Thermidorian Reaction

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The Thermidorian Reaction was an event in revolutionary France, and is so named because it began in the month of Thermidor on the Revolutionary Calendar (July 19 - August 17) of the year II (1794). It was a reaction to the Reign of Terror after the execution of Maximilien de Robespierre. The original Thermidorians were made up of members of the two committees (The CPS and CGS), members of the moderate party and ex-terrorists. The moderates rose to take control, and as they had benefited greatly from the Revolution, they saw no need for the return of the Monarchy. They also disliked the Jacobins.

Ending the Terror

Between July 1794 and 31 May 1795 the Convention went about demolishing the machinery of the Terror. This included the abolition of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the release of all suspects from prison and the closing of the Jacobin Club. The role of the CPS and CGS was taken over by committees of the Convention to limit their power. To deal with religious issues, the Convention renounced the Constitutional Church and enforced the separation of Church and State by deciding to no longer pay clerical salaries. Freedom of worship for all religions was restored on 21 February 1795, thus formally ending the policy of de-Christianisation. France was the first major European country to declare itself entirely neutral in all matters of religion.

The Constitution of the Year III, 1795

The main features of the new constitution were:

  • All males over the age of 21 who paid direct taxes were allowed to vote for electors.
  • The electors chose the deputies and had to pay the equivalent of 150–200 days labour in taxes.
  • The legislature was rigidly separated from the executive.

Weaknesses in the new Constitution

  • Elections every year reduced stability with a high turnover of deputies.
  • There was no easy method of resolving conflict between the legislature and the executive.
  • If a hostile majority dominated the legislature then the Directory was paralysed as it could not dissolve the legislature or veto its laws.