The Last Days of Absolute Monarchy - The French Revolution

The bloody rule of the Mountain party displayed itself in its most frightful excess in the suppression of the revolt against the reign of terror. When the inhabitants of Normandy and Bretagne rose in support of the excluded Girondists, the committee of public safety ordered the district between the Seine, the Loire, and the extreme sea-coast, to be visited with blood and slaughter by the terrible Carrier. This monster ordered, at Nantes, his victims to be drowned by hundreds in the Loire by means of ships with movable bottoms (noyades.) The proceedings of the Jacobins in the cities of the south, Lyons, Marseilles, and Toulon, were still more barbarous. In the first of these towns Chalier, who had formerly been a priest, and now was president of the Jacobin club, excited the people by scandalous placards to plunder and destroy the 'aristocrats.' Irritated at this audacity, the respectable and wealthy citizens of Lyons, who were thus menaced in their lives and property, procured the execution of the demagogue, July 16th, 1793. This deed filled the Parisian terrorists with fury. A republican army appeared before the walls of the town, which, after an obstinate contest, was taken and fearfully punished. Fréron a companion of Marat, Fouché, Couthon, and others, caused the inhabitants to be shot down in crowds, because the guillotine was too tedious in its operations; whole streets were either pulled down or blown into the air with gunpowder. The goods of the rich were divided among the populace; Lyons was to be annihilated, reduced to a nameless common. The republicans raged in a similar way in Marseilles and Toulon. The royalists of Toulon had called upon the English for assistance, and surrendered to them their town and harbor. Confident in this assistance, and in the strength of their walls, the citizens of Toulon bade defiance to their republican enemies. But the army of sans-culottes, in which the young Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, exhibited the first proofs of his military talents, overcame all obstacles. Toulon was stormed. The English, unable to maintain the town, set fire to the fleet, and left the unfortunate inhabitants to the frightful vengeance of the Convention. Here also the barbarous Fréron order ed all the wealthy citizens to be shot, and their property to be divided among the sans-culottes. The respectable inhabitants fled, and abandoned the city to the mob and the galley-slaves. Tallien behaved in a similar manner in Bourdeaux; and in the north of France, Lebon marched from place to place with a guillotine.

But the fate of La Vendée was the most frightful. This singular country, situated in the west of France, was covered with woods, hedges, and thickets, and intersected by ditches. Here dwelt a contented people, in rural quietude, and in the simplicity of the olden time. The peasants and tenants were attached to their landlords they loved the king and clung with reverence to their clergy and their church usages, which had been dear and sacred to them from their youth. When the National Assembly slaughtered or expelled their unsworn priests, when the blood of their king was poured out on the guillotine, when the children of the peasants were called away by a general summons, to the army - then the enraged people roused themselves to resistance and civil conflict. Under brave leaders, of undistinguished birth, as Charette, Stofflet, Cathelineau, who were joined by a few nobles, Laroche-Jaquelein, D'Elbée, etc., they at first drove back the republican army, conquered Saumur, and threatened Nantes. Upon this the Convention despatched a revolutionary army to La Vendée, under the command of Westermann and the frantic Jacobins, Ronsin and Rossignol. These fell upon the inhabitants like wild beasts, set fire to towns, villages, farms, and woods, attempted to overcome the resistance of the royalists' by terror and outrage. But the courage of the Vendéan peasants remained unsubdued. It was not until general Kleber marched against La Vendée with the brave troops who had returned to their homes after the surrender of Mayence, that this unfortunate people gradually succumbed to the attacks of their enemies, after the land had become a desert, and thousands of the inhabitants had saturated the soil with their blood. La Vendée, however, was only restored to tranquillity when Hoche, who was equally renowned for his courage and philanthropy, assumed the command of the army, offered peace to those who were weary of the contest, and reduced the refractory to submission. Stofflet and Charette were made prisoners of war, and shot.