Modern history

8

The Republican Revolution October 1791–January 1793

THE character of the Legislative Assembly which met for the first time on 1 October 1791 was very different from that of the Constituent which had decreed its existence. Gone were the clerics and nobles who had made up half the deputies elected in 1789; only a handful of either stood for election in 1791 or were returned. All the 745 new deputies were comfortably off, having been elected while the silver-mark requirement was still in force; but very few had owed their enrichment to trade or industry. Mostly they were men of property, and above all lawyers. To the departing constituents who had deliberately debarred themselves from election to the new body, they seemed obscure, inexperienced, and (given the relative youth of most of them) callow. In fact they were none of these things. Few, certainly, were nationally known, although the journalist Brissot and the mathematician and publicist Condorcet were men of reputation. But most of the new deputies owed their election to prominence in their home localities, a prominence won in the new circumstances of revolutionary politics since 1789. In the National Guard, in the Jacobin clubs, and above all in the innumerable elective offices in the judiciary or the administration which the new constitution had spawned, they had acquired a range of practical experience in making the Revolution’s reforms work that was denied even to those who had devised and decreed them, They had also learned who the Revolution’s domestic enemies were. Ever since the beginning of the year Jacobins, National Guards, and elected local officials had been grappling with the problem of refractory priests. Over the summer a quarter of the departments had called for new legislation to authorize closer supervision of refractories who had been deprived of their benefices. In areas of widespread refusal of the oath, such as Brittany and the southern Massif Central, they often introduced their own policy of exiling or imprisoning notorious refractories. Measures of this sort were intensified after Varennes, and the elections took place against their background. So it was scarcely surprising that the deputies who convened on 1 October regarded the nonjurors as the most urgent priority confronting them. The issue was first raised on 7 October by Couthon, a crippled deputy from the Auvergne; and two days later the Assembly heard reports of massive resistance to the new ecclesiastical order in the department of the Vendée, where more than nine-tenths of parish priests had rejected the oath.

The other problem obsessing the new national representatives was that of the émigrés. The Declaration of Pillnitz was still fresh in their minds when they assembled, and few émigrés had taken advantage of the general amnesty declared to mark the promulgation of the constitution by returning. Quite the reverse; the outflow seemed to be increasing. ‘There seem to be fewer carriages and fewer fine people about this year than there were last’, noted an English visitor… Since the passage has been left open the emigrations have been amazing.’1 On 15 October the king issued a formal appeal to those who had gone to return and help make the constitution work; and for once there was no reason to doubt his sincerity. The queen hated and distrusted her scheming brothers-in-law; and the drillings and marchings of professed counter-revolutionaries just across the frontier, people who claimed to understand the king’s true interests better than he did himself, helped to perpetuate suspicions which he was trying hard to shake off. By ordering a general illumination of the Tuileries and paying for fireworks to mark the start of constitutional life he had begun to recover popularity, and after some initial misunderstandings he was getting on well with the Assembly. His stand on the émigrés maintained this momentum. It also pleased the Feuillant leaders who had remained in Paris after the end of the Constituent, flattered by the royal family’s apparent willingness to take their advice and promote reconciliation. Excluded from the Assembly, as former constituents they were also barred from ministerial office for two years; but Barnave and Duport in particular hoped to influence policy privately, and the king and queen encouraged their hopes. Also encouraging was the fact that 345 of the new deputies joined the Feuillant Club, as opposed to only 135 gravitating towards the Jacobins.

But the Feuillants met in private, excluding spectators. There were no oratorical reputations to be made there. Even the founders of the club stayed away, anxious not to be seen too openly politicking. So men of ambition naturally preferred the public sessions of the Jacobins, where they could win applause and acquire demagogic experience and skills valuable in the Legislative Assembly itself. At the Jacobins, too, they could rub shoulders with politicians of established reputation, untainted by the shabby compromises of the summer—men like Robespierre, Pétion, and Brissot. All three had now reaped the rewards of their popularity. Robespierre had been elected public accuser of the Paris criminal court; Brissot had at last been elected to something; and Pétion on 13 November was chosen to succeed Bailly (who had resigned) as mayor of Paris, with almost twice the votes of his only serious rival, Lafayette. The Feuillants could offer no such stars and by early December their membership was melting away. Desperate to revive their support, at last they opened their sittings to the public, only to find their deliberations drowned by heckling from the galleries. The uproar was such that radicals in the Assembly next door were able to complain that the work of the nation’s legislators was being interrupted. The club was expelled from the precincts, and not until weeks later was a new, and more distant, meeting place found. By then it was clear that nothing of importance was decided at the Feuillants; whereas at the Jacobins national figures were debating nightly on issues crucial to the whole future of the Revolution.

The pace was made by Brissot, whose first speech in the Assembly on 20 October dealt with the émigrés. He proposed confiscating the property of their leaders, including the king’s brothers; but if that did not work, then France should strike at those who harboured them. The final solution to the émigré problem might have to be war. Though many deputies found such suggestions premature, they were nevertheless determined to confront the émigrés. On 9 November they passed a sweeping decree which followed Brissot’s suggestion and sequestered the revenues of the princes and all other public officials who were abroad without good cause. All French citizens gathered abroad were declared suspected of plotting against their country; and those who had not returned by 1 January 1792 were to be deemed guilty of a capital crime. The king was requested to sanction this decree at once. But on 11 November he refused.

So ended the honeymoon between Louis XVI and the Legislative. The deputies had to recognize that under the constitution the king had a perfect right to his veto. Arguably, even, his motives were respectable, and in a proclamation distributed throughout Paris he set them out. Feuillants had drafted it, and it extolled the virtues of persuasion and gentleness, appealing to the patriotism of the émigrés to persuade them to return. The king’s very freedom to veto the law showed that he was not the helpless captive they alleged. But to Brissot and his friends royal actions spoke louder than words. Ever since Varennes it had been rumoured that policy was being directed by a secret ‘Austrian committee’ co-ordinated by the queen, in league with both the émigrés and foreign powers to subvert the new order in France by force. Here was concrete evidence of its work! There certainly was plenty of secret correspondence between the queen and her brother in Vienna—but confrontation rather than conciliation was her objective, and shielding the émigrésfrom vindictive laws had no part to play. Yet why else, deputies asked themselves, should the king wish to protect the Revolution’s sworn enemies? Their suspicions were only deepened by the stand he took when they turned to the question of the non-juring priests.

