Today the definition of terrorism is very different to how it was perceived in the late 18th century. At that time, in it’s first ever use of the word terrorism in the Oxford English Dictionary, terrorism was defined as government by intimidation. Although terrorism today is often regarded as fringe radical groups, non state or sub-government groups who attempt to deliver their political message through fear, initially the main perpetrator of such crimes were governments, and one in particular. In saying that, the original interpretation can still be defined today in the same way it was 200 years ago, but it is rare.
Why did the Oxford Dictionary describe the first use of terrorism as government by intimidation?
At the time of the first ever use of the word terrorism in the Oxford English Dictionary, the world, Europe, and particularly France, were amid radical political upheaval. The American Colonies had revolted against their imperial masters, and France had dispatched with the monarchy and all its pomp and ceremony, titles and honors. It was France in which the original definition of terrorism took its form
Immediately following the first phase of the French Revolution was a period known as the Reign of Terror, or simply The Terror. It began in September 1793 and lasted for a period of nine months until late July 1794. In that time tens of thousands who were considered to be enemies of the Revolution were executed. The Terror, and terrorism itself became known as a form of government intimidation, all thanks to the activities that were taking place in France. It was in 1795, a year after the mass killings had ended, that the Oxford English dictionary first used the word terrorism to describe tyrannical state behavior, and it was in connection to the Reign of Terror in France.