And the revolution begins to eat its own.
French revolution: The Reign of Terror
The revolution of 1789 ended France’s ancien régime – a feudal government that had already been weakened step-by-step in the years prior. A violent peasant uprising and then on 14 July 1789, the French rabble stormed the Bastille.
A Declaration of the Rights of Man was proclaimed the following month and negara Perancis Baru was born.
The revolt created a new political culture – in which the hopeful population participated most euphorically – thinking they were now going to enjoy a Reformasi of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’.
BELOW: Charlotte Corday stabs Jean-Paul Marat through the heart when he was soaking in the bathtub
Who will they hate after Marie Antoinette is gone?
French noblemen and the clergy were thrown in jail by these ‘equality’ revolutionaries brandishing pitchforks and torches. Thus the priests and religious class were prompted to become opponents of the Revolution. The common people also complained of religious discrimination.
Hardliners in charge of the new secular gomen led France to war against a coalition of Austria, Prussia and French émigrés in April 1792.
Austria is the country of birth of Marie Antoinette, France’s unpopular and extravagant queen consort. In fact, Marie Antoinette – a Habsburg archduchess in her own right – was sister to Leopold II, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Her husband the French king Louis XVI had refused to contemplate a civil war and was overthrown on 10 Aug 1792. On orders from the National Convention in January of the following year, the king’s head was chopped off.
A few months later on 14 Oct 1793, Marie Antoinette too surrendered her head to the guillotine‘s glinting blade in the centre of the public square.
BELOW: Same old, same old … the streets of Paris on fire since November last
France swiftly descended into mob rule
Although the Revolutionary government gave itself dictatorial power, it didn’t take long for law and order to fail in the new French republic.
In September 1792, Jean-Paul Marat was a member of the National Convention and leader of the Montagnard faction of far left extremists.
Marat was among the most prominent of the earliest revolutionary politicians. He was famous as a prolific pamphleteer and ‘public debater’ (aka demagogue). He also founded the L’Ami du peuple or ‘The Friend of the People’ newspaper but more accurately described as fiery propaganda sheet.
Considered one of the Reign of Terror‘s most radical voices, Marat called for prisoners of the Revolution, which included Catholic priests, to be killed. He also called for the use of violent tactics against the Girondins (enlightened moderates comprising activist lawyers, intellectuals and journalists).
On 13 July 1793, a Girondin sympathizer named Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat to death in his bath with a five-inch kitchen knife. A peace lover, Corday blamed him for the extreme course the revolution had taken, and felt that Marat stood for all the things she loathed.
Law Minister becomes victim of street justice
Georges Danton was an eloquent and frequent speaker at the Jacobin Club – a political organization that promoted the ideas of the Revolution and functioned as an instrument of the Reign of Terror.
Danton was instrumental in the establishment of the First French Republic in September 1792, and styled himself as a “tribune of the people”, charged with voicing the demands of the masses. In other words, a representative of the have-nots (during the French Revolution, the Deplorables were called the ‘sansculottes‘).
As Law Minister, Danton was a war hawk who possessed an “ability to make swift decisions” and had urged for daring in the propagation of France’s war against Austria and Prussia.
Although he initially wanted to spare the king, Danton later voted for Louis XVI’s death.
Danton was the inaugural president of the scary-sounding “Committee of Public Safety”, making him effectively the head of government for a brief period from April until July 1793.
By late 1793, Danton was vigorously supporting the Committee of Public Safety against “excesses of the anti-Christian movement”. Danton objected to the Revolution’s radicalization.
The face of the repression was his own friend the dreaded Maximilien Robespierre. (Unlike the austere Robespierre who was known for his frugality, the wealthy populist Danton was profligate.)
In March 1794, Danton was arrested and brought before the Revolutionary tribunal. On 5 April 1794, he together with his followers were sent to the guillotine.
Did ‘Committee of Public Safety’ really make the public feel safe?
Another principal figure of the French Revolution was lawyer-politician Maximilien Robespierre, dubbed ‘The Incorruptible’.
A firebrand orator who “defended actors, Jews, and black slaves” as well as opposed racists and religious bigots, Robespierre was elected Jacobin Club president in April 1790. A year later, the more moderate members left to join a rival club but Robespierre remained with the Jacobins.
He was popular with the people of Paris who elected him to head the delegation to the National Convention in 1792. That December, Robespierre spoke 11 times in the kangaroo court where Louis XVI was on trial, and called for the king’s death.
Robespierre took his seat alongside Danton on the all powerful Committee of Public Safety formed on 6 April 1793. By this time he had made many enemies, including the Minister of Finance Joseph Cambon who detested him.
Robespierre’s popularity soon slided and he lost his hold on public opinion. Finally a majority of the legislative assembly turned against him.
He and his supporters were seized by soldiers at on 27 July 1794. The very next evening, they were guillotined at the Place de la Révolution. The mob cheered.
“Authority comes from above, trust from below,” said Abbe Sieyès, a Catholic clergyman and foremost political theorist at the time of the French Revolution. He was observing how the movement for liberty had by 1799 thoroughly lost the trust of the French grassroots.
The big names and heroes of the liberation – Marat, Danton, Robespierre – were all killed by the very Revolution they themselves perpetrated. The revolution eats its own.