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Maximilien Robespierre and Political Intolerance

55 min

What dangers do intolerance and the pursuit of ideological purity at the expense of diversity pose to the stability of a civil society?  

  • Students will analyze the effects of political intolerance in the French Republic. 
  • Students will contrast the vice of political intolerance to the benefits of diversity of political views resulting from the virtue of respect.  

Teacher Resources:

  • Launch Activity Teacher’s Notes (Optional) Analyzing Primary Sources (pdf version Ed. 2, © 2017)
  • Maximilien Robespierre and Political Intolerance Answer Key

Student Handouts

  • Declaration of the Rights of Man primary source
  • Political Intolerance: Maximilien Robespierre and Political Intolerance Essay
  • Discussion Guide: Political Intolerance Essay
  • Make Terror the Order of the Day primary source excerpts (Speeches by Maximilien Robespierre and Bertrand Barère)
  • Virtue In Action: Maximilien Robespierre and Political Intolerance
  • Political Intolerance writing prompt worksheet

  • intolerance
  • ideology
  • Declaration of Rights of Man
  • French Revolution
  • Maximilien Robespierre
  • Reign of Terror
  • National Assembly
  • Committee of Public Safety
  • Marie-Antoinette
  • King Louis XIV

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Christopher Hibbert, The Days of the French Revolution. New York: William Morrow, 1999.

Peter McPhee, Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. RR

Palmer, Twelve who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941.

Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. New York: Holt, 2007.

Students should be familiar with the Declaration of Independence, especially the paragraph beginning “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” and have copies of it available for reference. 

Have students skim the Declaration of the Rights of Man, giving particular attention to the preamble paragraph and Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11. Conduct a whole-class discussion of the Declaration of the Rights of Man Discussion Guide questions. The goal of this activity is not to go into depth in comparing the U.S. Declaration of Independence to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, but just to help students become familiar with the stated goals of the French Revolution.  

  1. Prior to class time, Students read Political Intolerance: Maximilien Robespierre and Political Intolerance Essay. During class, have students talk through the essay Discussion Guide questions 1, 2, and 3 in pairs. Conduct a whole-class discussion of questions 4, 5, and 6. 
  1. Introduce the Make Terror the Order of the Day background paragraph and have students return to their pairs to read the selections from Robespierre and Barère’s addresses to the National Convention from September 5, 1793, as well as the selections from the Law of Suspects, and talk through the Critical Reading questions that follow. Instruct students to select the two Critical Reading questions they think are most helpful in order to understand the dangers of political intolerance. After they have worked through the documents, take a quick poll of the questions they think are most useful.  

Wrap up with a class discussion of the top 2 or 3 questions, zeroing in on the benefits of political diversity and how to protect it. (See Answer Key for guide) 

Write an essay on Political Intolerance

  • Why is it important in a free society to allow for a diversity of political views?
  • What is the danger of one side shutting out its opponents with the force of law?
  • How can citizens ensure that public discussions are open and civil?
  • What challenges arise in having a variety of opinions to have voice?
  • Why is political tolerance important to maintain in spite of these challenges? 

“Virtue In Action” Activities

  1. Create flyers (or posters) from the Virtue in Action to create civil discourse in the classroom.  
  2. Summarize the quotes from Star Wars and from Mr. Smith goes to Washington.  Discuss which quote relate most to this lesson. Create flyers to post from these quotes or create others from books or films on this subject. 
  3. Publish essay writing in school newspaper or send a Letter to the Editor of a local newspaper. 
  4. Create a video on Flipgrid with a favorite quote.