The French Revolution of 1789 is by far the most important event of modern history. It was a great political earthquake which overthrew in France the whole fabric of public and social order, shook and trans-formed most of Europe, caused the greatest war, or series of wars, that mankind has ever waged, and produced effects that the world has not yet ceased to feel. The scenes displayed and the deeds done during this great convulsion, are unequaled in recent ages for thrilling interest, including all that can stir the soul of man to terror, pity, wrath, wonder, sympathy, abhorrence, and admiration. The basest and the most exalted elements of human nature emerge to view in startling prominence of action on a stage which drew the eyes of all the world to what was passing; some of the greatest, and many of the vilest, of mankind showed forth, either in the outbreak itself, or in the European struggle which ensued, the highest achievements of ability and heroism, and the worst atrocities of depravity and crime. In the words of Thomas Carlyle, the most picturesque writer who has dealt with this_ great subject for the historian’s utmost skill, we have in the French Revolution “the open violent rebellion, and victory, of disimprisoned anarchy against corrupt worn-out authority.” It was an outburst of destructive wrath, in which much of an old world disappeared, burnt up to ashes, while a new order of creation, here swiftly, and there slowly, was evolved out of a hurly-burly of confusion, desperation, and death. The French Revolution proved, once for all, that man’s political, as his social, life must be founded, if it is to endure in happiness and strength, on solidity and truth, and not on hollowness and shams, however comely and fair-seeming they may be.
The chief cause of the French Revolution may be given in one word, misrule, misrule obstinately continued in defiance of solemn warnings, and of the visible signs of an approaching retribution. The government of France had long been lodged solely in the hands of the monarch, the nobles, and the clergy; and these men had never learnt, or did not chose to own, the elementary truth of political morality for those who rule a people that rulers exist only for a Nation’s good. This fundamental axiom of all government had never for a moment been recognized at the court of Versailles, and the result was the storming of the Bastille, the slaughter and exile of the nobles and the clergy, the death of the King and Queen of France upon the scaffold, and the carnival of blood known as the Reign of Terror.
The character of the age in which the effects of misrule came to a head must be considered to understand its results. The Eighteenth Century was a time of daring theory on matters of religion, society, and government. The freedom of thought which had been growing in expansiveness and audacity for ages past had led men to challenge and expect to find a principle of reason in the world around them. Experimental science had discovered law in the world of nature; the discovery of the laws of nature had swept away superstition. This freedom of thought was then vigorously turned to the spiritual side of things, and the exposure of all false pretenses and all injustice in religion and politics was the inevitable issue. Reverence for all that was not founded on something else than mere assertion or antiquated usage faded away; and in the teachings and the sarcasms of philosophers, economists, and wits, a Nation learnt that the common herd of men had rights of which they had too long been robbed by a small, selfish, privileged class. For nearly a century in France “political servitude and intellectual freedom had existed together, ancient abuses and new theories had flourished in equal vigor side by side. The people, having no constitutional means of checking even the most flagitious misgovernment, were indemnified for oppression by being suffered to luxuriate in anarchical speculation, and to deny or ridicule every principle on which the institutions of the State reposed.” It was the existence of heavy grievances along with the enunciation of bold doctrines that produced the French Revolution. The follies and vices of the viziers and sultanas who pillaged and disgraced the French Nation were to the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau precisely what gunpowder is to fire, and the result of contact was a terrible and desolating outburst. “Neither cause would have sufficed alone. Tyranny may last through ages where discussion is suppressed. Discussion may safely be left free by rulers who act on popular principles. But combine a press like that of London with a government like that of St. Petersburg, and the inevitable effect will be an explosion that will shake the world.”
One lasting effect of the wild and wrathful uprising of a Nation against the abuses of feudalism and the “divine right” of Kings has been the recognition accorded to the rights of the mass of the people in nearly every political system in Europe. The workers who create the wealth of nations have ever since been steadily advancing in political power, and have attained a degree of education, intelligence, and influence which have made impossible the permanent enthrallment of the many by the few.
The political and social state of France before the deluge which swept away existing institutions was truly portentous. The church of the country had become a creature of the court; its high places were wholly usurped by the aristocracy that glittered at Versailles. Retaining their lands and their wealth, their feudal state and their seigneurial rights, the higher clergy neglected their appointed work, and, while the village curés alone in some measure kept faith alive in the land, their superiors had become a frivolous and pampered caste. The nobles of France had never, in their best days, had liberal sympathies, and they had learned to acquiesce in regal tyranny, provided it did not touch themselves. They had at last degenerated from feudal leaders of society and wielders of local influence and authority into a mere set of courtiers, the complaisant instruments of a rigorous despotism, and regardless of the world outside it. An intense feeling of dislike was developed in the minds of the country people against absentee nobles who lived in profligacy and extravagance, utterly neglectful of local duties, and heartlessly indifferent to the wants of the humbler classes. In the person of Louis XV the royalty of France had become utterly degraded; and poor, stupid, awkward, well-meaning Louis XVI provoked little but contempt from all beholders.
