Reign of Terror and Fallout

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A guillotine, France’s national razor. Thousands of citizens were given “shaves” during the Terror.

On July 13th, 1793, a Jacobin leader by the name of Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated, which resulted in further groundswell support for the citizenry-back assembly. Perhaps fueled by this support, the convention, under the direction of Robespierre, released a foreign policy statement consisting of six points, of which the first two were the most concerning. The first point was that the convention declared that it would be “terrible towards its enemies, generous towards its allies, and just towards its peoples.” The second point, the Law of suspects, suggested that anyone who was deemed suspicious by their actions or relationships of supporting “tyranny” or “federalism” could be charged with treason for committing “crimes against liberty”, transgressions which did not have any clear definition.  The combination of these two declarations meant that the “revolutionary armies”, or a glorified mob of sans-culottes, could target and persecute anyone they so desired, particularly political opponents.  Over three months, the population of Parisian prisons had tripled, and the Parisian Revolutionary Tribunal, the hastily assembled justice system, had to be expanded in order to deal with the drastic influx of criminal cases. Even then, it could not handle all of the cases, and some of the perceived traitors were beaten to death by the mob.

Robespierre owned the Terror as a Virtue, and attempted to associate it with patriotism. Unfortunately for him, the citizenry began to associate him with the mass bloodshed, instead. The execution of the Martyrs of Compiegne , on July 17th,1794, did much to turn the public against Robespierre and the terror.  On July 27th, the committee overthrew him in what is now called the Thermidorian Reaction, and on the following day, he was executed by guillotine, bringing an end to the Terror.

Effects

By the end of July 1794, with the overthrow of Robespierre, there had been almost 16,600 death sentences issue since the year before,  and many more murdered by the lynch mobs of France. Some notable victims included Marie Antoinette, almost the entirety of the Girondins, and even Philippe

Égalité, a nobleman supporter of the Revolution. Clergy were also often the targets of the Terror, as in October 1793, any suspected priest of anyone suspected of harbouring one was liable to summary execution. Despite the intentional targeting of the clergy and political opposition, the majority of those executed were peasants, often over mere suspicion of being treasonous. Consequently, the fact that popular opinion did turn against the Terror should come as no surprise, as it hit the lower class disproportionately.

After the death of Robespierre in the Reaction, the Committee of Public Safety’s standing members were all removed, and new members replaced them. Term limits of sorts in that a quarter of the committee retired every three months were implemented, and its powers had begun to be limited. In addition, due to the Law of 22 Prairial, advocating for terror was officially outlawed in government. The French Republic, ironically, began to become more moral after Robespierre’s passing.

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