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

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have buried 1 )anton for nearly a century under IJie load


of infamy of having instigated these outrages, — it is reall}-
atrocious !

But why did he not prevent them ? Was he not minister
of justice?

Well, and as such it was not at all, in spite of the big words
he spoke on taking the oath of office, specially within his
jurisdiction to prevent them. He had, as such, simply to
attend to the administration of justice, but had nothing to
do tvith the maintenance of oi-der, or security of the prisons.
That came partly within the jurisdiction of the Commune of
Paris, partly of the minister of the interior, Roland. Why
did not Roland do sojnething ? He used none of the means
placed at his disposal.

As to the Legislative Body, " it wanted to prevent the
slaughter, and it could not,'' says Mignet ; and I suppose
that is the fact.

But Danton could, nevertheless, have interposed his great
influence with the people, and tried to bring them to reason.
Yes, of course, he, knowing the perfect uselessness of his
efforts, could have gone and deliberately sacrificed himself,
or at least sacrificed all his influence, and made himself
impossible as the savior of France, the republic, and the
Revolution. That might have been the conduct of a saint,
but not of a wise patriot ; and I never claim for Danton that
he was a saint, but simply a whole, honest man.

We have a fact to prove that Danton was not in league
with the " Septembrisenisy The Commune of Paris had
ordered Adrian Duport, an ex-member of the Constituent
Assembly, and a political enemy of Danton, to be arrested
outside of the territory of the Commune, and brought to
Paris. If that order had been obeyed, Duport would cer-
tainly have been massacred. As soon as it was brought to
Danton's notice, he, in spite of repeated re7nonstrances front
Marat and Billaud- Varcnnes, — of whom we shall hear


more in the future, — promptly and energetically directed,
by virtue of his authority as minister of justice, that Duport
should not be taken to Paris, but tried at the jurisdiction
where the arrest took place. That was done, and he was

And now, again, appears Madame Roland, and adds her
accusation : " History will undoubtedly preserve the infa-
mous circular of the Commune, which glorified the massacres
of September, and instigated all France to go and do like-
wise, — circular which was sent out in profusion under the
countersign of the minister of justice."

Yes, history has preserved it fortunately ; and it is a most
infamous circular, dated the 3d of September, and signed,
among others, by Marat and Billaud : but Madame Roland is
deceived in one particular ; it does not bear the countersign
of Danton, or of the ministry of justice, and has not the
name of Danton anywhere.

But Alai-afs name is there : he certainly instigated suffi-
ciently to such acts in general, he declared himself ready to
take the responsibility ; so let him have it ! He was in his
person the very embodiment of that mixture of suspicion,
terror, and cruelty which dominated the Parisians ; of that
mental state in hysteric women who one moment may be
terribly frightened by a little animal, and the next moment,
when it is caught, savagely wring its neck. That he, however,
was perfectly honest there cannot be a doubt ; but his con-
ceit, his pretensions, were so immoderate as to amount to
positive insanity. He liked to give snatches of liiography
of himself in his journal, and here is one morsel : —

" From my inflmcy T have been consumed with a yearning
for distinction. In all my studies 1 carry along with me a
holy respect for virtue, and my dominant })assion, the love
for renown. I dare (latter myself tliat I have not missed
my aim, judging from tlie unworthy persecution to which I


have been subjected during the last ten years by the mem-
bers of the Royal Academy of Sciences, as soon as they
learned that my discoveries on light upset all their work
during the last century, and tliat I myself had no wish to
enter their society ! "

But when he was assassinated, next year, his whole wealth
amounted to twenty-one cents. It is also to his credit, that
he did not, like He'bert later on, descend to addressing the
people in coarse and vulgar language,

Danton despised him. Once the former said, " I declare
to the Convention that I by no means like the individual
Marat, I freely avow that I have experienced his temper-
ament, and found it not alone volcanic and bitter, but un-
sociable." And on another occasion, " I have been accused
of being the author of some of this man's [Marat's] writings.
I call your presiding officer [the Girondin Petion] to witness.
He has read the threatening letter sent me by Marat ; he has
overheard an altercation which took place between us at the
viairie.'' This altercation turned upon nothing less than an
order of arrest issued by Marat, during the days of Septem-
ber, against Roland, which Danton tore in pieces, declaring
it should never be executed. Indeed, as we shall

afterwards see, Danton's humane behavior during these
September days may precisely be what mainly caused his


