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

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tion remarkably well. Production has, by universal consent,
increased wonderfully ; and, what is still more important, the
potential power of production is now literally illimitable.
For while it still may be said, that should even the richest
nation at this moment distribute its wealth equitably, many
would, probably, be in want ; yet this is no longer because
society cannot now with her best effort satisfy all, but because
society dares not produce all it can, for reasons presently to
be given. If society were permitted to em])loy all willing
hands and brains, she could, with our present a])pliances, and


without a sini;]e new invention, procure for e\'ery one all
desirable comlbrts with four hours' daily labor by each.
That is wholly due to the division of labor, machinery, the
inventions, which the middle classes have utilized ; to their
initiative, private "enterprise," and free competition, in P>ance
as elsewhere. It should also be remembered, to the credit
of the French bourgeoisie, that they tvere the fiist to get up
a public exposition of the skilled products of labor, to wit,
in Paris, and already as early as 1799, and thus started our
Universal Expositions, that have given rise to more new ideas
than the Crusades ever did. The middle classes, then, have
fulfilled their principal function, that for which they were
placed in power, splendidly, in France as well as elsewhere.

There is another good thing they have done, — not exactly
an immediate good, but good for our progress in the future,
— that is, that they have taught the masses innumerable
wants, made necessaries and decencies of life of a great
many things that were luxuries, or entirely unknown, in the
Middle Ages.

But what have they done to enable the masses to satisfy
these wants ?

Ah ! it is the great indictment against them, that they have
cared nothing at all for social wants, but only for their pri-
vate interests. That is why society does not now produce
all it can : because it would be prejudicial to the private
interests, to the profits, of the plutocracy. Of course they
have most miserably i)erformed those social duties which
Carlyle dins into their ears. But, then, the British middle
class, being first in the field, gave the French a very bad
precedent and example to follow.

What if Giffen can prove that the elite of the British
workers are a little better off than they were forty years ago?
The British working-class, as a whole, are not so well off as
their forefathers were al the end of the Middle Ages, when


four days' labor sufficed for a week's support. Hear Pro-
fessor Thorold Rogers, a middle-class economist himself:
"From 1563 to 1824, the very period when manufacturers
and traders were ac(iuiring immense fortunes, and the value
of agricultural lands was being trebled, a legal conspiracy
was entered into by both great political parties, and carried
out by those interested, to cheat the English workman of
his wages, to deprive him of hope, and degrade him into the
utmost poverty." And read that splendid little hook, -Dark-
ness aiid Daivn,^ written by a Christian Englishman, and its
brilliantly scathing denunciation of the English middle
classes ("whose hell is : not to make money," according to
Carlyle). Read how they hitched women and babes to the
machinery of production, invaded and broke up the flxmily
circle, introduced perilous and deadly conditions of labor,
deformed the human frame, inoculated the human body
with trade diseases from dust of steel, of flint, of rags, of
coal, from vapors of lead, gas, chlorine, acids, and muti-
lated the bodies of the workers with trade appliances, with
bands, wheels, and unprotected machinery ; read how they
cut wages down to the finest point, stretched the working
hours, " cropped " the dinner hours, and paid the serfs in
" truck."

The I''rcn(h followed this example, did even worse ; for
while the British plutocrats despised llieir working classes,
the French honri::;coisic manifested absolute Jiatrcd for theirs.
The I^nglish at least passed a poor-law, the French iicsccudcd
lo tlic /oii'csf Clinics.

One thuig that proves this charge is the sale of the
national estates. This whole damning record of crimes,
committed right after their coming into ])ower, which now has
been brought to light, explains the surprising i)olitical somer-
saults of the bourgeoisie immediately after the Revolution.

• I'liblihlicil by Ktjjaii I'aul & Co., Patcrnoslcr Square, London.


Historians have apijlaudcd the expropriation of clergy
and nobles, without inquiring into whose liands their estates
fell.. They tell of discourses, battles, constitutions, and
decrees, of every thing that dazzles ; but have been silent as
to the uninterrupted series of feverish, furious sales, — sales
amounting to milliards of francs, — not of course to those
who had only labor to give in exchange, but to those able
to pay cash, and pay quickly — or, who pretended to be
able. And if occasionally some patriotic voice was raised
in favor of the proletariat, the jobbers and financiers never
failed to evoke the spectre of " agrarian law."

