Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794)


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Maximilien Robespierre was mostly known for his powerful influence during the French Revolution, he founded and lead The Committee of Public Safety as well as inspired a nation to resist oppression that had restrained them for hundreds of years. Robespierre gave a powerful voice to the people of France and gave hope to a new way of living, he inspired a country to challenge their government and claim what was rightfully theirs, their rights and liberties. The French Revolution, while violent, was necessary to free the people of France from their oppression and to free the citizens from the monarchy's choke hold. Robespierre's unequivocal power and influence changed the face of a country forever and challenged the Old Regime that had oppressed the people of France for hundreds of years.

Table of Contents

I. Early Life
II. Government
III. Reign of Terror
IV. Downfall
V. Works Cited



I. Early Life


Maximilien Barthélemy Isidore de Robespierre was born on May 6th, 1758, into a "very old and worthy Arras family" (Matrat 11). At the age of six Robespierre's mother died, and two years later his father went away. These two events were arguably the most important in Robespierre's young life, and had a lasting effect on his personality and persona. He received a degree in law in 1781 and went to Paris to be a barrister of the Parliament of Paris, but soon returned to Arras and started his own practice. He later became an advocate of political change and got involved in the cahiers (Biography Resource Center). Robespierre's ideas were heavily influenced by the Enlightenment thinking of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a man who proclaimed that the rights of men were to be free from restraint by others and democracy (Nosotro 1). "Nature had made man good and happy. Society had corrupted him" (Matrat 17). These ideas of the importance of nature and reason would become important later in Robespierre's influence in France.


II. Government


Elected to the Estates General in 1789, Robespierre quickly took a position on the outermost reaches of the Left (Kreis 1). His popularity quickly ballooned to the point of reverence by the citizens who had helped overthrow the monarchy. In 1790, Robespierre was elected the leader of the most popular leftist political entity, the Jacobins (Nosotro 1). His charismatic speaking and powerful speeches carried him to new heights politically, with public opinion of him the at its highest point yet. His radical social theories put him at odds with the more moderate French political party, the Girondins. Robespierre was able to cast away the Girondins, leaving the sole political force in France to be the Jacobins.

During the pre-revolution period, the Catholic church had taken hundreds of square miles of Protestant land, so much that one fifth of the country belonged to the Church. Under Robespierre's leadership, that land was reclaimed by the French government (Nosotro 1). Inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment thinker Rousseau, Robespierre tried to institute a "Cult of the Supreme Being" to replace the Catholic faith, a deistic belief. He converted some of the old church buildings into "temples of reason" (Sherman 111).

With his newfound power, and that of the guillotine, Robespierre commanded authority over those who had once oppressed him, over the class that was once viewed as one of the highest powers in the country - the clergy (Nosotro 1). 1791 brought more strife to the country of France, and Robespierre decided to leave the Estates General and was appointed a public accuser. His tendency to accuse never left him, even after he had vacated that position in April of 1792 (Kreis 1).


III. Reign of Terror


1793 through 1794, the Committee of Public Safety directed the Reign of Terror. It was a time during the French Revolution which consisted violence, mass executions, mob rule, and injustice. The Reign of Terror was a military dictatorship that was instituted to rule the country in an emergency. During this state of emergency, thousands of innocent people lost their lives in the name of "democracy". "We must annihilate the enemies of the Republic at home and abroad, or else we shall perish," said Robespierre (Sherman 110). As all these violent crimes and murders occurred, Maximilien Robespierre watched in silence. Robespierre felt that the best thing to do for the French republic was for the king to be put to death and in for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to be beheaded.


IV. Downfall


Many believe that the downfall of Maximilien Robespierre occurred when the reign of terror began and lead to the deaths of hundreds by the guillotine. Robespierre himself had begun this time of fear and murder and slowly watched it spiral out of control. The guillotine had taken the lives of many before him but finally the blade had come and the revolution had taken his own life. On July 27, 1795, Robespierre was banned from the National Convention. He was then placed under house arrest. On July 28, Maximilien Robespierre was executed on the very machine that would soon become a symbol of the bloody regime, " The Reign of Terror".

Robespierre was accused of treason and dictatorship he had raised a Revolution of the people that would come to murder him and indeed create their on fate. The accusations were simple and widespread, the people of France wanted their leader dead. Following these accusations, he delivered a two hour long speech to the National Convention defending himself and pleading innocent to charges of attempted dictatorship and treason. Robespierre was shouted down while attempting to redeem himself following the speech. A deputy called for his arrest and he was mocked by the mob of people, at a loss of words he was taken and declared an outlaw. Being declared an outlaw meant that he would not be allowed a trial and he would be executed within 24 hours, he attempted suicide but failed only managing to shoot off his lower jaw. Despite his controversial yet influential power he was taken on July 28, 1794 to the guillotine in the center of Paris and executed in front of the millions of Frenchmen that had previously brought him to power. On July 28, Maximilien Robespierre was executed on the very machine that was the symbol of his Reign of Terror. This is known as the Thermidorian reaction as it happened on the ninth of Thermidor in the Revolutionary calendar (Sherman 114).


V. Works Cited


Cobb, Richard. "The French and Their Revolution." New York Times. 1998. The Free Press. 5 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/c/cobb-french.html>.
"Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC>.
Kreis, Steven. "Maximilien Robespierre." Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. 30 Mar. 2005. The History Guide. 27 Nov. 2007 &lt;http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/robespierre.html&gt;.
Matrat, Jean. Robespierre, or the Tyranny of the Majority. Trans. Alan Kendall and Felix Brenner. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.
Nosotro, Rit. "Maximilien Robespierre." HyperHistory. 28 Nov. 2007. 28 Nov. 2007 &lt;http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b2robespierre.htm&gt;.
Sherman, Dennis and Joyce Salisbury. The West in the World. New York: McGraw-Hill Primis, 2006.