Western Civilization

Virtuous Terror?

Debate:  Justification for the Reign of Terror?


By the spring of 1793, the French Revolution faced internal and external threats that could destroy the Revolution and remove all the progress that the French people had made since 1789.  The Constitutional Monarchy established by the National Convention and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was immediately threatened by refractory priests and staunch Catholics who refused the Oath of Allegiance.  King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette maintained correspondence with foreign powers, which threatened to invade France if the Revolution became a danger to the monarchs of France or to the other monarchies of Europe.  Radical Jacobins felt that the Revolution had not gone far enough to promote a new nation freed of the chains of the Ancien Regime, and sought to radically alter the French nation and protect it from its enemies both within and abroad.

By the spring of 1793, the newly-elected National Convention had declared France a Republic, had sent their former King to the guillotine, and faced international war, counterrevolutionaries, refractory priests, emigres, and disloyal peasants and sans-culottes, all of whom threatened to demolish all of the idealism of the French Revolution.  Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety felt compelled to defend the Revolution through both virtue and terror, but at what cost?

Your task will be to debate the radicalism of the 2nd phase of the French Revolution, and either defend or refute the actions taken by the Jacobins to promote the defense of the French Revolution.


      1. Read the P&S Reader - French Revolution

      2. Prepare arguments either FOR or AGAINST the Reign of Terror based upon your

          reading, notes, and additional research.  You will write a 2-3 paragraph response or

          10-15 bullet point arguments and email those to bcchseurosquad@gmail.com before

          the debate.  Be sure to include source citations!

      3. You will be divided into groups to debate the following prompt:

        Resolved: The Revolutionary Reign of Terror and the Republic of Virtue were crucial developments in the French Revolution that saved the new French Republic from both counterrevolutionaries within France and their international enemies in the war against the First Coalition.

Assigned Perspectives:

Machiavellians -  CON Resolution (AGAINST the Terror)

Jacobins - PRO Resolution (FOR the Terror)

Praetorians - CON Resolution (AGAINST the Terror)

Stosstruppen - PRO Resolution (FOR the Terror)

Cavaliers - CON Resolution (AGAINST the Terror)

Conquistadors - PRO Resolution (FOR the Terror)

Questions to Consider:

      1. What were the original intentions of the French Revolutionaries in 1789?  

      2. Which documents in the P&S Reader reveal the motives and intentions of the French

          Revolutionaries in the 1st phase of the Revolution (1789-1792)?

      3. What factors led to many of the French Revolutionaries to become more radical by

          1792 and 1793?

      4. How did Robespierre justify the Reign of Terror?

      5. What actions were taken by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety to rally

          the French to a defense of their Revolution, and to eliminate threats to the


      6. How successful was the Reign of Terror at stamping out counterrevolution and

          preparing the nation for international war?

      7. Do the ends justify the means when it comes to defending your country?  How was

          this represented by the actions taken in the Reign of Terror?  How could this idea be            


Required Reading:

      P&S Reader - French Revolution

Additional Resources: