F. A. M. Mignet

The 5th of May, 1789, was fixed for the opening of the states-general. A religious ceremony on the previous day prefaced their installation. The king, his family, his ministers, the deputies of the three orders, went in procession from the church of Notre-Dame to that of Saint Louis, to hear the opening mass. Men did not without enthusiasm see the return of a national ceremony of which France had for so long a period been deprived. It had all the appearance of a festival.

The national assembly, composed of the elite of the nation, was full of intelligence, pure intentions, and projects for the public good. It was not, indeed, free from parties, or wholly unanimous; but the mass was not dominated by any man or idea; and it was the mass which, upon a conviction ever untrammelled and often entirely spontaneous, decided the deliberations and bestowed popularity. The following were the divisions of views and interests it contained within itself: -

The period which forms the subject of this chapter was less remarkable for events than for the gradually decided separation of parties. In proportion as changes were introduced into the state and the laws, those whose interests or opinions they injured declared themselves against them. The revolution had had as enemies, from the beginning of the states-general, the court; from the union of orders and the abolition of privileges, the nobility; from the establishment of a single assembly and the rejection of the two chambers, the ministry and the partisans of the English form of government.

The French revolution was to change the political state of Europe, to terminate the strife of kings among themselves, and to commence that between kings and people. This would have taken place much later had not the kings themselves provoked it. They sought to suppress the revolution, and they extended it; for by attacking it they were to render it victorious. Europe had then arrived at the term of the political system which swayed it. The political activity of the several states after being internal under the feudal government, had become external under the monarchical government.

The new assembly opened its session on the 1st October, 1791. It declared itself immediately the national legislative assembly. From its first appearance, it had occasion to display its attachment to the actual state of things, and the respect it felt for the authors of French liberty. The book of the constitution was solemnly presented to it by the archivist Camus, accompanied by twelve of the oldest members of the national representation.

The convention was constituted on the 20th of September, 1792, and commenced its deliberations on the 21st. In its first sitting it abolished royalty, and proclaimed the republic. On the 22nd, it appropriated the revolution to itself, by declaring it would not date from year IV. of Liberty; but from year I. of the French Republic.

The death of Louis XVI. rendered the different parties irreconcilable, and increased the external enemies of the revolution. The republicans had to contend with all Europe, with several classes of malcontents, and with themselves. But the Mountain, who then directed the popular movement, imagined that they were too far involved not to push matters to extremity.

It was to be presumed that the Girondists would not bow to their defeat, and that the 31st of May would be the signal for the insurrection of the departments against the Mountain and the commune of Paris. This was the last trial left them to make, and they attempted it. But, in this decisive measure, there was seen the same want of union which had caused their defeat in the assembly. It is doubtful whether the Girondists would have triumphed, had they been united, and especially whether their triumph would have saved the revolution.

During the four months following the fall of the Danton party, the committees exercised their authority without opposition or restraint. Death became the only means of governing, and the republic was given up to daily and systematic executions.

The 9th of Thermidor was the first day of the revolution in which those fell who attacked. This indication alone manifested that the ascendant revolutionary movement had reached its term. From that day the contrary movement necessarily began. The general rising of all parties against one man was calculated to put an end to the compression under which they laboured. In Robespierre the committees subdued each other, and the decemviral government lost the prestige of terror which had constituted its strength.

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