Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The French Revolution, Volume 1. The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 2 by Hippolyte A. Taine

Part 3 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

stentorian voice made the vaults ring; and after he had spoken for
two hours, and his breath was completely exhausted, the admiring and
enthusiastic shouts which greeted him amounted almost to frenzy.
Thus the orator fancied himself a Mirabeau, while the spectators
imagined themselves the Constituent Assembly, deciding the fate of

The journals and pamphlets are written in the same style. Every
brain is filled with the fumes of conceit and of big words; the
leader of the crowd is he who raves the most, and he guides the wild
enthusiasm which he increases.

Let us consider the most popular of these chiefs ; they are the
green or the dry fruit of literature, and of the bar. The newspaper
is the stall which every morning offers them for sale, and if they
suit the overexcited public it is simply owing to their acid or
bitter flavor. Their empty, unpracticed minds are wholly void of
political conceptions; they have no capacity or practical
experience. Desmoulins is twenty-nine years of age, Loustalot
twenty-seven, and their intellectual ballast consists of college
reminiscences, souvenirs of the law schools, and the common-places
picked up in the houses of Raynal and his associates. As to Brissot
and Marat, who are ostentatious humanitarians, their knowledge of
France and of foreign countries consists in what they have seen
through the dormer windows of their garrets, and through utopian
spectacles. In minds like these, empty or led astray, the Contrat-
Social could not fail to become a gospel; for it reduces political
science to a strict application of an elementary axiom which
relieves them of all study, and hands society over to the caprice of
the people, or, in other words, delivers it into their own hands. -
- Hence they demolish all that remains of social institutions, and
push on equalization until everything is brought down to the same

"With my principles," writes Desmoulins,[19] "is associated the
satisfaction of putting myself where I belong, of showing my
strength to those who have despised me, of lowering to my level all
whom fortune has placed above me: my motto is that of all honest
people: 'No superiors!'"

Thus, under the great name of Liberty, each vain spirit seeks its
revenge and finds its nourishment. What is sweeter and more natural
than to justify passion by theory, to be factious in the belief that
this is patriotism, and to cloak the interests of ambition with the
interests of humanity?

Let us picture to ourselves these directors of public opinion as
they were three months earlier: Desmoulins, a briefless barrister,
living in furnished lodgings with petty debts, and on a few louis
extracted from his relations. Loustalot, still more unknown, was
admitted the previous year to the Parliament of Bordeaux, and has
landed at Paris in search of a career. Danton, another second-rate
lawyer, coming out of a hovel in Champagne, borrowed the money to
pay his expenses, while his stinted household is kept up only by
means of a louis which is given to him weekly by his father-in-law,
who is a coffee-house keeper. Brissot, a strolling Bohemian,
formerly employee of literary pirates, has roamed over the world for
fifteen years, without bringing back with him either from England or
America anything but a coat out at elbows and false ideas; and,
finally, Marat; a writer that has been hissed, an abortive scholar
and philosopher, a misrepresenter of his own experiences, caught by
the natural philosopher Charles in the act of committing a
scientific fraud, and fallen from the top of his inordinate ambition
to the subordinate post of doctor in the stables of the Comte
d'Artois. -- At the present time, Danton, President of the
Cordeliers, can arrest any one he pleases in his district, and his
violent gestures and thundering voice secure to him, till something
better turns up, the government of his section of the city. A word
of Marat's has just caused Major Belzunce at Caen to be
assassinated. Desmoulins announces, with a smile of triumph, that
"a large section of the capital regards him as one among the
principal instigators of the Revolution, and that many even go so
far as to say that he is the author of it." Is it to be supposed
that, borne so high by such a sudden jerk of fortune, they wish to
put on the drag and again descend? and is it not clear that they
will aid with all their might the revolt which hoists them towards
the loftiest summits? -- Moreover, the brain reels at a height like
this ; suddenly launched in the air and feeling as if everything was
tottering around them, they utter exclamations of indignation and
terror, they see plots on all sides, imagine invisible cords pulling
in an opposite direction, and they call upon the people to cut them.
With the full weight of their inexperience, incapacity, and
improvidence, of their fears, credulity, and dogmatic obstinacy,
they urge on popular attacks, and their newspaper articles or
discourses are all summed up in the following phrases:

"Fellow-citizens, you, the people of the lower class, you who listen
to me, you have enemies in the Court and the aristocracy. The
Hôtel-de-Ville and the National Assembly are your servants. Seize
your enemies with a strong hand, and hang them, and let your
servants know that they must quicken their steps!"

Desmoulins styles himself "District-attorney of the gallows,"[20]
and if he at all regrets the murders of Foulon and Berthier, it is
because this too expeditious judgment has allowed the proofs of
conspiracy to perish, thereby saving a number of traitors: he
himself mentions twenty of them haphazard, and little does he care
whether he makes mistakes.

"We are in the dark, and it is well that faithful dogs should bark,
even at all who pass by, so that there may be no fear of robbers."

>From this time forth Marat[21] denounces the King, the ministers,
the administration, the bench, the bar, the financial system and the
academies, all as "suspicious;" at all events the people only suffer
on their account.

"The Government is monopolizing grain, to make us to pay through
the nose for a poisonous bread."

The Government, again, through a new conspiracy is about to blockade
Paris, so as to starve it with greater ease. Utterances of this
kind, at such a time, are firebrands thrown upon fear and hunger to
kindle the flames of rage and cruelty. To this frightened and
fasting crowd the agitators and newspaper writers continue to repeat
that it must act, and act alongside of the authorities, and, if need
be, against them. In other words, We will do as we please; we are
the sole legitimate masters;

"in a well-constituted government, the people as a body are the real
sovereign: our delegates are appointed only to execute our orders ;
what right has the clay to rebel against the potter?"

On the strength of such principles, the tumultuous club which
occupies the Palais-Royal substitutes itself for the Assembly at
Versailles. Has it not all the titles for this office? The Palais-
Royal "saved the nation" on the 12th and 13th of July. The Palais-
Royal, "through its spokesmen and pamphlets," has made everybody and
even the soldiers "philosophers." It is the house of patriotism,
"the rendezvous of the select among the patriotic," whether
provincials or Parisians, of all who possess the right of suffrage,
and who cannot or will not exercise it in their own district. "It
saves time to come to the Palais-Royal. There is no need there of
appealing to the President for the right to speak, or to wait one's
time for a couple of hours. The orator proposes his motion, and, if
it finds supporters, mounts a chair. If he is applauded, it is put
into proper shape. If he is hissed, he goes away. This was the way
of the Romans." Behold the veritable National Assembly ! It is
superior to the other semi-feudal affair, encumbered with "six
hundred deputies of the clergy and nobility," who are so many
intruders and who "should be sent out into the galleries." -- Hence
the pure Assembly rules the impure Assembly, and "the Café Foy lays
claim to the government of France."


Intervention by the popular leaders with the Government. - Their
pressure on the Assembly.

On the 30th of July, the harlequin who led the insurrection at Rouen
having been arrested, "it is openly proposed at the Palais Royal[22]
to go in a body and demand his release." -- On the 1st of August,
Thouret, whom the moderate party of the Assembly have just made
President, is obliged to resign; the Palais-Royal threatens to send
a band and murder him along with those who voted for him, and lists
of proscriptions, in which several of the deputies are inscribed,
begin to be circulated. -- From this time forth, on all great
questions-the abolition of the feudal system, the suppression of
tithes, a declaration of the rights of man, the dispute about the
Chambers, the King's power of veto,[23] the pressure from without
inclines the balance: in this way the Declaration of Rights, which
is rejected in secret session by twenty-eight bureaus out of thirty,
is forced through by the tribunes in a public sitting and passed by
a majority. -- Just as before the 14th of July, and to a still
greater extent, two kinds of compulsion influence the votes, and it
is always the ruling faction which employs both its hands to
throttle its opponents. On the one hand this faction takes post on
the galleries in knots composed nearly always of the same persons,
"five or six hundred permanent actors," who yell according to
understood signals and at the word of command.[24] Many of these
are French Guards, in civilian clothes, and who relieve each other:
previously they have asked of their favorite deputy "at what hour
they must come, whether all goes on well, and whether he is
satisfied with those fools of parsons (calotins) and the
aristocrats." Others consist of low women under the command of
Théroigne de Méricourt, a virago courtesan, who assigns them their
positions and gives them the signal for hooting or for applause.
Publicly and in full session, on the occasion of the debate on the
veto, "the deputies are applauded or insulted by the galleries
according as they utter the word 'suspensive,' or the word
'indefinite.' " "Threats," (says one of them) "circulated; I heard
them on all sides around me." These threats are repeated on going
out: "Valets dismissed by their masters, deserters, and women in
rags," threaten the refractory with the lamp post, "and thrust their
fists in their faces. In the hall itself, and much more accurately
than before the 14th of July, their names are taken down, and the
lists, handed over to the populace," travel to the Palais-Royal,
from where they are dispatched in correspondence and in newspapers
to the provinces.[25] - Thus we see the second means of
compulsion; each deputy is answerable for his vote, at Paris, with
his own life, and, in the province, with those of his family.
Members of the former Third-Estate avow that they abandon the idea
of two Chambers, because "they are not disposed to get their wives'
and children's throats cut." On the 30th of August, Saint-Hurugue,
the most noisy of the Palais-Royal barkers, marches off to
Versailles, at the head of 1,500 men, to complete the conversion of
the Assembly. This garden club indeed, from the heights of its
great learning, integrity, and immaculate reputation, decides that
the ignorant, corrupt, and doubtful deputies must be got rid of."
That they are such cannot be questioned, because they defend the
royal sanction; there are over 600 and more, 120 are deputies of the
communes, who must be expelled to begin with, and then must be
brought to judgment.[26] In the meantime they are informed, as well
as the Bishop of Langres, President of the National Assembly, that
"15,000 men are ready to light up their chateaux and in particular
yours, sir." To avoid all mistake, the secretaries of the Assembly
are informed in writing that " 2,000 letters" will be sent into the
provinces to denounce to the people the conduct of the malignant
deputies: "Your houses are held as a surety for your opinions: keep
this in mind, and save yourselves !" At last, on the morning of the
1st of August, five deputations from the Palais-Royal, one of them
led by Loustalot, march in turn to the Hôtel-de-Ville, insisting
that the drums should be beaten and the citizens be called together
for the purpose of changing the deputies, or their instructions, and
of ordering the National Assembly to suspend its discussion on the
veto until the districts and provinces could give expression to
their will: the people, in effect, alone being sovereign, and alone
competent, always has the right to dismiss or instruct anew its
servants, the deputies. On the following day, August 2nd, to make
matters plainer, new delegates from the same Palais-Royal suit
gestures to words; they place two fingers on their throats, on being
introduced before the representatives of the commune, as a hint
that, if the latter do not obey, they will be hung.

After this it is vain for the National Assembly to make any show of
indignation, to declare that it despises threats, and to protest its
independence; the impression is already produced. "More than 300
members of the communes," says Mounier, "had decided to support the
absolute veto." At the end of ten days most of these had gone over,
several of them through attachment to the King, because they were
afraid of "a general uprising," and "were not willing to jeopardize
the lives of the royal family." But concessions like these only
provoke fresh extortions. The politicians of the street now know by
experience the effect of brutal violence on legal authority.
Emboldened by success and by impunity, they reckon up their strength
and the weakness of the latter. One blow more, and they are
undisputed masters. Besides, the issue is already apparent to
clear-sighted men. When the agitators of the public thoroughfares,
and the porters at the street-corners, convinced of their superior
wisdom, impose decrees by the strength of their lungs, of their
fists, and of their pikes, at that moment experience, knowledge,
good sense, cool-blood, genius, and judgment, disappear from human
affairs, and things revert back to chaos. Mirabeau, in favor of the
veto for life, saw the crowd imploring him with tears in their eyes
to change his opinion :

"Monsieur le Comte, if the King obtains this veto, what will be the
use of a National Assembly? We shall all be slaves "[27]

Outbursts of this description are not to be resisted, and all is
lost. Already, near the end of September, the remark applies which
Mirabeau makes to the Comte de la Marck:

"Yes, all is lost; the King and Queen will be swept away, and you
will see the populace trampling on their lifeless bodies."