The first lands confiscated were, as we saw, those of the
clergy, valued at that time at four hundred million dollars.
They consisted of rectories, priories, convents, chapels,
seminaries, castles, farmhouses, vineyards, forests, etc. First
they talked of selling eighty million dollars worth, to pay
the public debt, that is to say, to satisfy bankers and
capitalists ; at length they resolved to sell three hundred
and seventy-five million dollars worth : but not a sou was
appropriated to the poor, of whom yet there were a hundred
thousand in charity-houses in the large cities alone. These
lands w^ere bought up in the course of a couple of years, in
large blocks, by companies, or, as we should say now, syndi-
cates, of speculators and capitalists, who of course killed off
competition by people of small means ; and so raging was
the fever, that much land was sold which was not for sale at
all. Now, observe this : it was easy enough for these syndi-
cates to buy, for only twelve per cent was to be paid within
a short time after the sale ; the rest might have several years
to run. Thus it happened that the first terms arrived at
the commencement of 1792. Then considerable sums were
due, naturally, because heavy purchases had been made.
But the flow of money into the nation's coffers was very
slow, and finally slojjped entirely. The speculators, though


in possession of the lands, and drawing revenues from them,
gave the course of the Revohition as an excuse, and, that
it might be an effective excuse, did considerable towards
fomenting the troubles and violence of this year. This, then,
was the first swindle. They had four hundred million dol-
lars worth of lantl, for which they as a rule had paid but
twelve per cent of its value ; we shall afterwards see how
audacious they became during the following year.

After Aug. lo, to be told of in the next chapter., two
other immense batches of lands were added to the stock from
which to plunder, — the communal lands, and the estates
of the emigrants. As the working-class greatly helped the
middle class to the successful issue of that day, it was re-
solved immediately after harvest to distribute the communal
lands — comprising about one-tenth of all the soil of France
— amongst all the inhabitants of the respective communes ;
and also, that the estates of the emigrants should be divided
into small lots, and sold to the poor on redeemable ground-
rents. But the middle classes knew how to circumvent
all that. On the loth of October, 1792, the Convention
(which we shall see by and by was dominated at first by the
plutocrats) resolved to defer the distribution of the com-
munal lands, "as it would in\'olve such an innnense amount
of labor ; " and in regard to the ])roperty of the emigrants
it determined to dispose, for tlie time being, but of the per-
sonal property. This latter was auctioned off with vigor, so
that in less than a month thereafter the rich and costly
beds, mirrors, paintings, bureaus, billiards, etc., of the
nobility adorned the mansions of the money-aristocracy.
A knowledge of these doings will very much explain the
political events that are to be related, — explain to a great
extent Marat and Hubert.

Of course these nefarious speculations were not limited
to land. Speculators and stock-jobbers are never restrained




by the sentiments that move other men. They were, all
these first years of the Revolution, notoriously and defiantly
making " corners " in corn and other articles of food, and
thereby caused those horrible famines that decimated the
Parisians regularly every winter, except one sole winter when
the Jacobins, the Mountain party, were in power.

These are the deeds of the French bourgeoisie, when first
they step upon the scene as masters. Ah, those noble, gen-
erous thinkers Diderot, Rousseau, and others, their teachers,
who had prepared a way for their advent, and prayed for
it, in their way, as the dawn of a new golden age, had
never dreamt that such rascalities would be the immediate
result. And the record becomes more and more damning as
we proceed, even unto our days. The steady pursuit of the
French bourgeoisie is to fill their felonious pockets with gold,
coined out of the sweat and blood of their helpless ill-
starred brethren, — not in truth "brethren" in their eyes,
but a hated "lower class." Is it a wonder, if these hate
them in return ?


Oct. 1, 1791, to Jau. 21, 1793.

" Tu vcrras la Rcvolte, aux poings ensanglantes,

Tenir a ton chevet ses flambeaux agitcs!
{" Thou shall sec Revolt, luith bloody fists.

Hold flaring torches at thy bedside! ") — Didekot.