The debate began on 21 October as news came in of massacres in Avignon. When opponents of French annexation lynched an official of the new municipality, annexationists retorted on 16 October by murdering papal supporters incarcerated in the old palace of the popes. Sixty prisoners were reported killed. And stories of nonjuror defiance in the provinces poured in throughout the discussions. ‘I maintain’, declared the Provençal deputy Isnard on 14 November, ‘that as regards refractory priests, there is only one certain course, which is to exile them from the kingdom ... Do you not see that the priest must be cut off from the people he leads astray?2 Eventually, on 29 November, it was decreed that all nonjurors should take a new civic oath, and those who refused should lose the pensions they had been granted on refusing the previous year’s oath. Henceforth such double refractories were to be regarded as suspects, and subjected to careful official surveillance. Those resident in places marked by religious disturbances could be exiled; and they were now denied the use of redundant churches for their services. Louis XVI took longer to respond to this decree, and on 5 December, from the unexpected quarter of the directory of the department of Paris, he was urged to veto it. On 19 December he did so.

The moment was well chosen, for temporarily the king seemed to have regained the initiative. Disconcerted by his refusal to act against the émigrés, the Assembly decided that at least he could act against their protectors, and on 29 November a deputation urged him to demand that the electors of Trier and Mainz instantly expel the princes’ armies from their territory. ‘Say to them … that if German princes continue to favour preparations directed against the French, we shall carry to them, not fire and the sword, but freedom. It is for them to estimate what might follow from the awakening of nations.’3 In fact such a course appealed to the king. A war against German princelings might drag in the Emperor, whose seasoned troops were bound to brush aside the shambles which the French army had become. Rescue and reversal of the Revolution would follow. Military men also saw advantages in war: Lafayette, now searching for a new role, thought it would reinvigorate the army, which could then be deployed to restore domestic stability. His opinion was shared by general Narbonne, reputedly a bastard son of Louis XV, who was appointed minister of war early in December. And so there was widespread political support when, on 14 December, the king came to the Assembly and announced that he had issued an ultimatum to the elector of Trier. If, by 15 January, the prince-archbishop had not put a stop to all hostile émigré activity within his territories, France would declare war. The Assembly exploded with enthusiasm, and applauded the monarch for minutes on end. All sides were relieved that the time of decision seemed at hand, and only the waning Feuillants were consumed with foreboding.

In these circumstances the king’s continuing prevarication over the nonjurors could be overlooked. Once war began, that issue would no doubt resolve itself, for then refractories could be regarded as traitors. Meanwhile Brissot and his most vocal supporters, who included a particularly eloquent group of deputies from Bordeaux (notably Vergniaud, Gensonné, and Guadet) looked forward to a military promenade that would regenerate the nation, restore its honour, discomfit plotters, and show Europe how formidable a free people could be. The king himself would be forced to take sides and reveal his true position, as Brissot declared at the Jacobins on 16 December. Meanwhile Narbonne set about mobilizing three armies, totalling 150,000 men, on the eastern frontier; while Clootz, now calling himself the ‘Orator of the Human race’ and parading ostentatiously around Paris in a scarlet Phrygian cap of liberty, whipped up war fever among the foreign exile communities by proclaiming that the liberation of all Europe was at hand. But that moment proved to be further off than everybody thought. As soon as he received the French ultimatum, the elector of Trier ordered the émigrés to disband and quit his territory. The elector of Mainz did the same. The reason for war was thereby removed, and as 1792 dawned it began to look as if France might have to solve her self-imposed problems by herself after all.

Too many people in French public life, however, had now committed themselves to war as a panacea. Early in December a fierce debate had begun at the Jacobin Club during which Robespierre pointed out all the dangers and uncertainties that war would bring. He feared a dictatorship of generals, particularly the unscrupulous and eternally ambitious Lafayette, if the French forces were successful. And if, as seemed only too likely given the state of the army, they were not, then the Court would call in foreign forces to overthrow the whole Revolution. In any case, the truly dangerous counter-revolutionaries were not the ridiculous, posturing émigrés: they were at home, within France, and should be dealt with there. But Robespierre found himself increasingly isolated. Night after night Brissot countered that war was a necessity in the consolidation of the Revolution; it would even serve to restore the flagging value of the assignats! A liberated people had nothing to fear from the despots and aristocrats of feudal Europe. They would be overwhelmed, and their groaning subjects incited to emulate the French example and claim their own liberty. In the Assembly itself, of course, there was no Robespierre to contradict Brissot’s optimism and plenty of other voices carried away with the same faith in the regenerative power of war. Moreover, although the Rhenish princes had hurried to comply with Louis XVI’s ultimatum, by the time they did so their suzerain in Vienna had decided to intervene on their behalf. Convinced that the Declaration of Pillnitz had resolved the crisis of the previous summer, diplomats in Vienna advised the Emperor Leopold that threats would defuse this one, too. On 21 December, accordingly, he announced that Austrian troops would march if the French followed up their threats against the Rhenish electors. He did not doubt, he added, that other monarchs would join him. When this news arrived in Paris on the last day of 1791, it seemed to confirm all that Brissot and his allies had been claiming about a league of despots determined to crush the Revolution. Advocates of war now forgot the craven electors of the Rhine. France should strike directly at her true enemies, and declare war on the Emperor. In vain Robespierre, from one end of the political spectrum, and the Feuillant leaders from the other, warned that this course was more dangerous than ever. In despair at the queen’s obvious indifference to his pacific urgings, in January Barnave went home to Dauphiné. The Assembly, meanwhile, produced scenes of patriotic enthusiasm unparalleled since 1789, with deputies and onlookers swearing to live free or die, in conscious re-enactment of the Tennis Court Oath. The émigré princes were now charged in their absence with high treason; and on 25 January the Assembly declared that the Emperor by his plottings with other monarchs had broken the alliance of 1756. The king was told to demand that his brother-in-law renounce all treaties hostile to France and make public declaration of his peaceful intentions. If by 1 March he had offered no satisfaction, war would ensue. In fact, the king replied, he had already done this, since it was his constitutional prerogative, and not the Assembly’s, to conduct foreign policy. He was now awaiting the Austrian reply.

