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heads of traitors. Meanwhile, to appease the people, the
Ministry instituted a permanent camp of 20,000 men in
the neighborhood of Paris, in spite of the vehement oppo-
sition of the Constitutionalists, and agreed to the intro-
duction into the new National Guard of promiscuously
selected companies armed with pikes — the weapons
which had played such a prominent part at an earlier
stage of the Revolution. The Assembly, which declared


itself sitting in permanence, added to these resolutions
one ordering the abolition of the King's bodyguard. This
last decree Louis at once refused to ratify, and on being
remonstrated with by Roland, dismissed all the Girondin
ministers, and appointed obscure members of the Con-
stitutionalist party in their stead. At the same time he
sent a secret messenger to negotiate with the foreign
coalition — for his " deliverance."

The Girondins finding themselves thus left out in the
cold, joined the Jacobins, who were now the advanced
guard of the Revolution, and whose organization was
rapidly becoming a rival to the Assembly, and by this
means were able to pose as martyrs in the cause of lib-
erty. The only hope of the party actually in power —
i. e., the now discredited Constitutionalists — lay in La-
fayette's army. Lafayette, seeing the situation, played
out his last card, and published a manifesto, openly defy-
ing and threatening the Jacobins. The Jacobins' reply to
this was the insurrection of the 20th of June, 1792, when
a concourse numbering some 8,000 people left the Fau-
bourg St. Antoine for the hall of the Assembly. The
orator who represented the crowd spoke in menacing
terms, saying that the people were ready to employ all
their powers in resistance to oppression. He proceeded
to state that grave complaint was found with the con-
duct of the war, into which the people demanded an im-
mediate investigation, but the heaviest grievance of all
was the dismissal of the patriot Ministers. The Assembly
replied that the memorial of tl>e people should be taken
into consideration, and meanwhile, as usual in such cases,
exhorted them to " respect the law." By this time the
multitude numbered some 30,000 men, women, and chil-
dren, including many National Guards, with a liberal
sprinkling of pikes, flags, and revolutionary emblems
among them. This motley concourse poured into the
sacred precincts of the Assembly, singing Qa ira, and
shouting, " Long live the people ! " " Long live the sans-


culottes!" On leaving the Assembly the cry was, "To
the Palace of the Tuileries," where the crowd swept
through the open gates into the apartments and corridors,
and were proceeding to demolish the doors with blows,
when Louis himself appeared, accompanied by only a few
attendants. The multitude still pressing in, he took his
station in the recess of a window. There he remained,
seated on a chair, placed on a table, and protected from
the pressure of the crowd by a cordon of National
Guards. To the cries of the people for his sanction to
the decrees, he replied — as the Royalist historians assure
us, with intense dignity — " This is neither the manner
for it to be demanded of me, nor the moment to obtain
"t." The result of his refusal might have been awkward
for him had he not had the presence of mind to take ad-
vantage of an incident which occurred just at the moment.
A red Phrygian cap, the symbol of the People and of
Liberty, was presented by one of the crowd on the point
of a pike. This he took and placed on his head, after
which he drank off a tankard of wine also offered to
him, an act which was greeted with tumultuous applause.
At last Petion, the mayor, arrived with several prominent
Girondist deputies, and quietly dispersed the gathering.

Thus the silly Parisian populace were once again
cajoled out of their demands by a senseless piece of buf-
foonery. But it was the last time. The Constitutional-
ists were enraged at the outrage offered to the person
of the King and to the Law. Lafayette left the army,
and suddenly appeared at the bar of the Assembly, de-
manding the impeachment of the instigators of the move-
ment of the 20th July, an^ the suppression of the popular
clubs. But the Jacobins had by this time got the upper
hand, and could defy the champion of middle-class law-
and-order. Lafayette narrowly escaped arrest for de-
serting his army, and had ignominiously to slink back.
The whole force of the populace was with the Girondins
and the Jacobins. Things were fast hurrying to a crisis.



Shortly after the event last described the Assembly
felt itself compelled, in the face of the open connivance
of the Court with the enemy, to solemnly declare the
country in danger. All citizens capable of bearing arms
v^ere called upon to enroll themselves in the National
Guard, which was placed on a footing of active service.

