Essay: Terror and the French Revolution
“Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death, - the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
On the evening of the 14th of July 1989 1.5 million people from 17 different countries gathered along the Champs-Elysees to celebrate Bastilles Day , the anniversary of the French Revolution which had occurred two hundred years before. But what were the French celebrating, the capture of Bastille and the deaths of ninety eight people through a violent uprising ? It has been long debated the significance of the capture of Bastille and will continue to do so but the shockwaves it left in the France at that time can be still felt today. One thing is certain and without debate, the capture of Bastilles marked the downfall of King Louis XVI and marked the beginning of a new era in France’s history. One not sprinkled in glorious battles and momentous triumphs as will be seen in the Napoleonic era but one filled with senseless executions by the blade of the Guillotine and a new and brief period of ‘terror’ with the influence of Maximilien Robespierre.
To denounce Maximilien Robespierre as the perpetrator of terror and as the ‘villain’ in the aftermath of the revolution would be unwise. Robespierre merely represented the thoughts and feelings of a majority(or minority, depending on which perspective one takes) of the French public. His actions reflected the judgement of the people and whilst his actions led to the death of roughly sixteen thousand people, it must be noted (to remain unbiased) that at that time France was in turmoil, the atmosphere in Paris reflected the atmosphere in Russia during the late 1930’s .The purges were committed against the ‘internal enemies of France’ as Hugo categorises it. Forest supports Hugo by noting similar purges were also witnessed in Paris and the provinces , these so-called atrocities were committed and perpetrated by a select group of individuals who in one way or another, sought to gain power by using terror. Terror which was created and fuelled by people’s confusion and lack of order amidst the deposition of the government.
“Man is a cruel animal. His cruelty must be organized.”Dr. Joseph- Ignace Guillotin
Terror took place in many forms as both Cobbs and Jones note there were street looting, violence, theft, religious hate crimes, abuse (in some cases physical) and most defining the Guillotine. Namesake of Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the guillotine will forever remain as the sanguinary symbol of terror in the French revolution. Used to execute as many as seventeen thousand ‘anti- French’ citizens it remains today as a symbol of the atrocities perpetrated by government and people alike. Forest denounces these atrocities as ‘madness’ , in spite of its efficiency, it was a truly horrifying and sickening sight, the Journal d'Autre Monde would later remark in 1794 that the guillotine as “dreadful...