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tation. Of the seven hundred and fifty members, two
thirds were of the bourgeois class, honest and industrious
citizens in sympathy with the movement which had de-
posed the King. Strictly speaking, they were not Giron-
dists and much' less the followers of Marat and his teach-
ings. From the former, they naturally held aloof, owing
to their intellectual inferiority, and from the latter from
feelings of horror, aroused through a knowledge of their
complicity in the September assassinations. All, however,
believed themselves unanimously in favor of a republican
form of government and in the eternal abolition of royalty.
These Deputies formed the Centre of the convention, the
Girondists occupying the Right, and the Extremists, to the
number of about one hundred, mostly f 7' om Paris, com-
posed the Left, or the '^Mountain,'" so called on account
of their elevated seats. Vergniaud, Brissot, Guadet, Gen-
sonne, etc., were the leaders of the Girondists, Danton,
Robespierre and Marat, those of the Left. Politically, the
Girondists may be said to have had democratic opinions
of the Jeffersonian school. The following is the picture



of the two sides of tliis convention, as drawn by Garat, a
most critical observer of the events of the Kevolution.

*'0n the right of the convention, I saw both of these
characteristics — that sentiment which refuses to be guided
by any man^s opinion unless that man speaks in the
name of his country, and that greater republicanism,
which has discovered what are the springs of action in the
organization called society, and how the people composing
it, can be united in a great republic; how equality, and at
the same time submission to the magistrates will result in
order and happiness; a government whose power shall
always be absolute over individuals and over the multitude,
and always submissive to the Nation and executive power;
whose show and forms of useful splendor shall always
awaken ideas of the splendor of the Eepublic, and never
ideas of the greatness of the person.

" On the same side, I beheld seated the men best ac-
quainted with those doctrines of political economy, which
teach how to open and enlarge all the channels of private
and of national wealth; howto combine the public revenue
with the precise portions due it from the fortune of every
citizen; how to create new sources for the increase cf
private fortunes; how to foster and have unsliackled all
branches of industry, without favoring a7iy ; how to regard
those great properties, not as bottomless lakes which
absorb and retain all the waters poured into- their bosoms,
but as reservoirs, necessary f or multijDlying and nourishing
the germs ol universal fecundity. These were the Giron-

But in Garat's description of the Extremists, the fact
should not be concealed, that at the time the September
massacres still rankled in the minds of all honorable men.

" On turning my eyes from the right side to the left,
and raising them to the ^mountain,' what a contrast
struck me! There I sav/ a man agitating liimself Avith all


possible emotions, whose face, a copper-yellow hue, made
him look as if he had issued from the blood-stained caves
of cannibals, or from the scorching threshold of hell — a
man whom, by his conv,ulsive, abrupt and unequal gait,
3"ou recognized one of those murderers who had escaped
from the executioner but not from the furies, and who
seemed desirous of annihilating the human race, to spare
themselves the drerd which the sight of every man excites
in them. Under despotism, which he had not covered
Avith blood as he had liberty, this man had cherished the
ambition of producing a revolution in the sciences; and
he had attacked in systems more daring than ingenious,
the greatest discoveries of modern times and of the
human mind. His eyes, roving through the histories of
ages, had dwelt upon the lives of four or five great exter-
minators, who converted cities into deserts for the pur-
pose of repeopling those deserts with a race formed in
their own image or in that of tigers; this was all that
he had retained of the annals of nations; all that he knew
and cared to imitate. From an instinct resembling that
of ravenous beasts rather than from any deep vein of per-
versity, he had tried to see into how many follies and
crimes it is possible to lead an immense people, whose
religious and political chains have just been broken. This
is the idea which dictated all his writings, all his words,
all his actions.

" Beside him were seated men who could not themselves
have conceived of such atrocities as had been committed,
but who, being carried along with him, had reached a
height which made them dizzy, and although they aohorred
Marat they did not abhor making use of him. They
used him -to their own advantage; they put him in their van.
As the horror of this man was everywhere, so one fancied
he perceived him everywhere; one almost imagined that
he was the whole mountain, or that the v^-Iiolo incuntain


was he. Among the leaders, in fact, were several who
found no other fault with the misdeeds of Marat than that
they were too undisguised.

