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A major figure of the French Revolution. A lawyer from the town of Arras, he was an advocate of human rights as defined by Rousseau, whom he admired deeply. As a "lawyer for the common people", he gained respect and prominence among the locals, who eventually elected him to represent them in the Estates-General, France's pre-revolutionary representative body. Shortly after the Estates-General convened in 1789, the Revolution began with the Tennis Court Oath, in which the representatives of the common people decided to push for a constitution and governmental reform for France. Robespierre was influential in the formation of the intended new government and became a prominent member of the radical Jacobin Club (political "clubs" were in some ways parallel to political parties in modern democratic states).

During the short lived constitutional monarchy, many revolutionaries including the Girondin advocated going to war in order to spread the ideas of the French Revolution. Robespierre took a hardline stance against the war, warning that, "No one loves armed missionaries." However, despite his protests France declared war a few months later on Austria and Prussia.

As revolutionary France faced various problems within and without, the legislative assembly suspended its newly written constitution and formed a de facto emergency government, the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre was chosen to join the committee. It was this Committee that instituted the Law of Suspects, which provided the legal justification for the Terror, as an emergency measure to bring the country under control. Robespierre was never actually the dictator or in any way the sole leader of France. He was the intellectual and moral backbone for the Committee while it ran the country; however, his influence within the Committee was subject to the machinations of other members and tended to ebb and flow.

While Robespierre is usually portrayed (and not without reason) as the personification of the worst excesses of the Revolution, he actually fought as ferociously against radicals as he did royalists. While no devout Christian himself, he eventually came to despise the atheistic bent of many in the French government and had quite a few of them guillotined. He later presided over a Festival of the Supreme Being, which celebrated a kind of middle path between old-style Catholicism and atheism; his performance there led many of his enemies to allege that he considered himself a God. Robespierre also ordered the execution of many proto-socialists, who wanted the new France to abolish private property and share all wealth in common.

In short, he considered himself a man walking a narrow, winding path through a dangerous forest, with enemies on both left and right plotting the destruction of France. Seeing foreign plots to snuff out the Revolution everywhere, he violently lashed out at those enemies using the power of the Committee. Eventually, as his former colleague-turned-enemy Danton predicted, the machinery of death he set in motion consumed him, and he was guillotined in July ( Thermidor) of 1794.

Personally, Robespierre was a slight, somewhat fastidious man who maintained immaculate dress and cleanliness at all times, although said dress was perpetually worn and out of fashion. His nickname was "The Incorruptible," and it was not ironic in any way. One biography of Robespierre is entitled "Fatal Purity."

A highly controversial person, the level of sympathy allotted to him depends on the work. Compare with Richard of Gloucester, the English king similarly known for falling anywhere between Complete Monster and Silent Scapegoat depending on the author's perspective.

It's worth noting that many of the morality tropes listed here differ in different works/character representations.

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  1. He went very quickly from 'maybe it can be justified, in certain extreme circumstances' to 'it is a useful tool', thus Jumping Off The Slippery Slope
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