On the 14th of July, the Bastille anniversary, the
Mayor Petion was the hero of the day — *' Petion or
death ! " being the popular watchword. All battalions of
the National Guard showing signs of attachment to Con-
stitutionalism instantly became objects of popular resent-
ment. The hatred of the Constitutionalists was daily
growing. At length the popular party obtained the dis-
bandment of the companies of Grenadiers and Chas-
seurs, the main support of the official middle class in
the National Guard, together with the closing of the
Feuillants' Club, the rendezvous of the Constitutionalist

Events further helped the popular cause. On the 25th
of July, the Duke of Brunswick p^ublished his manifesto
in the name of the Emperor and the King of Prussia,
in which he declared that the allied sovereigns had taken
up arms to put an end to anarchy in France; threaten-
ing all the towns which dared to resist with total destruc-
tion, the members of the Assembly itself with the rigors
of martial law, etc. The active coalition which was at
this time confined to Prussia, Austria, the German
princedoms, and the principality of Turin, had formed
the plan of marching concentrically upon Paris from



three different points, the Moselle, the Rhine, and the

It was on the day of the movement of the Rhenish
division from Coblentz, under the command of the Duke
of Brunswick, that this famous manifesto was issued.
The following day, July 26th, a contingent of six hun-
dred Marseillais, sent for by the Girondist Barbaroux,
who was a native of Marseilles, entered Paris, ostensibly
on their way to the camp at Soissons, a contingent ren-
dered immortal by the hymn they sang as they marched
along; the well-known strains:

" Allons, enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrive,"

having been heard for the first time in the streets of
Paris on that occasion. The advent of the Marseillais,
though it did not, as was anticipated, result in an im-
mediate outbreak, did, nevertheless, stir Paris to its foun-
dations. The sections, or wards, into which the city was
divided, became daily more importunate in demanding
the dethronement of the King. A petition to this effect
was drawn up by the municipality and the sections, and
presented to the Assembly by Petion on the 3rd of
August. The impeachment of Lafayette was next de-
manded on the 8th, but after a warm discussion was re-
jected by a considerable majority. This acquittal of
Lafayette, now regarded by the people as the personifi-
cation of treachery and reaction, destroyed the last vestige
of popular confidence in the Assembly. The following
day one of the sections sent to notify the legislature that
if the decree of dethronement were not voted before
nightfall the tocsin (or alarm bell) should be sounded,
the generate (or rallying drum) beaten, and open insur-
rection proclaimed, a determination which was trans-
mitted to the forty-eight sections of the city, and ap-
proved with only one dissentient. It was not voted, and


the same evening the Jacobins proceeded in a body to the
Faubourg St. Antoine, and there organized the attack
on the Tuileries, which it was decided should take place
the next day.

Measures pregnant with import for the future course
of the Revolution were determined at this meeting;
among others the dismissal of the Girondist mayor,
Petion, who had already begun to inspire deep distrust,
the annulment of the Departmental Assemblies, and re-
placement of the old municipal council by a Revolutionary

At midnight the tocsin pealed, the generale beat, the
sections assembled, and the newly nominated Commune
took possession of the Hotel de Ville. On the other side
the " loyal " battalions of the National Guard were
marched to the palace, which was now filled with hired
Swiss Guards and Chevaliers de Cour, and the Assembly
hastily called together. On hearing that Petion was de-
tained at the Tuileries the moribund legislature at once
ordered his release and restored him to his functions.
But he no sooner entered the Hotel de Ville than he was
placed under a guard of three hundred men by order of
the new Commune. Poor Petion ! between two fires !
The Commune then sent for the commander of the Na-
tional Guard, Mandat, who was at the Tuileries with the
royal battalions aforesaid. Mandat, not knowing of the
creation of the new Commune, incautiously obeyed the
summons, but turned pale on discovering new faces where
he had expected to find the old municipal councillors.
He was accused of having authorized the troops to defend
the palace against the sovereign people, was ordered to
the prison of the Abbaye, but was assassinated on the
steps of the Hotel de Ville as he was being conveyed
thither. Santerre was then nominated commander-in-
chief in his stead.

