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Justification Of The Use Of Terror: How It Ultimately Led To The Downfall Of Maximilien Robespierre

2192 words - 9 pages

The French Revolution is arguably the bloodiest period in French history, with men such as Maximilien Robespierre leading the country into a situation of state sponsored terror. Originally being quite a liberal thinker inspired by the works of Rousseau, Robespierre quickly gained a reputation for being a radical throughout the course of the Revolution, especially during the Terror. Early on terror was justified as a means to root out foreign and domestic enemies of the Revolution, however; once the foreign threat had been taken care of it became increasingly difficult for Robespierre to rationalize his use of terror to bring about a supposed Republic of Virtue. In his speech, the “Justification of the use of Terror” which he presented to the National Convention, he attempted to defend the actions of the Terror one last time. Unfortunately it appeared that Robespierre was going to become the very type of tyrant that he had strived to abolish along with the French Monarchy at the beginning of the Revolution. As demonstrated in the speech, Robespierre had become obsessed with ridding France of her enemies, however; his fixation with the Terror, even when it had become unnecessary, eventually caused the rest of the radicals to envision a France without him – and it cost him his life.
Robespierre was born in 1758, as the first child of a well-off family. He attended one of the best schools in Paris, eventually trained to become a lawyer, and was known as the defender of the poor in his hometown of Arras – a trait that would remain with Robespierre throughout the Revolution as he became known, along with the rest of the Jacobin rump, for his defence of the sans-culotte in Paris. As was previously mentioned, Robespierre had not always been as radical as he was when he addressed the National Convention on February 5, 1794. In fact, when Robespierre was working at Versailles he was widely known for being a staunch believer in the works of Rousseau – meaning he believed intensely in democracy. So that leaves question as to how it was that Robespierre transformed from a man who believed in a government for the people to nearly becoming a tyrant himself. To understand this, one must understand the circumstances which arose in France during the late eighteenth century that forced him to take action. The driving problem throughout, however; was essentially the monarchy. The regime of Louis XVI could hardly be considered that of a tyrant, but nevertheless his inability to properly govern his country led to frustration and anger among the people of France. Robespierre shared this sentiment in his speech, stating that “a nation is truly corrupted when, having by degrees lost its character and its liberty, it passes from democracy to aristocracy or to monarchy; that is the decrepitude and death of the body politic....” This also hints at Robespierre’s earlier ideologies concerned with Rousseau as he does make reference to the need for a nation to have a...

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