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The French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch online

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tria ; and he had formed a ministry mainly composed
from the Gironde and popular party, but of which the
real chief was Dumouriez,* an able and brilliant soldier
of fortune. This cabinet had proposed a new law
against the non-juring and half-rebellious priests, and
the Assembly had voted it with acclamation ; and soon
after the defeats on the frontier one of the ministers
brought forward a measure for creating a camp of twenty
thousand volunteers near Paris, which would become

* Dumouriez, born 1745. This able general and brilliant diplo-
matist had served and intrigued with distinction before the Revo-
lution. His character is drawn with skill and fidelity by M. Thiers,
Histoire de la devolution Francaise, vol. ii. p. 58, ed. 1842.

1792. The Legislative Assembly. d^

the nucleus of a national army to be drawn together
from all parts of the kingdom. An enthusiastic vote
welcomed this scheme also ; and it deserves notice that
although Dumouriez expressed at first his dissent from
the project, and made use of the opportunity to intrigue
against three of his Gironde colleagues, he recurred to
it almost immediately, however worthless and danger-
ous, besides, such a force must have seemed to an ex-
perienced soldier. The King, however,
even at this crisis, directly thv/arted the vote ^^^^ decree? of
of the Legislature ; .vefused to sanction the the Assembly

o ' and dismisses

double decree; dismissed first the three the Giroude

.. 11-^ •!• ^c ininistrj' and

Gironde mmisters, and Dumounez himself Dumouriez.
a few days afterwards ; and chose a new
Cabinet from the unpopular Feuillants, suspected, in
part at least, of weakness, and discredited in the eye of
the Assembly and the Nation.

History justly condemns the excesses
that followed, and the bad use that was june'2T,^792.
made of popular passion ; but neither ought
she to forget the provocation, or the circumstances that
led to the triumph of anarchy. The leaders of the
Assembly, once more brought into collision with a Sove-
reign and a Court believed to be leagued with the
national enemy, at a crisis of sudden national peril,
turned to the capital for support ; and while they de-
nounced openly the conduct of the King, they sought
the aid of the demagogues and mobs of Paris as instru-
ments against the intrigues of the palace. This course
was unwise, and in part selfish, but motives of patriotism
concurred ; nor is it perhaps surprising that these men
made this wild appeal to revolutionary forces. Petion,
the Mayor of Paris, gladly organized the powers of the
Commons to stir up agitation ; the Jacobins and Corde-

64 The Legislative Assembly. CH. iv.

liers called on all patriots to take up arms to resist
oppression ; and the galleries of the Assembly were
nightly thrown open to swarms of ferocious and squalid
spectators, who clamored down attempts to oppose the
^ ,, majority.* In a very short time the streets

li,ncouraged ^y .

the popular of the city Were once more dense with

leaders in the r •^ ^ i

assembly and masscs 01 pikemen, who overawed or won
mune^of''^'ris ^^^^ ^^^ National Guards, and this growing
army of savagery was largely recruited from
the desperadoes who for some months had been congre-
gating into the dens of the capital. An occasion for an
outbreak soon arose, and there can be no doubt that it
was at least connived at by many in the Assembly and
by the municipal authorities. On June 20, the anniver-
sary of the oath of the Tennis Court, a great crowd col-
lected to commemorate that event, and it burst armed
into the hall of the Legislature, waving banners with
murderous or grotesque emblems, and calling on the
deputies to act with energy. The mass, unchecked and
even welcomed, next broke through the gates of the
Tuileries, and the courts of the palace were soon filled
with an excited multitude, crying, " Down with the veto,"
" The Nation and the patriot ministers forever." Several
thousand National Guards were present, but they looked
on with indifference or had no orders ; and one battalion,
it is said, shouted " that it knew who was its real
enemy." The chambers of the royal family were
quickly reached, and at the sight of Madame Elizabeth
yells arose fiercely against the " Austrian woman," the
princess being taken for the Queen, while the King was
assailed with epithets of "Monsieur Veto," and "the
Constitution or death." The impassive attitude of Louis,
however, had some effect in calming the crowd, and no
hand was lifted up against him, though a cap oS liberty

1792. The Legislative Assembly. 65

was thrust upon his head, and he remained in this
humihating position for hours, surrounded by execration
and ribaldry. The Queen, meanwhile, had been hap-
pily rescued by the efforts of a few courageous men ; and
awestruck, it is said, by her majesty and grace, her in-
tending murderers turned aside their weapons, while a
few kindly words from her lips melted into tears some
of the female furies who had hung on the skirts of the
hideous procession. Towards evening Petion, who had
at least offered no opposition to the demonstration, per-
suaded the multitude to disperse ; but the secret of the
defenceless state of the palace had been discovered, and
was not forgotten ; and royalty seemed, as it were, trailed
in the dust.

