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.
about a year throughout the course of the Reign of Terror, official public
execution by guillotine numbered over 16,000, but while the guillotine is the
iconic symbol of the Terror, it was hardly the deadliest. 40,000 more were
executed without trial, 200,000 more from the civil war in the Vendee region of
France, totaling at a minimum of 260,000 deaths, all of which were justified by
the radical idealism of Parisian revolutionaries. The treatment of
counter-revolutionaries in the Vendee was the most shocking, and as the war in
the Vendee came to a close, no mercy was given for those associated. One army
officer reported after pursuing retreating insurgents, “The road to Laval is
strewn with corpses’, reported one of his men, ‘Women, priests, monks, children,
all have been put to death. I have spared nobody.” After the Vendee’s defeat,
groups of soldiers called ‘infernal columns’ were sent to ravage the
countryside and to kill any locals on site. The men carrying this atrocity out were
ordered, “to deliver to flames everything that can be burnt and to bayonet any
locals whom you meet on your way … there might be a few patriots in this
country; never mind, we must sacrifice them all.” The men, women, and
children targeted by these official massacres would have been seen as fellow
church-goers and subjects of the king only a few years prior to the Reign of
Terror. Now they were viewed as something outside of the nation, as enemies of
the state who deserved no quarter, and no place within the nation of France.
The ideological rift between the peasants of the Vendee and the Revolutionaries
coalescing in Paris divided each side on moral grounds. Rebels in the Vendee
believed that they were protectors of the Church and of the monarchy and would
not submit to the evil atheistic revolutionaries who hunted down their priests
and killed their king. The opposition to key revolutionary dogmas, made the
rebels in the Vendee enemies of the ‘real’ French people in the eyes of the
revolutionaries. It was throughout the Reign of Terror that these enemies of
France were to be purged from the citizen body.
Read More about the Ideology of the Reign of Terror
- Interpretations of the Reign of Terror
- The Committee of Public Safety
- Violence of the Reign of Terror
- The French Revolution was a Religious Revolution
- The Enlightenment and the Cult of Rousseau
- The ‘General Will’ in Rousseau’s Contract Social
- Deism and de-Christianization
- Revolutionary Festivals; Space and Time
- The Cult of Reason and The Cult of the Supreme Being
- Thermidorian Reaction and Disillusionment of the Terror
-  Gough, Terror in the French Revolution, 77.
-  Doyle, Oxford History of French Revolution, 256-257.
-  Ibid.