12.7 A Radical Phase

The outbreak of the French Revolution stirred debate all over Europe and the United States. Supporters of the Enlightenment, such as Thomas Jefferson, saw the French experiment as the dawn of a new age for justice and equality. European rulers and nobles, however, denounced the French Revolution.

Illustration of a square outside a decorated home, where men and women in rich clothing are being attacked by a group with weapons; a decapitated head is being played with by children.

The September massacres lasted six days and resulted in more than 1,368 deaths.


  • Explain why the French Revolution entered a more radical phase.
  • Understand how radicals abolished the French monarchy.
  • Analyze the causes and course of the Reign of Terror.
  • Describe France under the Directory.
  • Identify how the French Revolution changed life in France.

Key Terms

  • émigré
  • sans-culottes
  • Jacobin
  • suffrage
  • Maximilien Robespierre
  • Reign of Terror
  • guillotine
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Nationalism
  • Marseilles

Radicals Gain Strength

Fear of the “French Plague”

European rulers were horrified by the French Revolution, which threatened absolute monarchy. They increased border patrol to stop the spread of the “French plague.” Fueling those fears were the horror stories that were told by émigrés (EM ih grayz)—nobles, clergy, and others who had fled France. Émigrés reported attacks on their privileges, their property, their religion, and even their lives. Even “enlightened” rulers turned against France. Catherine the Great of Russia burned Voltaire's letters and locked up critics.

Edmund Burke, a British statesman who earlier had defended the American Revolution, bitterly condemned revolutionaries in Paris. He predicted all too accurately that the revolution would become more violent. “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away,” he warned, “we have no compass to govern us.”

Threats from Abroad

The failed escape of Louis XVI brought further hostile rumblings from abroad. In August 1791, the king of Prussia and the emperor of Austria—who was Marie Antoinette's brother—issued the Declaration of Pilnitz. In this document, the two monarchs threatened to protect the French monarchy.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments