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Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794

PostPosted: July 27th, 2012, 6:45 pm
by Mark
Today is the anniversary of the arrest and execution of one of the most influential figures of the French Revolution itself – Maximilien Robespierre! Robespierre was a member of the Estates General, the Constituent Assembly, the Jacobin Club and the Committee of Public Safety. However, he is probably best remembered for his infamous role in the Reign of Terror which saw the executions of over 40,000 Frenchmen! Despite his influence and rise to power Robespierre ultimately found himself under arrest on the 27th July 1794 and was guillotined the following day.

I thought it might be interesting to start a thread on Robespierre where members can discuss any aspect of this individual. However, for those of you new to the history of Robespierre please do check out this Wikipedia article on his life and execution.

Maximilien Robespierre
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Re: Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794

PostPosted: August 5th, 2012, 11:58 am
by Mark
Robespierre was a ruthless autocrat who was responsible (at least in part) for the 'Reign of Terror' which led to the often brutal death of many thousands of French people. On the other hand his notions of liberty and rights, it can be argued, led to those which many of us enjoy today.

What are your thoughts on Robespierre? Was he one of histories greatest villains or was he someone who changed Europe for the better?


Re: Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794

PostPosted: August 5th, 2012, 4:18 pm
by Lopaca
Maximillien Robespierre

The figure and legacy of Maximillien Robespierre needs to be seen in the context of his role as an advocate of the people. His involvement in challenging the hitherto absolutist monarchy of France made all powerful, firstly by the 'Sun King' Louis XIV and then his grandson Louis XVI is often forgotten and dismissed.
For example, Robespierre was one of the catalysts that saw a program of reform to include the entire administrative structure of the state being re-organised along meritocratic lines. Men were to hold posts based on their ability to do the job rather than by virtue of birth. A new legal structure was prepared which, in theory, all were to be equal before the law, again regardless of birth, and subject to the same sorts of punishments. Additionally, the Church was to be nationalised and the clergy, rather than owing thier allegiance to a foreign body (the Pope) outside of France, were to be made salaried servants of the state. Even a declaration of war, by the National Assembly, saw a significant shift in emphasis by declaring war on the monarchs of their enemies, not on their subjects the people.
Finally, it is arguable that men, like Robespierre, put into practice the idea that first and foremost people began identifying themselves with their 'Nation', rather than as subjects of a monarch, thus, ushering in the 'Age of Nationalism'.
While his behaviour and actions is truly abhorrent at the height of the 'Reign of Terror' which he is rightly pilloried and derided for it is important not to let this episode overshadow the revolutionary changes that Robespierre, and his fellow protagonists Danton, Marat etc, implemented based on Enlightenment rationalism.

Peter Mahood

Re: Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794

PostPosted: August 6th, 2012, 2:01 pm
by FBC-Elvas, Portugal
Welcome to the forum, Peter. A good summing up of Robespierre's contributions.

It's significant that there are no French monuments to Robespierre whereas Danton has a fine monument:

An interesting question, Mark. Robespierre's name today is synonymous with the Reign of Terror and his contribution to government as the West enjoys it today is known mostly to historians.

What went wrong? I found this analysis helpful: From the spring of 1792 onwards France was involved in a spiral of war, revolt and civil war. Counter-revolutionaries were plotting the restoration of the absolute monarchy with the support of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. The Girondins, the dominant revolutionary faction in the Legislative Assembly, spearheaded the drive for an aggressive war with the Empire, declaring war in April 1792. The avowed intention was to polarize French politics, oblige the counter-revolutionaries to emerge into opposition, and force the monarchy either to capitulate to the revolutionaries or to face its own destruction. In these circumstances, political views hardened, suspicion and fear increased and the early optimism of the Revolution vanished. Robespierre himself had long warned of the dangers of provoking counter-revolution. He had tried to oppose the war because he thought it would divide France and rally support for the counter-revolutionaries. Nor did he believe that the ordinary people of Europe would welcome an invading French army, even one that claimed to deliver liberty and equality. He stuck doggedly to this position though it was deeply unpopular and he became politically isolated.

Robespierre clung to the form of law partly in order to prevent the sans=culottes taking the law into their own hands through mob violence. As fellow revolutionary Danton said, ‘let us be terrible in order to stop the people from being so.’ The resort to Terror also emerged out of relative weakness and fear. The Jacobins had only a shaky legitimacy and innumerable opponents throughout France, ranging from intransigent royalists to more moderate revolutionaries who had seen power centralized and their ideas superseded. Many people in France were already indifferent, if not openly hostile, to the Revolution. For many the Revolution now meant requisitioning of supplies, military conscription and the constant threat to their traditional ways of life, churches, even time – for the revolutionaries had even invented a new calendar. Throughout the year of Jacobin rule, it was the san-culottes who kept them in power. But the price of that support was the blood-letting.

The historian Lord Acton pointed out that many millions were to die in Napoleon’s wars for no better reason than his own glory. Yet the aura of the hero still clings to Napoleon, while Robespierre’s name is synonymous with violence and horror. ... and-terror


Re: Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794

PostPosted: July 28th, 2013, 8:52 pm
by Mark
It is now a year on so thought I would bump this topic for the 219th anniversary of Robespierre's execution.


Re: Maximilien Robespierre, 1758-1794

PostPosted: July 29th, 2013, 3:26 pm
by Josh&Historyland
To gild the Lilly a bit;

The French Revolution was a hopeful child who grew up into a monster that devoured its own children and family.

Personally I cannot see Roespierre as anything but what one might call a villain. His ideals were largly those of many people, the Revolution in itself started as a good thing, and it gave him a chance for personal power, which he took. The old adage absolute power corrupts absolutely applies here. The good that he did in my opinion, which has nothing to do with popular opinion or British bias, it stems from my own researches, was outweighed by the evil he allowed and indeed sanctioned to happen. The lasting effects of what can only be called revolutionary tyranny, may have turned out well, and it is good that it has, otherwise the horrible and largely senseless bloodletting of the terror would have resulted in the deaths if all those people meaning nothing. For the memory of the innocent people who were executed it is just that good eventually came from their deaths, but whatever positive aspects of Robespierre's charachter has been uncovered by revisionist historians, they cannot in my opinion remove the negative. I cannot call him a hero, just a man who was the victim of his own belief, suspicion and time.