The French Revolution went through a number of phases, and it was the more radical phase known as the Terror that ended in 1795. This is the phase that most people associate with the Revolution in general, a time of widespread terror, bloodshed, and baying, toothless mobs of old crones cackling at the foot of the guillotine.
In conducting this reign of terror, the ruling Jacobin faction under Robespierre completely overreached itself. When the revolutionary wars against the crowned heads of Europe were going against France, terroristic measures were easier to justify. But once the wars turned in France's favor, it became more difficult to maintain, as Robespierre and the Jacobins did, that the Terror was necessary to save the Revolution.
But instead of easing the Terror, Robespierre made the catastrophic mistake of ratcheting it up. Soon, no one, not even the most ardent supporter of the Revolution, could feel safe. At long last, Robespierre's enemies, of whom there were many, became sufficiently emboldened to come together and stand up to the tyranny of the “sea-green incorruptible.” Robespierre and the Jacobins fell, with most of them being sent to the very guillotine—where they had sent so many people themselves.
With the fall of the Jacobins, the radical phase of the Revolution was over. The politicians who'd brought about Robespierre's downfall now set about putting together a new constitution that would ensure that the kind of dictatorial power exercised by Robespierre would no longer be possible. To that end, power would be vested in a committee of five men known as the Directory. Although there was to be no going back to the days of the ancien regime, the Revolution was, to all intents and purposes, over.
Yet the Directory proved singularly incapable of governing France effectively. The numerous problems besetting France were simply too difficult for the new government to handle. It seemed to many that sharing power among five men was a recipe for indecision and vacillation. Before long, whispers began to grow that what France really needed was a strong man to take the reigns of power and restore order and prosperity to France.
Napoleon Bonaparte believed himself to be just such a man. And he and his allies exploited the inherent weaknesses of the Directory by staging an audacious coup that bringing the post-revolutionary system of government to an end. Though Napoleon formally shared power after the fall of the Directory, in actual fact he was the most powerful man in the whole of France, a position he cemented by crowning himself Emperor in 1804.