The revolutionary government and the Terror
author Stoica Gilda, July 2016
The guillotine remains the symbol of the Terror. Power struggle: Girondist and Jacobins. September massacres. Trial of Louis 16th. Dechristianisation.

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The guillotine remains the symbol of the Terror, and is usually associated with the French Revolution. Bloody purges, terrified citizens, dictatorship and the suppression of freedom granted through the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen in 1789 - all these were part of the Terror.

The period of the Terror was considered by some historians as a deviation of the revolution, provoked by militant sans-culottes. These militants forced the country’s leaders to adopt politics contrary to the liberal reforms adopted by the Constituent Assembly. Althoughtheir support was necessary for the salvation of the revolution, the sans-culottes did not obtain any permanent benefits or lasting changes for themselves.

There were two periods of Terror, both linked to war outside the country. The first period began after the attack on the Tuileries Palace and ended with the Battle of Valmy. After these battles, the allied invasion was rebuffed.

The second period of Terror began with the arrest of a number of Girondist deputies and ended with the execution of Robespierre and his supporters.

Based on the law granting universal suffrage, all men over 21 years of age could participate in the elections for the Convention. However, the results were distorted due to the high level of pressure, which led to fear and intimidation.

In Paris, monarchist supporters lost their right to vote. As a consequences, all 24 members representing Paris were Jacobins, republicans and supporters of the Commune. Thus, Robespierre obtained the greatest number of votes in the capital.

Initially, there were 200 Girondists and 100 Jacobins in the Convention, which meant that neither camp had a majority. Those who did not belong to either camp sat in the middle, lower-level part of the hall in which the Assembly met. So, they were called the marsh or the plain.

Approx. one-third of the deputies were lawyers. The percentage of businessmen and traders fell from 13% in the Constituent Assembly to 9% in the Convention.

Up until this point, the history of the Convention was one of conflict between the Girondists and the Jacobins. Neither of the two groups was a political party, with a settled platform or an agreed set of principles. Parties were not viewed in a good light, since people thought they followed the selfish interests of their members rather than the general good.

The Jacobins were known as montagnards or the Mountain. They were also called the left, because they took the upper seats at the Assembly, to the left of the president. This name was more apt, since the Girondists were also part of the Jacobin Club, however the two groups battled amongst themselves relentlessly.

Both groups, the Girondists and the Mountain, were made up of the bourgeoisie and agreed on most political issues. They believed in revolution and the republic, they detested privileges, they were anti-clergy and in favor of a free economy, fighting for an enlightened and more humane France. However, they viewed each other with suspicion.

The Girondists had most of the Parisian press behind them and were also supported by the provinces. The Girondist opposition to the events of the 10th of August lost them the support of the Parisian militants. The Mountain was weaker in the provinces than the Girondists. The Mountain had the solid support of the Parisian clubs and arrondissements and appeared to be the main champions of Paris. The Girondists supported liberalism, the right of the provinces to self-governance without the intervention of Paris.

Both groups understood that they needed the support of the population in order to win the war. The Girondists believed that Robespierre wanted a bloody dictatorship, while the Mountain thought the Girondists would compromise with the conservatives and the royalists to remain in power. So, the Girondists were accused of being counter-revolutionary.

Since neither the Girondists nor the Mountain had a majority in the Assembly, they needed the support of the plain. Initially, these delegates supported the Girondists, since many of the ministers who dominated the majority of the Assembly’s committees came from the Girondists.

The French army was in a deplorable situation because La Fayette had fled to Austria. It was at this moment that panic and fear laid hold of France.

The situation got worse when the Prussians crossed the French border and conquered Longwy. Verdun, the last great fortress on the way to Paris, was about to surrender. The Commune called all patriots to arms, with thousands of volunteers signing up to defend the capital and the revolution.

At Valmy, the French army, formed of 52,000 soldiers, defeated the army of 34,000 Prussians. Braunschweig retreated towards the border and the French army went on the offensive, occupying the left bank of the Rhine in a month. Dumouriez defeated the Austrians at Jemappes and occupied Belgium, whereas in the south, Nice and Savoya were conquered. A revolutionary administration was established in these places.

The French began to talk about natural borders - the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees. This meant annexing territories and went against the politics settled previously by the Constituent Assembly. In the conquered countries, a revolutionary administration was established, with the French armies being paid and fed at the expense of the local population.

