UNDER Louis XVI the financial situation of the country became more and more serious, until it could no longer be ignored. The cost of the participation in the American Revolution, added to the enormous debt inherited from the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV and to the excessive and unregulated expenditures of the state and the wastefulness of the court, completed the derangement of the national finances and foreshadowed bankruptcy. In the end this crisis forced the monarch to make an appeal to the people by summoning their representatives.
But before taking so grave a step, the consequences of which were incalculable, the government tried various expedients less drastic, which, however, for various reasons, failed. Louis XVI was the unhappy monarch under whom these long accumulating ills culminated. The last of the rulers of the Old Regime, his reign covered the years from 1774 to 1792. It falls into three periods, a brief one of attempted reform (1774- 1776) and then a relapse for the next twelve years into the traditional methods of the Bourbon monarchy, after that the hurricane.
During his youth no one thought that Louis would ever be monarch, so many other princes stood between him and the throne that his succession was only a remote contingency. But owing to an unprecedented number of deaths in the direct line this contingency became reality. Louis mounted the throne, from which eighteen years later, by a strange concourse of events, he was hurled. He had never been molded for the high and dangerous office. He was but twenty years old and the Queen, Marie Antoinette, but nineteen when they heard of the death of Louis XV, and instinctively both expressed the same thought, “ How unhappy are we. We are too young to rule.” The new king was entirely untrained in the arts of government. He was good, well-intentioned, he had a high standard of morality and duty, a genuine desire to serve his people. But his mind lacked all distinction, his education had been poor, his processes of thought were hesitating, slow, uncertain. Awkward,timid, without elegancies or graces of mind or body, no king could have been less to the manner born, none could have seemed more out of place in the brilliant, polished, and heartless court of which he was the center. This he felt himself, as others felt it, and he often regretted, even before the Revolution, that he could not abdicate and pass into a private station which would have been far more to his taste. He was an excellent horseman, he was excessively fond of hunting, he practised with delight the craft of locksmith. He was ready to listen to the advice of wiser men, but, and this was his fatal defect, he was of feeble will. He had none of the masterful qualities necessary for leadership. He was quite unable to see where danger lay and where support was to be found. He was not unintelligent, but his intelligence was unequal to his task. He had no clear conception of either France or Europe. He was a poor judge of men, yet was greatly influenced by them. He gave way now to this influence, which might be good, now to that, which might be bad. He was, by nature, like other princes of his time, a reforming monarch, but his impulses in this direction were intermittent. Necker said on one occasion, “ You may lend a man your ideas, you cannot lend him your strength of will.” “Imagine,” said another, “ trying to keep a dozen oiled ivory balls touching. I think you couldn’t do it.” So it was with the King’s ideas. At the beginning of his reign Louis XVI was subject to the influence of Turgot, one of the wisest of statesmen. Later he was subject to the influence of the Queen — to his own great misfortune and also to that of France.
The influence of women was always great in France under the Bourbon monarchy, and Marie Antoinette was no exception to the rule. Furthermore that influence was frequently disastrous, and here again in the case of the last queen of the Old Regime there was no exception. If the King proved inferior to his position, the Queen proved no less inferior to hers. She was the daughter of the great Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and she had been married to Louis XVI in the hope that thus an alliance would be cemented between the two states which had so long been enemies. But, as many Frenchmen disliked everything about this alliance, she was unpopular and exposed to much malevolent criticism from the moment she set foot in France. She was beautiful, gracious, and vivacious. She possessed in large measure some of the very qualities the King so conspicuously lacked. She had a strong will, power of rapid decision, a spirit of initiative, daring. But she was lacking in wisdom, in breadth of judgment; she did not understand the temperament of the French people nor the spirit of the times. Born to the purple, her outlook upon life did not transcend that of the small and highly privileged class to which she belonged.
