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Reign of Terror
By the end of 1971, Europe was preparing to witness the end of a seemingly triumphant revolution in France. The country was
restructuring its government in a forceful and bloodless manner, while the tyrant King Louis the XVI agreed to the demands of the masses(albeit without much choice). However, due to the fanatical
aspirations of men such as Danton, Marat and Robespierre,it would be only a matter of months before the moderate stage of social and
political reform was transformed into a radical phase of barbaric and violent force. In their quest for freedom, equality and fraternity, the leaders of the Jacobins inadvertently turned the revolution into an oligarchic dictatorship that threatened to destroy all that was achieved in the previous two years of insurrection.
The revolution took a sharp turn on August 9th, 1792. The
Municipal government was overthrown in Paris and a Commune was
established by the leaders of the radical forces. During this time
there were continual food riots erupting in every area of the country and, with the threat of war against Austria and Prussia looming, it was vital that order was to be maintained during such tumultuous times. Although the constitution was already enshrined and the citizens had their freedom and liberties, there was still plenty of public dissent and disapproval as to whether or not these laws would help create a new government and prevent the country from breaking apart. The people had come this far and were not prepared to watch their efforts lead to failure or the restoration of an absolute monarch. As a result, the radical forces were able to gain the support of the citizens in declaring that the constitution of 1791 was ineffective and useless since it did not suit the needs of ALL the population of France. Moderate forces preferred to concentrate on the foreign affairs of "new" France, but the radicals insisted on domestic stability first. Led by the popular Danton and the merciless Marat, the Paris Commune discarded the old constitution and called for aNational Convention to begin work on a new, revised version.
The National Convention, divided by the moderate Girondins and the radical Jacobins, was the place where the future of the country was to be eventually determined. It was the premise of the Jacobins that they should eradicate the "enemy within" and secure the destiny of the revolution through the destruction of counter-revolutionary forces. They believed that by weeding out those who opposed the revolution, they could achieve their goals quickly and efficiently. The Girondins were not so quick to agree with the Jacobins, and so political deadlock begin to form in the Convention. It was not until after the September massacres, when 1200 prisoners were executed without trials, that Robespierre and his followers were able to justify their premise. They condemned the actions of the unruly mobs that caused the deaths of innocent Frenchmen and demanded that theMonarchy be abolished in order to eliminate as many of the royalists and monarchists that still remained. It was Marat with his want 100,000 heads to fall" speeches that convinced the masses that those who were not in favour of the revolution had to be dealt with immediately or the revolution would never succeed.
Once the Monarchy was abolished and France was declared a
republic, Robespierre and the Jacobins proceeded to demand the
execution of the last symbol of the old regime: Louis Capet. The
Girondins begged for a stay of execution for the fallen King (in the name of constitutional Justice), but the moderate forces were
overwhelmed by the people\'s support for the radicals and the fate of Louis remained unchanged. His death signified the beginning of a time when nationalism and radicalism would dominate the revolution. On March 10th, the Revolutionary Tribunal was created in order to prosecute the enemies of the revolution. Marat became a virtual Grim Reaper in searching out possible traitors and enemies of the republic. When the Committee on Public Safety was established on the 26th, Robespierre and his Jacobins were able to proudly look upon the reforms that they had injected into the political bloodstream of France. There was no turning back from the radical phase that the people had oluntarily entered and the momentum that the Jacobins
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Montagnards, French First Republic, French Revolution, Jacobins, French nobility, Maximilien Robespierre, Reign of Terror, Georges Danton, Girondins, National Convention, Charlotte Corday, Thermidorian Reaction
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