The March 1793 following the Revolutionary Tribunal creation, while

 

The
French Revolution

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Introduction

At
the onset of the French Revolution was a ray of hope as intellectuals were keen
to have their ideas of enlightenment put into action. The revolution symbol was
the “Declaration of the Rights of Man”, which decreed rights of man including
the right to vote, and freedom of speech. Nevertheless, with Jacobins Club
gaining control, French revolution took a U-turn, a dark turn, whereby blood
and guillotine took over as the new symbol of the French radical revolution
headed by Robespierre in what famously came to be referred to as the Reign of
Terror. The Terror could have been avoided; it was not an inevitable outcome of
the French Revolution, and it was unjustifiable. Terrorizing and victimizing
innocent people to pass a message that anyone can be a target, and, therefore,
everyone must abide to the decreed dictatorial powers can never be justified. This
research will explore how the Reign of Terror was an evitable outcome of the
French revolution. The self-inflicted fear that came in the wave of the Terror could
have been avoided if the leaders and revolutionaries had the will of people at
heart. This research is an exploration of how the Terror came into play, how it
escalated further with the mass executions and victimizations, and proves that
it was indeed evitable.

The Reign of Terror

The
Reign of Terror was a period between June 1793 and July 1794 (Thermidor), when
the government was dominated by Jacobins. This period ended in July 1794 when
Maxmilien Robespierre was overthrown. Several reasons are attributed to the
beginning of the Terror. Some argue out that Terror started in January 1793
when Louis XVI was executed; others say it began in March 1793 following the
Revolutionary Tribunal creation, while others say it began in July 1793 with
the Committee of Public Safety consolidation. 
Nonetheless, in the fall of 1793, Terror became the order of the day in
revolutionary France as a result of a Paris uprising in 4th to 5th
September (Neely 2008, p. 33). This
uprising was caused by the escalating food prices as well as news about Toulon
city that was on Mediterranean France coast falling to the British.

After
the monarchy downfall, French revolutionaries encountered huge divisions among
people and popular insurrections. When the revolution began, there were
numerous people supporting the monarchy, something that gave rise to treason
accusations against that new republic. There was a need to have a new
government that was stable and that would put the chaos to an end.
Consequently, the “Committee of Public Safety” led by Maxmilien Robespierre
came into existence. Robespierre stated that he was after creating a “republic
of virtue” whereby the government would actually force everyone to become a
virtuous republican through use of a massive re-education program.
Consequently, the Reign of Terror began with the aim of eliminating the
opposition and coercing people to submission. According to Robespierre, the
Terror was undoubtedly essential and inevitable to sustain the Republic through
revealing the enemy that was within France. Nevertheless, the Terror evidently
proved to distort ideals of the revolution mainly because instead of assisting
the nation to obtain greatness and unity, it subjected its own citizens to
victimization (Gregory 2014, p. 119).

Robespierre
elaborated the main aim of the French Revolution which was to ensure that
people peacefully enjoy equality and liberty. Revolutionaries sort to find a
fair government which would permit people from all social classes to indeed
celebrate and enjoy the same rights and without drawing huge differences with
aristocrats. The gap between First Estate and Third Estate was really wide and
all the revolutionaries were trying to do was narrow it. Evidently, the Reign
of Terror did not at all promote equality or liberty; it instead victimized and
terrorized people by subjecting them to execution by cannon and guillotine, and
subjected other people to desperate measures. Robespierre wanted to give people
what he thought was best for them, and he in the end had the belief that that
could be attained by ruling over the people. He actually wanted to control
people’s lives and thought that such kind of ruling with his iron fist would
grow the country and move it forward. In his speech he incorporated talk about
natural virtue with emphasis that what makes a nation corrupt is when its
people lose their virtue, character, and liberty. This was so ironical in that
it was him who lost his virtues, and the Revolution primary ideas, and thus crossing
over to opposition. Robespierre initially believed in people’s equality,
believes that were soon turned the other way round. The bottom line remains
that The Reign of Terror could be avoided as it was far much worse compared to
the previous monarchy, as it terrorized and victimized people and took control
of all aspects of people’s lives (Joll 1990, p. 21)   