She had grown up in Vienna, one of the gayest capitals of Europe. Her education was woefully defective. When she came to France to become the wife of Louis XVI, she hardly knew how to write. She had had tutors in everything, but they had availed her little. She was wilful and proud, unthinking and extravagant, intolerant of disagreeable facts, frivolous, impatient of all restraint, fond of pleasure and of those who ministered unto it. She committed many indiscretions both in her conduct and in the kind of people she chose to have about her. Because of these she was grossly calumniated and misjudged.
Marie Antoinette was the center of a group of rapacious people who benefited by existing abuses, who were opposed to all reform. Quite unconsciously she helped to aggravate the financial situation and thus to hasten catastrophe.
At the beginning of his reign Louis intrusted the management of finances to a man of rare ability and courage, Turgot. Turgot had been intendant of one of the poorest provinces of France. By applying there the principles of the most advanced economists, which may be summed up as demanding the utmost liberty for industry and trade, the abolition of all artificial restrictions and all minute and vexatious governmental regulations, he had made his province prosperous. He now had to face the problem of the large annual deficit. The continuance of annual deficits could mean nothing else than ultimate bankruptcy. Turgot announced his program to the King in the words, “ No bankruptcy, no increase of taxation, no more borrowing.” He hoped to extricate the national finances by two processes, by effecting economies in expenditures, and by developing public wealth so that the receipts would be larger. The latter object would be achieved by introducing the regime of liberty into agriculture, industry, and commerce. Turgot was easily able to save many millions by suppressing useless expenditures, but in so doing he offended all who enjoyed those sine- cures, and they flew to arms. The trade in food-stuffs was hopelessly and dangerously hampered by all sorts of artificial and pernicious legislation and interference by the state. All this he swept aside, introducing free trade in grain. A powerful class of speculators was thus offended. He abolished the trade guilds, which restricted production by limiting the number of workers in each line, and by guarding jealously the narrow, inelastic monopolies they had established. Their abolition was desirable, but all the masters of the guilds and corporations became his bitter enemies. Turgot abolished an odious tax, the royal corvee, which required the peasants to work without pay on the public roads. Instead, he provided that all such work should be paid for and that a tax to that end should be levied upon all landowners, whether belonging to the privileged or the unprivileged classes. The former were resolved that this should not be, this odious equality of all before the tax-collector. Thus all those who battened and fattened off the old system combined in merciless opposition to Turgot and, reinforced by the parlements particularly, and by Marie Antoinette, they brought great pressure upon the King to dismiss the obnoxious minister. Louis yielded to the vehement importunities of the Queen and dismissed the ablest supporter the throne had. In this both monarchs were grievously at fault, the King for his lack of will, the Queen for her wilfulness. “ M. Turgot and I are the only persons who love the people,” said Louis XVI, but he did not prove his love by his acts. A few days earlier Turgot had written him, “ Never forget, your Majesty, that it was weakness which brought Charles I to the block.”
This incident threw a flood of light upon the nature of the Old Regime. All reformers were given warning by the fall of Turgot. No changes that should affect the privileged classes! As the national finances could be made sound only by reforms which should affect those classes, there was no way out. Reform was blocked. Necker, a Genevan banker, succeeded Turgot. He was a man who had risen by his own efforts from poverty to great wealth. He, too, encountered op- position the instant he proposed economies. He took a step which infuriated the members of the court. He published a financial report, showing the income and the expenditures of the state. This had never been done before, secrecy having hitherto prevailed in such matters. The court was indignant that such high mysteries should be revealed to the masses, particularly as the report showed just how much went annually in pensions to the courtiers, as free gifts for which they rendered no services whatever. For such unconscionable audacity Necker was over- thrown, the King weakly yielding once more to pressure.
This time the court took no chances, but secured a minister quite according to the heart’s desire, in Calonne. No minister of finance could be more agreeable. Calonne’s purpose was to please, and please he did, for a while. The wand of Prospero was not more felicitous in its enchantments. The members of the court had only to make their wishes known to have them gratified.
Calonne, a man of charm, of wit, of graceful address, had also a philosophy of the gentle art of spending which was highly appreciated by those about him. “A man who wishes to borrow must appear to be rich, and to appear rich he must dazzle by spending freely.” Money flowed like water during these halcyon times. In three years, in a time of profound peace, Calonne borrowed nearly $300,000,000.
