This article is part of a series on the Ideology of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. The revolutionary government, which aspired to establish a new utopia for mankind, shifted into a ‘democratic’ despotism during the Terror. The ideology that inspired democracy, civil rights, and emancipation in 1789 also gave justification for the totalitarian regime of the Terror in 1793-4. The Terror instead of contradicting revolutionary beliefs, was a manifestation of the ideology of the French Revolution.


Although the fall of Robespierre and his sympathizers mark the end to the Reign of Terror in many histories of the revolution, this should not lead to the conclusion that the Terror was dependent upon Robespierre for its continuation. While revolutionaries denounced Robespierre as a tyrant and a dictator, the citizens of the National Convention were more concerned with the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety. The Committee’s decline in power began with the Thermidorian Reaction, where the ‘incorruptible’ Robespierre met his gruesome end, and as the power of the Committee waned, so did the fervent idealism of the Reign of Terror. Prior to the end of the Reign of Terror, there we two opposing factions in the National Convention, one a moderate faction in favor of scaling down the scope of the Terror, and the other an extremist faction in favor of increasing the intensity of the Terror. R.R. Palmer makes the argument that because extremists in the convention had allied with moderates against the tyranny of the Robespierrists, they could not advocate for polices and ideas associated with Robespierre. “To preach Terrorism after Thermidor was to expose oneself as to the suspicions of Robespierrism, suspicions which above all others had to be avoided.”[1] Robespierre had done more in death to bring the Terror to an end, than he had done in life to promote its reign over the revolution. By becoming a vilified figure associated with tyranny and the Terror, the perception of the enemies of the revolution adapted to mirror Robespierre’s infamy, and in this way, the logic of the Reign of Terror work against itself, leading it its end as revolutionaries stood clear of its extremist idealism.


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