The disgraceful scene of June 20, caused a
slight reaction in favor of the King. The favor^of 'louIs!
patience of Louis excited compassion ; the
Assembly began to dread the forces which its leaders
had rashly called to their aid; and the Gironde party,
appalled at the prospect, made overtures for the recall
of the three Gironde ministers. Lafayette, too, hastened
from the frontier to condemn the violence of the Com-
mune and the Jacobins. Petion was prosecuted for hisx/
conduct on the 20th, and the moderate citizens, still the -
majority, were sincerely desirous of seeing order restored.
But the movement ere long made renewed progress, pre-
cipitated by the intelligence of fresh defeats, by passion,
and by the obstinacy of the Court. On June 30 the As-
sembly passed a resolution that all existing authorities
should be in permanent session, and thus the organiza-
tion of democratic forces which had been created all over
France, and had fallen under the control of demagogues,
was kept in motion to excite the people. Petitions began
to pour in from the provinces ; the towns fermented with

66 The Legislative Assembly. CH. iv.

angry agitation ; the municipal assemblies, and those of
the Departments, were mastered by low and reckless
mobs, all more or less with arms in their hands, and Paris
formed the centre from which this machinery was worked
by those who managed those turbulent masses. Mean-
while an attempt was made to create the very armed
force which the King had opposed ; volunteers were in-
vited to flock to Paris for the approaching commemora-
tion of the fall of the Bastille ; the Constitutional Guard
of Louis was disbanded ; and the staff of the National
Guard was changed and filled with men of a revolution-
ary type. At the same time the ferocious bands who had
shown their power on June 20 were held in the leash by
their desperate leaders, and vile incitements were not
wanting to urge all " patriotic men " to join them. The
Commune of Paris, almost independent and
of the^Dema- Sovereign within its own limits, was, in the
gogues and the jn^in, responsible for those measures ; but

Commune. ' ^ '

the majority of the Assembly concurred,
and they were attended with the desired results. On the
day of the festival Louis found himself in the presence
of a host of armed men — many came from distant parts
of the kingdom — ^who either maintained an ominous
silence, or shouted, " The Nation," " Potion," or "Death;"
and even the National Guards were wild and unsteady.
By this time the state of the capital had become so alarm-
ing that the King was implored by ministers and trusty
friends to fly ; two high-souled noblemen, faithful among
the faithless, placed their wealth at his feet ; and even
Lafayette promised to come to his aid and to take him
in safety to the army. But irresolution and evil councils
prevailed ; the unhappy monarch refused to move ; and
Marie Antoinette exclaimed, in a burst of passion, " that
she would rather perish than trust such a hypocrite as

1792. The Legislative Assembly. 67

Lafayette." Nor were other motives, as we now know,
wanting : the King and Queen had been kept informed
of the intended march of the German armies ; and she
had boasted exultingly that her dehverance was at hand.
Pity as we may an august victim, that dehverance would
have been wrought in blood and fire, even if this result
had been against her will ; and truth requires us to note
the circumstance.

France and Paris were in this critical state
when a memorable incident suddenly re- of Bmn^ck"
moved the last checks on the revolutionary
forces. At the end of July the Prussian army, under the
Uuke of Brunswick, was set in motion, two

T • • 1 • -1 • Invasion or

Austrian divisions bemg on either wmg ; and France by the
the invading host, headed by bands of Austrians, /uiy
iinigr^s, wild with delight, and thirsting for and August,
revenge, advanced from the Rhine to the
Moselle and the Meuse. Brunswick issued a proclama-
tion, ever to be condemned by those to whom national
freedom is dear, and which years afterwards met its
fitting reward. This manifesto, among other outrages,
summoned Paris instantly to "submit to its King,"
declared that it would be "razed to the earth " if any in-
sult were offered to the royal family ; and, after announc-
ing that the " Legislative Assembly, the National Guards,
and the municipal authorities would be held answerable
for whatever occurred, to military courts-martial, without
a hope of pardon," kindly added that "their Austrian
and Prussian Majesties would do their good offices with
his most Christian Majesty to obtain forgiveness for his
rebellious subjects." This infamous document caused a
thrill of fury and wrath to shoot through the capital ; and
though Louis, no doubt sincerely, disavowed what the
Allies had done, the mischief, unhappily, was beyond