It seemed too good to be true, and it was, by far. The evil days drew nigh for an accounting. It was found in August, 1786, that the treasury was empty and that there were no more fools willing to loan to the state. It was a rude awakening from a blissful dream. But Calonne now showed, what he had not shown before, some sense. He proposed a general tax which should fall upon the nobles as well as upon commoners. It was therefore his turn to meet the same op- position from the privileged classes which Turgot and Necker had met. He, too, was balked, and resigned.
His successor, Lomenie de Brienne, encountered a similar fate. As there was nothing to do but to propose new taxes, he proposed them. The Parlement of Paris immediately protested and demanded the convocation of the States-General, asserting the far-reaching principle that taxes can only be imposed by those who are to pay them. The King attempted to overawe the parlement, which, in turn, defied the King.
All this, however, was no way to fill an empty treasury. Finally the government yielded and summoned the States-General to meet in Versailles on May 1, 1789. A new chapter, of incalculable possibilities, was opened in the history of France. Necker was recalled to head the ministry, and preparations for the coming meeting were made.
The States-General, or assembly representing the three estates of the realm, the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners, was an old institution in France, but one that had never developed as had the parliament of England. The last meeting, indeed, had been held 175 years before. The institution might have been considered dead. Now, in a great national crisis, it was revived, in the hope that it might pull the state out of the deplorable situation into which the Bourbon monarchy had plunged it. But the States-General was a thoroughly feudal institution and France was tired of feudalism. Its organization no longer conformed to the wishes or needs of the nation. Previously each one of the three estates had had an equal number of delegates, and the delegates of each estate had met separately. It was a three-chambered body, with two of the chambers consisting entirely of the privileged classes. There was objection to this now, since, with two against one, it left the nation exactly where it had been, in the power of the privileged classes. They could veto anything that the third estate alone wanted; they could impose anything they chose upon the third estate, by their vote of two to one. In other words, if organized as hitherto, they could prevent all reform which in any way affected themselves, and yet such reform was an absolute necessity. Consulted on this problem the Parlement of Paris pronounced in favor of the customary organization; in other words, itself a privileged body, it stood for privilege. The parlement immediately became as unpopular as it had previously been popular, when opposing the monarch.
Necker, now showing one of his chief characteristics which was to make him impossible as a leader in the new era, half settled the question and left it half unsettled. He, like the King, lacked the power of decision. He was a banker, not a statesman. It was announced that the third estate should have as many members as the two other orders combined. Whether the three bodies should still meet and vote separately was not decided, but was left undetermined. But of what avail would be the double membership of the third estate — representing more than nine-tenths of the population — unless all three met together, unless the vote was by individuals, not by chambers; by head, as the phrase ran, and not by order? In dodging this question Necker was merely showing his own incapacity for strong leadership and was laying up abundant trouble for the immediate future.
The States-General met on May 5, 1789. There were about 1,200 members, of whom over 600 were members of the third estate. In reality, however, that class of the population had a much larger representation, as, of the 300 representatives elected by the clergy, over 200 were parish priests or monks, all commoners by origin and, to a considerable extent, in sympathy. Each of the three orders had elected its own members. At the same time the voters, and the vote was nearly universal, were asked to draw up a formal statement of their grievances and of the reforms they favored. Fifty or sixty thousand of these cahiers have come down to us and present a vivid and instructive criticism of the Old Regime, and a statement of the wishes of each order. On certain points there was practical unanimity on the part of clergy, nobles, and commoners. All ascribed the ills from which the country suffered to arbitrary, uncontrolled government, all talked of the necessity of confining the government within just limits by establishing a constitution which should define the rights of the king and of the people, and which should henceforth be binding upon all. Such a constitution must guarantee individual liberty, the right to think and speak and write, — henceforth no lettres de cachet nor censorship. In the future the States-General should meet regularly at stated times, and should share the lawmaking power and alone should vote the taxes, and taxes should henceforth be paid by all. The clergy and nobility almost unanimously agreed in their cahiers to relinquish their exemptions, for which they had fought so resolutely only two years before. On the other hand, the third estate was willing to see the continuance of the nobility with its rights and honors. The third estate demanded the suppression of feudal dues. There was in their cahiers no hint of a desire for a violent revolution. They all expressed a deep affection for the King, gratitude for his summoning of the States-General, faith that the worst was over, that now, in a union of all hearts, a way would easily be discovered out of the unhappy plight in which the nation found itself.