Eight days after this, on the 5th and 6th of October, it breaks out
against both King and Queen, against the National Assembly and the
Government, against all government present and to come; the violent
party which rules in Paris obtains possession of the chiefs of
France to hold them under strict surveillance, and to justify its
intermittent outrages by one permanent outrage.


The 5th and 6th of October.

Once more, two different currents combine into one torrent to hurry
the crowd onward to a common end. -- On the one hand are the
cravings of the stomach, and women excited by the famine:

"Now that bread cannot be had in Paris, let us go to Versailles and
demand it there; once we have the King, Queen, and Dauphin in the
midst of us, they will be obliged to feed us;" we will bring back
"the Baker, the Bakeress, and the Baker's boy."

-- On the other hand, there is fanaticism, and men who are pushed
on by the need to dominate.

"Now that our chiefs yonder disobey us, -- let us go and make them
obey us forthwith; the King is quibbling over the Constitution and
the Rights of Man -- make him approve them ; his guards refuse to
wear our cockade -- make them accept it; they want to carry him off
to Metz -- make him come to Paris, here, under our eyes and in our
hands, he, and the lame Assembly too, will march straight on, and
quickly, whether they like it or not, and always on the right road."

-- Under this confluence of ideas the expedition is arranged.[28]
Ten days before this, it is publicly alluded to at Versailles. On
the 4th of October, at Paris, a woman proposes it at the Palais-
Royal; Danton roars at the Cordeliers; Marat, "alone, makes as much
noise as the four trumpets on the Day of Judgment." Loustalot writes
that a second revolutionary paroxysm is necessary." "The day
passes," says Desmoulins, "in holding councils at the Palais-Royal,
and in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, on the ends of the bridges, and
on the quays... in pulling off the cockades of but one color....
These are torn off and trampled under foot with threats of the lamp
post, in case of fresh offense; a soldier who is trying to refasten
his, changes his mind on seeing a hundred sticks raised against
him."[29] These are the premonitory symptoms of a crisis; a huge
ulcer has formed in this feverish, suffering body, and it is about
to break.

But, as is usually the case, it is a purulent concentration of the
most poisonous passions and the foulest motives. The vilest of men
and women were engaged in it. Money was freely distributed. Was it
done by intriguing subalterns who, playing upon the aspirations of
the Duke of Orleans, extracted millions from him under the pretext
of making him lieutenant-general of the kingdom? Or is it due to the
fanatics who, from the end of April, clubbed together to debauch the
soldiery, and stir up a body of ruffians for the purpose of leveling
and destroying everything around them?[30] There are always
Machiavellis of the highways and of houses of ill-fame ready to
excite the foul and the vile of both sexes. On the first day that
the Flemish regiment goes into garrison at Versailles an attempt is
made to corrupt it with money and women. Sixty abandoned women are
sent from Paris for this purpose, while the French Guards come and
treat their new comrades. The latter have been treated at the
Palais-Royal, while three of them, at Versailles, exclaim, showing
some crown pieces of six livres, "What a pleasure it is to go to
Paris! one always comes back with money !" In this way, resistance
is overcome beforehand. As to the attack, women are to be the
advanced guard, because the soldiers will scruple to fire at them;
their ranks, however, will be reinforced by a number of men
disguised as women. On looking closely at them they are easily
recognized, notwithstanding their rouge, by their badly-shaven
beards, and by their voices and gait.[31] No difficulty has been
found in obtaining men and women among the prostitutes of the
Palais-Royal and the military deserters who serve them as bullies.
It is probable that the former lent their lovers the cast-off
dresses they had to spare. At night all will meet again at the
common rendezvous, on the benches of the National Assembly, where
they are quite as much at home as in their own houses.[32] -- In any
event, the first band which marches out is of this stamp, displaying
the finery and the gaiety of the profession; "most of them young,
dressed in white, with powdered hair and a sprightly air;" many of
them "laughing, singing, and drinking," as they would do at setting
out for a picnic in the country. Three or four of them are known by
name -- one brandishing a sword, and another, the notorious
Théroigne. Madeleine Chabry Louison, who is selected to address the
King, is a pretty grisette who sells flowers, and, no doubt,
something else, at the Palais-Royal. Some appear to belong to the
first rank in their calling, and to have tact and the manners of
society -- suppose, for instance, that Champfort and Laclos sent
their mistresses. To these must be added washerwomen, beggars,
bare-footed women, and fishwomen, enlisted for several days before
and paid accordingly. This is the first nucleus, and it keeps on
growing; for, by compulsion or consent, the troop incorporates into
it, as it passes along, all the women it encounters -- seamstresses,
portresses, housekeepers, and even respectable females, whose
dwellings are entered with threats of cutting off their hair if they
do not fall in. To these must be added vagrants, street-rovers,
ruffians and robbers -- the lees of Paris, which accumulate and come
to the surface every time agitation occurs: they are to be found
already at the first hour, behind the troop of women at the Hôtel-
de-Ville. Others are to follow during the evening and in the night.
Others are waiting at Versailles. Many, both at Paris and
Versailles, are under pay: one, in a dirty whitish vest, chinks gold
and silver coin in his hand. -- Such is the foul scum which, both
in front and in the rear, rolls along with the popular tide;
whatever is done to stem the torrent, it widens out and will leave
its mark at every stage of its overflow.

The first troop, consisting of four or five hundred women, begin
operations by forcing the guard of the Hôtel-de-Ville, which is
unwilling to make use of its bayonets. They spread through the
rooms and try to burn all the written documents they can find,
declaring that there has been nothing but scribbling since the
Revolution began.[33] A crowd of men follow after them, bursting
open doors, and pillaging the magazine of arms. Two hundred
thousand francs in Treasury notes are stolen or disappear; several
of the ruffians set fire to the building, while others hang an abbé.
The abbé is cut down, and the fire extinguished only just in time:
such are the interludes of the popular drama. In the meantime, the
crowd of women increases on the Place de Grève, always with the same
unceasing cry, "Bread!" and "To Versailles!" One of the conquerors
of the Bastille; the usher Maillard, offers himself as a leader. He
is accepted, and taps his drum; on leaving Paris, he has seven or
eight thousand women with him, and, in addition, some hundreds of
men ; by dint of remonstrances, he succeeds in maintaining some kind
of order amongst this rabble as far as Versailles. -- But it is a
rabble notwithstanding, and consequently so much brute force, at
once anarchical and imperious. On the one hand, each, and the worst
among them, does what he pleases -- which will be quite evident this
very evening. On the other hand, its ponderous mass crushes all
authority and overrides all rules and regulations -- which is at
once apparent on reaching Versailles. -- Admitted into the
Assembly, at first in small numbers, the women crowd against the
door, push in with a rush, fill the galleries, then the hall, the
men along with them, armed with clubs, halberds, and pikes, all
pell-mell, side by side with the deputies, taking possession of
their benches, voting along with them, and gathering about the
President, who, surrounded, threatened, and insulted, finally
abandons the position, while his chair is taken by a woman.[34] A
fishwoman commands in a gallery, and about a hundred women around
her shout or keep silence at her bidding, while she interrupts and
abuses the deputies:

"Who is that speaker there? Silence that blabbermouth; he does not
know what he is talking about. The question is how to get bread.
Let papa Mirabeau speak -- we want to hear him."

A decree on subsistence having been passed, the leaders demand
something in addition; they must be allowed to enter all places
where they suspect any monopolizing to be going on, and the price of
"bread must be fixed at six sous the four pounds, and meat at six
sous per pound."

"You must not think that we are children to be played with. We are
ready to strike. Do as you are bidden."

All their political injunctions emanate from this central idea. And

"Send back the Flemish regiment -- it is a thousand men more to
feed, and they take bread out of our mouths." -- "Punish the
aristocrats, who hinder the bakers from baking." "Down with the
skull-cap; the priests are the cause of our trouble! " -- "Monsieur
Mounier, why did you advocate that villainous veto? Beware of the
lamp post ! "

Under this pressure, a deputation of the Assembly, with the
President at its head, sets out on foot, in the mud, through the
rain, and watched by a howling escort of women and men armed with
pikes: after five hours of waiting and entreaty, it wrings from the
King, besides the decree on subsistence, about which there was no
difficulty, the acceptance, pure and simple, of the Declaration of
Rights, and his sanction to the constitutional articles. -- Such is
the independence of the King and the Assembly.[35] Thus are the new
principles of justice established, the grand outlines of the
Constitution, the abstract axioms of political truth under the
dictatorship of a crowd which extorts not only blindly, but which is
half-conscious of its blindness.

"Monsieur le President," some among the women say to Mounier, who
returns with the Royal sanction, "will it be of any real use to us?
will it give poor folks bread in Paris?"

Meanwhile, the scum has been bubbling up around the chateau; and the
abandoned women subsidized in Paris are pursuing their calling.[36]
They slip through into the lines of the regiment drawn on the
square, in spite of the sentinels. Théroigne, in an Amazonian red
vest, distributes money among them.

"Side with us," some say to the men; "we shall soon beat the King's
Guards, strip off their fine coats and sell them."

Others lie sprawling on the ground, alluring the soldiers, and make
such offers as to lead one of them to exclaim, "We are going to have
a jolly time of it !" Before the day is over, the regiment is
seduced; the women have, according to their own idea, acted for a
good motive. When a political idea finds its way into such heads,
instead of ennobling them, it becomes degraded there; its only
effect is to let loose vices which a remnant of modesty still keeps
in subjection, and full play is given to luxurious or ferocious
instincts under cover of the public good. -- The passions,
moreover, become intensified through their mutual interaction;
crowds, clamor, disorder, longings, and fasting, end in a state of
frenzy, from which nothing can issue but dizzy madness and rage. --
This frenzy began to show itself on the way. Already, on setting
out, a woman had exclaimed,

"We shall bring back the Queen's head on the end of a pike!"[37]

On reaching the Sèvres bridge others added,

"Let us cut her throat, and make cockades of her entrails!"

Rain is falling; they are cold, tired, and hungry, and get nothing
to eat but a bit of bread, distributed at a late hour, and with
difficulty, on the Place d'Armes. One of the bands cuts up a
slaughtered horse, roasts it, and consumes it half raw, after the
manner of savages. It is not surprising that, under the names of
patriotism and "justice," savage ideas spring up in their minds
against "members of the National Assembly who are not with the
principles of the people," against "the Bishop of Langres, Mounier,
and the rest." One man in a ragged old red coat declares that "he
must have the head of the Abbé Maury to play nine-pins with." But it
is especially against the Queen, who is a woman, and in sight, that
the feminine imagination is the most aroused.

"She alone is the cause of the evils we endure .... she must be
killed, and quartered."

-- Night advances; there are acts of violence, and violence
engenders violence.

"How glad I should be," says one man, "if I could only lay my hand
on that she-devil, and strike off her head on the first curbstone !"