The armies must be maintained. For this reason, the territories of churches and the lands of those considered to be enemies of the new regime were confiscated, with tithes and feudal obligations abolished. These measures displeased a great part of the population, confirming Robespierre’s view that the French armies would not be welcomed abroad.

After the volunteers left for the front, concern was raised concerning the prisons filled with priests and nobles. The latter were suspected of being counter-revolutionaries. Rumors spread that the priests and nobles were going to escape, murder the undefended population and surrender the city to the Prussians. Marat, who influenced the Commune, requested the murder of all suspected counter-revolutionaries.

The massacre of the prisoners lasted five days. Between 1,100 and 1,400 of the 2,600 prisoners were killed. Only one-third of them were priests or noblemen; the rest were common prisoners.

The murderers were sans-culottes from the Parisian arrondissements. Neither the commune nor the other authorities did anything to stop them. That would have meant mobilizing the National Guard, risking another Champ de Mars.

The massacre threw a shadow over the first meeting of the Convention. Most of the deputies from the provinces were shocked by the assassinations and rallied to the side of the Girondists. Girondist hate towards the Jacobins and the supporters of the sans-culottes grew. From that moment, the moderates and those from abroad considered the Mountain and the sans-culottes to be blood-thirsty savages.

The Jacobins insisted the king be brought to trial, in order to strengthen the republic. They depended more and more on the sans-culottes. The Jacobins wanted the king to be judged and executed, since they held him responsible for the bloodshed at Tuileries.

The Girondists wanted to avoid the trial and proposed a referendum to decide the fate of the king. Unsuccessful in this, they then made two separate attempts to save his life. When the king was found guilty and condemned to death, the Girondists proposed a stay to the execution. The Convention voted against the delay of the execution with 387 votes to 334. The king was seen as a threat to the republic.

Louis the 16th was found guilty and condemned to death, but the Girondists requested a stay in execution. Marat suggested that the decision be made through a nominal appeal in which each deputy would announce his decision in public. Out of a gathering of 721 deputies, not one voted for the king’s innocence. They were afraid they would be called traitors. 693 deputies voted for the guilt of the king and 23 abstained. Out of those who voted for his guilt, 361 voted for the death penalty and 319 for a prison sentence.

Citoyen Louis Capet, formerly king Louis the 16th, was dispossessed of all his titles and honors by the republican government. The king was decapitated by the guillotine in what is today Place de la Concorde. The executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, testified that the former king met his fate with courage. The Mountain gained an ascendancy in the Convention which they very rarely lost afterwards.

The Convention passed a decree through which France declared its natural borders to be the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees. They also decreed the assistance and fraternity of all people who wished to gain their liberty. The Great Powers were alarmed by the territorial conquests, especially by the annexation of Nice and Savoya.

England was especially affected by the fact that the Rhine became France’s natural border. This was due to the fact that the Dutch Republic and Belgium were considered essential for British security.

The Convention declared war on England and Holland, and later on Spain. Dumouriez was defeated by the Austrians at Neerwinden. As a consequence, he decided to go to Paris to dissolve the Convention and reestablish the Constitution and the monarchy. Because the army refused, Dumouriez deserted and went over to the Austrians together with the duke of Chartres, the future king Louis Philippe. Dumouriez enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the Girondists. Because of this, his desertion weakened the Girondist position in the Convention and in the Paris clubs.

France lost Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine, so it was fighting again on French territory. The government ordered the enrollment of a further 30,000 soldiers.

A great revolt was produced in four departments south of the Loire or the Vendee. The peasants there paid higher land taxes and did not agree with the revolutionary government. The imposition of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the sale of church lands were unpopular measures.

In the peasants’ eyes, the nobles were the real leaders. Most of the peasants were monarchists. Local leaders, constitutional priests and members of the National Guard were killed in the southern departments. The government withdrew 30,000 soldiers from the front to crush the uprising. To cover the costs of the war, more assignats were printed, which caused them to fall to half their face value. This led to an increase in prices, and then to the spread of the rebellion.

To get the support of the population, their requests must first be met. The Mountain cosied up to the sans-culottes and the plain, sharing the Girondist hate of Robespierre and Marat. The Mountain held the Girondists responsible for the defeats in war because of the link with Dumouriez. Also, they held them accountable for the uprising in the Vendee and the economic crisis. The plain joined the Mountain. Barre, leader of the plain, declared in the Convention that three things must be acknowledged. First, in an emergency, no government can rule through normal methods. Secondly, the bourgeoisie must not become isolated from the people. Thirdly, the alliance must remain under control.

