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date: 13 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The Terror is perhaps the most iconic period of the French Revolution, yet it is also one of the most difficult to explain. As a label employed by scholars, ‘the Terror’ overlaps, but does not align, with the use of the term by historical actors. Its emotional content also tricky: who was meant to be terrorized, and what was terror supposed to achieve? This question, in turn, ties into the issue of how terror related to the broader political agenda of the Jacobin leaders. But the biggest question surrounding the Terror is that of its origins. This chapter compares arguments about its inevitability, its contingency, and the different ‘logics’ that led to its occurrence, and ends on a comparative note, using the case of the American Revolution to ask whether the Terror is not better understood as a judicial, rather than a political, problem.

Keywords: Committee of Public Safety, constitution, counter-revolution, dictatorship, historiography, justice system, political violence, revolutionary government, war

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