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 first period terminated almost at the same time among all the great nations of Europe. Then kings who had so long been at war with their vassals, because they were in contact with them, encountered each other on the boundaries of their kingdoms, and fought. As no domination could become universal, neither that of Charles V. nor that of Louis XIV., the weak always uniting against the strong, after several vicissitudes of superiority and alliance, a sort of European equilibrium was established. In order to appreciate ulterior events, I propose to consider this equilibrium before the revolution.

Austria, England, and France had been, from the peace of Westphalia to the middle of the eighteenth century, the three great powers of Europe. Interest had leagued the two first against the third. Austria had reason to dread the influence of France in the Netherlands; England feared it on the sea. Rivalry of power and commerce often set them at variance, and they sought to weaken or plunder each other. Spain, since a prince of the house of Bourbon had been on the throne, was the ally of France against England. This, however, was a fallen power: confined to a corner of the continent, oppressed by the system of Philip II., deprived by the Family Compact of the only enemy that could keep it in action, by sea only had it retained any of its ancient superiority. But France had other allies on all sides of Austria: Sweden on the north; Poland and the Porte on the east; in the south of Germany, Bavaria; Prussia on the west; and in Italy, the kingdom of Naples. These powers, having reason to dread the encroachments of Austria, were naturally the allies of her enemy. Piedmont, placed between the two systems of alliance, sided, according to circumstances and its interests, with either. Holland was united with England or with France, as the party of the stadtholders or that of the people prevailed in the republic. Switzerland was neutral.

In the last half of the eighteenth century, two powers had risen in the north, Russia and Prussia. The latter had been changed from a simple electorate into an important kingdom, by Frederick-William, who had given it a treasure and an army; and by his son Frederick the Great, who had made use of these to extend his territory. Russia, long unconnected with the other states, had been more especially introduced into the politics of Europe by Peter I. and Catharine II. The accession of these two powers considerably modified the ancient alliances. In concert with the cabinet of Vienna, Russia and Prussia had executed the first partition of Poland in 1772; and after the death of Frederick the Great, the empress Catharine and the emperor Joseph united in 1785 to effect that of European Turkey.

The cabinet of Versailles, weakened since the imprudent and unfortunate Seven Years' War, had assisted at the partition of Poland without opposing it, had raised no obstacle to the fall of the Ottoman empire, and even allowed its ally, the republican party in Holland, to sink under the blows of Prussia and England, without assisting it. The latter powers had in 1787 re-established by force the hereditary, stadtholderate of the United Provinces. The only act which did honour to French policy, was the support it had happily given to the emancipation of North America. The revolution of 1789, while extending the moral influence of France, diminished still more its diplomatic influence.

England, under the government of young Pitt, was alarmed in 1788 at the ambitious projects of Russia, and united with Holland and Prussia to put an end to them. Hostilities were on the point of commencing when the emperor Joseph died, in February, 1790, and was succeeded by Leopold, who in July accepted the convention of Reichenbach. This convention, by the mediation of England, Russia, and Holland, settled the terms of the peace between Austria and Turkey, which was signed definitively, on the 4th of August, 1791, at Sistova; it at the same time provided for the pacification of the Netherlands. Urged by England and Prussia, Catharine II. also made peace with the Porte at Jassy, on the 29th of December, 1791. These negotiations, and the treaties they gave rise to, terminated the political struggles of the eighteenth century, and left the powers free to turn their attention to the French Revolution.

The princes of Europe, who had hitherto had no enemies but themselves, viewed it in the light of a common foe. The ancient relations of war and of alliance, already overlooked during the Seven Years' War, now ceased entirely: Sweden united with Russia, and Prussia with Austria. There was nothing now but the kings on one side, and people on the other, waiting for the auxiliaries which its example, or the faults of princes might give it. A general coalition was soon formed against the French revolution. Austria engaged in it with the hope of aggrandizement, England to avenge the American war, and to preserve itself from the spirit of the revolution; Prussia to strengthen the threatened absolute power, and profitably to engage its unemployed army; the German states to restore feudal rights to some of their members who had been deprived of them, by the abolition of the old regime in Alsace; the king of Sweden, who had constituted himself the champion of arbitrary power, to re-establish it in France, as he had just done in his own country; Russia, that it might execute without trouble the partition of Poland, while the attention of Europe was directed elsewhere; finally, all the sovereigns of the house of Bourbon, from the interest of power and family attachments. The emigrants encouraged them in these projects, and excited them to invasion. According to them, France was without an army, or at least without leaders, destitute of money, given up to disorder, weary of the assembly, disposed to the ancient regime, and without either the means or the inclination to defend itself. They flocked in crowds to take a share in the promised short campaign, and formed into organized bodies under the prince de Conde, at Worms, and the count d'Artois, at Coblentz.