* * *

Now the National Convention, the most remarkable
assembly of any on record, meets ; and the Legislative Body
dissolves on Sept, 21, 1792, Danton, Herault de S^chelles,
Camille Desmoulins, Fabre, Robert, Philip (formerly d'Or-
leans, now Egalite), Robespierre, Marat, Billaud-Varennes,
with others, are members from Paris among these eight hun-
dred and fifty " conventionals," Of the foreigners on whom
French citizenship was conferred, Priestley, Thomas Paine,


and Baron dc Cloots have been elected meml)ers by various
departments ; of these the last two take their seats. This is
the most radical of all assemblies, so far ; here the Girondins
form the Right, and the jjarty of Robespierre, Marat, and
Billaud, the Jacobins, or the Mountain, the Left. The mem-
bers of no particular convictions, except this, that they were
all republicans, form the Centre, or the Plain, and make the
majority by supporting either the Girondins or the Mountain.
Generally they go with the former, up to May 31. They'are
those who save their heads, and later on become great men,
and — write memoirs. Danton, at first, frequently consti-
tutes himself leader of this Plain, and tries, in that capacity,
to reconcile Right and Left.

The first business done by the Convention on the first day
of its session — the day of the autumnal equinox, by the
way — is to decree the abolition of royalty, and the estab-
lishment of the French Republic ; an easy thing to do, since
it has already been created, and a few days more will see
the last enemy driven from French soil. On the same day
Danton resigns his office as minister of justice.

But this very ease with which France had got rid of the
invaders, together with the usual French worship of princi-
ples, and impatience for applying them, gave rise to a policy
which like a whirlwind took possession of the Girondins,
and, to some extent, of the Mountain party, and ruled the
Convention from the first day of its session, throughout 1792,
and the first part of 1793. This policy was the so-called
-d'.-ir of propaganda.

The whole philosophy of the eighteenth century had been
a laying-down of " principles," and deductions from them.
The Constituent Assembly had preceded its constitution
witli a declaration of the rights of man, which was a string
of such " principles," or ideas, evolved out of the philoso-
phers' own consciousness; tlie main one of which was that

1792.] IVA/^ OF PROPAGANDA. 95

of Rousseau's, affirming the scnrrcigii/y of tlic people, which
the repubhc had now for the first time really realized.

Since these "rights" were looked upon as absolute and
universal, belonging to all mankind, without exception of
time and place, the conclusion followed, that royalty is
everywhere illegitimate, and against nature, a tyranny and a
usurpation ; and that it is the duty of every free people to
overthrow it at home, and, next, to assist other nations in
doing likewise.

The principal agitator of these doctrines was, curiously
enough, a Prussian, a millionnaire and a nobleman, — that
Baron de Cloots whom we have seen elected a member of
the Convention. In fact, with him these doctrines con-
stituted a whole system. There was but one sovereign,
Humanity ; one law, the Rights of Man ; one kind of gov-
ernment, that of dividing the whole earth into autonomous
municipalities and communes, with Paris for centre. It will
be noticed that these are precisely the notions of our anar-
chists, who have received them in true apostolic succession
through the later H^bertists, from Cloots. It is really curious
that such crude notions could take the whole Convention,
composed of educated men, by storm ; but, as a fact, they
did, with the exception of Danton and his closer friends.
But they, apparently, thought it impossible for some time to
oppose the current, for they kept silence ; but Danton, nev-
ertheless, as we shall see afterwards, goes on negotiating with
foreign powers whenever he can get an opportunity, which
is in flagrant contradiction with the doctrine, which does not
allow of any parleying with " tyrants." And we shall also
see, that, as soon as the policy commences to prove mis-
chievous to the interests of France, Danton courageously
stems the tide, and timely turns it.

