Modern history


October 1791 to June 1792

The Legislative Assembly moves towards war, the duel between Brissot and Robespierre, the first defeats

The French Revolution saw the invention of a pretext for war unknown until then, that of rescuing peoples from the yoke of their governments, supposedly illegitimate and tyrannical. This pretext was used to bring death to men, some of whom lived quietly under institutions softened by time and custom, and others who had enjoyed for many centuries all the benefits of liberty.

– Benjamin Constant, On the Spirit of Conquest

Composition and tendencies of the Legislative Assembly

The 745 deputies who assembled on 1 October 1791 to form the Legislative Assembly were new men – we recall that the members of the Constituent Assembly had declared themselves ineligible for this first legislature. The electoral assemblies had elected deputies above all from those candidates possessing landed property of some kind, and subject to a tax of at least a silver marc. They were young, more than half being under the age of thirty. The majority were men of the law, chiefly advocates, and almost all hadexercised some function or other in the municipal or departmental assemblies.1 Michelet met an old man who

in September 1791 had come from Bordeaux to Paris in a public coach that was bringing the Girondins. There were the likes of Vergniaud, Guadet, Gensonné, Ducos, Fonfrède, etc., the famous pleiad that would personify the spirit of the new Assembly … They were men full of energy and talent, admirably young and extraordinarily energetic, with an unbounded devotion to ideas. Yet despite this, he soon noticed that they were very ignorant, strangely inexperienced and fickle; they were talkers and controversialists, dominated by the habits of the bar, which reduced their invention and initiative.2

Indeed, inexperience and fickleness would be the hallmark of the Legislative Assembly, as we shall see.

There were no parties in the new Assembly, any more than there had been in the Constituent, but rather political affinities grouped around prominent individuals. More than a third of the deputies (264) would enrol in the Club des Feuillants. These Moderates, that is, constitutional monarchists, were divided into two groups or two clienteles: on the one hand, the ‘Lamethists’ around the triumvirate Barnave-Duport-Lameth, increasingly tied to the court; on the other, the ‘Fayettists’, who followed the general on the white horse. The ‘left’ was made up of 136 deputies who joined the Jacobins club. Between the two, the largest group numerically was the undecided mass of ‘independents’ (345 deputies).

In Paris, the Moderates had won the election, which took place in two stages with a property qualification and a very high rate of abstention. Danton had been defeated, and Brissot prevailed only with difficulty. But thanks to the divisions of the Feuillants, the Jacobins triumphed in the November municipal election: Pétion was elected mayor of Paris against Lafayette, and Danton became the deputy procureur of the Commune.

Popular movements

The Legislative Assembly would have its work cut out standing up to both popular movements and the counter-revolutionary movements that broke out across the country.

In the towns, discontent was caused once again by a crisis of provisions. The 1791 harvest had been good, but torrential rain in autumn gave rise to floods, endangering the supply of flour. Prices shot up, all the more so as the assignat was losing value against ‘real’ money: in the autumn it still stood at 85 per cent of its nominal value, but steadily fell to reach 60 per cent by the spring of 1792.3 On top of this, sugar and coffee became scarce and costly after the outbreak of the great slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue. Sugared café au lait, however, had become one of the staples of the popular diet. In the faubourgs, bowls of it were served to washerwomen and ironers to enable them to carry on to the end of the day.4 Disturbances erupted in Paris around grocers’ shops, where crowds forced traders to lower their prices by threatening to help themselves. In January 1792 the Jacobins club decided to dispense with sugar. In Louvet’s words: ‘Who among us could find anything sweet in an enjoyment that he knows is denied to the largest and most precious part of the people?’5 In the enthusiasm of this session, it was decided also to do without coffee.

