Chapter 34: The Interregnum — The Betrayals

Submitted by GrouchoMarxist on April 28, 2012

People demand justice — Suspension of King — Danger of German invasion — Heroism of people — Royalists and Germans — Despair of people — Popularity of Lafayette — Position of middle-class landowners — Royalist plots for King's escape — Activity of Commune — evolutionary army organised — Character of Revohtion changes Struggle between Assembly and Commune — Surrender of Longwy — Exultation of Royalists — Royalist conspirators acquitted — Royalist houses searched — Nearly two thousand arrests — Assembly orders Great Counal of Commune to dissolve — Commune refuses to obey — Royalist plan disclosed — Siege of Verdun — Indiguation of revolutionists

The people of Paris wept for their dead; and loudly demanded justice and punishment on those who had provoked the massacre round the Tuileries.

Eleven hundred men, says Michelet, three thousand according to public rumour, had been slain by the defenders of the Palace. It was chiefly the men with the pikes, the extremely poor folk of the faubourgs who had suffered. They had rushed in crowds on the Tuileries, and had fallen under the bullets of the Svnss and the nobles protected by the strong walls of the Palace.

Tumbrils laden with corpses wended their way to the faubourgs, says Michelet, and there they laid out the dead, so that they might be identified. The crowd gathered round them, and the men's cries for vengeance mingled with the sobs of the women.

On the evening of August 10 and the following day the popular fury was turned chicfly on the Swiss. Had not some of the Swiss thrown their cartridges out of the windows, thereby inviting the crowd to enter the Palace? Were not the people trying to fraternise with the Swiss, who were posted on the great staircase at the entrance, when at close quarters they opened a steady and murderous fire on the crowd?

But the people soon came to know, however, that it was necessary to strike higher, if they wanted to reach the instigators of the massacre; at the King, the Queen, and “the Austrian Committee “in the Tuileries.

Now, it was just the King, the Queen, and their faithful adherents whom the Assembly protected with their authority. It is true that the King, the Queen, their children and the familiar friends of Marie-Antoinette were shut up in the tower of the Temple. The Commune had obtained their transference to this Tower from the Assembly, by declining all responsibility if they remained in thc Luxembourg. But in reality there was nothing done. Nothing was done until September 4.

On August 10 the Assembly had refused even to proclaim the dethronement of Louis XVI. Under the inspiration of the Girondins they had only declared the suspension of the King, and they were careful to nominate a governor for the Dauphin. And now the Germans, who had entered France on the 10th, were marching upon Paris to abolish the Constitution, to restore the King and his absolute power, to annul all the decrees of the two Assemblies, and to put the “Jacobins” to death, which meant all the revolutionists.

It is easy to understand the state of mind which must have prevailed in Paris under these conditions; beneath a calm exterior, an uneasy gloom held the faubourgs, which after their victory over the Tuileries, so dearIy bought, felt themselves betrayed by the Assembly, and by the revolutionary “leaders of opinion,” who hesitated, they also, to declare against the King and the royal power.

Every day new proofs were brought into the tribune of the Assembly, to the meetings of the Commune and to the press, of the plot, which had been hatred at the Tuileries before August 10 and was still going on in Paris and in the provinces. But nothing was done to punish the guilty, or to prevent them from resuming the weaving of their plots.

Every day the news from the frontier became more ant more disquieting. The fortresses were not prepared for defence; nothing had been done to prevent the advance of the enemy. It was evident that the wealc French contingent', commanded by untrustworthy officers, could never stop the German armies, twice as strong in numbers, accustomed to warfare, and under generals who were trusted by their soldiers. The royalists calculated the day, the hour, when the invading armies would knock at the gates of Paris.

The mass of the people comprehended the danger. All who were young, strong, enthusiastic in republican Paris, hastened to enrol themselves for frontier service. The enthusiasm became heroic. Money, jewellery, and all sorts of gifts of the patriots flowed into the enrolment offices.

But what was the good of all this devotion, when every da' brought news of some fresh treachery, and when all these treacheries were to be traced to the King and Queen, who, shut up in the Temple, still continued to direct the plots? In spite of the dose watch kept by the Commune, did not Marie-Antoinette know exactly all that went on outside? She was informed of every movement of the German armies; and when workmen went to put bars on the windows of the Temple, she said: What is the use? In a week we shall not be here.” In fact, it was between September 5 and 6 that the royalists expected the entrance of eighty thousand Prussians into Paris.