Conspiracy. — Aug. lo. — Invasion. — September Massacres. — War
OF Propaganda. — Louis' Head "a Gage of Battle."

THE Legislative Body, under the new constitution, met
immediately after the Constituent Assembly, on Oct.
I, 1791. It was composed wholly of new men, young men,
juiiidle-class men. It was decidedly more radical than its
predecessor : its right consisted of constitutional royalists,
its left of republicans, — the celebrated Girondins, who were
aspiring lawyers to a great extent, and talkers, some of
them very fine talkers. Its short existence of about a year
was spent almost entirely in defending the new regime
against its enemies.

'I'he emigration had made alarming progress. The King's
two brothers and the Prince of Conde had protested against
his acceptance of the constitution, asserting that he hail no
power to alienate the rights of the ancient monarchy.

The ambassadors of the emigrants were received by
foreign governments, wliile those of the actual iM-cnch (lov-
ernment were either sent back, or contemptuously received,
or in some instances even imprisoned ; and French travellers
and mercliants, suspected of palriulism and oi supporting the


1792.] CONSPIRACY. 71

Revolution, were suljjected to all sorts of indignities all over
Europe. Yet even these annoyances contributed to the
march of the Revolution, for they led the Legislature at
last to confiscate the property of the emigrants, and thus
added considerably to the basis of the assigiiais, — and also
to the fund to plunder from.

Meanwhile, the Emperor of Austria and the King of
Prussia, incited by the King's brothers, concentrated their
forces nearer and nearer the French frontiers. The King
and Queen of France themselves conspired with the for-

Louis wrote on the 3d of December, 1791, to the em-
jieror, )\\aX, for recovering his absolute power, he had nothing
else to trust to than an unsuccessful war on the part of
France ; and the Queen in March, 1792, comm1.micated the
Frencli plan of campaign to the prospective enemy. She
wrote to ALircy, her Austrian confidant : " Dumouriez," at
that time the Girondin French minister of war, " having no
longer a doubt that the powers have come to an agreement
as to the march of their troops, has now the intention of
commencing the war by an attack on Savoy, and another on
the country surrounding Liege. It is the army of Lafayette
that is to make the latter attack : so the council has resolved
yesterday, and it is well to know the plans, in order to put
ourselves on guard, and take all necessary measures. Ac-
cording to all appearances, this will have to be done quickly."

And then, on July 25, 1792, appeared that ill-starred,
famous, or infamous, manifesto, dated at Coblentz, and
signed by the Duke of Brunswick, generalissimo of the
allied forces, which said : —

" Those of the French National Guards who fight against
the troops of the allied courts, and who shall be taken with
arms in their hands, will be punished as rebels against their


"The inhabitants of all cities, towns, and villages who
shall dare to oppose the troops of their Imperial and Royal
Majesties, and shall shoot on them, either in the open field,
or from windows, doors, or other openings of their houses,
shall be punished summarily, according to all the rigor of
laws of war, and their houses demolished or burnt.

" The city of Paris and all its inhabitants, without distinc-
tion, are warned to submit immediately to the King, to place
that prince in full and complete liberty, and to secure to
him, and to all the royal personages, the inviolability which
the laws of nature and of nations demand of subjects towards
their sovereign. Their Imperial and Royal Majesties make
all the members of the Legislature, of the department, of
the municipality, and of the National Guard of Paris, as
well as justices of the peace, and every one else concerned,
responsible luitli their lieads for all that may happen, and
will have them tried by courts-martial, without hope of
pardon. Further, their said majesties declare, on their
words as Emperor and King, that if the palace of the Tui-
leries be forced or violated, or if there be offered the least
violence and outrage to the persons of their majesties the
King and Queen, and of the Royal Family, if care be not
taken to insure their security and liberty, they w'ill execute an
exemplary and ever-memorable vengeance, and deliver Paris
over to military execution and total destruction"

Now, in all candor, is it a wonder that Parisians, —
Parisians, remember, the most excitable population on the
face of the earth, — when they read that '' manifesto," be-
came enraged, even hysteric?

