ROBESPIERRE, the Jacobin leader and a successful barrister, was now for nearly two years the master of France. He was a vain, foolish man but an honest and forceful one, possessed by a blood lust, like an appalling number of his contemporaries. The Jacobins raised large armies by compulsion; the armies were ragged but enthusiastic, and marched far on short rations, while their numbers told in battle. They gained victories, especially when Carnot took charge of the war, but until the middle of 1794 France was in great danger, fighting to repel invasions from the Austrian (formerly the Spanish) Netherlands, and from Germany, and to repress royalist rebellions in France. The revolutionaries executed Louis and his Queen and declared a general war on European kings, including George III. of England, to whom their occupation of the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) was provocation enough. This desperate state of things led to the amazing Reign of Terror. Two or three thousand persons were guillotined in Paris and many more were murdered in the provinces. Some were aristocrats, others were suspected of royalist leanings, others were revolutionaries who profiteered in corn. Some were merely Jacobins whom Robespierre disliked or feared, like Danton. In the middle of 1794 Robespierre's actions became openly unbalanced, and his party executed him and his close friends.
The surviving Jacobins rather unwillingly desisted from executions; Prussia and Spain made peace, and a new constitution was set up, the Directory, controlled by the old Jacobin gang (1795-99). They discovered a useful collaborator in an ambitious young artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, who crushed a Paris rising of royalists and other anti-Jacobins. The revolutionists' work had not been merely a butchery. They had pi'anned reforms in education and justice, abolished the old irrational weights and measures, and introduced the decimal system. They began the simplification and codification of the law of France. Their revolutionary calendar with new month-names, a new era, and a week of ten days, was a typical break with the past but did not last long. Reform, however, was pushed into the background under the Directory. The Jacobins were always unscrupulous, and the less corruptible ones were now dead. Those ruling France were kept in power by the army, to which they promised employment and loot.
Their European campaigns in 1795-98 against the Allied forces (Austrian chiefly) were not successful. Bonaparte, however, sent to command in Italy, won a series of victories and soon the Revolution was merged in his own amazing career. For five years, from 1789-94, the Revolution had moved towards extremism; from 1794-99 it was moving back towards monarchy, and in 1799 the destiny of France was in the hands of this enlightened despot, the perfect product of the eighteenth century.