The Radical Stage of the French Revolution (1792-1793)


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 popula n 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
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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