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About this book

We now live with the threat and the reality of political terror and terrorists. The French Revolution was the first occasion when a democratic government used terror as a political weapon, executing thousands of people for political crimes. What caused reasonable people to implement such a brutal regime? What did it achieve? What are its links with the terrors of the present day?

This established text examines a range of key issues, analyses the terror's background and traces the course from the fall of the Bastille in 1789 to the work of the guillotine during the terror of 1793-4. It puts the terror into context and shows how circumstances and ideas interacted to create an event that has haunted the political imagination of Europe ever since. Thoroughly revised in the light of recent scholarship and debates, this new edition of an essential introduction includes:

• an updated historiography section
• clearly set-out definitions of the 'terror' and more detail on its workings
• an entirely new chapter exploring the social and cultural policies of the Revolution
• an up-to-date bibliography, organised thematically for ease of reference.

Table of Contents

1. Historians and the Terror

Abstract
The French Revolution is usually regarded as the main historical dividing line between Europe’s ancien regime and the modern world. It replaced a traditional social order based on hierarchy and privilege with a new one based on modern principles of freedom and equality. It swept away the structures of absolute monarchy, perfected in the latter half of the 17th century by Louis XIV, and replaced them with a parliamentary system based on electoral politics. The scale of the change was enormous and the process was long and physically violent, ending with a military coup d’état in 1799 which brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power. Yet once it had started neither France nor the world would ever be the same again. For, although much of its initial impact was confined to France, the shock waves spread to the rest of Europe with the revolutionary wars which began in 1792 and lasted for over twenty years until Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo.
Hugh Gough

2. Prelude to Terror? From Revolution to Republic 1789–93

Abstract
In the autumn of 1788, Louis XVI called an Estates-General because France was close to bankruptcy. The Estates-General was an archaic form of national parliament which had not met since 1614 because of the growth of centralised royal power under Louis XIV (1643–1715). Yet when it met in May 1789 it carried through a political revolution. The deputies elected to the third estate, representing all French men who were neither nobles nor priests, flatly refused to operate with the old hierarchical voting system in which the first estate (clergy) and second estate (nobility) discussed and voted in separate houses or ‘estates’ [77]. Instead, after spending six weeks trying to persuade the other two orders to meet and vote in common, they declared themselves a ‘National Assembly’ and invited the other two orders to join them on their terms. The king condemned the move but third estate deputies refused to back down. So he called up army regiments to Paris and Versailles, probably intending to dissolve the Assembly by force and impose financial reform by decree. News of the troop movements caused panic in Paris which erupted into violence and an assault on the royal fortress of the Bastille in central Paris on 14 July. The fall of the Bastille forced the king to back down and recognise the National Assembly’s authority [54, 79].
Hugh Gough

3. Beginnings of Terror: March–September 1793

Abstract
The war that the revolution had launched against Austria and Prussia blew up into a full scale European conflict in the spring of 1793 because of the Girondins’ determination to spread the revolution beyond France’s own frontiers. That created a crisis as the need for extra troops sparked off anti-recruitment riots in some parts of the country and a full-blown counter-revolution in the west, while a series of military defeats caused panic in Paris. Crisis and panic forced the Convention into emergency measures which put the basic building blocks of the terror into place during March and April. Yet the debates over those institutions widened the gap between the Gironde and the Mountain and, to resolve the deadlock, the Mountain forged an alliance with the sans-culottes to have the Girondins removed from the Convention by force in early June. The purge left them in total control of the Convention but it added to the republic’s problems because several cities in the south denounced it and launched what became known as the ‘federalist revolt’ to reverse it. In its attempts to reverse military defeats and get on top of federalism and counter-revolution, the Mountain had to rely on support from the sans-culottes and Parisian radicals.
Hugh Gough

4. Terror in Paris and the Provinces: September–December 1793

Abstract
The events of 5 September saw radical activists and sans-culottes force the Committee of Public Safety and the Convention into reinforcing the use of terror against political suspects and food speculators. Their pressure remained strong for much of September, and in October it intensified with a full scale attack on Christianity which closed churches throughout most of the country. The Committee of Public Safety struggled to contain the pressure and protect constitutional government by ensuring that radicals did not wholly dictate the political agenda. It gave way on some issues and took pre-emptive action to head off trouble on others. Yet it also stepped up the scale of terror and reinforced its own powers to tackle the threats of federalism, the Vendée and the war. In effect it was fighting on two fronts, against the republic’s enemies and against its own sans-culotte allies, but by the end of the year its efforts were beginning to succeed and things were beginning to move in its direction. The federalist revolt was defeated, the Vendée brought under control and the First Coalition’s armies forced to retreat. The republic was safe and the Committee of Public Safety developed into a war cabinet, able to impose its authority in a way which would have seemed impossible just three months before.
Hugh Gough

