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The Reign of Terror: Was it Justified

By Oliver-Silverstein Dec 04, 2013 568 Words

In 1792, French adversaries were pushing in on all borders and spies were rampant on the streets. To defend from internal enemies, prominent French leader Robespierre enacted the Reign of Terror. Anyone suspected of aiding the enemy was swiftly put on trial and executed. (doc. G) The Reign of Terror was not justified because the threats to France externally and internally did not warrant the methods used.

Those suspected of being spies or opposers of war during the French revolution were quickly tried and unjustly executed. Steven Otfinoski remarks in Triumph and Terror: The French Revolution “A careless word of criticism spoken against the government could put one in prison or worse.”(Doc E). Such executions were both morally unjust and a waste of human manpower during a time of war. Instead of causing people to follow the law, the reign of terror instigated several rebellions in France. (doc A). A letter from the National Convention in France remarks “We had reason to hope that these gatherings would cease as soon as the public troops arrived. Our hopes were misguided and this causes us the greatest of worries.” (doc. D). Had authorities established a sense of nationalist pride in French citizens, war would have been fought vigorously, there would be fewer rebellions, and thus, less loss of human life.

In order to defeat two military powers on the front, France enacted a draft and started two wars which fueled more rebellion as people felt they were fighting for a country they didn’t love. Document A details revolutions occurred after mandatory military drafts were instated. The French people had overthrown their king and gone to war for freedom, not to be ruled by a monarchy once more. Document B, a map of the war during 1972 shows France lost several decisive victories and lost cities and lives. The two wars coupled with the military draft caused citizens and soldiers alike to dislike the new republic as their comrades died to the guns and guillotines around them.

The sharp blade of the guillotine was applied liberally to the necks of anyone suspected of working against France’s interest. Document F shows the decapitation of Louis the XVI after extremely inconclusive evidence and faux claims painted him as an enemy spy and counter-revolutionary. Unfortunately, with the invention of the guillotine, Louis was just one of tens of thousands killed in such a manner. Many such public execution were merely to invoke fear in the people’s hearts. (doc D). Steven Otfinoski wrote in Triumph and Terror “The revolutionary Tribunal was established to try all crimes against the state. Tribunal members would not be elected by the people but rather by the national convention.” (Doc E). Not only trials brief and often merely formality, the small group of government leaders could convict anyone opposing them. Killing for power and fear didn’t place pride in the oppressed French peoples’ hearts, it only placed panic and despair, two detrimental qualities of a country on its knees.

Although the reign of terror achieved the ends desired, it was not morally justified due to the great losses of human life, the oppression of the French people, and the pointless violence that blossomed across europe as a result. It took three failed republics before France finally achieved a sustainable and loved government. In this case, Machiavelli would the ends justify the means in the most inefficient manner.

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