Laurence Gronlund.

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

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ible. It was this suspicion of capable friends, and worshi[)
of imbecility if only " incorruptible," that caused all the


sul)sc(iucnt disasters ; and should be a great warning to us,
for this horrible, unhealthy suspicion is altogether too preva-
lent with us, i.e., in our labor parties. Robespierre was, the
day after, elected a member of the Commune by one of
the sections that had been unrepresented during the night
of Aug. 10 ; and Marat, the suspicious and bloodthirsty
Marat, though not a member, also installed himself in its
place of meeting to watch and direct.

* * * ''

Danton was energetic enough, not alone to make the
insurrection a success, but to gather all the fruits of the vic-
tory, and bear all its burdens. At ten o'clock the next day
he was virtually dictator. The Legislature, by 222 out of
284 votes, appointed him minister of justice.

\Ve can have no better comment on this appointment
than the words of the celebrated Girondin and philosopher,
Condorcet, written while he was wandering about proscribed
and devoted to the guillotine, and Uanton still apparently
in power ; —

"They have reproached me for voting for Danton for
minister of justice. Here are my reasons : It was necessary
to have in the government a man who had the confidence
of those who had just overturned the throne ; a man who,
by his ascendency, could keep in order the many unruly
instruments of a Revolution which undoubtedly was useful,
glorious, and necessary ; a man with such talents and char-
acter that he would be agreeable to his fellow-ministers and
the members of the .Assembly. Danton alone had these
qualities. I chose him, and I do not regret it. Perhaps
he deferred too much to popular ideas, and carried into
public affairs too much the people's notions ; but the only
thing which, in times of revolution, can save the laws, is,
to act with the people by directing it, and all parties who
have separated themselves from the i)eoj)le have ended by

Z792.] INVASION. 79

ruining tlicmselves and the people at the same time. Be-
sides, Danton has that precious quality which ordinary men
never have, of neither hating nor fearing those who are
wise, talented, and virtuous."

This is the estimate of Danton by a just man.

The following day Danton presents himself before the
Legislature to take the oath, and on that occasion utters
these memorable words : " Whenever justice regains its
regular course, popular vengeance should cease. I engage
myself to protect those within your jurisdiction. I shall
march at their head, and be responsible for them." " They
applaud," says the Moniteur of the next day. Ah, Danton,
you have good intentions, but you will find you have taken
too great an engagement, even for you !

There are plenty of other things for him to do. The
court party was defeated, but not vanquished. All the
journals of the day, moreover, agree that great numbers
of provincials were flocking to Paris from all sides. None
could say whether it was the advancing enemy, or a wish
to free the King, that moved them. The suspicious Parisians
generally said to one another, " They come to betray us the
more surely when the enemy is before our gates."

And look at the terrible situation. On the i8th of
August, Lafayette cowardly deserts his camp and his sol-

On the 2 2d the Vendean peasants rise in insurrection.
Eight hundred of them occupy Chatillon, crying, " Live the
King ! Death to the Parisians ! "

On the 23d the Austrians take Longwy. In the South-
east the French territory had already been violated by the

France believed itself lost, and was not far from it.

The Girondins were in power, but also in despair. There
was only Danton self-confident, lie took the rudder of


state ; lie made his colleagues into his clerks ; he imposed
his will on the Girondin ministers, Roland, Servan, Lebrun ;
he took upon himself to direct foreign affairs, the war-ofifice,
the ministry of the interior, besides his own officers.

There is ample evidence for that. Let us take the one
witness to whom are due nearly all the bad opinions the
world has had of Danton, — the hysteric recriminations of
the wife of Minister Roland, of that Madame Roland who,
for some time after Aug. 10, fancied herself queeti of
France : —

" It is a great pity that the Council sliall be spoiled by
that D., who has so bad a reputation. . . . No one could
show a greater zeal, a greater love for liberty, a more lively
desire to agree with his colleagtics, in order to seit'e it. I
looked at his repulsive face, and though I said to myself
that I was sure of nothing against him, that the most honest
man must, in times like these, have two reputations, I yet
could not imagine an honest man with such a face. . . .
He was continually in the 7var huj-eaux.'"

