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

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The name of Maximilien Robespierre has come to be associated with the most violent phase of the French Revolution, The Reign of Terror. It is this particular phase that tends to epitomize the French Revolution for most people: that terrible period in European history when violence and bloodshed were the order of the day and countless innocent victims were dispatched by the swift blow of the guillotine.

Robespierre, like most political fanatics, genuinely believed that what he was doing was right. He regarded himself as the paragon of revolutionary virtue, an incorruptible man of integrity whose determination to defend the Revolution at all costs was second to none. Robespierre looked about him and saw only traitors and backsliders, who lacked his firm, unshakeable conviction. He developed a paranoid mindset which encouraged him to believe that the Revolution was under threat from all sides and that only he could save the nation from traitors both within and without.

To do this, Robespierre insisted on the necessity of terror. As head of the notorious Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre became the most powerful—and feared—man in the whole of France. He used his immense power to root out and destroy anyone he thought might be a threat to the Revolution, using the most ruthless methods available. Violence and bloodshed had always been part and parcel of the Revolution from day one, but under The Terror it became a regular feature of public life.

So long as France was besieged by hostile foreign powers who wanted to restore the French monarchy, then terror could in some ways be justified as a necessary measure to protect the nation from traitors and saboteurs. But once the tide began to turn in favor of the French Revolutionary Army, which chalked up a remarkable string of victories on the battlefield, then it became much harder for Robespierre and the other radical Jacobins to justify their increasingly repressive policies.

Inevitably, Robespierre, intoxicated with power, overreached himself. By threatening to extend The Terror, he frightened many of those politicians who'd previously kept their heads down to side with his most bitter enemies. The ensuing coalition made its move, and Robespierre, along with many of his comrades, ended up suffering the same fate to which he'd consigned thousands of innocent people: death by guillotine.

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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.

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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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