Laurence Gronlund.

Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

. (page 10 of 21)
Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 10 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing him of having conspired with Dumouriez to deliver
France to her enemies, and re-establish royalty. Then Dan-
ton at length took up the glove of battle thrown at him, left
his seat as chief of the Centre, and joined the Mountain for
good, to the latter's immense joy.

Several times thereafter he, nevertheless, offered them
truce, but they would not have it. No, they went yet much
farther. They committed the unpardonable blunder of
first attacking the safety of members of the Convention, — a
fact that should always be borne in mind when the " Terror"
is spoken of. They first of all insisted on formally accusing
one of their number, and dragging him before the Revo-
lutionary Tribunal ; that member was Marat.

^'^ Do not miitihite the Convention .'" Danton then im-


jjlored of them ; and lie certainly did not love Marat. But
their hatred rose superior to every other consideration.
Marat was taken before the Tribunal, triumphantly acquitted,
and carried back on people's shoulders to his seat.

Bear in mind, that these miserable personal attacks went
on from day to day in the most critical time of the history
of France, and blocked all business. It certainly was time
that energetic patriots resolved to put an end to it ; and
Uanton, with his usual energy, led in the matter.

He drafted a petition, which the Commune presented to
the Convention on May 31, praying for the exclusion of
thirty-two members, naming them. He had his friend
Herault de Sut most important of all were his relations with the
opposition in the British Parliament ; that is to say, with
Fox and the ^Vhigs, with whom he was in constant and inti-
mate relations. By their help he tried first all he could to
prevent Great Britain from joining the coalition, and after-
wards to detach her from it. That was why the defection


of Dumouricz was such a blow, in particular to him, for this
general had been used to go between him and the com-
mander of the British army, as well as the British ambassador
at The Hague. Indeed, the fortune of Danton very much
depended upon the success or failure of Fox ; if Pitt were
overthrown, and Fox rose to power, England, it was under-
stood, would retire from the coalition, and acknowledge the
French Republic, which in turn would evacuate -Belgium and
Savoy. Fox tried very hard to accomplish this ; Lord Bel-
ford came incognito to Paris, in these spring months of '93,
to confer with Danton. Motion after motion was made in
the House of Commons, but none of them would succeed.
Danton personally did not reap the fruit of all these labors,
but France did ; for it w^as this policy of Danton which the
Committee de Sahtt Public finally adopted, and which ended
in the peace concluded in 1795.

Danton was then certainly all the time an antagonist of the
idea of war for propaganda; but it was not till March, '93,
that he found it judicious to be it openly and fearlessly, and
his success was immediate and decisive. The Girondins
were dumfounded by his boldness. Brissot, one of the
most prominent among them, says, in his last letter to his
constituents, " You may form an idea of the liberty of
opinion, enjoyed in the Convention, from the fact that
Danton alone, or only supported by two or three of his
party, could make, without being howled down, a motion for
repealing the decree of the igth of November. We must do
him the justice to admit that he did it cleverly."

On the 13th of April Robespierre had made some motion
or other, when Danton rose and spoke : —

" It is time, citizens, that the National Convention should
teach Europe that France knows how to infuse prudence in
its politics.

" You have in a moment of enthusiasm, certainly letl by

122 ENERGY OF THE YEAR ONE. [April z6,

noble motives, decreed that you were ready to liel]) all na-
tions who would oppose resistance to oppressive tyrants.
By virtue of that decree you might he called upon to assist
patriots who would rebel in China.

^^ But surely above all it becomes us to take care of our-
selves, and do our best to make France great. Make the
republic strong, and France will influence other nations by
her example and attainments.

"Let us therefore now decree that we do not want to mix
ourselves into the affairs of our neighbors.''^

Immediately the Convention resolves, —

"The National Convention declares, in the name of the
French people, that it will in no manner intermeddle with
the government of other nations ; but it at the same time de-
clares that it will sooner bury itself under its own ruins than
suffer another power to intermeddle with the internal affairs
of the republic."

This is the first but decisive blow to the idea of the war
for propaganda. But Danton and his friends follow it vip.

