Defining the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

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By 1789 the French monarchy was nearly powerless and, for all intensive purposes, the National Assembly was the current government of France. Maximilien Robespierre encouraged the people of the Third Estate to take action, resulting in such events as the storming of the Bastille in Paris and in acts of violence out in the French countryside. The vast majority of the French population supported Robespierre's efforts. His popularity grew further as he gave speeches to the public about the issues of French society, such as suffrage and equal rights for all, regardless of race or religion. Robespierre had a reputation of being the most honest leader of the revolution and became known as "incorruptible" for his fair attitude towards all (Schama 19). In 1791 the National Assembly had created a constitution that would limit the King's power in France, however the royal family had attempted to flee rather then sign it. The King was arrested and taken officially out of power. As a leader in the Jacobin Political party, Robespierre campaigned strongly to have Louis XVI punished for his actions, culminating in a speech which brought almost total support for the end of the French monarchy and stopped the growth of the political parties, such as the Girondists, which wished to replace the monarchy with a new constitution (Loomis 8). The French people no longer wanted to be ruled by a King, and they showed it in an overwhelming vote for the Jacobin Party. As Robespierre once said, "Europe cannot conceive of life without kings and nobles; and we cannot conceive of it with them. Europe is lavishing her blood to preserve her chains, whereas we are lavishing ours to destroy them"(Loomis 1). The French people were done with their King, but that statement made the other European monarchs nervous. They came together in an effort to stop the French Revolution, moving against a new government that was torn between several groups of conflicting opinions. The National Assembly formed a Committee of Public Safety in 1793, led by Robespierre, to take control of the nation and create changes that all the people of France would agree with. The Committee of Public Safety made huge changes to all aspects of French life and sent representatives to the areas of France that were rebelling against the new republic, using force and terror to bring the nation under control of the government, the Reign of Terror had begun.

The Reign of Terror was in 1793-94. It is a period of the French Revolution characterized by a wave of executions of presumed enemies of the state. Directed by the Committee of Public Safety, the Revolutionary government's Terror was essentially a war dictatorship, instituted to rule the country in a national emergency.

After the death of Louis XVI in 1793, the Reign of Terror began. The first victim was Marie Antoinette. She had been imprisoned with her children after she was separated from Louis. First they took her son Louis Charles from her. Then she led off what would be a parade of prominent and not-so-prominent citizens to their deaths. The guillotine, the new instrument of equal justice, was put to work. Public executions were considered educational. Women were encouraged to sit and knit during trials and executions. The Revolutionary Tribunal ordered the execution of 2,400 people in Paris by July 1794. Across France 30,000 people lost their lives (Greer 11).

Originally the Committee of Public Safety was created to preserve the reforms of the French Revolution. Its twelve members were Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, Lazare Carnot, Georges Couthon, M.J. Hérault de Séchelles, Maximilien Robespierre, and Louis de Saint-Just and the Hébertists, J.N. Billaud-Varenne and J.N. Collot d'Herbois (Palmer 4). Robespierre became the dominant member. Their aim was to eliminate all internal counterrevolutionary elements, to raise new armies, and to assure food supplies for the armies and cities. The people of Paris, whose support was vital,...
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