Another major divisive force in contemporary politics was the Convention's wide-ranging attempt not merely to restrain the citizenry but to transform it into a more rational and secular society. In a far-reaching break with tradition and with Christianity, the revolutionaries inaugurated a new calendar of twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks. This calendar eliminated Sunday, the traditional day of markets, of socializing, and of Church attendance in favor of a republican holiday every ten days. Showing some restraint in its desire to remake time and space, the Convention rejected a proposed revolutionary clock that would have divided each day into 20 hours of 100 minutes each, but commissioned a study that created the metric system for redefining weights and measures.

Furthermore, the revolutionaries imagined education as the keystone of the French nation and planned to institute universal primary education. They also wanted to improve secondary and higher education as a means of demonstrating the glory of the French nation and the "enlightenment" of its citizens. These goals were to apply not only to the heartland of France, but also to conquered Italian-, German-, and Flemish- speaking territories. However, most all these grandiose plans were shelved because the war made the more propagandistic ingredients of the revolutionary civic education the only feasible options.

Perhaps the Revolution's most radical and divisive initiative was the move to "de-Christianize" France and institute a civil religion based entirely on "reason." Inspired by Enlightenment criticisms of the Catholic Church and in many ways embodying the Revolution's desire to transform French society at the most fundamental level, the Cult of Reason proved highly controversial in practice. Robespierre himself thought the seemingly atheistic Cult of Reason excessive and counter to the objective of establishing a republic of virtue. Seeking to preserve a religion based on the notion of a higher power that would replace Christianity, Robespierre organized the Festival of the Supreme Being held in June 1794, casting himself in the title role.

In retrospect, this attempt to arrive at a compromise between deism and atheism seems to have precipitated Robespierre's fall and the end of the Terror. Robespierre's proposed synthesis of Enlightenment views on religion and republican values troubled some, who thought that "The Incorruptible" had now lost all self-restraint and was paving the way for a dictatorship. Others feared that he was abandoning the dechristianization campaign and that their activities would now expose them to the Terror. These fears mounted when two days later Robespierre pushed through the Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794), which put the apparatus of the Terror directly under the control of the Committee of Public Safety and thus increased the possibility of explicit political prosecutions and executions. Robespierre justified the new law as a necessary instrument to instill virtue in the citizenry, but these remarks merely persuaded people that he sought to eliminate his opponents and establish a personal dictatorship. By the end of July, Robespierre's enemies had begun circulating false rumors in Paris suggesting that he intended to make himself king. Even his base of support at the Jacobin Club was eroding because he continued to rely on Terror to achieve his political goals. Those who feared another purge helped his detractors pass a resolution in the Convention condemning him and his followers, which led to their arrest and execution. The leaders of the coup against Robespierre acted to save themselves from the Terror, not to end the Terror as such or to dissolve the Committee of Public Safety. It would take several months before this fear of further purges would bring the authorities to repeal the law of 22 Prairial, emasculate the CPS, eliminate the revolutionary tribunals, and abandon the maximums. By the late fall, however, this transition would be complete and a new era of the Revolution would have begun.

The War from 9 Thermidor to 18 Brumaire

Although the revolutionary armies had already turned the tide of battle in the spring of 1794, the resources gained through terroristic methods after 9 Thermidor permitted them to conquer extensive territory. By the fall of 1795, the first coalition of Britain, Austria, Prussia, Spain, Netherlands, and Savoy had been defeated, and France held modern-day Belgium and the west bank of the Rhine River. Once the Netherlands, Spain, Savoy, and Prussia made peace, France could continue on the offensive. In 1796–97, an outnumbered and ragtag army of about 30,000 effective soldiers under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte defeated a much larger Austrian force to conquer the Italian peninsula. There Bonaparte set up a group of "sister republics," which extended French influence without officially extending French territory.


















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