H. N. (Horatio Newton) Moore.

The reign of terror historically and biographically treated online

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and so ingeniously disposed that she could not look on
the mirror without beholding herself crowned. Inde-
pendently of these prodigalities, she gave at play
drafts for large sums at sight, which the court-banker
paid with greater exactitude than the governmental
expenses. To meet the exigencies of her husband and
brother-in-law, she drew more than eighteen millions
from the treasury, and squandered the public funds as
her desires or caprices prompted.* Her extravagance
continued until the death of the king in 1774, when
the unfortunate Louis XVI. ascended the throne.

Ever since the days of Louis XIV., the nobility and
gentry had been in the habit of running into scanda-
lous and enormous expenses, which, instead of pay-
ing, they availed themselves of their influence at court
to be exempted from satisfying the claims of their
creditors, whom they found various means of haras-
sing, tormenting or evading. Every petty privilege

* The Queens and Royal Favorites, by Mrs. Bush.


was kept up with an invidious industry. All places
of honor or profit in church and state, were occupied,
as were also those in the navy and army, by the no-
bility ; and the roturier, as he was called by way of
contempt, learned from infancy to hate a race of men
who seemed born only to humiliate and oppress the
simple citizen. Under the most familiar and affable
outward show that the nobleman might choose to ex-
hibit towards individuals of the third-estate, there was
invariably something to remind the latter of their re-
lative situation and his nobility. Such was the case
in the common affairs of society, and in case of any
injury received, redress was out of the reach of the
roturier ; for if he appealed to the king in council, he
had ten chances to one against him, decision being
generally in favor of the nobleman. So strong wasr
the prejudice of rank against the common order of
people, that, however wealthy families of the latter
might be, they were strictly kept out of the circles
of the court and aristocracy. Glaring were the ex-
penses and luxury of the court, where the prodigality
of Louis XIV. was equalled, but not imitated. " The
fourteenth Louis was great even in his follies ; he wac
an encourager of merit and talent of every descrip
tion, and, by a kind of theatrical manceuvre, rendere(?
his court the envy and admiration of all Europe. The
palace of Versailles was the grandest in Europe, itr..
gardens the most magnificent ; the flatterers who sur
rounded him compared his age with that of Augustus..
and in so doing pleased the vanity of the nation a^
much as they pleased the king. But the court of Ver
sailles, in its latter days, paid not the slightest regard
for public opinion ; it had all the cost, but none of the
glory that marked the reign of the Grand Monarque :
it rioted, revelled, and the people were taxed to sup
port its improvidence as formerly. Overburthen^.d
with these taxes, the people, throughout the reign of
Louis XV., had repeatedly called for amelioration, hnt
their remonstrances were unheeded by the court,
which felt no inclination to retrench or economize '



nor were the many abuses of the laws, of which loud
complaints rose from the suffering people, reformed in
the slightest. The expenses of the government con-
tinued to increase, and the burthen upon the people
increased in proportion.

Besides, the immense revenues of the church,
amounting to near twenty-five millions sterling, were
for the greater part disbursed in paying the high cler-
gy, who were enormously rich, or to maintain indolent
and luxurious monks ; and a very small proportion
applied to the payment of the poor and virtuous
curates, who did all the hard duties of the church,
though they received so few of its good things. Many
of the high clergy entered into all the fashionable vices
of the age, one of which was to turn religion itself
into ridicule ; at the same time they neglected most
of those moral duties which are imposed upon every
member of society, but more particularly on men
whose care it ought to be to instruct and improve
others by precept and example. Their selfishness in
matters of interest was but ill calculated to conciliate
the minds of their fellow citizens, who considered that
if men in a state of celibacy required so much money,
and were so tenacious of its possession, those who
had families to maintain, and were obliged to pay
them, were in but a pitiable state.