An immense wave of hopefulness swept over the land. This optimism was based on the fact that the King, when consenting to call the States-General, had at the same time announced his acceptance of several important reforms, such as the periodical meeting of the States-General, its control of the national finances, and guarantees for the freedom of the individual. But the King’s chief characteristic, as we have seen, was his feebleness of will, his vacillation. And from the day the deputies arrived in Versailles to the day of his violent overthrow this was a fatal factor in the history of the times. In his speech opening the States-General on May 5 the King said not a word about the thought that was in every one’s mind, the making of a constitution. He merely announced that it had been called together to bring order into the distracted finances of the country. Necker’s speech was no more promising. The government, moreover, said nothing about whether the estates should vote by order or by head. The crux of the whole matter lay there, for on the manner of organization and procedure depended entirely the outcome. The government did not come forward with any program, even in details. It shirked its responsibility and lost its opportunity.
A needless but very serious crisis was the result. The public was disappointed and apprehensive. Evidently the recent liberalism of the King had evaporated or he was under a pressure which he had not strength to withstand. A conflict between the orders began on May 6 which lasted until the end of June and which ended in embittering relations which at the outset had seemed likely to be cordial. Should the voting be by order or by member, should the assembly consist of three chambers or of one? The difficulty arose in the need of verifying the credentials of the members. The nobles proceeded to verify as a separate chamber, by a vote of 188 to 47; the clergy did the same, but by a smaller majority, 133 to 114. But the third estate refused to verify until it should be decided that the three orders were to meet together in one indivisible assembly. This was a matter of life or death with it, or at least of power or impotence. Both sides stood firm, the government allowed things to drift, angry passions began to develop. Until organized the States-General could do no business, and no organization could be effected until this crucial question was settled. Week after week went by and the dangerous deadlock continued. Verification in common would mean the abandonment of the class system, voting by member and not by order, and the consequent preponderance of the third estate, which considered that it had the right to preponderate as representing over nine-tenths of the population. Fruitless attempts to win the two upper orders by inviting them to join the third estate were repeatedly made. Finally the third estate announced that on June 1 1 it would begin verification and the other orders were invited for the last time. Then the parish priests began to come over, sympathizing with the commoners rather than with the privileged class of their own order. Finally on June 17 the third estate took the momentous step of declaring itself the National As- sembly, a distinctly revolutionary proceeding.
The King now, under pressure from the court, made a decision, highly unwise in itself and foolishly executed. When, on June 20, the members of the third estate went to their usual meeting-place they found the entrance blocked by soldiers. They were told that there was to be a special royal session later and that the hall was closed in order that necessary arrangements might be made for it, a pretext as miserable as it was vain. What did this action mean? No one knew, but every one was apprehensive that it meant that the Assembly itself, in which such earnest hopes had centered, was to be brought to an untimely end and the country plunged into greater misery than ever by the failure of the great experiment. For a moment the members were dismayed and utterly distracted. Then, as by a common impulse, they rushed to a neighboring building in a side street, which served as a tennis court. There a memorable session occurred, in the large, unfinished hall. Lifting their president, the distinguished astronomer, Bailly, to a table, the members surged about him, ready, it seemed, for extreme measures. There they took the famous Tennis Court Oath. All the deputies present, with one single exception, voted “ never to sep- arate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances shall require, until the constitution of the kingdom shall be established.”