Meanwhile not a few " Nationals '' at the palace, in
spite of their loyalty to the " Constitution," winced at


finding themselves in the same galley with aristocrat
adventurers — avowed enemies of the Revolution in any
form or shape — and with mercenary foreign soldiers.
Their leader gone, a division broke out, as Louis found
when he came to review them, for while the cry, " Vive
le roi ! " was responded to by some, " Vive la nation ! "
was responded to by more. But what was most ominous
was the arrival of two fresh battalions armed with pikes
as well as guns, who after jeeringly greeting the King
with shouts of " Vive la nation ! " ** Down with the
veto ! " " Down with the traitor ! " took up a position at
the Pont Royal and pointed their cannon straight at the
palace. It was evident the loyalty of these battalions
was more than a doubtful quantity. It was now early
morning, and the insurgents were advancing in columns
of various strength from different points. The Procura-
tor-Syndic, Roederer, met them as they were converging
upon the palace, and suggested their sending a deputa-
tion to the King. This was peremptorily refused. He
then addressed himself to the National Guard, reading
out the articles which enjoined them to suppress revolt.
But the response was so feeble that the procurator fled
in all haste back to the Tuileries to urge the royal family
to leave its quarters and place itself in the midst of the
Assembly, out of harm's reach. Marie Antoinette re-
jected the advice in right melo-dramatic style, talked
very " tall " about being " nailed to the walls of the pal-
ace," and presented a pistol to Louis with the words,
" Now, sire, is the moment to show your courage." The
procurator evidently thought mock heroics ill-timed, and
sternly remonstrated. Louis himself seemed to share
this opinion, or at least was not prepared to " show "
his " courage " just then, and moved to go to the Assem-
bly. Marie Antoinette followed with the royal youth,
and thus what bid fair to be a dramatic " situation '"
came to an ignominious ending.

Meanwhile the insurgents surrounded the palace, the


defense of which was left to the Swiss Guard, who,
though they fought with a valor worthy of a better cause,
were ultimately overwhelmed by numbers and extermi-
nated. The palace taken, shouts of victory resounded
from far and near. The Assembly trembled, expecting
every minute the hall to be forced. In vain it issued a
proclamation conjuring the people to respect magistrates,
law and justice. At length the new Commune presented
itself, claiming the recognition of its powers, the de-
thronement of the King, and the convocation of a Na-
tional Convention by universal suffrage. Deputation after
deputation followed with the same prayer, or rather with
the same peremptory order. The Assembly, overawed,
on the motion of the Girondist Vergniaud, passed a reso-
lution in pursuance of the demands; that is, suspending
the King, dismissing the Constitutionalist Ministers, and
ordering the convocation of a National Convention.

The person of Louis, after remaining three days in
charge of the Assembly, was handed over to the Com-
mune, by whose order he was conveyed as a State pris-
oner to the Temple. Thus ended the loth of August,
1792. The critical struggle is henceforth not, as hereto-
fore, between the middle class and the nobles or the King,
but between the middle class and the proletariat.



With the loth of August and the overthrow of the
Monarchy, the first part of the French Revolution may
be considered as complete. The middle-class insurrection
proper had done its work. The importance of that work
from certain points of view can hardly be over-rated. In
a word, it had abolished, not, indeed, feudalism in its true
sense — for that had long since ceased to exist — but
the corrupt remains of feudalism and the monarchical
despotism it left behind it. The beginning of '89 found
France cut up into provinces, each in many respects an
independent State, possessing separate customs, separate
laws, and in some cases a separate jurisdiction. The end
of '89 even, and still more, '92, found it, for good or evil,
a united nationality. The power of the clergy and
noblesse was completely broken. Judicial torture and
breaking on the wheel were absolutely done away with.
Madame Roland has described the dying cries of the vic-
tims of " justice," who, after having been mangled by
the latter hideous engine, were left exposed on the mar-
ket-place, " so long as it shall please God to prolong their
lives." All this, then, was abolished, and in addition the
" goods " of the clergy and of the " emigrant " nobility
were declared confiscated. The interesting point as yet
unsolved was, who should get this precious heritage, the
" nationalized " lands, houses, and moveable possessions
of the recalcitrant first and second estates? To avoid
interrupting the narrative, we shall devote a chapter to
the elucidation of this point later on.