By November 1791, the rise in the price of wheat led to major disturbances in the rural north. On the Aisne and the Oise, groups of peasants and artisans stopped and pillaged barges loaded with grain. In the markets, thousands of peasants, often led by the village mayors, imposed a taxation populaire: payment for goods – wheat, but also eggs, butter, wood and coal – at a price they deemed fair. In Étampes, the mayor, Simonneau, was shot dead while preparing to impose martial law to prevent this taxation. In the Assembly, the Feuillants made him a martyr to the law, and even the Jacobins sent his son a letter of condolence, evoking ‘the heroic virtue of the author of your days’.6

The peasants had another reason for anger, and a deeper one. They saw ever more clearly that the feudal regime was still well and truly alive, and that the latest measures taken by the Constituent Assembly made the redemption of seigniorial rights impossible: ‘These former lords, their agents and their present tenants, gang up with the nonjuring priests and fanatics of all kinds, and crush the revolutionary zeal of the cultivators, who are simple and ignorant, by making them fear a return of the old order of things,’ so the free citizens of the commune of Lourmarin wrote to the Assembly on 15 December.7 This anger was unleashed in the centre and south of the country: in the villages of the Lot, Tarn, Cantal and Dordogne, the peasants, often supported – a remarkable fact – by the National Guard, pillaged and set on fire the châteaux of émigrés, demanding the complete abolition of the seigniorial regime – but it was only the Convention under the Montagne that would finally carry this out.

Counter-revolutionary insurrections

At the same time as these popular uprisings, there was wide counter-revolutionary agitation: whether flocks of the faithful defending refractory priests, or openly royalist movements led from afar by the émigrés.

The Assembly learned in October that in Montpellier ‘an insurrection broke out, which lasted the whole night’, following the opening of a chapel by a nonjuring priest. In the Vendée, departmental commissioners reported that ‘the fanatical priests, excited by the hope of counter-revolution, are agitating the people in all directions’. In the Haute-Loire, ‘the constitutional priests are persecuted, murdered and put to flight, and the courts are powerless’.

Royalist revolts broke out in the Midi, ‘on the still burning embers of the old religious wars’ (Michelet). In the Lozère, a notary by the name of Charrier, a former deputy to the Constituent Assembly whom the comte d’Artois had appointed to the command of the region, openly organized counter-revolutionary militias and even established an artillery section. Claude Allier, the prior of Chambonnaz, boasted of being able to raise an army of more than 50,000 men, led by priests under the white flag and supported by Sardinia and Spain. In Chambéry, which still belonged to the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia at this time and a major émigré centre, Bussy, an artillery captain, formed a royalist legion that he marched in broad daylight. In Perpignan, royalist militias prepared to open the frontier to the Spanish armies. In Arles and Aigues-Mortes, where the counter-revolutionaries initially had the upper hand, it took a major expedition on the part of Marseille volunteers to overcome the entrenched royalists.8 On 16 October in Avignon, the papal city that had recently been reunited with France, the counterrevolution ‘had the population murder at the foot of the altar a Frenchman, Lescuyer, head of the French party against the papists … But when the revolutionary party prevailed, it avenged Lescuyer the same night by massacring some sixty individuals, cutting their throats in the Palais des Papes and flinging their bodies to the bottom of the Tour de la Glacière.’9

Measures against émigrés and refractory priests

Faced with the threat of chaos, the Legislative Assembly, the majority of which still clung to the monarchy like a life raft, did not dare to take frontal measures. To end the pillage and burning of châteaux, it decided on 9 February 1792 that the goods of émigrés would be sequestrated. Despite its concern to calm peasant unrest, it rejected in February Couthon’s bill to suppress without indemnity all feudal rights that could not be clearly justified – in June, it merely abolished charges on property transfer.

Against the émigrés, the Assembly followed Brissot in distinguishing between the leaders and those that followed them, who ‘will say to you, correctly: what right have you to punish us? Are there two different weights and measures for a free people? You respect the titles and assets of our leaders and you crush their subaltern accomplices!’10 On 31 October, the Assembly decided that Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, the king’s brother, would have his rights of regency removed if he did not return to France within two months.

Against the refractory priests, on 29 November 1791 the Assembly voted a decree cancelling the stipends of any who refused to take a new oath, and authorizing local administrations to evict them from their dwellings in case of disturbance to public order. But Louis XVI, though accepting the decree concerning his brother, vetoed the measures against the émigrés and refractory priests. The situation was blocked.

A popular movement for war?

How, against this background of unrest, did the executive and Assembly come to unleash a war against the main powers of the continent? How was this country, which in May 1790 had issued a veritable declaration of peace to the world in the name of the Constituent Assembly, taken towards war?

