Stories and images of the Reign of Terror dominate our perceptions of the French Revolution.
According to folklore, the Terror was a brief but deadly period where Robespierre, the Committee of Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunals condemned thousands of people to die on the guillotine. The Reign of Terror was not driven by one man, one body or one policy; it was a child of many parents and was shaped by different forces and factors.
The man most responsible for this was not Robespierre but on of his allies, Georges Couthon.
A Clermont lawyer who once dedicated himself to representing the poor, Couthon was elected to the Legislative Assembly and the National Convention, where at first he sat with the Plain before gravitating to the Montagnards.
Sutherland, historian Once started, the Reign of Terror developed its own momentum and became almost impossible to stop.
If the Convention’s brutal retaliations against civilians in the Vendée and other rebellious provinces are included, the victims of the Terror number closer to 250,000.
From this wellspring of panic and suspicion came a year of state-sanctioned terror.
Anyone accused or even suspected of counter-revolutionary activity could be targeted.
“This notorious law [22 Prairial] created a murder machine…
A good proportion of the accused were to be sent up by the six special commissions which were to process the dossiers of suspects.