But at the opening of the Convention, when patriotic fer-
vor was at its highest, and the French armies were victo-


riously confronting Belgium, then under the dominion of
Austria, the hereditary foe that had invaded their country,
this pohcy of armed propaganda seemed very dazzhng.
Moreover, the Belgian middle classes, speaking the French
language, had naturally become infected with the French rev-
olutionary ideas, and implored French intervention. It was
therefore in the nature of things that the Convention should
resolve to invade and free Belgium. One battle, that of
Jemappes, won by Dumouriez, settled the fate of the'' cam-
paign. In a few weeks the French were masters of the whole
country, and received with open arms by its middle classes.
At the same time, at the South-east, a French army occupies
Savoy, belonging to Sardinia, without a blow, and is received
with the same enthusiasm.

Then the Convention cannot contain itself, but goes to
work to pass, unanimously and with enthusiasm, the remark-
able decree of Nov. 19, 1792, which is a most complete
and energetic legal expression of this anarchic theory and
policy : —

"The National Convention declares, in the name of the
French nation, that it offers fraternity and support to all na-
tions who wish to recover their liberty, and charges the exec-
utive power that it give the necessary instructions to our
generals, that they may give assistance to such nations, and
defend all citizens who have been, or may be, liarmed for
their devotion to liberty. It is further resolved that this
resolution shall be translated and printed in all /angi/ages,
and then distributed."

Danton was present at this extraordinary session, but said
nothing. He probably thought that this policy would not,
for Uie time being, have any mischievous consequences for
the Revolution. Shortly after, he and his friend Lacroix,
and a couple of other members, are sent as representatives of
the Convention into Belgium, to look after the necessities


of the army of occupation, and inaugurate the new govern-

But it was not long before it became evident to the lead-
ing men of the Convention, and especially to Cambon, the
celebrated revolutionary finance-minister, that — what had
not for a moment occurred to Cloots and his immediate
disciples — this " war of propaganda " would, under all cir-
cumstances, be a costly thing for France, both in money
and men ; that she, in fact, could not, however generous she
might feel, support its burdens alone. Therefore another
decree was voted, after a feverish discussion, on the 15th of
December, 1792, abolishing, in all the countries "conquered
for liberty," all feudal rights, duties, taxes, privileges, and
corporations, and directing the generals to take and hold,
"as pledge for the costs of the war," all the real and per-
sonal property belonging to the treasury, to the prince and
his voluntary adherents, and to all public establishments and
religious orders. The object of this law was simply the same
as the confiscation of the estates of the nobility and clergy
in France, — to broaden the basis of the assignats, and
thus extend their credit ; and, next, to induce the protected
nations to take and use this paper money as their currency,
as they had to do from the moment their own public revenues
were stopped.

But, as said, next year this whole policy will be reversed.
* * *

At the same time Louis XVI. — Louis Capet, as he is now
called — is being tried by the Convention, sentenced to
death, and executed Jan. 21, 1793, according to the English

A member of the Convention, a lawyer, observed, " I ex-
pected to find here an assembly of judges, and I find an
assembly of accusers." Very true ; and this, of course, set-
tled Louis' fate beforehand. No doul)t he had conspired


against France ; but tliat could never be a crime in his eyes,
whose standpoint, naturally, was that of Louis XIV., —
riitat, c' est mot, " I am the State."

The execution had no immediate consequences at all.
It became of capital importance a few years afterwards,
when the fact, whether a member had or had not voted the
death penalty, became the test of " civism," ' of cjualifi-
cation for becoming a member of the government ; which
test, undoubtedly, contributed considerably to defer > die
accession of Louis XVIII. to the throne. But the Revo-
lution would, probably, have run about the same course, if
Louis XVI. had succeeded in escaping. His execution,
however, proved this much : that the Revolution now was
strong enough to carry the stroke, and that the counter-
Revolution within was thoroughly crushed. In Danton's
words, " the tyrant's head was thrown as a gage of battle to

The following is a report of the execution in the Gazette
de France, a Parisian daily journal of the period, a four-page
(juarto paper : —

" The tyrant is no more. A terrible example has been
given to the despots of the world. The axe of justice has
struck down him who already was condemned by the con-
science of the French people. This memorable judgment
rests solely on the responsibility of the nation itself, which
takes this responsibility on its shoulders. Its adversaries
will never have their last hope fulfilled, — that of one day
seeing the judgment reversed which has avenged it. ' The
nation knows its enemies, — the kings of the earth ; and if
they pretend to demand an account of the republic for a
judgment which, by executing a king, has placed all Jiuman-
ity on an equal footing, every French citizen will present
himself as the responsible party.

