Hermann Lieb.

The foes of the French revolution online

. (page 9 of 25)
Online LibraryHermann LiebThe foes of the French revolution → online text (page 9 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the pitiful sum of three hundred francs a year, 160.

On the 2d of ISTovember, after a stormy debate in which
Abbe Maury, the spokesman of the clericals, became
violently excited, the decree was adopted by 568 ayes,
against 346 noes.

The discussion and final adoption of this measure gave
rise to violent protests on the part of the clergy, and
attempts were made in different parts of France to raise
the standard of rebellion against the Assembly. But the
peasantry did not take kindly to the suggestion, and the
more intelligent burghers of the towns threatened the
bishops of their dioceses with dire vengeance should they
attempt to nullify the decree of the Assembly.

On the 3d of November the ancient subdivisions of
France were abolished by the Assembly, and the country
reconstructed into eighty-three administrative divisions,
called Departments.

Previous to this division France contained thirty-six
provinces, which, with the exception of Foix and Eous-
sillion, contained not less than half a million inhabitants
each, who were more truly French in sentiment, and more
homogeneous in customs and habits than were the Ameri-
can Colonies previous to the Eevolution. Many of these
populations spoke their own ''^patois" it is true, but they
all spoke and understood the French.

Ever after the organization of a French standing
army, the different provinces furnished their respective
contingents. Under Francis 1. this contingent averaged
6,000 men from each province, forming a Legion bearing
the name of its province and officered by its own
nobility ; or, as has been aptly said, its own ^'prominent

These provinces differed from each other, but not so


much in extent^ as the States of the American Union;
they, also, differed in rights, immunities and administra-
tion; so did the thirteen original colonies, but all these
homogeneous elements notwithstanding, the Union was
formed, with its National Constitution, its central admin-
istration, courts, and army and nayy.

About this time Mirabeau sought an alliance with
Lafayette (whom he disliked, but who, nevertheless, com-
pelled his respect), with the intention of inducing him to
Join in a plan to give France a government after the Eng-
lish pattern, with Mirabeau as Prime Minister and
Lafayette its military head. Lafayette favored a Consti-
tutional Monarchy based upon the American Declaration,
however, but he was decidedly opposed "to private tm-
derstmidings in fiiatters of national affairs." The con-
ference, therefore, came to nothing. Mirabeau was dis-
appointed and resorted to the boyish practice of calling
names. To Lafayette he applied the sobriquet, ''Pompous
Cromwell," doubtless because the General had not taken
advantage of his popularity to become dictator, at Mira-
beau's suggestion.

Mirabeau's ministerial aspirations had not escaped the
notice of the Assembly, consequently on the 7th of Novem-
ber it was decreed that no Deputy should hold office. From
that moment, says an English author, began his long
series of ''flirtations" with the court, which lasted until
his death.

" Flirtations " is a convenient word in the mouth of a
zealous biographer; it does not, however, explain the fact
that Mirabeau received princely subsidies from the court,
which, in our day would be called bribes.

On the 21st of November the Assembly was informed of
a second plot to carry the King to Metz, and on the 25th of
December the Marquis de Favras was arrested, charged
with being the main instigator of a conspiracy to assas-


sinate Lafayette and Bailly, with a view to overthrowing
the Assembly and carrying off the King. Monsieur, the
King's oldest brother, and the Queen herself, were strongly
suspected of complicity in the plot. The guilt of Favras
having been fully established, he was sentenced to be

In the hope of saving his own life, he offered to fur-
nish the names of his co-conspirators ; but the court try-
ing him, having been tampered with by parties high in
authority, refused to accept the Marquis' confession as
the price of his acquittal, and he was executed on the 19th
of February, taking his secret with him. The circum-
stance, however, that on the Sunday follov/ing the execu-
tion the widow of Favras and her son dined with the King
and the Queen, confirmed in the minds of the people the
horrible suspicion of the Queen's complicity in the plot.
Another conspiracy, devised by the Count d'Artois, hav-
ing the flight of the King in view, was discovered in

Thus, the people, who fancied the King to be in full
accord with the Assembly, and of having accepted the
new order of things in good faith, were kept in a constant
state of agitation. Was it to be wondered at that alarm
and mistrust took the place of confidence, that the Tuileries
began henceforth to be watched by an anxious multitude,
to see whether the King, their chief commissary, was still
there, or whether he had flown. This condition of gen-
eral uneasiness and mistrust increased to a state of morbid-
ness. Faith in public men had received a shock. '^Mira-
beau had betrayed them, and Lafayette had transformed
the National volunteer-soldiery into a Praitorian guard."