The man in the street and the ordinary deputy, hearing incessant talk of imminent invasion in the Assembly and in the papers, might well believe that Austria and Prussia were preparing to attack France, which would have justified a preventive riposte. But in the case of the ministers, who received reports from their ambassadors, or Brissot and his friends who also had access to genuine information, it is highly unlikely that the noise of boots across the border could really have disquieted them. They knew that the Pillnitz declaration, signed in August by Emperor Leopold and the Prussian king Friedrich-Wilhelm, did not amount to anything, as the two sovereigns, we have seen, only declared themselves prepared to intervene if the other powers joined them. And the king of Sweden and Empress Catherine of Russia, while forceful enough in words, had no intention of proceeding to action, being rather more preoccupied with Poland and Turkey. On 4 November, Fersen wrote to the king of Sweden: ‘Everything confirms me in the view that the Viennese cabinet intends to do nothing.’11 These dispositions were perfectly well known to those who led the war party in France. As for the danger represented by the émigrés in Coblenz, even if they took every opportunity to play it up, they could hardly have taken it seriously.

The king and queen were well aware of the indecision and paralysis of Austria. Their secret correspondence – that of Louis with Breteuil, that of Marie-Antoinette with Fersen and Mercy-Argenteau, the Austrian ambassador – was full of recriminations. They wanted the powers to assemble an armed congress at the frontier that would put pressure on France to change the Constitution, but at no time did such a congress look likely.

Was there a popular movement in favour of war? Patriotic gifts were certainly made ‘for the costs of war’, but these were isolated acts that were publicized for the good of the cause. What could have motivated such a movement? Sophie Wahnich emphasizes the sense of honour: ‘It was a matter of bearing “the glory of the French name” and defending the honour of the Revolution against enemies who refused to recognize and respect the revolutionary nation.’12 For Jaurès, by contrast, it was ‘the weakening and discouragement of the democrats and revolutionaries’ that explains the movement towards war: ‘The people were now silent, and no other goad than that of wars abroad could have roused them from their torpor. And so it was not, as many historians have repeated, the overflowing enthusiasm of liberty that kindled the war; this arose on the contrary from a faltering of the Revolution.’13

A sense of honour in the face of insult; war to combat discouragement – both are possible. But if indeed there was a popular movement for war, it was above all the result of a propaganda campaign, to use an anachronistic expression. This campaign was waged by groups that were opposed to one another but had one point in common: they looked to war to resolve their domestic difficulties and permit them to get rid of their enemies in France itself. It would not be the last time that a war, or a colonial expedition, would be launched purely for reasons of domestic politics.

The war party and the opposition

In a strange paradox, the court and the ‘left’ found themselves here on the same side.

On the left, the war party was led by Brissot, a figure who became so important at this point that the term ‘Brissotins’ was used to denote the group around him (they would only be called ‘Girondins’ later on, under the Convention). We may well ask why individuals such as Vergniaud, Isnard or Buzot, who were far superior to the mediocre Brissot, agreed to accept him as their leader. One possible explanation is that he was the only Parisian in the group. It is hard to imagine today how out of place these provincials felt in revolutionary Paris, and what prestige someone at home in the place, the editor of a major newspaper, could have in their eyes.

The Brissotins wanted war, and pinned all their hopes on it: this diversion would mean an end to the popular movements that were racking the country, as well as revealing the traitors (the Court, the ministers) who would be put down. It would be an easy war, as peoples labouring under the yoke of tyrants would come with open arms to meet the soldiers of liberty. Such themes and variations on the advantages of war recur constantly in the speeches and newspapers of the time. Little by little, the idea that ‘the people want war’ was established as self-evident fact.

The Court – and above all the queen – could turn the bellicose stance of the Brissotins to their own purposes. For a long time they had seen foreign intervention as their only hope. On the one hand, the Court pretended to follow the advice of Lameth, Duport and Barnave, who stood for strict respect of the Constitution and were fiercely opposed to war, as for them it risked upsetting the balance, either towards the democratic party or towards the aristocratic one, and they wanted neither one thing nor the other. At the same time, however, through its emissaries abroad and secret letters, the Court was inciting Austria to armed intervention. As Louis wrote to Breteuil, ‘the physical and moral state of France renders her incapable of sustaining even half a campaign’, and defeat would enable the restoration of the monarchy to its former splendour.