The royal note to Vienna was actually a good deal less peremptory than the Assembly would have liked. When it arrived it only confirmed the Austrians’ belief that their threats were working. Reassured by the signature of a formal defensive pact with Prussia on 7 February, they replied defiantly; when this exchange of notes was communicated to the deputies in Paris on 1 March there was uproar. Calls were now heard for the dismissal of Delessart, the foreign minister, and they rapidly developed into a general attack on the whole ministry, abetted from within by Narbonne. A royal attempt to resist the pressure by dismissing Narbonne backfired when the Assembly voted to impeach Delessart amid denunciations of treachery and intrigue at the palace. There was even talk of impeaching the queen and suspending the king. At this moment came the quite unexpected news that on 1 March the Emperor had died. Nobody could guess what policies his successor, an untried 24-year-old, might pursue; and in these circumstances the French Court thought it wisest to bow to the Assembly’s clamour. On 10 March the king dismissed the entire ministry. They were replaced by a team of outright warmongers, practically Brissot’s nominees. They included Clavière, the exiled Swiss financier, once Mirabeau’s familiar; Roland, an ageing, unemployed factory inspector, dragged late into revolutionary politics by a vivacious, ambitious wife, and now made interior minister; and above all, to replace Delessart at foreign affairs, Dumouriez, a professional soldier who had hated the Austrians ever since the Seven Years War. Nothing now stood in the way of a formal declaration of war, and Dumouriez appeared at the Jacobins in a red liberty cap to keep patriotic enthusiasm on the boil. Robespierre and Pétion condemned such showy behaviour, but the fashion spread as a way of demonstrating the defiance of freed slaves in the face of threatening despots. These posturings did not prevent Dumouriez from trying to negotiate neutrality at the last minute with the Prussians, which postponed the final step yet again; but by mid-April the Austrians were mobilizing and time was running out. On the twentieth Louis XVI appeared at a delirious Assembly, with all his ministers, to announce that France was now at war with the king of Hungary and Bohemia—for Francis II had not yet been elected Emperor. Only seven deputies voted against the declaration.

It would be, it said, a defensive war of a free people against an aggressive king. There would be no conquests, and French force would never be used against the liberty of any people. Only those guilty of forming a concert against France would suffer; and the French would neglect nothing to soften the impact of the war on the lives and properties of those with whom they had no quarrel. Every one of these pledges would be broken in the course of a war that was destined to end only with the Revolution itself, and engulf much of western Europe.

The aims of the conflict now launched were manifold: to teach the Austrians a lesson and deter foreigners from interfering in France’s internal affairs; to destroy the émigrés, their bases, and their supporters; to flush out internal traitors and counter-revolutionaries by forcing them to declare themselves. The royal family, and the generals, had their own secret, and very different, hopes about what it would achieve. A further argument often heard in the debates of that winter was that war would heal internal divisions by turning the preoccupations of French citizens outwards, and their antagonisms against the enemy rather than each other; it would distract attention from domestic problems. This it had certainly done ever since the issue came to the fore late in October 1791; but by the time war broke out those problems were multiplying.

One was far away, but it had undoubtedly been precipitated by the Revolution, and would have important consequences for it. In the third week of October 1791 reports began to arrive in France of a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue. It was December before the full scale of the outbreak became clear, but by then it was known that it had begun in the sugar estates in the north of the colony on 14 August, and initial losses were estimated at over 1,000 whites massacred, 200 sugar and 1,200 coffee plantations destroyed, and 15,000 slaves missing. It was to develop into the greatest slave rebellion in the history of the world, and the only successful one. Pessimists had been predicting something like it for a generation, as the colony boomed and demand for slaves grew insatiably. In the confrontations over political rights between whites and coloureds that had marked the years between 1789 and 1791, both sides had drafted slaves into their retinues, heedless of the example it gave; and the failure of the Constituent Assembly to produce a coherent or consistent policy on slavery, the slave-trade, the rights of free ‘people of colour’, and colonial autonomy itself compounded the confusion both in Saint-Domingue and in France’s other West Indian islands. By the end of 1791 the rebellion had become part of a complex civil war, so fast-moving that any response decided in Paris was never less than three months out of date by the time news of it came through. These events were embarrassing for Brissot, who had been among the founders of the French anti-slavery movement in the 1780s; and for his eloquent friends from Bordeaux, a city whose prosperity was closely tied to the Caribbean slave economy. But apart from shocking stories of rapine and racial massacre, the first consequence of the rebellion was a severe shortage of sugar, which made itself felt in Paris in January 1792 when prices tripled. Throughout that month, and into February, there were outbursts of popular price-fixing in the eastern districts of the capital as largely female crowds raided warehouses and grocers’ shops and sold sugar and coffee they found there at the old prices.

For once they were not worried about grain, flour, or bread. But this was because the Paris authorities, remembering 1789, had taken steps to build up good stocks early in the autumn—in the process diminishing the reserves of a wide radius around the city. Accordingly the winter saw repeated outbursts of grain rioting in little market towns all over north-eastern France. In February the mayor of Étampes was lynched when he refused to order a reduction in grain prices, and hundreds of National Guards had to be sent to restore order. An attempt to export grain from Dunkirk in the same month provoked three days of disorder in which many of the port’s warehouses were destroyed. What compounded popular worries over the price of foodstuffs was a striking decline in the value of both the French livre and the assignats. The livre fell by 20 per cent on the foreign exchanges between June 1791 and March 1792. The assignats, still trading in Paris at 82 per cent of their face value in November 1791, had fallen to 63 per cent two months later and continued to decline gently throughout the spring. Both trends inevitably pushed up prices, especially of imported goods. Thus even in a port like Marseilles, with easy access to grain supplies from southern Europe and North Africa, prices climbed steadily throughout the spring; and the municipality darkly threatened merchant hoarders with ‘revenge which would not be that of the law’.4

