What good things did Maximilian Robespierre do?

Maximilien Robespierre is often seen as the villain of the French Revolution, even more so than Louis XVI. However, Robespierre ended up achieving many lasting accomplishments, such helping to create a more democratic French government system, which stemmed from his unwavering focus on virtue and law over monarchy. He also helped to bring about a more equitable and fair prison system and a resurgence in academic learning.

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Maximilien Robespierre is best known as the leader of the bloody Reign of Terror during French Revolution. While his name might be synonymous with power-hungriness, blood-thirstiness, and possibly madness, he was actually quite accomplished as a radical thinker and revolutionary, as he was hell-bent on societal change. Robespierre supported virtue and law over monarchy, famously called for liberty and fraternity, successfully toppled the aristocracy, and created a more democratic system in France. He also helped bring about a more equitable system for imprisonment (enforced after the revolution). Robespierre also ushered in a refocus on Greco-Roman learning in the fields of science, government and education, calling them the “cornerstones of society”.

Robespierre was well-educated from a young age and grew up to value academic learning and knowledge. He earned a law degree and soon became a notable voice in France calling for political change and equity across social classes. Early in the revolution, Robespierre became famous his long, and impassioned speeches on enlightenment philosophy. Even though his ideas were seen as extreme, his focus on liberty and fraternity earned him many radical followers. He called for “law over monarchy” and “democracy over tyranny.” In France, the Bourbon monarchy had reigned for so long that many were unsure that radicals could change the current system. Robespierre’s call for all men to vote, not just the rich who owned property, inspired many within the third estate. The Jacobins referred to him as “the incorruptible” because they saw him as honest and true to his cause of toppling the French monarchy—he was incapable of being swayed by anyone or anything.

In July of 1793, Robespierre became the head of the Committee of Public Safety. This committee was dedicated to killing anyone who seemed to be against the revolution or supportive of the monarchy. It was said that someone could be accused of being an anti-revolutionary in the morning and find themselves in the guillotine by evening. Even though Robespierre was seen as a maniac by some, he worked hard to create a more equitable system of imprisonment in France, which was enacted after the revolution.

The Bourbon monarchy had imprisoned those who were against the king and held them without a trial, executing many. Robespierre argued that this was inhumane and undemocratic, even as he chopped off heads at the guillotine. While King Louis XVI’s head lay lifeless, Robespierre still thought execution to be an unjustifiable crime. However, he believed the goals of the revolution were more important than these enlightenment principles. After the revolution, his rhetoric helped to end public hangings for good, creating a system where people would be tried instead of just executed or sent to prison by a lettre de cachet (an order of arbitrary imprisonment that anyone could send in, out of spite, or without good reason).

Robespierre also helped France to refocus on Greco-Roman values, bringing back a focus on literature, government, ideology, and fashion. Many historians who defend his character, view him as having been a young demagogue with impassioned theories, a love of learning, and a hatred of royal power, who was merely out of his depth when it came to experience. He chose systemized terror to achieve his revolutionary goals because he saw those aims as bigger and more important than maintaining and achieving all of his ideals in the moment, such as a hatred of the oppressive French prison system and death penalty. These historians say he inspired many with his philosophical musings, fanaticism, and fervor, and ended up having many long-lasting accomplishments despite the fact that his legacy is mostly blood-soaked.

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Maximilian Robespierre (1758–1794) was a leading figure of the French Revolution. He is infamous for the excesses of the Reign of Terror. He was also a man of considerable accomplishments.

His prowess in academics and his sharp intellect were evident from an early age. Born in Arras, he lost his mother at an early age, and his father deserted the family. But he overcame this background by his performance in school. He won a scholarship to a well-known college in Paris, where he excelled in law and philosophy. He became a well-paid lawyer and judge.

At thirty, he started a political career with his election to the Third Estate from Arras. He enjoyed success for several years as he became more prominent. He was an elegant and fervent speaker, and his ideas were ahead of his time. For instance, he wanted to extend the suffrage to all men. He sought to end slavery in the French colonies. Robespierre was often inflexible and was not the most charismatic of men, but his sincerity was obvious. He was fully committed to the ideals of the Revolution. Robespierre was called "the Incorruptible" for his simple manner and clothing. His energetic leadership was important in French military victories against other foreign powers.

There were, however, incessant factional feuds in the leadership. First one group, and then another, fell out of favor, and their leaders were guillotined. Finally, he lost one of these disputes and he was executed—like thousands before him—on the guillotine.

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Robespierre is remembered for his stewardship of the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror—the period in which tens of thousands of supposed enemies of the French Revolution were executed. He is usually held up as the exemplar of the excesses of the Revolution.

An attorney by trade, Robespierre was known as the "Incorruptible." He became the leader of the radical Jacobin faction of the National Assembly that emerged early in the Revolution and gained support as the war against the powers of Europe intensified. As leader of the Committee of Safety, Robespierre ruthlessly and effectively conducted the war effort, instituting price controls and mobilizing the nation to fight. It could certainly be argued that this was a major achievement of his. Other achievements date to his time in the National Assembly. Though fairly well-off himself, Robespierre was a devoted advocate for the poor, and one of the most forceful advocates for the abolition of slavery in the French Empire. While in the Assembly, Robespierre also promoted universal suffrage for all French men. In short, Robespierre represented the radical wing of the French Revolution. In this role, he took several positions modern students can sympathize with, but he also embraced the use of terror and violence to preserve and push the Revolution forward.

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Maximilian Robespierre is best-known for instigating the Terror, a short but dark period of the French Revolution under which thousands of people were killed by an increasingly overzealous revolutionary government. But that is not all he did in his life.

The reason he had enough power to do the Terror in the first place was that he played a vital role in the French Revolution, overthrowing the absolute monarchy and (eventually, after a long and tumultuous period including none other than Napoleon) establishing democracy. He led a group called the Jacobins who were vital to the success of the revolution. Without their help, the Revolution might have failed and France might have stayed under monarchy for generations to come.

He was a classic example of a Well-Intentioned Extremist; while his goals were good---he wanted freedom and democracy for all the people of France---he was willing to use extreme methods including torture and murder in order to get there. As he grew more extreme, he also became less popular, and was eventually overthrown in much the same way he had originally overthrown the king.

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