Robespierre and French Revolutionary Terror

The French Revolution
Robespierre: Dictatorship & Terror,
Key Time Line: 1792-1794
• Republican Elections
• Creation of Revolutionary
• New Convention Meets
• Arrest of the King on grounds
of treachery
• September Massacres
• Girondin versus Jacobin
• Execution of the King
• Creation of the Committee of
Public Safety
• Creation of the Committee of
General Security
• Extension of War (to Liberal
• Jacobin takeover of Power
• Remaking of the Calendar: Year
• Provincial Counter-revolution
• Introduction of Maximum Prices
• Introduction of Minimum wage
• Nationalisation of arms workshops
• Introduction of welfare payments
• De-christianisation
• Start of Terror: Economic, Religious
& Political
• Great Terror Begins
• Arrest of the Hebertists
• Arrest of the Dantonists
• Cult of the Supreme Being
• CPS v. CGS Tensions
• Thermidorean Reaction
• Arrest & Execution of
May 1758-July 1794
(http:[email protected]/6547996409/) / Skara
kommun (http:[email protected]/) / CC BY-NCND 2.0 ([email protected]/6547996409/
St. Just,
August 1767 - July1794
Le Jour ni l'Heure 4097 : artiste
anonyme, portrait de Saint-Just,
“l'Archange de la Terreur”, 1767-1794,
musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Palais
Saint-Pierre, vendredi 3 juin 2011,
N02/5866060528) / Renaud Camus
( / CC BY 2.0
Georges Danton
October 1759-April 1794
Tarbes : statue de Danton, bas-relief: Danton haranguant les femmes à la halle.
(http:[email protected]/2413980500/) / Frédérique
PANASSAC (http:[email protected]/) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Pierre Malouet, pamphlet, April 1792
All our present troubles – war, bloodshed and revolution – are the
result of false ideas about liberty and equality.
Men grew passionate about absurd theories. Reformers and
thinkers said that it was necessary to purify religion; that kings
were set up for the good of the people and not the people for the
good of kings; that law must not be the will of one man.
These ideas could only have had good effects if they had been
used by virtuous men and if they had not given rise to
uncontrollable passions.
Instead, the French Revolution is destroying laws, morals, religion
and all legal authority
The Times, September 10, 1792
As the affairs of France very naturally engross the whole of the public attention,
we have made it our business to collect the occurrences that have happened with
as much precision as circumstances would admit. In the history of mankind, we
have no precedent of such wanton and disgraceful excesses.
… We have very good authority for the detail that follows. Many of the facts have
been related to us by a gentleman who was an eye-witness to them, and left
Paris on Tuesday—and other channels of information furnish us with the news of
Paris up to last Thursday noon—These facts stand not in need of exaggeration. It
is impossible to add to a cup of iniquity already filled to the brim.
… The city had been a scene of bloodshed and violence without intermission
since Sunday noon, and although it is difficult and indeed impossible to ascertain
with any precision the number that had fallen victims to the fury of the mob during
these three days, we believe the account will not be exaggerated when we state
…Those who were not on the spot, can have no idea of the slaughter or the
cruelties that happened on that memorable day; and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday,
and Wednesday last were merely a revival of them, though somewhat in a
different shape. On the 10th of August, thousands died in defending their lives—
but in this last massacre, there was no resistance; the unhappy victims were
butchered like sheep at a slaughter house.
Letter from government minister Dundas
to prime minister Pitt, in 1792
The safety of the Country must, I am persuaded, depend on the
Body of the well affected to the Constitution... in some shape or
other taking an open or active and declared part to check the first
appearance of sedition.
I am pressed almost from every quarter to give countenance and
engagement to such a species of association, but as it is a very
delicate point for Government in the present moment to make
associations of one head, when they will be called upon soon to
condemn so many others, I have not ventured upon my own single
judgement to give way to these calls... at the same time I am free to
declare it as my opinion that they are become absolutely
An Alternative Anthem?
God save great Thomas Paine
His 'Rights of Man' explain
To every soul.
He makes the blind to see
What dupes and slaves they be,
And points out liberty,
From pole to pole.
Thousands cry 'Church and King'
That well deserve to swing,
All must allow:
Birmingham blush for shame,
Manchester do the same,
Infamous is your name,
Patriots vow.
English Radical song, 1790s
Execution of Louis
French_Revolution_Louis_XVI_Execution ( / Charles
LeBlanc ( / CC BY-SA 2.0 (
I think it was somewhere about [that] time ... that my thoughts
were first directed to political questions. Until then I had not
been in the way of hearing anything respecting them...
It was generally affirmed that it was a good thing to beat the
French, but as to either the quality or the extent of this asserted
good, I was totally uninformed.
Thomas Carter, Knights Weekly Volume: Memoirs of a
Working Man, London, 1845 , pp 83-84
JacquesLouis David,
Jacques-Louis David: The Death of Marat (Pompidou Museum - Metz, France)
( / iz.mendoza
( / (
The Law of Suspects, 17 September 1793
All suspect persons shall be placed under arrest. The following are
considered suspect persons.