The measures were passed, with three objectives: monitoring and sanctioning suspects, making the government more efficient, and satisfying the demands of the sans-culottes. The Revolutionary Tribunal was set up for the trial of counter-revolutionary suspects and to prevent new massacres. However, the Tribunal was to become the instrument of terror.

Generals were sent to the provinces, invested with unlimited power over department leadership and the army. The Convention deputies were supposed to monitor their behavior. After the uprising at the Vendee, comites de surveillance were set up in all communes and arrondissements of cities. The purpose for these comites de surveillance was to keep tabs on the activities of foreigners and those suspected of treason. The decree for summary execution foresaw the trial and execution of armed rebels within 24 hours of their capture. Trials were carried out without jurors and without the right to appeal.

Draconic laws were passed against emigrants. Their properties were confiscated, and those who returned to France were executed. The Committee of Public Safety was established, which guided and accelerated the activities of the ministers, taking over their authority. The Committee was dependent on the support of the Convention. Danton, supported by the plain, wanted a committee without extremists. Among the 9 elected members, seven were from the plain, including Barere. The other two were from the Mountain, one of whom was Danton. There were no Girondists.

Danton and Robespierre discussed ways of obtaining the population’s support for the republic. They fixed a price ceiling for grains, which the Girondists opposed. Forced loans were imposed on the rich.

Danton and the Mountain asked the Girondists to stop attacking the sans-culottes, treating them as buveurs de sang (bloodsuckers). However, their efforts were in vain. Robespierre went over to the sans-culottes, calling the people to revolt against the corrupt Girondist deputies.

When the deputies tried to leave, they were forced to return. For the first time, armed force was used against an elected Parliament. In order to avoid a massacre, the Convention was forced to agree to the arrest of 29 Girondist deputies and 2 ministers.

Many deputies lost their faith in the Mountain and began to fear its influence. However, they did not wish to witness the overthrow of the republic by domestic or foreign enemies. For this reason, in the following 14 months, they were forced to remain as accomplices of the Jacobin minority.

An uprising began, which spread rapidly after news of the Jacobin defeat in Lyon reached Paris. 80,000 members of the National Guard surrounded the Convention and aimed cannons at it. They demanded the expulsion of the Girondists from the Assembly and the establishment of price ceilings for all basic foodstuffs.

At the formation of the new Committee for Public Safety, all 12 members were deputies from the Mountain or the plain. The members were middle-class, except for the noble Herault de Sechelles. There was no president and all were equally responsible for the actions of the Committee. This Committee would later become the first strong government.

Barere was the spokesperson for the committee in the Convention. Carnot, an engineer by profession, was in charge of army organization. Two members of the Cordeliers Club were also in the Committee: Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne. Robespierre’s allies were Couthon, paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, and Saint-Just, the main supporter of the Terror. All were re-elected periodically. Herault, however, withdrew.

Maximilien Robespierre was a capable politician, who proceeded with prudence, waiting for the right moment, with the gift of insight. He spoke out against republican manifestations, taking part in insurrections only at the last moment, when it was certain they would be victorious. Robespierre believed that, in order to win, he must get the support of the people. He opposed the division of citizens into different groups, and laws which deprived people of color from the colonies of their civil rights. He frowned on excessive wealth and did not believe in the equal distribution of property. He did however maintain that the state was duty bound to ensure the survival of all its members by providing means to work.

Because he had many ideas in common with the sans-culottes, Maximilien Robespierre was very popular among the simple people of Paris. However, he was never one of them. He wore silk tights, wide knee-length trousers and the powdered wig of the Old Regime.

The members of the Committee did not share the same opinions, but were willing to leave their differences aside in order to deal with the urgent problems France was facing. Maximilien Robespierre entered the committee with the role of maintaining the link between the Jacobin bourgeoisie and the sans-culottes. He wasn’t viewed well and did not have much support in the Convention. He was called the incorruptible or the moral fanatic. Maximilien Robespierre maintained that all who did not value virtue above all else must be sacrificed.

The Committee for Public Safety had important problems, one of the most serious being the revolt in the provinces. Many departments expressed their dissatisfaction with the influence of Paris and the Commune on the Convention. For this reason, anti-Jacobin movements broke out in Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles.