On the 23rd occurred the royal session on which the privileged classes counted. The King pronounced the recent acts of the third estate illegal and unconstitutional, and declared that the three orders should meet separately and verify their credentials. He rose and left the hall, while outside the bugles sounded around his coach. The nobility, triumphant, withdrew from the hall; the clergy also. But in the center of the great chamber the third estate remained, in gloomy silence. This was one of the solemn,critical moments of history. Suddenly the master of ceremonies advanced, resplendent in his official costume. “ You have heard the King’s orders,” he said. “ His Majesty requests the deputies of the third estate to withdraw.” Behind the grand master, at the door, soldiers were seen. Were they there to clear the hall? The King had given his orders. To leave the hall meant abandonment of all that the third estate stood for; to remain meant disobedience to the express commands of the King and probably severe punishment.
The occasion brought forth its man. Mirabeau, a noble whom his fellow nobles had refused to elect to the States-General and who had then been chosen by the third estate, now arose and advanced impetuously and imperiously toward the master of ceremonies, de Breze, and with thunderous voice exclaimed, “Go tell your master that we are here by the will of the people and that we shall not leave except at the point of the bayonet.” Then on motion of Mirabeau it was voted that all persons who should lay violent hands on any members of the National Assembly would be “ infamous and traitors to the nation and guilty of capital crime.” De Breze reported the defiant eloquence to the King. All eyes were fixed upon the latter. Not knowing what to do he made a motion indicating weariness, then said: “ They wish to remain, do they? Well, let them.”
Two days later a majority of the clergy and a minority of the nobility came over to the Assembly. On June 27 the King commanded the nobility and clergy to sit with the third estate in a single assembly. Thus the question was finally settled, which should have been settled before the first meeting in May. The National Assembly was now complete. It immediately appointed a committee on the constitution. The National Assembly, accomplished by this fusion of the three estates, adopted the title Constituent Assembly because of the character of the work it had to do.
No sooner was this crisis over than another began to develop. A second attempt was made by the King, again inspired by the court, to suppress the Assembly or effectively to intimidate it, to regain the ground that had been lost. Considerable bodies of soldiers began to appear near Versailles and Paris. They were chiefly the foreign mercenaries, or the troops from frontier stations, supposedly less responsive to the popular emotions. On July 11 Necker and his colleagues, favorable to reform, were suddenly dismissed and Necker was ordered to leave the country immediately. What could all this mean but that reaction and repression were coming and that things were to be put back where they had been? The Assembly was in great danger, yet it possessed no physical force. What could it do if troops were sent against it?
The violent intervention of the city of Paris saved the day and gave the protection which the nation’s representatives lacked, assuring their continuance. The storming of the Bastille was an incident which seized instantly the imagination of the world, and which was disfigured and transfigured by a mass of legends that sprang up on the very morrow of the event. The Bastille was a fortress commanding the eastern section of Paris. It was used as a state prison and had had many distinguished occupants, among others Voltaire and Mirabeau, thrown into it by lettres de cachet. It was an odious symbol of arbitrary government and it was also a strong fortress which these newly arriving troops might use. There was a large discontented and miserable class in Paris; also a lively band of radical or liberal men who were in favor of reform and were alarmed and indignant at every rumor that the Assembly on which such hopes were pinned was in danger. Paris was on the side of the Assembly, and when the news of the dismissal of Necker arrived it took fire. Rumors of the most alarming character spread rapidly. Popular meetings were addressed by impromptu and impassioned orators. The people began to pillage the shops where arms were to be found. Finally they attacked the Bastille and after a confused and bloody battle of several hours the fortress was in their hands. They had lost about 200 men, killed or wounded. The crowd savagely murdered the commander of the fortress and several of the Swiss Guard. Though characterized by these and other acts of barbarism, nevertheless the seizure of the Bastille was everywhere regarded in France and abroad as the triumph of liberty. Enthusiasm was widespread. The Fourteenth of July was declared the national holiday and a new flag, the tricolor, the red, white, and blue, was adopted in place of the old white banner of the Bourbons, studded with the fleur-de-lis. At the same time, quite spontaneously, Paris gave itself a new form of municipal government, superseding the old royal form, and organized a new military force, the National Guard, which was destined to become famous. Three days later Louis XVI came to the capital and formally ratified these changes.
