Chapter 1 The French Revolution
Seldom has an event been so immediately influential as the French Revolution. Almost from its start in 1789, the participants were acutely aware that the eyes of the world were upon them. Indeed, for the next hundred and twenty-five years&emdash;until the Russian Revolution of 1917&emdash;whenever men and women throughout the world discussed political issues, they would do so in the words and images of the French events. This chapter presents the major developments of these dramatic years between 1789 and 1794, showing the great hopes and the terrifying realities. No one can hope to understand our modern history without knowing the drama of these years.
The first section illustrates the issues the French were debating on the even of the revolution and their complaints, as presented in the Cahiers, the bills of grievances drawn up by each electoral body and submitted to the King at the opening of the Estates-General, the seldom called feudal gathering of the representatives of the clergy, the nobility, and the commons. In the Cahiers printed in this section appear the agenda of the revolution.
The following sections illustrate the progress of the revolution and its failure to unite the various groups within France. The principal crises here were the debate on the role of the Catholic Church, and the decision to engage in a foreign war. The subsequent spread of counter-revolutionary conspiracies and the defeats of the French armies abruptly tended he monarchy and unleashed radical forces.
The final section contains documents from the Reign of Terror, which was not only a dramatic attempt to stamp out internal dissent and gain victory in the war, but also the background against which the first modern discussion about the role of the people could occur. The ideas of modern democracy and social justice first appeared in the shadow of the guillotine!
Origins of the Revolution
Chretien de Lamoignon Speech in Royal Session of Parlement, 19 November 1787
These principles, universally recognized by the Nation to be true, attest that to the King alone belongs the sovereign power in his kingdom; that he is accountable only to God for the exercise of the supreme power; that the bond uniting the King and the Nation is by its nature indissoluble; that interests and duties that are reciprocal between the King and his subjects do nothing else than to assure the perpetuity of this union; that the Nation's interests require that the rights of its chief suffer no alteration; that the King is sovereign Chief of the Nation and one with the Nation; and finally, that the legislative power resides in the person of the Sovereign, independently and without partition.
Gentlemen, such are the unchangeable principles of the French Monarchy. The King has by no means derived them from a source that can be suspect to his Parlement. His Majesty found them literally consecrated in your decree of 20 March 1766, whose words I have merely repeated to you here. It follows from these long-standing national maxims, attested to by every page of our history, that the right to summon the Estates-General belongs to the King alone; that he alone must judge whether such convocation is useful or necessary; that to administer his kingdom he has need of no extraordinary powers; that a King of France could find in the representatives of the three orders of the state only a more extensive council composed of members chosen from a family of which he is the chief and concerning whose remonstrances and grievances he will always be the supreme arbiter.
While these were fine sentiments, many of the important noblemen and professional administrators were aware that the real issue was the inability of the leadership to solve the fiscal problems, caused by years of extravagance but intensified by the government's support for the colonies in the American War of Independence. That venture had cost the state over 1 billion, 200 million livres.
After a series of attempted reforms, which repeatedly found opposition in the judicial parlements, the government desperately decided to call for an Estates-General. This antiquated institution had not met in almost two hundred years, and no one quite knew how its old-fashioned three-house system would function. Into this confusion, a radical clergyman and publicist caught the public's attention with a popular pamphlet which challenged the legitimacy of the Estates General, and proposed a new body which would represent something he called "the nation."
Abbé Joseph Sieyès, What Is the Third Estate, 1788
The plan of this pamphlet is very simple. We have three questions to ask:
What is the Third Estate? Everything.
What has it been in the political order? Nothing.
What does it demand? To become something....
What is a nation? A body of associates living under a common law and represented by the same legislature. Is it not exceedingly clear that the noble order as well as the clergy has privileges, exemptions, and rights separate from the rights of the majority of citizens? Its civil rights already set it apart in the greater nation. It enjoys its political rights separately. It has it own representatives, who are by no means charged with representing the people. Its deputation sits apart; and even when it is assembled in the same room with the deputies of ordinary citizens, its representation remains essentially distinct and separate; it is foreign to the nation in principles. The Third Estate [on the other hand] comprises everything belonging to the nation; and whatever is not the Third Estates may not be regarded as being the nation. What is the Third Estate? Everything!
What does the Third Estate demand? To become something. It wishes to have real representatives in the Estates-General, that is to say, deputies drawn from its order who are competent to be interpreters of its will and defenders of its interests. But what good is it to be present at the Estates-General if the predominating interest there is contrary to its own! Its presence would only consecrate the opposition of which it would be the eternal victim. Thus, it is indeed certain that it should not proceed to vote at the Estates-General unless it is to have in that body an influence at least equal to that of the privileged classes; and it demands a number of representatives equal to that of the first two orders together. *
Finally, this equality of representation would become completely illusory if every chamber voted separately. The Third Estate demands, therefore, that votes be taken by head and not by order. This is the essence of those claims so alarming to the privileged classes, because they believed that thereby reform of abuses would become inevitable. The real intention of the Third Estates is to have an influence in the Estates-General equal to that of the privileged classes. I repeat, can it ask less? And is it not clear that if its influence there is less than equality, it cannot be expected to emerge from its political impotence and become something?
Let us answer two remaining questions. Where shall we find the nation? in the 40,000 parishes which comprise all the territory, all the inhabitants, and all the tributaries of the commonwealth; there, without a doubt, is the nation. But, you will say, if the majority of citizens had named special representatives, what would have become of the distinction of the three orders? What would have become of privileges? They would have become what they deserve to be. If the French constitution supposedly provides that 200,000 or 300,000 individuals out of 26,000,000 citizens constitutes two-thirds of the common will, what to reply if not to affirm that two and two make five? Formerly the Third Estates was serf, the noble order everything. Today the Third Estate is everything, the nobility but a word.
In such a state of affairs, what must the Third Estate do if it wishes to gain possession of its political rights in a manner beneficial to the nation? There are two ways of attaining this objective. In the first, the Third Estate would assemble apart; it will not meet with the nobility and the clergy at all; it will not vote with them, either by order or by head. I pray that they will keep in mind the enormous difference between the assembly of the Third Estate and that of the other two orders. The first represents 25,000, 000 men, and deliberates concerning the interests of the whole nation. The two others, even were they to unite, have the powers of only about 200,000 individuals, and think only of their privileges. The Third Estate alone, they say, cannot constitute the Estates-General. Well! So much the better! It will form a National Assembly.
Let us add that the Third Estate, in separating itself from the first two orders, cannot be accused of secession; that expression, as well as the meaning it implies, must be left to those who first used it. In fact, the majority cannot separate itself at all; that would be a contradiction in terms, for it would involving withdrawing from itself. It is only the minority that may not wish to submit to the will of the majority, and consequently desires to secede.
I have said there are two ways for the Third Estate to obtain its rightful place in the political order. If the first, which I have just presented, seems a little too abrupt, if is decided that the public must be given time to accustom itself to liberty, if it is believed that national rights, however obvious, still need a sort of legal judgment to establish them, so to speak, and consecrate them by a final sanction when they are disputed even by the smallest number, I am willing to have it so; let us appeal to the tribunal of the nation, the only competent judge in all differences concerning the constitution. Such is the second way open to the Third Estate.
Such talk was extremely dangerous because the non-cooperation of the Third Estate would destroy any chance of financial stability. The King's government would not make a final ruling, and but scheduled elections.
Elections and Cahiers
Deputies for the Estates-General were elected through a complicated process, with meetings of each Estate in each electoral district. In the Third Estate, two and sometimes three stages of elections were held: village, district, and then province. At each election, in each Estate, the voters were also asked to draw up a list of complaints and grievances [Cahiers] These Cahiers vary greatly but only a careful analysis of these petitions will provide an understanding of the "agenda" of the French Revolution of 1789.
Cahiers of the Clergy [First Estate]
From the Clergy of Angoumois District
First, it seems natural that the clerical estate, in view of its responsibility to its evangelical ministry, should convey to His Majesty the dire results of the loss of faith [in the country]. France has been inundated for almost a century with obscene, impious, and scandalous books, which have become the sole education of the young, to the decline of religion and morality. But considering that the desire of the monarch in bringing together the nation is to search with it for means of preventing the ruin of the state, the Clerical Estate of Angoumois has accepted the following articles with unanimous vote.
1. His Majesty is humbly requested to declare that in the future no tax can be granted or extended except by the Estates-General
2. That all the taxes now in existence, since they were not agreed on by the Nation which alone has that right, shall be abolished at the opening of the Estates-General, in order to be immediately recreated by that body.
3. The periodic meeting of the Estates-General shall be established by law, at the time and place appointed by His Majesty.
5. The individual liberty of the citizens shall be assured by an irrevocable law.
7. The Clerical Estate does not oppose the liberty of the press, provided that it be moderate, that anonymous writings not be permitted and that the printing of obscene books and books contrary to the dogmas of the faith and the principles of government be forbidden. Every printer should be responsible for the latter in his own private name.
22. The Catholic religion shall be the only one authorized by the state for the exercise of public worship.
35. The ordinance with regard to Holy Days and Sunday, and the police regulations in this regard, should be renewed and strictly enforced.
36. Finally, the said Clerical Estate, in consideration of the sacrifice of its privileges, asks that the general debt of the clergy, which was accumulated for the good of the State, should be absorbed into the National debt, and that all their other honors and prerogatives be maintained, especially the right to vote by Order and their right of precedence in any assembly to which they are called.
From the Clergy of St-Malo in Britanny
... That in the national assembly, and in all political assemblies in the provinces, votes shall be counted by head and not by order....
That at each meeting of the Estates General an account shall be given to the nation of the use made of public money since the previous meeting.
That request be made for the safeguarding of all the rights, franchises and immunities of our province of Brittany.
That no attempt shall be made upon the liberty of any citizen without giving him means of defense at the very moment of his detention.
To ask for the abolition of forced labor service [the corvée].
To seek for means of protecting the people from the distress caused by seigneurial rights pertaining to pigeon-houses, dovecotes, warrens, hunting, mills, presses, seigneurial ovens and other feudal rights.
That only the Catholic religion be publicly exercised in France....
To ask for implementation of the rules against holding plural benefices.
Cahiers of the Nobility [Second Estate]
From the Nobility of Roussillon
Deputies to the Estates General are only delegates, agents of power, instruments of the public will. Members of the nobility of Roussillon, while working together for the general welfare of the kingdom and of all the orders, will always bear in mind what they owe to the province and to their own order in particular.
Votes shall be cast in the Estates General by order and not by head.
Deputies shall call for the Estates General to be regularly reconvened every five years at the latest.
The deputies shall deal with the general constitution of the kingdom. The main object of their discussions must be to define and regulate this in an exact and invariable way. Therefore the deputies shall ask that it be declared:
That France is a monarchy, heritable from male to male, in order of primogeniture, daughters being excluded.
That to the prince alone belongs, unshared, all executive power for the maintenance of public order and the defense of the state.
That no decree is considered law unless it has been proposed or permitted by the king, agreed or requested by the nation assembled in the Estates-General.
That new laws regarding the general constitution of the state must be sent to the parlements.
That to the nation legally assembled in the Estates-General belongs exclusively the right to grant subsidies, to regulate the use made of them, to assign to each department the agreed necessary funds, and to demand an accounting of them.
The liberty of the citizen being the most precious of all possessions and most sacred of all rights, all arbitrary commands and all lettres de cachet issued by the sovereign or his ministers shall be declared illegal and their use forbidden forever.
As an integral part of civil liberty, every kind of writing may be printed and published, on condition that the author, publisher or printer puts his name to it and answers personally for anything that may be said in them contrary to religion, morality and the honor of the citizens.
The order of nobility, faithful to the desire it has expressed to bear jointly with the other orders, in exact proportion, the burden of taxation and general contributions of the province, especially authorizes its deputies to agree to equality of assessment without any pecuniary exemptions, enjoining them none the less to take care that no attack be made upon property or upon the honorific distinctions and rights inherent in the order of nobility, which are of the essence of monarchic government.
While waiting for better times which may permit the abolition of the salt tax, the deputies shall ask for a reduction in the price of salt.
Deputies of the order shall work together to their utmost to promote the support of religion, the respect due to divine worship, the very needed restoration of morality and of national education.
From the Nobility of the Angoumois District
2. The said nobility forbids its deputies to deliberate except by Order, with the vote of one order over the two others, with the observation that, if the majority of the deputies of the Nobility wish to deliberate by head, they will accede to the wish of the majority of the nobles of France, with protest, but without schism.
27. His Majesty should be very humbly requested to agree that from henceforth nobility should not be conferred for the holding of office, that it should be given only to those presented by their provincial Estates or for brilliant feats of arms performed in war.
28. They also demand that military positions shall not be given in future except to those whose titles are inherited and transmissible from father to son.
69. The deputies should take notice that it is essential to suppress the cupidity of merchants by a very severe law. These men, taking advantage of the inexperience and frivolity of youth, bring about the ruin of the son of the family. All that is necessary to stop this is to renew the regulations which nullify all letters of exchange and bills signed by minors without the consent of their mothers, fathers, rulers or guardians.
From the Nobility of Dourdan District
The noble citizens of the district of Dourdan request: ...
That a formula be drafted and publication of laws be established, and that it express both the rights of the nation and that of the King, in these words, or similar ones: "The free and general Estates of France declare that the general will is &emdash;&emdash;&emdash;&emdash;&emdash;. Accordingly, the said Estates most respectfully supplicate His Majesty to sanction the said articles by royal approbation: WE KING OF FRANCE, upon the request of the Estates General, have published and do publish, have ordered and do ordered &emdash;&emdash;&emdash;&emdash;&emdash;. FOR SUCH IS THE OUTCOME OF THE NATIONAL WILL WHICH HAS RECEIVED THE SEAL OF OUR ROYAL AUTHORITY." ...
The order of the nobility desires further that the distinction of three orders in the Estates General be strengthened and regarded as inherent in the Constitution of the French monarchy, and that opinions be given therein only by order.
That in the event, however, that vote by order be absolutely rejected by the Estates General, and the deputy of the Dourdan district sees that further resistance to vote by head is useless, he then requests that vote by head be taken in the separate chamber of every order and not in the assembly of the three orders united.
That vote by head never take place on matters of particular interest to one of the three orders alone.
That opposition of one order alone may not delay project of the other two and result in veto, except by at least two thirds of the vote....
That the Estates General may not concern itself with any deliberation until, in conjunction with the King, it has passed an act enunciating the Constitution and the rights above mentioned and constituting henceforth, the fundamental law of the kingdom....
Finally, the nobility declares that, in order to evince its sentiments of esteem, natural equity, and affection for its fellow citizens of the third estate, it wishes to share with them, in proportion to the property and possessions of all orders, whatever imposts and taxes are approved by the nation; claiming to reserve only the sacred rights of property and prerogatives of rank, honor, and dignity, which must appertain to it according to the constitution, principles of the French monarchy.
Cahiers of the Third-Estate
Complete Cahiers From the Village of Bourscheid, on the German frontier
The undersigned inhabitants believe they should begin their cahier by giving an idea of the different dues they pay to their seigneurs, and these are as follows:
They pay one hen per year per household.
Each household must spin annually two pounds of flax or three of hemp.
To pay the head-of-household tax after the death of the head of the community; this means that the lord takes the second-best beast from the dead man's stable, or, if he had no livestock, he takes from the inheritance a piece of land ploughable in one day, but not until the heir has chosen the first piece himself; and if there is no land or cattle the lord exacts payment of ten écus, French money.
The right to tax innkeepers four pots per measure of the liquor they sell, be it wine, cider or beer.
