The Reign of Terror

The French Revolution began with good intentions—to abolish the feudal system forever and to establish a democracy in France, just like was done in the United States. The newly founded National Convention put an end to slavery and declared all French citizens equal, including Jews and Protestants. The King and Queen were dethroned and the aristocracy stripped of all its power. The rigid system that had been in place for hundreds of years was dismantled in a space of a few months.

When an immense social change happens this fast, there are bound to be many problems. And that was what happened in France in the early 1790s. Once the King and Queen were overthrown there was no sound leader to replace them. France was plagued with anarchy. There were those who were on the side of the revolutionaries, but there were many more people who were so attached to the monarchy and the Church that they were not prepared or even ready to adhere to the new order. This ultimately caused friction between the two factions, resulting in violence and civil war.

The leading members of the National Convention were desperately afraid that royalists would flee the country and conspire to re-establish the Feudal system in France. So, in order to prevent this from happening, they had to act fast. On 5 September 1793 the revolutionary government, headed by Robespierre, Saint-Just and Marat declared Terror the order of the day. This set the reign of terror on an upward climax.

The guillotine, created by the infamous Dr. Guillotin, became the dominant symbol of the revolution. Prior to 1793, only criminals were executed underneath the guillotine. But, during Reign of Terror, as many as 60 people were guillotined per day. Those numbers depended on how foul of a mood Robespierre was in, but they also reflected his intolerance towards citizens who showed any kind of apathy towards the revolution.

The exact number of people guillotined is unknown, but it is estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 people met their fate underneath the blade of the guillotine


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