One event throughout history that many people have heard of is the French Revolution. This event started in May 5, 1789 and then officially ended November 9, 1799. Whether it was through classes, movies, or brief discussions with peers in regards to what happen during that era everyone can agree upon how big of an impact the revolution made in French history. Many reasons why it became well known was because this was an impactful period where the people of France finally initiated this movement and those results lead them to “succeeded in obtaining great power for the lower class, creating a constitution, limiting the power of the monarchy, giving the Third Estate great control over the populace of France and gaining rights and power for the lower class of France” (“The Success of The French Revolution.”). There were people who were part of this revolution who became well known in French history. Some of these people were known for the purpose of being supporters, some were against the revolution, and even some as well were traitors during this period. One influential figure from that time was a man named Maximilien Robespierre. Though his view points were “to make France a republic of virtue with equality and liberty for all men” (Eagan 11) this was only in the beginning. Later on Robespierre’s other views of how France should be ruled lead to his downfall. It in addition to this it caused him to be “represented [as] all that was evil in the Revolution”, though for some people he was “the savior and protector of democracy and the rights of man” (Eagan 11).
Early Times of Maximilien Robespierre
Robespierre was born on “May 6, 1758, in Arras, the small capital of the province of Artois” (Jordan 24) in northern France. His father, Maximilien Barthélémy de Robespierre, was a lawyer and his mother, Jacqueline Marguerite Carrault, was known only know by her parents’ famous brewer since she passed away later in his life. His father ended up leaving him and Maximilien with “his brother and sisters, was raised by his maternal grandparents” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). This was a tough start into Robespierre childhood but he still stayed focused for his future despite his early tragedies. Robespierre was bright in his education at a young age. One aspect that proves his brilliance is when he was 17 years old “he was chosen from the 500 pupils of his school to deliver a speech to the newly crowned King of France Louis the XVI” (“Maximillien Robespierre Biography.”). With such achievement to his first education he decides to attend a university in order to study law. He went to the college of the “Oratorians at Arras, and in 1769 he was awarded a scholarship to the famous college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he distinguished himself in philosophy and law” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). After graduating and passing the bar exam in 1781 he made a “private practice [that] provided him with a comfortable income” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). Within the practice he had a “reputation as a forceful and enlightened lawyer, a people’s lawyer, even a poor man’s lawyer” (Jordan 44). In other viewpoints people thought his action in law were “too radical, took only cases of poor clients, and had offended the courts” (Jordan 28). Not letting any negative opinions or views from other people get in his way Robespierre still represented for giving equal justice for the lower class citizens in the French judicial system. This event “alarmed the privileged classes by his protests in his “Mémoire pour le Sieur Dupond” (‘Report for Lord Dupond’) against royal absolutism and arbitrary justice” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”).
Political Impacts of Robespierre
To become a lawyer, own your own law firm, and be well known for advocating to the community that was never acknowledge was a huge stepping stone. But more was to come for Robespierre in the political realm. Robespierre was “a member of the Third Estate at Artois” (Eagan 32) and there he was able to find “appeals to the welfare of the country [to] assure them of the popular support no matter how thin their political programs may be” (Eagan 32).Most methods he would do would be relating to patriotism, since he believe that “was the key to all problems confronting the state” (Eagan 36).He would do speeches talking in regards to these issues which not only gave him the role at the estate but the National assembly as well. While there he “sp[oked] more than 500 times during the life of the National Assembly” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”) to advocate how France should be run. Not only did he join the assembly, but also a group called the Jacobins which was the most famous political group of the French Revolution. He even earned a title “ ‘the Incorruptible’ because of his honesty and firm sense of right and wrong” (“Robespierre, Maximilien de.”). With wanting to “govern in accordance with the general will of the people” (Eagan 42) he put that into action by writing the wants “on paper in a constitution” (Eagan 42). He also wanted to help create the declaration of rights so that “these rights before the eyes of the people [would not be tampered with] so that they would never be oppresses by tyrants” (Eagan 42). These kinds of ethics and morals shows values of great leadership in a society that sought after this to rules most regions throughout history.
It’s Revolution Time
Throughout the time of the revolution, Robespierre was known for the speeches he did to large audiences. He assisted the revolution by fighting “almost exclusively with his words” (Jordan 64). Through his speeches he influenced “ ‘[t]he love of justice, of humanity, of liberty’ ’’that the French never received from the monarchy (Jordan 64) and “his work as an organizer of the Jacobin party” (Eagan 52) lead the group to be successful in the revolution. With Robespierre leadership the Jacobin party attacked “their enemies not as mere opponents but as criminals seeking dominant power at home or spies paid by hostile foreign powers” (Eagan 52). When they caught the enemies the “Committee arrested alleged opponents of the revolution, who were then tried by revolutionary courts” (McKelvie). Those enemies were “members of the aristocracy, priests, members of the middle class and anyone accused of counterrevolutionary activity” (McKelvie). They all had to be in trial since “the Law of Suspects [was created] in order to identify and punish any alleged enemies of the revolution” (McKelvie). In the end they were all found guilty and executed which accumulated “records of those sentenced to death numbers 16,594, but 18,000 to 23,000 more may have been killed without trial or may have died while imprisoned” (McKelvie). With all that Robespierre was doing in France while being part of the Nation assembly and the Jacobin party he got a “place on the Committee of Public Safety” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). This committee primarily ruled France after the, King Louis XIV, was guillotined and was “unofficially controlled by Robespierre” (“Maximillien Robespierre Biography.”). The peoples’ perspective was more acknowledge for the Revolution due to Robespierre’s control. He had equal viewpoints, always supported the lower class, and joined organizations that fought for their freedoms against the unfair monarchy. The French revolution had succeeded with gaining the power they never had before. However, eventually everything went wrong with the power he had with the influential committees he controlled and authority in France that Robespierre now had.
