Public Backlash

Robespierre’s bloody attempt to protect the sanctity of the Revolution had exactly the opposite result. Rather than galvanize his supporters and the revolutionary nation, the Reign of Terror instead prompted a weakening on every front. Indeed, the Terror accomplished almost nothing productive, as Robespierre quickly burned his bridges and killed many former allies. As the mortuaries started to fill up, the commoners shifted their focus from equality to peace.

By the time the French army had almost completely staved off foreign invaders, Robespierre no longer had a justification for his extreme actions in the name of public “safety.” The final straw was his proposal of a “Republic of Virtue,” which would entail a move away from the morals of Christianity and into a new set of values. On July 27, 1794, a group of Jacobin allies arrested Robespierre. Receiving the same treatment that he had mandated for his enemies, he lost his head at the guillotine the following day. Undoubtedly, a collective sigh of relief echoed throughout the country.

The Thermidorian Reaction

With Robespierre out of the picture, a number of the bourgeoisie who had been repressed under the Reign of Terror—many of them Girondins—burst back onto the scene at the National Convention in the late summer of 1794. These moderates freed many of the Jacobins’ prisoners, neutralized the power of the Committee for Public Safety, and had many of Robespierre’s cohorts executed in a movement that became known as the Thermidorian Reaction.

However, the moderate and conservative initiatives that the convention subsequently implemented were aimed at the bourgeoisie and undid real accomplishments that Robespierre and his regime had achieved for the poor. To address economic concerns, for instance, the National Convention did away with price controls and printed more money, which allowed prices to skyrocket. This inflation hit the poor hard, and the peasants attempted yet another revolt. However, lacking a strong leader like Robespierre, the peasant uprising was quickly quashed by the government.

Popular pages: The French Revolution (1789–1799)