What Was the Committee of Public Safety?

The Committee of Public Safety exercised executive power in France during the period known as the Reign of Terror. Established in March, 1793, when the revolutionary government confronted counterrevolutionaries in France, the Committee of Public Safety became a radical dictatorship presiding over thousands of political executions.

The National Convention created the Committee of Public Safety to defend France from its domestic and foreign enemies, and to coordinate the French government's executive functions. Comprising 12 members elected to one-month terms by the National Assembly, the committee initially pursued a moderate course under the guidance of Georges Danton, but his faction failed to solve the dangerous military situation in which the revolutionary government found itself.

In July, the National Convention replaced Danton's group with a more radical group that included Maximilien Robespierre, Georges Couthon and Louis de Saint-Just. The new members began a policy of harsh political repression of their opponents, executing anyone who seemed to have sympathies with the nobility — including King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Georges Danton. The committee also put the economy on a wartime footing and instituted mass conscription to fill the ranks of the military.

Political ambition eventually caused the decline of the committee's power. Increasingly worried about the political ambitions of Robespierre and Saint-Just, the other members of the committee had those two arrested and executed in July of 1794. The government officially abolished the committee in November, 1795.