The year for which the Assembly had been chosen was
drawing to a close, and the question now arose, shall the
Assembly, at the expiration of its term, dissolve? The
royalists, hoping for the opportunities an interregnum


might offer to carry their schemes into effect, their best
orators and debaters were pushed to the front to insist
upon dissolution. Gazales, their principal spea^ker,
asked the Assembly whether it considered itself the
National Convention? This startled Mirabeau, and the
crushing answer he gave him stands forth as one of the
most brilliant efforts of parliamentary oratory.

"You ask," said he, ''\\ow, being deputies of baili-
wicks, we have made ourselves a convention? I will
answer: The day when, finding the door of our assembly-
room shut, bristling and defiled with bayonets, we has-
tened to the first place that could be found to hold us,
and there, swore to perish rather than surrender our
rights, on that day, if we were not a convention, we
became one! Let them now go and hunt from the useless
nomenclature of civilians, the definition of the words
National ConveMtion! Gentlemen, you all know the con-
duct of the Koman who, to save his country from a great
conspiracy, was obliged to overstep the powers conferred
upon him by the laws. A captious tribune required from
him the oath that he now respected them. He thought by
that insidious proposal to leave the consul no alternative
but perjury, or an embarrassing avowal. ' I swear,' said
the great man, 'that I have saved the Republic ! ' Gen-
tlemen, I swear also, that you have saved the Nation ! "
Mirabeau's eloquent reminder of the oath of the Assembly
at the Tennis Court, ''never to dissolve until a constitution
was formed," made such an impression that a decree em-
bodying these very sentiments was adopted at once. The
court, which had relied on Mirabeau's support, was check-
mated once more. The intrigues of the Queen with her
brother. Emperor Leopold of Austria, in the affairs of
Belgium, had culminated in serious complications with
England, and war was expected. The King having noti-
fied the Assembly that he was arming a fleet, the question



arose, ''Shall tlie power to declare war remain with the
King?" The debates over this subject grew exceedingly
acrimonious, and the clubs having taken part in the dis-
cussion, all Paris was soon found upon the one side or the
other. Mirabeau's course in defense of this royal prerog-
ative, was severely criticised, and his secret alliance with
the court, as well as the amount he was receiving from
the royal exchequer, soon became the gossip of the town.
In consequence of these rumors Mirabeau was violently
assailed on his way to the Assembly. He saw his danger,
and by a masterly retreat and a brilliant oratorical effort,
in which he alluded to a supposed king, who, having be-
trayed his people by leaving his country, returned with an
army of Frenchmen to repossess himself of the citadel of
tyranny. With this reference to possible emergencies, he
succeeded in drawing the fire of the royalists upon him-
self, and thus removed the suspicion that he was their
secret ally.

From the King's absolute prerogative of making
war, which Mirabeau had at first advocated, he retreated
to the less objectionable position of allowing him the right
to prepare for ivar and direct the forces; also that the
King inform the Assembly, when, in his opinion, war
should be declared, but the final action of the Assembly
must receive the sanction of the King.

The Assembly gave these modified views of Mirabeau
the form of a decree. His genius had thus secured a
triumph, but the man never recovered the prestige which
this hostile demonstration of the people had cost him.

To recompense him, perhaps, the Queen soon after
accorded him an interview.

In a secluded spot at St. Cloud they met. Mirabeau
was diplomatic, and Marie Antoinette reserved. At the
close of the conference the anxious Queen allowed her
champion to kiss her hand, at which Mirabeau is said to


have exclaimed enthusiastically and authoritatively:
'' Madam, the Monarchy is saved ! " Who can answer for
a Frenchman's politics in the presence of a charming
woman! This interview took place in the latter part of
May, 1790.