The revolt spread considerably: 60 departments protested against the expulsion of the Girondists. The Mountain considered that these federal revolts were engineered to destroy the unity of the republic. At Toulon, the revolt escalated, with food distribution being interrupted. The city authorities even negotiated with the English to help them proclaim the monarchy. As a consequence, British troops entered the town.

The allied troops couldn’t coordinate their plans, and their lack of unity saved France. This happened after Pitt ordered the duke of York to attack Dunkerque as a naval base, heading east. Thus, the allied army was divided.

Marseilles, Lyon and Toulon disavowed the Convention, followed by other small towns from the Rhone valley and Provence. The larger towns were unable to gather considerable force, and cooperation between the centers of the revolt was weak. Thus, the government was able to attack each rebel zone. The Austrians entered France, and the Spanish invaded Roussillon in the south. The Allies had 160,000 soldiers concentrated at the border with the Netherlands, where the French army opposed them, inferior in numbers.

The allied troop’s lack of unity in that moment was the most important factor in France’s survival. Prussia and Austria were fighting for Poland. Austria turned its attention to the Habsburg regions of the Netherlands. They wanted to exchange them for Bavaria. As a consequence, Prussia, which feared an increase in Austrian power, ordered its generals not to attack France.

The sans-culottes detested the aristocracy and all owners of great wealth, and had an unshakeable commitment to equality. They did not say sir, but citizen, and used the familiar you instead of the polite your honor. The red bonnets of the sans-culottes were reminiscent of freed slaves and symbolized the equality of all citizens. To them, the sovereignty of the people could not be delegated to representatives. Thus, the people had the right to monitor and change any elected representative, and if betrayed, they had the right to insurrection.

Most sans-culottes were salaried workers, but they did not hold power in the arrondissements. Each arrondissement was led by a small number of wealthy militants. Out of the 454 members of revolutionary committees in Paris, shop owners, small workshop owners and independent craftsmen made up 65%. Landlords, civil servants and members of the free professions made up 26% and employees, 8%. The sans-culottes wielded their power through their own institutions, which did not depend on central government.

Populist societies were dominant. These were encouraged by the government as long as there were threats from foreign and domestic enemies, since the societies supported the war effort, providing surveillance of suspects and helping representatives to purge the country of local threats. The sans-culottes supported the government in all important directions. This support was due to their enmity towards the aristocracy and their decision to win the war.

The sans-culottes brought the Jacobins to power. Thus, the new Constitution, preceded by a Declaration of Rights, was passed in the Assembly. Many of the aspirations of the sans-culottes could be found in this. The right to insurrection was proclaimed. All men received the right to vote, and elections became direct.

The commune and arrondissements were the local administrative units of Paris, with elected officials and committees. The National Guard was under their control, so they had their own police force and army.

After a levée en masse (mass conscription), recruitments were made by the Committee of Public Safety. The first category of recruits was made up of unmarried men aged between 18 and 25, and contained one million people. These men must be fed, armed and trained. State factories were adapted to produce weapons and ammunition. Church bells and sacred vessels were taken as prime material and melted to make cannons and coins. The government took over foreign trade and navigation.

The economic situation got worse. The assignat dropped to less than one-third of its nominal value, and the drought reduced the intake of grain into Paris by three-quarters. Les enragés - the furious was a group which demanded measures to combat the food shortage. The spokesperson for this group was Jacques Roux. People suffered of hunger in crowded attics. Their members were salaried workers, laborers by the day, the poor and the unemployed.

Jacques Roux wanted to force the Convention to take measures combating hunger and poverty. Nothing happened, and Roux accused the Convention publicly. His proposed plan was the Economic Terror, executing those who stockpiled grains to raise prices, and purging the former nobles from the army. Robespierre hated Roux because he threatened the Commune and the Convention through street protests. Thus, Roux was arrested and died in prison.

Crowds gathered at the Paris town hall to demand bread and higher salaries, then they turned towards the Convention. It could have ended with a coup. The Convention avoided this by accepting a series of radical measures. The arrondissements forced the Convention to proclaim Terror as the order of the day.

One of the instruments of terror authorised immediately by the Convention was the creation of an army of revolutionary Parisians. Before this, 56 unauthorised armies were formed in the provinces. The civil armies existed to ensure the distribution of food to Paris and the other large towns in the provinces. At the same time, the armies should catch deserters, those who stockpiled food, recalcitrant priests, political suspects and royalists. They mobilized the nation’s resources for the war effort, confiscating silverware and bells from churches. These armies would impose revolutionary justice in the south and west.