Towards morning, some cry out,

"Where is that cursed cat? We must eat her heart out... We'll take
off her head, cut her heart out, and fry her liver I "

-- With the first murders the appetite for blood has been awakened;
the women from Paris say that "they have brought tubs to carry away
the stumps of the Royal Guards," and at these words others clap
their hands. Some of the riffraff of the crowd examine the rope of
the lamp post in the court of the National Assembly, and judging it
not to be sufficiently strong, are desirous of supplying its place
with another "to hang the Archbishop of Paris, Maury, and
d'Espréménil." -- This murderous, carnivorous rage penetrates even
among those whose duty it is to maintain order, one of the National
Guard being heard to say that "the body-guards must be killed to the
last man, and their hearts torn out for a breakfast."

Finally, towards midnight, the National Guard of Paris arrives; but
it only adds one insurrection to another, for it has likewise
mutinied against its chiefs.[38]

"If M. de Lafayette is not disposed to accompany us," says one of
the grenadiers, "we will take an old grenadier for our commander."

Having come to this decision, they sought the general at the Hôtel-
de-Ville, and the delegates of six of the companies made their
instructions known to him.

"General, we do not believe that you are a traitor, but we think
that the Government is betraying us.... The committee on
subsistence is deceiving us, and must be removed. We want to go to
Versailles to exterminate the body-guard and the Flemish regiment
who have trampled on the national cockade. If the King of France is
too feeble to wear his crown, let him take it off; we will crown his
son and things will go better."

In vain Lafayette refuses, and harangues them on the Place de Grève;
in vain he resists for hours, now addressing them and now imposing
silence. Armed bands, coming from the Faubourgs Saint-Antoine and
Saint-Marceau, swell the crowd; they take aim at him; others prepare
the lamp-post. He then dismounts and endeavors to return to the
Hôtel-de-Ville, but his grenadiers bar the way:

"Morbleu, General, you will stay with us; you will not abandon us !"

Being their chief it is pretty plain that he must follow them; which
is also the sentiment of the representatives of the commune at the
Hôtel-de-Ville, who send him their authorization, and even the order
to march, "seeing that it is impossible for him to refuse."

Fifteen thousand men thus reach Versailles, and in front of and
along with them thousands of ruffians, protected by the darkness.
On this side the National Guard of Versailles, posted around the
chateau, together with the people of Versailles, who bar the way
against vehicles, have closed up every outlet.[39] The King is
prisoner in his own palace, he and his, with his ministers and his
court, and with no defense. For, with his usual optimism, he has
confided the outer posts of the chateau to Lafayette's soldiers,
and, through a humanitarian obstinacy which he is to maintain up to
the last,[40] he has forbidden his own guards to fire on the crowd,
so that they are only there for show. With common right in his
favor, the law, and the oath which Lafayette had just obliged his
troops to renew, what could he have to fear? What could be more
effective with the people than trust in them and prudence? And by
playing the sheep one is sure of taming brutes!

>From five o'clock in the morning they prowl around the palace-
railings. Lafayette, exhausted with fatigue, has taken an hour's
repose,[41] which hour suffices for them.[42] A populace armed with
pikes and clubs, men and women, surrounds a squad of eighty-eight
National Guards, forces them to fire on the King's Guards, bursts
open a door, seizes two of the guards and chops their heads off.
The executioner, who is a studio model, with a heavy beard,
stretches out his blood-stained hands and glories in the act; and so
great is the effect on the National Guard that they move off;
through sensibility, in order not to witness such sights: such is
the resistance! In the meantime the crowd invade the staircases,
beat down and trample on the guards they encounter, and burst open
the doors with imprecations against the Queen. The Queen runs off;
just in time, in her underclothes; she takes refuge with the King
and the rest of the royal family, who have in vain barricaded
themselves in the Œil-de-Boeuf, a door of which is broken in: here
they stand, awaiting death, when Lafayette arrives with his
grenadiers and saves all that can be save -- their lives, and
nothing more. For, from the crowd huddled in the marble court the
shout rises, "To Paris with the King !" a command to which the King

Now that the great hostage is in their hands, will they deign to
accept the second one? This is doubtful. On the Queen approaching
the balcony with her son and daughter, a howl arises of "No
children!" They want to have her alone in the sights of their guns,
and she understands that. At this moment M. de Lafayette, throwing
the shield of his popularity over her, appears on the balcony at her
side and respectfully kisses her hand. The reaction is
instantaneous in this over-excited crowd. Both the men and
especially the women, in such a state of nervous tension, readily
jump from one extreme to another, rage bordering on tears. A
portress, who is a companion of Maillard's,[43] imagines that she
hears Lafayette promise in the Queen's name "to love her people and
be as much attached to them as Jesus Christ to his Church." People
sob and embrace each other; the grenadiers shift their caps to the
heads of the body-guard. Everything will be fine : "the people have
won their King back." -- Nothing is to be done now but to rejoice;
and the cortege moves on. The royal family and a hundred deputies,
in carriages, form the center, and then comes the artillery, with a
number of women bestriding the cannons; next, a convoy of flour.
Round about are the King's Guards, each with a National Guard
mounted behind him; then comes the National Guard of Paris, and
after them men with pikes and women on foot, on horseback, in cabs,
and on carts; in front is a band bearing two severed heads on the
ends of two poles, which halts at a hairdresser's, in Sèvres, to
have these heads powdered and curled;[44] they are made to bow by
way of salutation, and are daubed all over with cream; there are
jokes and shouts of laughter; the people stop to eat and drink on
the road, and oblige the guards to clink glasses with them; they
shout and fire salvos of musketry; men and women hold each other's
hands and sing and dance about in the mud. -- Such is the new
fraternity: a funeral procession of legal and legitimate
authorities, a triumph of brutality over intelligence, a murderous
and political Mardi-gras, a formidable masquerade which, preceded by
the insignia of death, drags along with it the heads of France, the
King, the ministers, and the deputies, that it may constrain them to
rule to until according to its frenzy, that it may hold them under
its them pikes until it is pleased to slaughter them.


The Government and the nation in the hands of the revolutionary

This time there can be no mistake: the Reign of Terror is fully and
firmly established. On this very day the mob stops a vehicle, in
which it hopes to find M. de Virieu, and declares, on searching it,
that "they are looking for the deputy to massacre him, as well as
others of whom they have a list."[45] Two days afterwards the Abbé
Grégoire tells the National Assembly that not a day passes without
ecclesiastics being insulted in Paris, and pursued with "horrible
threats." Malouet is advised that "as soon as guns are distributed
among the militia, the first use made of them will be to get rid of
those deputies who are bad citizens," and among others of the Abbé
Maury. "The moment I stepped out into the streets," writes Mounier,
"I was publicly followed. It was a crime to be seen in my company.
Wherever I happened to go, along with two or three of my companions,
it was stated that an assembly of aristocrats was forming. I had
become such an object of terror that they threatened to set fire to
a country-house where I had passed twenty-four hours; and, to
relieve their minds, a promise had to be given that neither myself
nor my friends should be again received into it." In one week five
or six hundred deputies have their passports[46] made out, and hold
themselves ready to depart. During the following month one hundred
and twenty give in their resignations, or no longer appear in the
Assembly. Mounier, Lally-Tollendal, the Bishop of Langres, and
others besides, quit Paris, and afterwards France. Mallet du Pan
writes, "Opinion now dictates its judgment with steel in hand.
Believe or die is the anathema which vehement spirits pronounce, and
this in the name of Liberty. Moderation has become a crime." After
the 7th of October, Mirabeau says to the Comte de la Marck:

"If you have any influence with the King or the Queen, persuade
them that they and France are lost if the royal family does not
leave Paris. I am busy with a plan for getting them away."

He prefers everything to the present situation, "even civil war;"
for "war, at least, invigorates the soul," while here, "under the
dictatorship of demagogues, we are being drowned in slime." Given up
to itself, Paris, in three months, "will certainly be a hospital,
and, perhaps, a theater of horrors." Against the rabble and its
leaders, it is essential that the King should at once coalesce "with
his people," that he should go to Rouen, appeal to the provinces,
provide a Centre for public opinion, and, if necessary, resort to
armed resistance. Malouet, on his side, declares that "the
Revolution, since the 5th of October, "horrifies all sensible men,
and every party, but that it is complete and irresistible." Thus the
three best minds that are associated with the Revolution -- those
whose verified prophecies attest genius or good sense; the only ones
who, for two or three years, and from week to week, have always
predicted wisely, and who have employed reason in their
demonstrations -- these three, Mallet du Pan, Mirabeau, Mabuet,
agree in their estimate of the event, and in measuring its
consequences. The nation is gliding down a declivity, and no one
possesses the means or the force to arrest it. The King cannot do
it : "undecided and weak beyond all expression, his character
resembles those oiled ivory balls which one vainly strives to keep
together."[47] And as for the Assembly, blinded, violated, and
impelled on by the theory it proclaims, and by the faction which
supports it, each of its grand decrees only renders its fall the
more precipitate.



[1] Bailly, " Mémoires," II. 195, 242.

[2] Elysée Loustalot, journalist, editor of the paper "Révolutions
de Paris," was a young lawyer who had shown a natural genius for
innovative journalism. He was to die already in 1790. (SR.)

[3] Montjoie, ch. LXX, p. 65.

[4] Bailly, II. 74, 174, 242, 261, 282, 345, 392.

[5] Such as domiciliary visits and arrests apparently made by
lunatics. ("Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris.") -- And
Montjoie, ch. LXX. p.67. Expedition of the National Guard against
imaginary brigands who are cutting down the crops at Montmorency and
the volley fired in the air. -- Conquest of Ile-Adam and Chantilly.

[6] Bailly, II. 46, 95, 232, 287, 296.

[7] "Archives de la Préfecture de Police," minutes of the meeting of
the section of Butte des Moulins, October 5, 1789.

[8] Bailly, II. 224. -- Dusaulx, 418, 202, 257, 174, 158. The
powder transported was called poudre de traite (transport); the
people understood it as poudre de traître (traitor). M. de la Salle
was near being killed through the addition of an r. It is he who
had taken command of the National Guard on the 13th of July.

[9] Floquet, VII. 54. There is the same scene at Granville, in
Normandy, on the 16th of October. A woman had assassinated her
husband, while a soldier who was her lover is her accomplice; the
woman was about to he hung and the man broken on the wheel, when the
populace shout, "The nation has the right of pardon," upset the
scaffold, and save the two assassins.

[10] Bailly, II. 274 (August 17th).

[11] Bailly, II, 83, 202, 230, 235, 283, 299.

[12] Mercure de France, the number for September 26th. - De
Goncourt, p. 111.

[13] Mercier, "Tableau de Paris," I, 58; X. 151.

[14] De Ferrières, I. 178. -- Buchez and Roux, II. 311, 316. --
Bai11y, II. 104, 174, 207, 246, 257, 282.

[15] Mercure de France, September 5th, 1789. Horace Walpole's
Letters, September 5, 1789. -- M. de Lafayette, "Mémoires," I. 272.
During the week following the 14th of July, 6,000 soldiers deserted
and went over to the people, besides 400 and 800 Swiss Guards and
six battalions of the French Guards, who remain without officers,
and do as they please. Vagabonds from the neighboring villages
flock in, and there are more than "30,000 strangers and vagrants" in

[16] Bailly, II. 282. The crowd of deserters was so great that
Lafayette was obliged to place a guard at the barriers to keep them
from entering the city. "Without this precaution the whole army
would have come in."

