justified. Thisresearch will explore how the Reign of Terror was an evitable outcome of theFrench revolution. The self-inflicted fear that came in the wave of the Terror couldhave been avoided if the leaders and revolutionaries had the will of people atheart. This research is an exploration of how the Terror came into play, how itescalated further with the mass executions and victimizations, and proves thatit was indeed evitable.The Reign of TerrorTheReign of Terror was a period between June 1793 and July 1794 (Thermidor), whenthe government was dominated by Jacobins.
This period ended in July 1794 whenMaxmilien Robespierre was overthrown. Several reasons are attributed to thebeginning of the Terror. Some argue out that Terror started in January 1793when Louis XVI was executed; others say it began in March 1793 following theRevolutionary Tribunal creation, while others say it began in July 1793 withthe Committee of Public Safety consolidation. Nonetheless, in the fall of 1793, Terror became the order of the day inrevolutionary France as a result of a Paris uprising in 4th to 5thSeptember (Neely 2008, p. 33).
Thisuprising was caused by the escalating food prices as well as news about Touloncity that was on Mediterranean France coast falling to the British. Afterthe monarchy downfall, French revolutionaries encountered huge divisions amongpeople and popular insurrections. When the revolution began, there werenumerous people supporting the monarchy, something that gave rise to treasonaccusations against that new republic. There was a need to have a newgovernment that was stable and that would put the chaos to an end.Consequently, the “Committee of Public Safety” led by Maxmilien Robespierrecame into existence.
Robespierre stated that he was after creating a “republicof virtue” whereby the government would actually force everyone to become avirtuous republican through use of a massive re-education program.Consequently, the Reign of Terror began with the aim of eliminating theopposition and coercing people to submission. According to Robespierre, theTerror was undoubtedly essential and inevitable to sustain the Republic throughrevealing the enemy that was within France. Nevertheless, the Terror evidentlyproved to distort ideals of the revolution mainly because instead of assistingthe nation to obtain greatness and unity, it subjected its own citizens tovictimization (Gregory 2014, p. 119).
Robespierreelaborated the main aim of the French Revolution which was to ensure thatpeople peacefully enjoy equality and liberty. Revolutionaries sort to find afair government which would permit people from all social classes to indeedcelebrate and enjoy the same rights and without drawing huge differences witharistocrats. The gap between First Estate and Third Estate was really wide andall the revolutionaries were trying to do was narrow it. Evidently, the Reignof Terror did not at all promote equality or liberty; it instead victimized andterrorized people by subjecting them to execution by cannon and guillotine, andsubjected other people to desperate measures. Robespierre wanted to give peoplewhat he thought was best for them, and he in the end had the belief that thatcould be attained by ruling over the people. He actually wanted to controlpeople’s lives and thought that such kind of ruling with his iron fist wouldgrow the country and move it forward.
In his speech he incorporated talk aboutnatural virtue with emphasis that what makes a nation corrupt is when itspeople lose their virtue, character, and liberty. This was so ironical in thatit was him who lost his virtues, and the Revolution primary ideas, and thus crossingover to opposition. Robespierre initially believed in people’s equality,believes that were soon turned the other way round. The bottom line remainsthat The Reign of Terror could be avoided as it was far much worse compared tothe previous monarchy, as it terrorized and victimized people and took controlof all aspects of people’s lives (Joll 1990, p. 21) Thereason for the end of monarchy in France was because people wanted powerlimitation for the king, the then government. People were opposed to one personruling their lives, enforcing and promoting laws beneficial to him and aselected few. Top in the new government’s constitution was the declaration ofcitizen’s rights. The constitution was a vital Revolution document which statedthat the collective and individual rights of each social estate were universal.
Laws were only meant to forbid actions that could hurt the society meaning thatlaws were to be created only for the people’s good and not for selfish reasons (Neely2008, p. 79). However, the Terror enforced and promoted lawsagainst equality and liberty ideals. Such rights like freedom of speech,freedom of religion were buried deep down when ending with opposition. TheReign of Terror gave birth to laws that were opposed to Christianity, closingchurches, and surprisingly making men of the clergy to instead of vow to the churchvow to be loyal to the constitution. Those were primitive laws that should havenever been meant to see the light of day as they failed to put a stop to suchactions that were hurtful to the society.
