William O'Connor Morris.

The French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch online

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apprised of what had taken place, remarked, it is said,
only, "Let them stay if they please." With his usual
weakness, he allowed himself to float passively on the
tide of events. Before this time a considerable number
of the minor clergy had joined the Commons; and they
were soon followed by the party in the Nobles which
wished for reform, and even longed for change. The
rest of the Order, however, still held aloof ; but at last,
at the request of Louis himself, they gave up an opposi-
tion that was becoming fruitless, and fell into the ranks
of what had now been fully recognized as the National
Assembly. This step, however, had been taken in order
mainly to conceal arrangements by which the extreme
Court party thought they would triumph and overawe
the Commons they feared, yet despised. On July 'i i ,
Necker, whose advice to convene the States-General

cuted at Court. His powers as an orator were commanding ; and
though he stooped to become a demagogue, he had true pohtical
sagacity and insight, and many of the highest quahties of a states-
man. Many of the most serious charges of contemporaries against
him seem to be without foundation.



24 states- Genc?-al and National Assembly. CH. it

had made him very popular, whatever his motives were,

was dismissed ; a ministry of soldiers and of

Dismission of reactionary nobles, either unknown or dis-

Necker, and •'

formation of a liked, was Set up ; and the Assembly saw,
Nlfnistry.'^^ not witliout alarm, that batteries were being
constructed at Versailles, and heard that
troops were approaching in thousands, and that an
armed force of irresistible strength was being directed
upon the capital. Rumor spread, too, that it had been
said in the palace " that the best place for a mutinous
Assembly was a garrison town where it could be kept
under," and that the Queen had shown her children to
noble officers, and had asked, " Could she rely on their
swords?" and there was a report of what was described
as "an orgie " in which ladies of honor had done strange
things to enthral youthful dragoons and hussars.

This intelligence, magnified by a thousand
Paris'.'"^'" tongues, quickcued the already fiery excite-
ment of Paris, and the flame soon rose into
a conflagration. On July 12 proclamation was made
"on the part of the King" to keep the peace; and, pre-
sently, soldiery with strange faces — the half-foreign
German and Swiss regiments, of which there were
several in the royal army — were seen occupying the
central streets and chief squares of the great city. The
sight caused terror and indignation ; angry meetings
were harangued in the gardens of the Palais Royal by
passionate speakers ; and a procession was formed car-
rying at its head busts of Necker and of the Duke of
Orleans,* whose largesses and opposition to the Court

* Philippe, Duke of Orleans, bom in 1745, was one of the most
infamous personages of the Revolution. This Prince combined in
himself all that most depraved and bad in the old noble^sse, and
all that was most odious in the ambitious mob leaders. Having



CH. II. States- General and National Assembly. 25

made him one of the idols of the low populace. In a
charge made to disperse this assemblage, the Germans
cut down one or two men of the French Guards with a
few unarmed persons ; and the foreign uniforms were
ere long seen in the avenues of the Tuileries driving be-
fore them a scattering collection of citizens in flight.
These incidents, not in themselves momentous, proved
the spark that reached the combustible mass, and fired
it in a wide-spread explosion. A spirit of disaffection —
the natural result of a brutal discipline, and
of harsh treatment — had shown itself in the the French
French Guards, as, indeed, in other parts of [^suborcfina-
the Army ; and as it was very apparent in ^j°" ^"^ '^^
a body exposed to the allurements and mob
speeches of Paris — for the Guards were part of the city
garrison — the men had been lately confined to barracks.
When the news arrived of the fate of their comrades, the
Guards broke out and fired at the Germans ; and the
first example of military insubordination caused the dis-
solution of all military authority. Shouts of " Long live
the Nation !" were heard from the quarters of regiments
usually stationed in the capital ; even the foreign troops
were affected by the general contagion in a few hours,

become out of favor at Court, in part on account of his personal
cowardice, he revenged himself by circulating slanders against the
Queen, joined the party of reforming nobles, and laid himself out
to gain popularity in Paris by flattering the populace and by a dis-
play of extravagance. He became afterwards one of the noisiest of
the Jacobin leaders ; and between 1789 and 1791 combined more
than once, for his own selfish ends, against the throne, and even
the life of Louis XVI. His complicity, however, with the crimes
of the Revolution did not atone for his royal birth ; and though
he paraded the name of Egalite which he had assumed, he per -
ished during the tyranny of Robespierre.