And he himself said afterwards, " I was just as much an
adjunct of the war-ofifice, as concerned with my own de-

What then did he do? These three great things: He
took the lead in crushing the counter- Revolution in Paris,
in expelling the invading enemy, and in planting the re-
public on a secure foundation.

Observe the scanty means at his disposal. To oppose to
the disciplined troops of the allies, the French had mainly
raw recruits, badly equipped, badly commanded, antl who
were without confidence in their chiefs.

A year afterwards Danton thus described the situation to
the Convention, without being contradicted : " Last year,
in the Ivxecutive Council, I took, on my own responsibility,
the necessary measures to infuse into the i)eople the grand


impulse to march to the frontiers. . . , Let me remind you
of the terrible Revolution of August. The whole of Paris
was then on fire. The Parisians would not go outside of
their walls. Excellent patriots feared to leave their hearth-
stones, because they suspected enemies and conspirators
within. I have myself (for sometimes it is necessary to
speak of one's self) called, I say, the Executive Council
together, and with them the heads of sections, the members
of the Commune, and a committee of the Legislature. We
agreed upon the measures to be taken, and the people
seconded our efforts."

Danton was very modest here. This is, in fact, all he
has himself told us of what he did. We must gather the
rest from the public documents, from his speeches, and
the splendid results obtained.

First, then, he had Dumouriez appointed commander-in-
chief, considering him rightly the ablest general France
then had.

Paris and the surrounding departments are then called
on immediately to furnish fifty thousand men ; thirty thou-
sand of these to depart for the frontier, and twenty thousand
to form a camp outside the walls of Paris.

But the Parisians murmur, " Depart? Yes, we shall do
so ; but first we want to be assured that our wives and chil-
dren are not left to the mercies of conspirators within."

Then it is, in the evening of Aug. 28, that Danton speaks
these weighty words in the Assembly : —

" The executive power has charged me to tell the Legis-
lature the measures we have taken for the safety of the
country. I shall defend these measures as a revolutionary
minister. Hitherto we have made war in the sham fashion
of Lafayette. Our warfare is to be a more terrible one. All
that can materially serve us in our situation ought to be
done. The executive power Ins appointed commissioners to


go into the departnienls and innuence oiiinion. We think
that you, too, should appoint delegates to accompany ours,
so that the concert of the representatives of the two author-
ities may have its due effect.

" We further propose to you to authorize the municipalities,
to recruit the best men they have, and equip them well.

" We have shut the gates of the capital, and for good rea-
sons. It is important to seize all conspirators, but there are
thirty thousand of them. It is necessary that they be airested
to-morrow, so that to-morrow there may be free communi-
cation between Paris and all the rest of France.

" We ask of you authority to make house-searches. There
ought to be in Paris eighty thousand muskets in good state.
Well, those who have arms should fly to the frontiers. The
nations who have conciuered Liberty have done so by flying
at the enemy. What would France say if Paris should, in
stupor, wait for the arrival of the enemy ?

" Numerous forces will soon be assembled here. Only
give the municipalities authority to take all that is necessary
on engaging themselves to indemnify the owners. All be-
longs to the Fatherland when the Fatherland is in danger."

These are the two ideas that form the insj)iration, the
flame, of Danton's eloquence, — Liberty and Fatherland.
It is by these ideas, which he may be said to clothe in the
form of religious dogmas, that he incites his people to sacri-
fices. There is another thing worthy of notice : the meas-
ures he proposes are always such as should be done now,
immediately. He proposes them in the form of motions,
they become laws the same moment, and he himself causes
them to be instantly executed.

Thus the house-searches take place the very same night.
We can form an idea of them from the following description
by Peltier, a royalist : —