On the 11th of June neAvs reached Paris that the
American patriot, Benjamin Franklin, had died at Boston,
on the 17th of the preceding April. Mirabeau, who had
been one of his admirers, appeared in the tribune of the
Assembly, and pronounced, to a silent and sympathetic
audience, the following elegant eulogium :

" Franklin is dead ! Eeturned to the bosom of Divinity
is the genius which freed America and rayed forth upon
Europe floods of light.

'^A sage, whom two worlds alike claim! A man, for
Avhose genius the history of science and the history of
empires will contend ! A man, who had a most elevated
rank in the human race.

*^ Long enough have political cabinets notified the world
of the death of those who were only great in their funeral
orations! Long enough has court etiquette proclaimed
these hypocritical mournings ! Nations should only wear
mourning for their benefactors. The representatives of
Nations ought only to pay homage to the heroes of

^'Congress has proclaimed that in the thirteen States of
the Confederation two months of mourning shall be obser-
ved for Benjamin Franklin. At this very moment Amer-
ica is paying this tribute of veneration to one of the
fathers of her Constitution.

^'Would it not be in keeping with us, gentlemen, to join
them in this religious act; to participate in their homage
offered to the defender of the rights of man, and to the
philosopher ? Antiquity would have been satisfied only
in raising altars and monuments to his vast and powerful


.'];onius ; a man whose aspirations for the elevation of
mortals, sought and obtained that knowledge which tamed
tyrants and took away their thunder-bolts, France, enlight-
ened and free, owes an expression of remembrance and
regret to the memory of one of the greatest men that ever
advanced philosophy and aided liberty, I, therefore, pro-
pose it be decreed, that the National Assembly wear mourn-
ing for three days in honor of Benjamin Franklin!"

The decree was passed unanimously and not only did
the Assembly honor the memory of the great American
and friend of French liberty, but the people were still
more demonstrative in their declarations of respect.

By way of contrast, not a hundred years after, the
American Senate is found refusing to render a similar act
of homage to the memory of a man who was quite as
conspicuous in his friendship and efforts to preserve
American liberty, to-wit, John Bright, the English econ-
omist and philanthropist.



On the 19th of June, 1790, the Assembly had advanced
to a state when the time appeared ripe for a decided step
forward. The decree abolishing all titles^ prohibiting the
use of heraldic insignia, blazoning of arms, liveries and
all other medieval paraphernalia denoting superior rank had

The time for celebrating the first anniversary of the
taking of the Bastile was drawing near, and for the
moment^ the public mind seemed diverted from the pro-
ceedings of the Assembly. A reverential sentiment ap-
peared to have taken possession of the hearts of the people.

The Municipality of Paris having received numberless
appeals from all parts of the country to arrange for a gen-
eral confederation of the French people, the National
Assembly was prevailed upon to issue a decree inviting all
Frenchmen to come and fraternize at a fete, as the peo-
ple, the National Guards, and the regular troops of Paris
had fraternized for the destruction of despotism on the
14th of July, 1789.

The inhabitants throughout France having broken
down all barriers of caste were now united. The burghers
of cities and the rural people uniting for common defense,
at a time when the sudden overthrow of ancient orders-
threatened the country with anarchy, by this act had
strengthened the bond of interest between them. Every
citizen was armed. Commanders were chosen by the Com-
munes, and methods similar to those employed by the



American frontiersmen for security against lawless marau-
ders were adopted.

They, also, had had frequent fraternizing festivities,
the inhabitants of one city meeting with those of an-
other, and those of one province with those of another,
the citizens of which had been almost foreigners before.
These touching reunions consisted not only of men, but
the young girls, children, and mothers formed the most
interesting part of these gatherings.

"Everywhere an old man was put at the head of the
people," says Michelet, '^sitting in the first place, and
presiding over the crowd. Encircling him, like a garland
of flowers were the girls of France. In all these solem-
nities, this lovely band dressed in white with tri-colored
sashes remained at his side. The Dauphine, that serious
and valiant province which had opened the Eevolution,
made numerous confederations within the whole province.
The rural communes, nearest to Savoy, and close to the
emigrants, tilling the ground, with their guns near at
hand, had still better festivals; a battalion of children,
another of women, another of maidens, all armed, had
been formed here.

