CHAPTER IV. FROM APRIL, 1791, TO THE 3OTH SEPTEMBER. THE END OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

The Lameths, in their turn, underwent the reproaches of the multitude, which saw only their alliance with the court, without examining its conditions. But supported by all the constitutionalists, they were strongest in the assembly; and they found it essential to establish the king as soon as possible, in order to put a stop to a controversy which threatened the new order, by authorizing the public party to demand the abolition of the royal power while its suspension lasted. The commissioners appointed to interrogate Louis XVI. dictated to him a declaration, which they presented in his name to the assembly, and which modified the injurious effect of his flight. The reporter declared, in the name of the seven committees entrusted with the examination of this great question, that there were no grounds for bringing Louis XVI. to trial, or for pronouncing his dethronement. The discussion which followed this report was long and animated; the efforts of the republican party, notwithstanding their pertinacity, were unsuccessful. Most of their orators spoke; they demanded deposition or a regency; that is to say, popular government, or an approach towards it. Barnave, after meeting all their arguments, finished his speech with these remarkable words: "Regenerators of the empire, follow your course without deviation. You have proved that you had courage to destroy the abuses of power; you have proved that you possessed all that was requisite to substitute wise and good institutions in their place; prove now that you have the wisdom to protect and maintain these. The nation has just given a great evidence of its strength and courage; it has displayed, solemnly and by a spontaneous movement, all that it could oppose to the attacks which threatened it. Continue the same precautions; let our boundaries, let our frontiers be powerfully defended. But while we manifest our power, let us also prove our moderation; let us present peace to the world, alarmed by the events which take place amongst us; let us present an occasion for triumph to all those who in foreign lands have taken an interest in our revolution. They cry to us from all parts: you are powerful; be wise, be moderate, therein will lie your highest glory. Thus will you prove that in various circumstances you can employ various means, talents, and virtues."

The assembly sided with Barnave. But to pacify the people, and to provide for the future safety of France, it decreed that the king should be considered as abdicating, de facto, if he retracted the oath he had taken to the constitution; if he headed an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitted any one to do so in his name; and that, in such case, become a simple citizen, he would cease to be inviolable, and might be responsible for acts committed subsequent to his abdication.

On the day that this decree was adopted by the assembly, the leaders of the republican party excited the multitude against it. But the hall in which it sat was surrounded by the national guard, and it could not be assailed or intimidated. The agitators unable to prevent the passing of the decree, aroused the people against it. They drew up a petition, in which they denied the competency of the assembly; appealed from it to the sovereignty of the nation, treated Louis XVI. as deposed since his flight, and demanded a substitute for him. This petition, drawn up by Brissot, author of the Patriote Francais, and president of theComite des Recherches of Paris, was carried, on the 17th of July, to the altar of the country in the Champ de Mars: an immense crowd flocked to sign it. The assembly, apprized of what was taking place, summoned the municipal authorities to its bar, and directed them to preserve the public tranquillity. Lafayette marched against the crowd, and in the first instance succeeded in dispersing it without bloodshed. The municipal officers took up their quarters in the Invalides; but the same day the crowd returned in greater numbers, and with more determination. Danton and Camille Desmoulins harangued them from the altar of the country. Two Invalides, supposed to be spies, were massacred and their heads stuck on pikes. The insurrection became alarming. Lafayette again repaired to the Champ de Mars, at the head of twelve hundred of the national guard. Bailly accompanied him, and had the red banner unfurled. The crowd was then summoned to disperse in the name of the law; it refused to retire, and, contemning authority, shouted, "Down with the red flag!" and assailed the national guard with stones. Lafayette ordered his men to fire, but in the air. The crowd was not intimidated with this, and resumed the attack; compelled by the obstinacy of the insurgents, Lafayette then ordered another discharge, a real and effective one. The terrified multitude fled, leaving many dead on the field. The disturbances now ceased, order was restored; but blood had flown, and the people never forgave Bailly or Lafayette the cruel necessity to which the crowd had driven them. This was a regular combat, in which the republican party, not as yet sufficiently strong or established, was defeated by the constitutional monarchy party. The attempt of the Champ de Mars was the prelude of the popular movements which led to the 10th of August.