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French Revolution

Reign of Terror

History >> French Revolution

The Reign of Terror was a dark and violent period of time during the French Revolution. Radicals took control of the revolutionary government. They arrested and executed anyone who they suspected might not be loyal to the revolution.

Leading up to the Terror

The French Revolution had begun four years earlier with the Storming of the Bastille. Since then, the government had been in a constant state of change. By 1793, the revolutionary government was in crisis. France was being attacked by foreign countries on all sides and civil war was breaking out in many regions. Radicals led by Maximilien Robespierre took over the government and started the Reign of Terror.

Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre
by Unknown French painter
How long did it last?

The Reign of Terror began on September 5, 1793 with a declaration by Robespierre that Terror would be "the order of the day." It ended on July 27, 1794 when Robespierre was removed from power and executed.

The Committee of Public Safety

During the Reign of Terror, France was ruled by a group of men called the Committee of Public Safety. The leader of this group was a man named Robespierre. Robespierre was also the leader of a radical group called the Jacobins. The Jacobins felt that it was their duty to preserve the revolution, even if it meant violence and terror.

New Laws

The Committee of Public Safety introduced several new laws. They wanted to make "Terror" an official government policy. One of these laws was called the "Law of Suspects." This law said that anyone who was even suspected as an enemy of the revolution was to be arrested. They created a court called the Revolutionary Tribunal for the trial of their political enemies. At one point, the court could only determine two verdicts: the accused was either 1) innocent, or 2)was put to death.

The Terror

Throughout the next year, France was ruled by the Terror. People had to be careful of everything they said, what they did, and who they talked to. The slightest hint of opposition to the revolutionary government could mean prison or even death. Sometimes revolutionaries accused people they didn't like or wanted to get rid of without any evidence. All anyone had to do was accuse someone, and they were considered guilty.

Drawing of execution by guillotine during French Revolution
Thousands were Executed by Guillotine
Source: La Guillotine en 1793 by H. Fleischmann
How many people were killed?

Around 17,000 people were officially executed in France, including 2,639 in Paris. Many more died in prison or were beaten to death in the streets. Over 200,000 people were arrested.

Fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins

As the bloodshed and executions of the Terror became worse, many people realized that it could not continue. Enemies of Robespierre organized to overthrow him. On July 27, 1794, he was removed from power and the Reign of Terror was over. He was executed the next day.

Interesting Facts about the Reign of Terror Activities

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  • More on the French Revolution:

    Timeline and Events
    Timeline of the French Revolution
    Causes of the French Revolution
    Estates General
    National Assembly
    Storming of the Bastille
    Women's March on Versailles
    Reign of Terror
    The Directory
    Famous People of the French Revolution
    Marie Antoinette
    Napoleon Bonaparte
    Marquis de Lafayette
    Maximilien Robespierre

    Symbols of the French Revolution
    Glossary and Terms

    Works Cited

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