The
reason for the end of monarchy in France was because people wanted power
limitation for the king, the then government. People were opposed to one person
ruling their lives, enforcing and promoting laws beneficial to him and a
selected few. Top in the new government’s constitution was the declaration of
citizen’s rights. The constitution was a vital Revolution document which stated
that the collective and individual rights of each social estate were universal.
Laws were only meant to forbid actions that could hurt the society meaning that
laws were to be created only for the people’s good and not for selfish reasons (Neely
2008, p. 79). However, the Terror enforced and promoted laws
against equality and liberty ideals. Such rights like freedom of speech,
freedom of religion were buried deep down when ending with opposition. The
Reign of Terror gave birth to laws that were opposed to Christianity, closing
churches, and surprisingly making men of the clergy to instead of vow to the church
vow to be loyal to the constitution. Those were primitive laws that should have
never been meant to see the light of day as they failed to put a stop to such
actions that were hurtful to the society. All this barbarism was self-inflicted
and could have been avoided. The Reign of Terror distorted the desire of people
to put power limitations to the government as it gave rise to laws permitting
only a small society section to have control on the lives of people, and make
the people in the higher ranks in the society richer as they benefitted when
others were suffering (Herrmann et al, 2010, p. 95).  

The
revolutionaries created violence during the Terror that was unnecessary as it
further escalated violence causing more suffering to people. Violence and power
are two totally different things and should never be mistaken for each other
because the reason for violence is when power is endangered. Violence could
actually see the downfall of a certain government or regime. This was precisely
what happened to Robespierre as he in the end had no power at all to govern and
control the lives of people. He had the notion that without virtue terror was
fatal, and without terror virtue was impotent. The end result was that terror
caused more violence and more division in society
(Tackett 2017, p. 130). Robespierre claimed that terror was
inflexible justice when his Terror was imposed as a result of frustrations
against the rich, upper class division, and his want to rule people’s lives.
Evidently, justice was actually not the best Terror definition as fairness was
absence in the revolutionaries’ minds who executed commoners. The Terror paved
way to the thriving of violence, fear, and violence in France causing more
divisions in the social classes.

Government by terror

Government
by terror was obligated by the perception of two dangers. First, popular
violence and public panic that were caused by escalating food prices and food
shortages; and the danger that traitors posed at a period when both civil war
and war confronted the nation. At the onset of May 1793, price control was
imposed by the National Convention on bread and grain, in a move to ascertain
adequate supply of food. Price controls were extended to the other consumer
goods in September 1793 (Herrmann et al, 2010,
p. 36). The armees revolutionnaires were then formed with the
aim of enforcing the new price controls and coercing peasants to provide grains
to markets. Additionally some of the revolutionary armies conducted patrols in
the provinces using ambulatory guillotines, ready to administer what was termed
as revolutionary justice to anyone who manipulated market prices or hoarded
grain, right there on the spot. Large cities were hit by grain shortages and
felt vulnerable to the popular unrest which accompanied them. Parisians had
witnessed the dangerous under-supply in their city in 1793’s summer. Second, terror
meant the civil liberties suspension and repression of the perceived revolution
enemies. The most severe impacts of Terror were felt in civil war areas and
counterrevolution as well as several frontier departments. Of the eighty three
departments, Terror claimed less than 10 victims in about one-third of the
total departments. Of the total death sentences, seventy percent were in just
five departments. The terror was even harsher in some areas. Close to the
Vendee rebellion center, in Nantes, a city that sympathized with the federalist
revolt, local militants and Jean-Baptiste Carrier ordered that three thousand
suspected counterrevolutionaries be drowned. In Lyon, a federalist center and a
city known for royalist sympathies saw close to two thousand people executed,
some were shot dead by use of cannon while others were guillotined. In the
summer of 1793, other cities that resisted National Convention like Marseille,
Bordeaux, and Toulon cities also suffered more than three hundred executions
during the Reign of Terror.    

