Terrorism is often associated nowadays with radical extremist groups, who use terror as their only method of power to attain their goals from others. The first time “terror” was actually used however was during the French revolution. The reign of terror was seen in the aftermath of the execution of the King.
It was a product of the mentality of the revolution. With everyday that passed, the uncertainty amongst the people grew, and actions became more and more drastic. With the King no longer in the picture, the Jacobins and the Girondins were more enemies to one another than ever before.During the French Revolution, it can be debated whether or not the terror that was used can be seen as a sign of power or as a sign of weakness. Whether it was out of power or weakness, the terror was a direct result of the mentality of the revolution. King Louis XVI was executed for treason after a trial by the revolutionaries in protest against the monarchy in January of 1793.
The new government however immediately had foreign troops threatening its national sovereignty. Additionally, the country was facing civil war and internal division.The new government was under a lot of scrutiny and the National Convention needed to take action against the foreign invaders as well as the turmoil within the state. It resolved to create an alliance between the rural and urban populations in order to mobilize the country for war. The Jacobin government‘s means for persuasion-combined policies meant to address grievances while using tactics of intimidation and coercion.
The Committee of Public Safety was the executive committee of the National Convention in power and ordered mass arrests of anyone thought to be a threat to the national security.Internal enemies included deserters as well as citizens expressing disagreement with the revolutionary ideals or those who had been associated with the government under Louis XVI. It is where the issue of deciding whether or not a person was guilty of disagreeing with revolutionary ideals that great debate and shades of grey arise. There were great arguments as to what the ultimate goals of the revolution were.
Some people wanted to keep pushing the revolution further and further becoming more radical than ever.Others were content with success they had and thought the revolution had already achieved its goals and was over. For some people however, the world had no shades of grey and unless you conformed to their vision for the revolution, you were seen as guilty of treason in their eyes. Evariste Gamelin and Maximilian Robespierre are two people, among many others, whose personalities and mentalities drove the French Revolution into a state of terror. In the book, The God’s Will Have Blood, Evariste is put in the position of magistrate with the power to decide who should live and who should die.This book is an enlightening experience of the terror that took place during that time, but more importantly it is a look into the minds of those who were in power.
Evariste saw anything that was associated with the “Old Regime” as evil. Even with the art that was popular from the old regime, he denounced it and began to do his work in only charcoals. It is often said that art is a reflection of society and with Gamelin’s work; it is a direct interpretation of his views on society. His artwork had no color only black and white, just as he saw the world.To Evariste, judgment was black or white, right or wrong, good and evil. It was a very rigid time with no room for error under the unforgiving eyes of those in power.
In March 1793, the Paris Revolutionary Tribunal was established and the Law of Suspects was issued. The Law of Suspects was a means to detain the suspected unpatriotic citizens in order to discourage counter-revolutionary action. The arrest of suspects by surveillance committees was directed at those who, by word, action or status, were associated with “the Ancien Regime. The suspects included a wide array of citizens from nobles and office holders to women left to represent family names, to clergy and shopkeepers. All government bodies and the army were placed under the control of the Committee, which had to report weekly to the Convention.
This is where in the extreme view of people like Robespierre and Gamelin, people were inflicted with panic and fear. Some people who were not counter-revolutionaries could be convicted of based merely on their lifestyle.Living wealthily was associated suddenly with the old regime. Having indulgences was frowned upon and perusing a simple life was patriot way of the citizens.
All of these things began to be associated with evil and corruption in the eyes of Gamelin and Robespierre. That October began the series of executions by guillotine, and so began the Reign of Terror. The sweeping brutality of the Terror in France utilized the guillotine, propaganda, intimidation, coercion, firing squads, detentions, and surveillance to discourage political opposition.All such opposition at this time was considered treachery and punishable with the threat of execution. If you were seen just talking with someone who might be suspected of treason, then you as well could find yourself being accused of treason as well.
It was that easy to be sentenced to execution at that time. Those in power were extremely mistrusting of everyone around them, and the people of France were made to feel fear to even talk to members of their own family. With this kind of terror stricken mindset, a country cannot be organized or powerful.Despite what was actually happening in France it was the revolutionaries intent above all else to not slow or hinder the momentum of change in France from monarchial rule to popular sovereignty rising out of the revolution of 1789.
The most drastic leader behind them all was Maximilian Robespierre, who was one of the leading members on the Committee of Public safety. He was often thought of as “the incorruptible” and his inability to see the world in anything less than good and evil was one of the main forces behind the terror used in the Revolution.The purpose of the terror differed among Convention members as well as among the Committee of Public Safety members. For some members it was intended to maximize the war effort, but for others it was used for more ideological purposes. Robespierre, who was very much like Gamelin, was one of those members who utilized the terror to benefit his own ideological preferences of the world.
He and his supporters held much higher aims for the Terror than gaining victory in the war. Robespierre's vision was for society to become regenerated, self-denying, and virtuous; for him, this was the absolute basis for the Revolution.His ultimate goal was to cleanse society of all those who in his mind were not worthy of the new Republic he was trying to create. Robespierre believed men were born virtuous, but were then corrupted by society.
His efforts to conform society to his standards of morality were unsuccessful and along with his associates, he pushed to continue the Terror further. Robespierre and his supporters became more and more isolated, because for the majority of the Convention, the Terror was not for perfecting society but for the realization of peace.For this majority, the political and economic controls of the Terror were temporary and necessary means to obtain order in the new regime; it was not a method of supporting an ideology. Eventually, even the Jacobin supporters of Robespierre felt that the Reign of Terror should come to an end. In 1794, the Committee had finally had enough.
Robespierre was consequently arrested and sentenced to death. With the execution of Robespierre by the guillotine, France saw the end of the Reign of Terror by.Ultimately, the devastation during the Reign of Terror is estimated to have encompassed tens of thousands of French citizens throughout the country who were executed for being enemies of the revolution. A large number of these people were probably more specifically enemies of Robespierre and his high standards of virtue. What distinguishes the terrorism that was waged during the Reign of Terror in France from “freedom fighting” that we see in some countries today, is that violence was used not just as a weapon but also as a means of creating fear and paranoia in the masses.
The Jacobins were originally revolutionaries with high ideals to liberate France from monarchial rule. They wanted to keep the power they had gained against external and internal enemies, but their terrorist tactics and unrealistic ideals for society overshadowed their goals for better government. Ultimately the inability of those in power, who were once thought of as enlightened, failed to exercise their power responsibly, thus leading to the rise of power of Napoleon Bonaparte, who would rule France as a dictatorship.