What was the significance of Maximilien Robespierre in the French Revolution?

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bmrasmussen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robespierre was the architect of the Reign of Terror in France.  His name is often associated with the French Revolution.

He started out representing the Third Estate, advocating for basic human rights for all - rich, poor, slave, free or otherwise.  He also opposed the death penalty for many years.

As France was plunged into the revolution, the King, Louis XIV, was unable to maintain control of the country.  All kinds of violent things happened, including one event where 2,000 people were dragged out of prisons and killed by the mobs in order to "force" justice.  

The government, and Robespierre, decided that someone had to get control of the situation.  The solution, they thought, was to take matters into their own hands.  This led to violence on the part of the government.  They executed Louis XIV and the Reign of Terror began.  Many who opposed the revolution were executed, as well as many who probably posed no threat at all but were suspected or even very loosely associated with those who did.  In all, there were approximately 16,500 people executed in France during this time. 

Robespierre is remembered for his influence on the Reign of Terror because he so strongly advocated for the government's right to execute those who were opposed.  While he still was against the death penalty (go figure!), he believed that the ends justified the means.  In other words, setting up a stable France required executing those who were unbalancing things.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maximilien Robespierre is often the person most associated with the French Revolution, although there were many important movers and shakers in the events of the French Revolution.  His philosophy and actions during the time known as "The Reign of Terror" represented how far awry a revolution could go, replacing the tyranny of the King with the tyranny of the Committee of Public Safety.

It was Robespierre who argued that King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, among others, should be executed for crimes against France and her people.  He came to dominate the committee and set about purging all rival elements of the revolutionary factions as enemies of the new France.  Tens of thousands of people perished in The Terror, and Robespierre was particularly brutal and merciless in his sentencing.

It was inevitable that he would eventually be arrested himself and executed by his rivals, and that his name would come to be synonymous with the French Revolution.

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