58 The Legislative Assembly. CH. iv.

recall. In the outburst of indignation which stirred the
citizens, the first, thought was 'of safety and vengeance ;
and as the Assembly, at this crisis, did little but applaud
the orators of the Gironde, and had no resolute and
practical policy, power passed quickly to the more reck-
r less demagogues, and there was hardly anything to
oppose the most desperate projects, though
paralyzed ; the party of Order was still the most numer-

power passes . ■ , • i i i i

to the Dema- ous. An msurrection was regularly planned,
gogues. j|-g object being to dethrone the King, and

to keep him a hostage with the rest of his family ; and,
as we have seen, means to work on the populace, and
formidable armed power, were not wanting, while all
other authorities were weak and doubtful. Revolutionary
committees, as they were styled, were formed in the
Jacobin Club and in the Commune; and

Preparations r i i i i

for a rising. delegates from these harangued the sections,
^"^°'^" called upon them to organize themselves

and rise, and laid the train for a general explosion.
Danton shone eminent among these leaders; and his
terrible aspect, fierce earnestness, and rude, savage, but
genuine eloquence, had already gained him the name of
the "Patriot Mirabeau." By this time thousands of vol-
unteers had arrived to swell the bands of Parisian pike-
men ; and among them the contingent from Marseilles,
" six hundred men who could do or die," were conspicu-
ous for their audacious bearing. The rising was fixed for
August 9 ; and as some of the members of the Commune
were not willing to go the necessary lengths, it was re-
solved to replace this body suddenly by men of the true
patriot stamp from the sections. Potion, treacherous
and timid, assented to the scheme, so that his hand in it
should not be seen ; and it was veiled under a show of
legality, an immense petition from the forty-eight sections

1792. The Legislative Assembly. 69

for the immediate setting aside of the king having been
presented to the Assembly.

On August Q, when darkness had fallen, ^

° ■' Pans on the

the note of preparation began to sound, night of Aug
The summer moon was calm in the heavens ; ^' ^^^^'
and all those who in a great city love quiet, whatever
the passions of the hour, were sunk in sleep, unconscious
of what was to come. Many, too, though by nature
friends of order, ^Iso half knew that wild schemes were
abroad, and were not sorry that a stern lesson was to
be given to what they thought a perfidious Court ; and
timidity, selfishness, and dull indifference, combined to
make thousands tame and passive. But the more
agitated parts of the capital were alive with a fierce
tumultuary stir ; and dark figures flitted through streets
and lanes to reach the appointed places of meeting,
while bells clanged forth from Town Hall and steeple,
as ages before they had rung out a challenge to inva-
ding Teutonic hordes, as they had ushered in that hour
of horror and death when the kennels ran thick with
Huguenot blood. Here vehement and gesticulating
groups were seen hanging on the lips of a fiery orator ;
there conspirators sate in secluded conclave receiving
tidings from thronging messengers ; in other places
loud cheers greeted the gatherings of the mustering
bands, and the quick rattle of the drum beat a wild
assembly. Meanwhile all that was most daring had
met in the sections ; the form and voice of Danton rose
high and bold, though other mob leaders had slunk off
in silence ; and at a given signal a body of delegates,
elected by the sections with vociferous applause, made
their way into the council chamber of the Commune,
and seizing on the Government of the capital, accelerated
and directed the outbreak. The forces of anarchv now

yo The Legislative Assembly. ch. iv.

developed themselves ; the tramp of armed columns in
the streets grew dense ; the sullen clank of cannon was
heard ; and deep masses, headed by desperate men of
hideous aspect, in military garb, collected in the broad
squares and ways, fringed at the edges by insurgent
multitudes. Yet signs of hesitation were not wanting ;
more than one tongue-valiant leader was driven on by
exasperated followers threatening him with death ; and
the fear of Brunswick, want of mutual confidence, and
the consciousness of a dangerous purpose, made many
pause and turn weakly away. Hours passed before the
rising attained anything like really formidable strength ;
and it was daylight before the forest of pikes, here and
there bristling with deadlier weapons, and skirted by
yelling and enthusiastic crowds, advanced along the
banks of the Seine to the thick labyrinth of enclosures
and streets, from which, at that time, the broad front
of the Tuileries rose in antique magnificence.

The King and the Court had during these
the* King hours been kept informed of the peril at

Coui?*" hand. Terror and anxiety reigned in the

palace ; though at a report that the rising
had failed, fine gentlemen jeered at the " cowardice
of the canaille," and fine ladies joined in pretty disdain.
Preparations were hastily made for defence ; National
Guards were collected from the most loyal quarters ; and
Petion, Judas-like, was in attendance to screen himself

and utter smooth words of hope. A hand-
1792!*^^ ^°' ful of Nobles and their domestics, too,

flocked in to strike a last blow for the throne ;
though the main trust of the Court lay in a few hundred
Swiss, a remnant of the old Body-guard, who still lingered
in the royal service. A lamentable incident, however,
lessened whatever prospect of success existed. Th%

1792. The Legislative Assembly. 71

commander-in-chief of the National Guards, a brave
soldier of the name of Mandat, had prepared an able
plan of resistance ; and as his influence on his men was
great, they might possibly not have fallen away from
him. But, doubtless with the connivance of Petion, he
was lured away and murdered by the conspiring Com-
mune ; and his death left the palace without a head or
leader. At the first appearance of the insurgent columns
Louis went out to address the National Guards, and had
he spoken and looked as became a King he might have
found a way to their hearts. But the downcast bearing
and hesitating gestures of the unhappy Monarch made
the appeal useless ; and the contempt of the crowd grew
into anger when Marie Antoinette, pointing, it is said, to
the few Nobles standing haughtily aloof, exclaimed,
"These are men who will show you your duty." By
this time the assailants had reached the palace, swarm-
ing round the approaches on every side ; and, far as it
could gaze, the eye rested on a wild chaos
of passionate wrath, of tossing steel, of me- popuface^
nacing faces, of revengeful clamor, of hide- Tut^eries
ous revelry. The weapons of the National
Guards fell from their hands at the sight ; and the mise-
rable spectable of distrust and mutiny of which so many
proofs had been given was fearfully repeated at this
supreme crisis. A well-meaning officer of the old Com-
mune — Petion had got away, his work being done — im-
plored the King to avoid bloodshed, and to seek refuge
within the Assembly, the chamber of which was a hall close
by, and the ill-fated Louis quietly assented. The royal
family passed in sad procession along the gardens of the
Tuileries, amidst the yells of ferocious mobs, baulked,
for the moment, of their intended prey ; and in a few
minutes they were in a place of safety. The King was

72 The Legislative Assembly. CH. iv.

received with cold respect, and, indeed, many of the
alarmed Assembly would have even now turned to him
again if they dared ; but he was soon made to feel that
he was a mere captive. A deputy having
The King made the remark that the debates of the

and Royal

Family take Assembly must be free, the royal family were

refuge in the 11 ni • 1 iiiri

Assembly. huddled away mto a box at the back of the
reporters' gallery, and not a voice was raised
of loyalty or pity. The eyes of Marie Antoinette dropped
bitter tears, but the heavy features of Louis looked dull
indifference ; and the chief of the illustrious race of
Bourbon, in sight of the falling throne of his sires, ate,
it is said, with seeming content, a dish of peaches !*
^, ^ ., . Before long the irregular sounds of dis-

Ihe luilenes

attacked and Order were lost in the din and roar of
Masfacre of battle. The mob had forced the gates of
the Swiss. ^i^g palace soon after the departure of the

royal family ; and it seemed as if the outbreak would
cease, the triumph of the populace being complete.
But a shot or two fired on either side caused passion
to flame up more fiercely than ever; and the insurgents,
headed by the men of Marseilles, made a wild dash
at the inner doors of the palace. . Then was seen
what military worth can do against undisciplined num-
bers ; the Swiss Guard fired and charged home, and
in an instant the assailants were yelling in flight, and
the refluent multitudes surged heavily backwards. At
this moment, however, an order came from the un-
fortunate King to cease firing; and as the obedient
soldiery reluctantly fell back, the revolutionary forces
again pressed forward, in the exultation of unhoped-
for victory. A murderous and horrible scene ensued;

"'•■ Souvenirs de la Terreur, per George Duval, quoted by M.
Feuillet de Conches, vol. vi. p. 285.

1792. The Legislative Assembly. 73

the Swiss were hemmed in and at last overpowered;
and the popular fury wreaked itself on the bodies of
the dead in hideous outrage, while fiendish women
danced round the mangled corpses. The palace was
now stormed by the triumphant multitude ; and while
bands of cut-throats plied the work of murder, all
that was disorderly and vile in a great city revelled
in the deserted abode of royalty. In a few moments
the treasures of ages were destroyed ; the costly floors
were strewn with the wrecks of pictures in tatters and
broken statues, and troops of harlots, shrieking for the
" Austrian woman " — Court gossip had proclaimed she
was as bad as themselves, and the infamous falsehood
had reached the streets — were seen bedizened in the
finery of the Court. Yet signs of humanity were not
wanting even in these foul saturnalia of license ; the
ladies and women of the Court were spared, amidst
shouts of " Do not disgrace the Nation ; " and a kind of
principle controlled the excesses of passion, for vulgar
pillage was generally forbidden, and more than one
thief was caught and hanged. The lowest depths of
anarchy had not yet been reached, when wickedness
riots without restraint.

Such was the terrible outbreak of August 10, _ „

. , Reflection on

1792, leadmg to the immediate overthrow the rising of
of the Bourbon Monarchy. The causes of "^^'^ ^°"
disorder which had agitated France, undermined the
throne, and destroyed authority, had been made more
active by various events ; and foreign aggression came
to give a new and extraordinary impulse to them. In
the effervescence of passion which ensued, the repre-
sentatives of the nation, contending against a Sovereign
and Court believed to be false, had turned for aid to
revolutionary Paris ; and this power, organized by mob

74 The Legislative Assembly. ch. rv.

leaders, had overborne open and secret opposition, and
displayed great and appalling strength. Authority was
ere long to pass away from the classes which had so
lately seized it ; and the reign of license and terror was
soon to prevail, with results which history will never for-
get. Yet many of the deeds we have briefly described
were condemned by the majority of Frenchmen ; and,
even in Paris, the greater part of the citizens lamented
the horrors of August lo. But the Constitution of 1790
gave scope to revolutionary forces ; the different parties
on the side of order were divided or suspicious of each
other ; above all, the cause of National independence
and of the new interests created in 1789 seemed identi-
fied with that of the so-called patriots in circumstances
which gave them extraordinary strength ; and the result
was that the anarchists triumphed, although really a
minority in the State. It is a peculiarity, too, in the
French national character, to yield easily to daring
leaders ; and this contributed to the fearful issue, though
general causes may account for it. We shall now see
how the revolutionary powers which had become as-
cendant went along their course, in the agony of a
Nation distracted at home, and struggling to hold
foreign invaders at bay.

1792. The Convention, 75



The immediate effect of August 10 was to
give the Legislative Assembly comparative August 10°
freedom.* It might secretly dread the mobs
of the capital ; but it was no longer fettered by the veto
and the Court ; and whatever sympathy it felt for the
unhappy King, it was restored, so to speak, to life by
the outbreak. While the Tuileries was still in the power
of the multitude, Vergniaud, the most brilliant orator
of the Gironde, moved that Louis XVI., should be de-
posed for the present, and that a National Convention
should be at once summoned to pronounce ^, ^

^ i ne Conven-

on the future destiny of France; and the tion summoned,
vote passed amidst thunders of applause.
Before long the ill-fated royal family was ^, ^^.

° ^ •' The King ana

imprisoned in the Temple, an old fortress, Royal Family
so called from the famous Order of that i™the°Tempie.
name, and was placed in the hands of the
city authorities, who claimed the charge as their lawful
right ; and the three Gironde ministers who had been
dismissed were recalled, the ministry of justice, at the
same time, being bestowed on Danton, to please the

*The internal history of France, just before and during the
Reign of Terror, has been described by many writers, some of
them eloquent and picturesque. As an accurate and clear analysis
of the events of the time, and of the working of the revolutionary
institutions and press, M. Mortimer Terneaux's Histoire de la
Terreur seems to me to deserve special notice. The notes, too,
of M. Feuillet de Conches, in his sixth volume, are often valuable.

yS The Convention. ch, v

populace. Simultaneously, energetic attempts were
made to strengthen the national defences ; the camp

Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 7 of 26)