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The Contender
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The Reign of Terror is Unjustified

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/24/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 17,254 times Debate No: 67515
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (20)
Votes (1)




Round one acceptance

The Reign of Terror

Unjustified: "not based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.", lacking fairness, NOT justified (from google and

Fair: Free from bias, dishonest, prejudice

Justified: Having more benefits than harms (because if it has more harms than benefits, then it's really not justified at all)


I accept this debate and the definitions.
Debate Round No. 1


1. It was completely inefficient

Reign of terror, before:

Reign of Terror, after:

Explanation: First off, many, many people died in the Reign of Terror. Between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed. [] (We're not even counting the people who may have died battling the counter-revolutionaries) My opponent needs to justify these deaths.
--But, even assuming THESE deaths were somehow justified (which they aren't), the ultimate outcome was for nothing. Napoleon was a dictator, EXACTLY what the people didn't want. And after Napoleon? They just returned the good old monarchs into their position. This counters what the people wanted! Robespierre wanted a democracy where all citizens were equal and had the same rights.
"What is the goal toward which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them and in that of the tyrant who denies them....

In our land we want to substitute morality for egotism, integrity for formal codes of honor, principles for customs, a sense of duty for one of mere propriety, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, scorn of vice for scorn of the unlucky; self-respect for insolence, grandeur of soul for vanity, love of glory for the love of money, good people in place of good society. . . .

What kind of government can realize these wonders? Only a democratic or republican government—these two words are synonyms despite the abuses in common speech—because an aristocracy is no closer than a monarchy to being a republic...

Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are of their own making, do for themselves all that they can do well, and by their delegates do all that they cannot do for themselves.

It is therefore in the principles of democratic government that you should seek the rules of your political conduct."


But after the revolution, which killed so many people... it all came to NOTHING. All the terror, all the spying, all the wars--and what do we end up with? It's CERTAINLY not a democracy or a republic. The Reign of Terror is in no way justified purely on its outcome. But now, this is not the only problem with the Reign of Terror, of course. Onto my second point...

2. (Unnecessary) intrusion of rights
People were spied on during the Reign of Terror, [] and as we know, just a single wrong spoken word could lead people to..... DEATH. From Steven Otfinoski's book, Triumph and Terror: The French Revolution, a passage states, "A careless word of criticism spoken against the government could put on in prison or worse". In fact, the accused were denied lawyers, and conviction was based on "intuition" at some time. These commissions killed an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people! These people simply don't deserve all this splying AND not to mention lack of rights. IN addition, on a related note, the Tribunal members had ABSOLUTE power. What the heck Robespierre. You talk of the terribleness of tyranny yet have a tyrannic group of people.... This is clearly AGAINST his original ideas and in no way justified.

3. The counter-revolutionaries were JUSTIFIED
Here's the logic: If the counter-revolutionaries are justified, then the revolution/Reign of Terror was unjustified (Because the Reign of Terror killed the justified people). Firstly, we must note that there was a draft that forced all men to sign and war against the other enemies of France. [] But what if some of them had families? What if some were incapable of fighting? The was no room for arguments, just, "you go, kill enemies, because you are loyal to France". This is not it. People were pretty much FORCED to give up religion. Because Christianity and religion was deemed to be the "ancien regime", people took down churches and all those in churches' power. Furthermore, people disrespected crucifixes and religious representations. [] You can't just take away religion. It's not like the churches were harming or a threat to the revolution. We don't even know if the churches were with the monarchs. (They have to compete for power anyways).

To sum it all up, the Reign of Terror was a waste of resources and killed lots of innocent, justified people. It became so bad, the council even deemed the LEADER of the Terror itself--Robespierre--Corrupt, and ultimately the leader and speaker of the revolution was executed by the famous guilloitine. []

Onto you TheUnknown.


The so called reign of terror was a period in post-revolutionary France from late 1793 (French Queen's death) to mid 1794 (Maximilien Robespierre's death)[1].