[17] De Ferrières, I. 103. -- De Lavalette, I. 39. -- Bailly, I. 53
(on the lawyers). "It may be said that the success of the
Revolution is due to this class." -- Marmontel, II. 243 "Since the
first elections of Paris, in 1789, I remarked," he says, "this
species of restless intriguing men, contending with each other to be
heard, impatient to make themselves prominent....It is well known
what interest this body (the lawyers) had to change Reform into
Revolution, the Monarchy into a Republic; the object was to organize
for itself a perpetual aristocracy." -- Buchez and Roux, II. 358
(article by C. Desmoulins). "In the districts everybody exhausts
his lungs and his time in trying to be president, vice-president,
secretary or vice-secretary"

[18] Eugène Hatin, "Histoire de la Presse," vol. V. p. 113. "Le
Patriote français" by Brissot, July 28, 1789. -- "L'Ami du Peuple,"
by Marat, September 12, 1789. -- "Annales patriotiques et
littéraires," by Carra and Mercier, October 5, 1789, -- "Les
Révolutions de Paris," chief editor Loustalot, July 17th, 1789. -
"Le Tribun du peuple," letters by (middle of 1789). - "Révolutions
de France et de Brabant," by C. Desmoulins, November 28, 1789; his
"France libre" (I believe of the month of August, and his "Discours
de la Lanterne" of the month of September). - "The Moniteur" does
not make its appearance until November 24, 1789. In the seventy
numbers which follow, up to February 3, 1790, the debates of the
Assembly were afterwards written out, amplified, and put in a
dramatic form. All numbers anterior to February 3, 1790, are the
result of a compilation executed in the year IV. The narrative part
during the first six months of the Revolution is of no value. The
report of the sittings of the Assembly is more exact, but should be
revised sitting by sitting and discourse by discourse for a detailed
history of the National Assembly. The principal authorities which
are really contemporary are, "Le Mercure de France," "Le Journal de
Paris," "Le point de Jour" by Barrère, the "Courrier de Versailles,"
by Gorsas, the "Courrier de Provence" by Mirabeau, the "Journal des
Débats et Décrets," the official reports of the National assembly,
the "Bulletin de l'Asemblée Nationale," by Marat, besides the
newspapers above cited for the period following the 14th of July,
and the speeches, which are printed separately.

[19] C. Desmoulins, letters of September 20th and of subsequent
dates. (He quote, a passage from Lucan in the sense indicated). --
Brissot, "Mémoires," passim. -- Biography of Danton by Robinet. (See
the testimony of Madame Roland and of Rousselin de Saint-Albin.)

[20] "Discours de la Lanterne." See the epigraph of the engraving.

[21] Buchez and Roux; III. 55; article of Marat, October lst.
"Sweep all the suspected men out of the Hôtel-de-Ville. . . . .
Reduce the deputies of the communes to fifty; do not let them remain
in office more than a month or six weeks, and compel them to
transact business only in public." -- And II. 412, another article
by Marat. -- Ibid. III. 21. An article by Loustalot. - C.
Desmoulins, "Discours de la Lanterne," passim. -- Bailly, II. 326.

[22] Mounier, "Des causes qui ont empêche les Français d'être
libre," I. 59. - Lally-Tollendal, second letter, 104. --
Bailly, II. 203.

[23] De Bouillé, 207. -- Lally-Tollendal, ibid, 141, 146. --
Mounier, ibid., 41, 60.

[24] Mercure de France, October 2, 1790 (article of Mallet du Pan:
"I saw it"). Criminal proceedings at the Châtelet on the events of
October 5th and 6th. Deposition of M. Feydel, a deputy, No. 178. -
- De Montlosier, i. 259. -- Desmoulins (La Lanterne). "Some members
of the communes are gradually won over by pensions, by plans for
making a fortune and by flattery. Happily, the incorruptible
galleries are always on the side of the patriots. They represent
the tribunes of the people seated on a bench in attendance on the
deliberations of the Senate and who had the veto. They represent
the metropolis and, fortunately, it is under the batteries of the
metropolis that the constitution is being framed." (C. Desmoulins,
simple-minded politician, always let the cat out of the bag.)

[25] "Procédure du Châtelet," Ibid. Deposition of M. Malouet (No.
111). "I received every day, as well as MM. Lally and Mounier,
anonymous letters and lists of proscriptions on which we were
inscribed. These letters announced a prompt and violent death to
every deputy that advocated the authority of the King."

[26] Buchez and Roux, I. 368, 376. -- -- Bailly, II. 326, 341. -
Mounier, ibid., 62, 75.

[27] Etienne Dumont, 145. -- Correspondence between Comte de
Mirabeau and Comte de la Marck.

[28] "Procédure criminelle du Châtelet," Deposition 148. - Buchez
and Roux, III. 67, 65. (Narrative of Desmoulins, article of
Loustalot.) Mercure de France, number for September 5, 1789.
"Sunday evening, August 30, at the Palais-Royal, the expulsion of
several deputies of every class was demanded, and especially some of
those from Dauphiny. . . They spoke of bringing the King to Paris as
well as the Dauphin. All virtuous citizens, every incorruptible
patriot, was exhorted to set out immediately for Versailles."

[29] These acts of violence were not reprisals; nothing of the kind
took place at the banquet of the body-guards (October 1st). "Amidst
the general joy," says an eye-witness, I heard no insults against
the National Assembly, nor against the popular party, nor against
anybody. The only cries were 'Vive le Roi! Vive la Reine! We will
defend them to the death!'" (Madame de Larochejacquelein, p.40. -
Ibid. Madame Campan, another eye-witness.) -- It appears to be
certain, however, that the younger members of the National Guard at
Versailles turned their cockades so as to be like other people, and
it is also probable that some of the ladies distributed white
cockades. The rest is a story made up before and after the event to
justify the insurrection. -- Cf. Lerol, "Histoire de Versailles,"
II. 20-107. Ibid. p. 141. "As to that proscription of the
national cockade, all witnesses deny it." The originator of the
calumny is Gorsas, editor of the Courrier de Versailles.

[30] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 88, 110, 120,
126, 127, 140, 146, 148. -- Marmontel, "Mémoires," a conversation
with Champfort, in May, 1789. -- Morellet, "Mémoires," I. 398.
(According to the evidence of Garat, Champfort gave all his savings,
3,000 livres, to defray the expenses of maneuvers of this
description.) -- Malouet (II. 2). knew four of the deputies "who
took direct part in this conspiracy."

[31] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." 1st. On the Flemish
soldiers. Depositions 17, 20, 24, 35, 87, 89, 98. -- 2nd. On the
men disguised as women. Depositions 5, 10, 14, 44, 49, 59, 60, 110,
120, 139, 145, 146, 148. The prosecutor designates six of them to
be seized. -- 3rd. On the condition of the women of the expedition.
Depositions 35, 83, 91, 98, 146, and 24. -- 4th. On the money
distributed. Depositions 49, 56, 71, 82, 110, 126.

[32] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Deposition 61. "During the
night scenes, not very decent, occurred among these people, which
the witness thought it useless to relate."

[33] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 35, 44, 81. --
Buchez and Roux, III. 120. (Minutes of the meeting of the Commune,
October 5th.) Journal de Paris, October 12th. A few days after, M.
Pic, clerk of the prosecutor, brought "a package of 100,000 francs
which he had saved from the enemies' hands," and another package of
notes was found thrown, in the hubbub, into a receipt-box.

[34] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 61, 77, 81,
148, 154. -- Dumont, 181. -- Mounier, "Exposé justificatif," and
specially "Fait relatif à la dernière insurrection."

[35] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Deposition 168. The witness
sees on leaving the King's apartment " several women dressed as
fish-wives, one of whom, with a pretty face, has a paper in her
hand, and who exclaims as she holds it up, 'He! F..., we have forced
the guy to sign.' "

[36] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 89, 91, 98.
"Promising all, even raising their petticoats before them."

[37] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet," Depositions 9, 20, 24, 30,
49, 61, 82, 115, 149, 155.

[38] Procédure criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 7, 30, 35, 40. -
- Cf. Lafayette, "Mémoires," and Madame Campan, "Mémoires."

[39] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Deposition 24. A number of
butcher-boys run after the carriages issuing from the Petite-Ecurie
shouting out, "Don't let the curs escape!"

[40] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 101, 91, 89,
and 17. M. de Miomandre, a body-guard, mildly says to the ruffians
mounting the staircase: "My friends, you love your King, and yet you
come to annoy him even in his palace!"

[41] Malouet, II. 2. "I felt no distrust," says Lafayette in 1798;
"the people promised to remain quiet."

[42] "Procédure Criminelle du Chatelet." Depositions 9, 16, 60, 128,
129, 130, 139, 158, 168, 170. -- M. du Repaire, body-guard, being
sentry at the railing from two o'clock in the morning, a man passes
his pike through the bars saying, "You embroidered b. . . , your
turn will come before long." M. de Repaire, " retires within the
sentry-box without saying a word to this man, considering the orders
that have been issued not to act."

[43] "Procédure Criminelle du Châtelet." Depositions 82, 170 --
Madame Campan. II. 87. -- De Lavalette, I.33. -- Cf. Bertrand de
Molleville, Mémoires."

[44] Duval," Souvenirs de la Terreur," I. 78. (Doubtful in almost
everything, but here he is an eye-witness. He dined opposite the
hair-dresser's, near the railing of the Park of Saint-Cloud.) -- M.
de Lally-Tollendal's second letter to a friend. "At the moment the
King entered his capital with two bishops of his council with him in
the carriage, the cry was heard, "Off to the lamp post with the

[45] De Montlosier, I. 303. -- Moniteur, sessions of the 8th, 9th,
and 10th of October. -- Malouet, II. 9, 10, 20. -- Mounier,
Recherches sur les Causes, etc.," and "Addresse aux Dauphinois."

[46] De Ferrières, I. 346. (On the 9th of October, 300 members have
already taken their passports.) Mercure de France, No. of the 17th
October. Correspondence of Mirabeau and M. de la Marck, I. 116,
126, 364.

[47] Correspondence of Mirabeau and M. de la Marck, I.175. (The
words of Monsieur to M. de la Marck.)




Among the most difficult undertakings in this world is the
formulation of a national constitution, especially if this is to be
a complete and comprehensive work. To replace the old structures
inside which a great people has lived by a new, different,
appropriate and durable set of laws, to apply a mold of one hundred
thousand compartments on to the life of twenty-six million people,
to construct it so harmoniously, adapt it so well, so closely, with
such an exact appreciation of their needs and their faculties, that
they enter it of themselves and move about it without collisions,
and that their spontaneous activity should at once find the ease of
familiar routine, - is an extraordinary undertaking and probably
beyond the powers of the human mind. In any event, the mind
requires all its powers to carry the undertaking out, and it cannot
protect itself carefully enough against all sources of disturbance
and error. An Assembly, especially a Constituent Assembly,
requires, outwardly, security and independence, inwardly, silence
and order, and generally, calmness, good sense, practical ability
and discipline under competent and recognized leaders. Do we find
anything of all this in the Constituent Assembly?


These conditions absent in the Assembly - Causes of disorder and
irrationality - The place of meeting - The large number of deputies
- Interference of the galleries - Rules of procedure wanting,
defective, or disregarded.- The parliamentary leaders -
Susceptibility and over-excitement of the Assembly - Its paroxysms
of enthusiasm. - Its tendency to emotion. -It encourages
theatrical display - Changes which these displays introduce in its
good intentions.

We have only to look at it outwardly to have some doubts about it.
At Versailles, and then at Paris, the sessions are held in an
immense hall capable of seating 2,000 persons, in which the most
powerful voice must be strained in order to be heard. It is not
calculated for the moderate tone suitable for the discussion of
business; the speaker is obliged to shout, and the strain on the
voice communicates itself to the mind; the place itself suggests
declamation; and this all the more readily because the assemblage
consists of 1,200, that is to say, a crowd, and almost a mob. 'At
the present day (1877), in our assemblies of five or six hundred
deputies, there are constant interruptions and an incessant buzz;
there is nothing so rare as self-control, and the firm resolve to
give an hour's attention to a discourse opposed to the opinions of
the hearers. -- What can be done here to compel silence and
patience? Arthur Young on different occasions sees "a hundred
members on the floor at once," shouting and gesticulating.
"Gentlemen, you are killing me!" says Bailly, one day, sinking with
exhaustion. Another president exclaims in despair, "Two hundred
speaking at the same time cannot be heard; will you make it
impossible then to restore order in the Assembly?" The rumbling,
discordant din is further increased by the uproar of the

"In the British Parliament," writes Mallet du Pan, "I saw the
galleries cleared in a trice because the Duchess of Gordon happened
unintentionally to laugh too loud."

