The Reign of Terror and After the French Revolution

The Reign of Terror

The first acts of the newly named National Convention were the abolition of the monarchy and the declaration of France as a republic. In January 1793, the convention tried and executed Louis XVI on the grounds of treason. Despite the creation of the Committee of Public Safety, the war with Austria and Prussia went poorly for France, and foreign forces pressed on into French territory. Enraged citizens overthrew the Girondin-led National Convention, and the Jacobins, led by Maximilien Robespierre, took control.

Backed by the newly approved Constitution of 1793, Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety began conscripting French soldiers and implementing laws to stabilize the economy. For a time, it seemed that France’s fortunes might be changing. But Robespierre, growing increasingly paranoid about counterrevolutionary influences, embarked upon a Reign of Terror in late 1793–1794, during which he had more than 15,000 people executed at the guillotine. When the French army successfully removed foreign invaders and the economy finally stabilized, however, Robespierre no longer had any justification for his extreme actions, and he himself was arrested in July 1794 and executed.


Meanwhile, the Committee of Public Safety’s war effort was realizing unimaginable success. French armies, especially those led by young general Napoleon Bonaparte, were making progress in nearly every direction. Napoleon’s forces drove through Italy and reached as far as Egypt before facing a deflating defeat. In the face of this rout, and having received word of political upheavals in France, Napoleon returned to Paris. He arrived in time to lead a coup against the Directory in 1799, eventually stepping up and naming himself “first consul”—effectively, the leader of France. (Consulate)With Napoleon at the helm, the Revolution ended, and France entered a fifteen-year period of military rule.

Effects of the Revolution

There were numerous long-lasting effects of the French Revolution on France, Europe, and the
world.  The five most important effects were:  changes in the European political structure, social and political changes, the rise of nationalism, acceptance of the revolutionary process, and the creation of a political climate that set up the problems of the 20th century.  Some of these changes came about during or as a result of Napoleon’s reign as emperor, which would not have occurred if France’s monarchy had not been overthrown during the Revolution.


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