This period is famous for its execution of the many thousands of people Pro pointed out. However, the French revolutionary government didn't kill these people for fun did they? They killed these people for being suspect coutner revolutionaries, those that sought to restore the monarchy.

War of the First Coalition:


France was fighting a war against almost all of the great European powers (Austria, Prussia, Spain and Great Britain) only excluding Russia and the Ottomans. During 1793 - 1794, France fought on its own it had no allies aside from its client states[2]. As such the new republic was under great threat of being overthrown. The map above shows the dire situation of the republic, if you include the VAST colonies of Spain, Portugal and Britain, the situation seems even more dire for the French.

The Desperate times called for desperate measures, all suspect counter revolutionaries had to be executed. When they were not executed, they fought against the republic, which Pro himself mentions: people who may have died battling the counter-revolutionaries

Threat of Counter revolutionaries/Traitors:

If these counter revolutionaries are going to be killing people in the name of dictatorship and betray their homeland in its most desperate hour, they must be dealt with. It is sad that they must be killed, but without that, it is certain that there would have been even more counter revolutionaries and even more civil war and cause the Austrians and British win the war. The result of that? even more thousands of deaths and perhaps a subjugation of France to the Coalition powers.

The counter revolutionaries would rather see France defeated and subjugated by foreign powers than see it ruled by democracy, that is pure treason.

"[Forgiveness] for the royalists, cry certain men, mercy for the villains! No! [Only] mercy for the innocent, mercy for the weak, mercy for the unfortunate, mercy for humanity." - Robespierre[3]
Only those supporting the terrible rule of King Louis XVI, where millions of French lived in poverty while he squandered all the wealth for himself, were to be punished. No innocents were to be punished, surely that is reasonably justifiable.

End Result

But, even assuming THESE deaths were somehow justified (which they aren't), the ultimate outcome was for nothing. Napoleon was a dictator, EXACTLY what the people didn't want

Pro's argument is that since Napoleon ultimately became dictator, the reign of terror is not justified. Then he further extends the timeline to say that the ancien regime, the old Bourbon monarchy returned to power.

I could use this same argument and say that the ultimate result is that France is a democracy today whose principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, brotherhood) were based on the principles of the revolutionary period. Therefore, if we must talk about the end result, France is a free, secular democracy with free and fair elections.

Pro has not proved any connection with the 'reign of terror' to the restoration of the Monarchy yet he draws parllels simply becaused 'it happened in the future'. If he can do that, I can extend the timeline a bit further to include the present republican France too.

IN addition, on a related note, the Tribunal members had ABSOLUTE power.

When your country is at war with the largest colonial powers of the world, you can't exactly be spending resources to hold elections can you? When a country is at war, governments have the right to take up emergency powers. Sure it makes the country a dictatorship, but as long as it has justified reasons, it is not a dissolution of democratic ideals.

Even today, democracies and republics around the world give the ruling government emergency powers if they are under threat, and fighting half of the world is a huge threat which justifies the Tribunal member's recieving their emergency powers.

Counter revolutionaries:

I can't make huge rebuttals since my character space is running out. Its too low

Pro says the counter revolutionaries are justified because:

there was a draft that forced all men to sign and war against the other enemies of France.

I dont see the logic here. So if they do not want to fight a war, why are they rebelling against their own country? Civil wars are wars too you know.

Christianity and religion was deemed to be the "ancien regime", people took down churches and all those in churches' power

The Catholic church was notorious for its corruption. Besides a secular republic cannot have one religion being too powerful.

Debate Round No. 2


1. France VS its bordering countries
Once again, I must state that ALL men were forced to sign the military draft. The was no disagreement, no room for a management, or even any incentive, except, "say a bad word about this and you die by guillotine". My opponent notes HIMSELF that people died battling the counter-revolutionaries. One, he has to justify the deaths of those counter-revolutionaries. Two, he also has to justify the deaths of those REVOLUTIONARIES themselves. Besides, my opponent's map CLEARLY shows that France was out-numbered. Who wants to stay in a country where they CANNOT RESPECT RELIGION, HAVE THEIR PRIVACY INVADED, HAVE A GROUP OF ABSOLUTE POWER, AND THEY CAN'T EVEN SAY A BAD THING ABOUT IT!! --And not to mention that they could die and lose against so much of France's enemies. It was tough, really. There's a reason so many nobles escaped to Austria during the Reign of Terror.