The Downfall of Robespierre
With his view and morals, it was hard to believe that what he was doing later on led to him being and having a title in ways along the lines of what a dictator did. But that was what exactly he was doing “[in] order to bring about a mass conscription, economic dictatorship, and total war” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). With the position, organizations, and assembling the Reign of Terror he automatically became the “de facto dictator of the country” (“Maximillien Robespierre Biography.”). How he was doing this dictatorship was “established outside the regular government and then it gradually seized power” (Eagan 149). Now with all what he was doing with France did he want to become a dictator and rule France under this direction. When question about him ruling France this way “Robespierre denied any such ambition. He merely wished a highly centralized form of government in order to rid France of its enemies” (Eagan 149). But his way to govern the people led to him “los[ing] the support of the people, whose hardships continued despite the recent French victories” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). What made the French citizens had enough is when he carried out executions without a fair trial. This made the French citizens “question his rule and the other members of the convention conspired [in secret] to overthrow him” (“Maximillien Robespierre Biography.”). The citizens went to a hotel he was residing in and “attacked the Hôtel de Ville and easily seized Robespierre and his followers” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). This lead to his death of being “guillotined before a cheering mob on the Place de la Révolution” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”).
My Take On Maximilien
Power is something that can be good or bad. You can use power to support a cause or you can even use power to destroy a cause. In most cases it all depends on the situation and the person in particular that has power. In the event that I lived during the time during the French revolution and I can give power to whoever I want I would choose Robespierre to obtain it. The reason why is because he has showed and did actions relating to a good nation that he wanted France to be. He had views and “belief[s] in the virtues of a society of nations, each free and equal, all co-operating for the general good” (Eagan 51). But then later on I would regret giving my power since during that time France is not the nation that Robespierre was supposed to make. No matter which way you look at it a dictatorship is an oppress ruling. There have been a large percentage of countries and regions that give better opportunities and wealth under this authoritarian regime ruling. Though, is that all really worth it for the cost of only letting one person rule with power and the citizens that live and contribute to the nation not having a say to what goes on. No one was really truly free under the time Robespierre ruled. It was not a surprise “his death, his memory was relentlessly attacked, and a great many of his papers were destroyed. History portrayed him as either a bloodthirsty creature or a timid bourgeois” (“Maximilien Robespierre.”). This can go back to how some dictatorships would happen to stabilize a problem in their region. The dictator feels since they control and have the source of power what they do is ideal to run the region. However, in the end it does not help the citizens but instead give bad representation to whoever is ruling and making the decisions.
Conclusion and Final Remarks
To sum up all that has been stated, throughout all of history we have seen destruction, beauty, interesting perspectives, and eye opening experiences that surprised people. The French revolution altogether gave us these categories. Maximilien Robespierre was not only there during the time of the revolution but help made it. All Robespierre wanted to do was have an “eternal future for revolutions and revolutionaries” (Jordan 3). This had to be cut short for Robespierre (pun not intended) since he was not doing this for the citizens of France towards the end of his life. I will never forget the oath he made the people of France in which he said “I swear to maintain with all my might the unity and indivisibility of the republic” (Jordan 72). He said this with meaning since he wanted to “recognize as my brother any just man, any true friend of humanity, whatever is color, his stature, and his land” (Jordan 72). France now has that in the modern day society. Robespierre wish came true but he did not do it during his era. Who knows if Robespierre has regrets for what he did that made the French resent him to the end. Who knows if he still wanted France to be ruled the way he was doing. All that is known is that all he did and all that has happened in the French Revolution is in a huge part history that is not forgotten.
Eagan, James Michael. Maximilien Robespierre: Nationalist Dictator. Columbia University Press, 1938.
Jordan, David P. The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. University of Chicago Press, 1989.
“Maximilien Robespierre.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maximilien-Robespierre.
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McKelvie, C. (2021, October 20). What was the reign of terror? LiveScience. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/reign-of-terror.html
“Robespierre, Maximilien de.” UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography, edited by Laura B. Tyle, vol. 9, UXL, 2003, pp. 1599-1601. Gale In Context: Global Issues, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3437500666/GIC?u=miam11506&sid=bookmark-GIC&xid=9ce72b03. Accessed 22 Apr. 2022.
“The Success of The French Revolution.” ukessays.com. 11 2018. UKEssays. 04 2022 <https://www.ukessays.com/essays/history/the-success-of-the-french-revolution-history-essay.php?vref=1>.