Robespierre: Hero or Villain? Essay
Robespierre: Hero or Villain?
Maximilien Robespierre has always been known to be controversial and misunderstood. He was the face of the French Revolution. In accordance with the Jacobins, they controlled the time known as the Reign of Terror, due to their influence in the accumulation of murders of those opposed to the revolution. Reign of Terror was a symbolic time period within the French Revolution that involved corruption of power and influence and mass executions. With Robespierre at the forefront, he became one of the most important men in the Revolution. As soon as Maximilien Robespierre decided to react to enemies of the revolutions, mass execution being his choice of force; his implementation of the Reign of Terror was a villainous act striking those who spoke out as traitors with the belief that those people were sinners and were to be killed for the betterment of humanity.
From the time Robespierre became active and prominent in the National Assembly and the Parisian Jacobin Club, he was never considered much more than an average man; he was not regarded as one to sport the face of the Reign of Terror. With a pale complexion, cat-like facial features and glasses that seemingly never stayed on his nose, he embodied that of a man in the Old Regime (Palmer 6-7). He was described as a talker, not a doer. His rhetoric was excellent; however, is delivery was confusing. He was shy and his voice did carry well. His attributes as a shy and nervous man did not suggest he would take over and lead the Committee of Public safety, serving alongside the ruthless Jacobins.
On the contrary, Robespierre took a firm stand in his beliefs. Individual liberties were very important. He had good morals; he believed that money and birth should dictate how one is valued in society. He defended democracy. He strived to defend the Revolution and wanted “liberation of all of the oppressed-actors, Jewish, Negro slaves in the colonies” (Soboul 55). He continues to go on by stating,
The Republic must guarantee to everyone … the means of
obtaining essential foodstuffs . . .” And the Sansculottes went
on to demand not only the taxation of foodstuffs and wages, but also
a strict limitation of property rights:
“Let the maximum of wealth be fixed;
Let no individual possess more than this maximum;
Let nobody rent more land than can be tilled with a specific
number of ploughs;
Let no citizen own more than one workshop or more than one
Robespierre made the right to vote conditional on whether or not ones taxes were paid.
With all of the chaos and commotion going on with the Revolution, a sense of victory without the people was impossible. Robespierre once said, “The domestic danger comes from the bourgeois; to defeat the bourgeois we must rally the people.” This concept helped to create a defense policy that rested on the Sansculottes and the middle bourgeoisie, this of which Robespierre became that symbol (Soboul 56). The Jacobins and Sansculottes forced this revolutionary of national defense upon the French leadership and upper class. This is where Robespierre’s villainous side begins to emerge. Upon implementation of this strategy, overthrow and mass executions began to appear.
He was one of the most influential people of the French revolution, and was the political figurehead of France after Louis XVI was executed. Maximilien did not believe in forgiving the rioters in the French Revolution and instead executed them and began the Reign of Terror, something he believed was necessary.
There is no doubt that Robespierre was a fantastic leader and had many different and effective ways to solve problems in France at the time; however, his description, “The Incorruptible” was not a name that would soon leave his presence. Mirabeau once said of him, “He will go far. He believes everything he says” (51). His power and incorruptibility eventually led to his downfall and demise. Before his Reign of Terror eventually came to an end, both France and its people felt the Revolution that Robespierre brought; his followers and his power showed his true villainous ways.
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Mirabeau, quoted in Jean Matrat, _Robespierre, or the Tyranny of the_
_Majority,_ trans. Alan Kendall (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), p. 51.
R. R. Palmer, _Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French_
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