French Revolution - Radical Stage


 By the end of 1971, Europe was preparing to witness the end of a 
seemingly triumphant revolution in France. The country was 
restructuring its government in a forceful and bloodless manner, while 
the tyrant King Louis the XVI agreed to the demands of the masses 
(albeit without much choice). However, due to the fanatical 
aspirations of men such as Danton, Marat and Robespierre,it would be 
only a matter of months before the moderate stage of social and 
political reform was transformed into a radical phase of barbaric and 
violent force. In their quest for freedom, equality and fraternity, 
the leaders of the Jacobins inadvertently turned the revolution into 
an oligarchic dictatorship that threatened to destroy all that was 
achieved in the previous two years of insurrection.

 The revolution took a sharp turn on August 9th, 1792. The 
Municipal government was overthrown in Paris and a Commune was 
established by the leaders of the radical forces. During this time 
there were continual food riots erupting in every area of the country 
and, with the threat of war against Austria and Prussia looming, it 
was vital that order was to be maintained during such tumultuous 
times. Although the constitution was already enshrined and the 
citizens had their freedom and liberties, there was still plenty of 
public dissent and disapproval as to whether or not these laws would 
help create a new government and prevent the country from breaking 
apart. The people had come this far and were not prepared to watch 
their efforts lead to failure or the restoration of an absolute 
monarch. As a result, the radical forces were able to gain the support 
of the citizens in declaring that the constitution of 1791 was 
ineffective and useless since it did not suit the needs of ALL the 
population of France. Moderate forces preferred to concentrate on the 
foreign affairs of "new" France, but the radicals insisted on domestic 
stability first. Led by the popular Danton and the merciless Marat, 
the Paris Commune discarded the old constitution and called for a
National Convention to begin work on a new, revised version.

 The National Convention, divided by the moderate Girondins and 
the radical Jacobins, was the place where the future of the country 
was to be eventually determined. It was the premise of the Jacobins 
that they should eradicate the "enemy within" and secure the destiny 
of the revolution through the destruction of counter-revolutionary 
forces. They believed that by weeding out those who opposed the 
revolution, they could achieve their goals quickly and efficiently. 
The Girondins were not so quick to agree with the Jacobins, and so 
political deadlock begin to form in the Convention. It was not until 
after the September massacres, when 1200 prisoners were executed 
without trials, that Robespierre and his followers were able to 
justify their premise. They condemned the actions of the unruly mobs 
that caused the deaths of innocent Frenchmen and demanded that the
Monarchy be abolished in order to eliminate as many of the royalists 
and monarchists that still remained. It was Marat with his want 
100,000 heads to fall" speeches that convinced the masses that those 
who were not in favour of the revolution had to be dealt with 
immediately or the revolution would never succeed.

 Once the Monarchy was abolished and France was declared a 
republic, Robespierre and the Jacobins proceeded to demand the 
execution of the last symbol of the old regime: Louis Capet. The 
Girondins begged for a stay of execution for the fallen King (in the 
name of constitutional Justice), but the moderate forces were 
overwhelmed by the people's support for the radicals and the fate of 
Louis remained unchanged. His death signified the beginning of a time 
when nationalism and radicalism would dominate the revolution. On 
March 10th, the Revolutionary Tribunal was created in order to 
prosecute the enemies of the revolution. Marat became a virtual Grim 
Reaper in searching out possible traitors and enemies of the republic. 
When the Committee on Public Safety was established on the 26th, 
Robespierre and his Jacobins were able to proudly look upon the 
reforms that they had injected into the political bloodstream of 
France. There was no turning back from the radical phase that the 
people had oluntarily entered and the momentum that the Jacobins had 
captured placed them in a position of highest authority and almost 
unlimited power.

 By the summer of 1793, the people of France began feeling that 
something had gone wrong, terribly wrong. In what would be known as 
the infamous "Reign of Terror", the National Convention, spearheaded 
by the radical zeal of Marat and the infallibility of Robespierre, 
began persecuting any person who was suspected of opposing the 
revolution. Even the moderate Girondins were accused of 
counter-revolutionary actions and were expelled from the Convention. 
What was once a legislative, two-sided body had now become an 
authoritarian oligarchy led by radicals. Although the masses had 
finally deposed the tyrant who had oppressed them for so many years, 
they were now being oppressed by an executive group that was ruling 
the country without the safeguards of a constitution. Thousands were 
dying without the aid of civil liberties or rights and any citizen 
accused of treason was deemed guilty until proven innocent. In a 
desperate attempt to slow down the intentions of the Jacobins, Marat
was mur ed by Charlotte Corday and Danton began speaking out against 
all radicals who were contributing to the deaths of innocent citizens. 
Unfortunately, this was to be a stage in the revolution that could not 
be undone even with the leadership of Danton. The closing chapters of 
the radical stage were filled with the executions of the Girondins and 
other suspects (Hebert) who allegedly opposed the will of the 
Jacobins, and therefore opposed the will of the republic. Robespierre 
never intended to justify his ends through such violent means.

 1793 marked a year that could have been prevented, a period that 
should never have befallen the liberated citizens of France. Mirabeau 
warned that the destruction of the Monarchy would plunge the country 
into anarchy and his words rang true. France was not prepared for such 
social and political upheaval, and the resulting shift towards a 
republic would change the country forever. The Jacobins discarded 
their holy bible, the constitution, in order to ensure the security 
and stability of the country. Not only did their hasty actions 
backfire, but the tens of thousands of lives that perished during 
their reign symbolized the radical stage of the revolution in all its 
bloody glory.


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