These abuses, arising out of the disproportioned pri-
vileges of the nobility and clergy, who were exempted
from contributing to the necessities of the state ; the un-
equal mode of levying the taxes ; and, above all, the total
absorption of every right and authority in the person of
the sovereign ; the danger to personal freedom from the
tyranny of a lettre de cachet — these were too gross in
their nature, and too destructive in their consequences,
to have escaped deep thought on the part of reflecting
persons, and hatred and dislike from those who suf^
fered more or less under the practical evils. The de-
spotic power of the lettre-de-cachet, (a private letter,
or mandate issued under the royal signet for the ap-
prehension of individuals obnoxious to the Court,)


which gave the monarch the right of banishing or im-
prisoning his subjects at his wiJJ, and which had been
basely used in many instances, was one of the abuses
of thie royal authority against which popular indigna-
tion particularly expressed itself

Thus, by those general causes which had been in-
creasing in force for so many centuries, the minds of
men were prepared for a new order of things; and
certainly our surprise at its violence and rapidity will
be very considerably diminished, when we find so
many causes operating in one direction, and that di-
rection under the idea of procuring happiness and
liberty. *

The aristocratic pride of the nobility was especially
galling to the self-love of the commoners, who, im-
mensely rich from commerce or banking, had all the
means of luxury, pomp and display, that the others
had, but found themselves still considered not upon an
equality. The social tyranny of the noblesse, the old
privileges that they maintained, was hateful to the new
wealth — and to the new knowledge which the learned
men of France had disseminated so generally through-
out the middle classes. Every thing indicated the ap-
proach of no common revolution ; of a revolution
destined to change, not merely the form of the govern-
ment, but the distribution of property and the Whole
social system; of a revolution, the effects of which
were to be felt at every fireside in France. In the
foremost of the Revolution were the moneyed men,
and the men of letters — the wounded pride of wealth,
and the wounded pride of intellect. An immense mul-
titude, made ignorant and cruel by oppression, was
raging in the rear. The success of republicanism in
America, too, encouraged the spirit of revolution in
France, and carried to the height the enthusiasm of
speculative democrats, f

At the accession of the sixteenth Louis, France was
beyond example wretched in the condition of her

* Pfeyfair, t Macaday.


finances, the evil having grown out of the luxury and
improvidence of the two preceding monarchs. The
revenue of the government amounted to twenty mil-
lions sterling (i?f90,000,000 in round numbers ;) but the
expenditure exceeded the revenue about two millions
and a half; (-$11,000,000.) Loans of money were ef-
fected, every new one attended with inconveniences;
and nothing is more self-evident than that an accumu-
lation of inconveniences must finish with destroying the
system in which it arises — ^just as the man who has con-
tinual recourse to mortgaging his property, must finish
in the end by ruining himself, however great his resources
may have originally been. Ameliorations now became
indispensable, were loudly demanded, and Louis XVI.,
who was a man of pure manners and inexpensive
habits, felt the public necessities, and made it his glory
to satisfy them. But it was as difficult to operate
good as to continue evil. He had just views and an
amiable disposition, but was without decision of cha-
racter, and had no perseverance in his measures. His
projects of amelioration encountered obstacles from
his courtiers which he had not foreseen, and which he
could not v^anquish.* His reign, up to the period of
the States-General, was a long tissue of improvements,
which produced no result. Turgot, Malesherbes,
Neclier, Calonne and Brienne were successively chosen
prime minister ; each failed in relieving the country of
embarrassments, and it was finally evident that the
States-General had become the only means of govern-
ment, and the last resource of the throne. Accordingly
the 5th of May, 1789, was appointed for the opening
of the States-General, at the palace of Versailles, in a
hall called the Menus Plaisirs, where the dresses be-

* " Besides the domestic and household expenses of the sovereign,
which, so far as personal, were on the most moderate scale, the pub-
lic mind was much more justly revolted at the large sum yearly
squandered among the needy coiirtiens an^ dependents. The king
had endeavoured to abridge this list of gratuities and pensions, but
the system of corruption, which had prevailed for two centuries, waa
not to be abolished in an instant." — Scott's Napoleon.


longing to the opera and the theatre of the palace had
formerly been kept. On that day an immense multi-
tude from all parts resorted to Versailles ; the occasion
was magnificent, the pomp of decoration, the chant-
ings of music, the benevolent and satisfied air of the
King, the beauty and noble deportment of the Queen,
and, above all, the common expectations, inspired
and animated all minds. Of the commons, or tiers-
etat, there were 661 deputies ; nobles 285 ; clergy 308 ;
total 1254. The clergy and the nobility, at the very
outset, refused to act in concert with the commons.