Marseilles, in fact, was now a byword for political turbulence. Stung by the Constituent Assembly’s decision to make Aix the capital of the new department of Bouches du Rhône, the Marseillais sought to establish their regional primacy by intervention in other cities’ affairs. In July 1791, 500 volunteers from Marseilles helped to ensure the triumph of annexationists in Avignon. In September they planned a march by National Guard contingents from all over the department on Arles, now the main regional centre of counter-revolution under the control of a refractory party known as the Chiffon. Only direct orders from Paris stopped them. Nothing, however, prevented them from marching to Aix the following February, disarming its garrison of regulars who were suspected of favouring the Chiffon, and then turning to Arles once again. With politicians in Paris totally absorbed by the impending war, in March a force 6,000 strong was able to lay siege to the city, take it, and expel the Chiffon leaders. Such confrontations could not fail to increase tension generally in a region that had been bitterly polarized already for almost two years; and the drowning of 69 National Guards in the treacherous Rhône at Pont Saint-Esprit on 25 March proved the trigger for a wave of rural violence in the south unparalleled since July 1789. Nobody believed the drownings were accidental; and as rumours of them spread, those who heard them assumed they were part of a counter-revolutionary plot to avenge the dispersal of the second Jalès camp, the Avignon prison massacre, and all the other ‘patriotic’ triumphs in which National Guardsmen had had a hand. All over the Gard peasants now struck out at suspects and their property—which meant above all non-juring priests and nobles. In that single department in April 1792, 101 incidents were recorded of attacks on castles, ransacking their contents, and removing remaining symbols and records of feudalism. Nor was the outburst confined to the Gard. In neighbouring Ardeche, among properties completely destroyed were those of the most notorious (though long emigrated) co-ordinator of counterrevolutionary schemes, Count d’Antraigues. And down to June the movement spread east into Provence, northward into the Massif, and as far west as the Haute Garonne—although with steadily diminishing intensity. What it signified is hard to decide; but the concentration on the relics of feudalism suggests that southern peasants considered the gains of 1789 to be by no means firmly assured, and indeed in real danger of reversal if the reactionaries of Arles and Avignon were to triumph. The Pont Saint-Esprit disaster suggested that plots might yet succeed where confrontation had failed; and with central government either indifferent to or incapable of imposing order on the lacerated Midi, harassed peasants took the law into their own hands to make sure that the destruction of the old social order would be irreparable. Nothing, however, did more to make that certain than the war which had just begun.

During the first few weeks of war the confidence and enthusiasm which had swept the Legislative Assembly into it seems to have been widely shared. The Austrian alliance, always unpopular, had at last been broken and the Revolution was about to confront its enemies openly. The sense of defiance was well conveyed in the bloodthirsty words of the battle hymn composed for the army of the Rhine at Strasbourg on 25-6 April by Rouget de Lisle, a poetical infantry captain. Impure blood, it exulted, would drench the tracks of the conquering French armies. And the blood of enemies found on the home front would be shed in a way that was also new that month: by the guillotine. The first proposal for a machine to make heads ‘fly off in the twinkling of an eye’ had been laughed out of the Constituent Assembly in December 1789. But once the deputies had voted (over the protests of Robespierre) to retain the death penalty, something more reliable and humane than previous barbaric techniques seemed desirable; and in the course of 1791 a mechanical decapitator was devised. It was expeditious, egalitarian, and above all (experts agreed) painless. Though not the invention of Dr Guillotin, the original idea had been his and it took his name. Its first victim was a highwayman, who mounted the scaffold on 25 April.

Only a few days later, the war itself claimed its first victim. He was not, however, a hireling of the king of Hungary and Bohemia, but a French general murdered by his own men. The nearest enemy territory was Belgium, and it was assumed that the population there, resentful of the Austrian reconquest of 1790, would welcome freedom-proclaiming French troops with open arms. So the campaign began on 28 April, with a modest advance across the north-east frontier. But at the first resistance French ranks broke, and in their flight from the field the troops turned on a commander whom they suspected of treason. Nor were they the only unit to turn tail; desertion rates in the cavalry doubled, and even troops who remained reliable were unable to advance with their flanks uncertain. Fortunately the Austrians were not well placed to advance either, preferring to wait until a concerted attack could be launched with Prussia—who did not declare war until 21 May, and did not expect to have forces in a position to attack until the end of June.

Meanwhile the shock of the first defeats produced loud recriminations in Paris. Frantic to find scapegoats for reverses their own rhetoric had done nothing to prepare them for, the Brissotins (as the advocates of war in the Assembly and the ministry were now known) turned to denouncing everybody else. ‘Everywhere’, noted a moderate Jacobin Club member, ‘you hear the cry that the king is betraying us, the generals are betraying us, that nobody is to be trusted; that the Austrian Committee has been caught in the act; that Paris will be taken in six weeks by the Austrians . . . we are on a volcano ready to spout flames.’5 New measures to combat treasonable activity were now proposed, and rapidly passed. On 18 May all foreigners in Paris were placed under surveillance. On 27 May the Assembly returned to the question of refractory priests, with a decree which allowed the deportation of any nonjuror denounced by twenty active citizens, On the twenty-ninth it decreed the disbanding of the special bodyguard of 1,800 men allowed to the king under the constitution. Suspected of excessive personal loyalty to a monarch nobody now trusted, they were to be replaced by reliably patriotic National Guardsmen. The king sanctioned the disbandment of his guard with a speed which left his enemies more suspicious than ever, and amid fears of a military coup it was decided to send all regular troops stationed in and around Paris to the front. To replace them the minister of war, Servan, proposed to establish a camp of 20,000 more National Guards, this time provincial ones, just outside the capital. Their arrival was to coincide with the annual Feast of the Federation on 14 July, and for that reason they would be known as fédérés. A decree convoking them was passed on 8 June. But in the king’s eyes this was too much, and in any case two days later he glimpsed an unexpected opportunity to divide his enemies. Officers of the Paris National Guard, jealous of their pre-eminent role in metropolitan politics, organized a so-called ‘petition of 8,000’ against the camp. Thereupon the king intimated to his ministers that he proposed to veto the new decree, along with that on refractory priests.

A ministerial crisis now broke into the open. Roland, prompted by his ambitious young wife and supported by Servan and Claviere, wrote a public letter to the king on 10 June denouncing his delays in sanctioning decrees supported by the majority in the Assembly, and blaming the disturbed state of the country on royal behaviour: ‘much more delay, and a grieving people will see in its king the friend and accomplice of conspira-tors’.6 No monarch could let pass such public criticism from one of his own ministers, and Roland found himself dismissed. Servan and Clavière fell with him on 13 June. Dumouriez, no sympathizer with the ousted trio but no better liked by the king, followed them on the fifteenth. He went to a command on the northern front. The fallen ministers were replaced by Feuillant nonentities—puppets, some said, of Lafayette. This impression was only reinforced when on 16 June the general himself wrote an open letter from the front to the Assembly, in which he denounced the Jacobins as the cause of all the recent troubles and disasters, and welcomed the fall of a ministry foisted on the country by a faction. His intervention merely confirmed suspicions widespread since he had been given a command that he was planning a military coup. To forestall him, however, supporters of the fallen ministers in Paris were now planning a very different sort of coup: popular intervention on a scale not seen since the ill-fated Champ de Mars petition the year before.