The system of taxation was grossly unjust and oppressive to the body of the people. The nobles and clergy paid scarcely any taxes; they had a complete monopoly of almost every office of honor and wealth. In every province, and in all departments of the State, in every palace and royal domain, an army of triflers, holding sinecures created for their benefit, sucked the life-blood of the Nation, while the peasant and the artisan starved in hopeless wretchedness. The state of the people, indeed of the millions of workers for daily bread was disgraceful and shocking. The taxes took half the produce of the peasant-proprietors’ land; the poorest were often driven to feed on boiled nettles; insufficient and unwholesome food caused strange and terrible diseases to, break out; death from cold and starvation was common. The contrast between the luxury of the château and the want of the cottage was fearful; and amid the splendor of Versailles a round of unceasing etiquette, extravagant pomp, glittering idleness, sickly sentiment masking intense selfishness, and frivolity shining over foul corruption King and courtiers let the world wag on, as if no day of doom could ever come.
When Louis XIV died in 1715 he left to his infant successor a famished and miserable people, a beaten and humble army, provinces turned into deserts by misgovernment and persecution, factions dividing the court, a schism raging in the church, an immense debt, an empty treasury. The highest statesmanship and the sternest _ devotion to a ruler’s duty could alone have coped with difficulties like these, but the rulers of France for the next two generations were almost all destitute alike of high ability and of good intentions. Those who examine the history of France before the great Revolution will cease to wonder at the fact and at the violence of the outbreak, and will be amazed only at the protracted endurance of an oppressed and insulted people.
Louis XV, a great-grandson of Louis XIV, reigned from 1715 to 1774. During his minority (1715-1723) the Duke of Orleans, an able, but indolent and unprincipled man, was regent of the Kingdom, and the wicked Cardinal Dubois took a great part in the government. These men did nothing but mischief to the State by their reckless expenditure. Under Cardinal Fleury (in power from 1726 to 1743) affairs were more prosperous, the Government being conducted with comparative frugality and moderation. Then recommenced the downward progress of the monarchy. Profligacy in the court, extravagance in the finances, schism in the church, faction in the Parliaments, unjust war terminated by ignominious peace all that indicates and all that produces the ruin of great Empires, make up the history of that miser-able period. Abroad, the French were beaten and hum-bled everywhere, by land and by sea, on the Elbe and on the Rhine, in Asia and in America. In the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), especially, disasters came thick upon France. In November, 1757, the French army was utterly defeated by Frederick the Great at Rossbach (to the west of Leipsic) ; between 1757 and 1760 the East Indian possessions of France, and the great Province of Canada, were acquired by England. At home, the life led by the King excited the contempt and the hatred of the people. He was ruled by two mistresses in succession, who did infinite harm to the country. The Marquise de Pompadour was favorite from 1745 till her death, in 1764, and the Comtesse Du Barry, a woman of still lower origin and viler character, succeeded her, and held sway at the licentious court till the death of Louis XV, in 1774. During the reign, the expenses of war abroad and vicious extravagance at home had increased the already heavy burden of taxation for the townspeople and peasantry. In 1771 the last vestige of constitutional government vanished, in the suppression of the Parliament of Paris, which was the highest court of law in the land. A good administrator, the Duc de Choiseul, was in power from 1758 till 1770, and did much to improve the army and the navy, but he fell at last before the intrigues of Du Barry, and things went swiftly on toward ruin. Under Louis XV the Duchy of Lorraine was annexed to France, in 1766, and the Italian island of Corsica was subdued by her arms in 1769. The death of Louis XV left to his successor a hopeless prospect the government of a people that hated the monarchy and the aristocracy, the administration of a State whose treasury was empty and whose credit was gone, the control of a whirlwind whose approach was even now dimly seen and faintly heard on the horizon.
Louis XVI, grandson of Louis XV, reigned from 1774 to 1792. He was a kindly, dull sort of man, whom fate had made Sovereign of France, and nature had intended for a clockmaker or locksmith in which trades he was an expert amateur. Destitute of brains to think, and of energy and spirit to act, in such a situation as he was miserably forced to fill, he was doomed to expiate in his own person the gross crimes and follies of his predecessors on the throne. His wife, Marie Antoinette, daughter of Maria Theresa, Empress-Queen of Austria and Hungary, was virtuous, bold, vivacious, and indiscreet, and all her efforts to avert evil were either useless or hurtful in the end.
