Laurence Gronlund.

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

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fallen with them ; and the miserable fate of Poland teaches
us but too plainly what would have been in reserve for us.
Foreign nations would have trampled us pitilessly under foot,
and, to save themselves remorse, would have reproached us,
as they did the Poles, with our internal divisions ; one jiart
of us with their crimes, the other part with their appeals to
foreigners. Those who always glorify success would have
loudly proclaimed that we deserved our fate."

And that still more renowned Catholic writer, De Maistre,
frankly admits, " Once the Revolution given, France could
7wt possibly have been saved except by Jacobinism.^^
* * *

And now Danton created the second heroic means of sal-
vation. It was the levy en masse.

It has been said that the people prepared themselves to
celebrate by festivities the completion and adoption of that
constitution which had been suspended before the people
had even sanctioned it. But, nevertheless, they met in
their eight thousand primary assemblies, and adopted it with
remarkable imanimity. Each primary assembly further ap-
pointed a delegate ; and these eight thousand delegates went
tf) Paris, and on the lOth of August, tliat now had become
the great national holiday, on tlie first anniversary of the


fall of the monarchy, celebrated a new " Feast of Federa-
tion," much more remarkable than its prototyi)e of July 14,

A wonderful people ! to witness theatrical displays, and
give themselves over to festivities, in the darkest hour of
their history, with their fate as a nation trembling in the
balance ; in a situation for which Anglo-Saxons would have
fortified themselves with fasting and prayer !

The whole population of Paris, the eight thousand dele-
gates, and the Convention in a body, that had chosen for
president of the occasion H^rault de Sechelles, took part in
the " feast." It commenced at sunrise at the Place de Bas-
tille, and ended at sunset round the altar of the country on
the Champ de Mars, by swearing the oath of fidelity. The
next day the Convention held a sitting, when the eight
thousand delegates (or as many, I suppose, as could find
room) were admitted to the bar of the Convention ; and it
was then that Danton made his other supreme effort.

"You, the envoys of the primary assemblies of France,"
he said, " should be empowered, by the Convention that
grasps the thunderbolt of the nation, to draft those citizens
whose enthusiasm is lagging behind into the service of the
country. By joining the aposdeship of liberty to the rigor
of the law we shall create an immense force. I hereby ask
the Convention to give these delegates most direct and
extensive powers to levy recruits. If each of these eight
thousand men sends to the front twenty men, the fatherland
is saved. I demand, further, that besides being invested
with ample powers of lev^ying men, in concert with the con-
stituted authorities and with all good citizens, they be also
authorized to take an inventory of corn, and that the Com-
mittee de Salut Public shall direct this sublime movement.
I have noted the energy of these men whom the primary
assemblies have sent here, and I am convinced lliat they


are ready to swear that tliey will, on returning to their
homes, give an impulse to their fellow-citizens in this direc-
tion. [All delegates present rise and swear, ' Indeed, we
are ! '] This is the moment to take for the last time the
oath, to devote ourselves to death, or to destroy our enemies.
[All in the hall and galleries rise, wave their hats, and cry,
' Yes, we swear ! ']

" I also demand that all truly suspected persons be
arrested, but add that this vicasiire be executed 7a»th )nore
care than hitherto, for, instead of seizing the great scoundrels
and conspirators, many humble, innocent persons have been
made to suffer. Let, then, the Convention, recently invested
with new dignity from the unanimous approval just bestowed
upon it by the people, empower the delegates of the pri-
mary assemblies to make requisitions of arms, provisions,
and ammunition, and to levy four hundred thousand men to
be sent immediately to the front."

This motion is adopted immediately. As a supjilement,
the Convention on the 23d of August issued the following
sufificiently high-sounding decree : —

" From this time, and till the enemy is beaten, all French
men are declared liable to military service, and to be
drafted at any time.

" Let our young men go to battle ; our married men forge
arms and transport subsistence ; their wives make tents and
clothes, or serve in the hospitals ; their children make old
linen into lint ; and our old men be taken to the public
places, there to encourage our soldiers, and j^reach to them
hatred of kings and the unity of the republic.

