Portrait of Maximilien Robespierre Author: Pierre Roch Vigneron
Occupation: French Revolutionary
Born: May 6, 1758 in Artois, France
Died: July 28, 1794 in Paris, France
Best known for: Ruling France during the Reign of Terror
Nickname: The Incorruptible
Where was Maximilien Robespierre born?
Maximilien Robespierre was born in northern France on May 6, 1758. After his parents died, Maximilien and his three siblings went to live with their grandparents. Young Maximilien was a smart child who enjoyed reading and studying law. He soon followed in his father's footsteps by attending school in Paris to become a lawyer.
Law and Politics
After graduating from school, Robespierre practiced law in Arras, France. He became known as an advocate for poor people and wrote papers protesting against the rule of the upper classes. When the king summoned the Estates-General in 1789, Robespierre was elected by the commoners to represent them as a deputy of the Third Estate. He traveled to Paris to begin his political career hoping to improve the lives of the common people.
The Revolution Begins
It wasn't long after Robespierre joined the Estates General that the members of the Third Estate (the commoners) broke away and formed the National Assembly. Robespierre was an outspoken member of the National Assembly and a supporter of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Soon, the French Revolution had begun.
Robespierre Led the Jacobin Club
Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre Author: Unknown French painter
As the Revolution progressed, Robespierre joined the Jacobins Club where he found many like-minded people. He was considered a radical who wanted the monarchy overthrown and the people to take over the government.
Robespierre Gains Power
Over time, Robespierre began to gain power in the new revolutionary government. He became the leader of the radical "Mountain" group in the Assembly and eventually gained control of the Jacobins. In 1793, the Committee of Public Safety was formed. This group pretty much ran the government of France. Robespierre became the leader of the Committee and, therefore, the most powerful man in France.
Reign of Terror
Robespierre was determined to see that the French Revolution did not fail. He feared that neighboring countries, such as Austria and Great Britain, would send soldiers to put down the revolution and re-establish the French monarchy. In order to stamp out any opposition, Robespierre announced a "rule of Terror." During this time, anyone who opposed the revolutionary government was arrested or executed. The guillotine was used to chop the heads off of suspected traitors. Over 16,000 "enemies" of the state were officially executed over the next year. Thousands more were beaten to death or died in prison.
Trial and Execution
After a year of harsh rule by Robespierre, many of the revolutionary leaders had had enough of the Terror. They turned on Robespierre and had him arrested. He was executed, along with many of his supporters, by guillotine on July 28, 1794.
The execution of Robespierre and his supporters on 28 July 1794 Author: Unknown
Historians often debate the legacy of Robespierre. Was he a monster who had thousands of people killed to maintain power? Was he a hero and fighter for the people against tyranny? In some ways, he was both.
Interesting Facts about Maximilien Robespierre
Robespierre was shot in the jaw during his arrest. It is unknown whether he shot himself trying to commit suicide, or if he was shot by one of the guards arresting him.
He was against the Catholic Church and had a new religion called the Cult of the Supreme Being established as the official religion of France.
He was outspoken against slavery, which earned him enemies among many slave owners. He helped to get slavery abolished in France in 1794, but it was reinstituted in 1802 by Napoleon.
Robespierre had many of his political opponents executed during the Reign of Terror. At one point, a law was passed that a citizen could be executed for just the "suspicion" of being anti-revolutionary.