But among these leaders — and here nothing but truth
makes me differ in opinion from many worthy men —
among these leaders themselves were a great number of
persons who, connected with others by events much more
than by their sentiments, turned their eyes and their
regrets toward humanity and wisdom, who would have had
many virtues, and might have rendered many services at
the moment when they should have begun to be thought
capable of them. To the Mountain repaired, as to mili-
tary posts, those who had much passion for liberty and
little theory; those who supposed equality was threatened;
those who, elected in hamlets and in the workshops, could
not recognize a republican in any other costume than that
which they themselves wore; those who, entering for the
first time upon a public career, had to signalize that impet-
uosity and violence in which the glory of almost every great
revolutionist began; those who, still young and better
qualified to serve the Republic in the field than in its
legislative hall, having seen the Republic start into exist-
ence amid the crash of thunder, conceived it was with the
crash of thunder that it ought to maintain itself and pro-
mulgate its decrees. On this side, also, several of those
deputies sought an asylum rather than a seat, who, hav-
ing been reared in the proscribed castes of the nobility
and the priesthood, though always pure, were always lia-
ble to suspicion, and fled to the top of the mountain to
dispute the charge of not attaining the hight of prin-
ciples. Thither, also, repaired, to feed their suspicions
and to live among phantoms, those austere and melancholy
characters who, having too frequently seen falsehood
united with politeness, believe in virtue only when it is
gloomy, and in liberty when it is furious. There ranged


themselves some of those minds who had borrowed from
the exact sciences stiffness atthe same time rectitude; who,
prond of possessing knowledge immediately applicable to
the mechanical art, were glad to separate themselves, in
places as well as by their disdain, from those scholars, those
philosophers, whose acquirements are not so suddenly ben-
eficial to the weaver, or to the smith, and do not reach
individuals until they have enlightened society in general.
There, lastly, those who liked to vote, whatever might be
in other respects their sentiments and their talents ; who,
from the springs of their character being too tightly wound
up, were disposed to go beyond rather than to fall short
of the limit that it was necessary to set to revolutionary
energy and enthusiam.

''Such was the idea which I formed of the elements of
the two sides of the National Convention.

"■ Upon these dissimilar characters composing the two
antagonistic parties devolved the task of establishing a
government for the anxious people of France. Already
blood had been shed — shed without the form of law or
authority — and a large majority of the Convention now
demanded the punishment of these murderers and their

The Marats were in a hopeless minority, not only in
the Convention but in the country, and to successfully
compete with their antagonists it was necessary to create
public hostility against the majority.

The plan which suggested itself to the fertile brain of
Danton was to charge the Girondists with favoring the
American system of government for France. The very
suggestion of disturbing the unity of the country was
obnoxious to the mass of Frenchmen, they considering
''unity "one of the great achievements of the Eevolution;
to their understanding the advocacy of the federal system
was the advocacy of the dismemberment of France. M.


Michelet, M. Thiers, and other historians of the Eevolution,
deny that such a plan was ever earnestly contemplated by
the Grirondists. It is well established, however, that in
view of its beneficent application in the United States,
some of the far-seeing Girondists, understanding the
barriers the federative system would form against the
arrogance and assumption of the Paris Commune, hoped
for its establishment in France, but its advocacy was
impracticable and even dangerous, owing to the almost
universal sentiment prevailing against it. With the
experience of the Americans under this system freshly
before them, this short-sightedness of the French is quite
inexplainable. We can not see why the peaceful federa-
tion of the provinces of Normandy, Languedoc, Picardy,
Champagne, Burgundy and the thirty odd more provinces,
would have dismembered France any more than the
federation of the American colonies of the Carolinas,
Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and those of New
England could have prevented the establishment of the
indivisable North American Eepublic. Outwardly, the
American Eepublic is compactness itself. As such it has
withstood foreign wars and a great civil war. A central-
ized American Eepublic, possibly, might have proven a
more formidable antagonist,but it is easy of demonstration
that, if left to its own resources, without the support of
the moral and military power of the State unities, the
Eepublic must have been disrupted in the late Southern