Each farmer pays annually dues in cash and in kind on ploughland, whether the land is sown or not; and six sous annually for each plot of meadowland.
When the subject of a seigneurie sells his property to another subject of the same lord, the seigneur is entitled to receive a tenth of the price of the goods, even if the sale is between father and son, son and father, brother and brother, etc.
The lord is also entitled to a personal due, or body labor, from his subjects, viz. 32 sols from a farmer and 16 sols from a farm worker.
Each farmer pays annually for each work-horse the sum of four sous and for each ox 30.
And each peasant also pays the seigneurs annually, in lieu of labor service, five French livres.
As for the other matters concerning the improvement of the finances and general welfare of the state, the village refers itself to the wisdom and goodness of His Majesty and of the Estates General. Given and decreed in the assembled community summoned for that purpose by ourself, the appointed commissioner, and we have signed with the officers of justice and other inhabitants able to sign at Bourscheid 5 April 1789, the cahier having been read out and interpreted.
From the Village of Pithiviers-le-Vieil
12. The right of hunting is devastating our countryside. We do not ask that it be abolished, but that our grain be protected by law from all the wrongs and damage suffered by cultivators from the game keepers and the excessive quantity of game and that hunting be prohibited when our grain is on the stalks. Nothing causes more ravages than the rabbit. It takes away the cultivator's hopes for a harvest, leaving him unable to obtain compensation except by paying fees which make the lawsuit more costly than profitable for him.
13. The dovecotes are too numerous and the multitude of pigeons work frightful destruction on the grain, especially on the early shoots; in order to oblige the seigneurs to feed their pigeons, at least let individuals be permitted to kill them when they find them devastating their fields.
From the Village of Vatimesnil in Normandy
We represent to His Majesty that food is too dear and that trade is not moving and that taxation is too heavy and that we can give no help to the State.
And we would like to ask His Majesty for the good of the public to abolish spinning machines because they do great wrong to all poor people.
And we represent to His Majesty some ways which could restore the state to health: such as the clergy, because we have seen communities of four or five religious enjoying thirty or forty thousand livres; above all the benefices, such as those where the clergy get between twelve hundred and twelve thousand livres without usually giving any of it away in charity; and fix a decent income for them and let His Majesty take the surplus.
And we do not know of any other ways in which His Majesty could do good to all his people.
From the Village of Lion-en-Sullias
.... Relying on His Majesty's paternal goodness, they dare to hope that he will accept favorably their very humble supplication and will exempt their sons and domestics from militia service in order to let them attend to the cultivation of the land and provide the kingdom with more grain, as useful to the State as military service, and they ask this with all the more reason because hands are lacking in the countryside. ...
Another objective also is a subject of the claims of the inhabitants of the parish of Lion: the elimination of the stallions [kept in the Royal Stud-Farm nearby] as contrary to the perfection of the horse as a species, in that the stallions are closed in the stable all year and live only on grain and dry fodder, and they couple only with mares which live in the fields all year; there is reason to believe [that two such different styles of rearing] do not mix since each master's first trial proves that couplings of this kind are totally null. That only too frequently the mares, which are not of a size in proportion to the stallions, and even a few approaching their size, fall dead at the moment of coupling, which causes great prejudice to the proprietors. Wherefore, the inhabitants of Lion beg His Majesty to be willing, by his usual goodness, to alleviate their ills, by diminishing their misery, and to receive the assurance of their love, submission, and fidelity....
But in a large number of cahiers from towns, the focus was on something quite different.
From the Town of Gisors in Normandy
The Third Estate of this town invites the deputies to the Estates-General to do all they can to encourage the Assembly to adopt the following resolutions, but not until they have first of all joined with all the deputies of the kingdom in demonstrating to the best of kings the gratitude, respect, love and submission of his subjects of the town of Gisors.
Resolutions shall be taken and decreed in the Estates General by the three orders jointly and votes shall be counted by head and not by order.
That in the matter of taxes and loans the sovereign's authority cannot be exercised except by the general agreement of the assembled nation, and with the assistance of its deliberations and its advice in matters of legislation.
Before giving recognition to the national debt or imposing any taxation, the deputies shall cause to be decreed, as the kingdom's permanent system of government, the regular recall of the Estates General at fixed periods.
They shall ask for the abolition of every kind of indirect tax, under whatever description it was set up, and that none shall be created within the interior of the kingdom.
No citizen may be made prisoner nor deprived of his liberty for any reason whatever without having been first taken before his natural judge, or before the judge of the offense of which he is accused, and without having been sentenced to that imprisonment for which purpose all arbitrary imprisonment, especially lettres de cachet shall be forbidden.
Deputies will ask for:
Abolition of all forms of seigneurial justice.
Abolition of the venality of office
The nation's right to choose its judges in all future tribunals.
Reform of the civil and criminal codes.
Game should be destroyed, or nobles who wish to preserve it should be compelled to enclose it within their parks; and the destruction of harmful animals should be encouraged.
Deputies shall ask for the abolition of immunities damaging to the Third Estate, such as exemption from troop billeting, from militia duty, coast guard duty, and others of that kind.
That free schools be set up in every parish of the kingdom for the instruction of young people.
That begging be entirely prohibited, and that means be found to subsidize the feeding, maintenance and housing of the infirm poor by the establishment of charity boards in all towns and villages.
That the seigneurial tithe and dues payable in kind or in labor, and other such rights which produce little for the landlord and are a grievous enslavement to the tenants, be changed to payment in grain and straw or to money payments.
That tolls payable on goods crossing land bridges, and on roads and others of that kind be abolished as harmful.
That dues on markets and on corn measurements be reduced to two sous per sack uniformly throughout the kingdom, and that steps be taken to avoid the excessive costliness of cereals.
That pigeons be kept shut up in pigeon houses from 24 June to 1 September and from 29 September to 11 November.
From the District of Mansigné
4. That the debts of the State must be paid off, but that the Estates-General must first look into the actual state of the finances, in order to give advice both concerning the taxes necessary for repaying the debts and meeting the other needs of the State, and concerning the most simple and least onerous means of collecting those taxes.
5. That the Estates-General must not grant any tax or subsidy unless beforehand all other matters that must be deal with in the Estates relative to the reform of abuses, to legislation or otherwise, have been agreed upon and defined, and certain and effective resolutions have been taken on all of them....
7. That taxes not be granted in perpetuity nor for long periods of time but only for the interval from one assembly of the Estates to that which will follow immediately....
9. Ecclesiastical property was originally destined for the subsistence of the clergy and the poor. It would therefore be reasonable for a portion of the revenues from these ecclesiastical properties, the amount to be determined by the Estates-General, to be used for public works in which the poor of the area would be employed.
10. That there be given to the provincial administrations the same degree of stability and the same functions as in the Estates of provinces that have a provincial assembly; and that the Third Estate always have in these administrations a number of representatives chosen from its order, equal to that of the other two orders combined.
From the District of Dourdan
The order of the Third Estate of the City, District and County of Dourdan ... Wishes
1. that his subjects of the Third Estate, equal by such status to all other citizens, present themselves before the common father without other distinction which might degrade them.
2. that all the orders, already united by duty and a common desire to contribute equally to the needs of the State, also deliberate in common concerning its needs.....
5. that the property of all citizens be inviolable.....
7. that the customary and ordinary charges of the State be regulated [in a budget]....
9. that the national debt be verified....
1. that every regulation which tends to impede the business of citizens be revoked. ...
6. that all toll rights and other similar ones be suppressed throughout the interior of the kingdom, that custom-houses be moved back to the frontiers and that [monopoly] rights be entirely abolished.
7. that, within a given time, weights and measures be rendered uniform throughout the entire kingdom.
... 2. that in cities and villages schools be established where the poor will be admitted without cost, and instructed in whatever is necessary for them concerning either morals or their individual interests.
3.that [clerical] livings and benefices for the care of souls henceforth be granted only by competitive examination.
5. that bishops and pastors be subject to perpetual residence, under penalty of loss of the fruits of their benefices....
7. that every lottery, the effect of which is to corrupt public morals, every loan involving the element of chance, the effect of which is to encourage speculation and divert funds destined for agriculture and commerce, be proscribed forever.
10. that all charlatans and those who have not completed the necessary studies and passed the required examinations, be forbidden to sell drugs or medicines or to practice medicine or surgery ....
11. that no woman may practice the art of midwifery until she has taken a course in it, has obtained a certificate of competence from a college of surgery ....
13. that the sacraments be administered gratuitously, and contingent fees suppressed.
The Estates General began meeting on 5 May 1789, but the unresolved problem of separate houses and voting by estate prevented action. Both the Clergy and the Nobility organized their assemblies, but the Third Estate continued to insist upon joint meetings.On 4 June 1789, the King's oldest son, the 8 year old Dauphin, died of tuberculosis. Louis and Marie-Antoinette were devastated and retired in great sorrow to the seclusion of Marly. With no leadership from the throne, some members of the Third Estate believed the time was ripe for their initiative.
Labeling themselves, the National Assembly, they called upon other deputies to join the nation in the Tennis Court Oath [20 June 1789]. When a substantial portion of the clerical deputies and even some from noble delegates decided to join them, the King reversed his position and ordered joint meetings. The first phase of the revolution was over.
Rural and Urban Unrest
Unrelated to the political debates ongoing in Versailles, the unrest in the countryside which had been present since 1788 continued to spread. The indecision of the court now became a disaster. Uncertain about what course to pursue, he king dismissed Jacques Necker, he Director General of Finances, which in turned enraged many of the city-dwellers, especially in Paris. In the resulting uproar, on 14 July, a group of patriots attacked the Bastille which finally opened its doors and the mob massacred the governor and his pensioned soldiers. Their heads were paraded through Paris. Nevertheless, three days later, Louis XVI visited Paris, wearing the new tricolor cockade, a combination of Bourbon white with the red and blue colors of the city of Paris. This event sealed the king's acceptance of the Revolution, but it had little or no impact upon the rumors and anxiety sweeping the countryside.
Letter of Father Emmanuel Barbotin, a Clerical Deputy, 31 July 1789
Everything in the Versailles area seems calm, but all the neighboring provinces are still in a state of turmoil. It appears that the Estates General have emboldened everyone and that no one is answerable any longer to anyone else. Everywhere there is looting, destruction, damage, fire; public funds are stolen: so that the kingdom is being despoiled and brought to within a hair's breadth of its downfall. This has only happened since the scattering of our enemies at court. I think that all these disturbances are organized by people who are paid agitators, for strangers or foreigners have been noticed in all the riots. But why are peaceful men so stupid that they listen to them and follow them?
Memoirs of Jean-Sylvain Bailly [Mayor of Paris]
The areas around Paris swarmed with threatening brigands looting everything. We heard about this through deputations from villages in a state of alarm. M. de Lafayette, commander of the National Guard [the "so-called bourgeois Guard" in contrast to the French army or the Swiss bodyguard of the King] was instructed to send them help. The reports were found to be entirely without foundation. ... What is extraordinary is that these rumors and fears of brigands were spreading across the whole kingdom; and at the same time it was also being said that the grain was being cut down before it was ripe. There was no truth in this either.
Rumors of conspiracy and crime, reports of disasters, sprang up everywhere, both by word of mouth and in writing. Terror reigned in the provinces; townsfolk and peasants abandoned their work and rushed to take up arms. It seemed that fear was spread to provoke disorder, so that disorder would bring anarchy, and anarchy would bring tyranny.
Letter of the Steward of the Duc de Montmerency, 2 August 1789
Sir, In order to avoid alarming you, I have not until now mentioned the fears which have been distressing me for too long; but now I think it unwise to leave you in ignorance any longer. There is looting and pillage on all sides. The populace blames the nobility of the kingdom for the high cost of grain and is enraged against them. Reasoning is of no avail; this maddened populace is deaf to all but its own fury and throughout our province the peasantry are in such a state of revolt that they are reading to commit the greatest crimes; indeed even in this very parish, learning that the royalist Baron de Breteuil and his family are at the château, they talk openly about going to burn it down. You must believe, sir, that in such circumstances I am talking all possible care. Every night I and my family watch in greatest secrecy to prevent any commotion which might turn against us. Though I well know those who might be planning to harm us, I pretend not to notice, and I redouble my courtesies to all. Another worry which tears at my heart is not knowing if our lords are safe from the people's fury. If you can be so kind, I beg you, send word to me.
As I was about to end my letter I learned that about three hundred brigands from all over, together with the peasants of Madame la Marquise de Longaunay, have taken away the rent-rolls and deeds of taxes from the manor house and demolished its dovecotes; they then gave an acknowledgement of their theft, singed "The Nation." Four days ago, these same people went to a château of the Prince of Monaco, located four leagues from Thorigny, in order to steal the manorial records. Not finding them, they discharged their rage on the furniture and reduced it to dust. The rent collector and his family were lucky to get away.
The château of Thorigny is threatened and everyone knows it will be pillaged. What is to be done? The poor of the parish are starving. I mean to help them a little in this terrible misery, and to try to stop it by distributing about 50 ecus.
Disposition Concerning a Lynching at Saint-Denis, 2 August 1789
Relatives of the deceased have said and declared to us that on 2 August 1789 at 3:00 pm, a popular riot broke out in the town of Saint-Denis in the Ile de France. It was stirred up by people of dubious intentions who, as a pretext, demanded the lowering of bread prices. The people, who for the most part had been drinking, were excited by these individuals. Two or three hundred of them proceeded to the square in front of the Town Hall. In this band there were many women. Twenty-five or thirty entered the Town Hall and forced the municipal officers&emdash;who then numbered only three&emdash;M. Chatelle, lieutenant to the mayor, and the father and father-in-law of the plaintiffs; M. Belville the public prosecutor, and M. Maillet the assessor&emdash;to lower the price of bread and to fix it at two sols a pound. These officers, constrained by violence, found themselves obliged to yield and to order a messenger to go to the bakers and to announce that bread was to be sold at two sols a pound.
Meanwhile, part of this unruly mob went to the house of the said M.Chatelle, broke down all the doors and smashed the furniture on the ground floor. Not finding the squire Chatelle, the mob left, carrying off different personal effects as they went. The squire Chatelle, informed of what was happening at his house, left the town hall, conducted by the squire his son, one of the plaintiffs. The son had him take refuge in the house of M. Broisse, a wholesale merchant. Believing his father safe, the son went to the police to ask for help. After the police refused to come, saying that they could not do anything without orders, he set out on the spot for the City Hall in Paris. Meanwhile, M. Broisse forced squire Chatelle to get out of his house. Not knowing where to find refuge, M. Chatelle went to the lodgings of the priest of Trois-Patrons, his parish, and hid in the bell tower. This was after the priest of the parish of St.-Michael's had refused to give him refuge. The brigands, after discovering that he was not at St. Michael's, went to look for him at Trois-Patrons. They caused a horrifying uproar in the church and pulled the squire down from his hiding place. He died under their blows. He was stabbed fourteen times with knives and other sharp instruments. His head was separated from his body and they indulged in other excesses known to everyone in the town. It was a soldier of the Provence Regiment who cut off his head.
Comte de Germiny to the National Assembly, 20 August 1789
On 29 July 1789, a party of foreign brigands, joining with my peasants and those of Vrigni, the parish next to mine, came, two-hundred strong, to my château at Sassy, in the parish of St. Christopher, near Argentan, and having broken the locks to the cabinet where my records are kept, they took most of them, along with the registers which I depended on, and carried them off or burned them in the forest near my château. My guard was not able to offer any resistance, since his family is the only guardian of this manor, which I do not inhabit. These unfortunate people rang the alarm bell in neighboring parishes in order to assemble a larger crowd. I am all the more unhappy about this loss in that I have never weighed down my peasants under the odious burden of ancient feudalism. In fact, I am enchanted that in the light of recent events they are able to free themselves of these remaining obligations. But who will confirm and pay for the damages they have done to my property? I appeal to your discretion, so that the National Assembly will find some way to return to me what I have lost.