2. Reign of Terror leading to monarchy
The problem with my opponent's assumption is that the Reign of Terror somehow lead to, a gazillion years later, the republic France. But that's not right. The most immediate effect was the reign of Napoleon. And was Napoleon justified? Of course not. He became a dictator and greedily sought to take over the world. He declared himself emperor and went on to take absolute power. After so much killing and invasion of rights, what do we have? We do not have a democracy. The French Revolution did not lead to a democracy. Even Napoleon's "Republic" was instantly ruined by his ambition and pride. In fact, the real republic was NOT caused by The Terror or this particular revolution AT ALL! They had to revolt ONCE AGAIN for a real republic. "Following the overthrow of Louis Philippe in February, the elected government of the Second Republic ruled France. In the months that followed, this government steered a course that became more conservative. On 23 June 1848, the people of Paris rose in insurrection,[1] which became known as June Days Uprising - a bloody but unsuccessful rebellion by the Paris workers against a conservative turn in the Republic's course. On 2 December 1848, Louis Napoleon was elected President of the Second Republic, largely on peasant support. Exactly four years later he suspended the elected assembly, establishing the Second French Empire, which lasted until 1871." Wikipedia's page on the 1848 French Revolution states. [] As we can see here the Terror had ZERO involvement in this. The NEW rebellion was necessary for the democracy, which makes the Terror completely unnecessary. The counter-revolutionaries WERE justified after all. They knew all the killings would not lead to a democracy.

3. Counter-revolutionaries
The people LOSE their freedom, a key figure of democracy. They have lost more freedoms through The Terror than even BEFORE the terror. Did Louis send spies to investigate? I think not. Did HE chop off 12 heads in 5 minutes? Nope. Did HE destroy the church, even if they were technically battling for power over the people? No! We see even Louis is more kind and gentle on the people than Robespierre! Not to mention HE would not have lead the people into the crazy war with huge losses of the population, if we assume the revolution never happened.
My opponent offers no support for the so-called "corruption" of the Catholic church.

Back to you.


The War

One, he has to justify the deaths of those counter-revolutionaries.
That's like asking me to justify the deaths of Confederate soldiers in the American civil war. They were in an armed uprising to overthrow the government.

Two, he also has to justify the deaths of those REVOLUTIONARIES themselves.
I dont have to justify them, it is the non revolutionary side that committed these crimes, those against the republican government. But I do agree that the deaths of the revolutionaries caused by counter revolutionaries are unjustified, which is why the reign of terror prevented a larger scale uprising and even more suffering.


I already made the rebuttal about them having absolute power, it is justified due to the emergency situation. Pro has made allegations that citizens have their privacy invaded but does back up his statement with facts/sources. Only a fool would respect the corrupt Catholic church at the time (i'll go into why it is corrupt in a bit).

not to mention that [people] could die and lose against so much of France's enemies.

That only helps the case for the needing of the reign of terror, give 10,000 lives to save 100,000.

There's a reason so many nobles escaped to Austria during the Reign of Terror.
That was because they wanted to take power from the people back into their own hands. Austria, being a monarchy (with close marital ties with the French Royal family) seemed like the obvious palce to go if they wanted to go against the republic.

Reign of Terror - End results

I agree with Pro's analysis that the reign of terror did not lead to the modern republic, I made that point in an attempt to showcase why Pro's argument was flawed (which he still has not corrected). Correlation does not equal causation. Pro has still not drawn the connections between the reign of terror and the rise of Napoleon.

Even so, a year after the reign of terror (ended in 1794), France held elections in 1795[1] where ALL law abiding and tax paying citizens could vote, the immediate result was a democracy, not napoleon's imperialism.