What is the use of arming and hastening to the frontier, when the Legislative Assembly and the party that is in power are the declared enemies of the Republic? They are doing everything to maintain royalty. A fortnight before August ro, on July 24, had not Brissot actually spoken against the Cordeliers who wanted the Republic? Had he not demanded that they should be punished by the arm of the law?[150] And now, after August 10, did not the Jacobin Club, which was the meeting-place for the well-to-do middle classes, keep silent? until August 27, on the question which was agitating the people: “Shall royalty, which depends for support upon German bayonets, be maintained — yes or no?”

The powerlessness of the governing classes, the cowardice of the “leaders of thought” in this hour of danger, could not but bring the people to despair. And the depth of this despair can only be gauged if one reads the newspapers of those days, the memoirs, and the private letters, and tries to live through the various emotions that Paris lived through after the declaration of war. This is why I shall briefly recapitulate the chief events.

At the moment when war was declared, Lafayette was still being lauded to the skies, especially in middle-class circles. They rejoiced to see him at the head of an army. It is true that since the massacre in the Champ-de-Mars July 1791) some doubts about him had been expressed, and that Chabot spoke of them in the Assembly at the beginning of June 1792. But the Assembly treated Chabot as an agitator, as a traitor, and silenced him.

Then, on June 18, the Assembly received from Lafayette his famous letter, in which he denounced the Jacobins and demanded the suppression of all the clubs. This letter arriving a few days after the King had dismissed the Girondist Ministry — the Jacobin Ministry, as it was then called — the coincidence caused people to reflect. Nevertheless, the Assembly condoned it by casting a doubt on the authenticity of the letter, whereupon people naturally wondered if the Assembly were not in league with Lafayette.

In spite of all this, the agitation went on increasing, and on June 20 the people rose. Admirably organised by the “sections,” it invaded the Tuileries. No excesses, as we have seen, took place; but the middle classes were seized with terror, and the Assembly flung themselves into the arms of reaction — by passing a riot act against public gatherings in the streets. Thereupon Lafayette arrived, on the 23rd; he went to the Assembly, where he acknowledged and stood by his letter of June 18. He disapproved of the doings of June 20 in violent terms, and denounced the “Jacobins” with still more acrimony. Luckner, who commanded the other army, joined with Lafayette in disapproving of June 20 and in testifying his fidelity to the King. After this, Lafayette drove through Paris “with six or eight hundred oecers of the Parisian garri son surrounding his carriage.”[151] We know now why he had come to Paris. It was to persuade the King to allow himself to be carried off, and be placed under the protection of the army. It is only now that we know this with certainty, but Lafayette's conduct was at the time already becoming sus picious. A communication was even then laid before the Assembly, asking that he should be prosecuted; but the majority voted for his exculpation. What must the people have thought of this matter?[152]

“Mon Dieu, my friend, how badly everything is going,” wrote Madame Jullien to her husband on June 30, 1793. “For mark how the conduct of the Assembly irritates the people; so much so that when it will please Louis XVI. to take up the whip of Louis XIV. to turn out this flabby parliament, there will be hurrahs on all sides, with very different meanings, it is true; but what does it matter to tyrants, provided they fall in with their plans! The aristocratic middle class are wild with joy, and the people in the depths of despair; consequently the storm brews.[153]

Let us compare these words with those of Chaumette quoted above, and we shall be able to understand that to the revolu tionary element of the population of Paris, the Assembly must have seemed like a cannon-ball attached to the feet of the Revolution.[154]

August 10, however, came, and the people of Paris in their sections took over the movement. Proceeding revolutionary wise, they had elected their own Council of the Commune to give unity tO the rising. They drove out the King from the Tuileries, made themselves masters of the Palace after a sharp fight, and their Commune imprisoned the King in the tower of the Temple. But the Legislative Assembly still existed, and soon it became the rallying-point for the royalist elements.

The middle-class landowners saw at once the new popular and equalising turn taken by the insurrection — they clung on all the more to royalty. A thousand plans were set on foot for the transference of the Crown, either to the Dauphin — which would have been done if the regency of Marie-Antoinette had not been generally regarded with so much disgust — or to some other candidate, either French or foreign. There was, as after the flight to Varennes, a recrudescence of sentiment in favour of royalty; and when the people loudly demanded that they should pronounce plainly against royalty, the Assembly, like all assemblies of parliamentarian politicians, being uncertain which side should get the upper hand, toolc good care not to compromise itself. It inclined rather towards royalty and tried to condone the past crimes of Louis XVI. It was opposed to their being brought to light by any serious prosecutions of his accomplices.