The duel between Brissot and Robespierre

The opening shot in this campaign for war was fired by Brissot in the Assembly on 20 October 1791, in a long, confused speech, full of contradictions, in which he notably declared:

Need I remind you of all the outrages committed against your representatives, or simply against French citizens? Need I remind you of the protection openly afforded to the French rebels in the Netherlands … ? We respect your peace and your Constitution; respect ours in return; stop sheltering these malcontents, stop associating yourselves with their sanguinary projects. Or, if you prefer to the friendship of a great nation your relations with a few brigands, then expect vengeance; the vengeance of a people is slow, but it strikes surely.14

The official report states that applause ‘accompanied M. Brissot back to his seat, and the uproar continued for several minutes’.

On 29 November it was Isnard’s turn, a far better speaker than Brissot:

Let us say to Europe that we respect all the constitutions of the different empires, but that if the cabinets of foreign courts seek to unleash a war of the kings against France, then we shall unleash against them a war of peoples against kings. Let us say to them than ten million Frenchmen, fired with the flame of liberty, armed with sword, reason, and eloquence, could, if they are roused, change the face of the world and make every tyrant tremble on his throne.15

In the face of this massive movement, opposition to war was scarcely visible. It was non-existent in the Assembly, where the far left had no presence. In the Jacobins club, it was confined for a long time to Robespierre alone. He was certainly listened to with respect, but not to the point of taking the whole club with him. On 12 December: ‘To whom would you entrust the conduct of this war? To the agents of the executive power. So you will abandon the security of the realm to those who want to destroy you. It follows from this that the thing we should fear most is war.’ And on 2 January 1792, about the real enemy: ‘Do we have them, any enemies within? No, you don’t know of any, you know only about Koblenz. Did you not tell us that the seat of evil is in Koblenz? So it is not in Paris? So there is no connection between Koblenz and another place that is not far from here?’16

In the same great speech from Robespierre: ‘The honour of the French name, you say. Heavens above! … The honour that you seek to revive is the friend and support of despotism; it is the honour of the heroes of the aristocracy, of all the tyrants, it is the honour of crime.’ And on the crusade for liberty:

The most extravagant idea that can arise in the mind of a politician is the belief that a people need only make an armed incursion into the territory of a foreign people, to make it adopt its laws and its constitution. No one likes armed missionaries; and the first counsel given by nature and prudence is to repel them as enemies.17

The duel over the war between Robespierre on the one side, and Brissot and his friends on the other, continued for several months, in the Jacobins club and in the press. This cleavage was not simply conjunctural, it was profound, foreshadowing the confrontation between Montagnards and Girondins in the Convention. But that point had not yet been reached. Even at the Jacobins, and with the help of Desmoulins, Marat and Billaud-Varenne, Robespierre did not manage to stem the tide. On 15 February 1792, the club’s correspondence committee sent the following letter to its affiliated societies:

The salvation of our country depends on a forthright measure, which is war. We need this to consolidate the Constitution and strengthen our national existence; we need war to stamp our Revolution with the imposing character that befits the movements of a great people … The nation ardently desires it, it burns to see the moment approach when the soldiers of liberty will measure themselves against the satellites of despotism, when this great trial of peoples and kings will be decided by the outcome of battle.18

The declaration of war

The champions of war – and Louis XVI himself – appointed as minister of war in December 1791 the comte de Narbonne, lover of Madame de Staël and supposedly an illegitimate son of Louis XV. For him, war was a means of restoring the power of the Crown. He was opposed in the government by de Lessart, the minister of foreign affairs, who was an ally of the followers of Lameth in the peace camp. de Lessart managed to get Emperor Leopold to lean on the elector of Trier to disperse the concentration of émigrés on his territory. The elector complied, as Leopold informed the Assembly in a note in early January 1792. This put paid to one justification for war, but Brissot pointed out that the emperor had not disavowed the Pillnitz declaration, and had indicated in his note that any attack on the elector would constitute a casus belli.

