Robespierre - Mastermind of the Reign of Terror

During the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre—known to his supporters as "The Incorruptible"—masterminded the "Reign of Terror." How—and why—did he do this?

His attitude toward the people of France—the country’s “Citizens”—was essentially “you are either with us, in our effort to create a French Republic, or you are against us.”

People—perceived by Robespierre and his eleven colleagues on the “Committee of Public Safety” (CPS) to be “against us”—were swept-up into the Reign of Terror. This horrific time lasted between the 5th of September 1793 and the 28th of July 1794 (the day Robespierre, himself, died).

What are some of the words which Robespierre used to incite this state-sponsored terror? This example is from one of his speeches (translated into English from French):

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.

This terrible war waged by liberty against tyranny- is it not indivisible? 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?

Robespierre, and his colleagues, misunderstood the meaning of “liberty” and “tyranny.” In his quest to bathe France in liberty, Robespierre introduced a form of tyranny ... causing thousands of French people to die.

Robespierre also greatly misunderstood the concept of justice when he said:

Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible...

Such a belief led Robespierre and his CPS colleagues to condemn people to death without a trial. Historians estimate that up to 40,000 French people—designated as “Enemies of the Revolution”—were killed during this Reign of Terror.

When France finally had enough of Robespierre and his CPS policies, he was arrested on July 27, 1794. He reportedly tried to kill himself, by firing a shot at his own head, but he did not die by suicide. Instead, he ended-up with a massively injured jaw.

After his arrest, the injured Robespierre spent the night of July 27th on the table where he’d presided, so many times, as leader of the Committee of Public Safety.

The next day, without a trial, he was brought to the guillotine. In Citizens, Simon Schama tells us what happened when the master of terror arrived at the place of execution:

The fastidious prophet of Virtue was thrust onto the plank by Sanson [the chief executioner in Paris], blood [from his gunshot injury] smeared over his coat and blotching his nankeen breeches.

To give the blade of the guillotine an unobstructed fall, the executioner tore away the paper bandage that had been holding his jaw together. Animal screams of pain escaped, silenced only by the falling blade. (See Citizens, at page 846 of the 1990 Vintage Paperback edition.)

Robespierre thus became the final person to die during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.

This clip—from the BBC's "Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution"—provides some background on the man.

See, also:

Robespierre - Beginnings of the Reign of Terror

Robespierre - Terrorist Leader During the French Revolution

Robespierre - Death by Guillotine

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: May 27, 2020

Media Credits

Clip from "Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution" - originally broadcast July 11, 2009, on BBC Two - online, courtesy BBC WorldWide Channel at YouTube.  Copyright, BBC, all rights reserved.  Provided here as fair use for educational purposes.

Producer:  Mark Hayhurst

Writer:  Mark Hayhurst

Director:  Carl Hindmarch

Participants:  Slavoj Zizek and Simon Schama


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"Robespierre - Mastermind of the Reign of Terror" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. May 27, 2020.
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