1790-1793: Prelude to the Terror

robespierre

Maximillien Robespierre. “The incorruptible”, until power came along.

Years later, it can be said that Burke’s predictions held true, as the King was executed, and French Society began to disintegrate, though, in comparison to 1789, 1790 and 1791 were not as eventful. All religious orders were officially dissolved in 1790, and the remaining members of the clergy were required to swear an oath to the nation, causing internal strife when some priests, loyal to the Pope, refused to do so.  The military was unstable as well, as officers, most of whom were noblemen, had begun to be attacked by their subordinates. As a result of these attacks, and accusations of unrevolutionary behavior when dealing with them, as in the case of General Bouiillé, there were mass desertions to other nations by these officers, hampering the institutional experience of the army. This same general, who later condemned the assembly and these emigrants, offered the monarchy protection and a way out of the country mid-1791. Louis XVI, unhappy with the way the revolution is progressing, decided to try and escape Paris, and so on June 20th, he and his family, disguised as servants, with their servants disguised as their masters, fled Paris for Montmédy. The next day, however, Louis is recognized in Varennes, and the royal family is arrested and brought back to Paris. Here, now entirely powerless, the king could only watch as a constitutional monarchy is instituted, which he is forced to sign at the last session of the National Assembly, on September 30th, 1791.

The successor to the National Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, did not even last a year before devolving into a constitutional crisis due to clashes with the king. On August 10 1792, the royal family was arrested by revolutionaries, and the monarchy was suspended by a rump session of the Legislative Assembly, controlled by Jacobins. Prisoners and priests began to be massacred en masse under the direction of the Paris Commune, which continued the chaos of the revolution until September 20th, when a national convention was held. This convention supplanted the imprisoned monarchy as the national government, and on the following day, the First French Republic was declared.

In January 1793, Louis XVI, now known as Citoyen Louis Capet after the monarchy was abolished, was put on trial and sentenced to death for “conspiracy against the public liberty and the general safety.” He was beheaded by guillotine on January 21st, 1791, triggering calls of war against France in response.  Later, in April, the Committee of Public Safety was formed, with the intent to defend against both foreign and internal threats to the republic.  At the beginning of the Reign of Terror, on June 2nd, both the assembly and the committee itself were hijacked by the Jacobins. Their leaders, Maximillien Robespierre and Louis Antoine De Saint-Just, were added on as official members. This appointment would ultimately be the final step before the Terror began.

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