At the start of the French Revolution in 1789, the revolutionaries who felt the monarchy was tyrannical exclaimed the timeless words of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. It was on these tenets that the revolution began and ironically only four years later a man of great strength would take control of France and begin the Reign of Terror, this man was Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre was the mastermind of the Reign of Terror. He was the leader of the Committee of Public Safety, the executive committee of the National Convention, and the most powerful man in France (“History Wiz”). To avert the possibility of a counter-revolution, the guards would send people to the guillotines with no remorse. Evidence was rarely needed to prove that the citizen was against the revolution; suspicion was enough to classify someone as the enemy. Robespierre prospered with the help of the Jacobins, who were the most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution. The promises of the Declaration of the Rights of Man were forgotten. Terror was the order of the day. In the words of Maximilien Robespierre, "Softness to traitors will destroy us all" (“History Wiz”). He promoted violence and used his power to force the others in following him by means of fear. The old saying “the end justifies the means” could easily be applied to Robespierre’s theories. Even though his reasoning’s seem irrational, immoral, and unfair he truly believed it would solve France’s problems. In a speech to the National Convention Robespierre further explained how terror would lead to a republic of virtue. “If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless.” The Terror was designed to fight the enemies of the revolution and to prevent a counter-revolution from gaining ground. Most of the people rounded up were not aristocrats, but ordinary people. These people may have been innocent but simply stated their opinions on the matter of the revolution. Someone’s words could have been misinterpreted and a slip of the tongue would have cost them their lives. A man and his family might go to the guillotine for saying something critical of the revolutionary government. If an informer happened to overhear, that was all the tribunal needed to send them to their death. Watch Committees around the nation were encouraged to arrest "suspected persons, ... those who, either by their conduct or their relationships, by their remarks or by their writing, are shown to be partisans of tyranny and federalism and enemies of liberty" (“The Law of Suspects”). The guillotine was the new instrument of justice. Public executions were considered educational and 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 during the terror. In association with Robespierre the Jacobins instituted the Terror of 1793 to 1794. Their earliest meetings that took place in 1789 were very secretive and did not consist of many people. But as time passed Parisians started to join, swelling their ranks. Maximilien Robespierre was one of them and from the start had much control of the group. Expanding its presence in Paris, the Jacobins “became synonymous with radicalized oratory” (Chavis). The stance of the organization became one of republicanism, universal suffrage, and the separation of church and state. They would deal with questions put forth by the National Assembly and work on a constitution that would follow the Rights of Man and correspond with other societies similar to itself. Rules of order were formed, bringing to power a president, secretaries, a treasurer, and various committees to work on issues of the club. Soon, the Jacobins had a network of branches located throughout France. In 1794 under the rule of Robespierre a new purge was desired. The Jacobins had finally had enough and declared, "It is time to tell the whole truth. One man alone is paralyzing the will of the Convention. And that man is Robespierre." Others quickly rallied and Robespierre was arrested. He was sent to the guillotine the next day, being the last victim of the Reign of Terror (“History Wiz”). The Reign of Terror, although barbaric and violent, changed the lives of the people of France forever. It created Nationalism that other European countries lacked, and demolished ruling classes, having France truly for the people (Juls). Robespierre, although heartless as some would say, envisioned France as a country of liberty, freedom, and equality. His determination led France to victory in the end, despite all the massive bloodshed and loss. The reign built France into the democratic nation it is to this very day, and into one of the world’s greatest powers.
Chavis, Jason. "The Jacobin Club." West European History. Jason Chavis, 17 Jan 2009. Web. 11 Mar 2012. . Juls. "French Revolution Reign of Terror: Truly Necessary?." A Look At Our World.... Blogspot, 04 December 2007. Web. 11 Mar. 2012. . "The Law of Suspects." Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Exploring the French Revolution). N.p, n.d. Web. 11 Mar 2012. . "Reign of Terror." History Wiz. HistoryWiz, 2008. Web. 11 Mar 2012. .