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Study On Robespierre The Tyrant History Essay

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Few historical characters excite the degree of controversy that surrounds Maximilien Robespierre, a mild-mannered provincial lawyer who only lived to be thirty-six. He was a man full of hypocrisy and violence. He was once described by a French writer Hippolyte Taine:

“In vain he detached himself from the action and raises his preacher’s eyes to heaven, but he cannot hearing and seeing all around him, beneath his feet the cracking of bones, the flowing of blood, the insatiable gaping mouth of the monster he has trained and he bestrides.” (Rude 104) [1] 

Robespierre was a tyrant and a ruthless, bloodthirsty dictator. A leader without mercy, perhaps an example of the first modern dictator. Robespierre, who played a large part in the French Revolution, was a tyrant and believed in murder of his own people. His economic, social and political policies were unsuccessful and some horrifying. The economic situation in France during the Reign of Terror was untenable, Robespierre claimed he wanted to rejuvenate the system, but failed as he wanted to control every aspect of it. The political policies passed by him were oppressive and unjust. Robespierre was indeed a murderous political despot and hypocrite in his own right. The social policies were distressing and the need to be a total dictator of the country brought Robespierre to extreme means to gain his power.

Commencing with his economic control of the prices and inflations, which ruined French people’s chances at any acceptable living standard where they could not afford to even feed their family. Jacobins were willing to enforce general control of the prices and supplies, which eventually emerged in the Maximum Law of September 29, 1793.( Rude 40 ) [2] Robespierre was convinced that the riots that occurred (because of the food shortages) were provoked by aristocratic elements, he did not see that in reality people were starving in Paris and in the countryside. Robespierre continually stole food from poor peasant farmers to feel the Jacobins and the army, leaving them without any means of survival; little was done to help these farmers. (Palmer 67) [3] 

Agriculture was the backbone of the French economy, Robespierre accomplished to cripple the merchants by price standards, leaving the tradesmen with little if any income from the sales that were made. This left two classes now despairing for means of income. This price control was largely at the expense of the farmers and merchants. (Carr 131) [4] Armed forces were authorized against the farmers, not only if they were not willing to give up all of the crops that they had worked for so hard, but even if they missed an item on a list of crops or goods that they produced. This could mean that an execution or prison waited anyone who forgot to write that they grew a few rows of potatoes, or perhaps someone that forgot to update their list. The committee of Public Safety took control of not only politics but also the economy, Robespierre had placed himself as the economic dictator in a nation that revolted to have a democracy. The commission and its employees were filled with Jacobins who became, in turn, corrupt as they controlled the flow of goods and money. Robespierre was a tyrant and a ruthless, bloodthirsty dictator.

Robespierre’s social policies were presumed to be based on equality yet they were anything but just. The Jacobins has an anti feminist attitude. The year 1793 abolished all women’s clubs. Even women advocators were not treated as equals. Women belonged to fathers and husbands, this is hard to imagine as equality, yet in Robespierre’s mind it was not only equal but fair. “Robespierre condemned women’s public participation, in spite of the fact that women had played a key role in the French revolution.” (de Sarkar ) [5] This does not seem like equality whether in today’s world, or during the French revolution. The legal status of women was not much different from minors, imbeciles or perhaps even slaves. (Weiner, 90 ) [6] 

The impact on the Catholic Church and its believers was devastating as the Cult of Supreme Being was established. This was a religion that was to unify the nation, a nation that was over seventy percent devout catholic. ( Sanchez 3 ) [7] The new state religion was to be the only one practiced publically, any other openly practiced religions were to be punished. If Catholic priests did not swear an oath to the Cult of Supreme being they would be executed. The property of the church was liquidated and thousands of French people were denounced ‘counter revolutionaries’ of they did not convert to the state religion, punishable by death.

On February second 1794 the Law on Primary Education was passed, this ensured that children would go to school. Robespierre made sure that what these children were learning was Jacobin morals and beliefs, the school system was censored only to uphold Jacobins views. This was a calculated move to raise and produce young revolutionaries that were taught to believe that Jacobin way was the best way to run a country. Even with the underlining purpose of brainwashing French children, this law was not enforced heavily during the Reign of Terror, and failed in its evil attempts. (Sherman 49) [8] It can be argued that by the time of his death, Robespierre had become that which the original aims of the Revolution had railed against. His social policies were unethical and in the end they were part of what lost Robespierre his dictatorship.

The political policies were of outmost threat to the citizens, they were by far the strictest and most nauseating. Robespierre was a superb orator and opportunist who appears to have used the Nationalist sentiments of the time to further his own interests and career and to justify the murders of all who stood in his way. Prairal laws were laws that began the Great Terror in 1794 by not allowing the accused to defend themselves and giving more power to the Revolutionary Tribunals for expedience in executions. The citizens of France did not have a right to a fair trial, witnesses or a jury, they were denied their legal rights. In his Justification, Robespierre states that Justice comes from a judiciary which is responsible to the people — however in his political actions he had justice dispensed according to nothing but his own agenda. During The Terror he instituted courts which were:

“…special revolutionary courts responsible only to [the] Committee of Public Safety. These courts ignored normal legal procedures and judged severely.” (Eagan) [9] 

The rule of Law became the ruler man or group of men led by Robespierre, he appointed all judges, who were Jacobins. No evidence or witnesses were needed in the mass trials to convict ‘counter revolutionaries’. There were no freedoms and rights in the Reign of Terror. Freedom of expression was only permitted if it supported the Jacobin’s views, otherwise it was treasonous. Public speeches were banned if they did not support Robespierre’s morals and the punishment was death, although Robespierre supposedly invited people to present their opinions. The government under the Reign of Terror was reduced from over seven hundred members to seven or eight members of the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre claimed that he was against absolutism, when in fact he was running a form of dictatorship, he used violence and terror to maintain his power. Robespierre was a tyrant and a ruthless, bloodthirsty dictator.

Robespierre was the type of man who could pay lip service to enlightenment principles while at the same time advocating the violation of one of its most fundamental goals: freedom of opinion. Such was his talent for manipulation of words. Though it was his murderous actions which eventually cost him his life in 1794, his words are what most betray his hypocrisy. In his speech “The Terror Justified”, made before the French National Assembly in February of that same year, he explains that he felt he must “…lead the people by means of reason and the enemies of the people by terror…” (Sherman 182) [10] Yet it is bluntly obvious that he lead all people with terror whether it was a poor farmer, urban worker or the bourgeoisie and aristocracy. Robespierre’s economic, social and political policies were unsuccessful and some horrifying, he was a tyrant and a ruthless, bloodthirsty dictator.


Robespierre: Ruthless Tyrant.

Ewa Kozakiewicz

Mr. Chisholm

Modern Western Civilizations

St. John’s College

October 15th, 2002

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