26 States- General and National Assembly. ch. ii.

and sullenly declared they would not shed blood ; and
the only resource left to the mdignant officers was to
withdraw the demoralized mass, and to beat a retreat.
A thrill of exultation ran through Paris at the disappear-
ance of the strange invaders ; and power once dreaded
having proved worthless, disorder and violence were let
loose. During the night the city was wildly astir ; the
dark swarms of poverty and vice, which became after-
wards the legions of the Reign of Terror, emerged in
thousands from their wretched haunts, mingled here and
there with less hideous groups ; and shops were sacked,
and the great Town Hall invaded by these mobs to the
cry of " Arms !" Next morning a provisional committee,
composed of the chief men of the sixty districts into
which Paris had been divided, took the rule of the capi-
tal into their hands, the old authorities having proved
powerless ; and an endeavor was made to give a kind
of organization to the movement, and in some measure
to direct and control it. The citizens were encouraged
to form themselves into a militia of volunteers drawn

from the districts ; these bands were to wear
mune, the in their cockades the Parisian colors of blue

Guard ^^ and red; and they were not only to find

arms as best they could, but arms were
liberally supplied to them. M. de Flesseles, head of the
old town Council, was made president of this board ;
and, though the objects of the members varied, a
general intention certainly prevailed to keep the insur-
rection within bounds. Such was the origin of the world-
renowned Commune of Paris, and of the National Guard,
names of deep significance in the Revolution.

Although partly controlled by these means, the revo-
lutionary movement went on throughout the day with
terrible energy. The levies of the district started into



1 789. States- General and National Assembly 2 7

/ife, and were enrolled into the new civic army ; the
streets bristled with forests of pikes ; arms were violently
seized wherever they were found; and mobs were seen
trailing antique cannon, and tossing about pieces^of
feudal armor, torn recklessly from arsenals, with swords
and muskets. On the whole, however, the better class
of citizens predominated in the National Guard, and
checked the excesses of the lowest populace ; and
though it was accelerated by such events, the time had
not yet come when the violent elements of society were
to overpower all others. The presence of this better
order of men in the ranks is strong proof of the general
indignation felt at the late demonstration made by the
Court ; and the rising was anything but the mere work
of a mob set on by a few designing leaders. In the
afternoon the French Guards, to a man, went over to-
the popular side, their terrified offtcers protesting in
vain ; and, amidst wild shouts of passionate exultation,
they were made grenadiers of the National Guard, and
played an important part in the events that followed.
On the 14th a great crowd entered the court-yard of the
Hospital of the Invalides— a noble establishment like
our own Woolwich — and the governor was obliged to
allow them to take the vast store of arms laid up in the
arsenal, for the inmates passively seconded their efforts.
By this time nearly 80,000 men had been marshalled
more or less regularly ; and as no signs of resistance
appeared, they were encouraged to acts of more open
daring. On the verge of the quarter of Saint Antoine
rose the celebrated fortress of the Bastille ; and it was
resolved to attack this dreaded place, the very emblem
of ancient despotism, and infamous for its mysterious
horrors. An armed mass poured down to the spot, and
after an ineffectual attempt at a parley, the drawbridge



28 States- General and Natiotial Assembly. CH. II.

Sieo-e and ^'"^"^ passcd, and the inner court reached,

storming of close to the eisrht frowning towers of the

the Bastille, ^ *

July 14th, hated dungeon. A discharge of musketry

^^ ^' drove the assailants back ; but cannon were

brought up by the late French Guards and a white flag
before long was waved from the ramparts, the comman-
dant, Delaunay, having been compelled by the garrison
(alarmed or ill-disposed) to surrender. The victors
rushed into the ancient den, amazed at the feat they had
accomplished, and carrying out many of the arcana of
the place — old instruments of torture, and prison records ;
but their victory was not unstained by cruelty. The
greater part, indeed, of the garrison were set free ; but
Delaunay and several of his men were murdered, and
their heads were borne on high on pikes — the first of
many subsequent scenes of the kind. De Flesseles, too,
was attacked and shot, for a tale spread that he had de-
ceived the people ; and several other deeds of blood
were committed. As yet, however, the better part of
the National Guards maintained comparative order ;
and the extraordinary and rapid changes which had oc-
curred had rather proved the weakness of the royal
authority than brought out anarchy in its most frightful
aspect.

