The French revolution which began in 1789 and lasted until the fall of Robespierre in July 1794 is known by many for its violence while seeking social and political change, primarily during The Terror. The Terror, otherwise known as the ‘Reign of Terror’ was implemented on the 5th September 1793 and lasted until the fall of Maximilien Robespierre on the 28th July 1794. The purpose of the Terror was to for the revolutionary governments to consolidate power by violently repressing internal discontent, by defeating the foreign powers and by building an army to serve the above purposes.
The revolution saw that the monarch be overthrown and feudalism abolished in the interests of the majority. Surrounding countries mainly Prussia, Austria and later Britain who were ruled by absolute monarchies viewed the uprising as a threat to their power and intervened with the use of military force. It was not only foreign powers to oppose the revolution, but also the clergy, nobility and others who had benefited from feudalism.
The Terror began on the 5th September after the initial onset of the French Revolution. Shortly after The Terror began, The Law of Suspects was introduced on the 17th September 1793. Its main purpose was to authorise the creation of revolutionary tribunals to try those suspected of Treason against the Republic and sentence those convicted with death. The implementation of this law served the purpose of oppressing internal discontent in France. In May 1793, the First Maximum had been introduced to deter price gouging of grain and it also made hoarding a criminal offence. Under the Terror, the Revolutionary Tribunal was created which had the power to execute those suspected or convicted of hoarding grain, assisting foreign powers or any other supporting other political opponents. The Law of Suspects which allowed for the construction of revolutionary tribunals was a measure taken to ensure those who opposed Revolutionary Governments were punished by death. The Law Of Prairial which began on the 20th June 1794 was designed to make convictions easier by banning suspects to have a defense at the tribunal. The leader of The Terror was seen to be Maximilien Robespierre who focused the energies of Revolutionary Governments on the uprisings in France. Robespierre justified The Terror to the people of France by telling people that it was merely “nothing other than justice; prompt, severe, inflexible. The above laws made it easier for The Terror to execute those who disagreed with the revolution and furthermore helped the revolutionary government consolidate power.
One of the key purposes of The Terror was to eliminate the internal discontent of the French people with the use of force and thus consolidate power. A repressive government was adopted for those who resisted the revolution and furthermore supported a counter revolution. The government was fearful of a counter revolution for two reasons: One because the Revolutionary Governments had worked so hard to get to the point at which they were at and two because they feared the return of the monarch which was seen as an intolerable regime by the majority. The majority consisted of the urban middle class, working middle class, and the poor. The guillotine became the icon of the revolution with it being the most common way for executions to take place during the revolution. People crowded for public executions of those found guilty of crimes against liberty because in such an era it was considered entertainment to see guilty persons punished for their crimes. Because the majority of the people were in favour of the revolution, people were satisfied when the guilty received justice. Hence the barbaric measures taken in the French Revolution were not considered barbaric until after the revolution had ended. It is estimated that some 10 456 people were executed by the guillotine for speaking up against the Revolutionary Governments The repressive government during the Terror used execution to quell internal opposition and hence consolidate its power.
The second purpose of the terror was to eliminate foreign enemies who opposed the revolution and thus sought the return of a monarch in France. The kings of Prussia and Austria took a stand against the revolutionary governments in France who declared war on them in 1972, prior to the commencement of The Terror. By the time The Terror was in progression, the foreign armies had long invaded France. The revolutionary governments were not only fearful of the foreign armies, but also of the contagiousness of their ideologies. Some people, mainly the nobility joined forces with the foreign armies to fight for their united ideologies. Thus the external forces escalated the internal opposition that the revolutionary governments were fearful of. The Austrians issued a notice to the people of Luxembourg declaring the French Army was ‘duping you by the illusion of liberty and equality’. This in a way indicated that the external threats were worsening the internal discontent. If caught, those who joined the opposing military were punished by the revolutionary tribunals with the use of the guillotine. It is important to say that it were not only those who aligned themselves with the foreign armies who were punished by The Terror, but also those who merely supported the foreign powers. The revolutionary executed not only those who committed acts against liberty but those who thought the revolution was wrong. Revolutionary governments have been labelled by some as paranoid of any opposition, regardless of how minor it may be. Historians including Alphonse Aulard believes that Robespierre made systematic use of a sort of political paranoia’ constantly hinting that the revolutionary project was being frustrated by treacherous but invisible enemies who must, therefore, be identified and eliminated In summary, the purpose of The Terror was to consolidate power by use of force against external powers who opposed the revolution.
The third cause of the revolution was to construct a French Army in order to purge France of its enemies and hence consolidate power. The external invasion called for a mass mobilisation of the entirety of France. In order to do so, the revolutionary governments manipulated the people to fight against the external opposition for “the unity of the republic”. Despite the mass killings by the Revolutionary Tribunal, the resistance to the revolution remained the choice of the minority. 46.It was popular enthusiasm to save France from the foreigner which prompted so many to join the army. During The Terror, a dechristianisation process was initiated which was also implemented by the army. The French military was a necessity during The Terror as its purpose was to ensure the revolutionary governments consolidated power by defeating both internal and external opposition.
The purpose of The Terror was to consolidate power via purging France of its enemies and by the construction of a French army to achieve this. The use of force saw thousands die at the guillotine in the interests of liberty. The Terror was successful in preventing counter revolution and thus consolidating power.