French Revolution

The Reign of Terror

Instead of a democracy the Convention established a war dictatorship operating through the Committee of Public Safety, the Committee of General Security, and numerous agencies such as the Revolutionary Tribunal. Known to history as the Reign of Terror, this period represented the efforts of a few men to govern the country and wage war in a time of crisis. Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre dominated the new government, with Robespierre gradually gaining over Danton and others. Price and wage maximums were unevenly enforced, and acceptance of the inflated paper currency, the assignats, was made mandatory. A huge number of suspects were arrested; thousands were executed, including Marie Antoinette. A revolutionary calendar, with 10-day weeks, was adopted.

The fanatic Jacques Hébert, who had introduced the worship of a goddess of Reason, was arrested and executed in Mar., 1794, along with other so-called ultrarevolutionaries. The next month Danton and his followers, the "Indulgents," who advocated relaxation of emergency measures, were executed. To counter Hébertist influence, Robespierre proclaimed (June, 1794) the cult of the Supreme Being. France's military successes lessened the need for strong domestic measures, but Robespierre called for new purges. Fearing that the Terror would be turned against them, members of the Convention arrested Robespierre on July 27, 1794 (see Thermidor), and had him guillotined; a majority of Commune members were also executed.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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