The chief difficulty was that of the finances. Two men of ability and integrity, Malesherbes and Turgot, were first in power as ministers, and the proposed reforms of the latter might possibly, if fully adopted, have averted the coming convulsion. Turgot was a true patriot, and when he proposed to abolish privileges, to introduce free trade (at home) in grain, and to tax the nobles and the clergy like the other ranks of society, he was driven from power in 1776. The church and the aristocracy had thus rejected the counsel which might have saved them. “They would not have reform; and they had revolution. They would not pay a small contribution in place of the odious corvées (the obligation of the people in a certain district to do certain labor, without pay, for the feudal lord or for the sovereign), and they lived to see their castles demolished and their lands sold to strangers. They would not endure Turgot; and they were forced to endure Robespierre.” Necker, a Swiss banker of Paris, was then called in to manage the finances. He reformed enough to irritate the privileged classes, but not enough to stop the continual deficit, and was dismissed from office in 1781. Down-ward ever went the country to perdition; higher ever grew the Nation’s debt, and wider still the gap between expenditure and income. When England’s American colonies revolted, the rulers of France, with the wildest folly, plunged into the war against England. They were thus at once increasing the financial difficulty, and encouraging and spreading the principles and spirit of revolution. The success of the colonists, largely due to French aid, roused enthusiasm in the democrats of France, and the financial difficulties produced by the war carried to the height the discontent of that larger body of people who cared little about theories, and much about taxes.
Calonne became financial minister from 1783 to 1787, by the influence of the Queen, whose intrigues in affairs of State on the side of the privileged orders made her greatly hated by the people. Calonne resorted to the wonderful expedient of a great expenditure, in order to raise the public credit, combined with heavy loans to meet the wants of the treasury. When this resource failed, Calonne convoked the Notables to sanction new plans resembling those of Turgot. The Assembly of the Notables was a meeting of the chief nobles, officials, and distinguished persons of every rank in the Kingdom. They sat, to the number of about 140, from February to May, 1787, and when Calonne proposed that the nobles and clergy should yield their privileges and pay a land tax, he was dismissed from office and banished to his country-seat.
After other helpless efforts had been made, Necker was recalled to power in August, 1788, and with his concurrence it was decided to summon a States-General, or National Parliament a body of deliberators which had not been convoked since the days of Richelieu, in 1614, more than a century and a half before. The elections were held; the representatives of the people (the Commons, or Tiers Etat i. e., the Third Estate, the clergy and the nobility being the First and the Second Estates) were chosen; and the States-General, to the number of nearly 1,200, assembled at Versailles on May 5, 1789. Of the clergy there were nearly 300 members; of the nobles, about 270; of the people, nearly 600. This meeting of the States-General is commonly considered the beginning of the “French Revolution.”
The revolutionary era, in its wider sense, includes a period of twenty-five years, from 1789-1815. This period may be well divided into four parts : (i) from the opening of the States-General, May 5, 1789, till the abolition of monarchy, August 10, 1792, and the death of Louis, January 21, 1793. (2) The “Reign of Terror,” till the dissolution of the National Convention, October 26, 1795. (3) The Republic, under the Directory and Consulate, from October 26, 1795, till Napoleon’s election as Emperor, May 18, 1804. (4) The French Empire under Napoleon I, till his final fall in July, 1815.
Disputes soon arose between the Tiers Etat and the other two orders. The representatives of the people, headed by a determined, able, and eloquent man of the noble class, named Mirabeau, asserted themselves with vigor, and insisted that all three orders should sit and vote as one assembly, in which case it was clear that the 600 popular deputies would swamp the clergy and the nobles. Matters came to a crisis when, on June 22, Mirabeau sent a direct message to the King that he and his fellows “are here by the will of the people, and no one shall drive us out except by the force of bayonets.” Before this, the deputies had assumed the title of the National Assembly, and their power was shown when the clergy and the nobles yielded, and agreed to sit and vote conjointly. This body was called also Constituent Assembly, because the deputies had sworn in the “Tennis-court Oath” of June 20th, which they took in the tennis-court of the palace of Versailles, when the doors of the hall of assembly were locked against them that they would not separate till they had given a Constitution to France. Louis XVI now took a fatal step. Placed in a situation where safety could only be had in instant measures of reform, and in gaining the love and trust of the peopleat a time when starving mobs were besieging the bakers’ shops in Paris, and, in the provinces, the peasantry were “living on meal-husks and boiled grass” Louis took counsel of Marie Antoinette and the reactionary party at court. Under their evil advice when the royal garrison in Paris had begun to fraternize with the populace an army of troops was gathered at Versailles, including many foreign regiments (Hungarian and German) and the Bridge of Sèvres was armed with cannon pointed toward the capital. On July 12th the ominous news was whispered in Paris that Necker the people’s friend and possible “savior of France,” as he had been styled was dismissed from office. Terror, kindling into frenzy, spread fast among the citizens. A cry of “To arms !” was followed by instant action. On July 14, 1789, the hated fortress prison, the Bastille, was taken by the insurgents, and armed revolution was abroad beyond hope of suppression.