I will take no action against those among the brigands who, not content to burn my papers have killed all my pigeons. But I await justice from the spirit of equity which governs you, and which gives me the greatest confidence.
Report of a Notary from Glanes in Savoy, August 1789
We need no longer be so alarmed over those gangs of thieves which we feared would descend on us. They are simply peasants who are seizing their land deeds from the châteaux, and burning them if they meet with resistance. People have the same idea in Savoy. To achieve peace, the nobility must reduce their demands.
During the evening of 4 August, a member of the National Assembly proposed some regulations to end the looting and burning of châteaux and to order the payment of back taxes and rents. This proposal set off a debate in which many representatives noted that the refusal to pay dues and the burning of deeds originated in the hatred of the feudal regime by country people.By a pre-arranged plan several liberal nobles offered to give up their rights, and in a contagion of enthusiasm, the assembly ended the ancient constitution of France.
The Decree of 4 August 1789
The National Assembly completely abolishes the feudal system. It decrees that all rights and dues, both feudal and personal, and all those originating in rear or personal serfdom, personal servitude ... are abolished without indemnification; all others are declared redeemable, and that the price and mode of redemption shall be fixed by the National Assembly.
The exclusive right to maintain pigeon houses and dovecotes is abolished; pigeons shall be confined during the seasons fixed by the community and during that time they shall be regarded as game and everyone shall have the right to kill them upon his own land.
The exclusive right to hunting and open warrens is likewise abolished. All hunting rights, even royal, and all private hunting restrictions, under whatever regulation, are also abolished. The president of the assembly shall be commissioned to ask the king to recall all those sent to the galleys or exiled simply for violation of the hunting regulations....
All manorial courts are suppressed without indemnification.
Tithes of every description and dues which have been substituted for them, whether possessed by secular, recognized institution, or other religious and military bodies, are abolished, on condition, however that some other method be devised to provide for the expense of divine worship, the support of the officiating clergy, the relief of the poor, repairs and rebuilding of churches, seminaries, schools, asylums, and other institutions for the maintenance of which tithes are actually devoted.
The purchase of judicial and municipal office is suppressed as from this moment. Justice will be rendered without payment.
Fiscal privileges, personal or tied to real estate, in the payment of taxes, are abolished forever. Tax payments will be made by all citizens and on all property in the same manner and by the same method.
All special privileges of provinces, principalities, regions, cities and communities are irrevocably abolished.
All citizens, without distinction of birth, are eligible for any office or employment, whether ecclesiastical, civil, or military; and no profession shall imply loss of status.
No pluralism of benefices will be allowed.
Accounts of pensions, favors and salaries will be put before the National Assembly, who, together with the king, will act to suppress those which are undeserved, and reduce those which are excessive.
The National Assembly decrees that a medal shall be struck in memory of the recent grave and important deliberations for the welfare of France, and that a Te Deum shall be chanted in gratitude in all the parishes and churches of France.
The National Assembly shall present itself to His Majesty the decree which has just been passed, to tender to him the tokens of its most respectful gratitude, and to pray him to permit the Te Deum to be chanted in his chapel, and to be present himself at this service.
The implementation of this new decree was rapid, and not always greeted with full enthusiasm by the landed gentry who were its principle victims.
Memoirs of Jacques-Claude, Comte Beugnot
On publication of the decrees of 4 August, the National Guard at Montigny, strengthened by all the local patriots, descended in a flood on the barony of Choiseul, and in three or four days ruthlessly wiped out all the hares and the partridges which had been there for so long, spared by the tender heart of my father-in-law
The ponds were fished, the dovecote in the courtyard of the château was shot at and the pigeons killed. These fine fellows went so far in their insolence as to approach my father-in-law, offering to sell him some of his own fish, as they had too much, and his own pigeons, as they did not know what to do with them. These patriotic celebrations did not upset me; I was kept busy restraining my father-in-law, from whom we had wisely removed anything which in his rage he might use as a weapon.
The National Assembly immediately voted to compose a statement of the rights of man, which would become the basis for a new French political constitution.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, 26 August 1789
The representatives of the French people, organized as a national assembly, considered that ignorance, neglect, and scorn of the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortunes and of corruption of governments, have resolved to display in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man, so that this declaration, constantly in the presence of all members of society, will continually remind them of their rights and their duties; so that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power, being subject at any time to comparison with the purpose of any political institution, will be better respected; so that the demands of the citizens, based henceforth on simple and incontestable principles, will always contribute to the maintenance of the constitution and the happiness of all.
Consequently, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and citizen.
1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights; social distinctions can be established only for the common benefit.
2. The aim of every political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
3. The source of all sovereignty is located in essence in the nation; no body, no individual can exercise authority which does not emanate from the nation expressly.
4. Liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not harm another person. Thus the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights; these limits can be determined only by law.
5. The law has the right to forbid only those actions harmful to society. All that is not forbidden by the law cannot be hindered, and no one can be forced to do what the law does not order.
6. The law is the expression of the general will; all citizens have the right to concur personally or through their representatives in its formation; it must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens being equal in its eyes are equally admissible to all honors, positions, and public employments, according to their capabilities and without other distinctions than those of their virtues and talents.
7. No man can be accused, arrested, or detained except in cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who solicit, draw up, execute, or have executed arbitrary orders must be punished; but any citizen summoned or seized by virtue of the law must obey instantly; he renders himself culpable by resisting.
8. The law must establish only penalties that are strictly and clearly necessary, and no one can be punished except in virtue of a law established and published prior to the offense and legally applied.
9. Every man being presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it is judged indispensable to arrest him, all severity that is not necessary for making sure of his person must be severely repressed by the law.
10. No one may be disturbed because of his opinion, even religious, provided that their public demonstration does not disturb the public order established by law.
11. The free communication of thoughts and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man; every citizen can therefore freely speak, write, and print; he is answerable for abuses of this liberty in cases determined by the law.
12. The guaranteeing of the rights of man and citizen necessitates a public force; this force is therefore instituted for the advantage of all, and not for the private use of those to whom it is entrusted.
13. For the maintenance of the public force, and for the expenses of administration, a tax supported in common is indispensable; it must be assessed on all citizens in proportion to their capacities to pay.
14. Citizens have the right to determine for themselves, or through their representatives, the need for taxation of the public, to consent to it freely, to investigate its use, and to determine its rate, basis, collection, and duration.
15. Society has the right to demand an accounting of his administration from every public agent.
16. Any society in which guarantees of rights are not assured nor the separation of powers determined has no constitution.
17. Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one may be deprived of it unless public necessity, legally determined, clearly requires such action, and then only on condition of a just and prior indemnity.
France enthusiastically welcomed the new laws, but some argued that they did not go far enough.
Olympe de Gouges, The Rights of Woman, 1791
Men! Are you capable of acting justly? A woman poses that question. You must at least admit she has the right to ask it. Tell me, what gives you the right to oppress my sex? Your physical strength? Your abilities? Observe the wisdom of God the Creator. Examine the grandeur of nature, with which you want to be in harmony, and show me, if you can, even one similar example of such sexual tyranny. Look at the animals, at the elements, at the plants. Study all organic matter, and you will be forced to accept the evidence which I offer,. Search, probe, and locate, if you can, the role of the sexes in the administration of nature. Everywhere you will find them mingled together; everywhere they cooperate in harmonious unity within the masterwork of creation.
Man alone has made a principle out of his exception. Bizarre, blind, bloated with science and degenerated into crassest ignorance&emdash;even in this century of enlightenment and wisdom&emdash;he wants despotically to command a sex which is in full possession of its own intellectual faculties. He pretends to support the Revolution and to claim his own rights of equality, so that he need say nothing more about [the absence of equality in women]. . . .
To challenge this, the author proposes new wording for The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN AND CITIZEN
The mothers, daughters, sisters, Representatives of the Nation, demand to be constituted as a national assembly. Believing that ignorance, omission, and contempt for the rights of women are the only causes of public misfortune and of government corruption, they have resolved to display in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights so that this declaration, constantly in the presence of all members of society, will continually remind them of their rights and their duties. . . .
Consequently, the sex that is as superior in beauty as it is in courage during the sufferings of childbirth recognizes and declares, in the presence of the Supreme Being the following Rights of Woman and of Female Citizens.
1. Women are born free and remain free and equal to man in their rights. Social distinctions can be established only for the common benefit. . . .
3. The source of all sovereignty is located in essence in the nation, which is nothing but the union of woman and man; no body, and no individual can exercise authority which does not emanate from the nation expressly.
4. Liberty and justice consist in rendering to persons those things that belong to them. Thus the exercise of woman's natural rights is limited only by perpetual male tyranny. These limits must be changed according to the laws of nature and reason. ...
6. The law is the expression of the general will; all female and male citizens must contribute either personally or through their representatives to its formation; it must be the same for all; male and female citizens, being equal in its eyes, must be equally admissible to all honors, positions, and public employments, according to their capabilities and without other distinctions than those of their virtues and talents. ...
10. No one may be disturbed because of his opinions. Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum, provided that her public demonstration does not disturb the public order established by law....
14. Female and male citizens have the right to determine for themselves or through their representatives the need for taxation of the public. This can only apply to women if they are granted an equal share, not only of wealth, but also of public administration, and in the determination of the rate, basis, collection and duration of the tax....
17. Property being an inviolable and sacred right belongs to both sexes, whether united or separate. No one may be deprived of it, since it is the true inheritance from nature, unless public necessity, legally determined, clearly requires such action, and then only on condition of a just and prior indemnity.
Women! Wake up! The tocsin of reason rings throughout the universe. Know your rights! The powerful empire of nature is no longer under siege from prejudice, fanaticism, superstition and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and despotism. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and needs recourse to you in order to break free from his chains. Yet having become free, he has become unjust to his companion. Oh women, women! When will you cease to be blind? What gain have you received from the Revolution? Only more scorn, more disdain... . .
Unite yourselves beneath the standards of philosophy; deploy all the energy of your character, and you will soon see these haughty men, not groveling at your feet in servile adoration, but proud to share with you whatever treasures the Supreme Being grants. Whatever the obstacles that are put in your way, it is within your power to free yourselves. You have only to will it!
But independently of this philosophical discussion, the whole question of the Declaration was still open. The king had refused to accept or promulgate the decree. Moreover, there was still remnants of the great fear. Although harvests had alleviated the distress of the rural areas, the situation in the towns and cities was still bad. In the absence of a good transportation system, and with rumors of brigandage still around, farmers were not willing to risk losing their crops on the roads. By late September 1789, Paris, and other large cities, had run out of bread. Rumors that the king had begun to gather an armed force around Versailles also spread, and these were fanned by the radical publicist, Jean-Paul Marat. On 5 October, a group organized a march on Versailles.
The October Days
Diary of Adrien Duquesnoy
5-6 October 1789: The president of the National Assembly, M. Mounier, announced that a deputation from Paris was demanding admission on pressing business. The news had already spread that ten, twenty, thirty thousand people were coming to Versailles, intent on seizing the king, according to some, seeking to force the assembly to hasten its work, according to others, etc.
Imagine the surprise of many members of the assembly when some twenty fishwives entered, led by a reasonably well-dressed man called Maillard, who spoke on their behalf with great facility and in a well-educated French. The women had come to say that Paris was short of bread; they sought the help and support of the assembly. This action was simple, and justified; it was an important commission, for to be hungry is a terrible distinction.
Following the spokesman's address, the president replied with great goodwill, but became involved in a discussion with the women. They attacked the Archbishop of Paris, saying that a miller had received two hundred livres not to grind corn from a priest who was a member of the assembly. They then proceeded to make accusations against all the clergy.
A proposed decree concerning supplies was read out to the women: the king was requested to take the strongest possible action to facilitate the free circulation of grain, etc. All those took place honorably and peacefully, until some members were unwise and bold enough to leave their places to go and chat with the women, so that their conversations were prejudicial too good order.
However, when M. Mounier left to go to the king and the Bishop of Langres took his place as president, the chamber was soon filled with drunken women, who danced, climbed upon to the president's dais and tried to kiss him. Vicomte de Mirabeau [the brother of the more famous Mirabeau] grabbed the bosoms of the prettiest women, and the most indecent behavior occurred in the sacred shrine of the representatives of the world's leading nation....
Deputies were mingling with the common women -- one of them sitting in the president's seat -- when Mounier returned. He called everyone to order. The king's reply was as follows: "I declare that I accept purely and simply the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the articles of the constitution which you have presented to me." This response, written and signed by the king, was read to the assembly, and there were loud cries of "Long live the king!"
The palace of Versailles was in a state of turmoil all night. The queen was threatened, and people were heard to say: "The only problem is how to share out pieces of the queen." There was open talk of hanging her, etc. She knew this, was fully aware of the danger she was in, yet did not wish to leave. It is claimed that when the king knelt to beg her to go she replied, "Sire, my place is at your feet. That is where I ought to die, if it must be that I am to die." These words may perhaps absolve her from many other wrongs. I heard this anecdote from the Marquis de Crillon, one of the most truthful men I know.
The next day, in response to the continued demands of the crowd, apparently supported by the 20,000 troops of the Paris National Guard, Louis XVI and his family allowed themselves to be taken to their residence in Paris, the National Assembly ultimately voted also to leave Versailles for the capital.
Church - State Debate
Meeting now in Paris, the National Assembly now turned to the pressing fiscal problems. One of the clerical deputies, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Bishop of Autun, proposed a startling solution, to confiscate the property and income of the Catholic Church.
Decree Concerning Church Property, 2 November 1789
The National Assembly decrees that all the ecclesiastical estates are at the disposal of the nation, on condition of providing in a suitable manner for the expense of worship, the maintenance of its ministers, and the relief of the poor.
Using the value of this land, the Assembly authorized paper money, Assignats. A few months later, these pieces of speculator's papers became France' official currency. But, having seized the lands of the church, the National Assembly faced the troublesome task of paying for the religious establishment. In the debates that followed, the Enlightenment's passion for rational order combined with a pronounced anti-clericalism.
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, 12 July 1790
The National Assembly ... has decreed and does decree the following as articles of the constitution:
1. Each department shall form a single diocese, and each diocese shall have the same extent and the same limits as the department.
2. The seats of the bishoprics of the eighty-three departments of the kingdom shall be established as follows.... All other bishoprics, which are not included by name in the present article, are and forever shall be abolished....
6. A new arrangement and division of all the parishes of the kingdom shall be undertaken immediately in concert with the bishop and the district administration. The number and extent of the parishes shall be determined according to rules which shall be laid down....
21. Beginning with the day of publication of the present decree, there shall be but one mode of choosing bishops and pastors, namely that of election....
22. All elections shall be by ballot and shall be decided by the majority of the votes....
26. The election of a bishop can only take place upon Sunday, in the principal church of the chief town of the department, at the close of the parish mass, at which all the electors are required to be present....
39. The newly elected bishop shall not apply to the Pope for any form of confirmation, but shall write to him as the Visible Head of the Universal Church, as a testimony to the unity of faith and communion maintained with him....
45. The election of parish priests shall take place according to the forms and by the electors designed ... for the election of members of the administrative assembly of the district....