Meanwhile similar changes were made all over France. Municipal governments on an elective basis and national guards were created everywhere in imitation of Paris. The movement extended to rural France. There the peasants, impatient that the Assembly had let two months go by without suppressing the feudal dues, took things into their own hands. They turned upon their oppressors and made a violent “ war upon the chateaux,” destroying the records of feudal dues if they could find them or if the owners gave them up; if not, frequently burning the chateaux themselves in order to burn the odious documents. Day after day in the closing week of July, 1789, the destructive and incendiary process went on amid inevitable excesses and disorders. In this method feudalism was abolished — not legally but practically. It remained to be seen what the effect of this victory of the people would be upon the National Assembly.
Its effect was immediate and sensational. On the 4th of August a committee on the state of the nation made a report, describing the incidents which were occurring throughout the length and breadth of the land, chateaux burning, unpopular tax-collectors assaulted, millers hanged, lawlessness triumphant. It was night before the stupefying report was finished. Suddenly at eight o’clock in the evening, as the session was about to close, a nobleman, the Viscount of Noailles, rushed to the platform. The only reason, he said, why the people had devastated the chateaux was the heavy burden of the seignorial dues, odious reminders of feudalism. These must be swept away. He so moved and instantly another noble, the Duke d’Aiguillon, next to the King the greatest feudal lord in France, seconded the motion. A frenzy of generosity seized the Assembly. Noble vied with noble in the enthusiasm of renunciation. The Bishop of Nancy renounced the privileges of his order. Parish priests renounced their fees. Judges discarded their distinctions. Rights of chase, rights of tithes went by the board. Representatives of the cities and provinces gave up their privileges, Brittany, Burgundy, Lorraine, Languedoc. A veritable delirium of joy swept in wave after wave over the Assembly. All night long the excitement continued amid tears, embraces, rapturous applause, a very ecstasy of patriotic abandonment, and by eight in the morning thirty decrees, more or less, had been passed and the most extraordinary social revolution that any nation has known had been voted. The feudal dues were dead. Tithes were abandoned; the guilds, with their narrow restrictions, were swept away; no longer were offices to be purchasable, but henceforth all Frenchmen were to be equally eligible to all public positions; justice was to be free; provinces and individuals were all to be on the same plane. Distinctions of class were abolished. The principle of equality was henceforth to be the basis of the state.
Years later participants in this memorable session, in which a social revolution was accomplished, or at least promised, spoke of it with excitement and enthusiasm. The astonishing session was closed with a Te Deum in the chapel of the royal palace, at the suggestion of the Arch- bishop of Paris, and Louis XVI, who had had no more to do with all this than you or I, was officially proclaimed by the Assembly the “ Restorer of French Liberty.”
