The Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror (June, 1793 – July 27, 1794), also known as the The Terror (French: la Terreur) was a period of violence that occurred for one year and two months after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of the revolution." Estimates vary widely as to how many were killed, with numbers ranging from 16,000 to 40,000; in many cases, records were not kept, or if they were, they are considered likely to be inaccurate. The guillotine ("National Razor") became the symbol of a string of executions: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, the Girondins, Louis Philippe II and Madame Roland, as well as many others, such as "the father of modern chemistry" Antoine Lavoisier, lost their lives under its blade.

During 1794, revolutionary France was beset with real or imagined conspiracies by internal and foreign enemies. Within France the revolution was opposed by the French nobility, which had lost its inherited privileges. The Roman Catholic Church was generally against the Revolution, which had turned the clergy into employees of the state and required they take an oath of loyalty to the nation (through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). In addition, the First French Republic was engaged in a series of French Revolutionary Wars with neighboring powers.

The extension of civil war and the advance of foreign armies on national territory produced a political crisis, and increased the rivalry between the Girondins and the more radical Jacobins; the latter were eventually grouped in the parliamentary faction called the Mountain, and had the support of the Parisian population. The French government established the Committee of Public Safety, which took its final form on 6 September 1793 and was ultimately dominated by Maximilien Robespierre, in order to suppress internal counter-revolutionary activities and raise additional French military force. Through the Revolutionary Tribunal, the Terror's leaders exercised broad dictatorial powers and used them to instigate mass executions and political purges. The repression accelerated in June and July 1794, a period called "la Grande Terreur" (The Great Terror), and ended in the coup of 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), the so-called "Thermidorian Reaction", in which several leaders of the Reign of Terror were executed, including Saint-Just and Robespierre.