On April 6, 1793, the First French Republic, after less than one year of life, was superseded by the rule of the Committee of Public Safety, led by one Maximilien Robespierre. The weak National Convention could not stand alone against the forces gathering in Europe to destroy it, and in the end became powerless. The Committee was installed, to a large degree, by the support of the people of Paris, traditionally the centers of revolutionary sentiment. Although the National Convention did still exist, until the anti-Robespierre "coalition of rivals", it wielded almost no power during the Reign.

The Early Days of the Committee

The initial stated goals of the CPS were the purging of the Girondists from the Convention, and the formation of stronger armed forces, both to protect France's unsteady position on the Continent and to ensure that counterrevolutionary views were not allowed to take hold among the people. The CPS's fight with counterrevolution soon became Robespierre's focus; eventually, as many as 200,000 arrests were made (estimates vary due to poor records) of those suspected of not supporting the Revolution. Many suspects were quietly killed, and Robespierre began to battle his political enemies through his executioners. While Robespierre's rule was tyrannical, it was noted for demonstrating the fact that a strong executive was not the driving force behind a republic, as well as the need for checks and balances. The radical politics of eighteenth-century France made no allowances for peaceful solutions, however, instead opting to end the rule of monarchy once and for all. The people were forced into desperate measures by the complete lack of support from their neighbors and the threat of military action by the European regents.

The Law of Suspects and the Tribunal

In September of 1793, the Committee produced the "Law Of Suspects", which more clearly defined which French citizens could be held under charge of treason. It also laid the groundwork for the Revolutionary Tribunal, which held final say over the lives and deaths of the accused. As "traitors" began to pile up in France's prisons, Robespierre forced the Tribunal to choose between innocence or death for anyone accused of treason against the French state. While public sentiment was strongly against the vast majority of these deaths, two factors kept the people quiet. The most obvious was Robespierre's stranglehold over the French authorities, who had the power to imprison and execute without trial anyone who opposed his policies and decisions. France's military victories provided the second incentive for a lack of revolt; Robespierre's rule had ensured the independence of the nation, at the cost of individual rights. As the French army's victories waned, so did Robespierre's support. This would eventually become his downfall.

The End of the Reign of Terror

Eventually, Robespierre's creation turned on him; he too was guillotined for crimes against the nation. In July of 1794, the National Convention managed to coalesce against Robespierre's rule and restore a semblance of democratic order to the nation. Later periods such as the White Terror completed the purging of Robespierre's supporters, as hundreds of officials from the Reign of Terror were executed for crimes against the nation. This final strike ended the period of France's rule by fear, as the nation returned to the imperial system; the Convention soon formed the Directory, a smaller, corrupt ruling body. The struggling Directory gave way to the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte after a series of spectacular military failures.


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Halsall, Paul. The Modern History Sourcebook: "Robespierre: Terror and Virtue, 1794"
Hooker, Richgard. "The Radical Revolution". 1996-1999.