"This levy shall be a universal one. All unmarried citi-
zens and childless widowers between eighteen and twenty-
five years of age shall go first. Let them repair to the chief
places of their respective districts, and there be exercised in
arms till they be reijuired to de])art for the .seat of war."

I793-] LEW EN MASSE. 1 33

And behold, it was really done !

Yes, by a simple motion this wonderful man conjured
out of the ground fourteen grand armies and six hundred
thousand soldiers, — these great republican armies which
filled the horizon of Europe for the next twenty-five years,
and with which, in particular, the great republican Jacobin
generals made the decisive wars of '93 and '94 in the in-
terior and on the frontier, in the Vendee and on the Rhine,
at Lyons, at Toulon, in the Alps and the Pyrenees. The
7-epiihUcan Jacobin generals, mark ! Not the aristocratic
royalist ones, whose imbecility was noted at the commence-
ment of this chapter; for it. was out of the very men levied
by these delegates of primary assemblies that arose the
renowned chiefs Jourdan, Pichegru, Marceau, Dugommier,
Moreau, Joubert, Kleber, and the first among equals, Hoche.
The minister, as we saw, had no power of introducing vol-
unteers into the corps of officers ; but the absolute Com-
mittee de Saint Public had, as it had the power of ordering
the minister, its " chief clerk," to do it. It was fortunate
that it secured as chief clerk, titular minister of war, a man
able to carry through that most important measure, the
so-called amalgamation of regulars and volunteers, and that
man was Col. Bouchotte.

The very saddest thing in the world it is to see a man who
has rendered either humanity or his country splendid ser-
vices, not alone unappreciated by posterity, but depreciated
and contemned. Ungratefulness is about the blackest vice
posterity can be guilty of; and perhaps no man concerned
with the French Revolution, next after Danton, has been
wronged so much as Bouchotte. He has been styled a
follower of Hebert and an imbecile. All credit for the
splendid success of the armies has been given to Carnot,
the eminent member of the Committee de Saliit Public, and
not a particle, of course, is given to Bouchotte. Now, it i'*


true that Carnot is entitled to great credit : he was the
organizer of their victories, since he it was who formed
the plan of campaign ; he was the republican Von Moltke.
True it also is, that Bouchotte was not a genius : but it is the
lieight of injustice not to admit that the most splendid plans
would have availed nothing, if Bouchotte had not seconded
Carnot, and especially had not organized those fourteen
armies and six hundred thousand men ; if he had not for
many months toiled for sixteen hours a day in amalga mating
these volunteers with the regular army, and used his excel-
lent knowledge of men in appointing the right sort of new
officers and generals. Every one of the renowned repub-
lican generals owed their appointment to Bouchotte, and it
is a shame that honest, patriotic toil shall not have its
credit, as well as talent and genius.

But, above all, there was a universal rising of the whole
people. They showed an energy and felt a conviction of
victory, impossible to explain. They believed the republic
almighty. Forges blazed everywhere in Paris ; the cells of
the convent of the Chartreux filled with workmen, making
a noise that might have awakened the monks, buried there a
century ago. A thousand muskets were daily turned out ;
seven hundred bronze and thirty thousand iron cannon were
made in a year. All metal was turned into cannon, muskets,
and swords ; the ground all over, the hearthstones, kitchen
walls, were ransacked for saltpetre.

As leather was lacking, Bouchotte wanted to induce the
soldiers to wear wooden shoes occasionally ; but how should
he make them take kindly to the suggestion ? He finally
concluded to send them the following circular, certainly the
most remarkable communication ever sent by a war minister
to his soldiers : —

" Brothers and Friends, — the Committee lic
has ordered me to distribute to each of )ou a pair of wooden

1793.] LEVY EX J/ASSE. 1 35

shoes, which you are requested to wear out of service. This
resohnion is a new proof of the sohcitude of the comniillcc
for the well-being of the defenders of our country. Such
shoes are the healthiest of all during this season : will pro-
tect your feet from dampness and cold when you rest, and
equally when you march, for they will enable you to dry your
other shoes ; lastly, they will save the consumption of leather
shoes, which has become excessive from your wear and tear
and the dishonesty of the contractors, and will thus leave us
time to get a better supply for the future.