62. Every bishop, priest, and officiating clergyman ... shall be furnished with a suitable dwelling, on condition, however, that the occupant shall make all the necessary current repairs.... Salaries shall be assigned to each according to the following schedule...
67. The salaries in money of the ministers of religion shall be paid every three months in advance, by the treasurer of the district....
74 No bishop shall absent himself from his diocese more than fifteen days consecutively during the year....
75. In the same manner, the pastor and curates may not absent themselves from the place of their duties.....
Implementation of this decree produced the first wave of negative criticism, from pious Catholics, and especially from the upper clergy.
Debate in the National Assembly, 26 November 1790
Declaration by the Bishops-Delegates: If the church and the state are to cooperate and agree on spiritual objectives and civil purposes, it is necessary that those to whom the divine laws have given the government of the church be able to make themselves heard like those to whom human laws give the government of the state. The church must be represented, like the nation [and have the right to consult] the visible head of the universal church, the Pope; the express or tactic consent of the universal church, informed in the forms prescribed by constant usage and by the canons, is the true principle of the decisions and laws of the church. This consent cannot be given in a purely civil assembly; the exercise of the power of the citizen cannot be confused with the expression of the belief of the faithful.
We have declared ourselves unable to participate in any deliberations on spiritual subjects by a purely civil power, which cannot be extended to the spiritual jurisdiction of the church. We have called for recourse to canonical procedures for purely spiritual subjects and for cooperation of the civil power and the ecclesiastical power for mixed subjects....
Finally, we have asked that the National Assembly suspend the Civil Constitution of the Clergy's effectiveness in the Departments until the Church has manifested its wishes by the voice of its visible head or until the canonical procedures have been completed according to the wise and charitable rules that guide the exercise of its power.
Such were the king's intentions when, ready to give his sanction, he announced that he would take the necessary measures for carrying out the decrees. His Majesty believed himself obliged to inform the head of the church, consult the church, and obtain its response through his voice. Our request to await his response, in conformity with the bishops' wishes, the rules and customs of the church, the king's intentions, the disposition with which the decree was proposed, does not contradict any principle, any decree adopted by the National Assembly.
Political interests and local differences cannot change the principles of a religion whose dogmas are the objects of a supernatural faith and whose morality is universal. The civil laws can cooperate to make public its teachings, to make secure its administration, to make effective the jurisdiction of its ministers; its institutions, however, which came from Jesus Christ and from the apostles, these divine institutions, which are the principles of the general discipline of the church, cannot be formed by a purely civil legislation. We want to avoid schism; we want to employ all the means that wisdom and charity can suggest to prevent the troubles which a deplorable schism is capable of producing. We think that our first duty is to await, with confidence, the response of St. Peter's successor, who, placed at the center of Catholic unity and of the communion, must utter and interpret the wishes of the universal church.
M. Voidel (Jacobin): A league has been formed against the state and against religion among a few bishops, a few chapters, and a few parish priests. Religion is its pretext; interest and ambition are its motive. To show the people by a combined resistance that one can with impunity brave the laws; to teach them to scorn, train them to revolt, dissolve all the bonds of the social contract; excite war; those are the methods and the facts prove it.
This plan is found outlined in a letter of the former Bishop of Tréguier to the parish priests of that diocese. After having declared that he will regard as intruders the bishops and parish priests named in accordance with the new procedures, he vows that he will not communicate with them at all. And the Bishop of Lisieux says the bond by which he is attached to the people of his diocese cannot be broken except by a canonical judgment or by his resignation, freely given and freely accepted by the Pope; your decree of 12 July, he says, is irreconcilable with the fundamentals of the divine hierarchy of the church. And the Bishop of Dijon announced that for the time being he intends to exercise his episcopal jurisdiction only over the places subject to it heretofore [and not the enlarged diocese created by the National Assembly], reserving the opportunity of stating his opinion anew when informed of the Pope's response.
One hundred and three parish priests and their vicars in the Loire-Inférieure Department have likewise protested against the decree of 12 July and against the alleged incompetence of the National Assembly; they ask that the Catholic religion be declared the only state religion....
Ministers of religion! Stop wrapping yourselves in pretexts; admit your weakness: you regret losing your former opulence; you regret losing those prerogatives, those marks of distinction and of alleged preeminence, all those crutches for vanity which were degrading the house of the Lord.... By the force of your virtues, enforce respect from us; you no longer have any means but this to obtain it. Forget your ancient errors, renounce your prejudices, no longer think of those properties you lost; they are going to be sold; for, despite all you efforts, the nation knows that it has the national confidence; that the guarantee of a great people is surer than your predictions; it will not forget that its representatives' first act in its name was to ensure the firmness of its financial obligations [by paying off the state debt with the lands of the church].
There is still time; by a prompt submission, disarm the people, angered by your resistance. The decree that I am going to present [for a loyalty oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy] is not so much a severe law as a measure of indulgence.
François de Bonal, Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand: Gentlemen: it is not to repel the sarcasms in which [the previous speaker] has indulged at the expense of the clergy; it is not to combat his reasoning, which sound logic surely disavows; it is not to defend the salaries that he proposes to have you take from us; it is not to complain or grumble over the rigor of the decree with which we are threatened, that I have asked to speak. In that constitution, which you call civil and which, therefore, should treat only civil and political subjects, we could not fail to recognize legislation on spiritual subjects. Grant jurisdiction, withdraw it, extend it, or limit it, regulate its exercise, determine its functions, that is what this legislation does, but that is what the holy books and tradition, venerable and constant, the chain whose first link is fastened to the angular rock on which the Church is built, tell us is precisely what legislation cannot do! That is what we shall never be able to regard as compatible with the principles of the Catholic Church.
You respect that Church, gentlemen, and you glory in being its children; we like to believe that it is even from zeal for it that several of you have adopted, in great part, the proposed constitutional articles, as supposing they will restore the brilliance of its original beauty. But we are obliged to say that the Son of God did not leave his work imperfect when he formed His Church; He organized it Himself and left to His apostles the power, which was to be transmitted to their successors, to govern it&emdash;the power of making laws, of regulating the functions of the different classes of ministers, of assigning to each one the sphere within which he would be able to exercise his jurisdiction, of perpetuating themselves through ordination, or establishing the canonical order to fill the different places in the sanctuary. Every other organization is foreign to the Church and can have no place in it but by its adoption.
Deign to permit us to assemble in council [loud objections from deputies] there, still at one with Peter's successor, we shall seek, in all the purity of purpose to which we are obligated, to reconcile, as far as it is in us, the interests of the nation with those of the holy religion that we must all regard as the most precious national property. Wait, at least, as we have asked several times for the head of the Church, consulted by the king, to declare himself.
For the rest, gentlemen, we repeat, and we are glad to repeat, that in everything civil and political, no submission will exceed ours; we shall not cease to show, by our conduct, as have several times here solemnly expressed, our fidelity to the law, to the nation, and to the king. Our ministry will always be devoted, as it must be, to securing and strengthening peace, order, obedience to legitimate authority, of which the Catholic religion is the firmest support and our hearts will always be active in forming desires for the public happiness.
The Assembly, however, rejected these arguments and passed the following resolution.
The National Assembly decrees as follows: Bishops, archbishops and priests are required to take the oath to which they are subject ... on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; in consequence of which they will swear to watch with care over the faithful of the diocese or parish entrusted to them, to be faithful to the nation, the law and the king, and to uphold with all their power the constitution decreed by the National Assembly and accepted by the king.
The oath will be taken on a Sunday, at the end of Mass. Those of the bishops, archbishops, priests, and other ecclesiastical public servants, who are members of the National Assembly, and who currently carry out their duties as deputies there, will take the oath at the National Assembly one week following the day on which the approval of this decree shall have been announced.
Flight and Capture of Louis
The Pope's reply was not long in coming. On 13 April 1791, Pope Pius VI publicly responded to the appeal of Louis and the French Bishops. In a sweeping Papal Bull, Caritas, he condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and declared all of its provisions void. Bolstered by the Pope's condemnation and by the growing radical nature of the Assembly's persecution of priests and bishops, and encouraged by the assurances of his brothers and other aristocratic émigres that the royal courts of Europe would help restore his power if he would but ask their assistance, Louis XVI decided to flee from Paris and seek the protection of his brother-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold. In fleeing Paris, the King left behind a letter attacking the revolution.
Recognized at the town of Varennes, Louis humbly allowed himself to be taken back to Paris, where he told the National Assembly that he was now prepared to accept the Constitution which limited his powers. Privately, however, he wrote his brothers granting them power to act in his name. The British embassy gave an acute evaluation of these new developments.
British Embassy in Paris, 1 July 1791
I am going to write private truths which might be unpleasant to a royal eye. If this country ceases to be a monarchy it will be entirely the fault of Louis XVI. Blunder upon blunder, inconsequence upon inconsequence, a total want of energy of mind accompanied with personal cowardice, have been the destruction of his reign. In this last affair, when he had undertaken to escape from Paris, he ought to have effected the plans or perished in the attempt.... It has always been the fate of this unfortunate monarch that whenever the enemies of his government have begun to suffer from public opinion, he has adopted some measure which has reinstated them. How he can extricate himself out of the present difficult I know not. Foreign forces would, in my mind, serve only to united the country still stronger against him, and would compel the French to form a good government: who, if left to themselves, would have frittered it away into a nondescript metaphysical permanent anarchy, or rather mob rule.
On 27 August 1791, in response to these events, the rulers of Austria and Prussia issued a joint declaration at Pillnitz which vaguely offered to "assist the King of France" in consolidating his rights. The declaration ended with a veiled threat: "Therefore their said Majesties the Emperor and the King of Prussia are resolved to act promptly in mutual accord, with the force necessary to bring about the proposed common aim. Meanwhile they will give to their troops appropriate orders to be ready to act."
The Debate on the War
Increasingly, many revolutionaries came to believe that the real danger to the revolution was from outside the country&emdash;armed intervention by the Queen's brother, Emperor Leopold, and by the king's brothers, who were training armies of émigrés and encouraging counter-revolutionary activities within France. A strong group in the new Legislative Assembly began demanding war against the Holy Roman Empire, in order to save the Revolution.
Since many of their leaders came from the Gironde area of western France, history calls this party of revolutionaries the Girondins, but at the time they were known by the more flattering name of "patriots." They constantly cited dangers of foreign intervention from the émigrés. On 9 November 1991 the Assembly passed a law condemning to death any émigré who did not return to France by 1 January 1792 The king vetoed the bill, enraging the Girondins.
Minutes of the Legislative Assembly, 20 November 1791
Pierre Vergniaud (Girondin): Even if the émigrés are not thinking of attacking us, the very fact that they have assembled in a threatening manner is enough to make it essential that we disperse them by force and put a stop to it all. The French people will become the most outstanding in the world. As slaves they were bold and daring; could they be timid and weak now that they are free? Always ready to fight for freedom, always ready to dike for it, and to disappear entirely from the face of the earth rather than be cast back into chains, that is the nature of the French people [Sustained applause]
Let us say to Europe that if the French people should draw their swords they will throw the scabbards away and will not go back for them until they are crowned with the laurels of victory; and if, despite their strength and courage, they are overcome while defending freedom, their enemies will reign only over dead men [Applause]. Let us say to Europe that if its ministers engage kings in a war against the people, we will engage the people in a war against kings. [Applause].
Finally, let us say to Europe that ten million French people fired by freedom, armed with the sword, the pen, reason and eloquence could single-handedly change the face of the world and make all tyrants tremble on their thrones of clay.
The Girondins stepped up their campaign for war, which they insisted was a defensive measure to preserve their revolution.
Minutes of the Legislative Assembly, 18 January 1792
Pierre Vergniaud (Girondin): Our [revolution] has hurled the liveliest fears around all thrones; it has given an example for the destruction of the despotism which maintains them. Despots hate our Constitution, because it makes men free, and they want to rule slaves. This hatred therefore has been manifested by the help, by the protection accorded the émigrés. This hatred has been manifested, on the part of the Emperor, with unequivocal characteristics. It will act as long as it has any hope, and until it is recognized that the Constitution is inviolable, they will want to attack it.
What then is this war, and how do they conduct it? Three armies of reptiles and venomous insects move or crawl in your midst. One is composed of paid calumniators and salaried libelers; seditious intriguers direct them and prepare the poison which they want to have discharged on the representatives of the people; they agitate, they buzz around the major foreign powers in order to mislead them and arm them against each other. The other army, unquestionably just as dangerous, is that of seditious priests who preach discord in the name of the God of Peace, who sanctify the madness, the crimes, the false oaths which Divinity ought to punish, who, insinuating themselves in the midst of families, arm themselves with the sweet affections of nature to destroy peace of society, who order, in the name of religion, the hatred of men, when religion makes all men friends and brothers; finally, they call for the vengeance which religion forbids, and proscribe as a crime all the virtues of which religion has made a duty. The third army, which is not the least redoubtable, is that of the greedy financiers, speculators, whose baseness desires nothing else than discredit. They base their shameful speculations on our annihilation. They can prosper only by out distress. They are like those carnivorous animals that await the end of deadly combats in order to devour the corpses left on the battlefield [Applause].
To arms, then, to arms; citizens, free men, defend your own liberty, assure the hope of that of the human race, else you will not even merit its pity in your misfortunes. [Applause breaks out again]. Europe has her eyes fixed on you, teach it at last what the National Assembly of France is. [Applause]. If you conduct yourselves with the dignity becoming the representatives of a great people, you will have her esteem, her support; if on the contrary, you employ caution, if you show weakness, fear the degradation which the hatred of Europe and France, and this century, and of posterity will prepare for you. [Applause].
Your committee proposes that you ask [the Emperor] for explanations; M. Brissot * has observed that explanations are asked for only when intentions are doubtful; that here the hostile intentions of the Emperor were manifested by deeds; that consequently it is no longer an explanation about intentions which we must ask for but satisfaction for deeds. I would propose that we require the Emperor not only to disperse the émigrés, but that he should require the extradition of those who are under the avenging hand of justice.... The Emperor's refusal to give satisfactory replies in this respect would be equivalent to a declaration of war, and you ought not to hesitate. [Applause]. But above all, his answer must be so clear and precise as to leave no room for any sort of evasion. Do not lose the advantage of your situation; attack when everything still augurs blessed success....
The most outspoken opponent of the war was a young lawyer from the Jacobin Club, Maximilien Robespierre. In the following speech, he gives a most perceptive analysis of the dangers to the revolution which a war would pose. His prophecy about the inevitable rise in the influence of the army in wartime was an accurate forecast of the end of the revolution.
Robespierre Speech in the Jacobin Club, 18 December 1791
Robespierre (Mountain): I do not come here to applaud momentarily popular opinions, nor to flatter those in authority; neither do I come to preach a doctrine of cowardice, nor to advise a fainthearted policy of weakness and inertia. But I come to expose a deep-rooted conspiracy, with which I think I am somewhat familiar. I, too, want war, but in a way demanded by the national interest; let us first destroy our enemies within France and then march against the enemy without, if any still remain....
What is the war that we are faced with? Is it a war of one nation against other nations, or of one king against other kings? No: it is a war of the enemies of the French Revolution against the revolution. Are the most numerous, the most dangerous, of those enemies at Koblenz? No: they are in our own midst. Is it reasonable to fear that we might find some of them in the court and in the ministry itself? I do not propose to answer this question; but since war would entrust to the court and the ministry the supreme command of the forces of the state and the control of the future of our liberty, we must agree that the mere possibility of such a disaster must be carefully weighed in the course of our deliberation.