The economic shortages of the spring had reinvigorated popular organizations dormant or operating underground since the previous summer. The number of sections with popular societies, which unlike the formal sectional assemblies were not confined to active citizens, probably doubled over the spring. By June most sections in the heavily populated eastern and central districts had them. Renewed popular interest in political demonstrations was shown on 15 April, when thousands attended a celebration to mark the release of those imprisoned after the Nancy mutiny of 1790, with leading Jacobins also present. New leaders were emerging, too, such as the self-named ‘Anaxagoras’ Chaumette, who led a radical secession from the Cordeliers Club; or Jacques Roux, a constitutional priest with a parish in the Gravilliers section, whose reputation was built on inflammatory sermons calling for price controls and death to hoarders. The early reverses of the war surprised and alarmed sectional patriots, deluded like Jacobins by their own rhetoric; and throughout May they bombarded the Legislative with petitions to allow sectional assemblies to sit continuously (en permanence) during the emergency. Nothing united them more, however, than the purge of the ministers; and to demonstrate support for them the sections of the city’s east end, co-ordinated from the Cordeliers, planned a vast demonstration to intimidate the king into taking them back. Ostensibly the occasion was to be the planting of a tree of liberty in the Tuileries gardens on the anniversary of the Tennis Court Oath, but everybody knew that, as the American ambassador noted in his diary, ‘There is to be a Sort of Riot Tomorrow’.7 Accordingly, on the morning of 20 June between 10,000 and 20,000 armed demonstrators converged on the Tuileries from the east in menacing silence. The palace guards made no attempt to stop them as they dragged cannon up the grand staircase and made for the king’s apartments. Now they began to shout slogans, proclaiming that they were ‘sans culottes’, ordinary patriots without fine clothes, come to intimidate tyrants. They found the king alone, and for two hours filed past him uttering threats and demanding the ministers’ reinstatement. But now for the first time Louis XVI showed the unexpected courage which dignified the last months of his dismal life and reign. He refused to be intimidated. He proclaimed his loyalty to the constitution. He even borrowed one of the fashionable new caps of liberty and wearing it drank to the health of the nation. In the end Pétion arrived from the Hôtel de Ville and persuaded the demonstrators to go home, empty-handed.

In the short term, therefore, the demonstration of 20 June failed. The king kept his ministers, and as the news of the invasion of the palace spread through the country there was a wave of sympathy for the royal family. Many departments sent in condemnatory addresses to the National Assembly, some with thousands of signatures. The king upbraided Pétion in public for neglect of his duties as mayor in not preventing the demonstration, and the department of Paris seized the opportunity to suspend him. Lafayette, too, saw a chance to intensify his campaign against the radicals, and on 28 June appeared in Paris to urge the National Guard to rally round the Crown. Yet none of this deterred those who had organized the journée of the twentieth. It merely confirmed their conviction that they would have to try again. Indeed, as early as 23 June they attempted to do so, carrying a petition for the king’s deposition. But their organization was not well enough established to mobilize another display of popular strength so soon, and the turnout proved inadequate. It was enough, however, to make them redouble their efforts, and the suspension of Pétion gave them a new cause to rally round. The Assembly’s cool reception of Lafayette encouraged them, too. He was accused of deserting his post in time of war and, spurned by the royal family too, returned to the front in despair. At the Tuileries, meanwhile, courtiers were going about armed and preparing defensive positions. All sides were obviously expecting a further, and this time decisive, confrontation; and the precedent of 20 June, together with its lessons, indicated the form it would take. In this sense the American ambassador was right when he wrote, ‘The Constitution has this Day I think given its last Groan’.

Anniversaries increasingly dominated the revolutionary calendar, and the greatest of all was now imminent: 14 July. And although the king had vetoed Servan’s proposed camp of 20,000 fédérés, the usual parade on the Champ de Mars was still planned, with National Guards present from throughout the nation. On the news of the 20 June demonstration, centres of patriotism like Brest or Marseilles decided to increase their contingents, and thus something like the camp would come into existence anyway. On 5 July the Assembly reinforced this trend by elaborating a procedure for declaring the Country in Danger: as soon as this state was proclaimed, all government bodies were placed in permanent session and authorized to raise volunteers from their National Guard units to fight at the front alongside the line army. Less than a week later the decree was invoked. As a result, fédérés continued to pour into Paris long after 14 July on their way to the front. Marseilles’s volunteers did not arrive until 30 July, when they marched into the capital singing Rouget de Lisle’s battle hymn, and thereby gave it the name it has borne ever since. And so throughout July Paris swarmed with the pick of the provincial patriots, and the Jacobins and popular societies made every effort to look after them and draft them into the political struggle. As early as 11 July deputations of fédérés were urging the Assembly to impeach Lafayette, annul the royal veto, and reinstate Pétion. Two days later the mayor was restored, as a goodwill gesture for the fourteenth; and the ceremony on the day itself was bigger and more spectacular than ever, with the king insisting on renewing his constitutional oath. But, as a moderate Jacobin noted, it was ‘very fine to look at, but not in the hearts of the patriots’.8 The latter were now openly talking of storming the Tuileries as the Bastille had been stormed, and establishing a republic.

This time, however, they wanted the pressure to mount until it was irresistible. On several occasions newly arrived fédérés had to be dissuaded from premature assaults on the palace. To ensure success the sansculottes had to be mobilized, and that could best be done if sectional assemblies were able to admit all citizens without distinction. It was illegal; but on 20 July the Théâtre-Français section voted to ignore distinctions under the leadership of the most resourceful political operator on the left bank, Danton. Within a fortnight six other sections had followed this example, and by the early days of August attendance at sectional assemblies was soaring. From 25 July they were authorized to sit continuously, and by then they were also beginning to co-ordinate their action, and to concert it with the fédérés, in a central committee. The Jacobin Club too was now increasingly open in its support for the overthrow of the monarchy by insurrection. On the twenty-ninth even the ever-cautious Robespierre came out for direct action—abandoning the defence of the constitution which had been his watchword throughout the spring. The mounting sense of urgency was only increased by the news that the enemy had now crossed the north-east frontier. On 25 July the allied commander, the Duke of Brunswick, issued a declaration designed to strike terror into the inhabitants of Paris particularly. The war aims of the Emperor and the king of Prussia, he proclaimed, were to end the anarchy inside France and stop attacks on throne and altar. They intended to liberate the royal family and re-establish the king’s ‘legitimate’ authority. Those who offered no resistance to the allied advance would be protected, and Parisians were explicitly warned to take no action against the Tuileries or its inhabitants. All in the capital were declared answerable for the safety of the king, failing which the city would be subjected to ‘exemplary and forever memorable vengeance’. News of these threats, which reached Paris on 28 July, prompted the Assembly to authorize distribution of arms to all citizens, active or otherwise, and to declare all defenders of the country active. Thus the National Guard was opened to all, swamping the cautious men of property who had hitherto dominated its Parisian units. And one by one the sections began to petition openly for the king’s immediate deposition. On 3 August Pétion presented the same demand to the Assembly in the name of all 48 sections—although some promptly disavowed it. On the sixth there followed another petition signed by all comers at the symbolic location of the Champ de Mars. Similar calls were now coming in from major provincial cities. Eventually the Assembly agreed to debate the question on 9 August, immediately after hearing a report on Lafayette’s earlier desertion of his command.

