The National Convention and the French Republic

  • Autumn of 1792, revolutionary government set about electing a National Convention of delegates to oversee France (late September, first election took place under rules of Constitution of 1791)
  • Only 1/3 of newly elected members had sat on a previous assembly, and many new members belonged to either Jacobins or Girondins

-> Sept. 21, 1792, Convention abolished monarchy

-> Next day, Republic of France was founded

The Execution of Louis XVI

  • Republican resolve and contempt for monarchy was shown by execution of Louis XVI; moderates objected and forced a trial, but Louis XVI was ultimately found guilty of treason and, on January 21, 1793, executed by guillotine
  • October 16, 1793, his wife, Marie-Antoinette, met same fate
  • Declaration of sovereignty and  beheading of monarch were powerful symbolic motivators within France but governmental powers realized their achievements were being threatened by internal and external fighting

-> how to destroy anti-revolutionary or counter-revolutionary elements before they destroy the


The Committee of Public Safety

  • After execution of king, internal and external wars in France continued to grow:

o    Prussian and Austrian forces pushed into France

o    French general even defected to opposition

o    Unable to assemble an army out of disgruntled, protesting peasants, Girondin-led National Convention started to panic

-> To restore domestic peace and order, and to protect France from external threats, National

Convention created Committee of Public Safety on April 6, 1793

The Jacobins’ Coup

  • Committee of Public Safety followed moderate course but proved weak and ineffective -> sans-culottes grew angrier and stormed National Convention, accusing Girondins of representing aristocracy
  • Jacobin leader, Maximilien Robespierre harnessed fury of sans-culottes to take control of Convention, banish Girondins, and install Jacobins in power

The Danger of the Sans-culottes (cont’d)

  • Again, sans-culottes proved a formidable force in effecting change during Revolution; upset about composition of Convention (dominated by middle- and upper-class bourgeoisie and influenced by philosophes), they became furious when Girondin leaders expected them to bolster failing war effort
  • Sieyès had rallied 3rd Estate by reminding them their numbers gave them strength – sans-culottes took advantage of their strength at every opportunity throughout Revolution

The Constitution of 1793

  • New Constitution of 1793 was overshadowed by  resurgence of Committee of Public Safety in July, when more radical Jacobin leaders, including Robespierre, installed themselves in charge of committee and began to make drastic changes, including suspension of many clauses of new constitution

-> One of most radical new Jacobin policies was the Maximum, a decree that fixed prices in an attempt to stop runaway inflation that was ruining economy

Robespierre Subverts Constitution of 1793

  • Robespierre resorted to extreme measures but his tenure as chairman of Committee of Public Safety actually began on a productive note; his inspiring, nationalistic propaganda campaign spoke to disgruntled citizens on their  level (Robespierre was a lawyer who had middle-class upbringing and could relate to sans-culottes)
  • Approach to economy also effective in short term; using Maximum to freeze prices provided opportunity for French citizens to get economic footing

-> Robespierre and Jacobins secure more ‘control’ over masses

Carnot and the Military

  • In August, military strategist Lazare Carnot was appointed head of French war effort and instituted conscription throughout France (levee en masse)
  • Propaganda and discipline helped tighten and reenergize the nation, particularly in rural areas
  • Carnot’s war effort succeeded, and newly refreshed army pushed back invading Austrians and Prussians to re-establish France’s traditional boundaries -> French nationalistic pride grows

The Reign of Terror

  • Autumn of 1793, Robespierre and Jacobins focused on addressing economic and political threats within France -> Jacobins’ ‘proactive’ approach to reclaiming nation quickly turned bloody as government instituted infamous campaign against internal opposition known as Reign of Terror
  • Robespierre began accusing anyone whose beliefs seemed to be ‘counterrevolutionary’ (citizens who had committed no crime but had social or political agendas that varied too much from Robespierre’s)
  • Committee targeted even those who shared many Jacobin views but were perceived as just slightly too radical or conservative
  • Many executions began in Paris then spread to smaller towns and rural areas -> during next nine months, 15,000 to 50,000 French citizens were beheaded at guillotine
  • Georges Danton, long-time associate of Robespierre, who had helped Jacobins rise to power, fell victim to ‘Terror’ -> when Danton questioned Robespierre’s increasingly rash actions, and tried to arrange a truce between France and warring countries, he was executed in April, 1794 (Danton’s execution sends a cautionary warning to others)

Public Backlash against Robespierre’s ‘Republic of Virtue’

  • Robespierre’s bloody campaign to protect Revolution had exactly opposite result; rather than galvanize supporters and revolutionary nation, Reign of Terror prompted a weakening on every front

-> Terror accomplished almost nothing productive, and killed many former allies (out of fear,

commoners shifted their focus from equality to peace)

  • After French army had almost completely stopped foreign invaders, Robespierre no longer had justification for extreme actions in name of public “safety”
  • Last policy proposal was “Republic of Virtue” entailing a move away from morals of Christianity and into new set of values
  • July 27, 1794, Jacobin allies arrested Robespierre and guillotined him following day (collective sigh of relief  throughout France)

The Thermidorian Reaction

  • With Robespierre gone, bourgeoisie repressed under Reign of Terro (many of them Girondins) burst back onto scene at  National Convention in late summer of 1794
  • Moderates freed many of Jacobins’ prisoners, neutralized power of Committee for Public Safety, and executed many of Robespierre’s cohorts in movement known as Thermidorian Reaction.
  • Moderate conservative initiatives that convention implemented were aimed at bourgeoisie and undid real accomplishments that Robespierre regime achieved for poor
  • National Convention did away with price controls and printed more money, causing prices to skyrocket -> monetary inflation hit poor hard, and peasants attempted another revolt
  • Lacking a strong leader like Robespierre, peasant uprising was quickly quashed by government
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


  1. hi can u help me answer theses question pls
    The Reign of Terror in France 1792-1795

    q Overview of event 1789-92
    q Robespierre and the terror
    q Madam guillotine and her victims
    q The end of the terror

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