War is always the first object of a powerful government which wishes to increase its power. I shall not speak to you of the opportunity that a war affords for a government to exhaust the people and to dissipate its treasury and to cover with an impenetrable veil its depredations and its errors; I shall speak to you rather of what touches even more directly the most precious of our interests. It is in time of war that the executive power displays the most redoubtable energy and that it wields a sort of dictatorship most ominous to a nascent liberty; it is in time of war that a people devotes itself entirely to external matters and that it withdraws its attention from its lawgivers and magistrates in order to focus on the generals and ministers of the executive power.... It is in time of war that the habit of unquestioning obedience and the natural enthusiasm that military success inspires make the soldiers of the nation become the soldiers of the monarch and his generals. In times of factionalism and trouble, army leaders become the arbiters of their country's destiny and tip the balance in favor of their own chosen party. If they are Caesars or Cromwells, they seize the authority themselves.... War was the cause of Sparta's loss of liberty as soon as she bore her arms far beyond her frontiers. War, skillfully provoked and directed by a perfidious government, was the reef on which the liberty of many a free people has been wrecked.
This is not the argument employed by those eager to embark on war, who appear to look upon it as the source of every good, for it is far easier to yield to enthusiasm than to consult the oracle of reason. Thus one already sees the tricolor flag planted on the palaces of emperors, sultans, popes and kings: these are the very expression of a patriotic writer who is a devoted partisan of the cause I here denounce. Others assure us that no sooner have we made war than we shall see every throne crumble simultaneously before us. For myself, having seen the slow progress of liberty in France, I confess I cannot yet believe in the liberty of people besotted and enslaved by despotism....
Are not our seditious priests the auxiliaries and allies of the rebels in exile? The impunity which they have enjoyed, the encouragement they have received, the malevolence with which the constitutional clergy has been abandoned and persecuted, have lighted the torch of fanaticism and discord. A decree, prompted by the need for internal security, would have suppressed these men who disturb the public peace in the name of the Almighty; but you cover them with your protective shield; with one hand you offer a declaration of war, and thus, you provoke all at once a war that is both foreign, civil and religious.
What more certain proof can one have of a conspiracy conceived by the enemies of our liberty? Having expounded this conspiracy, I will now explain its real object to you with great precision.... Since [the priests and counter-revolutionaries] rally openly under the standard of the Court and the Ministry, since it is the Court and the Ministry that inspire them, cajole them and employ them, it is therefore clear that the Court and the Ministry wish, if not to overthrow, at least to change the Constitution. . . . The Court is setting a trap for you in proposing this [war]. This trap is so evident, that every patriot who has [decided to support the war] a course I am rejecting, has felt the need for an assurance that the Court was not seriously disposed to war and, having proposed the war, was seeking the means to avoid it.
Despite Robespierre's opposition, war was declared on 20 April 1792. The French citizen armies, ineffectively led by largely untrained officers&emdash;newly recruited from revolutionaries since the old professional officers were all aristocrats&emdash;were soon defeated. These losses inflamed revolutionary zeal at home.
Letter of Fougeret June 1792
Vital foodstuffs are rising to exorbitant prices. In Paris, meat costs 12 sous for households which buy a lot, but small households are having to pay 13 or 14 sous a pound and mutton is 18. Bakers' assistants are demanding a pay rise, and all the workers are following their example. However unfortunate this may be where the other trades are concerned the consequences vis-a-vis the bakers are serious and it is feared that the price of bread will rise.
Policing and security are non-existent. people commit robbery and murder in the middle of Paris as if they were in the depths of a forest, and after 9 o'clock in the evening, the outlying areas are death-traps. Wine, wood, vegetables, everything is going up in prices and becoming prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, it's virtually impossible to get your hands on your income. The interest owing from state bonds is not being paid out. Bankruptcies are common and the interest rate on the assignats is getting higher everyday, because they are so risky to invest.
It seems that within two or three weeks we can expect our poor France to be invaded in horrific fashion: from Spain in the south, from Piedmont and Savoy, Switzerland and part of Germany in the east, and in the north from Prussia, the German frontier states, the Holy Roman Empire, Holland, Russia, etc. It is said that England is getting ready to fight as well. To pit against these three hundred thousand men, we have a few wretched troops still in a state of rebellion, undisciplined, apparently short of everything they need, and with entire regiments continually going over to the émigrés who must, because of this, have more than thirty thousand armed men.
As the united Imperial and Prussian Armies advanced on Paris, the Jacobins proclaimed that the "fatherland was in danger" and demanded radical measures. But the Assembly seemed paralyzed.
Nicolas Ruault to his brother, 27 July 1792
The National Assembly, which can see the storm coming, is at a loss to know which side to take. Should it dethrone the king in order to prevent terrible things from happening? But then it would immediately have to organize a new executive authority. Whom would it appoint? It is impossible to offer the crown to any prince. Who would want to wear it at the moment?
The royal government too seemed paralyzed. No one could think of a way to avoid the threatening storm.
Memoirs of Théodore de Lameth
The court, justifiably alarmed, wavered between a thousand different plans which were no sooner conceived than abandoned. This was how d'Abancourt put it to the royal council on 7 August in the queen's presence: "Unfortunately it is impossible to deny that we are verging on total subversion, and that our only hope of safety lies in measures so drastic that they would carry terror into the ranks of those who are overthrowing social order and the throne, which no authority has attempted to suppress. I propose that we arrest Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Panis, Sergent and Santerre, not individually at their homes, but publicly, at a Jacobin meeting."
One member of the council replied, somewhat ironically: "This is an excellent plan; but who will carry it out?"
As the allied German armies neared Paris, their Commander-in-Chief published the following warning. It was quite at odds with what Louis had requested in private letters to his brothers, but reflected rather accurately what Marie-Antoinette had recommended should be done.
Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, 25 July 1792
Convinced that the sound part of the French nation abhors the excesses of a faction which subjugates it, and that the majority of the inhabitants impatiently awaits the moment of relief in order to declare openly against the odious enterprises of its oppressors, His Majesty the Emperor and His Majesty the King of Prussia summon and invite them to return without delay to the ways of reason, justice, order, and peace. It is in accordance with these views that I, the general commander-in-chief of the two armies, declare:
1. That, drawn into the present war by irresistible circumstances, the two allied courts propose no other aim than the welfare of France, and do not intend to enrich themselves by conquests.
2. That they do not intend to interfere in the internal government of France, but wish only to deliver the King, the Queen, and the Royal Family from their captivity.
3. That the combined armies will protect the cities, towns, and villages, and the persons and property of all who submit to the King, and that they will cooperate in the immediate re-establishment of order and police throughout France....
8. The city of Paris and all its inhabitants, without distinction shall be required to submit immediately to the King's authority, to allow him full and complete freedom that he and all the members of the royal family are given the inviolability and respect which natural and human laws demand that subjects accord their sovereigns.
Their Imperial and Royal Majesties make personally responsible for all events, on pain of trial in a military court and death without hope of pardon, all members of the National Assembly, of the department, district, municipality and National Guard of Paris, the magistrates and all other persons in authority. Their said Majesties further declare, on their faith and word as Emperor and King, that if the Palace of the Tuileries is entered by force or attacked, if the least violence, the least outrage be done Their Majesties the King, the Queen and the Royal Family, if immediate steps are not taken to ensure the safety, preservation and freedom of [the royal family], they will exact an exemplary and ever-memorable vengeance thereon by delivering the city of Paris to military punishment and total destruction, and handing over the insurgents guilty of the attacks to be punished as they deserve.
The response was a new Parisian uprising, which marked the radicalization of the Revolution
Fall of the Monarchy (The August Days)
Letter of Pierre-François Desbouillons, 10 August 1792
I shall not undertake to answer today the letter you wrote because of what has happened here since the last mail.... The people, tired of the Assembly's feebleness and convinced by what its most distinguished members said that only the people could save our country, had decided, in certain sections of the [city of Paris], on a new insurrection Thursday evening at midnight, in case at that hour the Assembly had still not voted to depose the king. No argument was capable of diverting them from this plan. Yesterday, then, at the stroke of midnight, general quarters was being drummed and the tocsin was ringing in almost all parts of the city....
There was no definite plan, no recognized chief. With several of my comrades, I did everything I could to bring about a meeting of the chiefs of the various battalions so that they would give someone the general command. The chiefs met, but our efforts were in vain, for almost at once they dispersed without having a definite plan; we all knew it was necessary to attack the Tuileries palace, which was filled with armed men and had all its gates closed....
The palace courtyard was filled with cannon and cannoneers of the National Guard. We had opportunities to notice this because several times the gate had been opened to let a few persons in or out. As for us, soldier citizens, we had steadfastly been refused entry. A few hotheads decided to force the gates. Axes were raised, broke it, and at once knocked it down. A few persons ventured into the courtyard. Guardsmen came toward them, raising their hats. They embraced, and the guardsmen came over [to the side of the Parisian rebels]....
Immediately men went in and part way up the steps on which the Swiss [Guards] had barricaded themselves. Every effort was made to get [the Swiss] to leave that position and join us. No one had any intention other than to disarm them. They steadfastly refused to give in to our urgent attempts at persuasion.... The commanders of the Swiss and other generals persisted in saying that without an order from the king they would not leave their posts. "Then you all want to die," someone said to them. "Yes," they replied, "we shall all die rather than abandon our posts without an order from the king.
The area around the bottom of the staircase was filled with citizens, most of them had only sabers. In the moving about, one of the Swiss officers was slightly cut, and at once these citizens were generally and overwhelmingly fired upon. Battle was joined everywhere and scenes of horror multiplied on every hand.... The Swiss made a sortie which at first carried all before it, but instantly they were counter-charged and everywhere forced back [into the palace]. Some laid down their arms; others fled and closed themselves up in the palace, from which they continued to fire. Then the artillery was brought into the courtyard and cannon were discharged everywhere; the palace was entered and those who were defending themselves in it were exterminated. Those who had fled toward the Champs-Élysées, who included the officers, encountered a battalion of citizens who stopped them. The Swiss formed a battle square and delivered terrific fire from that position. At once cannon were brought up, and they were overwhelmed. Few escaped, and we had a complete victory, but it was deadly for us....
Letter of J.B. Good, Lieutenant in the King's Swiss Bodyguards, August 1792
To my brothers and sisters whom I dearly love till death. I begin to write this sorrowful tale without knowing whether you will ever receive these lines, which your death-pursued brother sends to you. The chances are small, and the danger unspeakably great, but perhaps I will be able to gain some comfort by describing my painful situation and what I have gone through today.... At 8 o'clock this morning, I was on guard duty at the king's treasury ... when word came that many people had gathered at the Place du Carrousel and that they were awaiting the inhabitants of Faubourgh St-Antoine who were planning to storm the palace and raze it to the ground. Only one Regiment of the Swiss Guard was there, but I was not at first afraid, because I hoped that the National Guard would prevent the mob from destroying the Swiss. But a few minutes later came word that the Swiss had opened fire on the mob and that the battle had been joined. I could not at first believe this. But soon we heard cannon-fire. Each of us now stirred uneasily and walked about quaking. Soon it was confirmed that the Swiss had opened fire on civilians. Some good friends came by and urged me and my six soldiers to hide ourselves, and then I really began to be afraid. I quickly went to my rooms and took my soldiers with me. Fortunately there were some civilian clothes there, and I immediately put them on. I said to the soldiers that they should stay in the room and try not to be seen. I cannot describe how bad our situation was. We stayed in my room. My wife was our contact, bringing us all the news in our prison, and almost all of it was horrible! The first time my wife came back crying, and said that the people were already parading through the streets with the hats and guns taken from the Swiss.... A little later one of my friendly protectors came in and said that the streets were filled with dead Swiss and some people were carrying about on spears the hearts which had been cut out of these men. Indeed, whenever someone passed our house with an arm or leg or another piece of the murdered Swiss Guards, I heard people cry out, "Bravo, bravo."&emdash;a sound which pierced every bone of my body.... So often as I would hear that cry outside, I could not help but cry aloud in my room: "My God, there goes another piece of one of my brothers and fellow-countrymen." You can't possibly know how my heart was beating. I was beside myself with pity, fear, terror and fury. What should I do; what should I try; what will happen to me?
Swedish Ambassador to Count Fersen, 11 August 1792
No words can describe the horror of yesterday. All Paris heard the firing at the Tuileries without knowing that the royal family was already at the assembly. It is estimated that the people massacred 700 of the Swiss Guards and that they in their turn shot and killed 600 people, 200 of whom were Marseillais who ... were the moving force behind everything. Last night all the Swiss officers still at Courbevoie were taken to the Abbaye prison. All those who were in Paris were killed, and at this very moment they are flooding the underground passages of the Tuileries in the supposition that there may still be some of them there. After 7 o'clock in the evening you might have thought it was a day of public rejoicing, you could hear singing everywhere and the inns were full. The king and the royal family are safe for the time being. Nobody thought it possible yesterday, today there is hope. For the moment the king has been divested of all his functions. The National Assembly has taken him and the royal family under its protection.
Letter of Michel Azema (Legislative Assembly Member) 11 August 1792
I hurried to my post, about 7 o'clock in the morning. On the way I saw the stations all garrisoned and the National Guard quiet ... but found it impossible to get through a crowd of wild men who were tearing seventeen former King's Bodyguards (arrested during the night by patrols around the Tuileries) away from the guards on duty and briskly dispatching them to their glory.
Having entered the Assembly ... I was greatly surprised to find the king, the queen, the prince [and the rest of the royal family], all very carelessly dressed, with heads lowered like whipped dogs; they had all taken refuge in the midst of the National Assembly to seek there the salvation no longer to be found in their palace.... The National Assembly was not deliberating; it could not in the king's presence, but it urgently needed to do so. The king and the royal family could not be sent out, because they were done for if they left their asylum. After great and tumultuous debate, the king moved from the president's left and his family moved from inside the rail, to be placed in the little box used by journalists taking notes on debates....
The king has been suspended from all his functions and powers; we have driven out his counter-revolutionary ministers and have named others, worthy of public confidence. You will see all the decrees we adopted today, so I'll not discuss their provisions at length....
An interim government, primarily made up of representatives from the city of Paris, took over the running of the government. They called for elections to a new National Convention, but in the meantime Prussian armies were advancing. On the night of 1-2 September word reached the capital that the enemy had laid siege to Verdun, the last fortress protecting the approaches to Paris. Danton, Minister of Justice in the provisional government, arose in the Assembly to rally patriots.
Minutes of the National Legislative Assembly, 2 September 1792
M. Danton, Minister of Justice: It is very satisfactory, gentlemen, for the ministers of the free people to be able to announce to them that the country will be saved. All France is roused, all France is on the move, all France is burning with the desire to fight. You know that Verdun is by no means in the hands of our enemies yet. You know that the garrison has sworn to kill the first person to suggest surrender. Some of our people are going to proceed to the frontiers, others are going to dig entrenchments, a third group, with its pikes, will defend the interior of our towns. Paris is going to back up this huge effort: the Commissioners of the City of Paris are going to issue a solemn proclamation inviting citizens to arm themselves and march in defense of the country.
Now is the moment, gentlemen, for the National Assembly to become a true council of war. We ask that anyone who refuses to serve in person or to take up arms should be punished by death. We ask that an organizing body be set up to coordinate citizens' movements and we ask that messengers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees which you have issued. The tocsin that we are going to sound is no alarm bell, it is the signal for the charge against the enemies of the fatherland. [Applause]. To vanquish them, gentlemen, we must show daring, more daring, and again daring; and France will be saved. [Renewed applause].
Despite the revolutionary zeal produced by the August Days, on 3 September word reached Paris that the fortress of Verdun had been captured.
