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 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.