Events now came, swift and terrible, on King and cowering nobles. A “National Guard” was formed by the municipality of Paris, and the command was given to Lafayette, a member of the National Assembly, a Marquis of France, who had fought victoriously in America for the revolted colonists. The famous “tricolor” of the French Republic had its origin now, when Lafayette, for the colors of the new national force, adopted the white, emblem of the French monarchy, placed between blue and red, the colors of the city of Paris. Necker was recalled to office, too late, by the panic-stricken King. The people rose thoughout France; the tax-gatherers were hunted; many of the châteaux of the nobles were plundered and burnt; the nobles, with their families, began to hurry abroad, in what was known as the first emigration the fugitives being henceforward called the Emigrés leaving unhappy Louis to contend with raging revolution. Early in October a furious mob, mainly composed of women, rushed from Paris to Versailles, and brought the King and Queen, after some bloodshed in conflict with the guards, as virtual prisoners to the capital. The King’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, fled with other reactionists to Germany, and began the intrigues at foreign courts which, leading to foreign interference with the Revolution, aggravated its violence, and prepared the way for the great war which ensued.
In a kind of enthusiasm, on August 4th, the clergy and nobles in the Assembly gave up for ever their feudal rights and dues tithes, seigneurial imposts, gabelle (or salt tax), game preserving all privileges and immunities whatsoever. Too late again ! The people knew that fear, not patriotism, prompted the surrender, and trusted henceforth to their own right arms, and to the dread which those uplifted with clutched weapons, should inspire. On December 2d, the domains of the church were confiscated for the benefit of the Nation. On January 15, 1790, a redivision of the territory of France was made. The old partition into provinces was abolished, and the soil divided into eighty-three departments, nearly equal in extent, named generally from the natural features, mountains and rivers, which mark each district. In June all titles of nobility were abolished, and the members proceeded with the “making of a constitution,” which never got to work, because revolutionary violence at home and attacks on France from abroad swept on the Nation to other issues of her struggle to be free. The formal close of the labors of the National Assembly was on September 30, 1791, when, after having redeemed its “Tennis-court Oath” of June 20, 1789, it transferred its functions to a new body, the Legislative Assembly elected under the “constitution” which had been framed. Neither of these assemblies had, or could have had, any practical experience in affairs before meeting to deal with a crisis of fearful importance to the State, for it had been enacted that no member of the National Assembly should sit in the Legislative Assembly, and to this mischievous regulation some of the disasters which followed are due.
Meanwhile, “anarchic souls from every quarter of the world” had begun flocking to Paris on the fall of the Bastille. A fierce and licentious press was ever goading on the people with new excitements, and revolutionary clubs assembled the bolder spirits, organized the armed ruffianism of the capital,, and fanned the flame of democratic ardor. Of these clubs, by far the most famous was that of the Jacobins a name which became proverbial for holders of extreme views on the liberal side in matters of politics and religion. The Jacobin Club was so called because its meetings at Paris took place in the old convent of the Dominican friars or Jacobins in the Rue St. Honoré. At this club every political question was debated before being laid before the National Assembly. Among the principal debaters, in its earlier days, were Mirabeau and Lafayette; but Danton, Robespierre, and extreme revolutionists soon gave the club its distinctive character, and the ability and unscrupulous energy of its members made it the great controlling power of the Revolution. Over 1,200 branch societies were organized throughout France, and, obeying orders from the headquarters in Paris, carried democratic violence, intrigue, and espionage to every corner of the country, so that no man or woman could feel safe from the far-reaching arms of the desperate democrats who, until July, 1794, wielded the powers of this formidable association, devoted to the spread of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Mirabeau was a man of great talents and strong passions, and master of a fiery eloquence dazzling, epigrammatic, overwhelming which gave him a vast personal influence over stormy and divided assemblies. All common minds quailed before his haughty and vehement temper, his imperious, self-confident manner, and his fiercely passionate tone. He, if anyone, acting as mediator between King and people, might have controlled the growing anarchy and disorganization, and guided the Revolution to moderate and beneficent results. His death on April 2, 1791, took away the last chance of such an influence as this being exerted for the good of France.