Those who by their conduct, their connections, their remarks, or
their writings show themselves to be the enemies of liberty. Also,
former nobles, all of the wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons
and daughters, brothers and sisters, or agents of the émigrés who
have not consciously shown their attachment to the Revolution.
The civil and military tribunals can, if necessary, order the arrest
and imprisonment of suspects.
Persons may be arrested even if there are no grounds for
accusation. People may also be arrested who have previously been
Robespierre: On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy, 1793
If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular
government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal;
terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe,
inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a
consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent
It has been said that terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government
therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of
liberty resembles that with which the henchmen of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern
by terror his brutalized subjects; he is right, as a despot. Subdue by terror the enemies of
liberty, and you will be right, as founders of the Republic. The government of the revolution is
liberty's despotism against tyranny… Indulgence for the royalists, cry certain men, mercy for
the villains! No! mercy for the innocent, mercy for the weak, mercy for the unfortunate, mercy
for humanity.
Society owes protection only to peaceable citizens; the only citizens in the Republic are the
republicans. For it, the royalists, the conspirators are only strangers or, rather, enemies… Are
the enemies within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who tear our country
apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences that hold the people's mandate; the traitors who
sell them; the mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people's cause, to kill public
virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and to prepare political counterrevolution by moral
counterrevolution-are all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they
Antoine St. Just, Report Concerning Prisoners,
26 February, 1794
How long must we be fooled by enemies at home? How long must we
allow our foreign enemies to benefit from our weakness?
Spare the aristocracy and you will bring about fifty years of trouble. You
must be daring! Our enemies cannot resist for long. I am without mercy
to the enemies of the nation. A Republic must have powerful laws. The
foreigner wants to rule over us by discord, so we must imprison our
enemies and their supporters. Return war for war!
Destroy traitors and celebrate liberty. Your Committee recommends this
decree: the goods of persons recognized as enemies of the Revolution
will be confiscated for the profit of the Republic. Those persons will be
detained until the declaration of peace and then banished for ever.
Robespierre, Report on The Principles of Public Morality,
Speech to the Convention, 5 February 1794
Towards what goal do we move? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and
equality; the reign of that eternal justice in which laws are not engraved in
stone, but in men’s hearts.
Let France become the model for all free nations, the glory of all free peoples,
the support for those who are oppressed. What kind of state can bring about
these marvels?
Only government that is democratic or republican, in which the sovereign
people, guided by laws they have made do all they can do themselves and the
rest through their representatives. But what is the fundamental principle of
democratic government?
Virtue; I speak of the public virtue that is the love of the fatherland and its laws.
This love necessarily embraces love of equality. You must at the same time fight
the tyrants of Europe, maintain 1,200,000 men under arms and the government
must deal with all the problems left to us by our enemies. How do we achieve
this? Only through Virtue.
Birmingham magistrate John Brooke,
Letter to the Home Office,
6 May, 1794
Presuming that in a crisis like the present it must be satisfactory to the
Government to see the Middling Class of People who cannot contribute
liberally towards augmenting the internal defence of the kingdom, but
have a property to protect, ready to unite in repelling our Foreign and
domestic Enemies, I have in conjunction with Mr. Morfit been
endeavouring to raise a Military Association in this Town, in which we
have already so well succeeded as to have enrolled between Fifty and a
hundred Members, and knowing a very considerable number more who
are equally disposed to join if the measure is approved.
Jacques-Alexis Thuriot,
on Robespierre and the Cult, 1794
“It’s not enough for him to be dictator –
he has to be God too.”
Marc Bouloiseau, The Jacobin Republic, 1792-1794, London, 1987
It was not enough to struggle against the aristocracy of birth and against
fanaticism. Another peril threatened the Revolution of equality: it
stemmed from the ‘conquering’ bourgeoisie.
The patriots, who were aware of this danger, rejected the hegemony of
wealth and the supremacy of notables. They increasingly regarded
wealth, condemned in its outward manifestations, as a presumption of a
politically suspect attitude... The ‘rich’ were the focus of resentment
among the poor, who used the term to describe those who had enough to
eat while the poor were hungry. Economic and social problems were
therefore seen as a consequence of ‘the appetite for power of the ruling
The notion that wealth posed a domestic threat to the Revolution thus
became widespread.
Comte de Ségur, Aspects of Politics, 1825
We once gave enthusiastic support to the philosophic ideas of
bold and witty writers.
Voltaire won us over. Rousseau touched our hearts; and we felt
a secret pleasure when we saw them attack an old social
structure that appeared to us harsh and ridiculous. So whatever
our privileges and power, we enjoyed this war against authority.
These battles did not seem to us to affect the superiority that we
as nobles enjoyed.
How wrong we were; we were destroyed by the very ideas we

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