We come now to what we may term the great tidal
wave of the Revolution. For the time being it swept all
before it, but it receded as quickly as it came. The period
of the ascendancy of the proletariat lasted from the lotli
of August, 1792, to the 27th of July, 1794, thus in all
nearly two years. The political revolution suddenly be-
came transformed into a revolution one of whose objects
at least was greater social and economical, as distin-
guished from political, equality, and as suddenly ceased
to be so. The course of the progress and retrogression
of this movement we shall trace in the following chapters.

The new revolutionary municipality, or Commune of
Paris, was now for the time being the most powerful
executive body in all France. It dictated the action even
of the Assembly. The establishment of an extraordinary
tribunal had been proposed. The Assembly hesitated to
agree to it, whereupon it received a message from the
Commune that if such a tribunal were not forthwith con-
stituted, an insurrection should be organized the follow-
ing night which should overwhelm the elect of France.
The Assembly yielded under the pressure, and a Court
was formed which condemned a few persons, but was
soon after abolished by the Commune as inadequate. At
the head of the latter body were Marat, Panis, Collot-
d'Herbois, Billaud-Varennes, Tallien, etc., but the most
prominent man of all was for the moment Danton, who
was untiring in organizing the '* sections " (as the dif-
ferent wards of the city were called), and who, from hav-
ing been the chief agent in the events of the loth, had
acquired almost the position of dictator.

Meanwhile the invading army of the Prussians had
crossed the frontier, while the French frontier troops at
Sedan, deserted by Lafayette, were disorganized, and
without a commander. On the 24th of August, the cita-
del of Longwy capitulated, and by the 30th the enemy
were bombarding the town of Verdun. In a few days
the road to Paris would lie open before them. Consterna-


tion prevailed in the capital at the news. In a conference
between the Ministry and the recently formed Commit-
tee of General Defense, Danton boldly urged, as against
a policy of waiting or of open attack, that one of terror-
ism should be adopted, to first intimidate the reactionary
population of the city, and through them that of the
whole country. " The loth of August," said he, " has
divided France into two parties. The latter, which it is
useless to dissemble constitutes the minority in the State,
is the only one on which you can depend when it comes
to the combat." The timid and irresolute Ministry hesi-
tated ; Danton betook himself to the Commune. His pro-
ject was accepted. The minority had indeed to fight the
majority. Domiciliary visits were made during the night,
and so large a number of suspected persons arrested, that
the prisons were filled to overflowing. A vast number of
citizens were enrolled on the Champ de Mars, and dis-
patched to the frontier on the ist of September. About
two o'clock the next day, Sunday, the great bell or tocsin
was sounded, the call-drum or generale was beaten along
the thoroughfares, the famous September massacres were
at hand. Danton, in presenting himself before the As-
sembly to detail the measures that had been taken (with-
out its consent) for the safety of the country, gave ut-
terance to his celebrated mot: — "II faut de I'aiidace, de
Vaiidace, et ton jours de Vaudace'* (we must have bold-
ness, boldness, and always boldness).

The previous night all the gates of the city had been
closed by order of the municipality, so that none could
leave or enter ; to the clanging of the tocsin and the roll
of the generale, was now added the firing of alarm can-
non. Herewith began the summary executions, as they
would have have been called had they been done in the
interests of " established order " by men in uniform, or
massacres, as they have been termed since they were ef-
fected in the interests of revolution by men in bonnet
rouge and Carmagnole costume. The matter originated


