reign of terror


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Related to reign of terror: French Revolution

Terror, Reign of:

see Reign of TerrorReign of Terror,
1793–94, period of the French Revolution characterized by a wave of executions of presumed enemies of the state. Directed by the Committee of Public Safety, the Revolutionary government's Terror was essentially a war dictatorship, instituted to rule the
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.

Reign of Terror,

1793–94, period of the French RevolutionFrench Revolution,
political upheaval of world importance in France that began in 1789. Origins of the Revolution

Historians disagree in evaluating the factors that brought about the Revolution.
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 characterized by a wave of executions of presumed enemies of the state. Directed by the Committee of Public Safety, the Revolutionary government's Terror was essentially a war dictatorship, instituted to rule the country in a national emergency.

Origins of the Terror

Initially the Committee of Public Safety was created (Apr. 6, 1793) to preserve the reforms of the French RevolutionFrench Revolution,
political upheaval of world importance in France that began in 1789. Origins of the Revolution

Historians disagree in evaluating the factors that brought about the Revolution.
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. Its membership took final form on Sept. 6. Among its twelve members were Bertrand Barère de VieuzacBarère de Vieuzac, Bertrand
, 1755–1841, French revolutionary. A member of the Revolutionary National Assembly and of the Convention, he moved from a moderate to a radical stand, voting for the execution of King Louis XVI.
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, Lazare CarnotCarnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite
, 1753–1823, French revolutionary, known as the organizer of victory for his role in the French Revolutionary Wars. A military engineer by training, Carnot became the military genius of the Revolution and was chiefly responsible for the
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, Georges CouthonCouthon, Georges
, 1755?–1794, French revolutionary. An able lawyer, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly (1791) and to the Convention (1792). He became (1793) an important member of the Committee of Public Safety, the dictatorial body that ruled France in 1793 and
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, M. J. Hérault de SéchellesHérault de Séchelles, Marie Jean
, 1759–94, French revolutionary. A lawyer, he became a favorite of Queen Marie Antoinette, but nevertheless joined the revolutionary cause in 1789.
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, Maximilien RobespierreRobespierre, Maximilien Marie Isidore
, 1758–94, one of the leading figures of the French Revolution. Early Life

A poor youth, he was enabled to study law in Paris through a scholarship.
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, and Louis de Saint-JustSaint-Just, Louis de
, 1767–94, French revolutionary. A member of the Convention from 1792, he became a favorite of Maximilien Robespierre and was (1793–94) a leading member of the Committee of Public Safety (see Reign of Terror).
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 and the Hébertists, J. N. Billaud-VarenneBillaud-Varenne, Jean Nicolas
, 1756–1819, French revolutionary. A violent antimonarchist in the Convention, the revolutionary national assembly, he and Jean Marie Collot d'Herbois were the two members of the ultrarevolutionary Hebértists (see Hébert, Jacques
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 and J. N. Collot d'HerboisCollot d'Herbois, Jean Marie
, 1750–96, French revolutionary, originally an actor and playwright. Although a member of his Jacobin club, he favored a constitutional monarch.
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. Robespierre became the dominant member. Their aim was to eliminate all internal counterrevolutionary elements, to raise new armies, and to assure food supplies for the armies and cities. Some of their measures were demanded by the people of Paris, whose support was essential.

Confinement and Execution

Responsibility for the police measures taken during the terror lay also with the Committee of General Security, which had control over the local committees formed to ferret out treason. The Law of Suspects (Sept. 17, 1793) defined those who could be arrested for "treasonable" activities; it was enforced by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Estimates vary as to the number of victims; thousands were guillotined, and over 200,000 were arrested. Representatives on mission, who were agents sent out by the Committee of Public Safety, had absolute power to enforce the terror, including the establishment of special courts.

The counterrevolutionary uprising in the Vendée (Oct.–Dec., 1793), which was suppressed with a heavy loss of life, and revolts against the Convention in Lyon and several other cities served as a backdrop to the intensification of the terror of Jan.–Mar., 1794. In Nantes mass drownings called noyades claimed at least 3,500 lives. In June, 1794, the Committee of Public Safety introduced a new law, which strengthened the power of the Revolutionary Tribunal; the court could return only verdicts of either acquittal or death. Executions increased greatly.

Government and Economy

The machinery of government was centralized in the hands of the Committee of Public Safety. Military mobilization, planned by Carnot, and based on the levée, a requisition of able-bodied males between the age of 18 and 25, was followed by a complete reorganization of the armed forces that paid dividends in the French Revolutionary WarsFrench Revolutionary Wars,
wars occurring in the era of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, the decade of 1792–1802. The wars began as an effort to defend the Revolution and developed into wars of conquest under the empire.
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. In the field of economics, the demands of the enragésenragés
, term applied to a small group of Parisian radical extremists in the French Revolution. Rising prices and food shortages provoked them in Feb.–Mar., 1793, to pillage the city's food stores.
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 in Paris brought strict controls. The law of the maximum and other measures set price and wage ceilings, forbade hoarding and withholding from the market, requisitioned food and supplies for the army, and instituted rationing. Land purchase by the peasants was made easier. Despite these measures, economic problems continued to intensify.

Outcome

When French military success began in June, 1794, popular discontent with the brutal measures at home grew evident. By this time the members of the committee were at odds with one another and with the Committee of General Security. The members of the National Convention, fearing that the new purge would be turned against them, joined forces with Robespierre's enemies on the committees and overthrew Robespierre on 9 ThermidorThermidor
, 11th month of the French Revolutionary calendar. The coup of 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794) marked the downfall of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror.
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 (July 27, 1794).

The Reign of Terror was followed by the Thermidorian reaction under a reconstituted Committee of Public Safety (1794) and by the White Terror, in which many former terrorists were executed. While the Reign of Terror answered the need for a strong executive and saved France from anarchy and military defeat, its effect upon public opinion, especially foreign opinion, was extremely harmful to the Revolutionary cause.

Bibliography

See D. Greer, The Incidence of Terror during the French Revolution: A Statistical Interpretation (1935); R. R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled (1941, repr. 1968); S. Loomis, Paris in the Terror (1964); S. Schama, Citizens (1989); D. Andress, The Terror (2006); T. Tackett, The Coming of Terror in the French Revolution (2015).

Reign of Terror

all roads led to the guillotine (1793–1794). [Fr. Hist.: EB, IX: 904]

Reign of Terror

(1793–1794) revolutionary government made terror its means of suppression, by edict (September 5, 1793). [Fr. Hist.: EB, IX: 904]
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