Common Core: French Revolution
Reign of Terror
Directions: read the quotes below then answer the questions at the end. Copy the questions; at least 3 sentence answers.
Central Historical Question:
Was the main goal of the Committee of Public Safety to “protect the
Revolution from its enemies”?
Key Events of the French Revolution
Over four years after the start of the French Revolution, France descended into a
period commonly known as the “Reign of Terror,” when over 16,000 people were
executed for allegedly opposing the Revolution. The Reign of Terror began when
the Committee of Public Safety took over the National Convention, the third
government that had been established since the start of the French Revolution.
The timeline below lists the governments and major reforms that were
established under each.
The Jacobins had thousands of enemies within France itself. These
included peasants who were horrified by the king’s execution, priests
who would not accept government control, and rival leaders who
were stirring up rebellion in the provinces. How to contain and control
these enemies became a central issue.
Robespierre Assumes Control In the early months of 1793, one
Jacobin leader, Maximilian Robespierre, slowly gained power.
Robespierre and his supporters set out to build a “republic of virtue”
by wiping out every trace of France’s past. Firm believers in reason,
they changed the calendar, dividing the year into 12 months of 30
days and renaming each month. This calendar had no Sundays
because the radicals considered religion old-fashioned and
dangerous. They even closed all churches in Paris, and cities and
towns all over France soon did the same.
In July 1793, Robespierre became leader of the Committee of Public
Safety. For the next year, Robespierre governed France virtually as
a dictator, and the period of his rule became known as the Reign of
Terror. The Committee of Public Safety’s chief task was to protect
the Revolution from its enemies. Under Robespierre’s leadership, the
committee often had these “enemies” tried in the morning and
guillotined in the afternoon. Robespierre justified his use of terror by
suggesting that it helped French citizens to remain true to the ideals
of the Revolution. . .
Thousands of unknown people were also sent to their death, often on
the flimsiest of charges. For example, an 18-year-old youth was
sentenced to die for cutting down a tree that had been planted as a
symbol of liberty. Perhaps as many as 40,000 were executed during
the Terror. About 85 percent were peasants or members of the urban
poor or middle class—for whose benefit the Revolution had been
Source: Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal
Littell (2006), pp. 226-227.
Document A: Decree Against Profiteers (Modified)
In July 1793, faced with an angry and hungry population, the leaders of the
Committee of Public Safety passed the “Decree Against Profiteers.” The law
accused “profiteers” in the countryside of hoarding or monopolizing grain in order
to raise the price of bread.
26 July 1793
1. Monopoly is a capital crime.
2. Those who keep out of circulation essential merchandise or
commodities without offering them for sale daily and publicly
are declared guilty of monopoly . . .
3. The essential commodities and merchandise are: bread, meat,
wine, grain, flour, vegetables, fruit, butter, vinegar, cider,
brandy, charcoal, tallow, wood, oil, soda, soap, salt, [etc.]
4. Those who have any of these commodities shall be required to
declare them and sell them . . .
5. One week from today, those who have not declared their goods
shall be considered monopolists, and, as such, punished with
death; their property shall be confiscated, and their
commodities or merchandise shall be placed on sale.
6. Those convicted of making false declarations likewise shall be
punished with death. Public officials who protect monopolists
shall also be punished with death.
capital: punishable by death decree: an official order
monopoly: total control over something municipality: local government
commodities: things that can be bought or sold
Source: Excerpt from Decree Against Profiteers, passed July 1793.
Document B: Law of Suspects (Modified)
By September 1793, the leaders of the Committee of Public Safety faced growing
counter-revolutionary uprisings and mounting fear of foreign invasion. They
responded by passing the Law of Suspects, which established revolutionary
courts to try anyone suspected of treason against the revolution.
1 Immediately after the publication of the present decree, all
suspected persons within the territory of the Republic and still at
liberty shall be placed in custody.
2. The following are deemed suspected persons:
1st, those who, by their conduct, associations, talk, or writings
have shown themselves to be enemies of liberty
2nd, those who are unable to justify their means of existence
and the performance of their civic duties
3rd, those to whom certificates of patriotism have been refused
4th, public officials suspended or dismissed from their positions
by the National Convention or by its commissioners and not
5th, those former nobles, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers,
sons or daughters, brothers or sisters of émigrés, who have
not steadily demonstrated their devotion to the Revolution
certificates of patriotism: proof of patriotism required to serve in military
émigrés: people who leave their own country to settle in another, usually for
Source: Excerpt from Law of Suspects, passed September 1793.
Copy and answer each question in your notebook. Each answer must contain at least 3 sentences, unless noted. Staple this question sheet in your notebook.
Reign of Terror Guiding Questions
1. According to the textbook, why did the Jacobins have so many enemies?
2. Robespierre and his supporters created a new calendar. Why would they
want to wipe out “every trace of France’s past?”
3. According to the textbook, Robespierre believed terror helped French citizens
remain “true to the ideals of the Revolution.” What were the ideals of the
French Revolution? (Use what you already know about the French Revolution from your notes
to answer this question).
4) Based on the textbook excerpt, do you think the Committee of Public
Safety protected the Revolution from its enemies?
Explain your answer.
Document A: Decree Against Profiteers
1. (Contextualization) Why did the Committee of Public Safety pass the Decree
2. (Contextualization) Why did the Committee of Public Safety consider
monopoly to be such a serious crime? (Hint: Think back to the ideals of the
French Revolution). What does the word “monopoly” mean? Give the definition.
3. (Close reading) What was the punishment for those who did not comply with
4) Based on the Decree Against Profiteers, do you think the Committee of
Public Safety protected the Revolution from its enemies?
Explain your answer.
Document B: Law of Suspects
1. What was the goal of the Law of suspects?
2. (Close reading) List two examples of people who would have been
considered suspects. Explain why the Committee of Public Safety would
have considered them suspects.
3. What might the leaders of the Committee of Public Safety have said to justify
4. Based on the Law of Suspects, do you think the Committee of Public
Safety protected the Revolution from its enemies? Circle one:
Explain your answer.
5. The Committee of Public Safety was established to protect the Revolution from
its enemies. Based on the Decree Against Profiteers and the Law of Suspects,
do you think the Committee of Public Safety actually protected the Revolution
from its enemies?
6. Write a paragraph in the space below, using evidence from the documents to
support your claims.