After the first day, which was rather a day of cere-
mony than business, the deputies of the nobles, and of
the dergy, retired to two adjoining halls of a smaller
size, which were prepared for them ; the deputies of
the third-estate, being the most numerous, remaining in
the large hall, or hall of general assembly. This hall
was capable of containing two thousand persons, so
that there was room for the curious of all descriptions
to witness their debates ; and a crowd of all ranks
came every day from Paris to witness what passed,
returning with the tidings to the capital ; consequently
the debates and reasonings of the third-estate, so pop-
ular from the cause they tended to support, were wide-
ly spread abroad, and repeated and discussed with
eagerness and enthusiasm by the whole Parisian pop-
ulation. The reasonings of the nobility and clergy,
less popular from their nature, but not less eloquent,
were little known, and inspired no interest.

Five weeks passed in useless debates concerning
the form in which the estates should vote; during
which period the tiers-etat showed, by their boldness
and decision, that they knew the advantage which
they held, and were sensible that the other bodies, if
they meant to retain the influence of their situation in
any shape, must unite with them ; and this came to pass
accordingly. The tiers-etat were joined by the whole
body of the inferior clergy, and by a few of the nobles,
and on the 17th of June J 789, proceeded to constitute
themselves the legislative body, exclusively competent



in itself to the entire province of legislation ; and re-
nouncing the name of the Third-Estate, which remind-
ed men that they were only one out of three bodies,
they adopted, by a majority of 491 to 90, that of the
National Assembly, and avowed themselves the sole
representatives of the people of France.

This bold measure alarmed the Court; the aristocracy
immediately threw themselves at the feet of the king,
imploring him to repress the audacity of the tiers-etat,
and to support their rights, which were attacked. They
now proposed to do without the States-General, and so-
licited him to dissolve them, promising to assent to all the
taxes. Louis surrounded by the princes and the queen,
was hurried off to Marly, (a royal residence some dis-
tance from Versailles,) where they endeavoured to ex
tort from him some rigorous measure against the ef-
frontery, as they considered it, of the tiers-etat. Neck-
er who had been recalled to the post of minister, at-
tached to the popular cause, confined himself to useless
remonstrances, the purport of which the king saw the
justice of when his mind was left free, but the effect of
which the Court soon took care to supplant in his mind.
Necker, so soon as he saw the necessity for the inter-
ference of the royal authority, formed a plan, which
was that the monarch, in a royal sitting, should com-
mand the union of the orders, but only for measures
of general interest ; that he should assume to himself
the sanction of all resolutions adopted by the States-
General ; that he should condemn beforehand every
institution hostile to moderate monarchy, such as that
of a single assembly ; lastly, that he should promise
the abolition of privileges, the equal admission of all
Frenchmen to civil military appointments, &c.

The council had followed the king to Marly. There,
Necker's plan, at first approved, was subjected to dis-
cussion. The council was suspended, resumed, and
adjourned till the following day, in spite of the neces-
sity that existed for immediate despatch. On the next
day, fresh members were added to the council ; the
brothers of the king were of the number. Necker's


plan was modified; he resisted, made some conces-
sions, but finding himself vanquished, returned to Ver-
sailles. A page came three times, bringing him notes
containing new modifications ; his plan was wholly-
disfigured, and the royal sitting was fixed for the 22d
of June.

It was as yet but the 20th ; and already the hall of the
states was shut up, under the pretex't that preparations
were requisite for the presence of the king. These pre-
parations might have been made in half a day; but the
higher order of the clergy had deliberated the day be-
fore upon joining the commons, and the court desired
to frustrate this junction. An order of the king had
been given, adjourning the sittings till the 22d, and, on
the morning of the 20th, heralds, with trumpets, pro-
claimed through the streets of Versailles that there
was to be a royal sitting on the 22d, and no meeting
of the States-General till then. A letter to this purport
was also sent to M. Bailli, (President of the Assembly,)
by the Marquis de Breze, master of ceremonies. But
the members determined not to be thus thwarted by
the court, and called upon the president to meet. M.
Bailli, conceiving himself bound to obey the resolu-
tions of the body over which he presided, and which,
on Friday, the 19th, had adjourned to the next day,
repaired to the door of the hall. It was surrounded by
soldiers of the French guard, who had orders to re-
fuse admittance to every one, and inside the carpen-
ters were at work. The deputies collected tumultu-
ously ; they persisted in assembling ;* some proposed
to hold a meeting under the very windows of the king,
others proposed the Tennis-court. To the latter they
instantly repaired. It was spacious, but the walls

