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Robespierre: Dictatorship & Terror,

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Presentation on theme: "Robespierre: Dictatorship & Terror,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Robespierre: Dictatorship & Terror, 1792-1794
The French Revolution Robespierre: Dictatorship & Terror,

2 Key Time Line: 1792-1794 1792 Creation of Revolutionary Tribunal
Republican Elections Arrest of the King on grounds of treachery New Convention Meets 1793 September Massacres Execution of the King Girondin versus Jacobin tensions Extension of War (to Liberal States) Creation of the Committee of Public Safety Jacobin takeover of Power Creation of the Committee of General Security Remaking of the Calendar: Year 1=1792

3 1794 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 Robespierre. 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

4 Maximilien Robespierre
May 1758-July 1794 The man who would lead France through the dictatorship, inspired by his Rousseau derived beliefs in the necessity of a ‘virtuous republic’. Robespierre / Skara kommun / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

5 St. Just, August July1794 Le Jour ni l'Heure 4097 : artiste anonyme, portrait de Saint-Just, “l'Archange de la Terreur”, , musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Palais Saint-Pierre, vendredi 3 juin 2011, 16:16:34 / Renaud Camus ( / CC BY 2.0 Robespierre’s right hand man and chief architect of much of the terror – despite (or because of?) his very young age of 24/25.

6 Georges Danton October 1759-April 1794
And here the figure of Danton, celebrated popular hero and sometime Jacobin, who was immortalised in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities – here captured heroically in a French statue. However despite the impression given here, in fact Danton was a rather dubious figure, well known at the time for making an awful lot of wealth out of the tragic events Tarbes : statue de Danton, bas-relief: Danton haranguant les femmes à la halle. / Frédérique PANASSAC / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (

7 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 An early reflection on the coming Terror, written by a royalist, which was incredibly accurate in its dark vision for the future.

8 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 it at TWELVE THOUSAND PERSONS …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. Times account of the ‘September Massacres’ in which all previous fears would now be realised. This was very much the ‘September 11’ moment of its era, bringing in the harsh reality of French Revolutionary politics, as the people of Paris ran wild through the streets of the capital, massacring apparently indiscriminately – indeed several contemporary reports even included reference to macabre acts of cannibalism. The real problem though, for contemporary observers at home and abroad, was that the event seemed to symbolise a new form of politics – radical fundamentalism – as the violent mob combined with an extremist middle and even upper class leadership, to overthrow the new constitutional monarchy and replace it with a self-proclaimed proto-communist ‘Virtuous Republic’. This movement, centred around the extremist Robespierre and his Montagnard supporters, would take over power by spring 1793, and immediately unleash a wave of terror against the multiple ‘enemies of the people’ as they defined it. Worse still their ambitions were clearly internationalist too, as they began to issue propaganda inciting the working classes across Europe to join with them in a ‘war of liberation. As with September 11 too then, the implications of the event in terms of international security were so vast, that it helped to push Britain into a ‘War on Terror’, which would last 23 years and involve almost all the population in one way or another.

9 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 necessary. Meanwhile in Britain too government was growing increasingly concerned about the consequences for Britain of French radicalism as this letter shows.

10 An Alternative Anthem? English Radical song, 1790s
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 Whilst this radical song showed that the British government too had cause for concern, as Thomas Paine’s pro French works (most notably the Rights of Man) increasingly struck a real chord with the British working classes.

11 Execution of Louis XVI 1793 But it was Louis XVI’s execution in 1793 which really showed to France and the world the truly radical nature of this stage of the revolution French_Revolution_Louis_XVI_Execution ( /) / Charles LeBlanc ( / CC BY-SA 2.0 (

12 I think it was somewhere about [that] time
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. Hot on the heels of the execution of Louis came the formal declaration of war by Britain in February 1793 , and it became a major talking point not just for politicians but for the public: The ‘Man on the Street’s’ view however remained a little vague as shown above… Thomas Carter, Knights Weekly Volume: Memoirs of a Working Man, London, 1845 , pp 83-84

13 Jacques-Louis David, 1793 But back in France it was the radical Jacobins who were clearly in the ascendancy, and in the firing line - somewhat literally. As shown here in probably the most famous print of all – Marat’s assassination by the widow of a rival, as captured epically by the painter Jacques-Louis David. A revolutionary hero and iconic figure, he was also the man widely suspected to be behind the September massacres… Jacques-Louis David: The Death of Marat (Pompidou Museum - Metz, France) ( /) / iz.mendoza ( / (

14 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 acquitted. Meanwhile Robespierre’s government was busy widening ever further the remit of Terror…

15 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 needs. 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 serve? And Robespierre himself was busy attempting his revolution of morality…

16 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. Whilst the idea that external war and internal subversion were intimately connected continued to be stressed – despite the fact that France was now increasingly on the winning side in war!

17 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. Robespierre’s Rousseau-derived ideological attachment to the Revolution was also becoming abundantly clear. And as Terror intensified Jacobinism began to eat itself, as Danton fell out with Robespierre after arguing for an end to Terror’s excesses – naturally leading to Danton’s own death…

18 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. Whilst in Britain plans were rapidly developing to ensure the loyalty of the masses by directly involving the bourgeoisie

19 Jacques-Alexis Thuriot, on Robespierre and the Cult, 1794
“It’s not enough for him to be dictator – he has to be God too.” Meanwhile in France even religion being transformed as Robespierre tried to create a new secular religion…

20 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 class’. The notion that wealth posed a domestic threat to the Revolution thus became widespread. By July 1794, the frenzy of killing finally came to an end – with the death of Robespierre himself, as the Convention finally could take no more, and rose up against him in the Thermidor uprising. But modern historians remain very divided as to the motives behind the Terror.

21 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 loved. Whilst a man who managed to survive the Terror reflects back on an experience which was so dramatic it would cause repercussions at home and abroad for centuries to come...

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