" No doubt, brothers and friends, you will hasten to get a
pair of these wooden shoes, and wear them whenever the ser-
vice permits it. There will be no deduction made for them,
except when they should get lost through your own fault.

" Your interest for the finances of the republic, and your
own interests, demand that you take 'as much care of this
foot-gear as of all other things that protect you from the
rigors of the season.

" The fatherland will always look after your wants with the
attention and liberality of a tender mother, mindful of your
sacrifices for her ; but you ought also, like careful and eco-
nomical children, to neglect nothing that can save her effort
and expenses."

Would it not be impossible to resist such a fraternal invi-

But this measure did not prove sufficient ; and one of the
Representatives on Mission, therefore, on his own responsi-
bility, issued the following proclamation to the citizens of
Lyons : —

" Whereas wooden shoes suffice for those who stay at
home, it is ordered that all citizens not employed in the ser-
vice of the armies deliver up their shoes within eight days at
their respective town-halls, when a receipt will be given to


It was done. It was imitated, and soon Paris, Strasbourg,
Rennes, and other cities put their shoes at the disposition
of the country's defenders. What proof of devoted self-
denial !

The consequence of this wonderful enthusiasm was, that
a few months thereafter the soil of France was cleared of all
her enemies, and Europe in its turn stood trembling at the
advance of the republican armies.

And more wonderful things yet come to be seen and Heard.
Listen how that terrible Jacobin Convention orders the gar-
risons of the fortresses of the enemy to surrender within
forty-eight hours, — and they obey ! For the first time in all
history the world listens to decrees like these : that at such
and such a time this town must be taken, that battle must
be fought and won, — and it is being done ! That is the sub-
lime of it. If it had not been done, such decrees would

have been ridiculous.

* * *

But Danton has committed a great mistake, — one that he,
and especially France, will come to rue. He has declined to
become a member of tiie Revolutionary Government, which has
been established on his motion. " It is my firm resolve not
to be a member of such a government," he had said. .In
other words, he has declined re-election as a member of the
Committee de Saint Public, now it has been erected into a

He unfortunately lacked all ambition.

He hitherto had professed perfect indifference to all
tlie false charges affecting his honor and character which the
Girondins had brought against him. He constantly had re-
peated that his reputation was a matter of no concern. " Let
my reputation be blasted, if but France be saved." But
a]:)l)arendy he got tired of these slanders. This absolute
government will have vast sqms confided to its discretion,


and that would give rise to future insinuations against his
honesty if he accepted a place in it.

And then he had married again in July, five montlis after
his first wife's death. This may astonish those who remem-
ber his violent sorrow at her removal from him, but it must
be remembered that he had two small children who needeil
a mother's care ; that his temperament was one that re(iuired
a companion to love ; that they lived fast during that stormy
period, when they breathed an atmosphere of ozone, of fire,
when five months corresponded to five ordinary years ; lastly,
it should be known that Mademoiselle Gely had been an
intimate friend of Madame Danton. But she certainly was
unworthy of him, as is amply shown by this fact : that she
hastened to marry again after her husband's death, and trieti
as much as possible to hide the fact that she had been
the wife of the great Danton. Possibly, as she was pious
and conservative, she somewhat influenced his subsequent
actions, for he loved her as tenderly as he had once loved
his first wife.

At any rate, when afterwards, on Sept. 8, one Gaston tells
the Convention, " Danton has a mighty revolutionary head.
No one understands so well as he to execute what he him-
self proposes. I therefore move that he be added to the
Revolutionary Government, in spite of his protest," and it
is so unanimously ordered, he again peremptorily declines.
" No, I will not be a member ; but as a spy on it I intend to

A most fateful resignation ! for while he still for a short
time continues to exercise his old influence on the govern-
ment, both from the outside, in his own person, and inside
the committee, in the person of Herault de Seychelles, selected
in his place, he very soon loses ground more and more, — so
much so even that Herault, his friend, is "put in quaran-
tine," as was said in the committee. And very natural. A


statesman cannot have power when he shirks responsibihty,
and without power he soon loses all influence witli tlic mul-

