The Reign of terror, a period of the french revolution lasted from september of 1793 to July of 1794. The terror was a time when france was is complete distress and numerous executions took place. During this time France was also in complete economic disaray. The enlightenment that preceded the Revolution was a time period where many freedoms were valued but disappeared once the terror struck. Led by the comittee of public safety, of which Maximilien de Robespierre was the most powerful member they took full control over the government.
The outcomes of the terror were both good and bad. The reign of terror overall had more disadvantages as an instrument of the French revolution, because it was morally and ethically wrong. The terror was more disadvantageous as an instrument in the french revolution because it didnt allow france to grow and flourish and instead resulted in injustice and brutality.
Thesis supporting paragraphs
What was originally envisioned as a method of purging any foriegn invators and enemies of the revolution, resulted in countless unjustified deaths. As a result of the executions that took place due to the use of the guillotine, drowning or from being shot a total of 14,000 people were killed. A map of france dating back to 1793 displays the number of executions that took place across france. Certain parts of France: Lore, Vendee, and Lyon, had over 495 executions that took place. The high number of deaths resulted from counter revolutionary warfare.
Additionally in a table showing deaths as a result of the terror (by social group), Paris is in one category and everywhere else in france is in another. In Paris the highest numbers of deaths were the nobles and the upper middle class and in the rest of france the highest numbers were in the working class along with the peasants.
In another table titled “geographical incidence of the principal indictments leading to executions during the terror” is separated into 4 areas: Paris, Frontier Departments, troubled departments, and france as a whole. The highest catagories being hostile acts against the state and counter revolutionary opinions. In a revolution new (revolutionary) opinions should be valued and allowed for further growth, but instead as a result of the use of terror those with differing opinions were objected to death.
D Charles James Fox, reformist member of Parliament and sympathizer with the French Revolution, in a speech to Parliament, November 7, 1793 said, “What a pity that a people [the French] capable of such Incredible energy, should he guilty or rather be governed by those who are guilty of such unheard of crimes and cruelties.” The people of France were extremely angry towards this government. The army was just harming France when they thought they were helping it.
In a letter from General Ronsin, a leader of the revolutionary army that subdued Lyon December 17, 1793 In this letter it states “The guillotine and the firing squad did justice to more than four hundred rebels.” Those who sided with the revolutionary army thought that by killing those who opposed the revolution, they were making France a more just and humane place. But instead, this caused major violence and oppression.
A According to Camille Desmoulins, journalist and former ally of Robespierre, in le V ieux Cordelier, December 20, 1793, “You want to remove all your enemies by means of the guillotine? Has there ever been such great folly? Could you make a single man perish on the scaffold without making ten enemies for yourself from his family or his friends? Do you believe that these women, these old men, these weaklings, those egoists, these stragglers of the Revolution, whom you imprison, are really dangerous? Of your enemies there remain among you only the cowardly and the sick. The strong and the brave have emigrated. They have perished at Lyon or in the V endée; the remainder (consisting of some renters and shopkeepers] do not merit your wrath.”
Camille Desmoulins, journalist and former ally of Maximilien Robespierre, one of the leaders of the anti-revolutionary acts, says, 'Could you make a single man perish on the scaffold without making ten enemies for yourself from his family or his friends?' (document 6). The Revolutionary Army is taking their acts to the extreme in executing everyone in their path. They may think that they are working for the common good and for the victory of the French Revolution, but they are only killing the citizens of France.
Maximilien de Robespierre, in a speech to the National Convention, December 25, 1793 states, “Revolution is the war waged by liberty against its enemies… The revolutionary government has to summon extraordinary activity to its aid precisely because it is at war. It is subjected to less binding and less uniform regulations...because it is compelled to deploy , swiftly and incessantly, new resources to meet new and pressing dangers. Under a constitutional government little more is required than to protect the individual against abuses by the state, whereas revolutionary government is obliged to defend the state itself against the factions that assail it from every quarter. To good citizens revolutionary government owes the full protection of the state; to the enemies of the people it owes only death....It must adopt the general principles of ordinary government whenever these can be rigorously applied without endangering public liberty. Its force to repress must be commensurate with the audacity or treachery of those who conspire against it....”