All this barbarism was self-inflictedand could have been avoided. The Reign of Terror distorted the desire of peopleto put power limitations to the government as it gave rise to laws permittingonly a small society section to have control on the lives of people, and makethe people in the higher ranks in the society richer as they benefitted whenothers were suffering (Herrmann et al, 2010, p. 95). Therevolutionaries created violence during the Terror that was unnecessary as itfurther escalated violence causing more suffering to people. Violence and powerare two totally different things and should never be mistaken for each otherbecause the reason for violence is when power is endangered.
Violence couldactually see the downfall of a certain government or regime. This was preciselywhat happened to Robespierre as he in the end had no power at all to govern andcontrol the lives of people. He had the notion that without virtue terror wasfatal, and without terror virtue was impotent.
The end result was that terrorcaused more violence and more division in society(Tackett 2017, p. 130). Robespierre claimed that terror wasinflexible justice when his Terror was imposed as a result of frustrationsagainst the rich, upper class division, and his want to rule people’s lives.Evidently, justice was actually not the best Terror definition as fairness wasabsence in the revolutionaries’ minds who executed commoners. The Terror pavedway to the thriving of violence, fear, and violence in France causing moredivisions in the social classes.Government by terrorGovernmentby terror was obligated by the perception of two dangers. First, popularviolence and public panic that were caused by escalating food prices and foodshortages; and the danger that traitors posed at a period when both civil warand war confronted the nation. At the onset of May 1793, price control wasimposed by the National Convention on bread and grain, in a move to ascertainadequate supply of food.
Price controls were extended to the other consumergoods in September 1793 (Herrmann et al, 2010,p. 36). The armees revolutionnaires were then formed with theaim of enforcing the new price controls and coercing peasants to provide grainsto markets. Additionally some of the revolutionary armies conducted patrols inthe provinces using ambulatory guillotines, ready to administer what was termedas revolutionary justice to anyone who manipulated market prices or hoardedgrain, right there on the spot. Large cities were hit by grain shortages andfelt vulnerable to the popular unrest which accompanied them. Parisians hadwitnessed the dangerous under-supply in their city in 1793’s summer. Second, terrormeant the civil liberties suspension and repression of the perceived revolutionenemies.
The most severe impacts of Terror were felt in civil war areas andcounterrevolution as well as several frontier departments. Of the eighty threedepartments, Terror claimed less than 10 victims in about one-third of thetotal departments. Of the total death sentences, seventy percent were in justfive departments. The terror was even harsher in some areas. Close to theVendee rebellion center, in Nantes, a city that sympathized with the federalistrevolt, local militants and Jean-Baptiste Carrier ordered that three thousandsuspected counterrevolutionaries be drowned. In Lyon, a federalist center and acity known for royalist sympathies saw close to two thousand people executed,some were shot dead by use of cannon while others were guillotined. In thesummer of 1793, other cities that resisted National Convention like Marseille,Bordeaux, and Toulon cities also suffered more than three hundred executionsduring the Reign of Terror.
Law of Suspects with the Main TerrorVictimsTheimpacts of the Terror traversed across all social classes. Aristocrats werethought to be the main victims but the fact is that the peasants formed thegreatest number of victims. In September 1793, a Law of Suspects was passedthat empowered surveillance local committees to come up with suspects lists andarrest them (Gregory 2014, p. 95).Subjected to arrest were: liberty enemy suspects, tyranny advocates, andfederalism supporters; ex-aristocrats who resisted the revolution; and illegalemigrants who emigrated since the start of the revolution as they were thoughtto be counterrevolution agents and spies or the invading army soldiers. Thislaw saw seventy thousand persons, about 0.5 percent of total populationarrested. Greer, an American historian estimated that during the terror, aboutforty thousand persons were executed.
