The National Assembly had written a constitution for France and, after two years, considered its work at an end. It was for others to implement the details. The Assembly voted to dissolve itself and in doing so made one final mistake – no member of the Assembly could stand for elective office in the next Assembly. Thus all the experience gained in the politics of self government was lost; the Constitution would be implemented by men who had no hand in fashioning it.
A new legislature was chosen for a two year term and first met on October 1, 1791, expecting to inaugurate a new era of prosperity and peace as a constitutional monarchy. It would serve less than one. It would witness the fall of the monarchy.
A few days before, Paris had celebrated the “End of Revolution.” The Old Regime had ended and a new one was now installed. But the revolution had not ended.
Would the King wholeheartedly accept his new position and gladly rule as a constitutional monarch? Would his actions convince the people of his sincerity? If so, all might be well.
France and the Legislature were thoroughly monarchial in their sentiments as the Constitutional Assembly had been. France had never known anything else. But if the King’s actions cast doubt on his sincerity, then the people would turn against him putting the constitutional monarchy in danger. France had no desire to be a republic but its aversion to the Old Regime was fixed and unshakable. By this time however the public’s faith in the King had already been shaken.
Louis XVI was increasingly dismayed by the direction of the revolution. His younger brother, the Comte d’Artois and his queen, Marie Antoinette, urged a stronger stance against the revolution and support for the émigrés, while he was resistant to any course that would see him openly side with foreign powers against the Assembly. Eventually, fearing for his own safety and that of his family, he decided to flee Paris to the Austrian border, having been assured of the loyalty of the border garrisons.
On the night of 20 June 1791 the royal family fled the Tuileries Palace dressed as servants, while their servants dressed as nobles.
However, late the next day, the King was recognized and arrested at Varennes and returned to Paris. The Assembly provisionally suspended the King. He and the Queen remained held under guard. The King’s flight had a profound impact on public opinion, turning popular sentiment further against the clergy and nobility, and building momentum against the institution of the constitutional monarchy.
On their return to the Tuileries the people of Paris came out in droves to greet the royal family in stony silence. The constitutional assembly initially suspended the King but, clearly unwilling to consider establishing a republic reinstated him and went on completing the new constitution establish a constitutional monarchy. The people’s trust in the King however had been severely shaken.
Unfortunately, the King and Queen’s views were inevitably colored by their hereditary pretensions. Moreover, the religious question had been injected into the revolution and the King’s conscience as a Catholic was outraged. It was this that strained to the breaking point the relations of the new legislative assembly and the King.
Civil war had broken out in the Vendee with non-juring priests and the local populace driving out the elected constitutional priests. The Assembly then made matters worse requiring the recalcitrent priests to take the oath within a week or lose their pensions and be put on a list to be “watched.” The King vetoed the edict, using the power given to him under the constitution. This veto and others offended public opinion and weakened the King’s hold upon France.
It might have been better if Louis had never been given a veto power since every time he used it it put him in opposition to the Assembly and inflamed party passions.
The other vetoes involved the emigres, those aristocrats who had left France for their own safety and to seek support from foreign princes to restore the Old Regime. The King’s own brothers had left France after the Bastille along with an estimated 150,000 of privileged classes. Most went to the German states bordering France and there they formed an army of perhaps 20,000. The Count of Provence, the King’s brother was its titular leader.
The emigres ceaselessly intrigued in the German and European courts trying to bring about an invasion of France. The fate of Louis, after all, concerned all monarchs. In 1791 the rulers of Prussia and Austria issued the Declaration of Pulnitz – the cause of Louis was the cause of all monarchs, increasing public suspicion of the King.
The Assembly in response ordered the return of the King’s relatives abroad and all other emigres on the pain of confiscation of their property and conspiracy against the state.
Louis vetoed these decrees but he did order his two brothers to return home; they refused.
War clouds were gathering. European monarchs began to note the enthusiasm their own peasants and middle classes were showing for the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And within France certain parties were beginning to speak of sharing their revolution with other peoples; of the necessity of warring against tyrants. The storm was gathering that would devastate Europe for the next quarter century.
The Assembly was composed of inexperienced men with vast powers far superior to those left with the King, yet they mistrusted him, particularly as he directed relations with foreign countries. And political parties were forming in the Assembly – the Jacobins and the Cordeliers.
The Jacobins, with “clubs” throughout France was led by Maximilian Robespierre, at the time still a monarchist. The Jacobins were to become more and more radical as conservative members dropped out or were eliminated. It would become a state within a state eventually becoming a rival of the Assembly. .
The Cordeliers were still more radical, its membership derived from the lower social orders. More democratic, it was a hotbed of republicanism particularly after the King’s attempt to flee France.
Cordelier membership was centered on Paris and it was easily inflamed against anyone accused as a enemy. Crude and rude, they were the stuff of which mobs could be made. Their leader was the able and ruthless Georges Danton.
Bothe Jacobins and Cordeliers acquired the habit of bringing physical pressure to bear on the government seeking to impose their will upon the representatives and the King. They called themselves the “true patriots” and like most fanatics were highly suspicious of those more moderate. They began to dress in a new form, abandoning the short breeches (culottes) for long pants, previously worn only by working men and a red cap.
With hundreds of Jacobins and Cordeliers shouting from the gallery at the legislature France onw had a rude democracy with no reverence for the old. And they suspected the King and Queen of conspiring with the émigré nobles to re-establish autocracy.
After a final warning to Prussia and Austria to expel the emigres France declared war against Francis II, Emperor of Austria and nephew of Marie Antoinette on April 12, 1792. Only 7 members of the Assembly voted against it. The war would last for 23 years, devastate Europe, twist the revolution out of all resemblance to its early promise and would not end until Waterloo.
The King wanted war for he hoped that an Austrian victory would restore the Old Regime. Republicans wanted war for they believed it would reveal the King a traitor and sweep away the monarchy. Only Robespierre opposed war for he believed it always played into the hands of the powerful while the poor always paid for it. War was, he believed never in the interests of a democracy.
The war was viewed as a clash between a new democracy and the old order, the past and the future; as an opportunity to spread the revolutionary ideas of liberty and equality beyond the borders of France.
After Louis refused to sign a decree to raise an army of 20,000 to defend Paris the Jacobins organized a demonstration to force him to sign. On June 20, 1792 several thousand working men carrying pikes marched through the Assembly hall, argued that one man should not be able to thwart the will of 25 million French and then broke into the Tuileries.
The King spoke with them for 3 hours, promised to reconsider and drank a toast to the new order. The mob left, without violence.
Soon after, Prussia joined Austria in the war and the Duke of Brunswick, commander of coalition armies crossed the frontier vowing to completely destroy Paris if anything happened to the King or his family and hideously execute the leaders of the revolution to deter others from laying common hands upon God’s anointed.
Louis was now more than ever suspected of being an accomplice of the invaders.
On August 10, 1792 another crowd attacked the Tuileries forcing the King and his family to seek sanctuary in the Assembly. The mob killed 800 of the Swiss guards at the Tuileries when they ran out of ammunition. More than 5,000 people were killed that day; no quarter was given
A young artillery officer, out of service witnessed the carnage – Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Jacobins, who now controlled the Paris Commune organized the mob. The Assembly now suspended the King and his authorities permanently and, since the constitution was monarchial in nature, decided to dissolve so that a new constitution could be written.
The Paris Commune now issued it first edict: property requirements to vote for members of the constitutional convention were formally abolished and universal suffrage for males proclaimed. France was the first country in history to do so.
On August 12, 1792 France became a democracy.