And yet the Parisians did not know the worst. They
did not know that this " manifesto " was the work of their
own King, Louis XVI.; that it was draughted from in-
structions confided by him to a Cicnevese journalist, Mallet
du Pan ; and that, in parlicuhir, the menace against Paris

,792] CONSPIRACY. 73

was, in that memorandum, indicated in the most explicit

It certainly was fatal to the King, his cause, and his party,
that he had to form all hopes of saving himself on the
success of the foreign enemies of France.

On the 30th of July the allied forces enter French terri-
tory. They consist of fifty thousand Prussians, in the finest
condition, and supported by an unusually large train, both
of heavy and field artillery, and with the King in person,
accompanied by his mistress, among them ; furthermore,
forty-five thousand Austrians, the greater part of them
veterans from the Turkish wars ; next, six thousand Hes-
sians ; and lastly, upwards of twelve thousand French emi-
grants, — in all, a hundred and thirteen thousand men.

Now, Danton ! you are called on to enter on the scene,
as an instrument in the hands of the Power behind Evolu-
tion, to crush this counter-Revolution, and to save France

and the Revolution !

* * *

That the insurrection of Aug. lO was a most legitimate
one, there can be no doubt. Here was the new France,
the Revolution, in a life-and-death struggle with the whole
ancient regime, and there were the constitutional defenders
of that new France in league with the invaders. It was an
imperious necessity to overthrow these constituted authorities,
and make them harmless ; patriotism demanded it.

It has been said that the insurrection was one made by
the whole population of Paris " in all its majesty." This is
nonsense. In the first place, a very definite plan was fol-
lowed, and a whole people can lay no plan, nor secure
unity of action ; and, next, the population of Paris was not
very " majestic " at that moment ; they were rather in that
state of hysterics which may be described as hysteric fear.

No, there were leaders then and there ; and the success


was due to the leaders, as, indeed, in all popular move-
ments, the vast majority of the participants are mere imita-
tors. Danton, undoubtedly, was the soul of the movement,
th(nigh it is difficult to prove it, for, first, it was the out-
come of a conspiracy which is secret, and next, as already
said, he never wrote ; so we have, unfortunately, no memoirs
or letters from him, as from so many other lesser characters.
But he was, by all his contemporaries, looked upon as the
chief of that insurrection ; and Madame Robert, who spent
the night of it in Danton's house, anxious about the safety
of her husband, said to Lucille Desmoulins, Camille's wife :
" But this Danton, who is the centre of this thing ! If my
husband perishes, I am that kind of woman that I shall kill

Of course he had co-workers, also, in laying the plans.
First, there were the members of his club, which now was
joined by the Alsatian soldier Westermann, who will lead the
people in the assault farther on ; then there was a com-
mittee which the sections had appointed to demand the
King's deposition of the Legislature, and composed of most
notable men, like Destournelles, director-general of the
registry ; Cournand, professor of literature at the College
of France ; Restout, member of the Academy of Painting ;
Chambon, of the Royal Society of Medicine ; and more
than thirty lawyers, judges, and merchants ; then the Gi-
rondin members of the Legislature faithfully abetted him.
One of these, Barbaroux, deputy from Marseilles, called on
that city to send five hundred men " who know how to die ; "
in response to which call, three times five hundred deter-
mined men left their tools and their forges, and started on
their memorable march llirough the heart of France, singing
that inspiriting song, just composed by a young officer,
Rouget de Lisle, at Strasl)Ourg, and ever since called after
them, The Mdiscillaisc. This song, by the way, is not a

1792.] AUGUST TENTH. 75

revolutionary one at all, nor even a republican song (Rouget
de Lisle broke his sword when he heard of the abolition of
royalty), but an appeal to rise to repel invasion. How their
footfalls through France are listened to by the conspirators,
for the insurrection will be timed by their arrival ! This
fact alone, that these strangers were so very much needed,
does not speak very highly for the revolutionary spirit of the
Parisians of those days. At last they arrive, on July 30, a
Sunday, and Danton puts them into quarters in his district,
near his club. During the week all the arrangements for
the insurrection are then made.

