CHAPTER V. FROM THE 1ST OF OCTOBER, 1791, TO THE 21ST OF SEPTEMBER, 1792
There have been in our day few lives more pure than Lafayette's; few characters more beautiful; few men whose popularity has been more justly won and longer maintained. After defending liberty in America at the side of Washington, he desired to establish it in the same manner in France; but this noble part was impossible in our revolution. When a people in the pursuit of liberty has no internal dissension, and no foes but foreigners, it may find a deliverer; may produce, in Switzerland a William Tell, in the Netherlands a prince of Orange, in America a Washington; but when it pursues it against its own countrymen and foreigners, at once amidst factions and battles, it can only produce a Cromwell or a Bonaparte, who become the dictators of revolutions when the struggle subsides and parties are exhausted. Lafayette, an actor in the first epoch of the crisis, enthusiastically declared for its results. He became the general of the middle class, at the head of the national guard under the constituent assembly, in the army under the legislative assembly. He had risen by it, and he would end with it. It may be said of him, that if he committed some faults of position, he had ever but one object, liberty, and that he employed but one means, the law. The manner in which, when yet quite young, he devoted himself to the deliverance of the two worlds, his glorious conduct and his invariable firmness, will transmit his name with honour to posterity, with whom a man cannot have two reputations, as in the time of party, but his own alone.
The authors of the events of the 10th of August became more and more divided, having no common views as to the results which should arise from that revolution. The more daring party, which had got hold of the commune or municipality, wished by means of that commune to rule Paris; by means of Paris, the national assembly; and by means of the assembly, France. After having effected the transference of Louis XVI. to the Temple, it threw down all the statues of the kings, and destroyed all the emblems of the monarchy. The department exercised a right of superintendence over the municipality; to be completely independent, it abrogated this right. The law required certain conditions to constitute a citizen; it decreed the cessation of these, in order that the multitude might be introduced into the government of the state. At the same time, it demanded the establishment of an extraordinary tribunal to try the conspirators of the 10th of August. As the assembly did not prove sufficiently docile, and endeavoured by proclamations to recall the people to more just and moderate sentiments, it received threatening messages from the Hotel de Ville. "As a citizen," said a member of the commune, "as a magistrate of the people, I come to announce to you that this evening, at midnight, the tocsin will sound, the drum beat to arms. The people are weary of not being avenged; tremble lest they administer justice themselves." "If, before two or three hours pass, the foreman of the jury be not named," said another, "and if the jury be not itself in a condition to act, great calamities will befall Paris." To avert the threatened outbreaks, the assembly was obliged to appoint an extraordinary criminal tribunal. This tribunal condemned a few persons, but the commune having conceived the most terrible projects, did not consider it sufficiently expeditious.
At the head of the commune were Marat, Panis, Sergent, Duplain, Lenfent, Lefort, Jourdeuil, Collot d'Herbois, Billaud-Varennes, Tallien, etc.; but the chief leader of the party at that time was Danton. He, more than any other person, had distinguished himself on the 10th of August. During the whole of that night he had rushed about from the sections to the barracks of the Marseillais and Bretons, and from these to the Faubourgs. A member of the revolutionary commune, he had directed its operations, and had afterwards been appointed minister of justice.
Danton was a gigantic revolutionist; he deemed no means censurable so they were useful, and, according to him, men could do whatever they dared attempt. Danton, who has been termed the Mirabeau of the populace bore a physical resemblance to that tribune of the higher classes; he had irregular features, a powerful voice, impetuous gesticulation, a daring eloquence, a lordly brow. Their vices, too, were the same; only Mirabeau's were those of a patrician, Danton's those of a democrat; that which there was of daring in the conceptions of Mirabeau, was to be found in Danton, but in another way, because, in the revolution, he belonged to another class and another epoch. Ardent, overwhelmed with debts and wants, of dissolute habits, given up now to his passions, now to his party, he was formidable while in the pursuit of an object, but became indifferent as soon as he had obtained it. This powerful demagogue presented a mixture of the most opposite vices and qualities. Though he had sold himself to the court, he did not seem sordid; he was one of those who, so to speak, give an air of freedom even to baseness. He was an absolute exterminator, without being personally ferocious; inexorable towards masses, humane, generous even towards individuals. [Footnote: At the time the commune was arranging the massacre of the 2nd September, he saved all who applied to him; he, of his own accord, released from prison Duport, Barnave, and Ch. Lameth, his personal antagonists.] Revolution, in his opinion, was a game at which the conqueror, if he required it, won the life of the conquered. The welfare of his party was, in his eyes, superior to law and even to humanity; this will explain his endeavours after the 10th of August, and his return to moderation when he considered the republic established.