They urged young men to go into battle, women to make tents or serve in hospitals, and children to turn old lint into linen.
Spurred by revolutionary fervor, recruits marched off to defend the republic. Young officers developed effective tactics to win battles with masses of ill-trained but patriotic forces. Soon, French armies overran the Netherlands. They later invaded Italy. At home, they crushed peasant revolts. European monarchs shuddered as the revolutionaries carried “freedom fever” into conquered lands.
At home, the government battled counterrevolutionaries under the guiding hand of Maximilien Robespierre (ROHBZ pyehr). Robespierre, a shrewd lawyer and politician, quickly rose to the leadership of the Committee of Public Safety. Among Jacobins, his selfless dedication to the revolution earned him the nickname “the incorruptible.” His enemies called him a tyrant.
Robespierre was one of the chief architects of the Reign of Terror, which lasted from September 1793 to July 1794. Revolutionary courts conducted hasty trials. Spectators greeted death sentences with cries of “Hail the Republic!” or “Death to the traitors!” In a speech given on February 5, 1794, Robespierre explained that the terror was necessary to protect the Revolution and achieve its goals.
Robespierre was beheaded on July 287, 1794, a victim of the Terror he helped create.
During the Reign of Terror, about 300,000 citizens were arrested. About 17,000 were executed. They included nobles and clergy, peasants, and sans-culottes, along with middle-class citizens who had once supported the Revolution.
It is necessary to stifle the domestic and foreign enemies of the Republic or perish with them. … The first maxim of our politics ought to be to lead the people by means of reason and the enemies of the people by terror.
Many were victims of mistaken identity or were falsely accused by their neighbors. Many more were packed into hideous prisons, where deaths from disease were common.
The engine of the Terror was the guillotine (GIL uh teen). Its fast-falling blade extinguished life instantly. A member of the legislature, Dr. Joseph Guillotin (gee oh TAN), had introduced it as a more humane method of beheading than the uncertain ax. Still, the guillotine quickly became a symbol of horror.
Within a year, the Terror consumed those who initiated it. Weary of bloodshed and fearing for their own lives, members of the Convention turned on the Committee of Public Safety. On the night of July 27, 1794, Robespierre was arrested. The next day he was executed. After the heads of Robespierre and other radicals fell, executions slowed dramatically.
How did radicals such as Robespierre justify the use of terror?
In reaction to the Terror, the Revolution entered a third stage. Middle class and professional people dominated this stage of the Revolution.
Moving away from the excesses of the Convention, moderates produced another constitution, the third since 1789. The Constitution of 1795 set up a five-man Directory and a two-house legislature elected by male citizens of property. The Directory held power from 1795 to 1799.
Weak, but willing to use force against its enemies, the Directory faced many challenges. Although France made peace with Prussia and Spain, the war continued with Austria and Great Britain.