Such was the end of this sorry attempt to work a vio-
lent change in the State, to intimidate the Assembly^
and to overawe Paris. The result had been to hand
the capital over to unknown and revolutionary forces,
and to prove that no trust could be placed in the Army,
the chief and, usually, the sure instrument of power.
The extreme Court party stood furious and aghast ; and
the Count of Artois, the younger brother of the King,
and the Charles X. of a later age, with two other mag-
nates of a like stamp, declared that these things were



1789- States- General and National Assembly. 29

not to be borne, and hastened indignantly over the
frontier. This was^ the beginning-^ of. the
emigration — ^that desertion of the King by ofthf Tmi^^
his natural supporters which was one of f^g NSbii
the many evil features of the time, though
the circumstance will not be surprising to those who know
what little genuine sympathy existed between the nobles
and the Crown. Meanwhile the Assembly had loudly
condemned the violent measures attempted by the
Court ; and Mirabeau alluded, in no ambiguous terms, to
the part, said to have been taken by the Queen in a
project " worthy of St. Bartholomew." The King,
shifting in the usual way, hastened to make peace with
the stronger side, dismissed the ministerial cabal, and
recalled, Necker : and the Assembly lis- Recall of
tened with sincere good-will to the explana- •'^^*^'^^'"-
tions of an amiable being whose principal fault was
weak simplicity. Soon afterwards a deputation from
Paris invited him to pay the city a visit : and the Mon-
arch assented, though Marie Antoinette, indignant at
the affronts given to royal authority, and knowing how
unpopular she was herself, entreated him with tears not
to make the attempt. The citizens, however, proud of
their triumph, received their Sovereign with acclama-
tions ; and a hint in an address that he had been
" conquered" was treated graciously by Louis as a joke.
All that had lately occurred was sanctioned by him ;
the provisional committee received the ^, ,,.

^ . 1 he King

name of the Commune of Paris, with im- sanctions
mense powers ; and Bailly^ the president been done
of the Commons, was appointed mayor ; ^^ Pans,
while the young Marquis of Lafayette, one of the enthu-
siastic reforming nobles, was appointed commander-in-
chief of the National Guard. In sign of reconciliation,



30 States- General and National Assembly, ch. ii.

The Tri- the white colors of the House of Bourbon
color Flag. ^^^^ added to the blue and red of the
capital on the ensigns of this force ; and thus originated
the Tricolor Flag, which Lafayette, with conceit or
foresight, exclaimed " would soon make the round of
Europe." Though two or three bad instances of vio-
lence followed, tranquillity seemed established in Paris
for a time ; the king returned well pleased to Versailles ;
but, between impotent threats and feeble concessions,
how much of the divinity remained that hedged round
the Monarchy ?

Notwithstanding this quiescence, how-

Rising in the i • i i i

Provinces. cver, the cvents which had taken place m
Paris went like an electric shock through
the kingdom. The influence of the capital of France
over the provinces has always been very great, and it
acquired additional power at this juncture. The sud-
den collapse of the majesty of the throne, the successful
triumph over ancient authority, and, above all, the re-
volt of the troops, stirred the minds of men to their very
depths, and long pent up elements of hate and confu-
sion broke out in many places in appalling strength.
In the southern, midland, and south-eastern districts,
wherever Feudalism was most oppressive, wherever
misery was most keen, the peasantry rose against their
lords ; and from the Rhone to the Loire there was a
great blaze of chateaux, the infuriated vassals tossing
into the flames the charter-chests and muniments which
contained the records of privileges no longer tolerable.
A few murders of seigneurs also took place ; even in the
north the payment of rents and the customary services
were generally resisted ; and, wretchedness adding force
to the movement, bands of squalid savages in some
provinces " descended from the hills, destroying the