with the destruction of thirty priests who were being con-
ducted to the Abbaye. The prisons, about seven in num-
ber, were then visited in succession by a band of some
three hundred men. Entrance was demanded by an im-
provised court, which, once inside, with the prison-reg-
isters open before them, began to adjudicate. The pris-
oners were severally called by name, their cases decided
in a few minutes, after which they were successively re-
moved nominally to another prison, or to be released. No
sooner, however, had they reached the outer gate than
they were met by a forest of pikes and sabres. Those
that were deemed innocent of treasonable practices, and
were "enlarged" with the cry of ''Vive la nation!"
(Long live the nation!), were received with embracings
and acclamation, but woe betide those who were con-
ducted to the entrance in silence. Upon them the pikes
and sabres at once fell, in some cases veritably hewing
them in pieces. The Princesse de Lamballe, the friend
and maid-of-honor to Marie Antoinette, had just gone
to bed when the crowd arrived at the Abbaye where she
was imprisoned. On being informed she was about to
be removed, she wanted to arrange her dress, she said ;
at which the bystanders hinted that from the distance she
would have to go, it was scarcely worth while to waste
much time on the toilette. Arrived at the gate, her head
was struck off, and her body stripped and disembowelled.
A Sansculotte subsequently boasted of having cooked
and eaten one of the breasts of the princess. Carlyle
goes into an ecstatic frenzy over Mdlle. de Lamballe.
** She was beautiful, she was good," he exclaims (vol.
iii., chap 4), in a style suggestive of an Irish wake. " Oh !
worthy of worship, thou king-descended, god-de-
scended," etc. He pathetically talks about her ** fair
hind-head," meaning to imply, I suppose, that she had a
long, thin neck. But inasmuch as there is no physiolog-
ical reason for supposing that a long, thin neck involves
greater suffering to the possessor in the process of de-


capitation than a short, thick one, the point of the re-
mark is not obvious. Be this as it may, the princess's
head, with others, was paraded on a pike through the
streets and under the windows of the " Temple," where
the queen was confined. These summary executions or
massacres (according as we choose to call them) outside
the prisons, continued at intervals from the Sunday after-
noon to the Thursday evening. Probably about 1,200
persons in all perished. All contemporary writers agree
in depicting the graphic horror of the scene as the blood-
stained crowd swept along the streets from prison to

There is no doubt that the principal actors in these
events were either under the orders, or were at least in
communication with the Commune, but the precise nature
of the connection has not been, and possibly now never
will be, known. That those concerned were no mere
wanton or mercenary ruffians, but fanatics, possessed by
a frenzy of despair, is amply proved by several incidents
which are admitted even by Royalist writers. Their en-
thusiasm at the discovery of a " patriot " in one whom
they believed to have been a " plotter," as is the case of
M. de Sombreuil, and their refusal of money from such,
their evident desire to avoid by any accident the death of
an innocent person, show the executioners to have been,
at least, genuinely disinterested. There has never in all
history been more excuse for the shedding of blood than
there was in Paris, at the beginning of September, 1792.
Foreign troops were marching on the capital to destroy
the Revolution, and all favorable to it. The city itself
was honeycombed with Royalist plotters, who almost
openly expressed their joy at the prospect of an approach-
ing restoration, and the extermination of the popular
leaders. The so-called massacres were strictly a measure
of self-defence, and as such were justified by the result,
which was, in a word, to strike terror into the reaction,
and to stimulate the Revolution throughout France ; and


yet there are bourgeois who pretend to view this strictly
defensive act of a populace driven to desperation, with
shuddering horror, while regarding as " necessary," or
at most mildly disapproving the wanton and cold-blooded
massacres of the Versailles soldiers after the Commune
of 1 87 1. Such, verily, is class blindness! As in all great
crises in history, so in the French Revolution, an active
minority had to fight and terrorize the stolid mass of
reaction and indifference which, alas! is always in the



While these events were going on in Paris, Dumouriez,
the successor of Lafayette as commander-in-chief of the
French army, was in the east organizing the resistance to
the invasion. Verdun was taken by the Prussians almost
without resistance. But the new commander, who, what-
ever else he may have been, was a man of military genius,
saw at a glance the strategical situation, and, in opposi-
tion to the council of war, decided to lose no time in oc-
cupying the passes of the mountainous district of the
Argonne. He circumvented the enemy by forced
marches, and they soon found the road to Paris barred
by precipitous rocks and well-guarded passes. The Prus-
sians, notwithstanding, forced one of the more feebly
defended of the positions, and were on the point of sur-

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Online LibraryErnest Belfort BaxThe story of the French revolution → online text (page 4 of 10)