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By the end of 1971, Europe was preparing to witness the end of a
seemingly triumphant revolution in France. The country was
restructuring its government in a forceful and bloodless manner, while
the tyrant King Louis the XVI agreed to the demands of the masses
(albeit without much choice). However, due to the fanatical
aspirations of men such as Danton, Marat and Robespierre,it would be
only a matter of months before the moderate stage of social and
political reform was transformed into a radical phase of barbaric and
violent force. In their quest for freedom, equality and fraternity,
the leaders of the Jacobins inadvertently turned the revolution into
an oligarchic dictatorship that threatened to destroy all that was
achieved in the previous two years of insurrection.
The revolution took a sharp turn on August 9th, 1792. The
Municipal government was overthrown in Paris and a Commune was
established by the leaders of the radical forces. During this time
there were continual food riots erupting in every area of the country
and, with the threat of war against Austria and Prussia looming, it
was vital that order was to be maintained during such tumultuous
times. Although the constitution was already enshrined and the
citizens had their freedom and liberties, there was still plenty of
public dissent and disapproval as to whether or not these laws would
help create a new government and prevent the country from breaking
apart. The people had come this far and were not prepared to watch
their efforts lead to failure or the restoration of an absolute
monarch. As a result, the radical forces were able to gain the support
of the citizens in declaring that the constitution of 1791 was
ineffective and useless since it did not suit the needs of ALL the
population of France. Moderate forces preferred to concentrate on the
foreign affairs of “new” France, but the radicals insisted on domestic
stability first. Led by the popular Danton and the merciless Marat,
the Paris Commune discarded the old constitution and called for a
National Convention to begin work on a new, revised version.
The National Convention, divided by the moderate Girondins and
the radical Jacobins, was the place where the future of the country
was to be eventually determined. It was the premise of the Jacobins
that they should eradicate the “enemy within” and secure the destiny
of the revolution through the destruction of counter-revolutionary
forces. They believed that by weeding out those who opposed the
revolution, they could achieve their goals quickly and efficiently.
The Girondins were not so quick to agree with the Jacobins, and so
political deadlock begin to form in the Convention. It was not until
after the September massacres, when 1200 prisoners were executed
without trials, that Robespierre and his followers were able to
justify their premise. They condemned the actions of the unruly mobs
that caused the deaths of innocent Frenchmen and demanded that the
Monarchy be abolished in order to eliminate as many of the royalists
and monarchists that still remained. It was Marat with his want
100,000 heads to fall” speeches that convinced the masses that those
who were not in favour of the revolution had to be dealt with
immediately or the revolution would never succeed.
Once the Monarchy was abolished and France was declared a
republic, Robespierre and the Jacobins proceeded to demand the
execution of the last symbol of the old regime: Louis Capet. The
Girondins begged for a stay of execution for the fallen King (in the
name of constitutional Justice), but the moderate forces were
overwhelmed by the people’s support for the radicals and the fate of
Louis remained unchanged. His death signified the beginning of a time
when nationalism and radicalism would dominate the revolution. On
March 10th, the Revolutionary Tribunal was created in order to
prosecute the enemies of the revolution. Marat became a virtual Grim
Reaper in searching out possible traitors and enemies of the republic.
When the Committee on Public Safety was established on the 26th,
Robespierre and his Jacobins were able to proudly look upon the
reforms that they had injected into the political bloodstream of
France. There was no turning back from the radical phase that the
people had oluntarily entered and the momentum that the Jacobins had
captured placed them in a position of highest authority and almost
By the summer of 1793, the people of France began feeling that
something had gone wrong, terribly wrong. In what would be known as
the infamous “Reign of Terror”, the National Convention, spearheaded
by the radical zeal of Marat and the infallibility of Robespierre,
began persecuting any person who was suspected of opposing the
revolution. Even the moderate Girondins were accused of
counter-revolutionary actions and were expelled from the Convention.
What was once a legislative, two-sided body had now become an
authoritarian oligarchy led by radicals. Although the masses had
finally deposed the tyrant who had oppressed them for so many years,
they were now being oppressed by an executive group that was ruling
the country without the safeguards of a constitution. Thousands were
dying without the aid of civil liberties or rights and any citizen
accused of treason was deemed guilty until proven innocent. In a
desperate attempt to slow down the intentions of the Jacobins, Marat
was mur ed by Charlotte Corday and Danton began speaking out against
all radicals who were contributing to the deaths of innocent citizens.
Unfortunately, this was to be a stage in the revolution that could not
be undone even with the leadership of Danton. The closing chapters of
the radical stage were filled with the executions of the Girondins and
other suspects (Hebert) who allegedly opposed the will of the
Jacobins, and therefore opposed the will of the republic. Robespierre
never intended to justify his ends through such violent means.
1793 marked a year that could have been prevented, a period that
should never have befallen the liberated citizens of France. Mirabeau
warned that the destruction of the Monarchy would plunge the country
into anarchy and his words rang true. France was not prepared for such
social and political upheaval, and the resulting shift towards a
republic would change the country forever. The Jacobins discarded
their holy bible, the constitution, in order to ensure the security
and stability of the country. Not only did their hasty actions
backfire, but the tens of thousands of lives that perished during
their reign symbolized the radical stage of the revolution in all its
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