Reign of Terror

By June 1793, France was in a fractured state left to be managed by the newly instated Jacobin government. There was the threat of invasion across all borders, naval blockades of French ports by the Coalition forces, internal counter-revolution, unpredictable and violent behaviour from both the radical sans-culottes and the royalist peasants, and poor economic conditions.

Following the drafting and passing of the Constitution of 1793, France was declared to be under Revolutionary Government on 10 October 1793, where “the provisional government of France is revolutionary until peace”.

In the face of the multiple threats to the nation, the Revolutionary Government officially legitimised the Terror as a policy on 5 September 1793. The Terror was an extra-parliamentary government measure, designed to be temporary and only to be applied until France achieved peace from the war effort.

Instruments of the Terror

The key institutions of the Terror were the Executive Committees – that is, the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, the armées révolutionnaires, the Representatives-on-Mission and the use of Judicial Terror through the Law of Suspects and the Revolutionary Tribunal.

The armées révolutionnaires were people recruited from towns and villages there to zealously uphold the Revolution and its values and combat the influence of any counter-revolutionary activity. The sans-culottes were quite heavily involved in the armées, there to supervise the recruitment process.

The Representatives-on-Mission were deputies of the National Convention and were some of the most feared people in France. They were given absolute power and travelled to counter-revolutionary areas, as well as war frontiers, to ensure that the people supported the Revolution and that they were sufficiently patriotic. However, their methods were often extreme and brutal with instances of Representatives subjecting villages to immediate execution on suspicion of potentially harbouring counter-revolutionaries or even not displaying enough patriotic fervour.


See Also