When, on the 26th of April, Robespierre went back to
the ideas of the decree of Nov. 19, and proposed to insert
in the preamble to the new constitution such phrases as
these, " He who oppresses one nation, thereby declares
himself the enemy of all ; " " Kings and aristocrats are rebels
against the sovereign of the earth. Humanity, and against
the legislator of the universe. Nature," Robert, the Parisian
delegate and Dantonist, objects : —

" Let us leave to philosophers to analyze humanity in all
its relations ; 7ve are not the representatives of humanity.
I want that French legislators should forget the universe for
the present, and occupy themselves with the affairs of their
country. ... I do not care to examine what is the nature
of man in general, but what is the character of the l^'rench


Finally the Jacobin Constitution, i)romulgated Aug. 10,
1793, solemnly affirmed, in its 119th article, —

" The French people will never interfere with the govern-
ment of other nations, nor suffer other nations to interfere
with its own government."

The second mischievous policy which Danton had to
combat, and which he with equal success overcame, in
this case supported by the greater part of the Mountain,
was the Federalism of the Girondins, and after their fall,
like the previous one, adopted by the H^bertists. That
word meant in France the very reverse of what it designated
in the United States at the same period ; to wit, autonomy
of the departments and communes, a loosening of the bond
of political unity which was one of the three grand objects
that the Revolution of '89 had accomplished.

That the Girondists favored that policy was a natural
result from the liberty which they meant and worshipped, —
middle-class liberty ; this : not to be restrained at all. From
demanding such liberty for their persons and their class, it
was only a step to demanding liberty for their localities,
where they, of course, could rule by virtue of the influence
they possessed through their wealth. Another motive was
the hatred they felt for the population of Paris, that had a
most wholesome contempt for their imbecility. Paris has,
all through French history, exercised a predominant influ-
ence, and justly so. The spirit that animated Paris has
never been a local one at all, but national, and that because
she is a truly representative city, one which the strongest
minds from every nook and corner of France make their
home, at least for a period. London is just that kind of a
city for England, though not in the same degree, while
America does not possess that kind of a city at all.

It was a great merit in Danton that he oi)posed that
policy, and maintained the unity of France with all the force


of his character ; for at an earlier period, as agitator, he
liad prated more about " Hberty " than any one. ]]ut as
he matured, as responsibility fell on him, " la patric,''' the
fotherland, France, secured a higher claim on his allegiance ;
and for France, at that moment especially, when she was
in a death-struggle, to have relaxed her unity, would have
been madness. These were his memorable words : " As
for me, I am not a child of Paris. I was born in a depart-
ment toward which I always turn an affectionate and
longing eye. But no one of us belongs to this or that
department : we all belong to the whole of France. Stop,
then, these di^^cussions, and let us devote ourselves to the
public welfare, ... It is said that there are among us men
who wish to cut France into pieces. Let us destroy these
absurd ideas by decreeing the punishment of death against
their authors. France must remain an undivided whole
with an undivided representation. The citizens of Mar-
seilles want to clasp the hands of their fellow-citizens of

And he was right. If the doctrine of evolution is at all
correct, nothing is surer than that progress lies in the
development of larger and larger unities ; and if the senti-
ment that moved so many among us to lay down their lives
for the union of the States were not mere froth, then // is
through the nation, our country, that toe enter into relation
with humanity. Between the three terms, family, country,
humanity, there is a close and intimate relationshi|X The
family is the germ of the nation, as the nation is the germ
of humanity. They are three successive manifestations of
human nature, three stages of the same idea ; a realization,
more and more complete, of the law of our being, of the
jjlan that is to be worked out through us. lather these
three ideas are all sacred, or not one is so.

Danton was just a statesman because he was a disciple


of Diderot. As such he had a profound contempt for meta-
physical (h-eams, and had a clear perception of what was
possible. It is therefore a most egregious mistake to think
that Dantoii was only a destroyer. He was the tnosl co::-
stnictive viind of all the public men of the Revolution, and
as constructive as it was possible to be at the threshold of
a transition period. His programme was the true pro-
gramme of the Revolution ; that is to say, —

Substitution of popular sovereignty for absolutism ;

Maintenance of order sufficient to resist re-action ;

Facilities for the greatest development of industry ;

Free development of science and philosophy ; and hence :

Separation of Church and State.

He was certainly, from the crown of his head to the sole
of his foot, a middle-class man, but it was precisely a merit
in a leader of France at that time to be that thoroughly ;
but he was more than that, he was a middle-class man with
a heart for the masses.