There were 6,000 people in the Parisian revolutionary army (including 1,200 artillerymen) and 30,000 in the provincial armies. The activity of the army covered 25 departments, and its main objective was to occupy two thirds of the country. Another goal was to ensure the supply of food to the capital, by requisitioning grain from northern regions. The army also aimed to occupy one-third of its people, to participate in the bloodthirsty repression of the federalist revolt in Lyon and to participate in dechristianisation.

The Committee for National Safety did not like the revolutionary armies because they were anarchic, did not submit to authority and generated opposition to the revolution due to their brutal methods. Thus, they were doomed to being disbanded as soon as the revolutionary government found a firm footing.

The convention bowed to public pressure from Roux and the sans-culottes, passing the law punishing food stockpiling with death. Traders refused to transport large quantities of food in fear of being accused of stockpiling. Thus, the food shortages got worse.

The Convention accepted price fixing by passing the Law of the Maximum. The new law fixed the price of bread and other basic products and services, to prices one-third higher than the current level. Price fixing would have no sense without the control of salaries, since salaries determined the level of prices. Salaries were fixed 50% over the 1790 level.

Peasants refused to sell grain at the fixed price. So, requisitioning was permitted as the only way of feeding the towns and the army. The price ceiling turned people against each other. The peasants hated the ceiling since it was often less than the cost of production. The sans-culottes, however, needed it to survive. When the representatives of the Convention arrived in the countryside with the revolutionary army to impose the price ceiling, there were conflicts with the peasants.

The government needed the cooperation of the wealthy peasants who owned large parts of the harvest. These were town councillors and tax collectors who oversaw the requisitioning. The price ceiling must be upheld. In order to satisfy the wealthy peasants, the government revised the prices, increasing them. This measure displeased the sans-culottes. The towns and armies were fed, and the assignat, worth 22% of its face value, grew to 48% in a few months.

The Terror had three faces. The first was official Terror, exercised by the Committees for Public Safety and General Safety. Its headquarters were in Paris, and its victims were brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. The second was the Terror in the regions of the federal revolts. There was a third Terror in the other areas of France, controlled by the surveillance committees, the committees of the representatives on mission and of the revolutionary armies.

The committees were responsible for bringing cases to the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris. The tribunal heard 260 cases and pronounced 66 death sentences. Robespierre and the Mountain considered that the Terror must be legal and be overseen by the government.

Trials were brought against well-known people, at the request of the population. Thus, they did away with the people considered to be enemies of the republic. The Revolutionary Tribunal became the scene of an endless run of trials and death sentences: Marie Antoinette, 31 deputies and Girondists, Philippe Egalite and Madame Roland. Acquittal was not an option.

The Terror was put in practice in the whole of France by the representatives on mission and the revolutionary armies. The representatives on mission were fanatical Jacobins, who filled the new revolutionary committees with their supporters. The administration had delegated its responsibilities to these committees. They had the right to arrest anyone considered a threat to reform. The committees symbolized terror at a local level, since they were the Terror’s only permanent institution in the rural districts.

The federal revolt had been repressed in the whole country by the end of 1793 by the regular army. Marseilles, Lyon and Toulon were occupied, and the rebels in the Vendee were defeated.

Every peasant found in the area was shot by the troops. Smallholdings and harvests were burned to the ground. Women were raped and mutilated. After peace was made, the Vendee looked like a ghost town. Thousands of people who had surrendered filled the prisons, and were then shot without trial. 2,000 of these were from the Angers region. At the Vendee, 7,000 people were condemned by the revolutionary courts: all peasants, no bourgeoisie.

The representatives on mission were often the authors of the most terrible atrocities. At Nantes, Carrier carried out awful executions by drowning. 1,800 people, half of whom were women, were put in barges, taken to the river Loire and sunk. At Toulon, 800 people were shot without trial and 282 were guillotined by the revolutionary commission.

Many people were mown down by cannons in front of graves dug beforehand. Others were guillotined at Lyon. Half a million people were arrested, with around 10,000 of them dying in prison. Local administrations were purged, with moderates replaced by militant sans-culottes. According to studies, there were 17,000 official executions. Amongst those executed, 28% were peasants from the Vendee and 31% laborers in Lyon and Marseilles. The total number of those executed without trial was approximately 50,000.