'* Women are kept back from public life, and people are
apt to forget that they have really more right to it than any.
The stake they venture is very different from ours;
man plays only his life; but woman stakes her children.
She is far more interested in acquiring information and
cultivating foresight. In the solitary, sedentary life
which most women lead, they follow, in their anxious
musings, the critical events of their country, and the
movements of their armies. The mind of this woman,
whom you believe to be entirely absorbed with her house-
hold duties, is wandering in the field, sharing all the pri-
vations and marches of the young soldier, suffering and
fighting with him, Whether invited or not, they took the


most active part in the fetes of the confederations, as tlie
American women had done a few years before. In some
village or other on the day the delegates were to be chosen,
the men assembled in a large building, to formu-
late a common address to the National Assembly. The
women soon drew near to listen; then to enter, and, with
tears in their eyes, to entreat to be allowed to join them;
the address being read, they agree to it heartily. This
affecting union of the family in the affairs of the country
filled every heart with an unknown sentiment."

The call of the Assembly for a National confederation
was thus cheerfully responded to. Streams of deputations
from the remotest parts of France were soon wending their
way toward Paris, singing:

" Le peuple en ce jour sans cesse rSplte —
Ah! 9aira! 9a ira! ^aira!"

and receiving the generous hospitality of the people as they
journeyed on.

As the great day drew near Paris became wild with en-
thusiasm. The joyous city put on her best attire to
receive her guests from the country. Preparations of
unusual magnitude were in progress at the Champ de
Mars, that the festival be as grand and imposing as possi-
ble. Twelve thousand laborers were set to work to con-
struct elevations, seats, and shelter, for the reception of
400,000 people. In the center of the extensive grounds a
high mound was thrown up, upon this was erected an altar
of antique construction, approached by many steps, sur-
rounded by an amphitheater for the accommodation of
the King, the National Assembly and the Municipality of
Paris. The workingmen seemed not to progress satisfac-
torily, and fearing the preparations might not be perfected
in time, the people of all classes and of both sexes,
streamed to the Champ de Mars to render the necessary



assistance. The immense work, which converted a plain
into a valley between two hills, was performed in precisely
seven days. The thousands upon thousands of visitors
who were pouring into the city received a hearty welcome.
The city was overflowing. The delegates were hospit-
ably cared for by the citizens. '' When the Bretons," says
Michelet, "those eldest born of liberty, arrived, the con-
querors of the Bastile advanced as far as Versailles to meet
them, and, after mutual congratulations and embraces, the
two bodies united, and, forming one, marched back to
Paris. Every heart expanded with the unknown sentiment
of peace and concord; the journalists ceased wrangling, the
Assembly, composed of warring factions, itself seemed
gained over by the universal enthusiasm.'' It was to be a
celebration vying with the American celebrations of July

4th, 17,76.

The day arrived at last. The heart of longing France
beat high. The National Guards and many of the people
had encamped near the grounds the night before in order
to be ready to do the honors of the day with freshness and
fervor. As the morning advanced rain began to fall.
" The weather is aristocratic,'' shouted the people as they
poured out of the houses, inns and halls of the city to
witness the grand procession.

Starting from Bastile square under the roar of artillery,
the great concourse watched the forming of the line, rend-
ing the air with loud cheers. A battalion of children was
placed at the head and a battalion of veterans closed up the
rear of the procession. Reaching the Tuileries the Court
and National Assembly were placed in the center. Flags
were flying, bands were playing and the people thronged
the streets shouting.

Upon reaching the grounds the sight was grand to
behold. Three hundred and sixty thousand people had
gathered there to fraternize, to ratify the decrees of the


Assembly lookiug toward the freedom of France. The
dignitaries ascending the steps to the altar, the proceed-
ings of the day were .opened by Abbe Talleyrand, (very
ominous,) who read mass and blessed the flags of the eighty-
three departments. Then came General Lafayette, who
had been nominated Chief Marshal of the day, and ap-
pointed by the Assembly, General-in-Chief of the National
Guards of France, and standing upon the altar in the name
of his troops, swore fidelity to the iSTation, to the laws and
the King, after which he tur^ied to the people, and read-
ing the formula, four hundred thousand people repeated
in concert, "I swear it!"