Here, the thronging crowd of spectators, stringers, delegates from
the Palais-Royal, soldiers disguised as citizens, and prostitutes
collected and marshaled, applaud, clap their hands, stamp and hoot,
at their pleasure. This is carried to so great an extent that M.
de Montlosier ironically proposes "to give the galleries a voice in
the deliberations."[2] Another member wishes to know whether the
representatives are so many actors, whom the nation sends there to
endure the hisses of the Paris public. Interruptions, in fact, take
place as in a theater, and, frequently, if the members do not give
satisfaction, they are forced to desist. On the other hand, the
deputies who are popular with this energetic audience, on which they
keep and eye, are actors before the footlights: they involuntarily
yield to its influence, and exaggerate their ideas as well as their
words to be in unison with it. Tumult and violence, under such
circumstances, become a matter of course, and the chances of an
Assembly acting wisely are diminished by one-half; on becoming a
club of agitators, it ceases to be a conclave of legislators.

Let us enter and see how this one proceeds. Thus encumbered, thus
surrounded and agitated, does it take at least those precautions
without which no assembly of men can govern itself. When several
hundred persons assemble together for deliberation, it is evident
that some sort of an internal police is necessary; first of all,
some code of accepted usage, some written precedents, by which its
acts may be prepared and defined, considered in detail, and properly
passed. The best of these codes it ready to hand: at the request
of Mirabeau, Romilly has sent over the standing orders of the
English House of Commons.[3} But with the presumption of novices,
they pay no attention to this code; they imagine it is needless for
them; they will borrow nothing from foreigners; they accord no
authority to experience, and, not content with rejecting the forms
it prescribes, "it is with difficulty they can be made to follow any
rule whatever." They leave the field open to the impulsiveness of
individuals; any kind of influence, even that of a deputy, even of
one elected by themselves, is suspected by them; hence their choice
of a new president every fortnight. - They submit to no constraint
or control, neither to the legal authority of a parliamentary code,
nor to the moral authority of parliamentary chiefs. They are
without any such; they are not organized in parties; neither on one
side nor on the other is a recognized leader found who fixes the
time, arranges the debate, draws up the motion, assigns parts, and
gives the rein to or restrains his supporters. Mirabeau is the
only one capable of obtaining this ascendancy; but, on the opening
of the Assembly, he is discredited by the notoriety of his vices,
and, towards the last, is compromised by his connections with the
Court. No other is of sufficient eminence to have any influence;
there is too much of average and too little of superior talent. -
Their self-esteem is, moreover, as yet too strong to allow any
concessions. Each of these improvised legislators has come
satisfied with his own system, and to submit to a leader to whom he
would entrust his political conscience, to make of him what three
out of four of these deputies should be, a voting machine, would
require an apprehension of danger, some painful experience, an
enforced surrender which he is far from realizing.[4] For this
reason, save in the violent party, each acts as his own chief,
according to the impulse of the moment, and the confusion may be
imagined. Strangers who witness it, lift their hands in pity and
astonishment. "They discuss nothing in their Assembly," writes
Gouverneur Morris,[5] "One large half of the time is spent in
hallowing and bawling.... Each Man permitted to speak delivers the
Result of his Lubrications," amidst this noise, taking his turn as
inscribed, without replying to his predecessor, or being replied to
by his successor, without ever meeting argument by argument; so
that while the firing is interminable, "all their shots are fired in
the air." Before this "frightful clatter" can be reported, the
papers of the day are obliged to make all sorts of excisions, to
prune away "nonsense," and reduce the "inflated and bombastic
style." Chatter and clamor, that is the whole substance of most of
these famous sittings.

"You would hear," says a journalist, "more yells than speeches; the
sittings seemed more likely to end in fights than in decrees. . . .
Twenty times I said to myself, on leaving, that if anything could
arrest and turn the tide of the Revolution, it would be a picture of
these meetings traced without caution or adaptation. . . All my
efforts were therefore directed to represent the truth, without
rendering it repulsive. Out of what had been merely a row, I
concocted a scene. . . I gave all the sentiments, but not always in
the same words. I translated their yells into words, their furious
gestures into attitudes, and when I could not inspire esteem, I
endeavored to rouse the emotions."

There is no remedy for this evil; for, besides the absence of
discipline, there is an inward and fundamental cause for the
disorder. These people are too susceptible. They are Frenchmen,
and Frenchmen of the eighteenth century; brought up in the amenities
of the utmost refinement, accustomed to deferential manners, to
constant kind attentions and mutual obligations, so thoroughly
imbued with the instinct of good breeding that their conversation
seems almost insipid to strangers.[6] -- And suddenly they find
themselves on the thorny soil of politics, exposed to insulting
debates, flat contradictions, venomous denunciation, constant
detraction and open invective; engaged in a battle in which every
species of weapon peculiar to a parliamentary life is employed, and
in which the hardiest veterans are scarcely able to keep cool.
Judge of the effect of all this on inexperienced, highly strung
nerves, on men of the world accustomed to the accommodations and
amiabilities of universal urbanity. They are at once beside
themselves. - And all the more so because they never anticipated a
battle; but, on the contrary, a festival, a grand and charming
idyll, in which everybody, hand in hand, would assemble in tears
around the throne and save the country amid mutual embraces.
Necker himself arranges, like a theater, the chamber in which the
sessions of the Assembly are to be held.[7] "He was not disposed to
regard the Assemblies of the States-General as anything but a
peaceful, imposing, solemn, august spectacle, which the people would
enjoy;" and when the idyll suddenly changes into a drama, he is so
frightened that it seems to him as if a landslide had occurred that
threatened, during the night, to break down the framework of the
building. - At the time of the meeting of the States-General,
everybody is delighted; all imagine that they are about to enter the
promised land. During the procession of the 4thof May,

"tears of joy," says the Marquis de Ferrières, "filled my eyes. . .
. In a state of sweet rapture I beheld France supported by
Religion" exhorting us all to concord. "The sacred ceremonies, the
music, the incense, the priests in their sacrificial robes, that
dais, that orb radiant with precious stones. .. I called to my
mind the words of the prophet. . . . My God, my country, and my
countrymen, all were one with myself! "

Such emotions repeatedly explode in the course of the session, and
resulted in the passage of laws which no one could have imagined.

"Sometimes,"[8] writes the American ambassador, "a speaker gets up
in the midst of a deliberation, makes a fine discourse on a
different subject, and closes with a nice little resolution which is
carried with a hurrah. Thus, in considering the plan of a national
bank proposed by M. Necker, one of them took it into his head to
move that every member should give his silver buckles, which was
agreed to at once, and the honorable mover laid his upon the table,
after which the business went on again."

Thus, over-excited, they do not know in the morning what they will
do in the afternoon, and they are at the mercy of every surprise.
When they are seized with these fits of enthusiasm, infatuation
spreads over all the benches; prudence gives way, all foresight
disappears and every objection is stifled. During the night of the
4th of August,[9] "nobody is master of himself . The Assembly
presents the spectacle of an inebriated crowd in a shop of valuable
furniture, breaking and smashing at will whatever they can lay their
hands on."

"That which would have required a year of care and reflection,"
says a competent foreigner, "was proposed, deliberated over, and
passed by general acclamation. The abolition of feudal rights, of
titles, of the privileges of the provinces, three articles which
alone embraced a whole system of jurisprudence and statesmanship,
were decided with ten or twelve other measures in less time than is
required in the English Parliament for the first reading of an
important bill."

"Such are our Frenchmen," says Mirabeau again, "they spend a month
in disputes about syllables, and overthrow, in a single night, the
whole established system of the Monarchy !"[10]

The truth is, they display the nervousness of women, and, from one
end of the Revolution to the other, this excitability keeps on

Not only are they excited, but the pitch of excitement must be
maintained, and, like the drunkard who, once stimulated, has
recourse again to strong waters, one would say that they carefully
try to expel the last remnants of calmness and common sense from
their brains. They delight in pompous phrases, in high-sounding
rhetoric, in declamatory sentimental strokes of eloquence: this is
the style of nearly all their speeches, and so strong is their
taste, they are not satisfied with the orations made amongst
themselves. Lally and Necker, having made "affecting and sublime"
speeches at the Hôtel-de-Ville, the Assembly wish them to be
repeated before them:[11] this being the heart of France, it is
proper for it to answer to the noble emotions of all Frenchmen.
Let this heart throb on, and as strongly as possible, for that is
its office, and day by day it receives fresh impulses. Almost all
sittings begin with the reading of flattering addresses or of
threatening denunciations. The petitioners frequently appear in
person, and read their enthusiastic effusions, their imperious
advice, their doctrines of dissolution. To-day it is Danton, in
the name of Paris, with his bull visage and his voice that seems a
tocsin of insurrection; to-morrow, the vanquishers of the Bastille,
or some other troop, with a band of music which continues playing
even into the hall. The meeting is not a conference for business,
but a patriotic opera, where the eclogue, the melodrama, and
sometimes the masquerade, mingle with the cheers and the clapping of
hands.[12] -- A serf of the Jura is brought to the bar of the
Assembly aged one hundred and twenty years, and one of the members
of the cortège, " M. Bourbon de la Crosnière, director of a
patriotic school, asks permission to take charge of an honorable old
man, that he may be waited on by the young people of all ranks, and
especially by the children of those whose fathers were killed in the
attack on the Bastille." [13] Great is the hubbub and excitement.
The scene seems to be in imitation of Berquin,[14] with the
additional complication of a mercenary consideration.

But small matters are not closely looked into, and the Assembly,
under the pressure of the galleries, stoops to shows, such as are
held at fairs. Sixty vagabonds who are paid twelve francs a head,
in the costumes of Spaniards, Dutchmen, Turks, Arabs, Tripolitans,
Persians, Hindus, Mongols, and Chinese, conducted by the Prussian
Anacharsis Clootz, enter, under the title of Ambassadors of the
Human Race, to declaim against tyrants, and they are admitted to the
honors of the sitting. On this occasion the masquerade is a stroke
devised to hasten and extort the abolition of nobility.[15] At other
times, there is little or no object in it; its ridiculousness is
inexpressible, for the farce is played out as seriously and
earnestly as in a village award of prizes. For three days, the
children who have taken their first communion before the
constitutional bishop have been promenaded through the streets of
Paris; at the Jacobin club they recite the nonsense they have
committed to memory; and, on the fourth day, admitted to the bar of
the Assembly, their spokesman, a poor little thing of twelve years,
repeats the parrot-like tirade. He winds up with the accustomed
oath, upon which all the others cry out in their piping, shrill
voices, " We swear ! " As a climax, the President, Trejlhard, a
sober lawyer, replies to the little gamins with perfect gravity in a
similar strain, employing metaphors, personifications, and
everything else belonging to the stock-in-trade of a pedant on his

"You merit a share in the glory of the founders of liberty,
prepared as you are to shed your blood in her behalf."