In a few words, he wanted such a republic as that which
recently had been established in the United States of
America, but with unity.

* * *

So from the 2d of July the Jacobins were masters of
France. That they did not lose a moment in carrying out
their social ideas, we shall see in the next chapter. Here will
be shown, how they solved the problem of the salvation of, and
security for, France ; for the breathing-spell she had enjoyed
was now at an end, and new, terrible dangers threatened.

Four short days after the revolution of the 2d of June,
it was learned that more than sixty out of the eighty-three
departments had risen against their authority, and threat-
ened to overj)ower Paris, the Convention, and the wliole
one and indivisible republic. Ni the word of the ejected
Girondins Marseilles revolts ; Lyons smds Clialier, ils Jaco-


bin leader, to the scaffokl ; Toulon imprisons patriots, and
l)arlcys witli the English ; MontpclHcr, lionleaux, and Nantes
proclaim loudly that they are ready to take up arms ; Caen,
in the north-west, which a month hence will send forth tlie
young Girondin woman Charlotte Corday, with her dagger
destined for Marat's heart, is already organizing a small

Then Danton once more infuses courage and energy into
France by his words — now rising in the former royal theatre
of the palace of the Tuileries, into which the Jacobin Con-
vention has just moved from the riding-school behind tlie
palace : —

" We are in the midst of storms ; the thunder rolls. It is
in the midst of these clashings that the work will be done
that will immortalize the French nation. They claim that
it is the insurrection of Paris that causes these movements
in the departments. I declare, in the face of the universe,
tliat the events of May 31 and July 2 constitute the glory of
this superb city. I proclaim, in the face of France, that
without the cannon and the insurrection the conspirators
would have triumphed. We are willing, then, to face the
whole responsibility resulting therefrom. I myself incited
to tlie rising of the people by saying, that, if there were in
the Convention a hundred men like me, we should overcome
the conspiracy, and found liberty on immovable foundations.
Do not mind the addresses, full of calumnies, against Paris,
which the conspirators have sent to the departments-; they
are no new tiling. Paris remains the centre, where every
thing must concentrate. Paris is the focus that will gather
all rays of French patriotism, which will consume our ene-

And action followed. The committees of the Convention
went to work. Special commissioners, with ]K'ace or war in
the folds of their mantles, ovi-rran the (hp:iiliiiriits. 'Hiey


appeared in the midst of their rebellious countrymen in the
prescribed costume of a Representative on Mission : a round
hat with three feathers of the national colors, a scarf, and
in a black-leather belt a naked sword, — the avenging sword
of the republic. They talked a few stern words, and they
conciuered. In three days they pacified France. Says one
of the rebels, ''The seventy-two departments which had
declared themselves for us turned round, and al)andoned us
in the course of twenty-four hours." The Girondins were
everywhere fleeing.

Then came, a month after, the murder of Marat, which
sent a thrill of horror through Paris. It was really a mis-
fortune, for it roused all the very worst passions, and brought
to the front Hebert, a worse man than Marat. The latter
died with twenty-one cents in his possession, his whole
wealth ; and it was this unselfishness that made sincere tears
flow down the cheeks of most patriots while his body was
being taken, a couple of days after, to the Pantheon, from
which the bones of Mirabeau had previously been igno-
miniously ejected. David made a splendid bust of Marat,
a copy of which was i:)laced in the hall of every primary
assembly of France. One can be seen to-day in a museum
in Paris, of which the eyes seem to flash fire.

The black clouds thickened over France, till the greatest
intensity was reached July 25, on which day Danton was
appointed president of the Convention, an office filled by
rotation. At that moment the northern frontier was overrun
by the united British and Austrians, who bombarded Valen-
ciennes ; the Prussians entered the heart of Alsace ; tlie
British flag floated over Toulon ; Conde had just surren-
dered ; Mayence capitulated, but the garrison departed
with all the honors of war (on condition of not serving
against the enemy for a year), headed by Merlin of Thion-
ville. Representative on Mission, who, when st)me one among


the spectators uttered an insulting word, imperiously cried
out, " Have a care ! we arc coming back." Lastly, the
rebellious Vendeans had just at the same time dispersed
the republican army, comman

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 10 of 21)