Revolution and Terror


The American Revolutionary war is considered to have been unpopular both in England and in America. Despite this, the American Revolutionary war was astonishingly won and America immediately changed to the United States becoming one of the most historical governments in history. A few years after the American Revolution, there was the occurrence of another revolution in France in 1789. The French Revolution was characterized by extreme violence as the Revolution took a turn of being war between classes which spilled over to being a Revolution against the king. The main reasons for the French revolution were found to be very different from the American Revolution through the French-derived their inspiration from the latter. The main factor that led to the French revolution was the continued oppression of the lower classes particularly the peasants who were tired of overworked and paid minimum wages.

The most probable approach of the revolution was that the well educated and the aristocrats’ were seen to support the Revolution due to the new economic activities that came with the Revolution. Those in the upper classes were specifically interested in establishing a constitutional monarchy similar to that in England. This further implies that despite the Revolution drawing inspiration from the Americans, the ultimate model for the French Revolution was Britain which had achieved a constitutional monarchy and an established aristocracy. The French Revolution thrust forward opportunistic leaders who were determined to ride the wave of the revolution into the great power. The ultimate approach of the revolution was that the low class in the society vented their anger on the rich aristocrats while the aristocrats retaliated by introducing a reign of terror.

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The French Revolution was at its lowest ebb at in 1793 as a result of enemy forces advancing towards the French regions. Particularly, the British army ships hovered around French ports in an attempt to link up with the rebels. One of the regions that experienced vicious rebellion was the Vendee region which experienced the greatest occurrences of Federalist revolts. However, the situation got out of hand as a result of acute food shortages, fear of reprisal and local pressure which led to the collapse of many Federalist revolutions.

The beginning of terror

Despite the committee of Public Safety not being an executive arm of the government, there were suggestions that the commission become the provisional government in France since it was the closest they had ever had. The next few years saw the commission marshal the French resources to avert many social, political and econ0mic crisis facing the country. Despite Marat having been killed at the beginning of the revolution, his ideological approach towards solving the country’s problem was still carried in the mind of many. Marat had previously stated that the extreme use of the guillotine against traitors, suspects and counter-revolutionaries was the only possible solution to the crisis in the country. In 1973, there was a major demonstration calling for more wages but this demonstration was quickly turned to the advantage of those calling for terror. The proponents of terror argued that the acute shortages facing the country should be tackled through the strict implementation of the law. This led to the convention giving the green light to the organization of revolutionary armies with an aim of marching against the rather unpatriotic demonstrators around the countryside.


The next few weeks were characterized by radical action by the government in a move to enforce the law. On September the same year, there was the introduction of Law of Suspects that allowed the apprehension of any individual exhibiting any characteristic of being an ally of tyranny and federalism. There was also the introduction of laws on nobles who had also been seen to play a crucial role in the revolution. The Revolutionary Army set out to capture all the supporters of the revolt and successively crush the revolt. There was also the use of the term “citizen” in almost daily speech and the lack of use of the term led to suspicion of being an ally of the revolt.


However, the laws introduced during this period not only targeted a specific aspect of the country but also had effects on other operational institutions of governments. The Bocquier Law of December played a key role in tackling some of the problems faced by children in the country. However, it was the rampant execution that led to the terror being so infamous. This started with the execution of a group known as the Enrages followed shortly by that of former queen Marie Antoinette. Historians estimate that the total number of people that went to the guillotine 16,000 within a short period of nine months. The commission further embarked on setting an example by mass execution in Lyon which had earlier surrendered. The situation was almost similar in Toulon where an estimated 800 people were shot and a further 3000 were guillotined. However, Marseille and Bordeaux managed to escape with a relatively low casualty level of about 100 executions.

The Nature of the Terror

By 1793, the revolutionary army had grown to up to 40,000 troops a situation that led to the increased strength of the army and the spread of terror. Te army mainly comprised of locals mainly recruited in their area of operation hence their local knowledge played a key role in seeking out the perceived traitors and hoarders. Mainly in the countryside, an estimated 500,000 people were imprisoned while 10,000 of this population died in prison. Despite the earlier stages of the terror not having large occurrences of lynching, the late stages were characterized by increased cases of lynching. Most of the executions mainly occurred in Federalist areas due to the intervention of the army in these areas.


During the reign of terror, there was a specific religious attack mainly targeting the Roman Catholic community. “Terror deputies frequently attacked symbols of Catholicism by smashing religious images and vandalizing investments” (2005, pp.43). One particular notable vent was the smashing of the sacred oil of Clovis which was used to anoint French kings. The deputies of the terror movements continued their dechristianization especially in regions where the rebellion was largely suppressed. There was also the removal of Saint from street names depicting the length the deputies were willing to go in spreading dechristianization. However, the Committee of Public Safety became concerned over the continued negative impact in the religious context since the commission believed that the aspect of religion was essential for order. This got the commission to action by the restatement of freedom of religion but this action might have come too little too late since dechristianization had already flourished across the country.

The Law of 14 Frimaire

According to Kerr, this law was passed in December 1793 with an aim of strengthening the control of the Committee of Public Safety in the country by the introduction of a structured chain of command (1985, pp.127). The formation of this law was also to keep the structure of governance highly centralized. This implies that the committee became the overall source of control and there was supposed to be no alterations of decrees made by the commission. This period saw the shutting down of all unofficial bodies with the inclusion of provincial revolutionary armies. The approach taken by the commission with respect to the law is that there was need for uniform administration with no resistance whatsoever. This marked the coming to an end of the first phase of the terror regime. “However, according to Loomis, there were further executions especially in Paris where factional infighting saw more people go to the guillotine” (1964, pp79).

The Republic of Virtue

Robespierre is one of the key figures in the new republic creation due to his approach with respect to the justice and political set up in the country. Robespierre stated that what the country needed was total cleansing and he went ahead to outline his idea of the Republic of virtue while at the same time denouncing the individuals I leadership who he termed as non-virtuous. “This introduced a new phase of terror where people were executed simply for what they might do and not what they had already done or simply because they did not meet the standards of Robespierre new moral standards” (1985. pp. 150-164) The Republic of virtue was characterized by the centralization of power around Robespierre hence the final source of authority came down to a single individual. Under this new criterion, it was possible for a suspect to be found guilty of almost anything and the only kind of punishment given out was death

Executions which had significantly reduced were again on a sharp incline where 1515 individuals were executed in Paris within a short period of two months. This new form of terror took the shape of being class-based rather than the previous approach of countering revolution. This period also saw the alteration of the Paris Commune that gave power to the Committee of Public Safety in regulating wage levels. Despite the sharp criticisms form this; the Paris sections were now too centralized to oppose it. Robespierre was also still convinced that faith was a very important factor in the maintenance of order hence he introduced the Cult of Supreme Being (Andress, 2006). “This was supposed to be a series of Republican themed celebrations which were to be held for the rest of the generations to come for the new calendar; a new civic religion” (further reading, Reign of Terror, 1793-1794).

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