The Commune had to threaten to ring the tocsin, and the sections had to talk of a massacre of all the royalists[155] before the Assembly decided to give in. At last it ordered, on August 17, the formation of a criminal tribunal, composed of eight judges and eight jurors, who were to be elected by the representatives of the section. But still, they tried to limit the powers of the tribunal. It was not to try and fathom the conspiracy which had been planned in the Tuileries setorc August 10; it was to confine itself to inquiring who was responsible for what took place on the 10th.

Proofs of the conspiracy, however, were forthcoming; every day they became more definite. Among the papers found after the taking of the Tuileries in the desk belonging to Montmorin, Keeper of the Civil List, were many compromising documents. There was, among others, a letter from the princes, proving they were acting in agreement with Louis XVI. when they sent out the Austrian and Prussian armia against France and organised a corps of cavalry from among the emigres, who were marching with those armies on Paris. There was also found a long list of pamphlets and libels directed against the National Assembly and the Jacobins; libels paid for out of the Civil List, including those which were meant to provoke a riot on the arrival of the Marseillais federates, and inciting the National Guard to slaughter them.[156]

And finally, there was proof that the “constitutional” minority of the Assembly had promised to follow the King in the case of his leaving Paris, without, however, exceeding the distance prescribed by the Constitution. There were very many other things besides, but they were concealed, lest the popular fury might be directed on the prisoners in the Temple. Probably also on the Assembly, we may add.

At length the betrayals, so long foreseen, brolce out in the army. On August 22 the treason of Lafayette became known. He had tried to force his army to follow him and to march on Paris. In reality, his plan had been arranged two months before when he had come to see how the land lay in Paris after June 20. Now he threw off the mask. He ordered the arrest of three commissioners who were sent to him by the Assembly to announce the revolution of August to, and the old fox Luckner approved of his action. Fortunately, Lafayette's army did not follow its general, and on the 10th, accompanied by his staff, he had to cross the frontier, hoping to make his way to Holland. But he fell into the hands of the Austnans and was clapped into prison by them and — treated very rigorously, which shows how the Austrians intended to treat every revolutionist who should have had the misfortune to fall into their power. They executed on the spot those municipal officers who were “patriots,” and whom they succeeded in capturing; and some of them had their ears cut off and nailed to their foreheads by the Uhlans.

The next day after Lafayette's treason, the news came to Paris that Longwy, which had been invested on the 20th, had yielded at once, and among th epapers of the commandant, Lavergne, a letter was found containing offers of betrayal on behalf of Louis XVI. and the Duke of Brunswick.

“Unless a miracle happen, no further dependence can be placed on the army,” was now the general opinion.

As to Paris, it was full of Noirs.[157] A crowd of emigres had returned, and the military man was often recognised disguised in a priest's soutane. All kinds of plots, the indications of which the people, who anxiously watched the royal prison, were quick to seize upon, were woven round the Temple. The royalists intended to free the. King and Queen, either by an escape or by a sudden attack on the prison, and they were getting up a general rising for the da.v, either September 5 or 6, when the Prussians would be on the outskirts of Paris. They made no attempt to sonceal it. The seven hundred Swiss remaining in Paris were to serve as the military framework for the rising. They were to march upon the Temple, set the King at liberty, and place him at the head of the movement. All the prisons were to be opened, and the prisoners were to be sent out to plunder the city, and so add to the confusion, curing which Paris was to be set on fire.[158]

So, at least, ran public rumour, spread by the royalists themselves. And when Kersaint read the report upon August 10, that report confirmed the rumour. In the words of a contemporary, “it made one tremble . . . so well and so thickly were the nets spread “round the revolutionists. And yet the whole truth was not told.

In the midst of all these difficulties, there was only the activity of the Commune and its sections that responded to the gravity of the situation. They alone, seconded by the Cordeliers' Club, acted with a view to rousing the people, and obtaining from them a supreme effort to save the Revolution and the country, the cause of both being at that moment identical.

The General Council of the Commune, revolutionarily elected by the sections on August 9, acting in harmony with the sections themselves, worked with enthusiastic ardour to arm and equip, first 30,000, then 60,000 volunteers, who were to set out for the frontiers. Supported by Danton, they found for their ngorous appeals the words which electrified France. For, casting its municipal attributes behind it, the Commune of Paris spoke then to all France, and, through its volunteers, to the army also. The sections organised the immense wore of equipping the volunteers, and the Commune ordered the leaden coffins to be dug up and mated down to malce bullets, and the holy vessels from the churches to be made into bronze for cannon. The sections became the burning furnace whereat they furbished up the weapons by which the Revolution was about to vanquish its enemies and make another step forward — a step towards Equality.