In December, 1790, the King had already begun to correspond secretly with foreign powers; and a convention had been made with Austria and Prussia for the advance of their troops to the frontiers with a view to the occupation of French territory. On the death of Mirabeau, Louis still hoped to be able to control the Revolution with aid from outside, and determined, as a first step, to make his escape from what was really imprisonment in his capital. On June 20, 1791, the King, Queen, two children, and the King’s sister, eluding Parisian vigilance, started northeastward for the frontier, to join the army there assembled. The “Flight to Varennes” ended at the town of that name, west of Verdun; the fugitives were there caught by the watchful and angry local patriots, and sent back in ignominy to Paris. The royal family were henceforward closely observed in all their movements. Louis’ own imprudence, and foreign interference, had given a great impulse to the democratic cause. In August, 1791, the Governments of Austria and Prussia prepared for actual inter-position in the affairs of the French Nation. The “Convention of Pilnitz,” concluded at a country house of that name near Dresden, between the Emperor of Austria (Leopold II), the King of Prussia (Frederick William II), and some minor German Princes, had an important effect in irritating the French people. It declared the intention of “interfering by effectual methods” on behalf of the French King; and thus, as the National (or Constituent) Assembly was on the point of concluding its labors and giving a constitution to the distracted country, democratic fury was made to blaze up higher than ever.
The new Constitution was sworn to by the King on September 14, 1791, and contained provisions for a free biennial Parliament, universal suffrage for tax payers of a certain small amount, liberty of worship, freedom of the press, abolition of the laws of primogeniture and entail, equal subdivision of property among children, abolition of titles, and other democratic measures. The civil reforms thereby made were afterward incorporated in the famous Code Napoléon, and survived the political changes of the revolution. Under more favorable circumstances this new arrangement might have been got to work, and coming calamities might have been averted. The action of foreign powers ruined all. The Legislative Assembly sat from October 1, 1791, till September 21, 1792. It was more republican in character than its predecessor, but the members had less ability and were destitute of parliamentary experience. Public opinion at once compelled them to make a decisive course against foreign intermeddling. In reply to the League of Pilnitz, severe measures were passed against the émigrés and the nonjuring priests, who had refused to take the oath of obedience to the Constitution, and on April 20, 1792, war was declared against Austria. Louis was all this time keeping up a treasonable correspondence with the allies, and he refused to sanction the decrees of the Assembly.
The people were growing ever more violent and desperate under the influence of the revolutionary clubs and journalists; and on June 20 the Tuileries Palace was invaded by them, and the King forced to put on the red cap (bonnet rouge), the symbol of e advanced republican agitators. On July 24, Prussia declared war against France; and the Duke of Brunswick, commanding the allied Prussian and Austrian forces, issued his famous Manifesto, threatening France “with military execution” if King Louis were personally insulted. This proclamation filled France and Paris with fury, and the crisis came in August. On that terrible day of revolutionary renown, the Tenth of August, 1792, the “Sections” (armed revolutionary bands, organized and held ready by the Jacobin Club) of Paris rose. The Tuileries Palace was stormed; the gallant Swiss Guard was cut to pieces; the King sought refuge, with the Queen and children, in the hall of the Assembly. The King was then suspended from his powers, and he and his family were taken as close prisoners to the Temple prison, whence he and the Queen never emerged except to die. The Legislative Assembly then came to an end, and its functions were transferred to a new National Convention, or Parliament, with absolute powers, to meet the fact of a foreign war. There were 749 members, nearly all Republicans.
The Convention met on September 21, 1792. Royalty in France was at once formally abolished, and it was resolved to prosecute the war vigorously against Austria and Prussia. The new revolutionary chamber contained two great parties. These were the Girondists (called also Girondins, and Brissotins, from one of their leaders), so named because their leaders were the deputies from the Gironde, a new department in the southwest of France, whose chief town is Bordeaux; and the Jacobins, called also the Montagnards, or the Mountain, because its members occupied in the Assembly hall a range of elevated seats. The Girondists were moderate Republicans, and included many men of ability and eloquence, the chief being Brissot, Gensonné, Vergniaud, Guadet, Pétion, Roland, Barbaroux, Condorcet, Isnard, Ducos, Valazé, and Buzot. Vergniaud, especially, was able in parliamentary eloquence; Condorcet was an eminent mathematician and philosopher. The Jacobins or Mountain were extreme: Democrats, and included some sincere and public-spirited men, such as Carnot. But the party was largely composed of violent and fanatical revolutionists, and, apart from them, of self-seeking wretches, whose deeds became the wonder and the execration of the whole civilized world. Among the former were Marat, Robespierre, Danton, Saint-Just, Camille Desmoulins, Fouché, Tallien, and Couthon; among the latter, Collot, Billaud, Hébert, Fouquier Tinville, Carrier, Lebon, and that prodigy of all wickedness, Barère. The war was now of pressing importance for the safety, the very existence, of the new French Republic.