Pro's end result argument is hence, rendered invalid.

The poor

Robespierre rationed bread to the poor, reduced bread prices so that everybody could feed themselves even whilst fighting half the world and fending off rebels[2]. The ancien regime would never have done this but the Revolutionaries did so, and did this during the 1793-1794 era, during the so called reign of terror.

Defenitely this is a part of the reign of terror since reign of terror is a name given to the time period where Maximilien Robespierre took his emergency powers. I don't reckon that anybody would say providing food to the poor is unjustified.

King of France (Louis XVI)

Did [the king of France] chop off 12 heads in 5 minutes
No, he starved 12 stomachs in 5 seconds. The same fool who sent soldiers, ships and money in a foreign war (American Revolution) yet completely disreguarded the condition of his own people. To be fair, it was not just the king of France, it were the aristocrats and nobels who really made the ancien regime terrible.

Did [King of France] destroy the church, even if they were technically battling for power over the people
The church was battling to have control over people's lives, which is why it was justified to eliminate this threat to democracy in the reign of terror.

Not to mention [King of France] would not have lead the people into the crazy war with huge losses of the population
He would have because we know he did, the American revolution.

Let me just show ONE example of why French Monarch government (and the Catholic Church) before the revolution was so bad:

"Rabbits might destroy the peasant's garden[/farms/livelihood] and pigeons eat his grain, but he must not kill them. They were protected for the lord's hunting. The peasant's fences were broken down and his crops trampled in the chase, but he could claim no damages. In addition to the dues to the king and the nobles, the peasants had to pay dues to the church. These and other obligations seemed senseless and unreasonable in an age when people were coming to believe in the rule of reason."

So peasants were not only subjected to harsh taxation (the ancien regime refused to abolish serfdom mind you), but they were subjected to such sensless rules from the dark ages which were detrimental to their survival, to their ability to feed their families. Mind you, this is just ONE example (would give more, but I need more character space).

Surely, any counter revolutionary who is willing to rebel against his own countryfolk and kill them to go back to this terrible era must be dealt with appropriately.

Debate Round No. 3


"They were in an armed uprising to overthrow the government."
But the government was bad! It went against the ideas of democracy that Robespierre proposed! How much times do I have to repeat this! This is the list, once again, of the rights that were contrasted by the Terror:
-Invasion of privacy
-Lack of rights for the "suspected enemies" (I already noted the unfairness within the last round--they were denied lawyers and accusation was allowed to be based on "intuition" rather than actual evidence)
-People had NO rights ro religion
-They were FORCED to be soldiers or DIE (which, either way it could be death or death)

As for the death of the revolutionaries, I really don't understand HOW the terror prevented more uprising and suffering. Uprising, sure. But suffering, no. On Wikipedia's page about the French counter-revolution, it says this:
"By the summer of 1793, the Vendee, Brittany, and parts of Poitou were in open rebellion....

It would be a mistake to classify all of these events as royalist. While there were certainly those among the crowd who wished to restore the monarchy; others simply wanted to remove the Jacobin regime, without necessarily ending the revolution.

.... [by the end of 1793] the counter-revolution within France was effectively, if not completely, suppressed. Although these counter-movements appeared to have broad support among the general populace, their ultimate failure was due in large part to a lack of competent organization, a lack of weaponry, and the fact that the battle-hardened army sent to eliminate them showed little remorse in killing their fellow citizens. In the Vendee, the army proceeded with a scorched-earth policy; rounding up whole villages, shooting or hanging the inhabitants, and burning their farms and houses to the ground. Following protracted sieges at Lyon and Toulon, thousands of rebels, or suspected rebels, were massacred wholesale. Historians disagree on the number of those who perished in the rebellion, with estimates ranging from as low as 25,000 to as high as 120,000."

We see here the counter-revolutionaries are crushed. (But even then, Wikipedia notes that SOME OF THEM AREN'T EVEN FOR THE MONARCHY. THEY JUST DON'T WANT THE JACOBIN-REGIME. My opponent has asserted weakly that the anti-monarchies are unjustified, sure, but the Jacobin regime? That's unfair.) Everything is awesome, right?