Those who now succeed him in power are Robespierre,
Barere, Billaud - Varennes, and Carnot, — the two last,
very good working-members, good men of the second
rank, but after Danton not a single man is left fit to be

Ah, the significance and importance of a leader were never
more apparent, and the lack more disastrous, than here ! The
impulse once given to affairs serves, indeed, to procure for
the young republic victories on the battle-field ; but other-
wise the government, rudderless, drifts away from the jjalhs
marked out by Danton, and commits one excess after the
other. In spite of victories, France is evidently going down,

As the middle classes of France had their song of vic-
tory, Qa ira.i so the masses, the victorious Jacobins, have
now theirs, La Cariiiagii0le. It is during this year, '93,
sung everywhere in the public places ; yes, and danced !
Indeed, the dance is just as important as tlie melody. The
words are nonsensical, are, in fact, changed from day to day,
but the melody and the dance have a tremendous effect on
all : in the aristocrats it makes the blood congeal, and with
the common people makes it run quicker. The same

effect is caused even at the present time on a mere spectator,
when he watches the working-peoj^le of Paris at tlieir re-
unions, with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks, re])eat the
refrain, —

" Ddiis-oiis la Carmagjw-le
Vi-ve le son, vi-ve le sou,
Ddns-ons la Carvingno-le
Vi-ve le son du canon ! "

1793] LA CARMAGNOLE. 1 39

The most popular verse of all was this : —

"Madam Veto avait prctnis {bis)
De faire egorger tout Paris {bis) ;
Mais le coup a tnaiique,
Grace d, nos canoimiers.
Dansons" etc.

("Madam ^t'/ti' had promised
To have all Parisians killed ;
But the blow has failed,
Thanks to our cannoneers.
Let us dance the Carmagnole
To the sound, to the sound.
Let us dance the Carmagnole
To the sound of our cannon ! ")

' The Queen.


June 2, 1793, to End of Year.

" God covimnnicaies his will to 7iten, written in the events, an obscure text
and a mysterious language. Men straightway jnake translations of it, — hasty,
incorrect translations , full of faults, of blanks, and contradictions. The viosi
sagacious, serene, and profound minds decipher it hut slowly; and -when they
bring their texts, there are already twenty translations among the people. Every
translation gives rise to a party, and every contradiction to a faction : and each
party or faction believes it has the only true meaning. Ofteti those i}i power are
but a faction." — Victor Hugo.

Constitution of '93. — The Maximum. — A Poor Law. — Down with
Speculators ! — Education. — The Civil Code, — A Great Wrong.
— "Private Enterprise" Indispensable.

THE Jacobin Convention had to build its new temple,
like the Jews after the Babylonian exile, " trowel in
one hand, sword in the other." For it is the greatest

possible mistake to think that the men of the Mountain were
only men of violence : on the contrary, they were possessed
with the idea that it was their mission to institute a new
social order ; and now, having their hands free, they, in that
former royal theatre of the palace of the Tuileries, set to
work constructing vigorously, ay, feverislily !

What a contrast between these two spheres of activities !
It is difficult to comprehend that it is the same assembly,
the same set of men, now fighting for existence, now fasli-
ioning a new society ; that it is the same theatre of action.
One moment every thing is confusion, fear, hate, sus])icion :
all sorts of passions violently contend fur mastery. To exter-


minate or be exterminated, is the question. The next mo-
ment, as by the turning of a kaleidoscope, we seem abruptly
removed to an academy of learning, where we hear the most
ardent revolutionists discuss — in curious, high-flown periods
certainly, but with remarkable moderation and gentleness —
the most generous plans for bettering the condition of tlicir
fellow-creatures, and, be it noted, — for this constitutes their
glory, — for bettering the condition of classes to w/iich not
one of thcni belonged. This is in itself a most curious

fact : that in such a great overturning of society not one man
or woman of the working classes rose to a leading position.
They exercised, as we have seen, a considerable influence
on events in corpore, in masses, and in a somewhat inarticu-
late fashion, but individually they remained dumb. What a
modesty !

