France 1789-1792
Domestic Policy
France 1795-1799
Domestic Policy
France 1792-1794
the Economy

The National Convention and the Reign of Terror, 1793-1795 : Domestic Policy

A.) The Terror

In Sept. 1792 the invading forces had been defeated in the BATTLE OF VALMY. Released of immediate threat, the National Assembly now discussed further reforms. The nobility was regarded an unreliable element.
In Paris King Louis XVI. was accused of treason, deposed, deprived of his title (citizen LOUIS CAPET) and arrested; he was to be executed on January 1st 1793. The National Assemblu seized to function, as those who did not approve of radical action (Royalists, some of the moderates) no longer attended. A new representative body, the NATIONAL CONVENTION, was elected; it first convened on Sept. 21st 1792. A new constitution was passed granting the National Convention absolute power. In June 1793, the Jacobins eliminated the Gironde and eastablished a DICTATORSHIP; a COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY, elected by the (rump) National Convention, was to rule unrestricted. The dominating figure was MAXIMILIAN ROBESPIERRE.
REVOLUTIONARY TRIBUNALS now tried persons suspected of being enemies of the revolution, among them noblemen, the entire royal family, moderate revolutionaries like BAILLY (the Terror in Paris). The National Guard was charged with fighting Royalists in the provinces, most notably in the VENDEE, where the rural population was massacred in areas revolutionary forces got under their control.

Radical revolutionaries believed themselves surrounded by enemies, both inside (Royalists) and outside of the country (coalition forces). In order to preserve the accomplishments of the revolution, they regarded it necessary to destroy the enemy. Most of France's noblemen - unless they had fled the country, lived in areas under royalist control or openly had declared themselves for the revolution - were either hung at lantern posts or guillotined. The number of victims massacred by revolutionary forces in the Vendee is estimated at 200,000, those of the trials at 17,000, only a fraction of whom died under "Madame Guillotine".
In July 1794, LAZARE CARNOT took position against the radicals - Robespierre, St. Just, Couthon; in what is referred to as the THERMIDORAN COUP D'ETAT the moderates took control, Robespierre was arrested on July 27th 1794; executed the next morning. The red terror being over, in Royalist areas revenge in form of WHITE TERROR set in, soon to subside; Napoleon Bonaparte, supporter of Robespierre, at some point feared arrest and execution.

B.) Reforms

Reforms included the proclamation of the REPUBLIC, a new, republican CONSTITIUTION was passed (but not implemented, 1793), the ABOLITION OF CHRISTIANITY proclaimed (May 1794) which Robespierre intended to replace by a CULT OF REASON, the introduction of the METRIX SYSTEM, the introduction of the REVOLUTIONARY CALENDAR and REVOLUTIONARY CHRONOLOGY.
Military reform introduced the LEVEE EN MASSE (obligatory military service for men); education reform distinguished PRIMARY, SECONDARY and HIGHER EDUCATION. Robespierre was a proponent of a policy of CENTRALIZATION. In 1791, slavery had been avolished in France; on February 4th 1794 the ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN THE COLONIES was decreed.
In APRIL 1795 the currency was reformed; the newly introduced FRANC (Germinal Franc) was worth 100 centimes (i.e. money was placed on a decomal footing).

Many of the reforms implemented by the Committee for Public Safety did not survive the fall of Robespierre respectively the radical republic for long. The cult of reason did not survive, slavery was reintroduced in the colonies by Napoleon in 1801, the revolutionary calendar soon was abolished. Yet, the radical republic was the most productive period of the revolution when it came to reforms.

C.) Unrest and the Fall of the Radical Republic

In April and May 1795 the Paris mob - again suffering from famine - marched in the streets, this time dispersed by the army and the National Guard. On August 23rd, the remaining political clubs were shut down, by decree.

Links from the French Revolution Homepage
Timetable : France during the French Revolution and under Napoleon Bonaparte. An annotated Chronology of Civil and Military Events, by Richard Orsinger, 1997
The Guillotine Headquarters
The French Revolution, from Woodberry Forest School, illustrated, many subfiles : Trial and Execution of Louis XVI
Biography of Maximilien Robespierre, from Renata, illustrated; Maximilen Robespierre, What were the motives behind the Man ?, essay by Rowena Searle,
What is the Third Estate ?, Robespierre and the Reign of Terror, from Library, University of Maryland
Chronology of the Abolitions, from Yekrik Yekrak (of Slavery, worldwide)
Biography of Lazare Carnot, from Fondation Carnot
The Metric System, from uffda
DOCUMENTS List of Presidents of the National Convention, from World Statesmen : France (Sept. 1792 - Nov. 1795), by Ben Cahoon , scroll down
The Levee en Masse, from Modern History Sourcebook
The Death of Marie Antoinette, 1793, from Modern History Sourcebook
St. Just, Republican Institutes, 1794, from Hanover Historical Texts Project, excerpt, click here for the full text, also from Hanover Historical Texts Project
Maximilien Robespierre, The Cult of the Supreme Being 1794; On the Principles of Political Morality, 1794; Justification of the use of Terror, 1794, from Modern History Sourcebook
La Marseillaise, from Modern History Sourcebook
Ca Ira, from Modern History Sourcebook
The Indictment of Louis XVI, Dec. 11th 1792, from WFS
Decree concerning the death penalty, March 20th 1792, from WFS
Proclamation of the Convention to the French people, Jan. 23rd 1793, from WFS
Documents of the National Convention, 1792, from Hanover Historical Texts Project
An Aristocrat's report on the execution of the king, Jan. 23rd 1793, from WFS
Jeton, insc. LUD.XVI REX GALL.DESTRUCTUS / urn with crown knocked off, REGNI ABIT, D 21 IAN 1793, from, a commercial site
Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies, Decree 1794, from Yekrik Yekrak
The Germinal Franc, from French Numismatic - the History of the Franc
Decrets Relatifs a l'etablissement de l'Ere Republicaine (Calendar reform 1793), posted by P. Chapelin, in French
VIDEOS La Marseillaise, 1937, b/w, in French with English subtitles.
REFERENCE William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, 1989, 466 pp.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on December 6th 2004

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