In a speech to the Nation Convention, Maximillien Robespierre says, “The revolutionary government has to summon extraordinary activity to its aid precisely because it is at war” (doc 7). Robespierre believes that a revolutionary government’s goal is to defend the state “against the factions that assail it from every quarter” (doc. 7). Robespierre believes that because France is at war, anything can be done to the people. In reports to the government from the public, they completely disagree. If the Revolution is to make state better for the people, and the people are disagreeing with the Terror, then the Terror should not be seen as a good thing.
“But it has been urged, that the French have distinguished themselves in the field; nor will it be denied that, independently of any other circumstance, the spirit of a people called forth by the impulse which acts so strongly in such a situation, may have the effect to make them brave in the moment of action. But their efforts are merely the result of a system of restraint and oppression, the most terrible and gigantic, that has, perhaps, ever existed. They are compelled into the field by the terror of the guillotine – they are supported there only by those resources which their desperate situation affords; and, in these circumstances, what can be the dependence on the steadiness of their operations, or what rational prospect can there be of the permanence of their exertions?
In reports to the government on public opinion, January 28, 1794 it states, “The majority of the citizens agreed in unanimously [sic] saying that the tribunals act well, that they acquit the innocent and punish the guilty , although murmurs are heard among the public at their judgments.”
Reports to the government on public opinion, February 23, 1794 it says, “Bitter complaints already expressed numberless times, were repeated today of the arrest and imprisonment of citizens who are good patriots and are victims of ambition, cupidity , jealousy , and, in short, every human passion.”
“Citizens, how could anyone delude himself that you are inhuman?...Since the month of May last, our history is a lesson about the terrible extremities to which indulgence leads. In that period....Custine had abandoned Mainz, the Palatinate, and the banks of the Rhine; Calvados was in revolt; the V endée was victorious, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille, and Toulon were in arms against the French people; our armies were being beaten in the Pvrenees and around Mont Blanc, you were being betrayed by everyone....Y et the greatest of our misfortunes was a certain fear of the concentration of authority necessary to save the state.”
Reports to the government on public opinion, March 2, 1794 “On seeing peasants on the scaffold, people said, What, have these wretches allowed themselves to be corrupted? If they were nobles or rich people it would not be strange, their being counter-revolutionists, but in that class we should expect all to be patriots. ‘The law is just,’ people remarked, ‘it strikes rich and poor indiscriminately.’ The verdicts of the Revolutionary Tribunal are always applauded.”
A March 2, 1794 in reports to the government on public opinion it's said that “On seeing peasants on the scaffold people said, What have these wretches allowed themselves to be corrupted? If they were nobles or rich people it would not be strange, their being counter revolutionists, but in that class we should expect all to be patriots. ‘The law is just,’ people remarked, ‘it strikes rich in poor indiscriminately.’ The verdicts of the Revolutionary Tribunal are always applauded.” probably biased only interviewed rich/upperclass
In a report to the government about public opinion circa March 30, 1794 the revolutionary committees are described as “every day falling into discredit. You hear daily the consist of a number of intriguers, who plunder the nation and oppress citizens It is a fact that there is no section in Paris which is not dissatisfied with its revolutionary committee or does not seriously desire to have them abolished.” French citizens were appalled with the way the Committee of Public Safety was dealing with the reforms. The government became extremely oppressive and executed anybody speaking out about counter revolutionary ideas causing much uproar and mayhem.
In a contemporary french engraving of a revolutionary committee by an unknown artist, an opponent of the terror is depicted. Titled “Interieur d’un Comité Révolutionnaire Sous La Terreur” circa 1793-1794. A person person probably of a lower class was being interrogated using cruel and unethical punishment in the image everyone's pointing their finger at the accused person for having differing beliefs
In a journal article written by John Denton Carter called Interpretations of the Reign of Terror, Carter discusses the views on the Terror from many different french historians perspectives. He states “The Revolution was necessary and good; but the excesses of the Terror were to be condemned and its horrors disengaged from the essence of the Revolutionary movement as a whole.” This confirms that the overall opinion of the outcome of the terror is that it was unjustified.
- Carter, John Denton. 'Interpretations of the Reign of Terror.' The Historian 3, no. 1 (1940): 79-96. www.jstor.org/stable/24435897.