Immense applause from the "left" and the galleries, and a decree
ordering the speeches of both president and children to be printed.
The children, probably, would rather have gone out to play; but,
willingly or unwillingly, they receive or endure the honors of the

Such are the tricks of the stage and of the platform by which the
managers here move their political puppets. Emotional
susceptibility, once recognized as a legitimate force, thus becomes
an instrument of intrigue and constraint. The Assembly, having
accepted theatrical exhibitions when these were sincere and earnest,
is obliged to tolerate them when they become mere sham and
buffoonery. At this vast national banquet, over which it meant to
preside, and to which, throwing the doors wide open, it invited all
France, its first intoxication was due to wine of a noble quality;
but it has touched glasses with the populace, and by degrees, under
the pressure of its associates, it has descended to adulterated and
burning drinks, to a grotesque unwholesome inebriety which is all
the more grotesque and unwholesome, because it persists in believing
itself to be reason.


Inadequacy of its information - Its composition - The social
standing and culture of the larger number - Their incapacity.
Their presumption - Fruitless advice of competent men.- Deductive
politics - Parties - The minority; its faults - The majority; its

If reason could only resume its empire during the lucid intervals!
But reason must exist before it can govern, and in no French
Assembly, except the two following this, have there ever been fewer
political intellects. - Strictly speaking, with careful search,
there could undoubtedly be found in France, in 1789, five or six
hundred experienced men, such as the intendants and military
commanders of every province; next to these the prelates,
administrators of large dioceses the members of the local
"parlements," whose courts gave them influence, and who, besides
judicial functions, possessed a portion of administrative power; and
finally, the principal members of the Provincial Assemblies, all of
them influential and sensible people who had exercised control over
men and affairs, at once humane, liberal, moderate, and capable of
understanding the difficulty, as well as the necessity, of a great
reform; indeed, their correspondence, full of facts, stated with
precision and judgment, when compared with the doctrinaire rubbish
of the Assembly, presents the strongest possible contrast. - But
most of these lights remain under a bushel; only a few of them get
into the Assembly; these burn without illuminating, and are soon
extinguished in the tempest.' I. The venerable Machault is not there,
nor Malesherbes; there are none of the old ministers or the marshals
of France. Not one of the intendants is there, except Malouet, and
by the superiority of this man, the most judicious of the Assembly,
one can judge the services which his colleagues would have rendered.
Out of two hundred and ninety-one members of the clergy,[17] there
are indeed forty-eight bishops or archbishops and thirty-five abbots
or canons, but, being prelates and with large endowments, they
excite the envy of their order, and are generals without any
soldiers. We have the same spectacle among the nobles. Most of
them, the gentry of the provinces, have been elected in opposition
to the grandees of the Court. Moreover, neither the grandees of
the Court, devoted to worldly pursuits, nor the gentry of the
provinces, confined to private life, are practically familiar with
public affairs. A small group among them, twenty-eight magistrates
and about thirty superior officials who have held command or have
been connected with the administration, probably have some idea of
the peril of society; but it is precisely for this reason that they
seem to be behind the age and remain without influence. - In the
Third-Estate, out of five hundred and seventy-seven members, only
ten have exercised any important functions, those of intendant,
councillor of state, receiver-general, lieutenant of police,
director of the mint, and others of the same category. The great
majority is composed of unknown lawyers and people occupying
inferior positions in the profession, notaries, royal attorneys,
register commissaries, judges and assessors of; the présidial,
bailiffs and lieutenants of the bailiwick, simple practitioners
confined from their youth to the narrow circle of an inferior
jurisdiction or to a routine of scribbling, with no escape but
philosophical excursions in imaginary space under the guidance of
Rousseau and Raynal. There are three hundred and seventy-three of
this class, to whom may be added thirty-eight farmers and
husbandmen, fifteen physicians, and, among the manufacturers,
merchants, and capitalists, some fifty or sixty who are their equals
in education and in political capacity. Scarcely one hundred and
fifty proprietors are here from the middle class.[18] To these four
hundred and fifty deputies, whose condition, education, instruction,
and mental range qualified them for being good clerks, prominent men
in a commune, honorable fathers of a family, or, at best,
provincial academicians, add two hundred and eight curés, their
equals; this makes six hundred and fifty out of eleven hundred and
eighteen deputies, forming a positive majority, which, again, is
augmented by about fifty philosophical nobles, leaving out the weak
who follow the current, and the ambitious who range themselves on
the strong side. - We may divine what a chamber thus made up can
do, and those who are familiar with such matters prophesy what it
will do.[19]

"There are some able men in the National Assembly," writes the
American minister, "yet the best heads among them would not be
injured by experience, and, unfortunately, there are great numbers
who, with much imagination, have little knowledge, judgment, or

It would be just as sensible to select eleven hundred notables from
an inland province and entrust them to the repair of an old frigate.
They would conscientiously break the vessel up, and the frigate they
would construct in its place would founder before it left port.

If they would only consult the pilots and professional shipbuilders!
-- There are several of such to be found around them, whom they
cannot suspect, for most of them are foreigners, born in free
countries, impartial, sympathetic, and, what is more, unanimous.
The Minister of the United States writes, two months before the
convocation of the States-General:[20]

"I, a republican, and just, as it were, emerged from that Assembly
which has formed one of the most republican of republican
constitutions, - I preach incessantly respect for the prince,
attention to the rights of the nobility, and moderation, not only in
the object, but also in the pursuit of it."

Jefferson, a democrat and radical, expresses himself no
differently. At the time of the oath of the Tennis Court, he
redoubles his efforts to induce Lafayette and other patriots to make
some arrangement with the King to secure freedom of the press,
religious, liberty, trial by jury, the habeas corpus, and a national
legislature, - things which he could certainly be made to adopt, -
and then to retire into private life, and let these institutions act
upon the condition of the people until they had rendered it capable
of further progress, with the assurance that there would be no lack
of opportunity for them to obtain still more.

"This was all," he continues, "that I thought your countrymen able
to bear soberly and usefully."

Arthur Young, who studies the moral life of France so
conscientiously, and who is so severe in depicting old abuses,
cannot comprehend the conduct of the Commons.

"To set aside practice for theory . . . in establishing the
interests of a great kingdom, in securing freedom to 25,000,000 of
people, seems to me the very acme of imprudence, the very
quintessence of insanity."

Undoubtedly, now that the Assembly is all-powerful, it is to be
hoped that it will be reasonable:

"I will not allow myself to believe for a moment that the
representatives of the people can ever so far forget their duty to
the French nation, to humanity, and their own fame, as to suffer any
inordinate and impracticable views - any visionary or theoretic
systems - . . . to turn aside their exertions from that security
which is in their hands, to place on the chance and hazard of public
commotion and civil war the invaluable blessings which are certainly
in their power. I will not conceive it possible that men who have
eternal fame within their grasp will place the rich inheritance on
the cast of a die, and, losing the venture, be damned among the
worst and most profligate adventurers that ever disgraced humanity."

As their plan becomes more definite the remonstrances become more
decided, and all the expert judges point out to them the importance
of the wheels which they are willfully breaking.

"As they have[21] hitherto felt severely the authority exercised
over them in the name of their princes, every limitation of that
authority seems to them desirable. Never having felt the evils of
too weak an executive, the disorders to be apprehended from anarchy
make as yet no impression" -- "They want an American
Constitution,[22] but with a King instead of a President, without
reflecting they have no American citizens to support that
Constitution. . . If they have the good sense to give the nobles,
as nobles, some portion of the national power, this free
constitution will probably last, But otherwise it will degenerate
either into a pure monarchy, or a vast republic, or a democracy.
Will the latter last? I doubt it. I am sure that it will not,
unless the whole nation is changed."

A little later, when they renounce a parliamentary monarchy to put
in its place "a royal democracy," it is at once explained to them
that such an institution applied to France can produce nothing but
anarchy, and finally end in despotism.

"Nowhere[23] has liberty proved to be stable without a sacrifice
of its excesses, without some barrier to its own omnipotence. . . .
Under this miserable government . . . the people, soon weary of
storms, and abandoned without legal protection to their seducers or
to their oppressors, will shatter the helm, or hand it over to some
audacious hand that stands ready to seize it."

Events occur from month to month in fulfillment of these
predictions, and the predictions grow gloomier and more gloomy. It
is a flock of wild birds:[24]

"It is very difficult to guess whereabouts the flock will settle
when it flies so wild. . . . This unhappy country, bewildered in
the pursuit of metaphysical whims, presents to our moral view a
mighty ruin. The Assembly, at once master and slave, new in power,
wild in theory, raw in practice, engrossing all functions without
being able to exercise any, has freed that fierce, ferocious people
from every restraint of religion and respect. . . . Such a state
of things cannot last . . . The glorious opportunity is lost and
for this time, at least, the Revolution has failed."

We see, from the replies of Washington, that he is of the same
opinion. On the other side of the Channel, Pitt, the ablest
practician, and Burke, the ablest theorist, of political liberty,
express the same judgment. Pitt, after 1789, declares that the
French have overleaped freedom. After 1790, Burke, in a work which
is a prophecy as well as a masterpiece, points to military
dictatorship as the termination of the Revolution, "the most
completely arbitrary power that has ever appeared on earth." Nothing
is of any effect. With the exception of the small powerless group
around Malouet and Mounier, the warnings of Morris, Jefferson,
Romilly, Dumont, Mallet du Pan, Arthur Young, Pitt and Burke, all of
them men who have experience of free institutions, are received with
indifference or repelled with disdain. Not only are our new
politicians incapable, but they think themselves the contrary, and
their incompetence is aggravated by their infatuation.

"I often used to say, "writes Dumont,[25] "that if a hundred
persons were stopped at haphazard in the streets of London, and a
hundred in the streets of Paris, and a proposal were made to them to
take charge of the Government, ninety-nine would accept it in Paris
and ninety-nine would refuse it in London . . . The Frenchman
thinks that all difficulties can be overcome by a little quickness
of wit. Mirabeau accepted the post of reporter to the Committee on
Mines without having the slightest tincture of knowledge on the

In short, most of them enter politics "like the gentleman who, on
being asked if he knew how to play on the harpsichord, replied, 'I
cannot tell, I never tried, but I will see.' "

"The Assembly had so high an opinion of itself, especially the
left side of it, that it would willingly have undertaken the framing
of the Code of Laws for all nations. . . Never has so many men been
seen together, fancying that they were all legislators, and that
they were there to correct all the errors of the past, to remedy all
mistakes of the human mind, and ensure the happiness of all ages to
come. Doubt had no place in their minds, and infallibility always
presided over their contradictory decrees." --

This is because they have a theory and because, according to their
notion, this theory renders special knowledge unnecessary. Herein
they are thoroughly sincere, and it is of set purpose that they
reverse all ordinary modes of procedure. Up to this time a
constitution used to be organized or repaired like a ship.
Experiments were made from time to time, or a model was taken from
vessels in the neighborhood; the first aim was to make the ship
sail; its construction was subordinated to its work; it was
fashioned in this or that way according to the materials on hand; a
beginning was made by examining these materials, and trying to
estimate their rigidity, weight, and strength. - All this is
reactionary; the age of Reason has come and the Assembly is too
enlightened to drag on in a rut. In conformity with the fashion of
the time it works by deduction, after the method of Rousseau,
according to an abstract notion of right, of the State and of the
social compact.[26] According to this process, by virtue of
political geometry alone, they shall have the perfect vessel and
since it perfect it follows that it will sail, and that much better
than any empirical craft. - They legislate according to this
principle, and one may imagine the nature of their discussions.
There are no convincing facts, no pointed arguments; nobody would
ever imagine that the speakers were gathered together to conduct
real business. Through speech after speech, strings of hollow
abstractions are endlessly renewed as in a meeting of students in
rhetoric for the purpose of practice, or in a society of old
bookworms for their own amusement. On the question of the veto
"each orator in turn, armed with his portfolio, reads a dissertation
which has no bearing whatever" on the preceding one, which makes a
"sort of academical session,"[27] a succession of pamphlets fresh
every morning for several days. On the question of the Rights of
Man fifty-four speakers are placed on the list.