5. Factions Liquidated: December 1793–April 1794

Abstract
It took several months for the frimaire law to take effect because remote towns and villages, where rain and snow disrupted transport in the winter, did not get the legislation for weeks. Even when it did arrive, many representatives on mission ignored it because it restricted their freedom and some provincial revolutionary armies operated in defiance of it well into the early months of 1794 [107]. Claude Javogues, one of the more colourful and violent representatives, had been in his native department of the Loire since September, imposing forced loans on the rich, arresting suspects and terrorising local administrators. He carried on as if nothing had happened, ignoring letters from Paris and even setting up a new revolutionary army until the Committee of Public Safety finally lost patience and recalled him in early February [156]. Yet the fact that he, and several others like him, were pulled back to Paris, reflected the Committee of Public Safety’s growing control over the terror in the provinces. Controlling Paris was more difficult because in mid-December, shortly after the frimaire law was passed, a dispute erupted which threatened the Committee’s authority and threw a large question mark over the future of the terror.
Hugh Gough

6. The ‘Great Terror’: April–July 1794

Abstract
The spring and summer of 1794 saw the execution rate soar. More people were guillotined in Paris during June and July, in what came to be known as the ‘Great Terror’, than during the whole of the previous fifteen months since the revolutionary tribunal had been set up. The sight and stench of blood around the scaffold on the Place de la Révolution became so nauseating that the guillotine was moved out to the present day Place de la Bastille in the belief that people there, in a predominantly sans-culotte area, would welcome it. Yet even they complained that the smell of blood was ruining their trade, so it was moved further out to the south-eastern outskirts of the city, to the present day Place de la Nation. The corpses of victims guillotined there were stripped and dumped into a large mass grave in the garden of an adjoining convent. Yet, even as the guillotine did its grim work and the execution rate soared to over thirty a day, the Committee of Public Safety brought in reforms to reward the virtuous and prepare the way for a new post-war republican society. These included a new civic religion designed to replace Christianity and a social welfare scheme aimed at improving the lives of the poor and the sick.
Hugh Gough

7. Creating New Citizens for the New Republic

Abstract
The Cult of the Supreme Being was the Committee of Public Safety’s last major reform before it fell from power in late July 1794. It collapsed once the Committee’s support had gone and attempts by the Directory to create a similar civic religion between 1795 and 1799 had a similar fate. Only Napoleon’s restoration of the Catholic Church through his Concordat with Pius VII in 1801 provided a short term answer to the bitter conflict which had opened up between the church and the revolutionary state [47]. Yet although a failure, religious reform was just one part of a wider suite of social and moral changes which the Committee put in place to regenerate French society and create a ‘new man’ free from the prejudices of the ancien regime. Most revolutions since have done something similar, reflecting a belief common to most revolutions that a new regime founded on the ‘will of the people’ has a duty to change peoples’ mentalities and create new value systems. The changes brought in during the terror were an attempt to do just that and, based as they were on the core values of Jacobinism, provide an insight into the kind of society which the Committee of Public Safety hoped to establish.
Hugh Gough

8. The Road to Thermidor and the End of Terror 1794–5

Abstract
How the revolution would have developed if the terror had continued beyond the summer of 1794 is difficult to predict. The Ventôse legislation would have done little to help the poor, because the amount of land belonging to political suspects was too small to solve their problems and most of them lived in towns and cities where land would have been of little use. The payments promised in the charity decree of May would certainly have helped widows, the sick and the old to survive, but the amounts were small and would only have brought marginal relief. The Cult of Supreme Being got off to a spectacular start but had no chance of developing into a religion capable of rivalling Christianity, because it was closely linked to the terror and too abstract for ordinary people who wanted their priest and the traditional calendar of feast days and saints back. On the other hand, there is every reason to believe that the guillotine would have carried on working. There were almost 8000 prisoners in Parisian jails by late July 1794 and the number was steadily rising. Executions would have had to carry on for months to eliminate them all and, even then, the subsequent transition to peaceful democracy would have been almost impossible.
Hugh Gough

Conclusion

Abstract
A broad view of the revolutionary and Napoleonic period between 1789 and 1815 would suggest that it contains three basic political models: constitutional monarchy (1789–92), democratic republic (1792–1804) and Napoleonic Empire (1804–15). French politics since 1815 have largely drawn on these three models, with two constitutional monarchies between 1815 and 1848, another Napoleonic Empire between 1852 and 1870, and five republics in 1848–52 and from 1870 to the present day. Political debate in France has always had a strong historical content and the fact that the revolution marked the beginning of modern politics and provided two out of its three political models makes it an important part of the debate. When François Furet launched his revisionist approach to the revolution in 1978, he argued that the collapse of French communism and decline of the traditional right had rendered the revolution largely irrelevant. The events of 1789–94 could now be examined dispassionately, without the need for comparisons between the 1790s and the present day. ‘The Revolution,’ he argued, ‘is over’ [29].
Hugh Gough
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