Laurence Gronlund.

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

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ceived one man of these. They have told us that if they did
not get re-enforcements they would perhajjs have to evacuate
Belgium. Let us hasten to repair our faults. May the first
success of the enemy serve, as was the case last year, to
rouse the nation !

"I move that commissipners be appointed this moment.'''


That is Danton's way of doing it, and tlierein precisely-
lay his power. He does not give his countrymen time to
brood over their misfortunes, and thus lose heart. He
straightway has sojiicthing for them to do, and that "this
evening," "this moment," " instant/y."

The first result is, as usual, a proclamation by the Com-
mune, inspired by Danton : —

"To Arms! Citizens, to Arms!
" If you wait you are lost.

"A great part of Belgium is invaded. Aix-la-Chapclle, Liege,
Bruxelles, are, perhaps, now in the power of the enemy.

" Parisians, it is mainly against you that this war is directed. This
campaign must decide the fate of the world. We must strike terror
into the kings and exterminate them. Men of July 14, Oct. 5, Aug. 10,
awake I

" Your brothers, your sons, pursued by the enemy, surrounded
perhaps, call upon you. Arise and avenge them !

" Bring all the arms you have with you to the sections. Bring all
your friends with you I Swear to save the fatherland! Save it!
Death to him who shall hesitate ! Leave Paris to-morrow by the
thousands ! Now the battle is waging between men and kings, be-
tween slavery and liberty.


Meanwhile one bad report follows the other. Dumouriez
has been obliged to raise the siege of Maestrict ; he writes
that the only means of saving Belgium is to invade Holland.

Again, on the 1 2th of March, Danton sounds the alarm : —

"This is not the moment to examine the causes of our
disasters, but promptly to apply the remedy. When a house
is on fire, I do not collar the rascals who steal the furniture,
but I put out the fire. More than ever you must be con-
vinced by the despatches from Dumouriez that you have not
an instant to lose to save the republic.

" Dumouriez is not discouraged. In Holland he will find
provisions in plenty. In order to conquer all our enemies

I06 ENERGY or THE YEAR O.VE. [March 12,

he needs l)iit Frenchmen, and France is full of them. Do
we want to be free? If we do not, then let us perish, for
we ha\-e sworn so : if we do, let us rush to defend our inde-
pendence. Let Holland be coneiuered for liberty, and even
the commercial aristocracy which in this moment dominates
the English people, will rise up and overthrow this stupid
ministry, which believes that the talents of the ancient
regime can stifle the genius of that liberty which now hovers
over France. When that ministry is overthrown in the very
interests of commerce, the party of liberty in England [Fox
and his party] will come again to the surface, for it is by no
means dead.

" Let, then, your commissioners set out for the depart-
ments. Sustain them by your energy. Let them depart
this evening, this very nighf. Let them say to the rich,
* Either the aristocracy of Europe, thrown down by our
efforts, must pay our debts, or you must do it. The people
has only blood, and it is prodigal with it ; be up, then, mis-
erable men, and be prodigal with your riches ! ' [Violent
apj)lause.] 'What ! you have a whole nation for lever, and
reason for fulcrum, and you have not yet overthrown the
world ! [Still more applause.] I put aside all private
passions as totally foreign to me ; I know only passion for
the public good. You tire me with your personal quarrels,
instead of busying yourselves about the republic. I repu-
diate you all as traitors to the fatherland. What do I care
f(jr my reputation? If but France become free, let my name
be accursed ! ^Vhat do I care if they call me a drinker
of blood? Well, let us drink the blood of the enemies of
humanity, if so it must be !

" Some seem to fear that sending some of us away as
conmiissioners may weaken one or the other party in the
Convention. What vain fears ! The position of the masses
is a most cruel one. Our paper money is no longer at par ;


the workman's daily wages are below the necessaries of life.
We have to find a great corrective remedy. Let us conquer
Holland ! Let us bring the republican party in England
again to life ! Let us cause France to advance, and we
shall go to posterity with glory ! Let us fulfil our grand
destiny ! No debates, no quarrels, and the fatherland is
saved ! "

That was Danton's leading idea in that moment, — by
carrying the war into Holland, and inflicting severe losses
on the English, to enable Fox and the Whigs, who were
ready to conclude peace with France, to hurl Pitt and the
Tories from power.

However, amidst this feverish activity, Danton is haunted
by the remembrance of the terrible days of last September.
He is anxious to deprive the populace of all excuse for per-
petrating any more lawless murders, before they hurl them-
selves against the enemies. Therefore, when, at the close
of the day, the Convention, worn out by excitement and dis-
cussions, was about to separate, Danton once more rushed to
the Tribune, and commenced with his stentorian voice : —

" I summon all good citizens not to leave their seats.
[All sit down, and a profound silence reigns, adds the
report.] What, citizens ! in this critical moment, when, if
Gen. Miranda be beaten, — and that is not impossible, —
Dumouriez will be obliged to lay down his arms, can you
adjourn without having voted the great measures demanded
by the public w^elfare?

" Everywhere the enemies of liberty raise their audacious
heads. There is nothing more difficult than to define a
political crime. Surely, then, extraordinary laws are needed
to frighten malecontents, and to strike the guilty. I see
no middle way between ordinary forms and a Revolutionary
Tril)unal ; and as some in this assembly have ventured to
recall those bloody da)s that have torn tlie hearts of all


good citizens, I now declare, that, if there at that time liad
existed a tribunal, the people whom you so continually, so
cruelly charge with those days, would not have had that
blood on their heads. I declare, and all who witnessed
these terrible events will bear me out, that no human power
could have stemmed the tide of national vengeance.

