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Reign of Terror During the French Revolution

After the fall of the monarchy, the French revolutionaries faced large popular insurrections and division among the people. In the early days of the revolution, many people still sided with the monarchy which brought on accusations of treason against the new republic. A new stable government was needed to end the chaos, and the Committee of Public Safety was created with Maximilien Robespierre as its leader. He wanted to create a “republic of virtue” in which the government would force the people to become virtuous republicans through a massive reeducation program. And thus began the Reign of Terror which had the purpose to eliminate opposition and to cow citizens into submission.

For Robespierre, the Terror was necessary and inevitable to maintain the Republic by revealing the enemy within France. However, the Reign of Terror proved to be a distortion of revolutionary ideals because instead of helping the country to unify and obtain greatness, in essence, it victimized its own citizens. As Robespierre eloquently explained, the main goal of the French Revolution was “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality.” (Lualdi, pp. 116). The revolutionaries wanted a fair government that could allow all social classes to enjoy the same rights without making a huge distinction with aristocrats. There was an immense gap between the First Estate and the Third Estate, and the revolutionaries were trying to diminish it. (Hunt, pp. 593).

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However, the reign of Terror did nothing to promote liberty or equality. Instead, it terrorized the people through executions in the guillotine and desperate measures. Robespierre wanted what was best for the people, and eventually, he believed what was best for the people could only be achieved by ruling over them. He wanted control over people’s lives and believed that ruling with an iron fist would move the country forward. Robespierre talked about natural virtue in his speech and emphasized that a nation becomes corrupt when the people lose their character, liberty and virtue. (Lualdi, pp. 117). The irony in this is that he lost his character and the basic ideas of the Revolution in the process of ending with the opposition. He started believing in the equality of the people, but his beliefs soon turned around.

The bottom line of the Reign of Terror is that it became even worse than the previous monarchy, terrorizing the people and controlling every aspect of their lives. In addition, the monarchy ended in France because of the people’s desires to limit the power of the king, which was the government at the time. They did not want one person to rule their lives by promoting and enforcing laws that only beneficiate the king and a selected few. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was the first step towards the writing of a constitution for the new government, and a fundamental document for the Revolution that defined the individual and collective rights of all social estates to be universal. One of the articles expressed in the document was that “law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society.” (Lualdi, pp. 114).

This means that laws were supposed to be established for the good of the people and not for the personal advantage of others. The Terror, however, promoted and enforced laws that went against the ideals of liberty and equality. Rights such as freedom of religion and speech were long forgotten when trying to end with opposition. The Terror gave rise to laws against Christianity by closing churches and making clergymen vow to the Republic instead of the church. Such laws did not belong in the category of preventing actions “hurtful to society” and therefore they should not have been implemented in the first place. In conclusion, the Terror was a distortion to people’s desires to limit the government’s power because it created laws that allowed a small part of society to control people’s lives, and beneficiate the people higher up in the social status.

Furthermore, the violence created by the revolutionaries during the Terror was not necessary because it perpetuated more violence and made people suffer. Power and violence should not be confused by being the same thing because power appears when power is in danger. If left to its own course, violence leads to power’s disappearance of a particular regime or government. This was the case of Robespierre who ended up without any power to govern people’s lives. He believed that “virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is impotent.” (Lualdi, pp. 118). This might make logical sense but the reality was that the Terror only led to more division in society and even more violence. Robespierre went along saying that “terror is nothing but prompt, severe inflexible justice,” but in reality, his terror was enforced due to the frustration against the upper-class division and desire to control people. Here, justice is not the best definition of terror since fairness was far from the minds of revolutionaries executing commoners. The Reign of Terror only allowed violence, hatred and terror to proliferate in France making the social classes separate even more.

In conclusion, the French Revolution grew out of aspirations for freedom that inspired many other countries and permanently altered the political atmosphere in France by removing an old form of government. But, the Revolution also had its darker side: the Reign of Terror. In this time, revolutionaries forgot or ignored those ideals of liberty and terrorized people as they pleased. Violence might appear to do good at first, but the good is only temporary and creates an evil that could be temporary. The divisions created in France endured for many years and it was due to the violence and horrible acts committed by revolutionaries during the Terror. The revolutionaries proclaimed human rights and democratic government, but they excluded women and others which lead to beliefs that everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

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Reign of Terror During the French Revolution. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved May 9, 2021, from https://essayscollector.com/essays/reign-of-terror-during-the-french-revolution/