f 7 S 9 • States- General and National Ass embly. 3 1

corn, plundering orchards, and doing all kinds of mis-
chief." Many of the towns, too, showed signs of insur-
rection, clamoring for an extension of municipal rights,
and for an abolition of old monopolies; and violent
bread and meal riots were frequent, for the year was
one of peculiar scarcity, and the sufferings of the poorer
classes were extreme. Nor was the capital itself free
from causes of disturbance and trouble. Order was,
indeed, maintained by Lafayette ; Bailly, the mayor,
labored to please the citizens by civic pomp and gay
exhibitions emblematic of their newly-acquired liber-
ties ; and the Commune, now formed into a body of
three hundred members, made efforts to supply the
wants of the poor, to find employment for artizans out
of work, to cope with the difficulty of increasing poverty.
But, as always happens on such occasions, the new
powers were decried by envious demagogues, the more
bitterly because they were new ; and of what avail
were displays of fireworks, enthusiastic "festivals of the
Bastille," "trees of liberty" rising in gardens and ave-
nues — nay, even doles, offerings, and all the expedients
of a merely improvised system of relief — to thousands
of hungry men and women ? Between agitation and
the presence of want, Paris was soon fermenting with
elements of disorder, all the more dangerous because as
yet suppressed.

These tidings of evil came to interrupt ^ . , .

° ^ Legislative

the consultations of the National Assembly, measures of

T, 1 1 1 1 . • T the Assembly.

It had been engaged m economic discus-
sions as to the best means of meeting the deficit, and as
to framing a new constitution for France ; and high-
sounding principles of reform, conceived in the spirit
of the new philosophy, had been already hailed with
upplause ; the measures it adopted to remove or pal'



32 States- General and National Asscfnbly. ch. ii.

liate the stern practical ills it had now to face were, in
part, conceived in a generous spirit, but were character-
istic of the national temperament, and too plainly re-
vealed the political ignorance and passion for change
that widely prevailed. As for the towns, the Commune
of Paris was encouraged in doing whatever it pleased ;
and Bailly and Lafayette were thanked for their well-
meant and patriotic efforts. Little was attempted in the
case of other towns, except to give "promises of free
trade;" but the middle classes were allowed, or invited,
to put down disorders, by themselves, by force ; and in
this manner an armed organization of National Guards
was spontaneously formed in almost all the great cities
oi France, self-elected and independent of the State.
X , A great and sudden revolution, however,

,/^- Sudden abo- ^ ^^ , . -, . , , . ^ '

lition of the was effected m the social relations of the

feudal bur- , , ■■ -i. • j.i- i • j

dens, August whole rural community m the kingdom;
4, 1789- and the imposing edifice of antique Feudal-

ism was thrown down in a moment, and laid in the dust.
One or two nobles, on the Liberal side, having drawn a
frightful picture of feudal abuses, the Assembly, in spite
of a few protests, started to its feet and declared, almost
to a man, that this state of abominations should cease ;
and resolutions were passed, in a single night, abolish-
ing claims that had been the growth of centuries, and
involving in a common extinction the most barbarous
remnants of cruel serfdom, with tithes, quit-rents, and
similar dues. The sitting closed with enthusiastic shouts,
a Te Deum mingling in strange accompaniment ; and
though distinctions were afterwards drawn between such
privileges as that of the lord bathing his feet, when cold,
in the blood of his vassals, and others of a more modern
kind, an opposition formed by the nobles was overborne
by an increasing majority, the Commons a«id lower



1 7 S 9 • States- General and National Assembly, 3 3

clergy ruling the Assembly ; and a clean sweep was
made of many just rights of property, as well as of
much that was bad and obsolete. The ultimate fruits
of the liberation of the soil were great and beneficial in
the highest degree, but the immediate results may be
easily guessed. The excesses of the peasantry were not
lessened by the sudden annihilation of the bonds of
ages ; and they were only put down or checked at last
by the efforts of the middle classes in the country dis-
tricts, alarmed at the evident progress of anarchy.
These, too, thus found themselves with arms in their
hands, and almost independent of any kind of rule.

Such was France in August and Septem- October 5 and
ber, 1 7851 j^ old authority falling on all sides, ^» '^i'^9-
power being transferred into new hands, and want and
disorder felt everywhere, although for the moment re-
strained. The Court party meanwhile, scotched, but
not killed, had been rearing its head at Versailles ; and
rumor spread that a band of loyal nobles were about
to take the King to Metz, and to Hberate him from " re-
belhous subjects." Troops, too, were gradually moved
from the frontier ; and the new National Guard at Ver-
sailles — for such a body had been organized — was
treated with scorn and contempt at the palace. A senti-
ment had been growing up in Paris, and found favor
in the Assembly, that the King should be removed to
the capital ; and the feelings of the masses, irritated by
want, had become ready for any sudden outbreak. A
scene, which occurred in the first days of October, be-
came the signal for a new explosion of passion. A
party of young officers, at a banquet in the palace,
dashed down the Tricolor from their helmets in the
presence of the King and of his Court, at the sound of
a well-known royalist air ; and, heated with wine, and