With an inclusion of the deaths in Vendeerepression the death toll figure mounts significantly higher. Jean ClementMartin stated that about 200,000 republicans and 250,000 insurgents died in thewar in which both sides suffered immensely. The total figure of death sentenceswas 16,594. However, many other people died without getting formal deathsentences enforced in a law court. A big number of people died in prisons thatwere unsanitary and overcrowded while awaiting trial. For most of the peoplewho perished in federalist revolts and civil wars, their deaths were notofficially recorded. Parishad the most striking Reign of Terror images as several revolution “showtrials” considered most dramatic took place.
In March 1793, there was theformation of Revolutionary Tribunal ironically proposed by Jean-Baptiste Carrier,who was later in 1974 given a death sentence by the same tribunal he assistedin bringing up. Antoine-Quentin Fouquier – Tinville in 1974 became theRevolutionary Tribunal’s public prosecutor, a position he maintained up to 9Thermidor. The tribunal was expanded to create room for the concurrent runningof four courts in September 1793, a period that saw terror become the order ofthe day. In October 1793 during Girondins trial, there was a decree by NationalConvention that juries should limit trials to three days that is if they wereconvinced that the accused was guilty. In June 1794, the “Law of 22 Prairial”was passed as a result of Robespierre supposed assassination attempt. That laweliminated cross-examination and defense counsel, limited juries to only twopossible verdicts: death or acquittal, and declared that material and moralevidence might be a justification to a conviction. That law led to thetribunal’s most active period of its existence (Tackett2017, p. 69).
Show TrialsVictimsfrom both sides of revolutionary political spectrum died as a result of theshow trials of the period between September 1793 and September 1794. In October1793, led by Pierre-Victurnien Vergniaud, the great orator, the Girondindeputies were tried and later executed. Later on that month, Marie-Antoinettewas convicted of high treason and then executed by guillotine. Jacques-ReneHebert and several of his supporters were tried and executed in March 1794. Sufferingthe same fate a week later were Georges Danton and the Indulgents, blamed forbeing lenient to revolution enemies. In the spring of 1794, political threatsto Jacobin republic had abated, but the Reign of Terror now had its ownmomentum. About 60 percent of total persons issued with death sentences wereexecuted between June and July 1794.
That was a great revolutionary justiceescalation that led to Robespierre downfall on 9 Thermidor on the 22ndof July 1794. He was executed the following day. Among the last victims of theRevolutionary Tribunal was the public prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville himself whowas guillotined (Hanson 2004, p. 60). Why the Terror endedPeoplewere tired of the Terror. The atmosphere was not conducive at all. That was atraumatic period characterized by fear.
It was enough; it was no longerpossible to carry on living in such a semi-intoxicated state mixed with fear. Robespierrewas executed, the tribunal committee was dismantled, and the Jacobin club shutdown marking the end of the Terror as a government instrument. To the people’sdismay, “White Terror” evolved and included murder gangs that attacked formerJacobins, a war that started in 1794 and further escalated in 1795. ConclusionInconclusion, the Reign of Terror is viewed by some as the predecessor of thetwentieth century far much bloodier revolutionary terrors. The Reign of Terrortarnished the 1789 aims and ideals of the French Revolution. The French Revolution came into existence aspeople aspired to have freedom and that was a great inspiration to so manyother countries. It perpetually altered France political atmosphere by gettingrid of an old government form.
Nevertheless, the French Revolution was alsoepitomized by a very darker side known as the Reign of Terror. During thisperiod, the revolutionaries ignored or forgot the ideals of equality andliberty, terrorized and victimized people as they desired. At first violencemight actually seem to do good, but the good could only be temporary and couldalso create temporary evil.
There were worse divisions created and lasted forway too many years all thanks to the horrible acts and violence that therevolutionaries committed during the Reign of Terror. There was actually nopoint in launching opposition to abuses and oppression committed by the highersocial class if the answer proposed was more abuses and oppression by the newbosses set to lead the revolution.