More on revolutionary France: La Convention Nationale

Not recalling much from history lessons in school, I find that while traveling and sightseeing, I often rediscover facts that were imparted to us during our childhood. On a recent occasion, I posted about the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar. While delving into information about challenges faced during its implementation, I learned that during the French Revolution, revolutionaries sought to create their own calendar as a deliberate departure from anything associated with the Catholic Church. The radical body advocating for this alternative calendar was the National Convention, a governing body ultimately dissolved for being too radical and too revolutionary.

The National Convention (La Convention Nationale >>>) was a pivotal political body that played a central role during the first years of the French Revolution. It was established in September 1792, following the abolition of the monarchy and the declaration of the French Republic. The National Convention in revolutionary France served as the primary legislative and executive assembly from 1792 to 1795.

Symbolic picture of the National Convention in the Pantheon of Paris.

Here is the short story of National Convention in revolutionary France:

Formation and Abolition of the Monarchy:

  • The National Convention was established in the aftermath of the August 10, 1792 insurrection in Paris, which led to the fall of the monarchy.
  • On September 21, 1792, the National Convention officially declared the First French Republic, marking the end of the Bourbon monarchy.

Radicalization of the Revolution:

  • The Convention was marked by a radical phase of the French Revolution, often referred to as the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) characterized by extreme political violence, mass executions and other radical measures.
  • This period saw the rise of radical political factions, including the Jacobins advocating for a democratic republic led by figures like Maximilien Robespierre.

Committee of Public Safety:

  • The Convention established the Committee of Public Safety, a powerful executive committee, in April 1793. It was responsible for safeguarding the revolution through measures including the Reign of Terror, which aimed to eliminate perceived threats to the Republic.
  • Maximilien Robespierre became one of the most influential figures associated with the Committee. He was the key architect of the Reign of Terror.

Repression and Revolutionary Tribunal:

  • The Convention initiated measures to suppress counter-revolutionary activities and perceived enemies of the Republic.
  • The Revolutionary Tribunal, established in March 1793, conducted trials that often resulted in the execution of individuals deemed threats to the Revolution.

Execution of Louis XVI:

  • One of the significant decisions made by the National Convention was the trial and execution of King Louis XVI in January 1793. This event marked a turning point in the Revolution.

Republican Calendar:

  • The Convention initiated cultural changes, including the adoption of the Republican Calendar, replacing the traditional Gregorian calendar.
  • The Republican Calendar embraced the decimal system, with each month (with original new names) consisting of three ten-day weeks, making a total of 30 days. This resulted in a 10-day week instead of the traditional 7-day week.

War and External Threats:

  • The Convention faced external threats from monarchies that opposed the revolutionary ideals. This led to the establishment of the Committee of Public Safety and the implementation of the levee en masse, the compulsory enlistment of citizens into the military.

End of the Radical Phase:

  • The radical phase of the Convention came to an end with the fall of Robespierre and other leading Jacobins in July 1794 (Thermidorian Reaction named after the month of Thermidor in the French Republican calendar).
  • Robespierre and his associates, including Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Georges Couthon, were arrested by forces loyal to the National Convention. The arrest was orchestrated by political opponents who were alarmed by the radicalism and the widespread use of the guillotine during the Reign of Terror.
  • The Convention then entered a more moderate phase, and the Committee of Public Safety’s powers were reduced.

Constitution of 1795:

  • The Convention drafted the Constitution of 1795, establishing the Directory as a new form of government.
  • The National Convention held its last session on October 26, 1795, marking the end of its existence. It was replaced by the Directory.
  • In 1799, General Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d’├ętat, overthrowing the Directory and establishing the Consulate, which marked the beginning of Napoleon’s rise to power.

The National Convention played a crucial role in shaping the course of the French Revolution, overseeing radical changes, internal and external conflicts, and the establishment of the First French Republic. It left a lasting impact on the political and cultural landscape of France in the late 18th century.

More on revolutionary France: La Convention Nationale