The Last Days of Absolute Monarchy - The French Revolution

On the day of the year in which the Bastille was taken, a grand federative festival was arranged in the Champ de Mars (July 14, 1790). It must have been a moving spectacle, when Talleyrand, at the head of 300 priests, clothed in white, and girded with tri-colored scarfs, performed the consecration of the banner at the altar of the country; when Lafayette, in the name of the National Guard, the president of the National Assembly, and, at length, the king himself, vowed fidelity to the Constitution; when the innumerable multitude raised their hands aloft and repeated after him the oath of citizenship, and the queen herself, carried away by enthusiasm, raised the Dauphin in the air and joined in the acclamations. This was the last day of happiness for the king, whose situation after this grew constantly worse. Necker, no longer equal to the difficulties, left France and retired to Switzerland. Mirabeau, won over by the court, opposed farther encroachments upon the kingly power with the whole of his eloquence, inasmuch as he believed a constitutional monarchy and not a re public to be the best government for France. Unfortunately for the king, this great man died, in his forty-second year, of a sickness brought on by his disorderly life and by over-exertion. A. splendid funeral ceremony gave evidence of the influence of the man in whom sank the last strong pillar of the throne. Weak and unselfreliant as Louis XVI was, he now lost all firmness. By his refusal to receive a sworn priest as his confessor, or to declare the emigrants traitors, who were endeavoring from Coblentz to excite the European courts to a crusade against France, he excited a suspicion that he was not honestly a supporter of the constitution he had sworn to maintain, and not altogether ignorant of the efforts of the emigrants. The more this suspicion gained ground with the people, the more perilous became the position of the king. At this crisis, Louis embraced the desperate resolution of secretly flying to the northern frontier of his kingdom. Bouillé, a resolute general in Lorraine, was let into the secret, and promised to support the scheme with his troops. Leaving behind him a letter, in which he protested against all the acts which had been forced from him since October, 1789, the king happily escaped, with his family, from Paris in a large carriage. But the clumsily executed project nevertheless miscarried. Louis was recognized in St. Menehould by the postmaster, Drouet, stopped by the militia at Varennes, and led back to Paris at the command of the National Assembly, who sent three of their members, and among them, Pétion, to receive the royal family. The suspension of the royal authority, which had already been pronounced by the Assembly, remained in force, till Louis proclaimed and swore to observe, the Constitution completed at the end of September.

The attention of the government and the Assembly was particularly directed to the priests., who had refused the oath, and to the emigrants. Both were endeavoring to overthrow the existing order of things: the former by exciting hatred and discontent among the French people; the latter by making military preparations at Coblentz, and endeavoring to stir up foreign powers to an armed invasion of France. The Assembly therefore determined upon seeking out and arresting the unsworn priests, and declaring the emigrants traitors and conspirators, and punishing them by the loss of their estates and incomes. The king put his veto upon both these resolutions, and prevented their execution. This refusal was ascribed to the secret hopes, entertained by the court, of assistance from foreign powers and of the triumph of the emigrants, and thus the temper of the people grew continually more hostile. It was also known that the queen was in correspondence with her brother, the emperor of Austria, and that she looked for support and safety to the emigrant nobility. Neither was it any longer doubtful that war must soon break out, since the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia, after a conference in Pillnitz (August, 1791,) were making preparations, and demanded of the French government not only to make befitting indemnification to the German princes and nobles who had suffered loss by the abolition of tithes and feudal bur dens, and to restore the province of Avignon, that had been wrested from the pope, but to arrange the government upon the plan proposed by the king himself in June, 1789. These demands were followed by a declaration of war against Austria and Prussia on the part of the French government, to which the king yielded his consent with tears. For the purpose of securing the capital and the National Assembly against any attack it was resolved to summon 20,000 of the federates from the southern provinces, under pretense of celebrating the festival of the Bastille, and to commit the defense of. Paris to them. But Louis refused his consent to this resolution also. Upon this, the Girondist ministers laid down their offices, after Madame Roland had reproached and reprimanded the king in a letter that was soon in the hands of every body. These proceedings increased the irritation to such an extent that it became easy for the republicans to excite a popular insurrection. On the 20th of June, the anniversary of the meeting in the Tennis Court, the terrible mob, armed with pikes, marched from the suburbs, under the conduct of the brewer, Santerre, and the butcher, Legendre, into the Tuileries, to force the king to confirm the decree against the unsworn priests and for the summoning of the National Guard. But here also Louis remained firm. He defied for several hours all threats and dangers and endured the insolence of the mob, who even placed the red Jacobin cap upon his head and gave him wine to drink, with the courage of a martyr. The rather tardy arrival of Pétion with the National Guard at length freed him from his perilous position.