' The ijualily of being ;i good cilizcn, — tlic Jacoliin version of altruism.


"The f()lk)\ving were the measures that were taken in view
of the execution : —

"There were strong detachments of artillery in all the
public places, and strong reserves were kept in the various

" Twenty citizens, well armed, each being provided with
sixteen cartridges, had been chosen by each section, e\'ery
one of them being vouched for as an excellent patriot.
These formed a guard of twelve hundred men, who preceded
and followed Louis Capet.

" Between eight and nine in the morning the latter seated
himself in the carriage of the mayor, who accompanied him,
together with Edgeworth, the English Catholic priest, whose
attendance he had asked for.

" The procession, commanded by Major-Gen. Santerre,
followed the grand boulevards till it came to the Place de la
Revolution [now called the Place de la Concorde]. Louis
Capet arrived at the foot of the scaffold twenty minutes
past ten. It seemed as if he wanted to address the people,
when a rolling of the drums gave the signal to the execu-
tioner. At twenty-two minutes past ten he who was formerly
king was no more. Deep silence and perfect stillness reigned
along the route and on the Place de la Revolution. When
the executioner showed the severed head to the people, cries
of ' Live the nation,' ' Live the republic,' were heard from
all sides. At several points were overheard these remark-
able words : ' We wanted to be friends with him, and he did
not want to be friends with us.'

" His body was taken to the parish church of La Made-
leine, and buried with religious ceremonies alongside those
Swiss who were killed during the loth of August."

The words put by so many historians into the mouth of
Abbe P'dgeworth, at the moment of the knife falling, " Son
of St. Louis, ascend to heaven ! " are a pure invention.


The Convention held its sessi(,)ns as usual this day. Shortly
after the execution the Executive Council submitted a very
laconic report, consisting of just three lines, which was
adopted. Immediately thereafter a decree was passed, that
a public funeral should be solemnized the following day over
the body of Lcpelletier, a member of the Convention, assas-
sinated for his vote in favor of the death penalty for Louis ;
that the honors of a burial in the Pantheon should be ac-
corded to it, and that the Convention should take part in a


Jan. 32, 1793, to Sept. 31, 1793.

"Mercier. — Have you tiiadc a pact with Victory?
Bazire. — No, but we have made a pact with Death .'"

Revolutionary Tribunal. — Committee of Public Welfare. — May
31. — Danton as Statesman. — Absolute Government. — Levy
EN Masse. — Danton's Resignation. — La Carmagnole.

THE solemn funeral of that noble Conventional, Lepel-
letier, took place on Jan. 22, the day after Louis' exe-
cution. The streets were crowded. The whole Convention
and vast numbers of citizens followed to the national temple
the body of that very rich, very benevolent, and very popu-
lar man, who had spent much of his time in elaborating a
most generous scheme of popular education, which later on
will be adopted in principle by the Convention. This

solemnity may be said worthily to open the glorious spring
and summer of the wonderful year i — as by and by the
period from Sept. 22, 1792, to Sept. 21, 1793, will be styled,
— glorious by their fiery energy and unbroken sunshine.

Danton had of course, as was his duty as a representative
of the Convention in Belgium, faithfully carried out its two
decrees of Nov. 19 and Dec. 15, 1792 ; he had also, as the
Convention had ordered, assembled tlie people everywliere
in primary meetings, to determine on their future govern-
ment. In these primary assemblies the citizens had by an


ovcrwliclming majority voted for the incorporation of their
country with the French Republic. In consequence, the Con-
vention, on the 31st of January, 1793, on motion of Danton,
decreed the annexation of Belgium ; and immediately there-
upon Danton and Lacroix were, for the second time, sent
into the annexed province as Representatives on Mission,
this time in a purely political capacity. They staid there
five weeks. Danton seemed on his return to be a more
mature statesman than before. There were several matters
that furnished him with food for reflection, down in the
"Low Countries."

