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How Do We Think About the French Revolution?. How did the French Jacobins use state power to achieve revolutionary goals during the Terror (1793-1794)? What were their goals? Why did extraordinary state power seem critical to attaining these goals?.

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How Do We Think About the French Revolution?

  • How did the French Jacobins use state power to achieve revolutionary goals during the Terror (1793-1794)?

    • What were their goals?

    • Why did extraordinary state power seem critical to attaining these goals?



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The Terror as Genocide/Totalitarianism

  • 250,000 Insurgents killed in Vendée Fighting Alone -15% population

    • But 200,000 Revolutionary troops killed too

  • Victims of Vendée describe the Terror as a Genocide of the Catholic Western France

  • Probably 40,000 officially executed in all of France

  • Others described coercion, the Jacobin Dictatorship, the price controls, and levée en masse (universal draft of all citizens) an example of early Totalitarianism

  • Drowning Prisoners – The Vendée


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The Terror as Desperate Measure to deal with Crisis

  • During Terror:

    • Universal Manhood Suffrage (women’s clubs)

    • Radical Constitution of 1793

    • Abolished Serfdom

    • Abolished Slavery

    • Attempted Land Reform

  • But:

    • At war with most of Europe

    • In serious civil war with uprisings in the Vendée, major cities (Caen, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon)


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Key Problem: Sovereignty

  • Who are the sovereign people and how do they exercise sovereignty?

  • Why had they not resolved the question between 1789 and1793?




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  • Key Questions: Son Back to Paris

    • How much would popular violence influence rational political debate?

    • Is popular sovereignty possible?

    • How do you incorporate working class Parisians, peasants, and women into the polity?



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The National Convention Son Back to Paris

  • Fall of Verdun to Prussians (September 2, 1792)

  • September Massacres (September 2-6,1792)

  • French Victory at Valmy (September 20, 1792)

  • French Annexation of Savoy (27 November 1793)



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Growing Split Between Mountain and Girondins Son Back to Paris

  • Execution of Louis XVI (January 21, 1793)

  • French Declare War on England, Holland, Spain (Feb-March 1793)

  • Levée (Draft) of 300,000 (February 24, 1793)

  • Creation of Special Revolutionary Tribunal (March 10, 1793)

  • Creation of Surveillance Committees (March 10, 1793)

  • Creation of Committee of Public Safety (April 6, 1793)


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Counterrevolution in Western France, March 1793 Son Back to Paris

Number of Capital Sentences Passed


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Have People of Paris Become Source of Sovereignty? Son Back to Paris

  • Law of Maximum (May 4, 1793)

  • Invade Convention – Persuade Mountain to Arrest 31 Girondist Deputies for Treason (June 2, 1793)

  • Ascendancy of Committee of Public Safety - Robespierre


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July- August 1793 – Situation Dire Son Back to Paris

  • Federalist Revolts in Caen, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon – Provinces should be sovereign, not just people of Paris

  • Charlotte Corday Assassinates Jean-Paul Marat (July 13, 1793)

  • Toulon Surrenders to British Navy (August 27, 1793)

  • Defeat of French Revolution Seemed Certain

  • Popular Movements in Paris pressure Convention to Take Radical Measures (September 5-6, 1793)


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Radical Measures of Terror Son Back to Paris

  • Levée en masse (August 23, 1793):

    “The young men will go in battle; married men will forge arms and transport provisions; women will make tents and clothing and serve in hospitals; children will make bandages; old men will get themselves carried to public places to arouse the courage of warriors and preach hatred of kings and unity of the republic.”



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July 1794 – Enemies Defeated 29, 1793)

  • Planned Economy: Fixed Prices, Wages

  • Food Rationing

  • “Equality Bread”

  • Organized Industry/Society to Produce Arms and Ammunition

  • “Emergency Socialism” of a Profound Kind


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Ended Serfdom 29, 1793)


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Constitution of 1793 29, 1793)

“The aim of society is the happiness of all.”

“Public assistance is a sacred debt. Society owes a living to the unfortunate among its citizens, either by finding work for them or by guaranteeing the means of subsistence to those who are not in a fit condition to work.”

“Education is a necessity for all.”

“When the government violates the rights of the people, then insurrection …is the most sacred and necessary of duties.”


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Women’s Clubs 29, 1793)

  • Universal Manhood suffrage proclaimed with Republic (September 1792)

  • Women actively involved in clubs, Parisian sections, Convention (as hecklers)

  • Women’s Clubs Closed (October 30, 1793)


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Divorce 29, 1793)

  • September 1792 – Couple could divorce by mutual consent, or for reasons like insanity, battering, or criminal conviction

  • April 23, 1794 – Women could divorce husbands who abandoned them and remarry immediately


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Abolition of Slavery 29, 1793)

  • Abolition of slavery in French colonies (February 4, 1794)


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The Revolution “Devours Its Own” 29, 1793)

  • Terror: Put on Trial “Enemies of the Nation” for crimes against “the nation,” “against the people”

  • Arrest and execution of Hébertistes (March 13-24, 1794)

  • Arrest and execution of Dantonists (March 30-April 6, 1794)

  • Law of 22 Prairial II (June 10, 1794):

    “Every citizen is empowered to seize conspirators and counterrevolutionaries, and to bring them before the magistrates. He is required to denounce them as soon as he knows of them.”

  • 40,000 Killed, 300,000 arrested


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Thermidorian Reaction 29, 1793)

  • French defeat Austrians at Fleurus (June 26, 1794) – removal of external military threat

  • 9th Thermidor (July 27, 1794) Execution and overthrow of Robespierre

    • Wanted to create “A Republic of Virtue”

    • Wrote early treatise against the Death Penalty

    • How could the Revolution have gone so wrong?

  • Abolition of General Maximum (December 24, 1794)

  • Forced used to restrict Popular Political Activity

  • Runaway Inflation

  • Restricted Suffrage



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