On 25 January, Hérault de Séchelles proposed a decree that was a kind of ultimatum. Its Article 2 invited the king ‘to ask the emperor whether he intends to live in peace and on good terms with the French nation, whether he renounces any treaty or convention directed against the sovereignty, independence and security of the Nation’, and further, in Article 3, ‘to declare to the emperor that unless he renders to the Nation before 1 March full and complete satisfaction on the points listed above, his silence, or any evasive or dilatory response, will be regarded as a declaration of war’.

De Lessart, opposed to this bellicose pressure, prevailed upon the king to dismiss Narbonne. But the furious Brissotins accused him of treason and dragged him before the high court for having negotiated with ‘a cowardice and weakness unworthy of a free people’. Louis XVI took fright, abandoned de Lessart to his fate and replaced the Feuillant administration with a Brissotin one: Clavière at the finance ministry, Roland at the interior ministry, Grave and then Servan at the ministry of war. Foreign affairs were entrusted to Dumouriez, whose previous career had been typical of a certain kind of eighteenth-century adventurer. He was the strong man of this government. Immediately on his appointment, he proceeded to the Jacobins, donned a red bonnet and uttered these fighting words: ‘If diplomatic efforts fail, I shall lay down my political pen and take my rank in the army, either to triumph or to die free along with my brothers.’ Robespierre did not want this speech to be printed: ‘It is out of respect for the rights of the people, who alone are great and respectable in my eyes, and before whom all the baubles of ministerial power vanish, that I recall the society to its principles.’19

Emperor Leopold died on 1 March. His successor, Franz II, a ‘devotee of Machiavelli’ (Michelet), was a militarist by temperament, and replied to the French notes curtly and negatively. Finally, on 20 April 1792, Louis XVI entered the Assembly accompanied by the ministers and the twenty-four commissioners. He asked Dumouriez to read the report made to the council of ministers two days earlier, which concluded that ‘ever since the time of its regeneration, the French nation has been provoked by the Viennese court and its agents’, and that Franz’s non-response to French demands was ‘formally equivalent to a declaration of war’. At the end of the report, the king said (‘his voice faltering somewhat’):

You have just heard, gentlemen, the result of the negotiations that I have pursued with the court of Vienna … All citizens prefer war to seeing the dignity of the French people continue to be affronted and its national security threatened. According to the terms of the Constitution, I have come before you formally to propose war against the king of Hungary and Bohemia.20

The army, the first defeats

The war had been willed and unleashed by the Court and the Brissotins, who each expected from it quite opposite results. But by one of the habitual ruses of history, events turned out equally badly for both. Nothing happened as it was supposed to, everything conspired against them and drove them to catastrophe.

The republican army had the advantage of numbers. France was at this time, in terms of population, the largest European country outside of Russia. More than a million men could be raised from the National Guard alone (made up of active citizens, we recall).21There were already some 100,000 volunteers on the frontiers, the recruiting of whom had begun in June 1791 after Varennes. Their battalions had kept the names of their departments of origin, which had provided their equipment. There was no general conscription: each battalion opened its own register for volunteers, many of whom were politicized young townsmen. They elected their officers,22 attended the clubs and met with patriots in the towns where they were posted. The volunteer battalions (the ‘blues’) were not integrated with the troops of the line (the ‘whites’) who had made up the old royal army.23

This division of the army into two parts, each of which had scant esteem for the other, was a handicap, but not the worst. The command had been disrupted by the emigration of more than half the officers. These gaps had been filled with difficulty by non-commissioned officers and by men who had exercised a position in the National Guard. The officers distrusted their troops, and vice versa. The three generals appointed by Louis XVI in November 1791, moreover, were no great strategists: Rochambeau, hero of the war of American independence, was old and sceptical; Luckner was a Bavarian who had become a marshal of France at the age of seventy, with no other quality to recommend him except his friendship with Lafayette, who dominated the high command but remained a politician beneath his uniform.

Opposite the 150,000 men of this ill-trained and poorly commanded force, there were just 35,000 Austrians – the Prussians were still getting ready. Dumouriez, the de facto head of the government, had ordered an offensive, but right from the first engagementsthe uncertainty of command led to a series of reverses, the most fateful of which took place outside Lille on 28 April, when a column supposed to proceed to Belgium and take Tournai retreated upon sight of the enemy. The two cavalry regiments at its head disbanded and fell back to Lille, passing the corps of retreating volunteers who massacred Dillon on their way, an officer whom they accused – probably unfairly – of treason.