British Embassy in Paris, 3 September 1792
I had the honor to mention in my last letter that a courier arrived here yesterday afternoon with an account that the Prussians were some leagues on this side of Verdun. Immediately on receiving this intelligence the National Assembly decreed that as universal an alarm as possible should be spread through the whole country in order that no time might be lost in preparing for the general defense; in consequence however of the fermentation excited in Paris by the sounding of the tocsin, firing the alarm guns and beating to arms, the people assembled in different parts of the town in a very tumultuous manner, and about 7 o'clock in the evening surrounded the church of the Carmelites, where about 160 non-juring priests who had been taken into custody since 10 August were confined. These unfortunate people fell victims to the fury of the enraged populace and were massacred with circumstances of barbarity too shocking to mention
The same cruelties were committed during the night and continue this morning in all the other prisons of the town. When they have satiated their vengeance, which is principally directed against the refractory priests, it is to be hoped the tumult will subside, but as the multitude are perfectly masters [of the city], everything is to be dreaded. The Assembly deputed some of its most popular and eloquent members to endeavor to bring the people to reason and a sense of their duty. These gentlemen escaped being insulted but were not listened to. The royal family were all safe and well late last night. It is impossible to describe to your Lordship the confusion and consternation which at present prevails here....
P.S. It is confidently reported that the Ladies de Lamballe, de Tourzelle and de Tarente were among those who fell victims to the popular fury, and the number of people already massacred are said to amount to four thousand.
Diary of Jourgniac Saint-Méard, 2 September 1792
Sunday: At half-past two, we prisoners saw three carriages pass by attended by a crowd of frantic men and women. They went on to the Abbaye cloister, which had been converted into a prison for the clergy. A moment after, we heard that the mob had just butchered all the ecclesiastics who, they said, had been put into the fold.&emdash;Nearly 4 o'clock: The piercing cries of a man whom they were hacking to pieces with sabers drew us to the turret window of our prison, where we saw a mangled corpse on the ground opposite the door. Another was butchered in the same manner a moment afterwards.&emdash;Near seven o'clock: We saw two men enter our cell with drawn swords in their bloody hands. A turnkey showed the way with a flambeau, and pointed out to them the bed of the unfortunate Swiss soldier, Reding. At this frightful moment, I was clasping his hand, and endeavoring to console him. One of the assassins was going to lift him up, but the poor Swiss stopped him, by saying in a dying tone of voice, "I am not afraid of death; pray, sir, let me be killed here." He was, however, borne away on the men's shoulders, carried into the street, and there murdered.
Letter of the Duc de Villelume-Sombreuil
My mother [who had been arrested on 10 August 1792 along with her father, the Count of Sombreuil, and her two brothers] did not like to talk about the events of this frightful and horrifying September day. I never asked her directly about them, but often, during intimate family discussions, she did speak of her painful memories of that time. Thus several times have I heard her tell of the [events in the prison. As they were being led out by the mob, the man walking in front of them], the comte de St.-Mart, was suddenly pierced through the breast by a lance and fell dead. She immediately threw herself upon her father, to protect him from a similar blow and as they tried to drag her off had received three wounds. In the scuffle, her hair (which was very long) came loose, and she pulled it around her father to protect him. Finally, bleeding from her wounds, she succeeded in calming the people who admired her fighting courage. One of them grabbed up a glass, caught up some of the blood which was still spurting out of the body of M. de St.-Mart, mixed it with some wine and said that if she would drink a toast to the health of the nation, they would spare her father.
Without gagging, she drank it down, and was immediately hoisted up and carried around the room in triumph. Since that time, my mother could never bear to wear her hair long; she had her head shaven clean. Likewise, she could never bring a glass of red wine to her lips. Indeed, for a long time, even a glimpse of wine produced painful recollections. [Her father and two brothers were subsequently guillotined, but although imprisoned until 1795, she herself was freed and subsequently married the duc de Villelume. She died in 1823].
Many in Paris were appalled by the excesses. The following two letters are from Madame Roland, wife of new Minister of the Interior, and a determined revolutionary in her own right.
Madam Roland to Bancal des Issarts
8 September 1792: We are under the knife of Robespierre and Marat; they are doing all they can to stir the people up and turn them against the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers. They have set up [a special court], they have their own little army which they bribe with what they found or stole from the Tuileries and elsewhere, or with what Danton gives them&emdash;he being the secret leader of this horde.
9 September: My friend Danton controls everything; Robespierre is his puppet. Marat holds his torch and his dagger: this wild tribune reigns&emdash; at the moment we are merely oppressed but waiting for the time when we become his victims. If you knew the awful details of the killing expeditions! Women brutally raped before being torn to pieces by these tigers, guts cut out and worn as ribbons, human flesh eaten dripping with blood! ....
You know my enthusiasm for the Revolution: well, I am ashamed of it! Its reputation is tarnished by these scoundrels, it is becoming hideous! In a week from now ... who knows what will have happened? It is degrading to stay here, but it is forbidden to leave Paris; we are being shut in so that we can have our throats cut at their convenience. Adieu; if it is too late for us, save the rest of France from the crimes of these madmen.
Decree of the Paris Civil Government, September 1792
The commune of Paris hastens to inform its brethren of all the departments that a part of the ferocious conspirators who are detained in the prisons have been put to death by the people -- an act of justice which appeared indispensable in order to restrain by terror the legions of traitors shut up within the walls at the moment when the people are going to march on the enemy. And without doubt the nation, after the long series of treasons which have conducted it to the brink of an abyss, will be eager to adopt these useful and salutary measures, and all the French will say, like the Parisians: "We march against the enemy, and we do not leave behind us brigands to murder our wives and children."
There were certainly grounds for patriots to be suspicious. Hearing about the fall of the monarchy, Lafayette, commander-in-chief of the French armies, tried to persuade his officers and men to march on Paris and restore the king's power. When they refused to cooperate, on 19 August 1792, Lafayette and most of his staff defected to the Austrian army.
Fortunately for the Revolution, on 20 September 1792, following a rather indecisive battle at Valmy, the Prussian and German allies withdrew, saving France from invasion in 1792 and permitting the radical elements to consolidate their hold on the new government. In the first meeting of the newly elected National Convention, they began with an attack on monarchy, with less than 350 of the 760 delegates present.
Minutes of the National Convention 21 September 1792
L'Abbé Grégoire: Certainly none of us will ever suggest that France should keep its disastrous race of kings; we know too well that all dynasties are nothing but rapacious cannibals, consuming nothing but human flesh. Those who love freedom may rest assured: this talisman will be destroyed, its magical properties will dazzle men no longer. I therefore demand that by solemn law you order the abolition of royalty.
The entire assembly rose to its feet spontaneously, and unanimously supported l'abbé Grégoire's proposal. The National Convention decrees the abolition of the monarchy in France. The shouts of delight and cries of "Long live the nation!" from all the onlookers lasted for several minutes.
Beginning in mid-December, Louis XVI was put on trial for treason. On 15 January 1793, the 740 members of the Convention were asked individually to stand at the bar and give their verdict of guilty or not guilty. A few brave souls stood mute, but 693 (a number were absent) voted guilty. None sided with the king. The more dramatic vote began on the following day, as each member of the convention was again polled on what penalty should be exacted.
Results of the Voting, 16-17 January 1793
What penalty should be suffered by Louis, former king of the French
46: death, but with conditions (e.g. only after the war)
26: death but with possibility of reprieve
288: imprisonment, detention, exile
Results of Voting, 19 January 1793
Should there be a reprieve in carrying out the verdict on Louis Capet?
Resolution of the National Convention, 20 January 1793
The National Convention declares Louis Capet, last king of the French, guilty of conspiracy against national liberty and of assault against national security. The National Convention decrees that Louis Capet must suffer the death penalty.
Letter of a Royalist to his mother, 23 January 1793
My dearest mother, I commend to you the spirit of the lamented Louis XVI. He lost his life on Monday [21 January], at half past ten in the morning, and to the very last he maintained the greatest possible courage. He wished to speak to the people from the scaffold, but was interrupted by a drum-roll and was seized by the executioners, who were following their orders, and who pushed him straight under the fatal blade. He was able to speak only these words, in a very strong voice: "I forgive my enemies: I trust that my death will be for the happiness of my people, but I grieve for France and I fear that she may suffer the anger of the Lord." ...
After his death his body and head were immediately taken to the parish cemetery and thrown into a pit fifteen feet deep, where they were consumed by quicklime. And so there remains nothing of this unhappy prince except the memory of his virtues and of his misfortune.
The killing of the king, however, did not end the Republic's troubles, and on 24 February 1793, the National Convention ordered the creation of a national army of 300,000 men to fight off the expected spring-time invasion. Throughout France there was popular resistance, especially in the the Vendée. There militant peasants flocked to armies led by the outlawed priests.
Faced with open rebellion in many parts of the country, the National Convention resolved to send out "Representatives on mission" to force the countryside to accept its decrees. In urging this particular law, Danton uttered the phrase that was to give its name to this period of French history: "Let us embody terror," he said, "so as to prevent the people from doing so."
The Reign of Terror
National Convention Decree, 10 March 1793
The National Convention decrees as follows: There will be established in Paris a special criminal tribunal concerned with all counter-revolutionary activities and with all assaults on the liberty, equality, unity and indivisibility of the Republic. The special criminal tribunal will also be responsible for all matters pertaining to the internal and external security of the State and any form of plotting which seeks to restore the monarchy or to set up any other kind of authority hostile to the nation's liberty, equality and sovereignty, no matter whether those accused may be civil or military officials or ordinary citizens.
Editorial from a Parisian Newspaper, 1793
Yes, terror is the order of the day, and ought to be for the selfish, for the federalists, for the heartless rich, for dishonest opportunists, for shameless intriguers, for unpatriotic cowards, for all who do not feel the dignity of being free men and pure republicans. Rivers of blood have been shed for the gold of Peru and the diamonds of Golconda. Well! Does not liberty ... have the same right to sacrifice lives, fortunes, and even, for a time, individual liberties? In the thick of battle is there any foolish wailing over the soldiers fallen from the ranks? They are promptly replaced by others, and with the perfidious aggressor repulsed, one is free to weep over the unfortunate victims mowed down on the field of battle. Is not the French Revolution just such a deadly combat, a war to the death between those who want to be free and those content to be slaves? This is the situation, and the French people have gone too far to retreat with honor and safety. There is no middle ground; France must be entirely free or perish in the attempt, and any means are justifiable in fighting for so fine a cause.
National Convention Decree, 29 March 1793
All those who are denounced for taking part in the counter-revolutionary revolts or riots which have broken out, or which may break out in the future, in the course of recruitment in the various departments of the republic, and those who have adopted the white cockade or any other emblem of rebellion, are outside the law. If they are taken or arrested with weapons in hand, they will within twenty-four hours be handed over to criminal judgment and put to death once their deeds have been confirmed by a military commission.
Priests, former nobles, former seigneurs, agents and servants of all such people, foreigners, those who were employed by the former government, or those who have instigated or supported any of the rebels, the leaders, instigators, and those convicted of murder, arson and pillage, will suffer the death penalty.
Civil War at home suddenly became all the more dangerous when French armies in Belgium were defeated, and the commander-in-chief, General Dumouriez defected to the enemy, with most of his staff. The Jacobins seized this opportunity to denounce the Girondins (the protectors of Dumouriez), and to set up an executive committee to run the war effort.
Decree of the National Convention, 6 April 1793
The National Convention decrees:
There will be established a Committee of Public Safety, made up of nine members of the Convention. This Committee will deliberate in secret. It will be charged with overseeing and speeding up the work of administration entrusted to the council of ministers.
In cases of urgent need, it is authorized to undertake measures of domestic and foreign defense, and decrees signed by a majority of its members in consultation, which must not be less than two-thirds of the total, shall be carried out without delay.
Decree of General Mobilization for War, 23 August 1793
1. From this moment until that in which our enemies shall have been driven from the territory of the Republic, all Frenchmen are permanently requisitioned for service in the armies. Young men will go forth to battle; married men will forge weapons and transport munitions; women will make tents and clothing, and serve in hospitals; children will make lint from old linen; and old men will be brought to the public squares to arouse the courage of the soldiers, while preaching the unity of the Republic and hatred against kings.
2. Public buildings shall be converted into barracks, public squares into munition workshops, and the floors of cellars shall be leached to extract saltpeter. . . .
5. The Committee of Public Safety is charged to take all measures necessary for the immediate establishment of a special manufacturing of arms....
6. The Representatives of the People sent to execute the present law shall have the power of enforcement in their respective wards in concert with the Committee of Public Safety. They are vested with the same absolute powers given to Representatives of the People attached to the armies.
From the start, people were quite willing to use the excesses of the Terror to achieve their own ends. Although he was eventually destroyed by the very weapons he had forged, Robespierre saw in the Terror a deliberate tool to win popular support for his radical policies.
From Maximilien Robespierre's Private Notebooks, 1793
There must be a single will.
It must be either republican or royalty. If it is to be republican, there must be republican ministers, republican newspapers, republican deputies, a republican government.
The internal danger comes from the bourgeoisie; to overcome the bourgeoisie we must rally the people.
Everything was poised on the one hand to place the people beneath the yoke of the bourgeoisie, and on the other, to bring the defenders of the Republic to their death on the scaffold.
The present insurrection must continue until those measures essential for the safety of the Republic have been taken.
The people must ally themselves to the Convention and the Convention must make use of the people.
The sans-culottes must be paid and remain in the cities.
They must be provided with weapons, must be incited to anger, and must be enlightened.
We must encourage enthusiasm for the republic by all possible means.
Increasingly, and with the encouragement of the Jacobins, radical elements demanded that the Convention take more severe steps to wipe out enemies. This popular movement soon developed a radical feminist wing.
Extract from a Feminist Pamphlet, 1793
There's something to talk about, damn it. In the old days when we wanted to speak out, we were made to shut our mouths and told politely that we reasoned like women&emdash;a bit like bitch animals. Bugger me! It's all different now, we women have got important since the Revolution. By God! Freedom has given us wings! Today we fly like eagles. I may be ignorant and uneducated, but I can still hold my own in politics.
Petition from the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women
Citizen Legislators: We have come to demand the implementation of constitutional laws. We did not accept the constitution in order for anarchy and the rule of plotters to be extended indefinitely. Show us, by stripping bare the nobility, that they have no defenders amongst you. Make haste especially to prove to the whole of France, with positive results, that we have not loudly rallied the representatives of a great people from all corners of the Republic simply to play out a pathetic scene on the Champ de Mars.... You must render justice to them by dismissing all the guilty administrators; by creating special tribunals in sufficient number so that when the citizens set off to defend the frontiers they can say to themselves: I know my wife and children are safe: I have seen all the conspirators at home perish under the sword of the Law.
Minutes of the National Convention, 4 September 1793
Bertrand Barère (Mountain): For several days now, everything has pointed to royalist stirrings in Paris, but organized and controlled by a people's army, giving meaning at last to the slogan "Terror will be the Order of the Day." This is how to do away instantly with both royalists and moderates, and the restless counter-revolutionary scum. The royalists want blood; well, they shall have the blood of the conspirators, the likes of Brissot [leader of the Girondins], and Marie-Antoinette. It will be an operation for special Revolutionary tribunals.
Intimidated by these demands, the National Convention passed the law that granted sweeping powers to local "revolutionary committees." This law became the legal basis of the Terror.
The Law of Suspects, 17 September 1793
1. Immediately upon the publication of the present decree, all suspected people still at liberty within the boundaries of the Republic shall be put under arrest.
