Sunday, October 19, 2008

Robespierre and the Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror became possible through the Enlightenment writings especially of Rousseau and others who talked about equality and freedom for all men rich or poor. They wanted "Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite" (liberty, equality, brotherhood). Some people became obsessed with the ideals and wrote the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" in 1789. They gathered support to create a National Assembly that wrote France's first constitution in 1791 making it a republic with its own legislative body with less power for the king

By 1790 the Catholic clergy were made into state employees that had to take a oath of loyalty to France vs. the Pope. Churches were confiscated and sold to pay for wars and debts. In 1791 the new constitution gave more power to the Legislative Assembly but the old problems of poverty, food shortages and debt remained so the Assembly split into three groups: radicals, moderates and conservatives.

The people panicked in 1792 as the Prussians and Austrian armies came close to Paris to put Louis back in power. The peasants put Louis and his family and other royalists in jail in protective custody to show the Prussians the king would not be harmed. Later they changed their minds because of the fear they would be defenseless against the royalists as their soldiers went to war far away and stormed the jails and killed 1,000 royalists.

On the political front the Assembly gave in to the radicals and deposed the king (back to a commoner) paving the way to his trial and execution by guillotine in January 1793. Also, the limited monarchy and Assembly were dissolved and the National Convention was started as a way to preserve the revolutionary government just as the French finally had a victory against Austria and Prussia.

The National Convention made the Committee of Public Safety in 1793 in response to the need to raise troops to defend France against some European powers and also those home-grown enemies that didn't agree with them. Peasants that were especially upset when Catholic churches were closed and sold and priests were taken away earlier in 1790 and now that the king was murdered it was too much. There were mobs taking over in reaction to things even though they were originally for the revolution. Two other political factions/clubs also were formed at this time: Jacobins who wanted violent radical change and to purge France of the aristocracy and old ways and the Girondins who were more conservative and didn't want the revolutionary government or the Committee of Public Safety.allowed Robespierre power to do radical measures which suspended the non-revolutionary government "until the peace" against all perceived enemies was realized

The Jacobins gained control and Robespierre became the major leader in the Committee of Public Safety in Sep 1793 and his influence lasted until July 1794 with his execution. Jacobins also allowed Robespierre and the other revolutionists power to preserve the revolutionary state of France until all the changes they wanted were made or "until the peace" against all perceived enemies was realized. Since they saw the old monarchy and privileges of the nobles as taking away from the rights and prosperity of the peasants and some of the middle class they saw they had to go.

In Dec. 1793 Maximilien Robespierre said their revolutionary government must protect the nation through the death of all its enemies. He wanted to lead people by reason and enemies by terror. Again in Feb. 1794 he said, "Terror is nothing other than prompt, severe, inflexible justice" and "Liberty cannot be secured unless criminals lose their head." It was he who decided who would live and die because he felt justice was a virtue but it was powerless without terror.

The Reign of Terror came to the nobility, peasants, clergy as their freedoms originally promised by the National Assembly then the First French Republic disappeared by the following: not allowed to dissent, being forced to join the military/draft in 1793 (to help fight the First Coalition of Great Britain, Holland and Spain who had just joined Prussia and Austria), give grain (not sell) to the government, having to have fixed prices for goods and wages, and not being allowed private worship when public forms removed. Also, after the oath and church closings, clergy were forced to marry or leave the priesthood, get deported, and mostly prevented from offering public worship. Finally the revolutionary governement under Robespierre forced a new religion on the people of France: a goddess of Reaason then they switched to a religion of Virtue with a Supreme Being.

Anyone, noble, middle class or peasant, could be guillotined if you disagreed, were suspected of being against these rules, hoarded some commodity, if someone just wanted you out of the way, or if you were less radical than Robespierre. By July 1794 not even the origianal revolutionaries felt safe from Robespierre.

After the Reign of Terror, costs for necessities went up so by 1795 a new constitution was made. it put the upper middle class in power and made a legislature with two houses overseen by 5 Directors who were moderates not idealists who were corrupt. France then had a period of peace until they found Napolean Bonaparte to lead their army.

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