Nope., a website showing us the Reign of Terror timeline, highlights that in 1794 June and July--pretty much ONE YEAR after the counter-revolutionaries were CRUSHED in Vendee--THAT was when the killing was most. THAT was when 12 heads were chopped off in 5 minutes. THAT was when most of the killing by guillotine happened. But is this justified? Why, the war has ended! People aren't complaining about the military draft any more. Why, the counter-revolutionaries were just crushed one year ago! There's nobody against the revolution to kill! We see the true unfairness of the Terror in this spike of killings. People accuse each other just to show themselves as the true patriots. Robespierre has abused his absolute power along the convention, and even his group itself agreed that HE was corrupt, the mighty leader, the legendary man who supposedly "helped the poor", as my opponent states. Who knows? Maybe it was all a cover-up. Maybe Robespierre finally could not take it in 1794 June and July, and finally released his demon-self, leading to HIS execution. (Which I stated before, and I WILL STATE THIS AGAIN:) Even the National Convention agreed that Robespierre was corrupt. What do YOU have to say to that?

My opponent states that the Reign of Terror lead to a democracy. But this democracy was flawed. It was corrupt. It was probably Robespierre's version of a democracy--hence why Napoleon, an ambitious dictator, was elected. He had absolute power for some reason, and we see this democracy was not really a democracy--it was really an open trap allowing anyone to become emperor if they were brave enough to take action.

In conclusion, Robespierre was just as bad as Louis, if not worse. He went against his OWN IDEAS in the Terror and people had rights to counter-revolt against him. Why, Robespierre was so mad he kept on killing, a massacre of unnecessary killings, AFTER the coutner-revolutionaries were crushed and the war against their enemies had ended. Robespierre went crazy and corrupt. We're not even sure if he really thought his ideas for democracy were his true toughts; after all, his actions speak against them. The Reign of Terror led to a corrupt democracy that allowed the ambitious Napoleon to take over, which lead to people fearing this flawed democracy, which explains why France returned to a monarchy as soon as Napoleon was rid of. Vote for PRO, judges. Vote for the unneeded Reign of Terror.
Thank you.



- Robespierre was justified to rule in the authoritarian manner which he did during the reign of terror since it was a state of emergency (after all they were fighting almost all of Europe and their world spanning empires). Even modern nations can grant governments emergency powers given the right situation and for good reason, it makes the nation more efficient which is how the French republic survived the onslaught from the Coalition war and the counter-revolutionaires. Its justified.

- I have studied the French Revolution, I have not read anything about privacy of citizens being invaded, Pro has not given sources or proof of that either.

- People had the rights to religion, French government could not control your brain to make you atheistic. Besides my opponent misinterpreted removing the undeserving power of the Catholic church (who exploited the poor as discussed). Its justified.

- About the forced military draft, it was a necessary evil to protect French democracy, it would be preferable to fight to preserve the republic than starve under the King (who would be restored if France lost the war). Its justified.

- Pro asserts that the democracy after the reign of terror that held elections in 1795 was a flawed democracy where Napoleon the dictator was elected. Sure, it was not a perfect democracy (show me an example of one even today), but it certainly did not elect Napoleon into power in the 1795 elections (dont know where that fact came from) and most certainly was better than the ancien regime.

- If you must disreguard the 1795 elections as evenutally leading to Napoleon's dictatorship, you must disreguard dicatorship as it sowed the seeds for another revolution that led to the democracy that France is today. No matter how you want to look at it (End result or Immediate result) its democracy. Therefore the Reign of terror did not lead to authoritarianism as my opponent suggests.

- Sure the Reign of Terror killed people, I agree that is bad, but it saved far more as it prevented the restoration of King Louis XVI, the aristocracy and prevented the unnecesary and detrimental influence of the Catholic church.