34 States- General and National Assembly. CH. ii.

lured by the glances of courtly beauty and syren grace,
vowed that they, at least, wouldjiot abandonJJie-Tlirone.
This second " orgie " gave rise to a remarkable demon-
stration from Paris, though it is not easy to say who were
its chief designers. On the morning of the 5th a^roce^-
sion of women, stung with hunger, burst into the great
Town Hall, and thence streamed over the short space
which separates the city frpm Versailles, followed by
savage ahd menacing crowds, and ultimately by Lafay-
ette and his National Guard. The procession forced its
way into the National Assembly, then discussing an un-
favorable message from the throne, and a party of these
strange visitors was allowed to enter the courts of the
palace and parley with the King. Order was restored
when Lafayette arrived, and the assemblage dispersed,
to find exit as it could, most of the soldiers having given
it a welcome, and the Body-guard of the King alone, a
select detachment, having provoked ill-will. Early next
morning a few chance shots, which struck down, un-
happily, one or two of the people, became a forerunner
of a general rising; and a furious mob fell on the Body-
guards, and penetrated the interior of the palace. Dread
faces of passion, hunger, and crime, appeared in the
sanctuary of the State : the Queen, half-clad, was driven
from her chamber amid the shrieks of affrighted attend-
ants ; and a terrible massacre would have taken place
but for the interposition of the late French Guards, who
shouting "We do not forget Fontenoy," rescued the
Body-guards and the royal family. A seeming recon-
ciliation took place afterwards ; the King presented him-
self from the balconies ; the Queen gave her hand to
Lafayette to kiss, and the Tricolor shone on every armed
crest ; but the floors of the palace were drenched with
blood, and two ghastly heads, borne aloft on pikes,



1 789. States- General and National Assembly, 35

attested the presence of still unslaked passions. At. the
request of a deputation, peremptory though bland, Louis
consented readily to go to Paris ; and the royal carriages,
with the King and Queen, their children, and Madame
Elizabeth, the fair and pious sister of the King, slowly
trailed to the city escorted by a roaring chaos of armed
bands, of women astride on patriotic cannon, of sa-
vagery in its hideous or grotesque' aspects. The shout,
"We have now the baker to ourselves, the
baker's wife, and the baker's boy," signifi- Royli pfmiiy
cantly told what thoughts were uppermost J^^^^e^to Pans
in the hearts of the poorer mass of the mul-
titude — by some conspiracy they had been deprived of
bread by "aristocrats at Versailles." It was evening
before the motley procession made its entry into the gates
of the Tuileries ; and when the royal party reached the
palace, uninhabited by the House of Bourbon for yearsi
they saw themselves surrounded by National Guards,
and were told that regular soldiers could not approach.
The events of these mom.entous days, known em-
phatically as the 5th and 6th of October, have been
attributed to different persons ; but it is superfluous to
inquire whether Mirabeau,* the Duke of Orleans, or
Lafayette, had any part in preparing the movement.
What is to be noted is, that the rabble of ^

-r. • 1 1 -It n 1 1 -1 . T 11 Growingpower

Fans, though still controlled by the middle of the rabble of

classes, had gained a great and marvellous

victory ; royalty had, as usual, shown itself ignoble, va-

* It is now tolerably well ascertained that the Duke of Orleans
instigated the mob to leave Paris, and attack the Palace. In a
letter discovered after his death he directed a banker not to pay the
money which had been agreed on as the price of the blood of the
King. " L'argent," so he wrote, " n'est point gagne, le marmot
vit encore." Mirabeau and Lafayette seem to have been innocent-



36 The Constitution of \'^<^o-\. CH. ill.

cillating, and amiably weak; and the illusions of power,
once feared and august, had been dissipated like the
idlest of dreams. Since that day Versailles has been a
national museum, and for a time a ruin ; it has sheltered
(egions of German invaders, and heard the waihng cry
of a conquered Nation ; but never again has it been the



Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 4 of 26)