The artillery thundered forth a grand salute ; the Kiug
now arose, and in the hush of an impressive silence swore
fidelity to the Nation, and to loyally respect and maintain
the National constitution. The Queen, raising her child,
exclaimed : " Here is my son ; we both are in sympathy
with the sentiments of the people.-'^ This trusting peo-
ple, belieying their generous impulses were reciprocated,
had faith in these solemn protestations of their Majesties,
and tremendous shouts of, ''Vive le Eoi!" "^A^ive la
Eeine P' ^'Vive la Nation!" went up in testimony of
that faith. They not only trusted the King and the
Queen— they earnestly hoped aud fervently believed this
great federation of hearts to be the final settlement, the
closing scene in which many privileges had been gained
and from which much happiness would come to the people.
As the evening hours of that memorable day closed in,
hundreds of thousands of new-born Frenchm.en walked
the streets, embraced, hurrahed, and sung, "^a ira ! " (It

On their homeward journey, day and night were but
one continued scene of joyful exuberance.

At every village, in every city, they were received with
acclamations of joy, and the best that cupboard and eel-


lar aUorded was set before them. They enjoyed them-
selves as only Frenchmen can enjoy themselves, and not
with icy, speculating soberness, and the grave, Sabbatarian
mien of Englishmen. Says Carlyle of this great frater-
nizing celebration :

"Never, or hardly ever, was oath sworn with such
heart effusion, emphasis, and expenditure of joyance ;
and then it was broken irremediably within a year and
day, but why ? When the swearing of it was so heavenly
joyful, bosom clasped to bosom, and five and twenty mil-
lion hearts all burning together — 0, ye inexorable desti-
nies, why ? Partly, it was sworn with such over- joyance ;
but chiefly, indeed, for another reason : That sin had
come into the world, and misery by sin ! These five and
twenty millions, if we will consider it, have now hence-
forth, with that Phrygian cap of theirs, no force over
them, to bind and guide/'

In this instance the great author is mistaken. These
twenty-five million souls were not the helpless, unstable,
and frivolous beings, who, if left to themselves, would
dance toward perdition. For the year past, and when
red-handed anarchy, and roving bands of malefactors,
threatened life and property, they went to Vv'ork and
organized their Communes, and Justice Courts, and
armed posses for mutual protection ; they had governed
themselves without any force save their own free wills and
stout hearts, and with no one to guide them but their
honest convictions ; or, as Mr. Carlyle rightly puts it :
" Authorities are not idle; though, unluckily, all author-
ities, municipalities, and such like, were then in an uncer-
tain, transitory state ; getting regenerated from old mon-
arcMc to nevj democratic. Nevertheless, Mayors, old or
new, do gather guardsmen. National guards, troops of the
line, and justice of the most summary sort is not want-


There was no more danger of French authorities and
municipalities, in regenerating from old monarchy to new
democracy, moving backward, than there had been for
American municipalities, in their transitory state, to fall
into anarchy. The French people were fully competent
to take care of themselves ; they intended loyally and
conscientiously to keep and stand firm by the new politi-
cal covenant their delegates had sworn to at the great
Fraternization ; but royalty, as if ordained by inexorable
destiny, was to break its oath.

The French people saw no inducement to break it; their
own welfare requiredit should be sacredly kept. Absolut-
ism had been dethroned; the feudal system, hereditary
titles, prerogatives of every description, and all political
inequality between all classes had been abolished; the
supreme power of legislation was now placed in their
hands; what possible incentive could these Frenchmen
have for breaking their oath ? Absolutely none. No; the
people were satisfied with what they had gained, and all
they asked for was to henceforth peacefully enjoy the
fruits of their own labor.

Michelet, probably the keenest dissector of the impulses
and motives of his countrymen, of all the historians of the
Eevolution, gives the following pathetic description of
popular sentiment in France, during this trying epoch :

^^ Candor and credulity," says he, ^'was the character

Online LibraryHermann LiebThe foes of the French revolution → online text (page 9 of 25)