Yes, these bourgeois patrons and advocates did their
full duty to their clients, and form in this respect the most
complete contrast to the plutocrats, Girondins, and others.
That which the latter should have done, and never did be-
fore or since, that the Jacobins performed to the best of
their ability ; and this fact raises them above every legislative
assembly that ever sat in any country. They were mindful
of their helpless fellow-citizens ; they did " guard against
gluts," and against scarcity too, and did " preside over the
apportionment and distribution of wages for work done,"
as Carlyle has demanded of our plutocrats. That chronic
evil of Paris a century ago, famine, did not put in an ap-
pearance this winter. In other words, though hardly sure
of their heads for the space of twenty-four hours, they yet
tried faithfully to realize, as a counter-weight to Individual-
ism, pRATRRNrrY, whicli at bottom is simply the conscious,
frank acknowledgment of that interdependence which, as a
matter of fact, binds us together in society.

" But they fliilcJ ; in spite of the absolute power they


enjoyed for fourteen months, with none so much as to gain-
say them, they failed," so say both their enemies, all re-
actionists, and their friends, our modern reformers ; and the
latter add, "Ergo, the French Revolution fiiiled."

Well, in this chapter we have not to do with the whole
Jacobin reign, but only with the period after June 2 in which
Danton's influence was paramount. During these few months
the Convention was a most noble assembly, and passed or
initiated those remarkable measures that are now to be dis-
cussed. During that time the Convention was perfectly
successful, remarkably successful, and really laid firmly the
foundation of the new society.

Then came the fatal change : the Convention passed
under the influence first of Hubert, then of Robespierre.
They then became, in the words of Victor Hugo at the head
of this chapter, "a faction." They then commenced to inter-
pret "God's mysterious ityX'' falsely — too hastily. More
than that, they got not only a wrong conception of the will of
the Power behind Evolution, a wrong conception of the social
order that then and there was to be instituted in France, but
they also — just. because they were Frenchmen, and there-
fore deemed nothing gained before they had realized the
last conclusion of the syllogism — were far too hasty in re-
ducing that conception of theirs to practice. They in con-
sequence failed, and the foundation they had laid was torn
up. But when our reformers say that this implies the failure
of the Revolution itself, they thereby show that they them-
selves share the illusion of the Jacobins ; that they also ha\e
a wrong translation of "the mysterious text." They believe,
as the Jacobins did when they became "a faction," that the
millennium could and should have been immediately organ-
ized. The truth is, that what they started in doing, and did
well, was pretty nearly all that could be done.

We have seen that the National Convention had in ])leni-


tude all powers, whether legislative, executive, or judicial.
It had flung to the wind the usual middle-class formula
of a "division of powers." And these powers it exercised
through its committees and the commissioners it was con-
stantly sending out into the departments and to the armies.

There were not less than twenty-two committees. The
most important were, on the Consfltiifion, of whicli Danton
and Herault de S^chelles, his intimate friend, were mem-
bers ; of Public Welfare, of which Danton ceased to form
part in August ; of General Security, which had charge of
the national police, and whose first president was Herault
(this committee remained in the hands of the Dantonists as
long as they had power at all, and was second in importance
only to that of Public Welfare^ ; on Education, with Lakanal
for chief; oti Finance, whose soul was Cambon, also a true
friend of Danton ; on Legislation, with Cambaceres for di-
rector; and lastly, on War, where Carnot had the lead. It
was by the incessant labors of these committees that the
Convention carried on its immense work, while breathing an
atmosphere of fire.

The very first thing they did after ousting the Girondins was
to perform the work for which the Convention had mainly
convened, but which the danger of the country had postponed
from month to month, — to frame and adopt a nera con-
stitution. This work, known thereafter by the name of the
Constitution of Ni net}'- three, was performed with feverish
haste ; and though not in force for even a day, being sus-
pended before even receiving the sanction of the people, it
is important as embodying the principles that governed the
Jacobins in all their measures.

From the very first there had been a Committee on the
Constitution. Danton was a member of it ; but the great
majority were Girondins, and the principal of them the noble
Condorcet. This philosopher had for a considerable time


had reaily tlic draft of a constitution, on which he had re-
peatedly but vainly asked the Convention to take action.

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