F'irst, on departini,^ from Paris he left his beloved wife,
who had followed his career step by step with such anxiety,
in a very critical condition, and on the point of giving birlli
to his second son.

Next, on F'eb. i , the day after his departure from Paris, the
Convention declared war against Great Britain, of which in-
tention he, of course, was cognizant. This power had already
placed herself virtually in a state of war with France : she had,
the day after the loth of August, recalled her ambassador;
she detained ships loaded with corn for France, in violation
of treaty ; she had prohibited the circulation of the French
assignais within her borders; lastly, she now prepared for
open war, not at all on account of the execution of Louis, as
she pretended, but because of the occupation of Belgium,
which threatened her commercial interests. The oi)en
accession of Great Britain to the coalition immediately
turned the tables on France, as we shall see ; and yet shortly
afterwards the Convention, as if indifferent whether there
was one enemy more or less, contemptuously declared war
against Spain also.

That, however, which gave most fooil for serious thought
to Danton, was the fact that these rich middle classes of
Belgium, who had received him anil his colleagues with open


arms tlic first lime they came, this time showed a decided
hostility, and were evidently ready to take the part of the
enemy if France's luck should turn ; and he soon discovered
the reason, to wit, that the French commissioners had i)ul
all citizens, rich or poor, on the same political footing, while
they had assumed that they would be permitted to rule.

Danton had many grave discussions with Lacroix on these
subjects, laid many plans, but matured particularly two, one
political, the other economical, which bore fruit in the future,
as we shall see.

The military position, meanwhile, was becoming very
critical in Belgium. The English and Manovcrians, to the
number of forty thousand, had rushed to the assistance of
the Germans, and the French in consequence had to dis-
perse themselves to form an enormous line of defence. They
were steadily being driven back. Dumouriez and the repre-
sentatives almost frantically demanded re-enforcements of
the Convention, where the Girondins exercised power, as we
should remember. The re-enforcements were promised, but
they never arrived.

Danton and Lacroix returned to Paris on the 8th of
March, to render a most discouraging report. Danton
found his wife dead.

Camille's journal contains this reference to her death :
" Danton is down in Belgium, and the cowards have profited
by that absence. They have represented him as pointing
out during the days of 2d and 3d of September the victims
that should be assassinated. His wife has received her
mortal stroke from reading in the journals this atrocious
invention. Those who know how much this woman loved
Danton can form an idea of her sufferings. Danton was
absent, but his enemies were present in the miserable sheets
that tore her heart."

She was already buried for some time, but he must see


licr once more. He has her body exhumetl in order to gaze
upon it ; but when it is exposed, he actually wildly embraces
it ! Nothing, surely, can better show the passionate char-
acter of the man.

But after this, he again becomes the patriot, and once
more rises to the height of the situation.

The next day, the 9th of March, after Lacroix has ex-
plained the situation, Dan ton addresses the Convention : —

"We have now several times had experience of the.char-
acter of our countrymen, and have found that it is danger
alone that can rouse all their energies. AVell, the moment
has certainly arrived. You must cry out to the whole of
France, ' If you do not fly to the succor of your brctlircn
in Belgium, if Dumouriez be surrounded, if his army be
obliged to lay down arms, who can calculate the terrible
consequences of such a misfortune ? Our republic destroyed
may mean the death and destruction of six hundred thousand

" I demand, as a first measure, that commissioners be
appointed who tliis very evening shall repair to all the various
sections of Paris, call the citizens together, make them take
uj) arms, and get them to swear by their liberty that tlicy
will fly to the defence of Belgium. The whole of France will
feel the rebound of such a splendid enthusiasm.

" 1 must add this, that our generals are not so much to
blame as is^supposed. You had promised them that by the
ist of February, at the latest, the army of Belgium should
be increased by thirty thousand men. They have not re-

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 8 of 21)