First White Terror

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Picture by an unknown artist showing a member of the 'Compagnons du Soleil', who carried out White Terror attacks in southeastern France Terreur blanche 1795.jpg
Picture by an unknown artist showing a member of the 'Compagnons du Soleil', who carried out White Terror attacks in southeastern France

Massacre of Jacobin prisoners in Lyon in 1795 Massacre dans les prisons de Lyon 24 avril 1795.png
Massacre of Jacobin prisoners in Lyon in 1795

The White Terror was a period during the French Revolution in 1795, when a wave of violent attacks swept across much of France.[ citation needed ] The victims of this violence were people identified as being associated with the Reign of Terror – followers of Robespierre and Marat, and members of local Jacobin clubs. The violence was perpetrated primarily by those whose relatives or associates had been victims of the Great Terror, or whose lives and livelihoods had been threatened by the government and its supporters before the Thermidorean Reaction. Principally these were, in Paris, the Muscadins, and in the countryside, monarchists, supporters of the Girondins, those who opposed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and those otherwise hostile to the Jacobin political agenda. [1] The Great Terror had been largely an organised political programme, based on laws such as the Law of 22 Prairial, and enacted through official institutions such as the Revolutionary Tribunal, but the White Terror was essentially a series of uncoordinated attacks by local activists who shared common perspectives but no central organisation. [2] In particular locations, there were however more organised counter-revolutionary movements such as the Companions of Jehu in Lyon and the Companions of the Sun in Provence. The name 'White Terror' derives from the white cockades worn in the hats of royalists. [3]

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Reign of Terror Period during the French Revolution

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.



The Reign of Terror ended on 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794) when Robespierre and his associates were overthrown. [4] However there was not an immediate reaction to his rule, and for many months an unstable political climate prevailed before a new order emerged. In Paris, there were increasing attacks on sans-culottes by Muscadins, and there were attacks on Jacobins in Lyons and Nimes in February 1795. However only when a number of conditions changed did anti-Jacobin forces feel sufficiently confident to escalate these attacks into a full-scale White Terror. [5]

Politically, the Thermidorean Reaction did not remove from power all those who had been involved in the Reign of Terror – indeed some of the most feared Terrorists, including Jean-Baptiste Carrier and Joseph Fouché had been involved in overthrowing Robespierre, largely because they feared him calling them to account. [6] It took a period of several months before all of the leading figures associated with the Reign of Terror were brought to trial or removed from power.

Jean-Baptiste Carrier French revolutionary

Jean-Baptiste Carrier was a French Revolutionary and most notable for his actions during the Reign of Terror in Vendée. While suppressing a Royalist counter-revolution, he commanded the execution of 4,000 civilians, mostly priests, women and children in what Carrier described as "the National Bathtub." After the fall of the Robespierre government, Carrier was tried for war crimes, found guilty and executed.

Joseph Fouché French statesman

Joseph Fouché, 1st Duc d'Otrante, 1st Comte Fouché was a French statesman and Minister of Police under First Consul Bonaparte, who later became Emperor Napoleon. He was particularly known for his ferocity with which he suppressed the Lyon insurrection during the Revolution in 1793 and for being minister of police under the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire. In English texts, his title is often translated as Duke of Otranto.

Economically, there were food shortages as a result of a hard winter in 1794-5 and the assignat currency collapsed. The harvest of 1794 was poor, particularly in the areas which supplied Paris and in many northern areas people were reduced to consuming seed during the winter. Further south, rivers remained iced over and roads remained impassible in the spring, hindering trade and raising local prices. [7] The assignat fell from 31% of its face value in August 1794 to 24% in November, 17% in February and 8% in April 1795. [8] In Paris, hunger and desperation led to the Germinal uprising of April 1795.

An assignat was a type of a monetary instrument used during the time of the French Revolution, and the French Revolutionary Wars.

Insurrection of 12 Germinal, Year III revolt during the French Revolution

The insurrection of 12 Germinal Year III was a popular revolt in Paris on 1 April 1795 against the policies of the Thermidorian Convention. It was provoked by poverty and hunger resulting from the abandonment of the controlled economy after dismantling of the Revolutionary Government during Thermidorian Reaction.

Militarily, the National Convention was fighting the Chouannerie rebellion in western France until December 1794. [9] The Treaty of La Jaunaye which ended the rebellion allowed the return of non-juring priests [10] The agreement ended the direct military emergency facing the Republic and weakened the standing of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

National Convention single-chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795

The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.

Chouannerie French royalist uprising during the revolution

The Chouannerie was a royalist uprising or counter-revolution in 12 of the western départements of France, particularly in the provinces of Brittany and Maine, against the French First Republic during the French Revolution. It played out in three phases and lasted from the spring of 1794 until 1800.

Treaty of La Jaunaye

The Treaty of La Jaunaye was a peace accord signed by François de Charette and Charles Sapinaud de La Rairie, on behalf of the leaders of the Vendée rebels and chouans, and by Albert Ruelle on behalf of the National Convention on 17 February 1795 at the manor of La Jaunaye, at Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire, near Nantes. The treaty brought an end to major hostilities in the War in the Vendée - the rebels recognised the French Republic and in return received assurances on freedom of religion, the abolition of conscription and the right to arm a militia.

