The Radical Stage of The French Revolution

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,
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
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.

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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
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
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