- Those who did not like the Jacobin in control yet did not want to resotre the monarchy cannot be distinguished from pro-monarchists. You cannot expect a soldier to ask every individual rebel about their political affiliation (they may even lie). Besides it is very unreasonable to complain about the so called extremeties of the Jacobin government and then take up arms and commit those very same acts (except for less than justified reasons). It was unjustified for the pro republican but anti jacobin to take up arms with counter revolutionaries as they were effectively working to restore the monarchy and killing their fellow citizens in the process.

- the legendary man who supposedly "helped the poor", as my opponent states. Who knows? Maybe it was all a cover-up Pro has repeatedly made allegations in an attempt to undermine my arguments but does not back his statements up with hard facts or adequate reasoning.

- Robespierre may have been corrupt, Robespierre may have been executed but that does not mean that the republic has fallen in the reign of terror, if anything it has been strengthened. The people became confident that their republic, their democracy, their freedom equality and brotherhood would survive. The policies instituted in the reign of terror led to the War of the First Coalition turning in France's favor

-people had rights to counter-revolt against him In a democracy, people have rights to peacefully protest but not take up arms and slaughter fellow human beings, especially at such a desperate time during the war, France and her people were already suffering under the weight of these European powers and these counter revolutionaries could only be bothered with putting their dictator and people with 'noble blood' in power, pathetic.

- Circumstance must also be taken into account when assessing the reign of terror. France just came out of having a terrible king who brought the economy into a horrible state, France is facing war on all fronts, France is under threat from internal forces and yet despite all this, the reign of terror kept the Republic alive, won a war against half the world with almost exclusively French forces and fed the once starving peasants, perhaps saving thousands if not millions of lives. This is an outstanding achievement and certainly cannot be discredited.

I understand this may not be the traditional historic view probably because perhaps circumstance is not emphasized as much as it should be. It is easy to be a great leader when times are good, but a good leader only proves himself during rough times. The French government during the Reign of terror did.
As such, I encourage voting against this resolution.

Debate Round No. 4
20 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by 9spaceking 5 years ago
I know, there's still all the religion junk. I thought I had you at the "robespierre corruption argument" lol.
Posted by Theunkown 5 years ago
History is definitely more than just facts and dates of dead people.
Posted by Theunkown 5 years ago
Oh well, glad you gain a new perspective rather than simple mainstream history taught to you [in schools i presume from the whole DBQ thing].

I still think the reign of terror went too far as innocents were killed, but executing those pathetic counter revolutionaries was necessary.
But then again, how many more could Louis have killed? So I would say that this case it is justified, but I would not do somthing like this if I were given the emergency powers.
Posted by 9spaceking 5 years ago
document-based question
Posted by Theunkown 5 years ago
DBQ? What is that
Posted by 9spaceking 5 years ago
congrats. You managed to uphold the other side. I didn't think of the Reign of Terror this way before; I guess those DBQ's were really a bit too limited, eh?
Posted by whiteflame 5 years ago
Don't worry, I gotcha.
Posted by 9spaceking 5 years ago
Posted by 9spaceking 5 years ago
dont worry I'll call upon both bladeys, YYW, Whiteflame, and a bunch of other random dudes to vote on this once it's half way through.
Posted by Theunkown 5 years ago
Damn it, its gonna be a tie...AGAIN
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: I think both sides ignored the resolution to different extents. Pro spent the debate arguing that the RoT was bad. Con spent the debate arguing the the RoT was a necessary evil that prevented bigger harms. In both cases, I'm left asking the question of what it means for something to be unjustified. I'm not given an answer by either debater. So I'm forced to look at the debate using a basic net benefits lens. I look at two things: were the actions of those involved justified based on events of the times, and were they justified based on the outcomes? I think the whole debate was basically won on the former, since Pro tells me that a lot of the outcomes were bad, but Con is the only one that explains why it was that they committed those actions, and where they could have seen themselves (and where we can view them) as justified. In the latter case, I'm not sure that results justify actions, and if they do, I have to look at the immediate. So in both cases, I vote Con.

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