Thus was the dead weight of an oppressive, unjust past lifted from the nation’s shoulders. Grievances, centuries old, vanished into the night. That it needed time to work out all these tumultuous and rapturous resolutions into clear and just laws was a fact ignored by the people, who regarded them as real legislation, not as a program merely sketched, to be filled in slowly in detail. Hence when men awoke to the fact that not everything was what it seemed, that before the actual application of all these changes many adjustments must or should be made, there was some friction, some disappointment, some impatience. The clouds speedily gathered again. Because a number of nobles and bishops had in an outburst of generosity relinquished all their privileges, it was not at all certain that their action would be ratified by even the majority of their orders and it was indeed likely that the contrary would prove true. The contagion might not extend beyond the walls of the Assembly hall. And many even of those who had shared the fine enthusiasm of that stirring session might feel differently on the morrow. This proved to be the case, and soon two parties appeared, sharply differentiated, the upholders of the revolution thus far accomplished and those who wished to undo it and to recover their lost advantages. The latter were called counter-revolutionaries. From this time on they were a factor, frequently highly significant, in the history of modern France. Although after the Fourteenth of July the more stiff-necked and angry of the courtiers, led by the Count of Artois, brother of the King, had left the country and had begun that “emigration” which was to do much to embroil France with Europe, yet many courtiers still remained and, with the powerful aid of Marie Antoinette, played upon the feeble monarch. The Queen, victim of slanders and insults, was temperamentally and intellectually incapable of understanding or sympathizing with the reform movement. She stiffened under the attacks, her pride was fired, and she did what she could to turn back the tide, with results highly disastrous to herself and to the monarchy. Another feature of the situation was the subterranean intriguing, none the less real because difficult accurately to describe, of certain individuals who thought they had much to gain by troubling the waters, such as the Duke of Orleans, cousin of the King, immensely wealthy and equally unscrupulous, who nourished the scurvy ambition of overthrowing Louis XVI and of putting the House of Orleans in place of the House of Bourbon. All through the Revolution we find such elements of personal ambition or malevolence, anxious to profit by fomenting the general unrest. At every stage in this strange, eventful history we observe the mixture of the mean with the generous, the insincere with the candid, the hypocritical and the oblique with the honest and the patriotic. It was a web woven of mingled yarn.
Such were some of the possible seeds of future trouble. In addition, increasing the general sense of anxiety and insecurity, was the fact that two months went by and yet the King did not ratify or accept the decrees of August 4, which, without his acceptance, lacked legal force. Certain articles of the constitution had been already drafted, and these, too, had not yet received the royal sanction. Was the King plotting something, or were the plotters about him getting control of him once more? The people lived in an atmosphere of suspicion; also thousands and thousands of them were on the point of starvation, and the terror of famine reinforced the terror of suspicion.
Out of this wretched condition of discontent and alarm was born another of the famous incidents of the Revolution. Early in October rumors reached Paris that at a banquet offered at Versailles to some of the crack regiments that had been summoned there the tricolor had been stamped upon, that threats had been made against the Assembly, and that the Queen, by her presence, had sanctioned these outrages.
On October 5 several thousand women of the people, set in motion in some obscure way, started to march to Versailles, drawing cannon with them. It was said they were going to demand the reduction of the price of bread and at the same time to see that those who had insulted the national flag should be punished. They were followed by thousands of men, out of work, and by many doubtful characters. Lafayette, hastily gathering some of the guards, started after them. That evening the motley and sinister crowd reached Versailles and bivouacked in the streets and in the vast court of the royal palace. All night long obscure preparations as for a battle went on. On the morning of the 6th the crowd forced the gates, killed several of the guards, and invaded the palace, even reaching the entrance to the Queen’s apartments. The Queen fled to the apartments of the King for safety. The King finally appeared on a balcony, surrounded by members of his family, addressed the crowd, and promised them food. The outcome of this extraordinary and humiliating day was that the King was persuaded to leave the proud palace of Versailles and go to Paris to live, in the midst of his so-called subjects. At two o’clock the grim procession began. The entire royal family, eight persons, packed into a single carriage, started for Paris, drawn at a walk, surrounded by the women, and by bandits who carried on pikes the heads of the guards who had been killed at the entrance to the palace. “We are bringing back the baker, and the baker’s wife, and the baker’s son!” shouted the women. At eleven o’clock that night Louis XVI was in the Tuileries.
Ten days later the Assembly followed. The King and the Assembly were now under the daily supervision of the people of Paris. In reality they were prisoners. Versailles was definitely abandoned. From this moment dates the great influence of the capital. A single city was henceforth always in position to dominate the Assembly.
The people could easily bring their pressure to bear, for they were admitted to the thousand or more seats in the gallery of the Assembly’s hall of meeting and they considered that they had the freedom of the place, hissing unpopular speakers, vociferating their wishes. Those who could not get in congregated outside, arguing violently the measures that were being discussed within. Now and then some one would announce to them from the windows how matters were proceeding in the hall. Shouts of approval or disapproval thus reached the members from the vehement audience outside.