France’s Reign of Terror

Guest essay by Bill Federer

France’s King Louis XVI sent his navy and troops to help America gain independence from Britain, for which France gained very little in return, except enormous debt.

On the verge of financial collapse, France experienced a famine in 1788. The people blamed the King.

Anti-monarchists referred to Queen Marie Antoinette as Madame Déficit.

According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, when she was told the people did not have bread, her reply was: “Let them eat cake.”

Agitators stirred the people to riot, resulting in the arrest of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were then beheaded in Paris in 1793.

The French Revolution began with a Reign of Terror.

Maximilien Robespierre led the “Committee of Public Safety,” France’s version of Department of Homeland Security. He gave a speech to the National Assembly, February 5, 1794, titled “The Terror Justified”:

“Lead…the enemies of the people by terror….Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice.”

Robespierre began accusing, arresting, and beheading:

—first all the royalty;

—then the wealthy;

—then the farmers and businessmen;

—then those hoarding food;

—then the clergy,

—then the former revolutionaries.

Over 40,000 were beheaded in Paris.

It was an intentional campaign to de-christianize French society and replace it with a civic religion of state worship.

Not wanting a constitution that was “Done in the year of the Lord,” as the U.S. Constitution was, the French made 1791 the new “Year One.”

They did not want a seven day week with a Sabbath day rest, as this was derived from the Bible, so they devised a ten day “decade” week, and ten month year.

French Revolutionary Time divided the day into 10 decimal hours, with each hour consisting of 100 decimal minutes, and each minute made up of 100 decimal seconds.

Every measurement was to be divisible by ten, as ten was considered the number of man with ten fingers and ten toes.

This was called “the metric system.”

The new secular government proceeded to:

—Forbid crosses as being offensive;

—Religious monuments were destroyed;

—Public and private worship and education outlawed;

—Priests and ministers, along with those who harbored them, were executed on sight;

—Christian graves were desecrated, including that of Ste. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris who called the city to pray when Attila the Hun was attacking in 451 AD;

—Churches were closed or used for “immoral,” “lurid,” “licentious,” “scandalous” “depravities.”

Robespierre put a prostitute in Notre Dame Cathedral, covered her with a sheet, and called her “the goddess of reason” to be worshiped.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg was turned into a Temple of Reason.

In America, Yale President Timothy Dwight gave an address on July 4, 1798, tracing the origin of the radical, left-wing Jacobin organizers, who agitated a violent overthrow of France’s government:

“About the year 1728, Voltaire, so celebrated for his wit and brilliancy and not less distinguished for his hatred of Christianity and his abandonment of principle, formed a systematical design to destroy Christianity and to introduce in its stead a general diffusion of irreligion and atheism….

“With great art and insidiousness the doctrines of…Christian theology were rendered absurd and ridiculous; and the mind of the reader was insensibly steeled against conviction and duty….

“The overthrow of the religious orders in Catholic countries, a step essentially necessary to the destruction of the religion professed in those countries..”

Dwight continued:

“The appropriation to themselves, and their disciples, of the places and honors of members of the French Academy….In this way they designed to hold out themselves…to dictate all literary opinions to the nation….

”The fabrication of books of all kinds against Christianity, especially such as excite doubt and generate contempt and derision….

“The being of God was denied and ridiculed….The possession of property was pronounced robbery. Chastity and natural affection were declared to be nothing more than groundless prejudices.

“Adultery, assassination, poisoning, and other crimes of the like infernal nature, were taught as lawful…provided the end was good….

“The good ends proposed…are the overthrow of religion, government, and human society, civil and domestic.

“These they pronounce to be so good that murder, butchery, and war, however extended and dreadful, are declared by them to be completely justifiable.”

The anti-christian French government sent its army to a rural, very religious Catholic area of western France called the Vendée.

Hundreds of thousands of religious citizens who refused to embrace secularism were killed in a what is considered the first modern genocide.

French General Francois Joseph Westermann wrote to the Committee of Public Safety stating:

“There is no more Vendée….