The Austrian and Prussian armies, under the Duke of Brunswick, along with the bands of the French émigrés (fugitive nobles and their partisans) under the Prince de Condé, had invaded France in great force by her northeastern frontier, and a small army of national volunteers, under General Dumouriez, had been sent to encounter them. On August 23 the enemy had captured Longwy, and they were preparing to attack Verdun. Great agitation existed in Paris, and terror of the enemy without, and real or supposed royalist plottings within, caused the perpetration of a great crime by the mob of Paris. Many hundreds of royalists, including numerous priests, were in the prisons of the capital, and, in a frenzy of rage and panic, these unhappy persons were murdered in a four-days’ massacre, September 2-6, 1792.
A turning point in the history of the Revolution of France, and of Europe, came in the “cannonade of Valmy,” a village among the hills a few miles from St. Ménehould, in the northeast of France. It was a contest between the New World and the Old the Republic and royalty the rising Democracy and the ancient feudalisms and victory rested with the new element which had risen in Europe and was threatening to trans-form its political and social condition. At Valmy was decided the warlike character of the French Democracy; the raw Republican troops gained confidence and courage; the nucleus was created of the great military force which carried Napoleon to the height of power and fame. The vigorous Republicanism of modern France had its future assured to it on September 20, 1792. Verdun had been taken by the Prussians on September 2, and, as his only means of preventing the allies from marching on Paris, Dumouriez, the commander of the Republican levies, threw himself into the then thickly-wooded and marshy and hilly district called Argonne, extending many miles southwest from Sedan, and from ten to twelve miles in breadth. The passes of this difficult region were seized by the French and fortified, but the Austrians turned the position, and after a retreat, Dumouriez was brought to bay at Valmy by the Prussians under the Duke of Brunswick. Hitherto, the French Republicans had been always defeated, and had often fled in panic before allied troops. The French force now engaged was commanded by the elder Kellerman, father of Napoleon’s great cavalry officer, and the late King of the French, Louis Philippe (then known as the Duc de Chartres), led the right wing of the Republicans. Both friends and foes expected the French regiments to disperse under the fire of the Prussian guns, but it was not so. They kept their ground firmly; the French artillery replied with spirit and effect; and, after the repulse of a French attack, the advancing Prussian columns shrank from a close encounter with the determined-looking, cheering French battalions, and re-treated. Led on again by the King of Prussia in person, they were repelled by the French artillery and the firm attitude of the infantry, and the battle of Valmy was won. The allied forces wasted away under sickness, and but few recrossed the frontier. The great German poet Goethe, who was present as a spectator, said to his friends that evening, “From this place, and from this day forth, commences a new era in the world’s history; and you can all say that you were present at its birth.”
Dumouriez, with his victorious Republicans, pursued the retreating Austrians, and, invading the Austrian Netherlands, now Belgium, gained the battle of Jemappes, west of Mons, on November 6, 1792; within a month the country was overrun and conquered. The fate of Louis XVI had been already decided in the minds of the Jacobins. The King was brought to trial, sentenced to death as an enemy of France, and executed on January 21, 1793.
On February 1, France declared war against England and Holland, and the French troops invaded Holland, but were soon driven out by the help of English forces. Dumouriez then turned against the Revolution, fled to the allied army, and took refuge at last in England, where he died in 1823. In the contests of the Convention, the Girondists had with them a majority of the deputies and of the French Nation at large, and the Jacobins the Mountain besides their own determination, daring, and energy, had the mob of Paris, the municipal government, and the Democratic clubs. On January 21, the day of the King’s execution, the formidable body called the Committee of Public Safety was instituted as the chief administrative power at Paris, and on March 10, under the influence of Danton, one of the leading Jacobins, the Revolutionary Tribunal was appointed to try offenses against the State. Its real object was to assail with deadly effect the Girondists and all moderate Republicans. The struggle between the Girondists and the Jacobins became violent in the debates, and the extreme party, defeated in the Convention, armed the “Sections” of Paris, arrested about thirty leading Girondists on June 2, and thus put an end to the policy of the only real friends of liberty in France. Some of the Girondists managed to escape from Paris, but nearly all died either as Vergniaud, Gensonné, Brissot, and Madame Roland did by the guillotine, in Paris or at Bordeaux, or by self-inflicted death with poison or the steel.
The horrible period called “The Reign of Terror” had begun. The Jacobins had prevailed. This was their hour, and the powers’ of darkness. The Convention was subjugated. The sovereignty passed to the Committee of Public Safety. Six persons held the chief power in the small Cabinet which now domineered over France Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, Collot, Billaud, and Barère. Marat, one of the most bloodthirsty of the Jacobins, fell at Paris by the dagger of Charlotte Corday, the “angel of assassination,” on July 13.
