How Many People Died During the Reign of Terror?

February 16, 2024

The Reign of Terror was an intense period of fear and paranoia in which the French Revolutionary Government executed real or perceived counter-revolutionary spies and traitors. During this time over 14,000 people were killed, most by the guillotine and others died in prison or from other means.

The period of the Reign of Terror was fueled by fears of foreign invasion and rebellion against the revolutionary government, which was based in Paris. The National Convention passed several laws that would use violent repression to crush opposition. The guiding principle of the policy was La terreur n’est autre chose que le justice prompte, severe, et inflexible (Terror is nothing else than prompt, severe, and inflexible justice). This included the Law of 22 Prairial, which simplified the legal process, and the Law of Suspects, which authorized the Committee of Public Safety to arrest anyone they thought was a threat to freedom or the revolution.

It also included a dechristianization campaign, which attempted to eradicate Christianity in France by closing churches and destroying religious symbols. This was extremely unpopular and failed. Another popular method of death was the noyades, in which a group of people were tied up and then thrown into the River Loire to drown.

The most famous member of the committee of public safety was Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794). He was a leader of the Jacobins, which were members of the National Convention who were committed to the revolution’s goals. Robespierre believed that France was suffering from blatant injustices due to absolutism and aristocratic privilege, which he wanted to rectify through the Revolution.

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