“According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands.

“I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all.”

A young French officer, named Napoleon, pleaded poor health in order to avoid participating in the slaughter.

In 1799, Alexander Hamilton condemned the French Revolution’s attempt to overthrow Christianity:

“[Depriving] mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe….

“The praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity;—war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors.

“The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism;—war resumes the same hideous and savage form which it wore in the ages of Gothic and Roman violence.”

Hamilton wrote further:

“Opinions…have been gradually gaining ground, which threaten the foundations of religion, morality, and society.

“An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute.

“The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of god, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.” (Lodge, Henry Cabot, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 8, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1904, 425-426.)

During this time, French privateers ignored treaties and by 1798, had seized nearly 300 American ships bound for British ports.

Talleyrand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, demanded millions of dollars in bribes to leave America’s ships alone.

Talleyrand was a master of deceitful political speech called “obfuscation”—intentionally being obscure, speaking out of both sides of his mouth to as convince both sides he supported them.

Talleyrand states:

“We were given speech to hide our thoughts.”

Known as the XYZ Affair, the American commission of Charles Pinckney, John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry refused to pay bribes.

The cry went across America, “Millions for defense, not a cent for tribute.”

College campuses were being infiltrated by “decadent, ungodly and immoral Francophiles”—the term used to describe those fascinated with French culture, infidelity and irreligion which was being exported from France.

As America and France came perilously close to war, second President John Adams asked George Washington, now retired at Mount Vernon, to again be Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

Washington agreed, writing the year before he died, JULY 13, 1798:

“Satisfied…you have…exhausted, to the last drop, the cup of reconciliation, we can, with pure hearts, appeal to Heaven for the justice of our cause; and may confidently trust the final result to that kind Providence who has, heretofore, and so often, signally favored the people of these United States….

“Feeling how incumbent it is upon every person…to contribute at all times to his country’s welfare, and especially in a moment like the present, when everything we hold dear and sacred is so seriously threatened, I have finally determined to accept the commission of Commander-in-Chief.”

President Adams declared a Day of Fasting, March 23, 1798, and again, March 6, 1799:

“The people of the United States are still held in jeopardy by…insidious acts of a foreign nation, as well as by the dissemination among them of those principles subversive to the foundations of all religious, moral, and social obligations….

“I hereby recommend … a Day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer;

“That the citizens…call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions….

“That He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind….

‘Righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.'”

In retrospect, it was seen that France’s abandonment of sexual restraints was followed by an abandonment of societal and physical restraints, leading to open violence.

France’s godless Revolution became the blueprint for every Communist revolution, where a bloody killing off of the old order was justified as a necessary transition to usher in the promised utopian paradise, which sadly always proved to be a totalitarian dictatorship.

Best-selling author Os Guinness stated in an interview with Dr. Albert Mohler, (Thinking in Public, June 5, 2017):

“The culture war now at its deepest roots is actually a clash between 1776, what was the American Revolution, and 1789 and heirs of the French Revolution.”

President John Adams’ leadership and call to prayer successfully led the young nation of the United States to avert war with France.

Where France pulled away from God, America experienced a religious revival called the Second Great Awakening which spread across country.

In contrast to the irreligious French Revolution, in America religious enthusiasm spread from frontier camp meetings to college campuses, where was begun a foreign missions movement impacting the world, reaching as far away as the Caribbean, Burma, China and Hawaii.

Organizations were formed promoting Christian values, including The American Bible Society, the Society for the Promotion of Temperance, the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army, which leading to founding of hospitals, prison reform, care for the handicapped and mentally ill, and eventually the abolitionist movement to end slavery.

From Bill Federer’s American Minute for July 13, 2017.


William J. Federer is the author of the best—selling books Prayers and Presidents – Inspiring Faith from Leaders of the Past, America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, American Minute—Notable Events of American Significance, Three Secular Reasons Why America Should Be Under God, Treasury of Presidential Quotations, and What Every American Needs to Know About the Quran: A History of Islam & the United States.

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