"I remember," says Dumont, "that long discussion, which lasted for
weeks, as a period of deadly boredom, -- vain disputes over words, a
metaphysical jumble, and most tedious babble; the Assembly was
turned into a Sorbonne lecture-room,"

and all this while chateaux were burning, while town-halls were
being sacked, and courts dared no longer hold assize, while the
distribution of wheat was stopped, and while society was in course
of dissolution. In the same manner the theologians of the Easter
Roman Empire kept up their wrangles about the uncreated light of
Mount Tabor while Mahomet II was battering the walls of
Constantinople with his cannon. - Ours, of course, are another
sort of men, juvenile in feeling, sincere, enthusiastic, even
generous, and further, more devoted, laborious, and in some cases
endowed with rare talent. But neither zeal, nor labor, nor talent
are of any use when not employed in the service of a sound idea; and
if in the service of a false one, the greater they are the more
mischief they do.

Towards the end of the year 1789, there can be not doubt of this;
and the parties now formed reveal their presumption, improvidence,
incapacity, and obstinacy. "This Assembly," writes the American
ambassador,[28] "may be divided into three parties; --

one called the aristocrats, consists of the high clergy, the
parliamentary judges, and such of the nobility as think they ought
to form a separate order." This is the party which offers resistance
to follies and errors, but with follies and errors almost equally
great. In the beginning "the prelates,[29] instead of conciliating
the curés, kept them at a humiliating distance, affecting
distinctions, exacting respect," and, in their own chamber, "ranging
themselves apart on separate benches." The nobles, on the other
hand, the more to alienate the commons, began by charging these
with, "revolt, treachery, and treason," and by demanding the use of
military force against them. Now that the victorious Third-Estate
has again overcome them and overwhelms them with numbers, they
become still more maladroit, and conduct the defense much less
efficiently than the attack. "In the Assembly," says one of them,
"they do not listen, but laugh and talk aloud;" they take pains to
embitter their adversaries and the galleries by their impertinence.
"They leave the chamber when the President puts the question and
invite the deputies of their party to follow them, or cry out to
them not to take part in the deliberation : through this desertion,
the clubbists become the majority, and decree whatever they please."
It is in this way that the appointment of judges and bishops is
withdrawn from the King and assigned to the people. Again, after
the return from Varennes, when the Assembly finds out that the
result of its labors is impracticable and wants to make it less
democratic, the whole of the right side refuses to share in the
debates, and, what is worse, votes with the revolutionaries to
exclude the members of the Constituent from the Legislative
Assembly. Thus, not only does it abandon its own cause, but it
commits self-destruction, and its desertion ends in suicide. --

A second party remains, "the middle party,"[30] which consists of
well-intentioned people from every class, sincere partisans of a
good government; but, unfortunately, they have acquired their ideas
of government from books, and are admirable on paper. But as it
happens that the men who live in the world are very different from
imaginary men who dwell in the heads of philosophers, it is not to
be wondered at if the systems taken out of books are fit for nothing
but to be upset by another book. Intellects of this stamp are the
natural prey of utopians. Lacking the ballast of experience they
are carried away by pure logic and serve to enlarge the flock of
theorists. - The latter form the third party, which is called the
"enragés (the wild men), and who, at the expiration of six months,
find themselves "the most numerous of all."

"It is composed," says Morris, "of that class which in America is
known by the name of pettifogging lawyers, together with a host of
curates and many of those persons who in all revolutions throng to
the standard of change because they are not well.[31] This last
party is in close alliance with the populace and derives from this
circumstance very great authority."

All powerful passions are on its side, not merely the irritation
of the people tormented by misery and suspicion, not merely the
ambition and self-esteem of the bourgeois, in revolt against the
ancient régime, but also the inveterate bitterness and fixed ideas
of so many suffering minds and so many factious intellects,
Protestants, Jansenists, economists, philosophers, men who, like
Fréteau, Rabout-Saint-Etienne, Volney, Sieyès, are hatching out a
long arrears of resentments or hopes, and who only await the
opportunity to impose their system with all the intolerance of
dogmatism and of faith. To minds of this stamp the past is a dead
letter; example is no authority; realities are of no account; they
live in their own Utopia. Sieyès, the most important of them all,
judges that "the whole English constitution is charlatanism,
designed for imposing on the people;"[32] he regards the English "as
children in the matter of a constitution," and thinks that he is
capable of giving France a much better one. Dumont, who sees the
first committees at the houses of Brissot and Clavières, goes away
with as much anxiety as "disgust."

"It is impossible," he says, "to depict the confusion of ideas,
the license of the imagination, the burlesque of popular notions.
One would think that they saw before them the world on the day after
the Creation."

They seem to think, indeed, that human society does not exist, and
that they are appointed to create it. Just as well might
ambassadors "of hostile tribes, and of diverse interests, set
themselves to arrange their common lot as if nothing had previously
existed." There is no hesitation. They are satisfied that the
thing can be easily done, and that, with two or three axioms of
political philosophy, the first man that comes may make himself
master of it. Immoderate conceit of this kind among men of
experience would seem ridiculous; in this assembly of novices it is
a strength. A flock which has lost its way follows those who
appears to forge ahead; they are the most irrational but they are
the most confident, and in the Chamber as in the nation it is the
daredevils who become leaders.


Ascendancy of the revolutionary party - Theory in its favor - The
constraint thus imposed on men's minds - Appeal to the passions -
Brute force on the side of the party - It profits by this -
Oppression of the minority.

Two advantages give this party the ascendancy, and these advantages
are of such importance that henceforth whoever possesses them is
sure of being master. - In the first place the prevailing theory is
on the side of the revolutionaries, and they alone are, in the
second place, determined thoroughly to apply it. This party,
therefore, is the only one which is consistent and popular in the
face of adversaries who are unpopular and inconsequent. Nearly all
of the latter, indeed, defenders of the ancient régime, or partisans
of a limited monarchy, are likewise imbued with abstract principles
and philosophical speculation. The most refractory nobles have
advocated the rights of man in their memorials. Mounier, the
principal opponent of the demagogues, was the leader of the commons
when they proclaimed themselves to be the National -Assembly.[33]
This is enough: they have entered the narrow defile which leads to
the abyss. They had no idea of it at the first start, but one step
leads to another, and, willing or unwilling, they march on, or are
pushed on. When the abyss comes in sight it is too late; they have
been driven there by the logical results of their own concessions;
they can do nothing but wax eloquent and indignant; having abandoned
their vantage ground, they find no halting-place remaining. - There
is an enormous power in general ideas, especially if they are
simple, and appeal to the passions. None are simpler than these,
since they are reducible to the axiom which assumes the rights of
man, and subordinate to them every institution, old or new. None
are better calculated to inflame the sentiments, since the doctrine
enlists human arrogance and pride in its service, and, in the name
of justice, consecrates all the demands of independence and
domination. Consider three-fourths of the deputies, immature and
prejudiced, possessing no information but a few formulas of the
current philosophy, with no thread to guide them but pure logic,
abandoned to the declamation of lawyers, to the wild utterances of
the newspapers, to the promptings of self-esteem, to the hundred
thousand tongues which, on all sides, at the bar of the Assembly, at
the tribune, in the clubs, in the streets, in their own breasts,
repeat unanimously to them, and every day, the same flattery:

"You are sovereign and omnipotent. Right is vested in you alone.
The King exists only to execute your will. Every order, every
corporation, every power, every civil or ecclesiastical association
is illegitimate and null the moment you declare it to be so. You
may even transform religion. You are the fathers of the country.
You have saved France, you will regenerate humanity. The whole
world looks on you in admiration; finish your glorious work --
forward, always forward."

Superior good sense and rooted convictions could alone stand firm
against this flood of seductions and solicitations; but vacillating
and ordinary men are carried away by it. In the harmony of
applause which rises, they do not hear the crash of the ruins they
produce. In any case, they stop their ears, and shun the cries of
the oppressed; they refuse to admit that their work could possibly
bring about evil results; they accept the sophisms and untruths
which justify it; they allow the assassinated to be calumniated in
order to excuse the assassins; they listen to Merlin de Douay, who,
after three or four jacqueries, when pillaging, arson, and murder
are going on in all the provinces, has just declared in the name of
the Committee on Feudalism[34] that "a law must be presented to the
people, the justice of which may enforce silence on the feudatory
egoists who, for the past six months, so indecently protest against
plunder; the wisdom of which may restore to a sense of duty the
peasant who has been led astray for a moment by his resentment of a
long oppression." And when Raynal, the surviving patriarch of the
philosophic party, one day, for a wonder, takes the plain truth with
him into their tribune, they resent his straightforwardness as an
outrage, and excuse it solely on the ground of his imbecility. An
omnipotent legislator cannot depreciate himself; like a king he is
condemned to self-admiration in his public capacity. "There were
not thirty deputies amongst us," says a witness, "who thought
differently from Raynal," but "in each other's presence the credit
of the Revolution, the perspective of its blessings, was an article
of faith which had to be believed in;" and, against their own
reason, against their conscience, the moderates, caught in the net
of their own acts, join the revolutionaries to complete the

Had they refused, they would have been compelled; for, to obtain
the power, the Assembly has, from the very first, either tolerated
or solicited the violence of the streets. But, in accepting
insurrectionists for its allies, it makes them masters, and
henceforth, in Paris as in the provinces, illegal and brutal force
becomes the principal power of the State. "The triumph was
accomplished through the people; it was impossible to be severe with
them;"[35] hence, when insurrections were to be put down, the
Assembly had neither the courage nor the force necessary. "They
blame for the sake of decency; they frame their deeds by
expediency." and in turn justly undergo the pressure which they
themselves have sanctioned against others. Only three or four
times do the majority, when the insurrection becomes too daring --
after the murder of the baker François, the insurrection of the
Swiss Guard at Nancy, and the outbreak of the Champ de Mars -- feel
that they themselves are menaced, vote for and apply martial law,
and repel force with force. But, in general, when the despotism of
the people is exercised only against the royalist minority, they
allow their adversaries to be oppressed, and do not consider
themselves affected by the violence which assails the party of the
"right:" they are enemies, and may be given up to the wild beasts.
In accordance with this, the "left " has made its arrangements; its
fanaticism has no scruples; it is principle, it is absolute truth
that is at stake; this must triumph at any cost. Besides, can
there be any hesitation in having recourse to the people in the
people's own cause? A little compulsion will help along the good
cause, and hence the siege of the Assembly is continually renewed.
This was the practice already at Versailles before the 6th of
October, while now, at Paris, it is kept up more actively and with
less disguise.