A process of dechristianisation took place, which was actually an attack on the Church. This attack took different forms. Churches were closed, bells and silverware were confiscated, crosses were destroyed. Priests were forced to marry. There were very few recalcitrant priests left, so dechristianisation became an attack on the constitutional church.

Although the Convention did not like Catholicism, it allowed rather than encouraged the attack on the church. Thus, a new revolutionary calendar was introduced to replace the Christian calendar. The new calendar began on the 22nd of September 1792, when the republic was proclaimed. Year I was from the 22nd of September 1792 to the 21st of September 1793. The year was divided into 12 months with 30 days each, with 5 extra days: sans-culottides. Each month was split into three periods of 10 days, with each tenth day a day of rest.

Another decree gave each month a name, such as vendemiaire - the month of vine harvests (22 Sep - 21 Oct), or floreal - the month of flowers (20 April - 19 May). Sundays and church celebrations were ignored. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 20,000 priests were forced to give up the priesthood.

The Paris Commune stopped paying the salaries of the clergy, and the churches in Paris were closed. Notre-Dame became the Temple of Reason. Later, many of the churches in the provinces were closed. Fouche, an agent of the dechristianisation, wrote inscriptions at the entrances to cemeteries such as “Death is eternal sleep.”

It seemed that the Government had resolved the problems threatening the existence of the republic. The federalist revolts had been repressed, towns had supplies of food and the value of the assignat was rising. The French army rousted Spanish troops from Roussillon and piedmont troops from Savoya. The English were defeated at Hondschoote, and the Austrians at Wattignies.

Conflict with the sans-culottes was inevitable. Anarchy ruled in the departments. The reason for this was that the law was interpreted at will or ignored by the local revolutionary committees, the revolutionary armies and representatives such as Fouche. The Committee for General Safety entrusted the administration of the Terror to the members of the local surveillance committees.

The plain and the Mountain accepted a new law. The two committees gained full executive powers. The Committee for General Safety was in charge of police and domestic safety, with the Revolutionary Tribunal and the surveillance committees under its control. The Committee for Public Safety had wide-reaching responsibilities, such as monitoring ministers and generals. It also decided foreign policy and purged and influenced local government.

Governors of communes and departments were subordinated to national agents. These agents were appointed by the central government and were accountable to it. The representatives on mission, sent by the Convention, came under the authority of the Committee for Public Safety. Thus, all the revolutionary armies were dispersed. Anarchy came to an end, and the authority of the sans-culottes was reduced. Many elements of the Old Regime reappeared. This was due to the fact that Robespierre upheld the necessity of a dictatorship until all foreign and domestic enemies were defeated.

The main danger for Robespierre came from Hébert and his followers. Hébert’s newspaper, La Père Duchesne, militated for violence, and was popular among the sans-culottes. Hébert supported the Jacobins against the Girondists and wanted a position in government after the power takeover.

Hébert was not named ministry of internal affairs and he turned against the Jacobins. He accused the Committee of Public Safety of tyranny. Hébert tried to gain power by becoming a supporter of the general dissatisfaction of the population. Hébertists had few followers in the Convention, but many in the Cordeliers Club, in the Commune, in the Paris revolutionary army and in the populist societies.

Robespierre strongly disliked the Hébertists because they had a prime role in the campaign for dechristianisation. Robespierre hated political extremism. In order to keep the Hébertists away from the masses, he proposed that the property of suspects be confiscated and given to the poor.

Hébert declared at the Cordeliers Club that insurrection was necessary. Robespierre decided to destroy him. Hébert and 18 of his followers were arrested, but in order to prevent street riots, the government acted with caution. It didn’t arrest the leaders of the Commune, but it accused the Hébertists of being foreign agents. The government believed that the Hébertists wanted to install a military dictatorship, and that they were preparing the ground for the restoration of the monarchy. The population let itself be manipulated, and the Hébertists were guillotined.

The Committee for Public Safety profited by the opportunity to install its own dictatorship. This happened in the context in which the revolutionary army was disbanded, the Cordeliers Club was closed, and the popular societies were dissolved. Also, the Commune was purged and then taken over by Robespierre’s supporters.

An opposition group to Robespierre was formed around Danton, who wanted to re-establish the independence of local governance, ending centralisation. Danton wanted to calm the dissensions of the revolutionary movement and stop the Terror. He understood that for all this to be possible, the war must be stopped, since it was the war that had caused the Terror.

Danton became very rich, and it was not known where his new wealth came from. Almost 400,000 livres were spent while he was the minister of justice. Danton was accused of corruption and of being controlled by foreign powers. Camille Desmoulins, his friend, supported him in his attempts to end the Terror. In his newspaper, Le Vieux Cordelier, Desmoulins called for 200,000 suspected citizens to be released.

The Committee for Public Safety saw Danton as a threat because he had many followers in the Convention, and they thought he would restore the monarchy. He was brought before the revolutionary Tribunal and executed by guillotine together with Desmoulins and his other followers. Desmoulins’ wife tried to organize a demonstration in his support, but was arrested and executed together with Hébert’s wife.

An atmosphere of hate and suspicion reigned, in which deputies no longer dared speak out against the regime. The Mountain deputy, Thibaudeau, wrote in his memoirs about how monstrous the dictatorship of the Terror was.

The government wanted to obtain full powers of repression, so it dissolved all the revolutionary tribunals in the provinces. All enemies of the republic were brought to Paris and judged by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Although the factions of Danton and Hébert had been done away with, their followers continued to be a threat. For this reason, the Terror had to continue until these people were also eliminated.

After they escaped assassination plots, Robespierre and Couthon created the proposal for the new law of prairial. Through this law, which was later passed in government, all those who tried to pervert traditions and corrupt consciences were declared enemies of the people. Those accused no longer had the right to assisted defence, and the only possible verdicts were death or acquittal. During a nine-week period, there were more people condemned to death than all those condemned before this law proposal. Many of these were from higher classes.

Robespierre believed in God, whom he called Providence. He believed in life after death, where only the virtuous would be rewarded. He hated the campaign of dechristianisation. He wanted to unite all Frenchmen under the cult of the Supreme Being. The Catholics were upset because he ignored Catholic doctrine and the papacy. Even the anti-clerics were against him because they thought he was just one step away from reintroducing the Roman Catholic religion. They were afraid that Robespierre would declare himself the high priest of the new religion.

Robespierre was losing the support of the populist movement. The sans-culottes were disappointed by the execution of the Hébertists, by the dissolution of the populist societies, by the end of direct democracy in the arrondissements, and by the rise in the price ceiling. Inflation grew, and the assignat fell to 36% of its face value.

The Commune, in which Robespierre’s followers were dominant, decided to put a ceiling on salaries. Salaries fell by up to 50% and dissatisfaction grew amongst the sans-culottes, who were salaried workers. The population was fed up with the Great Terror. It was no longer necessary on the foreign front, since France had taken the offensive, regaining Belgium and crossing the Rhine, Alps and Pyrenees. The two committees began to enter into conflict.

The Committee for Public Safety created its own department of police, led by Robespierre. The goal was to monitor corrupt civil servants. The Committee for General Safety was profoundly affected by this usurpation of its responsibilities concerning domestic safety. Conflicts broke out inside the Committee for Public Safety. Billaud and Collot, connected with Hébert, felt threatened by Robespierre.

The Commune leaders wanted an insurrection in support of Robespierre and his colleagues. However, this was no longer possible, since the dictatorship created by the committees led to a loss in their popularity.

Robespierre disappeared from public life for more than a month. He stopped giving speeches in the Convention. He was physically and emotionally exhausted after the committee members had worked for hours on end for the last several months. When he returned, he addressed the Convention and not the Committee. Robespierre abandoned caution and gave a speech in which he abused his colleagues. He maintained that there was a conspiracy in the Convention and demanded the punishment of the traitors, refusing however to give names.

Robespierre waited passively. During this time, the Convention outlawed the deputies whose arrest had been ordered earlier, together with the leaders of the Commune, meaning that these people could be executed without trial. Robespierre was arrested. Later, together with 21 of his supporters, he was executed. In the days that followed, another 100 members of the Commune followed Robespierre to the scaffold.

The moderates, such as Carnot, and the supporters of the Terror, such as Fouche and Collot, felt threatened and united to plot against Robespierre. When Robespierre tried to speak, he was prevented. The Convention voted for his arrest, together with his brother, and also Couthon and Saint Just. They were held under the Commune’s authority, but then freed, meeting at the town hall.

Historians’ opinions of Robespierre differ greatly: from an insignificant man, vaguely ridiculous and vulnerable, to a prudent or calculated politician who carefully prepared his ground and did not act until he was sure of success. Still, Robespierre was considered a great revolutionary, who directed events and caused them during the Terror, so that his reputation in France was boundless.