But events were now slipping beyond the deputies’ control, to the alarm of none more than those who had hoped to gain from the fateful demonstration of 20 June: the dismissed ministers and their supporters among the Brissotins and the eloquent deputies from the Gironde. They had hoped that popular discontent would force the king to restore them to power. They had not expected a movement to develop for his total overthrow. But when the Bordeaux deputies Vergniaud, Guadet, and Gen-sonné pressed the king to appoint ministers ‘among the firmest supporters of the Revolution’ they received no response. Desperate to impress him with their sincerity, by the first week in August they were openly denouncing calls for dethronement. All they achieved was to attract the suspicion of the sections and their fellow Jacobins, and make the insurrection, when it came, one as much against the Legislative Assembly as against the Crown.

The final signal came when the deputies refused to indict Lafayette on the eighth. From this it was obvious that no clear decision on dethronement could be expected next day, and there was none. Both sides spent 9 August preparing for the long-awaited trial of strength, and the Assembly could only look on helplessly. The ringing of the tocsin, notoriously the call to insurrection since the memorable journées of 1789, marked the seizure of power in the small hours of the tenth by the central committee of the sections. Symbolically locking up Pétion, they proclaimed themselves an insurrectionary commune, and ordered the fédérés and the newly democratized National Guard of the capital to march on the Tuileries. When these forces arrived there at nine the next morning they found that the king and his family had already fled to the presumed safety of the Assembly across the road. But a garrison remained of 900 well-armed Swiss Guards, between 100 and 200 courtiers and former officers, and 2,000 National Guards. The latter at once defected to the commune’s side, which was perhaps 20,000 strong. Nevertheless it was the Swiss who opened fire, and that sealed their fate when the commune’s forces gained the upper hand after about an hour. Once the Swiss began to retreat, they were pursued by mobs of bystanders without firearms who hacked them to death with knives, pikes, and hatchets, and tore their uniforms to pieces to make trophies. Altogether 600 of them perished, some in supposed safe custody after the siege was over. Less than half that number fell among the besiegers, 90 of them fédérés, and the rest the same sort of shopkeepers, petty tradesmen, and artisans who had been so prominent in the 1789 journées and on 20 June. It was the bloodiest day of the Revolution so far, but also one of the most decisive. Though the king and his family remained unscathed, his authority fell with his palace. As crowds rampaged through Paris destroying all symbols and images of royalty down to the very word ‘king’ in street names, the Legislative Assembly declared the monarchy suspended until a national Convention had met to decide on the future form of government. Only the efforts of Vergniaud averted the abolition of monarchy there and then. But as the king was transferred, under close custody, to the keep of the Temple, a medieval fortress in the north-eastern suburbs, few believed that he would ever sit on the throne again unless with foreign aid.

Power now lay not with the Assembly, but with the new Paris commune. The Assembly acted as if it was still in charge: for example it appointed a new team of ministers. The three who had fallen on 13 June were at last restored, tainted though they now were by association with the equivocating Brissotins. But the most sensational appointment was the new minister of justice, Danton, who had built a career entirely in the sectional politics of Paris since 1789, and was brought in explicitly to keep the sansculottes happy. The appointments were made by less than 300 deputies. The majority had simply gone to ground over the previous few weeks, thus further diminishing the Assembly’s authority. During the six weeks left to it, this rump did almost everything the commune wanted. Such efforts as it made to resist were contemptuously brushed aside.

What the commune wanted most was vengeance—on those who had abetted the king, and those who had resisted the popular will before and during the uprising of 10 August, on refractory priests protected for too long by the deposed tyrant, and on Lafayette, the butcher of the Champ de Mars and would-be military dictator. He at least escaped: after toying briefly with marching his army on Paris, on 17 August, the day the council of ministers decided to dismiss him, he crossed the Prussian lines and gave himself up to the enemy. Even that brought him five years in Austrian prisons. On that same day a special tribunal was set up to try those guilty of political crimes, such as the surviving defenders of the Tuileries. It worked slowly, but on the twenty-first the guillotine despatched its first political victim. Between the nineteenth and the twenty-sixth, the Assembly debated measures against refractories, which many local authorities were taking anyway on their own initiative. Eventually it decreed that all nonjurors were to quit the country within a fortnight, on pain of deportation to Guiana. But so deep had suspicion of priestcraft now gone, that even unbeneficed clergy not subject to the oaths were made liable to deportation on the demand of six citizens. Suspicion was the order of the day, and priests were being arrested by sansculotte vigilantes from 11 August onwards. Nobody was allowed to leave the capital without a passport, and none of these were issued without certificats de civisme issued by sectional surveillance committees. The paranoid atmosphere only grew worse when it was learned that the Prussians had invaded French territory; and news arriving on the twenty-sixth of the fall of Longwy, with scarcely any resistance, seemed to confirm that traitors were everywhere. The response of Danton, who increasingly dominated his fellow ministers during these weeks, was to demand a general search of all dwellings in the capital for hidden arms and suspects. These ‘domiciliary visits’ took place on 30-31 August, resulting in 3,000 further arrests. The result was to cram the prisons of Paris to bursting-point with presumed traitors.

After 10 August Marat, the self-styled friend of the people but hitherto too extreme and bloodthirsty in his opinions to command much support, came into his own. His solution to the crisis was massacre, both of the suspects herded together in the prisons and indeed of selected ministers and deputies. Many sections, and their representatives on the commune, thought the same, and were disgusted by the slow progress made by the 17 August tribunal. When Danton, in response to the fall of Longwy, called for 30,000 volunteers from the capital to go to the front, many sansculottes appeared ready to go, but were reluctant to leave their families at the mercy of a counter-revolutionary prison breakout. Nor were they reassured when, on 30 August, the Assembly attempted to shake off the commune’s control by decreeing new elections in Paris. The move was all too obviously inspired by Brissot and his friends, whom Robespierre was beginning to call ‘the faction of the Gironde’. It outraged those who regarded the commune as the saviour of the country. The commune refused to be disbanded and, after hints from Robespierre at the Jacobins, tried to have a number of hostile deputies and ministers arrested. It also defiantly drafted Marat on to its committee of surveillance, responsible for the prisons. The personal intervention of Danton prevented the arrests, and thereby probably saved the lives of those concerned. For if they had been in prison on 2 September, they would almost certainly have fallen victim to the September Massacres.