Centralized France could oppose no legal barrier to the
spread of Jacobinism in the provinces. Her representa-
tives, through the tyrannical sway of the Commune of
Paris — which Danton called France — were so terrorized
that the eighty-two departments of France were bound
hand and foot and delivered to the despotism of mob rule
ere the country was aware of its chains.


There is no doubt but that the terrible calamities
which afflicted France immediately after the deposition of
the King could have been averted by the adoption of the
federative system.

The argument that, in many of the provinces, the
priests, through religious fanaticism, were fostering an
anti-republican sentiment, which agitation could only be
suppressed by a powerful centralized government, might
have been met by the statement that these very armed
peasants were at first among the most enthusiastic friends
of the revolution of 1789, and were represented by thou-
sands of their most influential citizens and agricultural
inhabitants of the provinces. Had the King been allowed
to peaceably leave the country when he made the attempt,
the refractory ecclesiastics would thus have been deprived
of their chief argument against the establishment of a
republic, federal or centralized.

Compare this religious schism in France to the slave-
holder's schism in the United States, where almost one-
third of all the States revolted against the Federal Union,
and it is plainly appearent that their argument against the
strength of the federative system has no foundation in



The day following the meeting of the Convention that
elected Petion its President, abolished royalty, and estab-
lished the Republic, Danton, wrth an air of self-abnega-
tion, resigned the Ministry of Justice. Self-preservation,
however, and the safety of his colleagues of the Mountain
were probabjy the motives for this step. The two decrees
that were immediately adopted by the Convention were,
first, that of permitting the selection of judges outside of
the legal profession, and, second, to extend the elective
franchise to all Frenchmen having attained the age of
twenty-one, and of good repute, to equality in the dis-
charge of all public functions. The popular rejoicings
over these decrees were, however, soon interrupted by the
struggle which was about to begin between the Mountain
and the Girondists.

On the 2oth of September, the Deputies Buzot and
Vergniaud prevailed upon the Convention to appoint a
special committee for the preparation of a law against the
instigators of disorder and murder, and for the organiza-
tion of a Departmental Guard.

This was a direct blow at the Paris Commune, and an
open threat to bring the instigators of the September
massacres to the bar of justice, and with the assistance of
a Departmental Guard, if necessary. The adoption of the
decree in its present form was paramount to a sentence of
death against Danton, Editor Marat, Robespierre, and their
accomplices of the Commune.

The struggle against its passage was, therefore, one of

, " ■ 230


desperation, and almost the entire Convention became
involved in its discussion.

In the evening the question being first brought
before the Jacobin Club, the measure was denounced in
unmeasured terms, and the Girondist representatives
branded as traitors and disunionists. On the 2Gth of Sep-
tember Deputy Lasource informed the Convention that
two-thirds of its members had been denounced as enemies
of the Ee|)ublic.

" I fear," he continued, ''the despotism of Paris. I
know of men who on the day of the September massacre des-
ignated eight representatives, who were to share the fate
of those who were assassinated.'^ The Convention became
agitated, whereupon, one of the members, named Robes-
pierre as the chief instigator of the cabal. He was fol-
lowed by Buzot and Barbaroux, who charged Robespierre
with aspiring to the dictatorship of France. Cambon said
handbills had been circulated in which the establishment
of a triumvirate, composed of Robespierre, Danton and
Marat, had been recommended. Vergniaud said a circu-
lar had been sent by the Paris Commune to the country
Communes recommending the co^icew^ra^f^'ow and relinquish-
ment of all governmental poioers to the Paris muni cip alii y
around which the Gommujies of France were expected to
rally. Another member read an extract from one of
Marat's editorials, in which he had said: "Expect noth-
ing more of this Convention; you are betrayed ! Fifty
years of royalty is your future ! Nothing can save you but
a dictator, a patriot, a statesman" (meaning Robespierre).