The majority of the southern towns of France declared against the Convention; in all other parts of the country there were numerous supporters of the Girondist shade of Republicanism; and in the west, especially, there was a powerful Royalist party. The Civil War in La Vendée was due to the efforts of the last. Vendée, one of the modern departments of France, lies on the west coast, between the Loire and the Charente, and includes a hilly and wooded district called the Bocage, very difficult for military operations. The inhabitants of this district are still remarkable for their attachment to old usages, and to the nobility and clergy. Under their gallant leaders La Rochejaquelein, Cathelineau, D’Elbée, Charette, Stofflet, and Lescure, the Vendéans carried on from 1793 to 1796 a war in the Royalist cause, which gave much trouble to the Republic. In the north of France an English army under the Duke of York invaded the country along with German forces; defeated the Republican troops, and took Valenciennes, July, 1793. Lyons revolted against the Convention, Toulon was taken by the English, and held by French Royalists, and the whole country was in commotion. The Republican Government made gigantic efforts to meet the crisis: An army of 300,000 men had been raised before this, but now a levy of over a million of men was ordered, and the able Carnot organized fourteen armies of Republicans. The revolt in La Vendée was vigorously met, the insurgent forces were routed in December, 1793, and in 1795 and 1796 other risings in the west were sup-pressed by General Hoche, the ablest and purest in character of all the Revolutionists. In the north, General Jourdan (afterward one of Napoleon’s marshals) drove the Austrians back over the Sambre (October, 1793), and in June, 1794, gained the great battle of Fleurus, northeast of Charleroi. Lyons was attacked by the Revolutionary forces, and taken, after a siege entailing frightful suffering, in October, 1793. The Duke of York was repulsed from Dunkirk with the English army, and, after some successes over the Republicans in north-east France in 1794, the English were driven from Holland in 1795. The conquest of that country was effected by the forces of the Convention, under General Pichegru, and the Batavian Republic was established. Jourdan drove the Austrians beyond the Rhine; Prussia made peace, and in April, 1795, acknowledged the French Republic. France was saved (in spite of the crimes committed at home, which aroused the horror of all Europe) by the valor, energy, and patriotism of the French people, enjoying a new freedom, and determined to be masters of their own soil. In giving this result of the Revolutionary war against the European coalition, we have traveled away from the proceedings taken against internal real and suspected foes of the Convention.
The siege of Toulon by the forces of the Revolution introduces us to the greatest man, in intellectual power and wonderful achievement, of modern times. It was the skill of a young officer of artillery, named Napoléon Bonaparte, that enabled the Republicans to capture Toulon in December, 1793. This marvelous man was born at Ajaccio, in Corsica, on August 15, 1769, the son of a barrister; he was educated at the military school of Brienne (a small town in the department of Aube, southeast from Paris), and, at the Revolution, became a Republican of a moderate type, and was employed by the Convention. His first success in life was at Toulon. His career is dealt with in the volume, “Famous Warriors.”
After the downfall of the Girondists, the victorious “Mountain” adopted, in home affairs, the severe summary measures of vengeance and intimidation, which have made this period a byword in the history of man-kind. The extreme party was supported, in various parts of France, by over forty thousand Jacobin clubs and municipalities. The armed ruffians of the “Sections” of Paris were paid a regular sum for attending meetings, and were held always ready to overawe opposition with their pikes. On September 17, 1793, the frightful “Law of the Suspected” was passed, which was really a proscription of whole classes of persons, and included within its destructive sweep any one whom the emissaries of power chose to suspect. The prisons were filled with victims sent thither by the Revolutionary Tribunal, and beheading by the guillotine daily cleared the way for new occupants of the cells. On October 16, 1793, Queen Marie Antoinette was executed, and her murder on the scaffold was followed by that of twenty-two of the Girondists, as mentioned above, of the Duke of Orléans, surnamed Philippe Egalité, as having accepted the Revolution, and voted for the death of the King, and of Madame Roland. The most childish absurdities accompanied the most revolting excesses in this unexampled saturnalia of ferocity and folly. It is impossible here to give the details at any length. They must be sought in the picturesque pages of such works as Carlyle’s “French Revolution” and Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.” Macaulay writes of the time as “the days when the most barbarous of all codes was administered by the most barbarous of all tribunals; when no man could greet his neighbors, or say his prayers, or dress his hair, without danger of committing a capital crime; when spies lurked in every corner; when the guillotine was long and hard at work every morning; when the jails were filled as close as the hold of a slave ship; when the gutters ran foaming with blood into the Seine; when it was death to be great-niece of a captain of the Royal Guards, or half-brother of a doctor of the Sorbonne.” The old religious worship was swept away; a “Goddess of Reason,” in the person of a woman of the vilest character, was enthroned at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris; the churches were plundered and defiled; the madness of atheism and cruelty was everywhere rampant.