" Let the reader fancy to himself a vast metropolis, the

1792.] INVASION. 83

streets of which, a few days before, were alive with carriages
and citizens constantly passing and re-passing, — let him
fancy to himself, I say, streets so populous and animated
suddenly struck with the dead silence of the grave before
sunset on a fine summer evening. All the shops are shut ;
everybody retires into the interior of his house, trembling
for life and property. All are in fearful expectation of the
events of a night, during which even the efforts of despair
are not likely to afford the least resource to any individual.
The sole object of these ' domiciliary visits,' it is pretended,
is to search for arms. The barriers, however, are shut and
guarded with the strictest vigilance, and boats are stationed
on the river at regular distances, filled with armed men.
Every one supposes that he is informed against ; everywhere
persons and property are being hidden and stowed away ;
everywhere are heard tlie interrupted sounds of the muffled
hammer, as some one, with cautious knock, is completing a
hiding-place. Roofs, garrets, sinks, chimneys, — all are just
the same to fear, incapable of calculating any risk. Here a
man squeezed up behind the wainscot, which has been nailed
back on him, seems to form a part of the wall ; there another
is suffocated, between fear and heat, between mattresses ; a
third, rolled up in a cask, loses all sense of existence by the
tension of his sinews. Fear is everywhere stronger than
l)ain. Men tremble, but they do not shed tears ; the heart
shivers, the eye is dull, and the breast contracted. Women
display prodigies of tenderness and intrepidity. It was by
them that most of the men were concealed. It was

one o'clock in the morning when the domiciliary visits
began. Patrols, consisting each of sixty pikemen, were in
every street. The nocturnal tumult of so many armed
men, the incessant knocks to make jieople open their doors,
the crash of those that were burst off tlieir hinges, and the
uproar that reigned the whole night lonj in the public


houses, formed together a picture that never will be effaced
from my memory."

The result was, the prisons and houses of detention were
filled with some three thousand prisoners. Of course it was
impossible to arrest the whole batch of thirty thousand con-
spirators of whom Danton talked, but his object was gained :
all who were not arrested were thoroughly intimidated, and
by that blow he had virtually already crushed the countcr-
Revolution inside Paris.

On the morning of the following Sunday, Sept. 2, the
people read the following proclamation by the Commune,
posted up on all the walls of Paris : —

" Citizens, the enemy is at our gates. Verdun, which just
now detains him, can hold out only some eight days. The
citizens who defend it have sworn to die rather than surren-
der ; that means that they are going to make a wall around
us with their bodies. It is your duty to fly to their assist-
ance. Citizens, march immediately under your flags ! Come,
let us meet to-day on the Champ de Mars, and form, the
very same moment, an army of sixty thousand men. Let us
go to expire under the blows of the enemy, or to exterminate
him under ours."

And in the forenoon of the same day a committee from
the Commune appears at the bar of the Legislature, and
makes the communication that the alarm-cannon will sound
in an instant, to invite all patriotic citizens of Paris and neigh-
boring departments to be on the Champ de Mars, and march
against the enemy.

The Legislature then, on the proposition of Danton, de-
crees the punishment of death against everybody who, pos-
sessing arms, shall refuse either to march in person or give
up the arms.

And Danton makes a last effort to direct the popular
feeling against the invading enemy : —

1792.] INVASION. 85

" Gentlemen, it is a satisfaction to the ministers of a free
people to be able to announce to you tliat our fatlierland
will be saved. Everybody is ready, and burns to strike the
blow. You know that Verdun is not yet in tlie power of
the enemy, and you have learnt that the garrison has prom-
ised to immolate the first one who proposes to surrender.

" A part of our people will go to the frontier, another part
will go outside the walls of our city, and a third part keep
order inside. The Commune has just proclaimed, in a sol-
emn manner, its invitation to citizens to arm and march to
the defence of our country. This is the proper time for you,
gentlemen, to declare that the capital has merited well of
the whole of France.

"This also is the time for the Legislature to constitute
itself into a committee of the whole for war. Assist us in
directing the sublime enthusiasm of the people, and appoint
delegates who will second us in our grand measures, and
send out couriers to all departments to make known the
decrees you will render.

" The cannon you will hear is not so much an alarm-sig-
nal. It is a sign to charge on the enemies of the country.
All that we need is audacity, again audacity, and forever
audacity, and our country is saved."

Alas ! at the very moment when Danton spoke these words,
by which he simply wanted to infuse into his hearers his own
self-confidence and courage, as he so often did, — those ter-
rible murders, of which Parisians to all eternity should be
ashamed, were being committed in all the prisons. We shall
immediately see that Danton had no part in them at all.
He was the reverse of cruel and bloodthirsty.

These September massacres made all his colleagues,
Roland in particular, lose their heads. They demanded the
translation of the government to Tours or Blois, behind the


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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 7 of 21)