The issue between the Commune and the Convention
was thus fairly raised. It was to be either a cowardly
surrender by the latter of all its hopes for France to a self-
constituted, arrogant faction at the capital, or the asser-
tion of its sovereignty by taking measures to suppress the
rampant anarchism of the Commune.


The Convention seemed determined to assert its
authority. In order to proceed, however, in a legal man-
ner, a request to the Minister of the Interior was decreed,
asking him to inform the Convention of the obstacles, if
any existed at the capital, to the enforcement of the laws,
and to suggest such remedies as he deemed necessary.

In his reply, submitted on the 29th, Minister Roland
said: ,

"The fall of royalty on the 10th of August brought
into existence a new order of things. A temporary organ-
ization of the municipal powers of Paris was established.
This Commune was necessary, and though it has its uses,
it also has its defects. These should be remedied. At
the time of its creation a foreign invasion was threatening
the country. Indignation and consternation prevailed,
and this state of feeling was seized upon by the unstable
and dissatisfied to foment trouble. The Commune
created by the Revolution, sustained by its most turbulent
spirits, executed the laws or prevented their execution at
its supreme will and pleasure. The Commune had for-
gotten that all revolutionary power should be temporary,
and that submission to the legally constituted authorities
is the only safeguard to true liberty." After citing
numerous exam^ples of arbitrary seizures of property,
arrests, and the summary execution of individuals, Min-
ister Roland continued:

"The idea of the people^s sovereignty, misapplied, has
the effect of familiarizing a small part of the people with
insurrectionary habits. The view, that insurrection is a
sacred duty against oppression, is abandoned, and rev-olt
against true liberty is sanctified. This spirit of revolt,
nursed by fault-finders, strengthened by the calumnies of
unprincipled demagogues, is permeating society in every
form. It has entered the sections of the Communes, and
established a tyranny which has suppressed the free



expression of sound sense; has supplanted argument with
noise; as a consequence, the weak and timid are driven to
the seclusion of their homes. To those remaining, might
seems right; passion, energy, and savage ferocity, the
expression of the popular will.

''The relations between the Commune and the conven-
tion having been confounded, the Commune has lost sight
of its limits. In giving you the detailed facts of their
arbitrary power, I have indicated to you its causes. They
are, perhaps, the necessary consequences of a great move-
ment, and a terrible Eevolution with its disorganizing ten-
dencies, developing both noble sentiments and atrocious

" The weakness of the Legislative Assembly, just pre-
ceding you, the delay on the part of this Convention to
adopt rigorous measures, are the primal and salient causes
of this communal assumption of power, which will be i^er-
petuated with the same impunity that the provocation to
murder is now enjoying."

The report was ordered printed and distributed through-
out the provinces.

Robespierre objected, but being interrupted, again pro-
tested, saying, ''The report misrepresents the men who
have deserved well of the country."

Again interrupted, he exclaimed, threateningly:

"There's not one here who dares accuse me to my face!"

"I dare!" cries Louvet.

" So do I," shout together Rebeccqui and Barbaroux.

"Continual assaults are made upon this convention;"
said Louvet ascending the tribune. "In the press, in all
public places; everyv/here it is reviled and open insur-
rection urged against it, you must come out of this strug-
gle victorious or humiliated; you must render an account
to France, why it is that you tolerate in your midst, (point-
ing to editor Marat) a man whom the public cannot name


but with horror; yoii must, by solemn decree declare his
innocence, or purge yourself of his presence. You must
take measures against this disorganizing Commune^ which
is prolonging its usurpation of authority, and against the
agitators of the clubs and of the press." Turning and
facing Eobespierre, he boldly accused him and his faction
of attacking, at the sessions of the Jacobin Club, the
most worthy patriots of the convention; he denounced
him as an egotist who continually reviled others, while he
showered the highest eulogies upon himself. He then
charged Robespierre with claiming for himself and his fac-
tion the credit of the 10th of August (driving the King
from the throne). '^But,'^ he added vehemently, '^the
credit of the 2d of September, you barbarous conspirators,
is yours! You can glorify in that event, and forever claim
for yourselves the title, ' Patriots of the 2d of Septem-
ber! '