The trigger was further bad news from the front. After Longwy, Verdun came under Prussian siege, and on 2 September news came that the enemy had passed it. There were no other fortresses on the road to Paris. Danton, in his most famous speech, urged his compatriots to defiance—‘If we are bold, bolder still, and forever bold, then France is saved!’—but the predominant mood in Paris was panic. That afternoon, a convoy of prisoners going from the Hôtel de Ville to the Abbaye prison was stopped and attacked by sansculottes. Seventeen of them were hacked to death. Soon afterwards, a makeshift prison at the old Carmelite convent was attacked and there was more butchery, although most of it was now directed by a kangaroo court. By the end of the afternoon the commune had taken a hand, but only to co-ordinate the massacres, not to stop them. The next day it sent a circular to provincial centres hinting that they might like to follow the Parisian example. By then all except two of the capital’s prisons had been broken into, makeshift tribunals established claiming to dispense the people’s justice, and vengeance visited on all those deemed from the charges against them to be potential counter-revolutionaries. Extravagant celebrations and cheering marked each acquittal, and there were plenty of them. Even so, about half the prison population of Paris, between 1,100 and 1,400 people, were killed between 2 September and the last incidents on the seventh; and most of the victims were in no sense politically dangerous. Certainly, they included surviving Swiss defenders of the Tuileries, over 200 priests, and a number of prominent relics of the old order such as the former foreign minister Montmorin, or the queen’s notorious favourite the Princess de Lamballe. Forty-five political prisoners were also massacred at Versailles on the ninth, including Delessart. But most of those who died were common criminals, forging assignats being the nearest any of them came to subversive activity. Nevertheless suspicion bred credulity, and society’s reprobates could not be presumed unavailable for the purposes of prison plotters. The ordinary Parisian tradesmen and artisans who carried out the killings certainly thought their work both necessary and beneficial, and so did the commune, which voted to pay them for it. But this second great blood-letting within a month horrified most of those who witnessed it, and the lurid details were soon known throughout Europe. Nobody at the Assembly, or the Jacobin Club, was prepared openly to commend what had been done; but the political factions led by Brissot on one side and Robespierre on the other were quick to accuse each other of responsibility or complicity, and these charges and counter-charges would echo on for years. Septembriseur became a standard term of political abuse; and fear of a repetition stalked political life for months to come.

Yet this purging of their enemies certainly seemed to reassure the sansculottes. With the threat to their families removed, the men of Paris began to volunteer in droves to go off and face the Prussians. Twenty thousand came forward during the first weeks of September. ‘The number of men, for I cannot call them troops’, wrote a British agent on 9 September,9 ‘that have left for the army is prodigious … and they are still enrolling ... I have heard today that the multitude of people that are besides this either at or going to Chalôns is beyond belief … The cause among the lower order of people is more popular than I imagined.’ And although he was ‘convinced as a military man that they must tend more to create confusion in a regular army than to be of any advantage to it’, nevertheless ‘I cannot … help thinking the Duke of Brunswick ought to get before Paris as quick as he can.’ We see here a dim awakening to the fact that the ordered practice of eighteenth-century warfare was perhaps not immutable. And proof positive came only ten days later. On 20 September, at Valmy, just east of Chalons, the French forces at last made a stand. Kellermann and Dumouriez had more men that the Prussians. They had fewer guns, but those they had were superior, and handled by graduates of the outstanding pre-revolutionary gunnery schools. So they outgunned the enemy, and when they followed up their advantage the French charged to cries of Vive la Nation! and the singing of ‘Ça ira’. They fought with an enthusiasm and determination not seen on European battlefields for generations, and they stopped the invaders in their tracks. Watching all this was Goethe, brought along by the Duke of Weimar to enliven the expected military promenade. In the stunned disappointment of the Prussian camp that damp night he offered Job’s comfort to his fellow invaders. ‘Here and today,’ he told them, ‘a new epoch in the history of the world has begun, and you can boast you were present at its birth.’

The Prussians, in fact, at once opened negotiations. King Frederick William was there to authorize them when Dumouriez, who had never believed in their commitment to the Austrian alliance, made the offer. The revolutionary war might almost have ended there and then. But on the day Valmy was fought the national Convention finally met in Paris, and its first act was to declare a republic. The Prussians promptly broke off negotiations and withdrew.

The idea of a Convention predated the Revolution of 10 August. Radicals in the sections and at the Jacobin Club had been talking of the need to produce a new constitution throughout July. Thus on the afternoon of 10 August the Legislative Assembly had little alternative but to ‘invite’ the French people to form a convention ‘to assure the sovereignty of the people and the reign of liberty and equality’. The next day it decreed that the new assembly, was to be elected by manhood suffrage, without distinction between citizens. Only servants and the unemployed had no vote. But at least the Legislative resisted the sections’ desire that election should be direct, stipulating a two-stage process; and it equally overrode Robespierre’s suggestion of another self-denying ordinance, seeing that it would let him in but keep all sitting deputies out. The primary elections took place on 27 August, the secondary on 2 September, at the very height of the national emergency. No doubt this helps to explain the fact that out of six million electors only about one in four or five turned up to vote in the primary assemblies. And the patchy and uncertain information that many of the departments had about the Revolution of 10 August and subsequent events in Paris no doubt indicates why no less than 200 of the 749 deputies returned were members of the Legislative and therefore already well known to those who elected them. They included Brissot and his circle and all the most prominent orators from the Gironde. Eighty-three members of the former Constituent Assembly also now reappeared on the national stage, including Orléans (proudly flaunting the new republican name of Philippe-Égalité, Pétion, and Robespierre, all three sitting for Paris. Danton’s election was a foregone conclusion, although it brought his resignation from the ministry. Journalistic notoriety secured almost equally inevitable seats for Marat and Clootz. Frenchmen also recognized their foreign friends by electing Tom Paine and Joseph Priestley. Socially, like its predecessors, the new assembly was dominated by lawyers, professional men, and property owners; and although mercantile, noble, and clerical numbers were smaller than ever, for the first time in the national representation there was a handful of assorted artisans. It was a young body, with two-thirds of deputies under 45. Above all, it brought together a wide range of political experience at both national and local level, experience scarred since the beginning of 1791 by the obstinate, treacherous behaviour of the king.