2. Those to be considered suspect include:
1st, those who by their conduct, associations, conversations, or writings have shown themselves to be supporters of tyranny or the federal form of government, and enemies of liberty;
2nd, those who are unable to justify ... their means of existence and the performance of their civic duties;
3rd, those who have been refused a certificate of patriotism;
4th public officials who have been suspended or stripped of their powers by the National Convention or by its commissioners and not reinstated....;
5th, .those former nobles, together with husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and émigré agents, who have not steadfastly manifested their attachment to the Revolution; and
6th, those who have emigrated between 1 July 1789 and the publication of the decree of 30 March&emdash;8 April 1792, even those they may have returned to France within the period established by the said decree.
The first victim of this law was Marie Antoinette. On 15 October she was arraigned on a number of charges, including incest with her 8 year-old son. She refused to answer any of the charges except for the latter, when turning with dignity towards the audience, and with tears in her eye she said: "I appeal to the conscience and feelings of every mother present, to declare if there be one among you who does not shudder at the idea of such horrors." She was condemned at four in the morning, and was immediately sentenced to die. Her execution was only one of many in that autumn. Twenty Girondin deputies were executed on 31 October; Philippe Egalité, the former duc d'Orleans who had voted for the death of his cousin Louis XVI, on 6 November; Madame Roland three days later; and Jean-Sylvain Bailly, the astronomer and Mayor of Paris, brought out of retirement to be killed on 12 November. The following extract is from an eyewitness to many of these executions.
Memoirs of Father André Morellet
Until September 1793, the condemned were seldom executed on the same day, and there were frequent intervals of no executions. But once the Law of Suspects had been adopted, and used to throw two hundred thousand citizens into dungeons, these horrible tribunals had plenty of victims. Towards the end of October, when 21 Girondins were executed on the same day, there began those national butcheries that were soon to extend to all France. These were the sights presented at Paris on almost every day of the last three months of 1793 and of the first seven months of 1794. The executions from now on usually included fifteen, twenty, thirty, or even sixty persons or more, condemned in a few hours, and executed on the same day...
Having my lodgings in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, at a short distance from the place of execution, I could not go to the Champs-Élysées of an afternoon without hearing the cries of a ferocious mob applauding the falling heads. If upon going out upon the streets, I saw the same crowds running to the Place de la Révolution to feed upon the spectacles there. Sometimes I was unable to avoid meeting the fatal tumbrels. Thus I had the misfortune to happen upon the Comte de Brienne and all his family going to the guillotine along with Madame Elizabeth [the King's sister], a bloody picture that haunted my mind for many a day.
But the bloody events in Paris were far surpassed by the harsh measures taken in subduing the rebellious provinces. The first is from Lyon the center of the counter-revolution which had just been recaptured.
Letter of Jean-Marie Collot-d'Herbois, Lyon, 5 December 1793
My friend and brother, our Jacobin brothers are achieving marvels; a letter from Robespierre would please them greatly and would be very effective. Here we have restored not public spirit, since there is none, but courage, the morale of a few men of energy and of a certain number of patriots who have suffered oppression for too long. We have revitalized justice in republic style, i.e. swift and terrible as the will of the nation. It will strike at traitors like a thunderbolt and leave only ashes. The destruction of one vile and rebellious city will strengthen all the others.
The death of these scoundrels will assure life for generations of free men. These are our principles. We will demolish as much as we can, by cannon-fire and by exploding mines. But as you will realize, amidst a population of a hundred and fifty thousand, there are many obstacles to such methods. The people's blade cut the heads off twenty conspirators each day and it did not frighten them. We have set up a commission which is as prompt as can be the conscience of true republicans sitting in judgment on traitors. Sixty-four of these conspirators were shot yesterday, on the same spot where they fired on patriots; two hundred and thirty will fall today. Such substantial examples will help to persuade those cities which are vacillating.
Letter of Pierre Dumont, 22 October 1793
I have just brought about the arrest of some priests who took it upon themselves to celebrate Holy Days and Sunday; I am taking away the crucifixes and crosses, and soon I shall include in the proscription lists [to be executed] these black animals called priests. Yesterday, I dissolved the Popular Society, and named a secret committee to purify the list; this enactment was roundly applauded. I have likewise had it decreed that all drunkards and promoters of drunkenness be put into the lock-up. This will keep idleness and drunkenness from perverting the public welfare, and from depriving the defenders of the country of the brandy and beverages which are of the first necessity. I am leaving for Beauvais, which I will put on a diet before giving it its medicine. The departments within my territory are going to rise in emulation of one another, and soon the hard-pressed aristocrats will no longer know where to hide. The Republic or death!
By October 1793, the war against counter-revolution had turned into a war against Christianity. In Paris the city stopped payment of all clerical salaries, and forbade the public exercise of Catholicism. Priests were hunted down as common criminals. More than 700 fled to Ireland in October alone! The Cathedral of Notre Dame was seized and rededicated as a "temple of reason." But again the Parisian events were rapidly overtaken by the zeal with which the "revolutionary commissions" applied de-Christianization in the provinces.
Report by Laurent to the Committee of Public Safety, December 1793
The churches [in Cambrai] are stripped bare; the revolutionary ten-day calendar is observed; priests are renouncing their Christian faith; civil marriages are celebrated without benefit of clergy; ecclesiastical trappings are ceremonially burned. Church silver is being dug up from its hiding place. Here and there bags of money are found. There are still some émigrés around, but they are being tracked down and I have a ferret with a very keen sense of smell: even if it does not find where they are hidden, it discovers their silver.
Letter of General Turreau to the Minister of War after crushing the revolt in the Vendée 19 January 1794
My purpose is to burn everything, to leave nothing but what is essential to establish the necessary quarters for exterminating the rebels. This great measures is one which you should prescribe; you should also make an advance statement as to the fate of the women and children we will come across in this rebellious countryside. If they are all to be put to the sword, I cannot undertake such action without authorization.
All brigands caught bearing arms, or convicted of having taken up arms to revolt against their country, will be bayoneted. The same will apply to girls, women and children in the same circumstances. Those who are merely under suspicion will not be spared either, but no execution may be carried out except by previous order of the general.
All villages, farms, woods, hearthlands, generally anything which will burn, will be set on fire, although not until any perishable supplies found there have been removed. But, it must be repeated, these executions must not take place until so ordered by the general.
I hasten to describe to you the measures which I have just put in hand for the extermination of all remaining rebels scattered about the interior of the Vendée. I was convinced that the only way to do this was by deploying a sufficient number of columns to spread right across the countryside and effect a general sweep, which would completely purge the cantons as they passed.
Letter from a Revolutionary Commissioner, Arras, 1794
A draconian order has brought about the incarceration of all those aristocratic women whose husbands are imprisoned, and likewise of men whose wives are in prison. The Doullens fortress has been requisitioned by a special commission of seven patriots (of whom I am one). The guillotine has not been out of action since then: dukes, marquises, counts and barons, men and women, all falling like hailstones. We have just decreed that we will draw up the act of indictment of all the great aristocrats of Arras first, and then of other places in the department of the North. One tribunal will no longer be sufficient, and Le Bon has therefore just added a second section. Le Bon [the "Representative on Mission"] is only concerned with drawing up acts of indictment, and we others, five or six of us, carry out interrogations or make home visits where we always make valuable discoveries; we no longer sleep.
Amid the government's general crackdown on dissidents in the fall and winter of 1793, there was an attack on women's political groups.. In the midst of its war against foreign and domestic enemies of the Revolution, the Convention had grown particularly tired of the activity of the Society of Revolutionary Republic Women, which had attempted to force all women into wearing pantaloons and red bonnets as signs of their committment to the revolution. A committee of the Convention then deliberated on the political role women should play, especially in public gatherings.
Minutes of the National Convention, 30 October 1793
Amar, for the Committee of General Security ... Time does not allow for the full development to which these major questions ... lend themselves. We are going to put forward a few ideas which may shed light on them....
Man is strong, robust, born with great energy, audacity, and courage; ... he alone seems to be equipped for profound and serious thinking which calls for great intellectual effort and long studies which it is not granted to women to pursue.
What character is suitable for woman? Morals and even nature have assigned her functions to her. To begin educating men, to prepare children's minds and hearts for public virtues, to direct them early in life towards the good, to elevate their souls, to educate them in the political cult of liberty; such are their functions, after household cares.... They can attend the deliberations of the Sections [and] discussions of the popular societies, but as they are made for softening the morals of man, should they take an active part in discussions, the passion of which is incompatible with the softness and moderation which are the charm of their sex?
We must say that this question is related essentially to morals, and without morals, no republic. Does the honesty of women allow her to display herself in public and to struggle against men? to argue in full view of a public about questions on which the salvation of the republic depends? In general, women are ill suited for elevated thoughts and serious meditations.... Let us add that women are disposed by their organization to an over-excitation which would be deadly in public affairs and that interests of state would soon be sacrificed to everything which ardor in passions can generate in the way of error and disorder.... We believe, therefore, and without any doubt you will think as we do, that it is not possible for women to exercise political rights....
Charlier: Notwithstanding the objections just cited, I do not know on what principle one could lean in taking away women's rights to assemble peaceably (Murmurs). Unless you are going to question whether women are part of the human species, can you take away from them this right which is common to every thinking being? ...
Bazire: Here is how the suspension of these societies can be justified. You declared yourselves a revolutionary government; in this capacity you can take all measures dictated by the public safety. For a brief period you have thrown a veil over the principles out of fear that they might be abused to lead us into counterrevolution. Therefore, it is only a question of knowing whether women's societies are dangerous. Experience has shown these past days how deadly they are to the public peace. That granted, let no one say anything more to me about principles. I ask that in a revolutionary spirit and by way of a measure of public security, these associations be prohibited, at least during the revolution.
The following resolution was then moved and adopted.
Decree of the National Convention
Clubs and popular societies of women, whatever name they are known under, are prohibited.
In the following crackdown, Olympe de Gouges, one of the leaders of the feminist group, was beheaded on 2 November 1793.
Named for the long pants they wore rather than the more fashionable knickers with stockings, the sans-culottes were the artisans and common people, the "mob" of the revolution. In its radical phase, they demanded that their particular social and economic interests be advanced.
Petition to the National Convention, 19 November 1792
A deputation from the electoral corps of Seine-et-Oise is admitted to the bar. The speaker for the deputation expresses himself as follows: Citizens, the first principle that we should state to you is this one: Liberty of commerce in grains is incompatible with the existence of our Republic. Of what is our Republic composed? Of a small number of capitalists and a large number of poor. Who engages in the commerce in grains? This small number of capitalists. Why do they engage in commerce? To enrich themselves. How can they enrich themselves? Through increasing the price of grain in the resale that they make to the consumer.
But you will also observe that this class of capitalists and proprietors, being through unbounded liberty masters of the price of grain, are masters also of the price of a day's work; for each time that there is need for a worker, ten present themselves, and the rich have a choice; moreover, this choice falls on him who demands the least; it sets his wages and the worker submits to necessity because he has need for bread and because this need cannot be postponed. This small number of capitalists and proprietors is therefore master of the wages for a day's work. The unlimited liberty of commerce in grain makes them also masters of the means of subsistence of prime necessity. The unlimited liberty of commerce in grain is oppressive for the most numerous class of the people. The people therefore cannot endure it. It is thus incompatible with our Republic. We go even further; this unlimited liberty is contrary to the will of the people. The countless insurrections that it has produced, the general outcry, the will manifested on all sides make this plain enough to you, and this reason alone is enough to forbid it; for the law is the expression of the general will.
Here we arrive at a second truth. The law must provide for the provisioning of the Republic and the subsistence of everyone. What rule should it follow in that? See to it that there is grain; that the invariable price of this grain always be in proportion to the wages for a day's work. It is up to the law to maintain this proportion, to which unlimited liberty is an obstacle.
What are the means that must be used? This is the last point we have to develop for you. Order that all grain be sold by weight. Set a maximum price; put it for this year at 9 livres the quintal, a medium price equally good for the farmer and the consumer. Order that in other years it be fixed in the same proportion, according to the relation of the output of an arpent of land to the cost of production; a relationship to be determined by persons chosen by the people.
Prohibit commerce in grain to anyone other than bakers and millers, who will not themselves be able to purchase until after the inhabitants of the communities have done so, and at the same price, and who will be obliged to carry on their commerce openly. Order that the measurers will not be permitted to buy for more than three months' consumption; that each farmer shall be obliged to sell his grain himself in the market nearest to his domicile, and not be allowed to sell it by means of displays and through the medium of measurers, transporters or auctioneers; and finally that the grain remaining at the end of the market shall be recorded by the municipalities, put in reserve, held for the next market, and put on sale first.
Break up the large aggregation of rented land that concentrate in culpable hands considerable quantities of grain. Order that no one may rent more than 120 arpents, a measure of 22 feet per rod; that no proprietor may exploit more than a single farmstead and that proprietors will be obliged to lease any others in their possession; that no one may collect rent in grain; and finally that no one will be permitted to be at one and the same time a miller and a farmer. Then place the responsibility for provisioning each part of the Republic in the hands of a central administration chosen by the people, and you will see that abundance of grain and a just relationship of its price to that of a day's work will restore tranquility, happiness, and life to all citizens.
The Interior Minister, the Girondin Roland, rejected these proposals in the strongest possible terms.
Minutes of the National Convention, 19 November 1792
Interior Minister Roland: The Committee on Agriculture and Commerce has presented a draft decree that seems to me very harmful.... Everything&emdash;both the history of England and our own...&emdash;proves that the government has never meddled in any commerce, in any manufacture, in any enterprise, without doing so at enormous cost and in competition with private individuals and always to the disadvantage of everyone; that whenever it has wished to interfere in the business of private individuals, to make regulations about the form or the manner of disposing of properties and modifying them at will, it has put shackles on industry and increased the cost of labor and of the objects that labor produces.
This rule applies to the subject of subsistence more particularly than to any other because it is of the utmost necessity, because it occupies a great number of individuals, and because there is not a single person who is not interested in it.... Every order to take here or there such and such quantity, to sell in one place and not in another, at such a time for these, and at such a time for those; everything that establishes constraints will lead to arbitrariness and will become vexatious.
The proprietor worries at first, then grows disgusted; he ends by being indignant: then the people can become irritated and revolt. The source of prosperity would dry up and France would become the prey of long and cruel agitations. A decree which brings with it coercion and encourages violence is a terrible weapon, of which malevolence soon takes advantage....
President of the Representative Body of a Great People, show that the great art is to do little, and that government, like education, consists principally in foreseeing and preventing evil of a negative kind, in order to leave to the faculties their full development, for it is on this liberty that all forms of prosperity depend. Perhaps the only thing that the Assembly can permit itself in the matter of subsistence is to announce that it can do nothing, that it abolishes all shackles, that it declares the most complete liberty concerning the circulation of commodities; that it in no way determines action, but that it is very active indeed against whoever would curtail this liberty.
Such words, however, could not stop the demands from pouring into the Convention. A month later, in order to avoid arrest, Roland committed suicide.
Minutes of the National Convention, 24 February 1793
A deputation of Citizeness Laundresses of Paris is admitted to the bar. One of the secretaries reads their petition, as follows: "Legislators, the laundresses of Paris have come into this sacred sanctuary of the laws and justice to set forth their concerns. Not only are all essential foodstuffs being sold at excessive prices, but also the price of the raw materials used in bleaching have gotten so high that soon the least fortunate class of people will be unable to have white underwear, which it cannot do without. It is not that the materials are lacking -- they are abundant -- it is hoarding and speculation which drive up the price. You have made the head of the tyrant fall under the blade of the laws. Let the blade of the laws bear down on the heads of these public bloodsuckers. We ask the death penalty for hoarders and speculators."