*'I accuse you, Robespierre, individually, of having
calumniated the purest patriots in France, I affirm, that
the honor of a citizen, and much less the honor of a
representative of the people, is not in you ! I accuse you
of having maligned these patriots during the days of that
horrible week in September, when your slander was
almost fatal proscription ! I accuse you of having terror-
ized by every means in your power, the Electoral Assem-
bly of Paris, and lastly, of striving to seize the supreme
power of France."

Danton, apprehensive of his own safety should Robes-
pierre be indicted, hastened to the rescue and appealed to
the members to heal their wounds and stop their dissen-
sions; and in order to turn the fire of the Convention from
the misdeeds of the triumvirate upon the Girondists, the
supposed advocates of the federative system — he said :

*' Another apprehension widely prevails, which must be
dispelled. It is alleged that a number of the representa-


tives are conspiring to have the federative system adopted,
and thus bring about the dimembrement of France. It is
essential that we remain a unit! Declare, then, by
another decree, Tlie Unity of France and its Government.
Having laid this foundation, let us bury our jealousies !
Let us be united, also, and push forward to our goal/'

In other words, declare by a decree that the sovereignty
of the people of France is henceforth vested in the Com-
mune of Paris, of which Danton, Eobespierre and Marat
are the dictators!

Eobespierre followed in a similar strain, relating, as
was his custom, the eminent services he had rendered to
liberty. Like Danton, he laid great stress upon the sus-
picion which was abroad against a party planning the par-
celing of the country into a number of small Republics."
Eobespierre's remarks made no impression upon the Con-
vention, and calls for an adjournment were heard. But
before the members were permitted to take a breathing
spell, they were to make the personal acquaintance of the
most dreaded and most execrated man in France — Editor
Marat. He had been denounced by one of the speakers
for having published an anarchistic appeal in his paper,
and he now asked to be heard in his own defense.

The very sight of his repulsive features called to the
minds of the representatives the murders he had advo-
cated, and, as he ascended the tribune, the cry of "a bas!
a bas ! " (Down ! down ! ) was heard on every side. His
appearance — the coat he wore, his necktie, his disheveled
hair, everything about him — showed his studied efforts to
gain the admiration of the rabble. It was the first time
he had appeared in the tribune, and, casting the furtive
glance of a tiger over the Convention, he began by calmly
saying: ''I have a great number of enemies in this

'* All ! All ! " was the tumultuous interruption. Appar-


ently unconcerned, Marat resumed: " I have a great many
enemies in this Convention — personal enemies. I recall
them to a sense of modesty. Let them spare their ferocious
clamors against a man who has served liberty and them
more than they can know. People talk of a triumvirate !
of a dictatorship ! — apian which they attribute to the
representatives of Paris. AYell; it is due to justice to
declare that my colleagues, and especially Eobespierre and
Danton, have always been hostile to it, and that I have
always had to combat them on this very point. I was the
first and the only one among all the political writers of
France who thought of this measure, as the only expedi-
ent to crush traitors and conspirators. It is I alone who
ought to be punished; but, before you punish, you ought
to hear. Amidst the everlasting machinations of a per-
fidious King, of an abominable court, and of false patri-
ots, who, in both Assemblies, have bartered away public
liberty, will you reproach me for having devised the only
means of salvation and of having called down vengeance
upon guilty heads? No; for the people would condemn
you if you did. They have felt that the only expedient
left is to make themselves dictators, in order to deliver
themselves from traitors. I have shuddered more than
any other at the idea of these terrible movements, and it

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Online LibraryHermann LiebThe foes of the French revolution → online text (page 17 of 25)