Timeline of events leading to the White Terror

(source) [11]

Law of 22 Prairial

The Law of 22 Prairial, also known as the loi de la Grande Terreur, the law of the Great Terror, was enacted on 10 June 1794. It was proposed by Georges Auguste Couthon but seems to have been written by Robespierre according to Laurent Lecointre. By means of this law the Committee of Public Safety simplified the judicial process to one of indictment and prosecution.

Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier French politician

Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier was a French politician of the French Revolution.

Pierre-Joseph Cambon French politician

Pierre-Joseph Cambon was a French statesman.

Timeline of events in the White Terror

(source) [11]

Effects in other towns

The White Terror spread throughout the country, with some regions claiming not to have been disgraced by the Reign of Terror and others believing that there had to be significant retributions. Individuals accused as terrorists were then put on trial and executed. Overall, the severity of the reactions to the Reign of Terror were dependent on how each region was involved in the Revolution and on that region's specific history. Lists of those persecuted, as well as existing judicial and police records, indicate that a strong majority of accusations made did not arise from actions during the Reign of Terror at all but rather from personal or regional grudges. [23]

See also


  1. Denis Woronoff, The Thermidorean regime and the Directory, CUP (1972), p. 23.
  2. Alfred Cobban, A History of Modern France vol 1 1715–1799 Penguin (1957), p. 243.
  3. John Paxton, Companion to the French Revolution, Facts on File Publications (1988), p. 207.
  4. John Paxton, Companion to the French Revolution, Facts on File Publications (1988), p. 186.
  5. The Thermidorian regime and the Directory 1794–1799, CUP (1972), p. 23.
  6. David Andress, The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (2005), p. 237.
  7. The Thermidorian regime and the Directory 1794–1799, CUP (1972), p. 11.
  8. The Thermidorian regime and the Directory 1794–1799, CUP (1972), p. 10.
  9. John Paxton, Companion to the French Revolution, Facts on File Publications (1988), p. 50.
  10. David Andress, The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2005), p. 354.
  11. 1 2 Denis Woronoff, The Thermidorean regime and the Directory 1794–1799 CUP (1972), pp. ix-x.
  12. 1 2 3 Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman (1989), p. 474.
  13. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman (1989) p. 454.
  14. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman (1989), p. 473.
  15. Denis Woronoff, The Thermidorean regime and the Directory 1794–1799, p. 5.
  16. 1 2 Denis Woronoff, The Thermidorean regime and the Directory 1794–1799, p. 23.
  17. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman (1989), p. 468.
  18. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman (1989), p. 470.
  19. Chronicle of the French Revolution Longman (1989), p. 476.
  20. M A Kennedy; Michael L. Kennedy (2000). The Jacobin Clubs in the French Revolution, 1793-1795. Berghahn Books. p. 249. ISBN   978-1-57181-186-8.
  21. Denis Woronoff, The Thermidorean regime and the Directory 1794–1799, p. 19.
  22. Chronicle of the French Revolution Longman (1989), p. 484.
  23. 1 2 3 McPhee, P. (2012) The White Terror, in A Companion to the French Revolution, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford. doi: 10.1002/9781118316399.ch22

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The term Muscadin, meaning "wearing musk perfume", came to refer to mobs of young men, relatively well-off and dressed in a dandyish manner, who were the street fighters of the Thermidorian Reaction in Paris in the French Revolution. After the coup against Robespierre and the Jacobins of 9 Thermidor Year II, or 27 July 1794, they took on the remaining Jacobins and sans-culottes, and largely succeeded in suppressing them over the next year or two. In prints they are often seen carrying large wooden clubs, which they liked to call "constitutions". They were supposedly organized by the politician and journalist Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron, and eventually numbered 2,000-3,000. They in fact seem to have mostly consisted of the lower middle classes, the sons of "minor officials and small shopkeepers", and were quietly encouraged by the shaky new government, who had good reason to fear Jacobin mobs, and wider unrest as the hard winter of 1794-5 saw increasing hunger among the Parisian working class. The Muscadins are considered to be part of the First White Terror in response to the preceding Reign of Terror of the Jacobins.

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The insurrection of 1 Prairial Year III was a popular revolt in Paris on 20 May 1795 against the policies of the Thermidorian Convention. It was the last and one of the most remarkable and stubborn popular revolts of the French Revolution. After their defeat in Prairial, the sans-culottes ceased to play any effective part until the next round of revolutions in the early nineteenth century. To a lesser extent, these movements are also important in that they mark the final attempt of the remnants of the Mountain and the Jacobins to recapture their political ascendancy in the Convention and the Paris Sections; this time, though they gave some political direction to the popular movement which arose in the first place in protest against worsening economic conditions, their intervention was timorous and halfhearted and doomed the movement to failure.

Federalist revolts

The Federalist revolts were uprisings that broke out in various parts of France in the summer of 1793, during the French Revolution. They were prompted by resentments in France’s provincial cities about increasing centralisation of power in Paris, and increasing radicalisation of political authority in the hands of the Jacobins. In most of the country the trigger for uprising was the exclusion of the Girondins from the Convention after the Insurrection of 31 May – 2 June 1793. Although they shared common origins and political objectives, the revolts were not centrally organised or well-coordinated. The revolts failed to win any sustained popular support and were put down by the armies of the Convention over the following months. The Reign of Terror was then imposed across France to punish those associated with them and to enforce Jacobin ideology.

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