France: Pillnitz Declaration to Reign of Terror

France: Pillnitz Declaration

Kingdoms of Europe

The Monarchs of Europe were aware of the rising of new order in the France which was in the mood to overthrown the old order. The powers of Europe were watching these strange happenings with alarm. Louis XVI was a signatory of the Constitution. But he entered into secret negotiations with the King of Prussia.

Rulers of other neighbouring countries too were worried by the developments in France. So they made plans to send troops to put down the events that had been taking place there since the summer of 1789.

Pillnitz Declaration

Emperor Leopold II was the King of Austria that time. As we know that the Marie-Antoinette was the princess from the Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria. So, Leopold’s concern for the safety of his sister Marie-Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI of France was natural.

This led him to promise for a positive action when he heard that they were about to escape from their critical position. On August 27 he and the king of Prussia issued the Pillnitz Declaration, appealing to the European sovereigns to use force to strengthen Louis XVI’s position.

Declaration of War Against Prussia and Austria

Before Pillnitz Declaration would come into sight, the National Assembly voted in April 1792 to declare war against Prussia and Austria. The people of France became agiler and saw spies and traitors everywhere. The Revolutionary Commune of Paris took the lead at this crisis. Danton led the Commune, a member of the Jacobin political party.

They hoisted Red Flag to signify that the people had proclaimed martial law against the rebellion of the court. The Red Flag was the symbol of Martial law against the people. Now it is the symbol of socialism and communism everywhere. On August 10, 1792, the order was given to attack the King’s palace. Finally, King was deposed and imprisoned.

Pillnitz Declaration

War to National Convention

The revolutionary wars brought losses and economic difficulties to the masses. Large sections of the population convinced that the revolution had to be carried further. Because the Constitution of 1791 gave political rights only to the richer sections of society.

The French national assembly as we know had been divided into two extremely opposite sections:

  1. Girondins- Liberals.
  2.  Jacobins- Extremists.

Political clubs became an important rallying point for people who wished to discuss government policies and plan their own forms of action. The Jacobins were the group of lower-middle-class people. Because of this, they were not having voting rights as they were passive citizens. Women formed their own clubs.

National Convention made an army of Frenchmen to defeat the foreign coalition. General Carnot led the troops. The people supported military expeditions because they did not want the country back under hands of the Old Regime. Rouget de Lisle wrote the “Marseillaise”French national anthemOn September 21, 1792, the National Convention met. This meeting was succeeded by the coming of the constitution of 1792.

France: Features of the Constitution of 1792

Comparison between Constitution of 1791 and 1792

1. The Constitutional Republic

As monarchy lost moral status to be the head of the state, so now France adopted Republic form of government, with features:

  • Directory became the head of the state. It had five members and every member had a tenure of one year. Every member also got the chance to be the first consul of the state i.e. President for three months.
  • This constitution adopted Bicameralism system. Provision of two houses upper house and lower house. In which upper house made the proposals and lower house was supposed to pass the proposals. (something which can not be so simple to pass any proposal).
Comparison between Indian and France Constitution

2. Religion of state

France became a secular state. Secularism here meant separation of Church from the state. Religion lost patronage from the state.

3. Human and Civil Rights

Human and civil rights maintained same as they were in the constitution of 1791. The only new development was that state started interference in the personal life of the people. Example: Dress code for the citizens.

4. Emphasis on Communism

This constitution emphasised CommunismThe state fixed the prices of commodities.

France: Fate of Royal Family

National Assembly decided the fate of royal family and the Assembly voted to imprison the royal family. The constitution abolished the monarchy. Still, there was suspicion among the people that as long as the royal family lived, the monarchy could be restored. So royal family put on trial for treason (betrayal of one’s country or government).

Reign of Terror: Guillotine

This following was the conclusion:

  • Louis XVI guillotined publicly at the Place de la Concorde on January 21, 1793.
  • National Assembly guillotined Marie Antoinette on October 16, 1793.
  • Daughter Marie-Thérèse went to Vienna in 1795. As she could not become queen because of Salic law, which did not allow females to succeed to the throne.
  • Son Louis-Charles, Louis XVII (lived 1785-1795) beaten and mistreated until he died in prison.

France: Reign of Terror

In the National Convention, there was a struggle for power between the two sections, Girondins and Jacobins. The Jacobins won. After coming into the power Jacobins excluded many of Girondins Deputies from the Convention. After the victory Jacobins appointed two committees:

  1. The committee on Public Welfare
  2. The committee on Public Safety

The three most memorable Jacobins were Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, and Jean Paul Marat.

Robespierre followed a policy of severe control and punishment. All those whom he saw as being enemies of the republic he arrested imprisoned and then tried them under a revolutionary tribunal. If the court found them guilty they have to face the guillotine.

This was the reign of terror in France. Daily there were journeys to the guillotine of those who condemned. Therefore, to speak even in the Convention against the ruling power was dangerous, for that led to suspicion, and suspicion led to the trial and the guillotine.


National Razor “Guillotine”

Guillotine became known as the “National Razor”. Eventually, even Georges Danton wanted to end the executions. Danton also tried and executed for treason.

So to resort this situation the extremists Jacobins saw no other way of saving itself than to intensify the Terror.

The Law of the 22nd Prairial passed on June 1794, which made it a crime, punishable by death, to spread false news to divide or stir up the people, to undermine morality and corrupt the public conscience. Everyone who had the different opinion from Robespierre and his henchmen was under the trial of this law. Approximately 15,000 people died on the guillotine(Including innovative thinkers like Olympe de Gouges and Madame Jeanne Roland).

For approximately forty-six days this new terror lasted. At last, on July 27, 1794, the worm turned. The Convention suddenly turned against Robespierre and his followers. With the cries of “Down with the tyrant”, they arrested them.

Finally, Robespierre guillotined. Thus ended the French Revolution of 1789. 🙂

Out of the French Revolution, a very important personality in the world emerged and the next phase in French history is the emergence of Napoleon. We will meet this person in our next post. 🙂

Thank you so much. 🙂 Stay Connected. 🙂


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