Reign of Terror, 1793-94, the period in France in which leaders of the French Revolution wiped out opposition to the new republic. By 1793 the republic established by the revolution was endangered. It faced famine, anarchy, royalist plots, opposition by the clergy, and invasion. To meet the crisis, the Convention (assembly) on April 6, 1793, created the Committee of Public Safety with dictatorial powers. It was controlled by Jacobins, led by Danton, Robespierre, and St. Just.

In the emergency the Committee took direct, deadly action. A member said: “We must establish the despotism of liberty in order to crush the despotism of kings.” The Committee sent spies and commissioners throughout France to uncover and punish plots against the republic. Any person could accuse another as “suspect.” The accused often had a mock trial or no trial, then was taken to the guillotine. Among those beheaded were Queen Marie Antoinette, many nobles, and even revolutionary leaders. About 2,500 Parisians perished, and perhaps 13,000 others in the provinces. At the height of the Terror, Robespierre was practically all-powerful.

The Committee achieved its purpose. Its conscripted armies threw back English, Prussian, and Austrian invaders and crushed internal rebellion. It averted economic collapse by fixing prices and controlling wealth. With the crises met and public opinion turning against the excesses of the Committee of Public Safety, the Terror died out after Robespierre himself was guillotined in July, 1794.