The generals denied all responsibility for these defeats, blaming the lack of discipline of their troops. When they met at Valenciennes on 18 May, they sent the ministers a note explaining that the offensive was impossible, hostilities had to be ended and an immediate peace concluded.

The Brissotins had every reason to be crestfallen, all the more so as Robespierre struck an ‘I told you so’ pose (at the Jacobins, on 1 May: ‘No! I do not trust the generals one whit, and, with certain honourable exceptions, I say that almost all of them pine for the old order of things …’).24 Marat, for his part, lampooned them in L’Ami du peuple on 6 May: ‘We had been assured that the very cannonballs would retreat in the face of the Rights of Man.’

The trial of strength, dismissal of the ministry, Lafayette’s threats

The Court openly supported the generals’ fronde, while the Brissotins now sought confrontation. On 27 May, the Assembly voted for the deportation of refractory priests who had refused the oath and were provoking disturbances.25 On 29 May, it decided to dismiss the king’s guard – 1,200 horse and 600 foot – composed of aristocrats who openly rejoiced at the military setbacks. The Assembly had the head of the guard, the duc de Cossé-Brissac, brought before the high court.

On 4 June the minister of war, Servan, proposed the formation of a National Guard encampment outside Paris: ‘Why do you not ask each of the cantons in the kingdom for five National Guards, uniformed and armed, to assemble in Paris on 14 July? This method would give you a mass of 20,000 men … This army would camp close to the capital so as to provide part of the guard for both the Assembly and the king.’26 This measure, opposed in the Jacobins by Robespierre (‘The army that we would not fear would be composed of all those soldiers dismissed with yellow cartridges for deeds of patriotism’),27 was passed on 8 June.

The king vetoed the decrees on refractory priests, on the dissolution of his guard, and on the camp of 20,000 men, which he saw as a weapon in the hands of the Jacobins. On 10 June, Roland advised him to sign, in a letter that most historians attribute to his wife: ‘The conduct of the priests … has led to a wise law against these troublemakers. Let Your Majesty give it his sanction: public tranquillity demands this, and it is needed for the salvation of the priests.’ The text went on to mention ‘the extreme disquiet that the conduct of your guard had aroused, and that was encouraged by the testimonies of satisfaction that Your Majesty had given it by a proclamation truly impolitic in the circumstances’. And finally: ‘Any further delay, and the people will sadly perceive its king as the friend and accomplice of the conspirators.’28

The king’s response to this abrupt demand was to dismiss the Girondin ministry on 13 June. The replacements he appointed were members of the Feuillants, with Dumouriez at the ministry of war. The Assembly voted that the dismissed ministers had the regrets of the nation, and when Dumouriez came to read a pessimistic report on the military situation he was received with boos. In the same session it was decided to establish a twelve-man parliamentary commission, to investigate the conduct of the ministers and to check on Dumouriez’s allegations. Feeling threatened, the latter sought to persuade the king to calm the situation by signing the decrees, but Louis would not hear of it. He accepted the resignation of Dumouriez, who left to join the army of the North.

The confrontation between the Brissotins and the Court turned into a trial of strength. It was at this point that Lafayette sent the king a letter from his camp at Maubeuge, which was read by a secretary at the session of 18 June. It consisted above all of a violent attack on the Jacobins:

Can you conceal from yourself that one faction, and, not to beat about the bush, the Jacobite [sic] faction, is the cause of all this disorder? Their very actions accuse them: organized as a realm of their own in their metropolis and its affiliations, blindly directed by certain ambitious leaders, this sect forms a distinct corporation within the French people, whose powers it usurps, subjugating their representatives and their mandataries.

There followed a denunciation of Dumouriez, ‘a worthy product of his club …, all of whose calculations are false, his promises vain, his information deceptive or frivolous, his counsels perfidious or contradictory’.

