Violence, Terror, and the French Revolution

Violence pervaded the French Revolution (1789-1799) and propelled it forward. Crowd behavior, riots, executions, military actions, slave revolts, and organized political movements all had elements of inherent violence. Such violence had social factors, involving peasants and artisans, professionals, business owners, and nobles, as well as a strongly gendered component with women leading and initiating some actions. In addition, the Haitian Revolution introduced a racial factor to violence even as the revolutionaries in France articulated ideas about human rights and equality. This seminar will examine several instances of violent behavior and explore how and why people resorted to violence or the threat of violence, and what it means for the history of the revolution. Examples will include the storming of the Bastille, bread riots, the October Days, the Massacre at the Champ de Mars, the total war of the Vendée, the Terror and the guillotine, the Haitian revolution, and the coup of Napoleon.