What Happened During the Reign of Terror?


The Reign of Terror in 18th-century France began with the imprisonment and death of Marie Antoinette, followed by the execution of 2,400 people. The Revolutionary Tribunal is thought to have ordered the deaths of 30,000 people across France. Maximilien de Robespierre led the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety and was directly responsible for the Reign of Terror, which he believed would lead to the Republic of Virtue.

The Reign of Terror officially ended with Robespierre's execution after he called for another purge in 1794, alienating his supporters and frightening his fellow Committee members. He intended for the Reign of Terror to prevent counter-revolution, abandoning the vows of liberty and equality that the Declaration of the Rights of Man had promised. The vast majority of people executed by the Committee and the Convention were ordinary people reported by informers to have uttered critical or derogatory remarks of the new government.

The Reign of Terror introduced the guillotine, which was used on Marie Antoinette. The guillotine represented the idea of equal death for all criminals, but, in the centuries since, has come to symbolize the bloodiness of the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror, public executions were encouraged. Its last recorded use was in 1977.