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A portrait of Maximilien Robespierre
Born on May 6th, 1758, in Arras, France, Robespierre was the eldest of his four siblings. Robespierre had a stressful childhood; his mother died when he was nine, and his father had abandoned him due to the shock of his wife's death. This led Robespierre and his siblings to be raised by their maternal relatives.
Later on, Robespierre obtained a scholarship and attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, in Paris, to become a lawyer. Additionally, he became a pupil of the famous philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau's studies and theories influenced Robespierre to believe in democracy, deism, and the instinctive morality of mankind.
Robespierre was widely known as a famous French leader, lawyer, and politician of the French Revolution. In 1793, he became the leader of the Committee of Public Safety and also made a great impact during the Reign of Terror, which was the period of time in which Robespierre ruled France similarly to a tyrant. His career, as well as his life, came to an end on July 28, 1794, in Paris, where he made a great effort to commit a suicide, but in the end was guillotined.
Reign of Terror
Execution during the Reign of Terror
During the French Revolution, people wanted an end to taxes and a stop to the exclusive privileges that the nobility had. Commoners or peasants, began to reason about "
equality, liberty, and democracy."
In addition, people were beginning to look at the success of the American Revolution and began to agree with the philosophical theories of Voltaire and Rousseau. In the summer of 1792, the government no longer had power. The peasants and their leaders from the bourgeoisie obtained the most power which led to the making of the Jacobin Club. This club was the most populated, especially by the middle class. The Jacobins wanted the kings and queens to come down from their thrones, so that they could establish a government of their own.
Numerous leaders struggled to gain power during this time, and Maximilien Robespierre was one of them. Gradually, Robespierre obtained more and more control over France. He believed in making a "republic of virtue", so he wanted to abolish every aspect of the past monarchy and nobility in France, which led all of the churches in Paris to close.
The period of time which Robespierre governed France was called the Reign of Terror, and it began in the summer of 1793 and ended in the summer of 1794. During this time period, thousands of people were executed by the guillotine. Some of these people were executed for absurd reasons, all judged by Robespierre himself. Robespierre believed that the "enemies of the republic" were other revolutionaries who dared to question his authority and they were to be punished for their opposing beliefs. This included famous political figures such as Marie Antoinette and George Danton. Historians believe that almost 40,000 anonymous people were executed during the Reign of Terror and approximately 85% were peasants or commoners.
As time passed by, the members and representatives of the National Convention committee realized that sooner or later, Robespierre would have them executed as well. So in order to spare their own lives, the committee decided to deceive Robespierre and have him executed without a trial. Before the execution, Robespierre took a gun and was about to commit suicide, but he missed and ended up shooting his own jaw. On July 28, 1794, Robespierre was guillotined with his face in a upward direction, marking the conclusion of the Reign of Terror.
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Modern World History
. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell Inc., 2003. 194-203.
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