1793~1794 Reign of Terror

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1.1.I - M. Myriel 1.1.I - M. Myriel
La révolution survint, les événements se précipitèrent ; les familles parlementaires, décimées, chassées, traquées, se dispersèrent. M. Charles Myriel, dès les premiers jours de la révolution, émigra en Italie. Sa femme y mourut d’une maladie de poitrine dont elle était atteinte depuis longtemps. Ils n’avaient point d’enfants. Que se passa-t-il ensuite dans la destinée de M. Myriel ? L’écroulement de l’ancienne société française, la chute de sa propre famille, les tragiques spectacles de 93, plus effrayants encore peut-être pour les émigrés qui les voyaient de loin avec le grossissement de l’épouvante, firent-ils germer en lui des idées de renoncement et de solitude ? The Revolution came; events succeeded each other with precipitation; the parliamentary families, decimated, pursued, hunted down, were dispersed. M. Charles Myriel emigrated to Italy at the very beginning of the Revolution. There his wife died of a malady of the chest, from which she had long suffered. He had no children. What took place next in the fate of M. Myriel? The ruin of the French society of the olden days, the fall of his own family, the tragic spectacles of '93, which were, perhaps, even more alarming to the emigrants who viewed them from a distance, with the magnifying powers of terror,--did these cause the ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in him?

1793 represents the darkest, bloodiest hours of the French Revolution. No single person could control the chain of events that King Louis XVI himself started in spring 1789 by calling the Estates-General (a legislative assembly composed of the clergy, the nobles and the Third Estate, which comprised all of the common people) in order to discuss and find a solution to the ongoing economic crisis. By doing so, the king unleashed forces that would soon overpower his erstwhile absolute power. Soon a constitutional monarchy was imposed upon him. However, the new regime didn't solve any of the underlying problems. The treasury was empty; the economic crisis was ongoing; the ordinary people were still hungry. To top it all, France was now at war with the rest of Europe, including the mighty forces of the Austrian and Prussian and English monarchies.

Revolutionary forces within France took control of the situation, abolished the monarchy and, on the 21st September 1792, declared the (First) French Republic. Executive power was now in the hands of the National Convention (the constitutional and legislative assembly). The Convention wasted no time in raising armies in order to fight foreign enemies as well as, increasingly, domestic ones. In January 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded.

The revolutionary forces not only toppled the monarchy and the nobility, but also the clergy. Throughout the revolutionary period, France went through a progressive de-Christrianization of the society. A new Civil Constitution of the Clergy was adopted. Church lands were confiscated. Parish priests were forcibly replaced by "juror priests" who had sworn an oath to the Civil Constitution.

In the French provinces, where the youths were forced to join the Republican armies in order to repel invading forces, the peasantry loyal to the monarchy and to the Church started to raise and coalesce into a civil army fighting the Revolution from within.

The reaction of the Revolutionary government was most forceful and brutal in fighting the dual threat, foreign and domestic. In 1793, the increasingly paranoid government imposed a Reign of Terror, with tens of thousands of people being more or less summarily executed. Today's historians all agree the counter-offensives in the French provinces against the monarchists was particularly bloody. They only disagree on how to call it. "Genocide" may not be too strong a word, but it somehow does not fit the definition of this word, coined in 1944 in very specific circumstances. Maybe the best word is one coined by a contemporary, in 1794: "populicide" (or, in English, "democide").

The Reign of Terror was ended by the 27 July 1794 Thermidorian Reaction which condemned its excesses.

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External resources

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