Minutes of the National Convention, 25 July 1793
The speaker was a provincial priest who was assigned to a parish in one of the poorest sections of Paris, St. Nicholas-des-Champs. He was appalled by the conditions existing there, and soon became the champion of the cause of the poor and suffering.
Jacques Roux, speaker for the delegation from Gravilliers: Mandatories of the people: for a long time you have been promising to put an end to the people's misfortunes; but what have you done about them? [Fierce mutterings]. You have just drawn up a constitution for which you are going to seek the people's sanction. In it have you banned speculation? No! In it have you declared a penalty against hoarders and monopolists? No! Well! We declare to you that you have not finished your work. You who inhabit the Mountain, worthy sans-culottes, will you remain forever inert at the summit of this immortal rock? Take care: the friends of equality will not be the dupes of the charlatans who wish to besiege them with famine, of those vile hoarders whose shops are the haunts of crooks. But, it is said, who knows how things will turn out? [Mutterings]. It is thus that, through fear of counterrevolution they try to raise the price of commodities; but do they not know that the people want liberty or death? You must not fear to incur the hatred of the rich&emdash;that is to say of the wicked; you must sacrifice everything to the welfare of the people. What you should fear is that you will be accused of having discredited the paper money, and of having thus prepared the way for bankruptcy. [There are murmurs in all parts of the hall]. It is possible that we will not have peace for another twenty years; the enormous expenditures of the war. ... [Loud murmurs on the left]. Deputies of the Mountain, lay the foundations for the prosperity of the republic; do not terminate your career in ignominy. [Renewed and louder murmurs].
A citizen of the delegation: I assert that this is not the petition to which the Gravilliers section gave its assent. It is demanded that the speaker be placed under arrest. [Several members: No, no, he must be heard!]
The speaker continues: The oppressed sans-culottes from the departments are going to arrive; we will show them these pikes which overthrew the Bastille, these pikes which broke the Girondin faction, ... and then we will accompany them to the sanctuary of the laws, and we will show them the side that wished to save the tyrant and that which pronounced his death sentence....
Thuriot (Mountain): You have just heard professed at this tribune the monstrous principles of anarchy; this man has coldly assembled all the words that were used in this petition; he has calculated to what point crime could be extended. ... Despicable orator of anarchy, why not also tell the people that the son must cut the throat of his father, and the mother plunge a dagger into the breast of her daughter! Citizens, he has risen against the aristocracy of nobles, but he has not spoken to you about the priestly caste. You will not learn without astonishment that this man is a priest, a worthy rival to the fanatics of the Vendée. But the hope of the tyrants will still be disappointed; we will save Paris, whose ruin was sought; we will save the republic, and monsters like you will die of rage.
I demand that the president order this man to retire, and that the committee on legislation be charged with making a report on provisional means of lowering the prices of consumer goods.
Resolution of a Sans-Culottes Section of Paris, 2 September 1793
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE! How long will you permit royalism, ambition, egoism, intrigue, and avarice, allied with fanaticism, to surrender our frontiers to tyranny and to spread devastation and death everywhere? How long will you permit hoarders to spread famine over the whole surface of the republic in the culpable hope of making patriots cut each other's throats and of re-establishing the throne, with the aid of foreign despots, on their bloody cadavers? Make haste, time is getting short.
The general assembly of the sans-culottes Section, considering that it is the duty of all citizens to propose the measures that they have judged most proper for recreating abundance and public tranquility, orders that the Convention be requested to decree:
1. That former nobles may not exercise any military functions, or possess any public offices of any nature whatsoever; that former magistrates of the parlements, financiers, and priests be dismissed from all administrative or judiciary functions;
2. That all commodities of prime necessity be stabilized at prices taking account of their different qualities and based on the years called former years, from 1789 up to and including the year 1790.
3. That raw materials also be stabilized in such a way that the profits of industry, the wages for labor, and the gains from commerce, which shall be kept at reasonable levels by law, may place the skilled worker, the cultivator, and the tradesman within reach of procuring for himself not only the necessities indispensable for existence but also all that can add to the enjoyment of life;
4. That all cultivators who through mishap have no harvest be compensated from the public treasury;
5. That there be alloted to each Department a sum sufficient to keep the price of commodities of prime necessity the same for all individuals who compose the French Republic;
6. That the sums alloted to the Departments be used to abolish inequalities in the prices of commodities and articles of prime necessity caused by transportation throughout the whole extent of the French Republic, which must procure the same advantages for each of its children;
7. That rent contracts be revoked and returned to their levels of the common years which you will choose for setting the invariable maximum for commodities and articles of prime necessity;
8. That a maximum fortunes shall be fixed;
9. That the same individual shall not be allowed to possess more than one maximum;
10. That no one may rent more land than is needed for a number of plows to be determined;
11. That the same citizen may have no more than one workshop or one store.
12. That all those who have merchandise or land in their names be recognized as proprietors.
The sans-culottes Section thinks that these measures would bring back abundance and tranquility, would gradually eliminate the too great inequality of fortunes, and would increase the number of proprietors.
The Convention finally responded to many of these demands with the Law of the Maximum (29 September 1793), which instituted a whole range of price and wage controls. It is easy to trace the origins of modern Socialism to these ideas of the sans-culottes. The implementation of these ideas by the Convention, however, were motivated as war-related emergency measures.
The most successful radical program of the revolution was not the often-inarticulate demands of the poor, but the carefully constructed principles of the intellectuals and lawyers who met in the former Convent of St. Jacob known as the Jacobins. As leaders of the radical stage of the Revolution, they worked out the modern theory of Democracy, based upon the rights of all men to participate in the affairs of state.
Speech in the Jacobin Club, March 1791
In this speech, Robespierre singles out the anti-democratic elements of the proposed Constitution then being debated. In retrospect, this document is important as the first modern call for democracy.
Maximilien Robespierre (Mountain): Can the law be termed an expression of the general will when the greater number of those for whom it is made can have no hand in its making? No! To forbid such men as do not pay a tax equal to three days' wages the right even to choose the electors whose task it is to appoint the members of the legislative assembly&emdash;what is this but to deprive a majority of Frenchmen of the right to frame the laws? This provision is therefore essentially unconstitutional and antisocial.
Can men be said to enjoy equal rights when some are endowed with the exclusive right to be elected members of the legislative body or of other public institutions, others merely with that of electing them, while the rest are deprived of all these rights at once? No! Yet such are the monstrous distinctions drawn between them by the decrees that make a man active or passive,* or half active and half passive, according to the varying degrees of fortune that permit him to pay three days' wages in taxes, ten days, or a silver mark. All these provisions are therefore essentially unconstitutional and antisocial.
Are men admissible to public posts, and is no distinction made except such as derive from their virtues and talents, when an inability to pay the required tax excludes them from every public office regardless of the virtues and talents that they may possess? No! All these provisions are therefore essentially unconstitutional and antisocial. And again, is the nation sovereign when the greater part of the persons composing it is deprived of the political rights from which sovereignty derives its essence? No! And yet you have just seen that these same decrees deny them to the majority of Frenchmen.
All men born and domiciled in France are members of the body politic termed the French nation; that is to say, they are French citizens. They are so by the nature of things and by the first principle of the law of nations. The rights attaching to this title do not depend on the fortune that each man possesses, nor on the amount of tax for which he is assessed, because it is not taxes that make us citizens; citizenship merely obliges a man to contribute to public expenditure in proportion to his means. You may give the citizens new laws, but you may not deprive them of their citizenship.
The upholders of the system that I am denouncing have themselves realized this truth; for, not daring to challenge the title of citizen in those whom they condemn to political disinheritance, they have confined themselves to destroying the principle of equality inherent in that title by drawing a distinction between active and passive citizens. Trusting in the ease with which men may be governed by words, they have sought to lead us off the scent by using this new expression as a cover for the most flagrant violation of the rights of man....
But, you will say, shall the people, those who have nothing to lose, have the same rights of citizenship as we? Those who have nothing to lose! How false and unjust such language, begotten of delirious pride, appears in the sight of truth! These men of whom you speak are apparently men who live and subsist and yet have no means of living or subsisting! For if they have such means, they have, I think, something to lose or to preserve. Yes, the rough clothing that covers me, the humble retreat where I buy the right to withdraw and to live in peace; the modest wage on which I feed my wife and my children: these are, I admit, not estates, country mansions, or coaches-and-pairs. They are perhaps nothing in the eyes of luxury and opulence; but they are something to humanity. They are a sacred property, as sacred no doubt as the glamorous domains of the rich.
I will say more. My liberty, my life, the right to obtain protection or revenge for those who are dear to me, the right to cast off oppression and to exercise freely all the faculties of my mind and spirit: are not all these beneficient properties, the first that nature has bestowed on man, placed, like your own, under the protection of the laws? And yet you say that I have no interest in these laws; and you wish to deprive me of the share that is my due as it is yours, in the administration of the commonwealth, and for no other reason than that you are wealthier than I! Ah! If the scales were no longer to remain evenly balanced, should they not be weighted in favor of the citizens of lesser fortune? Have not the laws been framed and the public authority been established to protect the weak against injustice and oppression? It is, then, to flout all the principles that govern society to entrust them entirely to the rich.....
But what is, after all, the rare merit in paying a silver mark or such other tax on which you make such exalted privileges dependent? If you make a larger contribution to the public treasury than I, is it not because society has favored you with greater pecuniary advantages? And if we wish to press the point further, what is the source of that extreme inequality of fortunes that concentrates all wealth in the hands of a few? Is it not the result of bad laws, of bad government of all the vices of corrupted societies? Now, why should those who are the victims of these abuses be doubly punished for their misfortune by the loss of their dignity as citizens? I do not dispute your right to enjoy the unequal portion that you have received, since this inequality is a necessary or an incurable evil; but do not take from me, at least, the imprescriptible rights of which no manmade law is entitled to deprive me. Permit me even at times to be proud of an honorable poverty and do not seek to humiliate me by arrogantly presuming to monopolize the title of sovereign while leaving me none other than that of subject.
But the people, you say, are prone to be corrupted! Ah! Cease, I pray you, cease to profane the moving, sacred name of people by linking it with this notion of corruption. Who is he that, among men equal in rights, dares to declare his fellows unworthy to exercise theirs in order to despoil them to his own advantages? For in spite of all your prejudice in favor of such virtues as come with wealth, I venture to believe that you will find as many among the poorest citizens as among the wealthiest! Do you honestly believe that a hard, laborious life engenders as many vices as one of comfort, luxury and ambition? And have you less faith in the probity of our artisans and peasants, who, according to your formula, will hardly ever be active citizens, as you have in that of tax farmers, courtiers, and those whom you call great lords, who, following the same formula, would be so six hundred times over? Once and for all, I wish to avenge those whom you call the people for these sacrilegious slanders.
Three years later, at the height of his power as a member of the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre proposed a new Declaration of the Rights of Man. The following excerpt contains the important changes which the Jacobins would have added to the original. It is a unique combination of democracy and the demands of social justice advanced by the Sans-Culottes.
Maximilien Robespierre's Proposed New Declaration on the Rights of Man, 1793
9. Property is the right of each and every citizen to enjoy and to dispose of the portion of goods that is guaranteed to him by law.
10. The right of property is limited, as are all other rights, by the obligation to respect the rights of others.
11. It may not be so exercised as to prejudice the security, or the liberty, or the existence, or the property of our fellow men.
12. All holdings in property and all commercial dealings which violate this principle are unlawful and immoral.
13. Society is obliged to provide for the subsistence of all its members, either by procuring work for them or by assuring the means of existence to those who are unable to work.
14. The aid indispensable to whosoever lacks necessities is a debt of whosoever possesses a surplus; it appertains to the law to determine the manner in which such debt is to be discharged.
15. Citizens whose incomes do not exceed whatever is necessary for their subsistence are exempted from contributing to public expenditures; all others must support them progressively, according to the extent of their wealth.
16. Society must favor with all its power the progress of public reason and must place education within reach of all citizens.
17. The law is the free and solemn expression of the will of the people.
18. The people is the sovereign, the government is its work, the public functionaries are its clerks; the people may change its government and recall its representatives when it pleases....
20. The law must be equal for all.
21. All citizens are admissible to all public offices, without any distinction other than that of virtues and talents, without any title other than the confidence of the people.
22. All citizens have an equal right to concur in the nomination of the representatives of the people and in the formation of the law.
23. In order that these rights may not be illusory, and equality chimerical, society must pay the public functionaries....
24. Every citizen must obey religiously the magistrates and agents of the government when they are the spokesmen or the executors of the law.
29. When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties for the people and for each and every portion thereof.
30. When the social guarantee is lacking to a citizen, he returns to the natural right of defending all his rights himself.
In the following speech, Robespierre summed up the Jacobin program.
Maximilien Robespierre Speech, 5 February 1794
It is time to mark clearly the aim of the Revolution. We wish an order of things where all low and cruel passions are enchained by the laws, all beneficient and generous feelings awakened; where ambition is the desire to deserve glory and to be useful to one's country; where distinctions arise only from equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, the people to justice; where the country secures the welfare of each individual, and each individual proudly enjoys the prosperity and glory of his country; where all minds are enlarged by the constant interchange of republican sentiments and by the need of earning the respect of a great people; where industry is an adornment to the liberty that ennobles it, and commerce the source of public wealth, not simply of monstrous riches for a few families.
We wish to substitute in our country morality for egotism, probity for a mere sense of honor, principle for habit, duty for etiquette, the empire of reason for the tyranny of custom, contempt for vice for contempt for misfortune, pride for insolence, large-mindedness for vanity, the love of glory for the love of money, good men for good company, merit for intrigue, talent for conceit, truth for show, the charm of happiness for the tedium of pleasure, the grandeur of man for the triviality of grand society, a people magnanimous, powerful and happy for a people lovable, frivolous and wretched&emdash;that is to say, all the virtues and miracles of the Republic for the all the vices and puerilities of the monarchy.
We wish, in a word, to fulfill the course of nature, to accomplish the destiny of mankind, to make good the promises of philosophy, to absolve Providence from the long reign of tyranny and crime. May France, illustrious formerly among slave people, eclipse the glory of all free peoples that have existed, become the model to the nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed, the ornament of the universe; and in sealing our work with our blood may we ourselves see at least the dawn of universal felicity gleam before us! That is our ambition. That is our aim.
We do not pretend to cast the French Republic in the mold of Sparta. We do not wish to give it either the austerity or the corruption of the cloister. We have just laid before you in all its purity the moral and political principle of popular government. But if the basis of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the basis of popular government in time of revolution is both virtue and terror; virtue without which terror is murder, terror without which virtue is powerless!
It is hard to evaluate Robespierre's justification of the reign of terror . From all the evidence, he was perfectly sincere in his beliefs, but this did not stop him and the other members of the Committee of Public Safety from using the instruments of the terror to silence his enemies.
By the summer of 1794, the Revolution Government had succeeded in defeating France's foreign enemies and domestic rebels, and most people in France believed that the time had come to end the Terror. The coup of 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794) eliminated Robespierre and his principal allies from power and ended the radical phase of the revolution.
During the next five years, all attempts to consolidate a new, more moderate government failed. Increasingly, the leadership came to depend upon the army to defend them from political opponents, and in 1799 the popular general, Napoleon Bonaparte, staged another coup, seizing power and creating a military dictatorship which was soon changed into the Empire. The Revolution had come to an end.