A History of the French Revolution: The Reign of Terror

Topics: Reign Of Terror

Revolutions do not happen, they are made through actions and choices of the driving forces taken to succeed one common goal. The revolts have various responses by the people. Maximilien Robespierre fueled the Reign of Terror by articulating a vision of a French Utopia. The new French Republic would be a Democracy led by the virtue of mankind. The Reign of Terror was driven by the ideas, organization, and underlying motives of Maximilien Robespierre. He was skilled with his words, which kept him in high status in the committee and the Jacobin Club.

Robespierre was motivated by a utopic society he had created, but was not able to accept the obscurity of his idea. Instead of taking blame for the failure of the new Republic, he blamed those who did not support his ideas. Robespierre’s role in The Reign of Terror is best understood from a cultural approach. His ideas, motives, and the ideal society he articulated motivated the masses.

Maximilien Robespierre used his fluid stance on ideas to manipulate the Republic to keep himself in power.

Maximilien Robespierre gradually came to power through his influential positions within the French Republic. He began his career as a lawyer in Arras, France (Robespierre 17). After holding this position, he became a deputy in the National Assembly, there he became a leader in the advocate of the Third Estate’s interests (Popkin 6th: 38). Although he was a spokesman for the common people, he had privileges of the elites: voting rights and ability to hold office.

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On July 16, 1791, after King Louis XVI fled, Antoine Barnave, former spokesman for the Third Estate and leader of the Jacobin Club stepped down after he believed France needed a government free of public opinion. After Barnave stepped down, Robespierre now led the radical Jacobins (Popkin 6th: 48). April 1793, the Committee of Public Safety is reconstituted by a new group of men including Robespierre, who held a general role within the committee (Popkin 6th: 69). Robespierre became a leader within the Committee of Public Safety and was often called upon to justify the committee’s actions during revolutionary times. (Popkin 6th: 71) The committee lead The Reign of Terror gave him a respectable voice, as he held a high position of power. Robespierre was given a high position of power that enabled him to pass laws through the Convention. He gradually was given more power within the committee and dictated the actions of the people of the Republic.

Robespierre had a slow progression of revolutionary time ideals, beginning with a humanitarian stance. When he was first named a deputy in the National Assembly, he was a supporter of the common people’s rights. He publicly defended the lower-class rights in his speech denouncing the new conditions of eligibility after the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen had been approved by the National Assembly. He had said “It follows from all your decrees that every citizen has the right to participate in making the law and consequently that of being an elector or eligible for office without a distinction of wealth” (Robespierre 72). It was made clear Robespierre was supportive of the common man to have eligibility to run for office and be a voter in the Republic. The Law on Suspects was passed on September 17, 1793, the law set up surveillance committees throughout other country. The groups were ordered to document all persons “who, by their conduct, associations, talk, or writings have shown themselves… enemies of liberty.” The people could be convicted and jailed forever if a majority of voters came to an agreement amongst at least seven members. The Revolutionary Tribunal convicted political leaders and symbols of the Liberal Revolution of 1789 (Anderson 186). The Law on Suspects was put into place to try to minimize the random killings taking place during the Reign of Terror. Robespierre began with seemingly good intentions to protect the rights of the people of the Third Estate, but his motives were selfish to bring himself to power. He was an intelligent politician who knew he could manipulate, build on unrealistic ideals, and invoke the minorities to arose and motivate the population to believe in the vision he had created (Selbin 79).

Robespierre over the course of The Reign of Terror became a dictator with the aid of the decree passed October 10, 1793 which allowed total power to the revolutionary government and eliminated almost all individual rights (Popkin 6th: 69). When he was called upon to defend the actions of the revolutionary government, he gave a speech on December 25, 1793 arguing why temporary dictatorship is the only way to achieve a Republic of Virtue. ‘Revolution is the war waged by liberty against its enemies; a constitution is that which crowns the edifice of freedom once victory has been won and nation at its peace.” Robespierre describes a temporary dictatorship in this speech. Although, in an unpublished document written by Robespierre’s colleague, depicted a Republic where children at the age of seven were taken from home at the age of seven and put into state schools, so their only knowledge and loyalties would be the nation (Popkin 6th: 71). Through the program, the Republic could achieve a selfless population. February 5, 1794 Robespierre wrote “Report on the Principals of Political Monarchy”, the speech depicts the purpose for the Terror and the kind of republic the Committee is attempting to create. In the speech, he says “…we want to carry out nature’s wishes, realize humanity’s destiny, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny.” (Robespierre 254) Robespierre contradicts himself, as he is continuing the “long reign of crime and tyranny” by arresting 400,000 innocent people and executing 10,000 without trial (Lecture 2/5). Robespierre proves to have been a dictator willing to kill and arrest many individuals to achieve his own French Utopia.

Maximilien Robespierre was executed on 9 Thermidor and had symbolically ended the Reign of Terror. He had fallen victim to the new political institutions he had installed. He cost many lives for a Republic that would never exist. He had been given the nickname “The Incorruptible”, for his reputation for being uninfluenced by personal gain and devotion to the public good. Although, he had met the same fate as other Revolutionary leaders due to his inability to accept other opinions.

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A History of the French Revolution: The Reign of Terror. (2022, Apr 23). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-history-of-the-french-revolution-the-reign-of-terror/

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