There was, therefore, never any doubt that the Convention would depose him. Papers found in the Tuileries after 10 August only confirmed suspicions about his treachery. In any case, Paris clearly demanded a republic. And so on 21 September the foundation-stone of the new constitution was laid. Monarchy in France was abolished; and when a year later a new revolutionary calendar was introduced, it was calculated from 22 September 1792, the first day of Year 1 of the Republic. But to abolish the monarchy was one thing. To dispose of Louis XVI was quite another. Much of the autumn was spent deciding what to do with him.

Brissot and the Girondins were attracted by the idea of doing nothing—keeping the king a hostage against future eventualities. Some suspected that, in the light of their equivocations during the fortnight before 10 August, they might even want to keep open the option of restoring him some day. The commune, and the Parisian deputies who sat together on the high benches to the left of the chair and were to become the kernel of a group known as the Mountain or the Montagnards, were determined to close off this option. When on 1 October the vigilance committee of the commune claimed it had evidence that some deputies had been paid collaborators of the fallen monarch, they demanded that he and they be put on trial. A commission was appointed to examine the evidence, which became stronger with the discovery during November of a strong-box (armoire de fer) at the Tuileries containing yet more incriminating documents. It was a nice point whether a king, inviolable under the constitution, could legitimately be tried at all, or at least by any court. In response to this some Montagnards began to argue, following the maiden speech of the hitherto unknown young deputy from the Aisne, Saint-Just, on 13 November, that the tyrant had already been tried, and found guilty, on 10 August by the people. All that was needed was to punish him. Robespierre, whom some were already accusing of aspiring to dictatorship, came out for this opinion on 3 December.

Louis cannot be judged, [he argued] he has already been judged. He has been condemned, or else the Republic is not blameless. To suggest putting Louis XVI on trial, in whatever way, is a step back towards royal and constitutional despotism; it is a counter-revolutionary idea; because it puts the Revolution itself in the dock. After all, if Louis can still be put on trial, Louis can be acquitted; he might be innocent. Or rather, he is presumed to be until he is found guilty. But if Louis is acquitted, if Louis can be presumed innocent, what becomes of the Revolution?10

Yet the legal training most deputies had received left them reluctant to condemn anyone without a hearing; and on the motion of Petion, who had steadily been drifting away from Robespierre since the spring, it was overwhelmingly agreed to try the king before the representatives of the sovereign people, the Convention itself. On 11 December he was brought from the Temple through silent, crowded streets to hear his indictment. It covered his entire conduct since the meeting of the Estates-General. But if the deputies hoped to intimidate him they were disappointed. With deliberation and dignity he responded to the heads of accusation with a series of evasions, denials, and outright lies. At the end he called for a defending counsel. As on 20 June onlookers were impressed despite themselves by his resolute bearing in adversity, and this alarmed those who wanted his head, and encouraged those who still hoped to save it.

On the day of the trial it was the same. Reluctantly the deputies had allowed ‘Louis Capet’ a counsel. 26 December was devoted to the defending speech of Raymond de Seze, another eloquent Bordelais well known to several of the more prominent Girondins. He portrayed his client as a victim of circumstance rather than a resolute tyrant; a monarch who had given his people all that they asked for, including liberty itself. In his final words the king reiterated that he had never knowingly and willingly shed his subjects’ blood. Many seemed moved; but even the king knew that Robespierre had been right in claiming that there could only be one possible verdict. The only real issues were the appropriate punishment and whether it should be subject to review or reprieve. The questions were debated with renewed fury from the moment the king was escorted from the chamber. The Girondins now began to argue that whatever sentence was passed should be subject to confirmation by a referendum: an ‘appeal to the people’. Exchanges on this subject were the bitterest so far. Nobody doubted that the Girondins hoped the provinces would reject the death sentence which Paris so obviously wanted—and they might well have. But in that case it was hard to see how civil war could be avoided. In the end these fears triumphed. On 15 January 1793 a roll-call of votes at last took place. On the question of the king’s guilt there was near unanimity: 693 deputies voted guilty and none voted for acquittal. On the question of the appeal to the people the true scale of political division within the Convention began to appear: 283 were for, but 424 against. So it was in the knowledge that their sentence would be final that the deputies approached the question of the king’s life or death the next day. This time the roll-call went on overnight, as deputies writhed to explain or justify their votes. And it went on amid lurid rumours that any sentence other than death would bring the sansculottes on to the streets to storm the Temple and massacre its prisoners, not to mention the Convention itself. Fear of such consequences perhaps swayed the votes of some. Even so the voting was uncomfortably close. The official result recorded 288 votes against death, and for a variety of forms of imprisonment. A further 72 favoured the death penalty subject to delaying conditions of one sort or another. But still the largest single group, numbering 361, voted for execution. This was the decision announced to Louis XVI on the morning of 17 January.

Still some deputies fought to save him. His counsel issued an appeal to the nation the moment the sentence was announced, but that was ruled angrily out of order. Yet the people, like all sovereigns, had the prerogative of mercy, and on the eighteenth a reprieve was proposed. Another endless noisy session followed, culminating in a fourth roll-call. This time 310 voted against death; but 380 were still for carrying out the sentence. After that there was no more delay. On Monday 21 January 1793 Louis XVI went to the scaffold, in what is now the place de la Concorde, next to the empty pedestal of his grandfather’s triumphal statue—his last professions of innocence drowned out by rolling drums.

Thus the republican revolution, brewing since Varennes, and militant since 10 August, reached its logical climax. The destruction of the ancien régime was surely now complete, total, irrevocable. Regicide meant there would be no compromise, no going back. But, as a handful of deputies realized when they voted to execute the king only when the war was over, or the entire Bourbon dynasty deposed, the execution of Louis XVI was not so much a victory as a challenge. It satisfied the sansculottes, but throughout Europe, and probably France, too, it made the Revolution far more enemies than friends. It also immeasurably strengthened those who were already its enemies, giving new impetus to their quarrel. The blood of the Most Christian King offered defiance to all who questioned the French Revolution’s achievements, or its direction. So the regicide Republic could scarcely complain when, in the course of 1793, these multifarious interests took up its challenge.

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