Last of all, Danton prepares himself for the worst. On
the Sunday following he goes to Arcis-sur-Aube, because,
as he said before the Revolutionary Tribunal, " Danton is a
good son. I wanted to say good-by to ray mother, and settle
my affairs." He settles the house in which his mother lived
on her, and on his stepfather if the latter should outlive

At midnight, between the 9th and loth of August, the
decisive moment had arrived. The alarm-bell sounded, and
ceased not the whole night. It was a warm, beautiful, star-
lit night. The streets were crowded with dense masses
of the people. With the first sounds of the bell, delegates
from about half the sections of Paris wended their way to-
ward the Hotel de Ville, where they found the legal muni-
cipal body in session, and sullen. The members of this
body were invited to disperse, and did so with alacrity. The
delegates took their vacant places, and thus the first revo-
lutionary Commune of Paris was formed.

The next important step taken was for the new Commune
to summon before it IMandat, the commandant of the Na-
tional Guards, a man determined to defend the King's palace
and the King to the best of his ability, and who had disposed
the most faithful of his troops to the best advantage. He


obeyed, ignorant of the change that had taken place. When
he appeared he was put under arrest. These two steps
assured the success of the insurrection.

Danton, who had been present, now went to the Chib of
the Cordehers, where the Marseillais were ready and waiting.
He electrified them with these few words, " You hear the
alarm-bell : it is the voice of the people. You have hastened
from the extremity of the empire to the head of the nation,
which is menaced by the conspiracies of despotism. May
that bell sound the last hour of kings ! To arms, and ^a
ira! " Scarcely had he finished, when " Qa ira " shook the
very vaults of the building, and the Marseillais went about
their business. Danton went home to snatch a few moments'
sleep with his clothes on, on his couch, while his faithfully
sympathetic wife watched and wept beside him. It was
not long before he was again summoned to his club.

It was now daybreak. The insurrectionists were poorly
equipped, mostly with pikes, and, to tell the truth, poor in
spirits. Indeed, it was necessary that Westermann should
take Santerre, the redoubtable commander of the fiercest
faubourg, that of St". Antoine, by the throat, and with drawn
sabre force him to march. The Marsellais were the only
men that presented any military appearance. They were
all now marching on the Tuileries. There was one inter-
ested spectator, — Napoleon Bonaparte. He was of opinion
that with one solid regiment he could have dispersed the
whole crowd, as no doubt he could have done.

The royal family had Swiss mercenaries and some gentle-
men jKMisioners to defend themselves with. When Mandat's
arrest and death — he was later on, in being taken to prison,
killed Ity a pistol-shot from a bystander — were learned,
Louis was advised not to attempt any defence ; so at seven
in the morning he collected his family around him, said
" tnarchons," and all marched to the hall of the Legislature,

1792.] AUGUST TENTH. 77

under whose protection he placed liimself and family. They
were temporarily accoinmodatcd with a small /r'^i,r in the
gallery, where the King soon was engaged in his usual morn-
ing occupation, — eating a roast chicken.

The gentlemen who had gathered around their King for
his defence escaped from the palace by various exits. But
it was a great, great pity that the King did not, before
leaving, order the Swiss not to resist ; for just now, when
the whole object of the insurrection had been gained, the
insurrectionists reached the palace and demanded access.
It was refused. Westermann and the Marseillais tried per-
suasive words, but in vain. Somehow, then, some shots hap-
pened to go off, which rent holes in the roof of the palace ;
and immediately the Swiss answered with a discharge of
musketry, which left a great number of patriots dead or

And now commenced a terrible battle. Even Mandat's
faithful guards took sides against the Swiss. The Marseillais
fought most gallantly. Each, as he fell, bequeathed his gun
to his comrades, and pointed to the pockets where his last
cartridges were ; and dying lips cried out, " Revenge us ! "
There were twelve hundred Swiss defenders, and but a very
few were taken prisoners.

Thus ended the royalty of Louis XVI., and this was the
answer to Brunswick's " manifesto." And now were

found among the King's papers indubitable proofs of Mira-
heau's treason to the popular cause. His body had been
taken to the Pantheon accompanied by a whole people :
his bones were now soon to be ejected ignominiously from
the national temple. But the ivorsf was, that the people
became savagely suspicious, and turned with ever-growing
confidence, with worship even, to Robespierre, the incorrupt-

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 6 of 21)