For, in fact, a new revolution — a revolution aiming at Equality — taken by the people into their own hands, was already evolving. And it was the glory of the people of Paris to understand that in preparing to repel the invasion they were riot acting merely under an impulse of national pride; neither was it a simple question of preventing the restoration of royal despotism. It was a question of consolidating the Revolution, of bringing it to some practical conclusion for the benefit of the mass of the people, by inaugurating a revolution as social as it was political in character; and that meant opening, by a supreme effort on the part of the masses, a new page in the history of civilisation.

But the middle classes, they also had perfectly divined this new character which was appearing in the Revolution and of which the Commune of Paris was making itself the organ. Accordingly the Assembly, which represented chicflv the middle classes, worked with ardour to counteract the influence of the Commune.

Already on August 11, while the smoke of its burning still hung over the Tuileries, and the corpses still lay in the court yards of the Palace, the Assembly had commanded the election of a new Directory of the department which they wished to oppose to the Commune. The Commune refused this, and the Assembly had to capitulate; but the struggle went on — an inexorable struggle, in which the Girondins of the Assembly tried at times to detach the sections from the Commune, and at times to obtain the dissolution of the General Council elected revolutionarily on August 9. ContemptiUe intrigues in the face of an enemy that drew nearer to Paris each day, plundering shamelessly as it went.

On the 24th, the news that Longwy had surrendered without a fight reached Paris, and the insolence of the royalists grew accordingly. They chanted “Victory.” The other towns would do as Longwy did, and they were already announcing that their German allies would arrive within a week; they even prepared lodging for them. Crowds of royalists gathered round the TempIe and the royal family joined them in wishing success to the Germans. But the most terrible thing was, that those who were charged with the government of France had not the courage to take any measure to prevent Paris from being forced to capitulate like Longwy. The Commission of Twelve, which represented the pivot of action in the Assembly, fell into consternation. And the Girondin Ministry — Roland, Claviere, Servan and the others — were of the opinion that it was necessary to fly and withdraw to Blois, or else to Southern France, and leave the revolutionary people of Paris to the fury of the Austrians, of the Duke of Brunswick, and the emigres. “The deputies were already flying one by one,” [159] and the Commune openly came to complain of it to the Assemblv. This was adding baseness to treachery, and of all the ministers, Danton alone was opposed to it absolutely.

It was only the revolutionary sections and the Commune who understood that victory must be won at all costs, and that to win it, the enemy must be struck on the frontiers, and the counter-revolutionists in Paris — both at the same time.

This was just what the governing classes did not want to admit. After the criminal court, appointed to try those who were guilty of the measures on August 10, had been installed with much solemnity, it soon became apparent that this tribunal did not care to punish the guilty any more than the High Court of Orleans, which had become — to use Brissot's expression — “the safeguard of the conspirators.” It sacrificed at first two or three scapegoats for Louis XVI., but immediately after it acquitted one of the most important of the conspirators, the ax-minister Montmorin, as well as Dessonville, who was implicated in d'Angremont's conspiracy, and it hesitated about punishing Bachmann, the general in command of the Swiss. After that, there was nothing further to be expected from it.

An attempt has been made by some writers to represent the population of Paris as composed of cannibals, greedy for blood, who became furious when they saw a victim escaping from them. This is absolutely false. What the people understood by these acquittals was, that the governing class did not wish to bring to light the conspiracies that had been hatched in the Tuileries, because they knew how many of themselves would be implicated, and because these conspiracies were still going on. Marat, who was well informed, was right in saying that the Assembly was afraid of the people, and that it would not have been displeased if Lafayette had come with his army to restore royalty.

The discoveries made three months later, when Gamain informed about the existence of the iron cupboard containing the secret papers of Louis XVI., have in fact proved this. Royalty's strength lay in the Assembly.

Thereupon the people, seeing that it was absolutely impossible to establish the responsibilities of each one of the monarchist conspirators, and realising the danger which these con spirators presented in view of the German invasion, decided to strike indiscriminately at all those who had occupied posts of trust at the Court, and who were considered dangerous by the sections, as well as those at whose houses arms might be found concealed. To, do this, the sections compelled the

Communc and the Commune compelled Danton, who had filled the post of Minister of Justice since August TO, to order a general search to be made throughout Paris, in order to seize the arms concealed in the houses of the royalists and priests, and to arrest those who were most suspected of connivance with the invading enemy. The Assembly had to submit and issue the search-warrants.