Law of Suspects with the Main Terror
Victims

The
impacts of the Terror traversed across all social classes. Aristocrats were
thought to be the main victims but the fact is that the peasants formed the
greatest number of victims. In September 1793, a Law of Suspects was passed
that empowered surveillance local committees to come up with suspects lists and
arrest them (Gregory 2014, p. 95).
Subjected to arrest were: liberty enemy suspects, tyranny advocates, and
federalism supporters; ex-aristocrats who resisted the revolution; and illegal
emigrants who emigrated since the start of the revolution as they were thought
to be counterrevolution agents and spies or the invading army soldiers. This
law saw seventy thousand persons, about 0.5 percent of total population
arrested. Greer, an American historian estimated that during the terror, about
forty thousand persons were executed. With an inclusion of the deaths in Vendee
repression the death toll figure mounts significantly higher. Jean Clement
Martin stated that about 200,000 republicans and 250,000 insurgents died in the
war in which both sides suffered immensely. The total figure of death sentences
was 16,594. However, many other people died without getting formal death
sentences enforced in a law court. A big number of people died in prisons that
were unsanitary and overcrowded while awaiting trial. For most of the people
who perished in federalist revolts and civil wars, their deaths were not
officially recorded.

Paris
had the most striking Reign of Terror images as several revolution “show
trials” considered most dramatic took place. In March 1793, there was the
formation of Revolutionary Tribunal ironically proposed by Jean-Baptiste Carrier,
who was later in 1974 given a death sentence by the same tribunal he assisted
in bringing up. Antoine-Quentin Fouquier – Tinville in 1974 became the
Revolutionary Tribunal’s public prosecutor, a position he maintained up to 9
Thermidor. The tribunal was expanded to create room for the concurrent running
of four courts in September 1793, a period that saw terror become the order of
the day. In October 1793 during Girondins trial, there was a decree by National
Convention that juries should limit trials to three days that is if they were
convinced that the accused was guilty. In June 1794, the “Law of 22 Prairial”
was passed as a result of Robespierre supposed assassination attempt. That law
eliminated cross-examination and defense counsel, limited juries to only two
possible verdicts: death or acquittal, and declared that material and moral
evidence might be a justification to a conviction. That law led to the
tribunal’s most active period of its existence (Tackett
2017, p. 69).

Show Trials

Victims
from both sides of revolutionary political spectrum died as a result of the
show trials of the period between September 1793 and September 1794. In October
1793, led by Pierre-Victurnien Vergniaud, the great orator, the Girondin
deputies were tried and later executed. Later on that month, Marie-Antoinette
was convicted of high treason and then executed by guillotine. Jacques-Rene
Hebert and several of his supporters were tried and executed in March 1794. Suffering
the same fate a week later were Georges Danton and the Indulgents, blamed for
being lenient to revolution enemies. In the spring of 1794, political threats
to Jacobin republic had abated, but the Reign of Terror now had its own
momentum. About 60 percent of total persons issued with death sentences were
executed between June and July 1794. That was a great revolutionary justice
escalation that led to Robespierre downfall on 9 Thermidor on the 22nd
of July 1794. He was executed the following day. Among the last victims of the
Revolutionary Tribunal was the public prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville himself who
was guillotined (Hanson 2004, p. 60).       

Why the Terror ended

People
were tired of the Terror. The atmosphere was not conducive at all. That was a
traumatic period characterized by fear. It was enough; it was no longer
possible to carry on living in such a semi-intoxicated state mixed with fear. Robespierre
was executed, the tribunal committee was dismantled, and the Jacobin club shut
down marking the end of the Terror as a government instrument. To the people’s
dismay, “White Terror” evolved and included murder gangs that attacked former
Jacobins, a war that started in 1794 and further escalated in 1795. 

Conclusion

In
conclusion, the Reign of Terror is viewed by some as the predecessor of the
twentieth century far much bloodier revolutionary terrors. The Reign of Terror
tarnished the 1789 aims and ideals of the French Revolution.  The French Revolution came into existence as
people aspired to have freedom and that was a great inspiration to so many
other countries. It perpetually altered France political atmosphere by getting
rid of an old government form. Nevertheless, the French Revolution was also
epitomized by a very darker side known as the Reign of Terror. During this
period, the revolutionaries ignored or forgot the ideals of equality and
liberty, terrorized and victimized people as they desired. At first violence
might actually seem to do good, but the good could only be temporary and could
also create temporary evil. There were worse divisions created and lasted for
way too many years all thanks to the horrible acts and violence that the
revolutionaries committed during the Reign of Terror. There was actually no
point in launching opposition to abuses and oppression committed by the higher
social class if the answer proposed was more abuses and oppression by the new
bosses set to lead the revolution.

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