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France, The Reign of Terror

Following the French Revolution, France was governed by a regime with a minimal toleration for deviation. Sensitive to the smallest threats to this newly installed government, it oftentimes executed individuals innocent of the crimes of which they were accused. It was founded on force and repression, characteristics which would give two periods of French history their name: “The Terror.” Between the summer of 1793 and 1794, the Terror reached its height, permitting the worst atrocities and violence.

In order to save time, witnesses would not be heard and the accused had very little time to defend themselves before the judges. The law of Prairial 22nd, Year II (June 10, 1794) reduced trials to simple appearances in court. It was more a matter of eliminating suspects than punishing them.

Roughly, the death toll is as follows: According to official documents, about 17,000 received the death sentence, but including those killed without trial this number is closer to 40,000. The regions most affected by this violence were those where revolt erupted, and border departments. According to statistics, 85% of those sentenced were lower class, 8.5% were of nobility, and 6.5% were part of the clergy. However, taking into account the fact that those of higher classes were much less numerous than those in the lower class, the nobility and the clergy were proportionally much more affected.

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