Robespierre, Maximilien Marie Isidore

Robespierre, Maximilien Marie Isidore

(mäksēmēlyăN` märē` ēzēdôr` rôbĕspyĕr`), 1758–94, one of the leading figures 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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Early Life

A poor youth, he was enabled to study law in Paris through a scholarship. He won admiration for his abilities, but his austerity and dedication isolated him from easy companionship. Returning to his native Arras, he practiced law and gained some reputation. He soon came under the influence of Jean Jacques RousseauRousseau, Jean Jacques
, 1712–78, Swiss-French philosopher, author, political theorist, and composer. Life and Works

Rousseau was born at Geneva, the son of a Calvinist watchmaker.
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's theories of democracy and deism, and Robespierre's emphasis on virtue—which in his mind meant civic morality—later earned him the epithet "the Incorruptible."

Robespierre was elected to the States-General of 1789, and his influence in the Jacobin Club grew steadily until he became its leader (see JacobinsJacobins
, political club of the French Revolution. Formed in 1789 by the Breton deputies to the States-General, it was reconstituted as the Society of Friends of the Constitution after the revolutionary National Assembly moved (Oct., 1789) to Paris.
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). In the National Constituent Assembly (June, 1789–Sept., 1791), he unsuccessfully championed democratic elections and successfully backed the law that made members of the Constituent Assembly ineligible to sit in the Legislative Assembly, which succeeded it.

In the spring of 1792 Robespierre opposed the war proposals of the GirondistsGirondists
or Girondins
, political group of moderate republicans in the French Revolution, so called because the central members were deputies of the Gironde dept. Girondist leaders advocated continental war.
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, and his opposition made him lose popularity. This was only temporary, however, and he was elected to the insurrectionary Commune of ParisCommune of Paris,
insurrectionary governments in Paris formed during (1792) the French Revolution and at the end (1871) of the Franco-Prussian War. In the French Revolution, the Revolutionary commune, representing urban workers, tradespeople, and radical bourgeois, engineered
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 set up on Aug. 10, 1792. As a deputy from Paris in the National Convention, he played an important part in the struggle for power between the Girondists and the MountainMountain, the,
in French history, the label applied to deputies sitting on the raised left benches in the National Convention during the French Revolution. Members of the faction, known as Montagnards [Mountain Men] saw themselves as the embodiment of national unity.
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, as the Jacobins in the assembly were known. He demanded the execution of the king and was instrumental in finally purging (May–June, 1793) the Girondists.

Reign of Terror

On July 27, 1793, Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, where his power and prestige grew. The dangers of foreign invasion and the urgent need to maintain order and unity led the committee to inaugurate the 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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. Although it was a collective effort, the name of Robespierre is always associated with it because of his prominence on the committee. Robespierre opposed both the extreme left, under Jacques HébertHébert, Jacques René
, 1757–94, French journalist and revolutionary. An ardent supporter of the French Revolution, he gained the support of the working classes through his virulent paper Le Père Duchesne and was prominent in the Cordeliers.
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, and the moderates, led by Georges DantonDanton, Georges Jacques
, 1759–94, French statesman, one of the leading figures of the French Revolution. A Parisian lawyer, he became a leader of the Cordeliers early in the Revolution and gained popular favor through his powerful oratory.
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 and Camille DesmoulinsDesmoulins, Camille
, 1760–94, French revolutionary and journalist. His oratory of July 12, 1789, contributed to the storming of the Bastille two days later. His pamphlets and journals, such as Révolutions de France et de Brabant
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. Each group was in turn arrested and guillotined (Mar.–Apr., 1794). By this time, however, Robespierre's position was becoming precarious; he was faced by divisions within the Committee of Public Safety and by opposition from the PlainPlain, the,
in French history, term designating the independent members of the National Convention during the French Revolution. The name was applied to them because, in contrast to the radical Mountain, they occupied the lower benches of the chamber.
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 in the Convention. The establishment of a new civic religion, partly to combat the atheism of the Hébertists, also provoked criticism.

The Terror Ends

The law of 22 Prairial (June 10) gave the Revolutionary Tribunal greater powers just when military successes convinced the moderates in the Convention that emergency measures were no longer necessary. In answer to a speech by Robespierre that seemed to threaten further purges, former terrorists and ultrarevolutionaries joined the Plain in a dramatic rising within the Convention 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). Robespierre was placed under arrest and was summarily tried and guillotined the next morning (July 28). Robespierre's character and influence have been the subject of great controversy. However, his integrity and devoted republicanism are beyond debate.


There are many biographies of Robespierre, notably those by G. F. E. Rudé (1975; the most favorable), D. Jordan (1979), and N. Hampson (1981); see also study by R. Scurr (2006).

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Robespierre, Maximilien Marie Isidore

(1758–1794) architect of the Reign of Terror (1793–1794). [Fr. Hist.: EB, 15: 907–910]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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