The search for arms took place on the night of the 24th and 30th, and the Commune displayed in it a vigour which struck terror into the conspirators. On the afternoon of August 29, Paris seemed dead, a prey to gloomy terror. It having been forbidden for any one to go out after six o'clock in the evening, all the streets, by nightfall, were in the possession of the patrols, stricty strong, each man armed with a sabre or an improvised pike. Towards one o'clock, in the night, the searchings began throughout Paris. The patrols entered every apartment, looking for arms and taking away those which they found in the houses of royalists.

Nearly three thousand men were arrested, nearly two thousand muskets were seized. Sometimes the search lasted for hours, but no one could complain about the disappearance of any article of value, whilst at the Eudistes' — priests who had refused to take the Oath of the Constitution — all the silver vessels which had disappeared from the Sainte-Chapelle were found hidden in the fountains.

The next day the greater number of the persons arrested were released by order of the Commune or on the demand of the sections. As to those who were kept in prison, it is highly probable that a sorting of these would have been made and that summary courts would have been formed to try them — if events had not been precipitated at the seat of war and in Paris itself.

While all Paris was arming itself at the vigorous appeal of the Commune; while on every public place “altars to the country” were erected, before which the youth of Paris was enrolled, and upon which citizens, rich and poor, laid their offeringa to the country; while the Commune and the sections were displaying an energy truly astounding in the equipment and arming of 60,000 volunteers for the frontier, and although everything and all things were lacking for this purpose, nevertheless they had succeeded in despatching two thousand every day — the Assembly chose this very moment to attack the Commune. Upon the report of the Girondin, Guadet, it issued on August 30 a decree ordering the instant dissolution of the General Council of the Commune and new elections.

If the Commune had obeyed, it would have meant disorganising at a blow, to the advantage of both the royalists and the Austrians, the organisation and the despatch of the volunteers — the only chance there was for repelling the invasion and for vanquishing royalty. It is evident that the only reply which could be given to this by the Revolution was to refuse to obey, and to declare the instigators of this measure to be traitors. This is what the Commune did a few days later by ordering a search to be made at the houses of Roland and Brissot. As to Marat, he frankly demanded the extermination of those traitorous legislators.

The same day the Criminal Court acquitted Montmorin — and this, having learned a few days before, by the trial of d'Angremont, that the royalist conspirators, well paid, enrolled, divided into brigades and subject to a central committee, were only awaiting the signaI to appear in the streets and attack the patriots in Paris and in every town of the provinces.

Two days later, on September 1, there came a new revelation. The official paper of the Girondist Ministry, the Monitcur, published a “Plan of the forces joined against France” — received, so they said, from a trustworthy source in Germany; and in this plan it was stated that, while the Duke of Brunswick was fighting the patriot armies, the King of Prussia was to march straight upon Paris; that after he had made himself master of the city, the inhabitants would be divided into two sections — the revolutionists and the royalists, and all the revolutionists would be put to death; that in case a town could not be taken, it would be set on fire — “Deserts are preferable to people in revolt,” the leagued kings had already said in their manifesto. And, as if to confirm this plan, Guadet discoursed to the Assembly about the great conspiracy discovered in the town of GrenoUe and its environs. In the house of a certain Monnier, an agent of the emigres, a list of more than a hundred local leaders of the conspiracy had been seized, and these leaders reckoned on the support of twenty-five to thirty thousand men. The country districts of the Deux-Sevres and those of the Morbihan had begun an insurrection as soon as they had heard of the surrender of Longwy: that we. actually included in the plan of the royalists and of Rome.

The same day, in the afternoon, news came that Verdun was besieged, and every one understood that this town was going to surrender, like Longwy; that then nothing more would remain to check a rapid march of the Prussians on Paris; and that the Assembly would indeed either quit Paris, leaving it to the enemy, or would treat for the restoration of the King to the throne and give him full powers to satisfy his vengeance by the extermination of the patriots.

Finally, on this very day, September 1, the minister Roland issued an address to the administrative bodies, which was stuck up on the walls of Paris, and in which he spoke of a vast conspiracy of the royalists to prevent the free circulation of foodstuffs. Nevers and Lyons were already suffering from it.[160]

Thereupon the Commune closed the barriers, and ordered the tocsin tc be rung and the alarm-gun to be fired. In a strongly worded proclamation, it requested all the volunteers who were prepared to start to sleep that night upon the Champ de-Mars, so as to be ready to march early the next day.

And at the same time a furious cry of “Let us rush the prisons!” rang throughout Paris. There lay the conspirators who were only waiting for the coming of the Germans to put Paris to fire and sword. Some of the sections, Poissonniere, Postes, Luxembourg, voted that these conspirators should be, put to death.” We must finish with them to-day!” — and push on the Revolution in a new path.