* " The deputies stand grouped on the Paris road, on this umbra-
geous Avenue de Versailles ; complaining aloud of the indignity
done them. Courtiers, it is supposed, look from their windows and
giggle. The morning is none of the comfortablest ; raw ; it is even
drizzling a little. But all travellers pause ; patriot gallery-men, mis-
cellaneous spectators, increase the groups. Wild counsels alter*
nate." — Carlyle.


dark and bare ; it had no roof, and was open to the
weather. An arm-chair was offered to the president,
who declined it, choosing rather to stand with the As-
sembly. A bench served for a desk. Two deputies
were stationed at the door as door-keepers. The
populace thronged round with enthusiasm. Complaints
were raised on all sides against the suspension of the
sittings, and various expedients were proposed to pre-
vent it in future. The agitation increased, and the
extreme parties began to work upon the imaginations
of the hearers. It was proposed by M. Mounier that
the deputies should bind themselves by an oath not to
separate until they had given a constitution to France.
This proposal was received with transport, and the
form of the oath was drawn up. M. Bailli first took
the oath, and then tendered it to the deputies. The
oath was this : " The National Assembly, considering
that they have been convoked to establish the consti-
tution of the kingdom, to regenerate the public order,
and fix the true principles of the monarchy ; that no-
thing can prevent them from continuing their deliber-
ations, and completing the important work committed
to their charge ; and that, wherever their members are
assembled, there is the National Assembly of France —
decree, that all the members now assembled shall in-
stantly take an oath never to separate, and, if dis-
persed, to reassemble wherever they can, until the
constitution of the kingdom and the regeneration of
the public order are established on a solid basis ; and
that this oath, taken by all and each singly, shall be
confirmed by the signature of every member, in token
of their unshakable resolution." This form pronounced
in a loud and intelligible voice, was heard by the great
crowd of spectators who thronged around and over-
hung the scene, looking down from a " wooden pent-
house or roofed spectators' gallery, from wall-top,
from adjoining roof and chimney."* The substance

* " A naked Tennis-court, as the pictures of that time still give
it ; — on the floor not now an idle teeheeing, a snapping of balls and
rackets ; but the bellowing din of an indignant national representa-
tion, scandalously exiled hither !" — Carlyle.


of the oath was repeated from one to another through-
out the concourse, and when the deputies, with all
their hands simultaneously outstretched towards their
president, solemnly took the oath, applausive shouts
rose in the air from all voices. The deputies then
proceeded to sign the declaration which they had just
made. Such was the celebrated oath of the Tennis-

The advisers of the King wished to thwart the pro-
ceedings of the Assembly, and having tried in vain to
prevent the formation of it, they had now no course
to take but, by associating with it, to endeavor to di-
rect its labors. Failing in this, also, they persuaded
the monarch that the security of his throne, required
that he should reduce the Assembly to submission;
that it was necessary, for this purpose, to call in, with-
out delay, the troops to intimidate the Assembly, and
keep down the populace of Versailles and Paris.