" Let us, then, do now what the Legislative Body in its
time failed to do. Let us organize a tribunal ; not a good
one, — that is impossible, — />i/t the least bad one we^ can
think of, so that the sword of the hiw shall be suspended
over the heads of all who are guilty.

*' I therefore demand that a Revolutionary Tribunal be
organized at tJiis sitting, so that the executive power, after
we have re-organized it, be possessed of all the retjuisite
means of action and energy."

He spoke, obser\'e, of the " tide of national vengeance."
Undoubtedly in these words he gave expression to his
deepest convictions as to the state of the people's mind at
the time. He found a deep-seated hatred in the masses
towards their former rulers, — a feeling in no wise of his
doing, or in which he partook; but he believed, that, in
order to keep the reins of the revolutionary movement, it
was absolutely necessary to recognize this feeling as a fact.
The best thing, then, under the circumstances, to do, was
to prevent this hatred from acting blindly. He therefore
intended that this "national vengeance" sliould exercise
some discretion, some choice, in regard to its victims, and to
that end he did the best he knew.

That he acted in good faith, and that he was himself free
from these miserable vindictive passions, he clearly showed
a few days after by this reproof: "Citizens, I wish you
would not be always so terribly anxious to find guilty per-
sons." Nevertheless, the day will come for Danton to ask
pard(jn of (lod and men for having created this tribunal.


He gave the impulse to it ; by and by it acquired such a
momentum that he could not stop it when he thouglit it
was time. But the question still remains, whether the
establishment of this tribunal was not, at the time and
under the given circumstances, highly expedient.

These propositions of Danton were adopted under the
most enthusiastic applause ; and that evening the theatres
were closed, and a black flag hoisted on the Hotel de Ville
as a sign that the fatherland was in danger.
* * *
But at the very same sitting that brought forth the above
important results, Danton had made another far-reaching
proposition. We heard him incidentally speak of "re-
organizing " the executive power. That is one of the plans
he had matured down in Belgium ; and it is his experience
as a Representative on Mission that gave rise to it, and the
question of the volunteers furnished the principal motive.

We have seen with what energy Danton had, the preced-
ing year, hurried volunteers to the front ; with what alacrity
the people had responded. It was these volunteers that
had defended French soil, and driven the enemy out of
France ; and it was they, for the greater part, that had in-
vaded Belgium and Savoy. Among the stirring events at
the close of 1792, none was more remarkable than the ease
with which civilians, without military training or discipline,
had, when their country was invaded, and its regular army
disorganized and demoralized, turned soldiers. But the
generals and their staffs on the frontiers did not receive the
volunteers with open arms. These generals, of whom there '
were eight, — and of whom Dumouriez was undoubtedly
the ablest, and a German, ex-Prince de Hesse, curiously
enough, the most devoted to the Revolution, — all, with the
exception of Westermann, the hero of Aug. 10, belonged
to the old nobility and the old regime ; and so did their


staffs. No wonder they constantly (juarrelled with their
revolutionary superiors in Paris. They pretended that two
years were needed to make a soldier; while the republican
chiefs retorted, " Oh, yes ! two years in peace and in bar-
racks ; but three months are enough in war, and in front
of the enemy." These generals overwhelmed the ministry
of war with complaints of the cowardice and the lack of
discipline pf the volunteers ; while the true cause of their
annoyance was the republican spirit of these volunteers, and
the real trouble the insubordination, the intrigues, and aris-
tocratic insolence of the generals, and the rapacity and
corruption of the army contractors. For these volunteers
that had been rushing to the front since the month of
August, in response to the call of the Parisian commis-
sioners, with what clothes they had on their bodies, had
passed the winter, though conquerors, in rags," without shoes,
often without bread, and, what was worse, often without
weapons and ammunition. When, then, on top of that, they
were despised and insulted by their officers, shot without
mercy for the most venial fault, and placed at the most
exposed posts if they demanded to be led against the enemy,
it is no wonder that the enthusiasm of some among them
was cooled.

Yes, the contractors, they were certainly the greediest lot
that ever was seen. They evidently looked upon the new
republic as the golden age for rascals ; and they could do
pretty much as they pleased, for the inspectors and quarter-
masters, whose duty it was to protect the soldiers, nearly
all also dated from the old regime, despised the new, and
went about i)ublicly saying that the Convention was im-
becile, — which was true to some extent as long as the
Girondins were in power, — and that, at all events, the new
machinery would never work. And so the contractors stole

' Ilciicc ihc giajiliic epithet, sans-cnlottes, " Irouscrlcss."


and divided, — stole on tlie price, the quality, and quantity.
They bought corn, not for the armies, but for si)eculation,
and had it carried all over France at public expense. At
the Army of the Alps, the Jew, Benjamin Jacob, charged
thirty-four cents per pound for meat, — just double the
market price, — and declared cynically, that, since "morals"
to him meant to gain as much as possible, it was so much
the worse for the republic. At the Army of the North, the
priest d'F^spagnac, the prince of stock-jobbers, had obtained
the contract for carting, which he transferred to Masson c^'
Co. for a consideration of some thousands of francs /

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 9 of 21)