At the beginning of the year 1790,[36] the band under pay comprises
seven hundred and fifty effective men, most of them deserters or
soldiers drummed out of their regiments, who are at first paid five
francs and then forty sous a day. It is their business to make or
support motions in the coffee-houses and in the streets, to mix with
the spectators at the sittings of the sections, with the groups at
the Palais-Royal, and especially in the galleries of the National-
Assembly, where they are to hoot or applaud at a given signal.
Their leader is a Chevalier de Saint-Louis, to whom they swear
obedience, and who receives his orders from the Committee of
Jacobins. His first lieutenant at the Assembly is a M. Saule, "a
stout, small, stunted old fellow, formerly an upholsterer, then a
charlatan hawker of four penny boxes of grease (made from the fat of
those that had been hung - for the cure of diseases of the kidneys)
and all his life a sot .... who, by means of a tolerably shrill
voice, which was always well moistened, has acquired some reputation
in the galleries of the Assembly." In fact, he has forged admission
tickets he has been turned out; he has been obliged to resume "the
box of ointment, and travel for one or two months in the provinces
with a man of letters for his companion." But on his return,
"through the protection of a groom of the Court, he obtained a piece
of ground for a coffee-house against the wall of the Tuileries
garden, almost alongside of the National Assembly," and now it is at
home in his coffee-shop behind his counter that the hirelings of the
galleries " come to him to know what they must say, and to be told
the order of the day in regard to applause." Besides this, he is
there himself; "it is he who for three years is to regulate public
sentiment in the galleries confided to his care, and, for his useful
and satisfactory services, the Constituent Assembly will award him a
recompense," to which the Legislative Assembly will add " a pension
of six hundred livres, besides a lodging in an apartment of the

We can divine how men of this stamp, thus compensated, do their
work. From the top of the galleries[37] they drown the demands of
the "right" by the force of their lungs; this or that decree, as,
for instance, the abolition of titles of nobility, is carried, "not
by shouts, but by terrific howls."[38] On the arrival of the news of
the sacking of the Hôtel de Castries by the populace, they applaud.
On the question coming up as to the decision whether the Catholic
faith shall be dominant, "they shout out that the aristocrats must
all be hung, and then things will go on well." Their outrages not
only remain unpunished, but are encouraged: this or that noble who
complains of their hooting is called to order, while their
interference and vociferations, their insults and their menaces, are
from this time introduced as one of the regular wheels of
legislative operations. Their pressure is still worse outside the
Chamber.[39] The Assembly is obliged several times to double its
guard. On the 27th of September, 1790, there are 40,000 men around
the building to extort the dismissal of the Ministers, and "motions
for assassination" are made under the windows, On the 4th of
January, 1791, whilst on a call of the house the ecclesiastical
deputies pass in turn to the tribune, to take or refuse the oath to
the civil constitution of the clergy, a furious clamor ascends in
the Tuileries, and even penetrates into the Chamber. "To the lamp
post with all those who refuse! " On the 27th of September, 1790, M.
Dupont, economist, having spoken against the assignats, is
surrounded on leaving the Chamber and hooted at, hustled, pushed
against the basin of the Tuileries, into which he was being thrown
when the guard rescued him. On the 21st of June, 1790, M. de
Cazalès just misses "being torn to pieces by the people."[40]
Deputies of the "right" are threatened over and over again by
gestures in the streets and in the coffee-houses; effigies of them
with ropes about the neck are publicly displayed. The Abbé Maury
is several times on the point of being hung: he saves himself once
by presenting a pistol. Another time the Vicomte de Mirabeau is
obliged to draw his sword. M. de Clermont-Tonnerre, having voted
against the annexation of the Comtat to France, is assailed with
chairs and clubs in the Palais-Royal, pursued into a porter's room
and from thence to his dwelling; the howling crowd break in the
doors, and are only repelled with great difficulty. It is
impossible for the members of the "right" to assemble together; they
are "stoned" in the church of the Capuchins, then in the Salon
Français in the Rue Royale, and then, to crown the whole, an
ordinance of the new judges shuts up their hall, and punishes them
for the violence which they have to suffer.[41] In short they are at
the mercy of the mob. The most moderate, the most liberal, and the
most manly both in heart and head, Malouet, declares that "in going
to the Assembly he rarely forgot to carry his pistols with him."[42]
"For two years," he says, "after the King's flight, we never enjoyed
one moment of freedom and security."

" On going into a slaughter-house," writes another deputy, "you see
some animals at the entrance which still have a short time to live,
until the hour comes to dispatch them. Such was the impression
which the assemblage of nobles, bishops, and parliamentarians[43] on
the right side made on my mind every time I entered the Assembly,
the executioners of the left side permitting them to breathe a
little longer."

They are insulted and outraged even upon their benches; "placed
between peril within and peril without, between the hostility of the
galleries,"[44] and that of the howlers at the entrance, " between
personal insults and the abbey of Saint-Germain, between shouts of
laughter celebrating the burning of their chateaux and the clamors
which, thirty times in a quarter of an hour, cry down their
opinions," they are given over and denounced "to the ten thousand
Cerberuses " of the journals and of the streets, who pursue them
with their yells and "cover them with their slaver." Any expedient
is good enough for putting down their opposition, and, at the end of
the session, in full Assembly, they are threatened with "a
recommendation to the departments," which means the excitement of
riots and of the permanent jacquerie of the provinces against them
in their own houses. - Parliamentary strategy of this sort,
employed uninterruptedly for twenty-nine months, finally produces
its effect. Many of the weak are gained over;[45] even on
characters of firm temper fear has a hold; he who would march under
fire with head erect shuddered at the idea of being dragged in the
gutter by the rabble ; the brutality of the populace always
exercises a material ascendancy over finely strung nerves. On the
12th of July, 1791,[46] the call of the house decreed against the
absentees proves that one hundred and thirty-two deputies no longer
appear in their places. Eleven days before, among those who take
no further part in the proceedings. Thus, before the completion of
the Constitution, the whole of the opposition, more than four
hundred members, over one-third of the Assembly, is reduced to
flight or to silence. By dint of oppression, the revolutionary
party has got rid of all resistance, while the violence which gave
to it ascendancy in the streets, now gives to it equal ascendance
within the walls of Parliament.


Refusal to supply the ministry - Effects of this mistake -
Misconception of the situation - The committee of investigation -
Constant alarms - Effects of ignorance and fear on the work of the
Constituent Assembly.

Generally in an omnipotent assembly, when a party takes the lead
and forms a majority, it furnishes the Ministry; and this fact
suffices to give, or to bring back to it, some glimpse of common
sense. For its leaders, with the Government in their own hands,
become responsible for it, and when they propose or pass a law, they
are obliged to anticipate its effect. Rarely will a Secretary of
War or of the Navy adopt a military code which goes to establish
permanent disobedience in the army or in the navy. Rarely will a
Secretary of the Treasury propose an expenditure for which there is
not a sufficient revenue, or a system of taxation that provides no
returns. Placed where full information can be procured, daily
advised of every details, surrounded by skillful counselors and
expert clerks, the chiefs of the majority, who thus become heads of
the administration, immediately drop theory for practice; and the
fumes of political speculation must be pretty dense in their minds
if they exclude the multiplied rays of light which experience
constantly sheds upon them. Let the most stubborn of theorists
take his stand at the helm of a ship, and, whatever be the obstinacy
of his principles or his prejudices, he will never, unless he is
blind or led by the blind, persist in steering always to the right
or always to the left. Just so after the flight to Varennes, when
the Assembly, in full possession of the executive power, directly
controls the Ministry, it comes to recognize for itself that its
constitutional machine will not work, except in the way of
destruction; and it is the principal revolutionaries, Barnave,
Duport, the Lameths, Chapelier, and Thouret,[47] who undertake to
make alterations in the mechanisms so as to lessen its friction.
But this source of knowledge and reason, however, to which they are
momentarily induced to draw, in spite of themselves and too late,
has been turned off by themselves from the very beginning. On the
6th of November, 1789, in deference to principle and in dread of
corruption, the Assembly had declared that none of its members
should hold ministerial office. We see it in consequence deprived
of all the instruction which comes from direct contact with affairs,
surrendered without any counterpoise to the seductions of theory,
reduced by its own decision to become a mere academy of legislation

Nay, still worse, through another effect of the same error, it
condemns itself by its own act to constant fits of panic. For,
having allowed the power which it was not willing to assume to slip
into indifferent or suspect hands, it is always uneasy, and all its
decrees bear an uniform stamp, not only of the willful ignorance
within which it confines itself, but also of the exaggerated or
chimerical fears in which its life is passed. - Imagine a ship
conveying a company of lawyers, literary men, and other passengers,
who, supported by a mutinous and poorly fed crew, take full command,
but refuse to select one of their own number for a pilot or for the
officer of the watch. The former captain continues to nominate
them; through very shame, and because he is a good sort of man, his
title is left to him, and he is retained for the transmission of
orders. If these orders are absurd, so much the worse for him; if
he resists them, a fresh mutiny forces him to yield; and even when
they cannot be executed, he has to answer for their being carried
out. In the meantime, in a room between decks, far away from the
helm and the compass, our club of amateurs discuss the equilibrium
of floating bodies, decree a new system of navigation, have the
ballast thrown overboard, crowd on all sail, and are astonished to
find that the ship heels over on its side. The officer of the
watch and the pilot must, evidently, have managed the maneuver
badly. They are accordingly dismissed and others put in their
place, while the ship heels over farther yet and begins to leak in
every joint. Enough: it is the fault of the captain and the old
staff of officers, They are not well-disposed; for a beautiful
system of navigation like this ought to work well; and if it fails
to do so, it is because some one interferes with it. It is
positively certain that some of those people belonging to the former
régime must be traitors, who would rather have the ship go down than
submit; they are public enemies and monsters. They must be seized,
disarmed, put under surveillance, and punished. - Such is the
reasoning of the Assembly. Evidently, to reassure it, a message
from the Minister of the Interior chosen by the Assembly, to the
lieutenant of police whom he had appointed, to come to his office
every morning, would be all that was necessary. But it is deprived
of this simple resource by its own act, and has no other expedient
than to appoint a committee of investigation to discover crimes of
"treason against the nation."[48] What could be more vague than
such a term? What could be more mischievous than such an
institution? -- Renewed every month, deprived of special agents,
composed of credulous and inexperienced deputies, this committee,
set to perform the work of a Lenoir or a Fouché, makes up for its
incapacity by violence, and its proceedings anticipate those of the
Jacobine inquisition.[49] Alarmist and suspicious, it encourages
accusations, and, for lack of plots to discover, it invents them.
Inclinations, in its eyes, stand for actions, and floating projects
become accomplished outrages. On the denunciation of a domestic
who has listened at a door, on the gossip of a washerwoman who has
found a scrap of paper in a dressing-gown, on the false
interpretation of a letter, on vague indications which it completes
and patches together by the strength of its imagination, it forges a
coup d'état, makes examinations, domiciliary visits, nocturnal
surprises and arrests;[50] it exaggerates, blackens, and comes in
public session to denounce the whole affair to the National
Assembly. First comes the plot of the Breton nobles to deliver
Brest to the English;[51] then the plot for hiring brigands to
destroy the crops; then the plot of 14th of July to burn Paris; then
the plot of Favras to murder Lafayette, Necker, and Bailly; then the
plot of Augeard to carry off the King, and many others, week after
week, not counting those which swarm in the brains of the
journalists, and which Desmoulins, Fréron, and Marat reveal with a
flourish of trumpets in each of their publications.

"All these alarms are cried daily in the streets like cabbages and
turnips, the good people of Paris inhaling them along with the
pestilential vapors of our mud."[52]

..............Now, in this aspect, as well as in a good many others, the
Assembly is the people; satisfied that it is in danger,[53] it makes
laws as the former make their insurrections, and protects itself by
strokes of legislation as the former protects itself by blows with
pikes. Failing to take hold of the motor spring by which it might
direct the government machine, it distrusts all the old and all the
new wheels. The old ones seem to it an obstacle, and, instead of
utilizing them, it breaks them one by one -- parliaments, provincial
states, religious orders, the church, the nobles, and royalty. The
new ones are suspicious, and instead of harmonizing them, it puts
them out of gear in advance -- the executive power, administrative
powers, judicial powers, the police, the gendarmerie, and the
army.[54] Thanks to these precautions it is impossible for any of
them to be turned against itself; but, also, thanks to these
precautions, none of them can perform their functions.[55]

In building, as well as in destroying, the Assembly had two bad

Book of the day: