Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794)

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Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794)

Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre was born in Arras on the 6th May 1758. The son of a lawyer, he was educated in Paris and entered the same profession as his father. He was elected deputy of the Estates-General (a form of Parliament but without real power), that met in May 1789. He subsequently served in the National Constituent Assembly.

Robespierre was a fanatical and misogynist, who possessed the fearful certitude of a man who believes himself to have a mission. He became increasingly popular for his attacks on the monarchy and for his advocacy for democratic reforms.

In April 1790 he was elected president of the powerful Jacobin political club. After the downfall of the monarchy in August 1792, he was elected the first deputy for Paris to the National Convention. It was the Convention who abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic. It was also the Convention who put the King on trial for treason, all of this was strongly supported by Robespierre. The King was executed in January 1793.

Reign of Terror

With the death of the King, tensions in the Convention resulted in a power struggle between the Jacobins and the moderate Girondins. In September 1793 the loi des suspects, ordering the arrest of anyone suspected of “disloyalty” to the revolution, was passed. It marked the beginning of the true Terror. The Jacobins used the power of the mob to take control and Girondin leaders were arrested. Control of the country passed to the Committee of Public Safety of which Robespierre was a member. He rapidly became a dominant force on the committee.

Cult of Supreme Being

In May 1794 Robespierre insisted the National Convention proclaim a new official religion for France- the Cult of the Supreme Being. It was based on the ideas of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau of whom Robespierre was a passionate advocate.

Intensification of the “Reign of Terror” and Robespierre’s autocracy made him increasingly unpopular. French military successes seved to undermine the justification for such ruthlessness and a conspiracy was formed to overthrow him. On the 27th July 1794, Robespierre was arrested. The following day, along with twenty one of his closest supporters he was executed.

Robespierre was a fanatical who believed with a religious fervour in a republic France. He was one of the most influential players in the French Revolution. But his need for power in a democratic society proved to be his downfall.

Source:

  1. Horne Alistair Friend or Foe An Anglo-Saxon History of France,Orion Books,London,2004