Quotations: the Reign of Terror

This selection of French Revolution quotations contains remarks about the Reign of Terror from significant leaders, political figures, philosophes and observers. It has been selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. New quotations are regularly added. If you would like to submit a relevant and interesting quotation, please contact Alpha History.

“It [terror] is dreadful but necessary.”
A radical journal, 1794

“One wonders why there are so many women who follow Robespierre to his home, to the Jacobins, to the Cordeliers and to the Convention. It is because the French Revolution is a religion and Robespierre is one of its sects. He is a priest with his flock… Robespierre preaches, Robespierre censures, he is furious, serious, melancholic and exalted with passion. He thunders against the rich and the great. He lives on little and has no physical needs. He has only one mission: to talk. And he talks all the time.”
Marquis de Condorcet

“Robespierre simply can’t f–k and money scares the hide off him.”
Georges Danton

“From 1789, perhaps even before that, it had been the willingness of politicians to exploit either the threat or the fact of violence that had given them the power to challenge constituted authority. Bloodshed was not the unfortunate by-product of revolution, it was the source of energy.”
Simon Schama, historian

“Each day was marked by bloody expeditions which cannot but horrify every decent soul and seem justifiable only in the light of philosophy… It was said openly that it was essential for peace that not a single republican was to be left alive in France… It was sufficient to have attended at a mass said by one of the constitutional clergy to be imprisoned and then murdered or shot, under the pretext that the prisons were too full.”
Francois Chevalier on the revolt in the Vendee

“A sans culotte always has his sabre well sharpened, ready to cut off the ears of all opponents of the revolution.”
Anonymous pamphlet

“Nothing will make me change my principles. Even with the knife at my neck, I shall still declare, up to this day, the poor have done everything; it is time for the rich to take their turn… The selfish people, the young idlers, must be made useful, whether they like it or not, and some respite be procured for the useful and respectable worker.”
Jean-Paul Marat

“How could liberty ever establish itself amongst us? Apart from a few tragic scenes, the revolution has been nothing but a web of farcical scenes.”
Jean-Paul Marat

“In a few days, I will have them all guillotined in Paris.”
Jean-Paul Marat, to Charlotte Corday

“The revolution is the war of liberty against its enemies. The constitution is the rule of liberty against its enemies. The constitution is the rule of liberty when victorious and peaceable.”
Maximilien Robespierre

“Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible. It is then an emanation of virtue.”
Maximilien Robespierre

“Pity is treason.”
Maximilien Robespierre

“Oh Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name?”
Madame Roland, while being led to her execution, 1793

“There is no more Vendée, Republican citizens. It did beneath our free sword, with its women and children. I have just buried it in the swamps and the woods of Savenay. Following the orders that you gave me, I have crushed the children beneath our horses’ hooves and massacred the women, who will give birth to no more brigands. I do not have a single prisoner… I have exterminated them all.”
General François Westermann, December 1793

“Possibly I am mistaken about Danton. But seen in the context of his family, he only merits praise. In the political context, I have watched him. We had a difference of opinion, which made me carefully keep my eye on him, sometimes with anger. Although he was not always of the same opinion, should I conclude that he was betraying the fatherland? No. I have always watched him serving it with zeal. Danton wants to be judged. He is right. May I also be judged. Let them come forward, the men who are more patriotic than we.”
Maximilien Robespierre in November 1793

“These men, greedy for the power they are accumulating, have concocted and pompously spread the word of ultra-revolution, to destroy the friends of the people who watch over their plots – as if one person were allowed to set the limits of the national will.”
Jacques Hébert on the Committee of Public Safety, early 1794

“Citizens, what illusion managed to persuade you that you were inhuman? Your revolutionary tribunal has dispatched 300 scoundrels in the last year. Did not the Spanish Inquisition do more? And for what cause, in the name of God? And did the English courts execute no one this year? And no one mentions the German prisons, in which the people are buried?”
Louis Saint-Just, February 1794

“You are my god, and I know no other on earth. I look upon you as my guardian angel, and I wish to live only under your laws, they are so gentle.”
A Nantes woman proposes marriage to Robespierre, 1794

“I have left my balls to Robespierre and my legs to Couthon. That should help the Committee of Public Safety for a while.”
Georges Danton, while awaiting execution in April 1794

“You [Robespierre] will follow us soon. Your house will be beaten down and salt sown in the place where it stood.”
Georges Danton, on his way to the guillotine in April 1794

“I shall die in the belief that to make France free, republican and prosperous, a little ink would have sufficed – and only one guillotine.”
Camille Desmoulins, April 1794

“I feel myself more independent than ever from the wickedness of man. The crimes of tyrants and the weapons of their assassins have rendered me more free and more formidable to the enemies of the people. My spirit is more disposed than ever to unmasking traitors… We swear to exterminate every single criminal who wants to rob us of happiness and liberty.”
Maximilien Robespierre, June 1794

“Look at the bastard! It’s not enough to be master, he wants to be God as well!”
A sans culotte on Robespierre, June 1794

“At the gate of Saint-Antoine, an immense aqueduct has been built for the purpose of carrying off the bloodshed at the executions. Every day, four men were employed in taking it up in buckets and conveying it to this horrid reservoir of butchery.”
A report on the Terror, 1794

“The blood of criminals fertilises the soil of liberty.”
Joseph Fouche

“The ship of the revolution can only arrive safely at its destination on a sea that is red with torrents of blood.”
Louis Saint-Just

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