Against the moderate Republicans and the suspected Royalists and reactionaries in the provinces the Committee of Public Safety sent forth its agents from Paris, armed with full powers to slay at discretion. Nantes, Lyons, Toulon, Arras, and other towns were thus handed over to the cruelties of Carrier, Couthon, Lebon, and other tyrants. While the daily wagon-loads of victims were carried to their doom through the streets of Paris, the proconsuls whom the sovereign committee had sent forth to the departments reveled in an extravagance of cruelty unknown even in the capital. The knife of the deadly machine rose and fell too slow for their work of slaughter. Long rows of captives were mowed down with grapeshot. Holes were made in the bottom of crowded barges. Carrier, at Nantes, earned an immortality of infamy by his conduct. It was he who invented the noyades, or drownings in barges, and the “republican marriages,” in which man and woman, or youth and girl, were tied hand and foot together, and flung into the river to drown. “All down the Loire, from Saumur to the sea, great flocks of crows and kites feasted on naked corpses, twined together in hideous embraces. No mercy was shown to sex or age. The number of young lads and of girls of seventeen who were murdered by that execrable government is to be reckoned by hundreds. Babies torn from the breast were tossed from pike to pike along the Jacobin ranks. One champion of liberty had his pockets well stuffed with ears. Another swaggered about with the finger of a little child in his hat.” The amount of murder done in the Reign of Terror may be judged by the facts that, at Nantes, 15,000 persons perished in a month; at Toulon 14,000 died by the guillotine, shooting, or drowning; at Paris, from June 10 to July 17, 1794, when the “Terror” there was at its worst, nearly 1,300 persons were guillotined after socalled trial by the Revolutionary Tribunal, where Fouquier-Tinville and the infamous Hébert acted as chief prosecutors for the committee.
The head of the Committee of Public Safety was Robespierre, whose ferocious fanaticism aimed at the extermination of all opponents and possible or suspected dissentients. Before him the party of the Anarchists, headed by Hébert, Anacharsis Clootz, Momoro, and others, fell and were guillotined in March, 1794; the bold Danton and his friend Camille Desmoulins, one of the most zealous and able Republicans, who pleaded for mercy and denounced the cruelty of Robespierre, were executed on April 5. A feeling of desperation was engendered in the minds of men in Paris by incessant slaughter and ever-present danger. “Human nature, hunted and worried to the utmost, turned furiously to bay. Fouquier-Tinville was afraid to walk the streets; a pistol was snapped at Collot D’Herbois; a young girl, animated apparently by the spirit of Charlotte Corday, attempted to obtain an interview with Robespierre Suspicions arose; she was searched, and two knives were found about her. She was questioned, and spoke of the Jacobin domination with resolute scorn and aversion.”
The men of comparative moderation found bold leaders at last against Robespierre and the extreme faction. A schism had arisen in the despotic Committee of Safety. Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon were against Collot, Billaud, and Barère. The leaders of the attack against Robespierre in the Convention were Tallien, Billaud, and Fouché. On July 28, 1794, the Reign of Terror virtually came to an end in the execution of Robespierre, Couthon, and Saint-Just. This was followed by the fall and banishment to distant prisons of Collot, Billaud, and Barère, purging the Republic of its worst wickedness. The infamous Committee of Public Safety was at an end; the Revolutionary Tribunal was no more; the prisoners came forth by hundreds from the dungeons, to life and not to death; the Jacobin Club was suppressed November, 1794; humanity took the place of death and terror; “that happiest and most genial of revolutions” was accomplished. Early in 1795 attempts were made to excite further trouble, both by the Royalists and by the extreme Republicans, but they were suppressed; the armies of the Republic, as we have seen, were successful against foreign foes; Carrier and Fouquier-Tinville to the joy of all good men and women, were guillotined; happier days for France had come at last.
In 1795 the Convention gave the Republic a new Constitution. A chamber or council of five hundred proposed laws; a Senate, called the Chamber of Ancients (or Council of Elders) approved or rejected them; an executive of five members, the famous Directory, administered affairs. The chief members of the Directory were Carnot and Barras. The revolutionary “Sections” of Paris, combined with the Royalists, made a last attempt to hinder the march of the Republic. On October 5, 1795, the insurrection was decisively crushed, with his “whiff of grapeshot,” by Bonaparte, the artillery officer wisely set to the work by Barras. The cannon, skillfully placed and boldly handled, blew the French Revolution, in its narrower sense, away.