While these plots were being contrived by the court,
the deputies were beginning their legislative labors,
and preparing the constitution so impatiently expected
by the people throughout France. Addresses to them
poured in from Paris and the principal towns of the
kingdom, congratulating them upon their wisdom, and
encouraging them to pursue the work of regenerating
the nation. In the meantime, the troops arrived in
great numbers ; Versailles presented the appearance
of a camp ; the hall of the estates was environed with
guards, and entrance prohibited to the citizens ; Paris
was surrounded by different bodies of the army, who
seemed posted there to be ready; as occasion might
require, for a siege or a blockade. These immense
military preparations, trains of artillery arriving from
the frontiers, the presence of foreign regiments — every
thing announced some sinister project. The people
were agitated ; the Assembly rushed to inform the
throne, and demand from it the removal of the troops.
Upon the proposition of Mirabeau, an address, res-
pectful and firm, was tendered to the king, but it was
unavailing. Louis XVI. declared that the assemblage


of troops was for no other purpose than the mainte-
nance of public tranquillity, and the protection due to
the National Assembly. He offered, moreover, to
transfer the Assembly to Noyon or Soissons, and that
he would himself repair to Compeigne. With such
an answer the Assembly could not be satisfied, and
especially with the proposal to withdraw from the
capital and to place itself between two camps. The
Count de Crillon proposed that they should ♦' trust to
the word of a king, who is an honest man."

" The word of a king, who is an honest man," re-
plied Mirabeau, " is a bad security for the conduct of
his ministers ; our blind confidence in our kings has
undone us ; we demand the withdrawal of the troops,
and not permission to flee before them. We must in-
sist again and again."

The 11th of July had now arrived. Necker, the
prime minister, while at dinner on that day, received
a note from the King, commanding him to quit the
realm immediately. The following day, July 12th, was
Sunday. A report was now circulated in Paris, that
Necker had been dismissed, and sent into exile. The
alarm spread rapidly. The people hurried to the Palais-
Royal, in the garden of which place they were in the
habit of congregating. This building, (built by Car-
dinal Richelieu,) which was owned by the Duke of
Orleans, and the garden attached to it, had been con-
verted into one large elegant hollow square. The
duke's residence occupied only one end, the remainder
being filled with shops, taverns, hotels for lodging
strangers, gaming houses, &c. The great bulk of what
was let as lodgings was occupied by women of the
town. The middle still continued to be a garden, in
which were several small booksellers' shops, and some
cafes, under painted pavilions. Around the whole
building, looking towards the garden, runs a piazza
of very elegant architecture, convenient in rainy wea-
ther as a promenade. During the whole of the Revo-
lution, this place was the theatre of as great, and
sometimes greater importance, than the National As-


sembly. It was from this garden that messengers
were sent every two or three hours on important oc-
casions, to communicate between Paris and the As-
sembly. It was always filled by a multitude, which
seemed permanent, and which was incessantly re-
newed. A table served as a rostrum, any citizen for
an orator ; there they harangued upon the dangers
of the country, and excited it to resistance.

This day, (Sunday the 12th,) the garden was filled
— the people were in great agitation. A young
man, (Camille Desmoulins, subsequently conspicuous
in the Revolution,) filled with republican enthusiasm,
mounted a table, held up a pair of pistols, and shouted
" To arms ! to arms !" Then, plucking a branch from
a tree, he placed it in his hat as a cockade, and ex-
horted the crowds to follow his example. " Citizens,"
he cried, *' there is not a moment to lose ; the removal
of Necker is a tocsin for a St. Bartholomew of patriots !
This evening all the Swiss and German battalions are
coming out of the Champ-de-Mars to slaughter us !
There remains for us only one resource ; let us rush
to arms !" This was approved, by the most deafening
acclamations, and the chesnut trees of the garden were
instantly stripped by ten thousand persons collected
upon the spot. From the garden they repaired in tu-
mult to a museum containing busts in wax. They
took the busts of Necker and the Duke of Orleans, for
it was reported he also was exiled; they covered them
with crape, and carried them in triumph, spreading
themselves into the various quarters of Paris, traver-
sing the streets of St. Martin, St. Denis, St. Honore,
and thickening at every step. They compelled all
whom they met to pull off their hats. The horse-
patrol was found in their route ; they took these for
an escort, and proceeded in this manner to the Place
Vendome, where they carried the two busts in proces-
sion round the statue of Louis XVI. A detachment
of the German Royals arrived, and attempted to dis-
perse the populace, but was put to flight by showers
of stones, and the multitude continued its course till

Online LibraryH. N. (Horatio Newton) MooreThe reign of terror historically and biographically treated → online text (page 2 of 24)