What Lafayette was recommending was a counter-revolutionary coup d’état, as Vergniaud remarked: ‘When a simple citizen addresses a petition to you, you have to hear it. When a general of the army wants to give you advice, he can only do so by way of the ministry. If this were otherwise, there would be an end to freedom, as I am not afraid to tell you.’ And Guadet: ‘M. de Lafayette is not unaware that when Cromwell used similar language, liberty was lost in England.’29 But the Brissotins, still indecisive, did not dare to make a formal accusation against the factious general. They merely refused to forward his letter to the departments.

Brissot, however, in the next day’s Patriote français, roundly attacked Lafayette: ‘This is the most violent blow that has been struck against liberty, and all the more dangerous in being struck by a general who boasts of having an army of his own …’ He was thus of one mind with Robespierre, who wrote in no. 7 of his paper, Le Défenseur de la constitution: ‘Has the time already come when army chiefs can interpose their influence or their authority in our public affairs? … Have we already lost our freedom, or is it rather you who have lost your reason?’30 A kind of truce set in between Brissot and Robespierre, as they faced the common enemy.


1To take two departments at random: in the Indre-et-Loire the eight deputies were the mayor of Tours, the procureur syndic of the Chinon district, a member of the departmental directory, two departmental administrators, a judge at the Chinon court, a businessman, and the commander of the Tours National Guard. The nine deputies for the Tarn were a judge on the Albi court, a commissioner with the Castres court, a member of the directorate of the Lavaur district, two members of the departmental directorate, the procureur of the Puylaurens commune, a ‘man of the law’, and another man on whom no details were given (after Auguste Kuscinski, Les Députés à l’Assemblée législative de 1791, Paris: Société d’histoire de la Révolution française, 1790).

2Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution française, vol. 1, p. 614.

3Andress, The French Revolution and the People, p. 172.

4Roger Dupuy, La Garde nationale, 1789–1792, Paris: Gallimard, 2010, p. 155.

5Aulard, La Sociétédes Jacobins, vol. 3, p. 351.

6Ibid., p. 431. Robespierre did not sign this letter.

7Cited in Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 2, p. 28.

8See on these points Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, op. cit., chapter 31.

9A. P., vol. 34, pp. 310–6.

10Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution française, vol. 1, p. 621.

11Le Comte de Fersen et la Cour de France, Paris, 1878, vol. 1, p. 213. Cited in Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 2, p. 71.

12Sophie Wahnich, La Longue Patience du peuple, Paris: Payot, 2008, p. 70.

13Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, p. 84.

14A. P., vol. 34, pp. 313–7.

15A. P., vol. 35, p. 442.

16Robespierre, Virtue and Terror, p. 31.

17Robespierre, op. cit., p. 31, and Pour le bonheur et pour la liberté, pp. 122–50. All other quotations from Robespierre are taken from his Œuvres complètes, Éditions du Centenaire de la Société des études robespierristes [1912–1967], reprinted Enghien-les-Bains: Éditions du Miraval (11 vols), 2007, vol. 8.

18Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 3, pp. 376–81.

19Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 3, p. 439.

20A. P., vol. 42, pp. 196–9. Franz had not yet been elected Holy Roman Emperor.

21In actual fact, many volunteers were recruited among passive citizens not in the National Guard.

22According to Article 8 of the decree of 21 June 1791, ‘All individuals making up the company [i.e. fifty men] will appoint their officers and non-commissioned officers; the battalion’s general staff will be appointed by the whole battalion’ (A. P., vol. 37, p. 294).

23On these points, see Dupuy, La Garde nationale, chapter 5.

24Le Défenseur de la Constitution, no. 1.

25Article 3 of the decree provided that: ‘When twenty active citizens of a canton meet to demand the deportation of a nonjuring ecclesiastic, the departmental directorate is required to pronounce deportation’ (A. P., vol. 44, p. 169).

26Ibid., p. 550.

27Session of 7 June 1792. Aulard, La Société des Jacobins, vol. 3, p. 669. [The ‘yellow cartridge’ was symbolically handed to a soldier dishonourably discharged from the army. – Translator]

28Cited in Jaurès, Histoire socialiste, vol. 2, pp. 503–5.

29For the session of 18 June, A. P., vol. 45, p. 338ff.

30Robespierre, Œuvres complètes, vol. 4, pp. 195–6.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!