CHAPTER V. FROM THE 1ST OF OCTOBER, 1791, TO THE 21ST OF SEPTEMBER, 1792
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 assembly received the constitutional act standing and uncovered, and on it took the oath, amidst the acclamations of the people who occupied the tribunes, "to live free or perish!" A vote of thanks was given by it to the members of the constituent assembly, and it then prepared to commence its labours.
But its first relations with the king had not the same character of union and confidence. The court, doubtless hoping to regain under the legislative, the superior position which it had lost under the constituent assembly, did not employ sufficient management towards a susceptible and anxious popular authority, which was then considered the first of the state. The assembly sent a deputation of sixty of its members to the king to announce its opening. The king did not receive them in person, and sent word by the minister of justice that he could not give them audience till noon on the following day. This unceremonious dismissal, and the indirect communication between the national representatives and the prince, by means of a minister, hurt the deputation excessively. Accordingly, when the audience took place, Duchastel, who headed the deputation, said to him laconically: "Sire, the national legislative assembly is sitting; we are deputed to inform you of this." Louis XVI. replied still more drily: "I cannot visit you before Friday." This conduct of the court towards the assembly was impolitic, and little calculated to conciliate the affection of the people.
The assembly approved of the cold manner assumed by the deputation, and soon indulged in an act of reprisal. The ceremony with which the king was to be received among them was arranged according to preceding laws. A fauteuil in the form of a throne was reserved for him; they used towards him the titles of sire and majesty, and the deputies, standing and uncovered on his entrance, were to sit down, put on their hats, and rise again, following with deference all the movements of the prince. Some restless and exaggerated minds considered this condescension unworthy of a sovereign assembly. The deputy Grangeneuve required that the words sire and majesty should be replaced by the "more constitutional and finer" title of king of the French. Couthon strongly enforced this motion, and proposed that a simple fauteuil should be assigned to the king, exactly like the president's. These motions excited some slight disapprobation on the part of a few members, but the greater number received them eagerly. "It gives me pleasure to suppose," said Guadet, "that the French people will always venerate the simple fauteuil upon which sits the president of the national representatives, much more than the gilded fauteuil where sits the head of the executive power. I will say nothing, gentlemen, of the titles of sire and majesty. It astonishes me to find the national assembly deliberating whether they shall be retained. The word sire signifies seigneur; it belonged to the feudal system, which has ceased to exist. As for the term majesty, it should only be employed in speaking of God and of the people."
The previous question was demanded, but feebly; these motions were put to the vote, and carried by a considerable majority. Yet, as this decree appeared hostile, the constitutional opinion pronounced itself against it, and censured this too excessive rigour in the application of principles. On the following day those who had demanded the previous question moved that the decisions of the day before should be abandoned. A report was circulated, at the same time, that the king would not enter the assembly if the decree were maintained; and the decree was revoked. These petty skirmishes between two powers who had to fear usurpations, assumptions, and more especially ill will between them, terminated here on this occasion, and all recollection of them was effaced by the presence of Louis XVI. in the legislative body, where he was received with the greatest respect and the most lively enthusiasm.