The count d'Artois especially hastened the determination of the cabinets. The emperor Leopold was in Italy, and the count repaired to him, with Calonne as minister, and the count Alphonse de Durfort, who had been his mediator with the court of the Tuileries, and who had brought him the king's authority to treat with Leopold. The conference took place at Mantua, and the count de Durfort returned, and delivered to Louis XVI. in the name of the emperor, a secret declaration, in which was announced to him the speedy assistance of the coalition. Austria was to advance thirty- five thousand men on the frontier of Flanders; the German states, fifteen thousand on Alsace; the Swiss, fifteen thousand on the Lyonese frontier; the king of Sardinia, fifteen thousand on that of Dauphine; Spain was to augment its army in Catalonia to twenty thousand; Prussia was well disposed in favour of the coalition, and the king of England was to take part in it as elector of Hanover. All these troops were to move at the same time, at the end of July; the house of Bourbon was then to make a protest, and the powers were to publish a manifesto; until then, however, it was essential to keep the design secret, to avoid all partial insurrection, and to make no attempt at flight. Such was the result of the conferences at Mantua on the 20th May, 1791.

Louis XVI., either from a desire not to place himself entirely at the mercy of foreign powers, or dreading the ascendency which the count d'Artois, should he return at the head of the victorious emigrants, would assume over the government he had established, preferred restoring the government alone. In general Bouille he had a devoted and skilful partisan, who at the same time condemned both emigration and the assembly, and promised him refuge and support in his army. For some time past, a secret correspondence had taken place between him and the king. Bouille prepared everything to receive him. He established a camp at Montmedy, under the pretext of a movement of hostile troops on the frontier; he placed detachments on the route the king was to take, to serve him for escort, and as a motive was necessary for these arrangements, he alleged that of protecting the money despatched for the payment of the troops.

The royal family on its side made every preparation for departure; very few persons were informed of it, and no measures betrayed it. Louis XVI. and the queen, on the contrary, pursued a line of conduct calculated to silence suspicion; and on the night of the 20th of June, they issued at the appointed hour from the chateau, one by one, in disguise. In this way they eluded the vigilance of the guard, reached the Boulevard, where a carriage awaited them, and took the road to Chalons and Montmedy.

On the following day the news of this escape threw Paris into consternation; indignation soon became the prevailing sentiment; crowds assembled, and the tumult increased. Those who had not prevented the flight were accused of favouring it. Neither Bailly nor Lafayette escaped the general mistrust. This event was considered the precursor of the invasion of France, the triumph of the emigrants; the return of the ancient regime, and a long civil war. But the conduct of the assembly soon restored the public mind to calmness and security. It took every measure which so difficult a conjuncture required. It summoned the ministers and authorities to its bar; calmed the people by a proclamation; used proper precautions to secure public tranquillity; seized on the executive power, commissioned Montmorin, the minister of foreign affairs, to inform the European powers of its pacific intentions; sent commissioners to secure the favour of the troops, and receive their oath, no longer made in the name of the king, but in that of the assembly, and lastly, issued an order through the departments for the arrest of any one attempting to leave the kingdom. "Thus, in less than four hours," says the marquis de Ferrieres, "the assembly was invested with every kind of power. The government went on; public tranquillity did not experience the slightest shock; and Paris and France learned from this experience, so fatal to royalty, that the monarch is almost always a stranger to the government that exists in his name."

Meantime Louis XVI. and his family were drawing near the termination of their journey. The success of the first days' journeys, the increasing distance from Paris, rendered the king less reserved and more confident; he had the imprudence to show himself, was recognised, and arrested at Varennes on the 21st. The national guard were under arms instantly; the officers of the detachments posted by Bouille sought in vain to rescue the king; the dragoons and hussars feared or refused to support them. Bouille, apprised of this fatal event, hastened himself at the head of a regiment of cavalry. But it was too late; on reaching Varennes, he found that the king had left it several hours before; his squadrons were tired, and refused to advance. The national guard were on all sides under arms, and after the failure of his enterprise, he had no alternative but to leave the army and quit France.

The assembly, on hearing of the king's arrest, sent to him, as commissioners, three of its members, Petion, Latour-Maubourg, and Barnave. They met the royal family at Epernay and returned with them. It was during this journey, that Barnave, touched by the good sense of Louis XVI., the fascinations of Marie Antoinette, and the fate of this fallen family, conceived for it an earnest interest. From that day he gave it his assiduous counsel and support. On reaching Paris the royal party passed through an immense crowd, which expressed neither applause nor murmurs, but observed a reproachful silence.

The king was provisionally suspended: he had had a guard set over him, as had the queen; and commissioners were appointed to question him. Agitation pervaded all parties. Some desired to retain the king on the throne, notwithstanding his flight; others maintained, that he had abdicated by condemning, in a manifesto addressed to the French on his departure, both the revolution, and the acts which had emanated from him during that period, which he termed a time of captivity.

The republican party now began to appear. Hitherto it had remained either dependent or hidden, because it had been without any existence of its own, or because it wanted a pretext for displaying itself. The struggle, which lay at first between the assembly and the court, then between the constitutionalists and the aristocrats, and latterly among the constitutionalists themselves, was now about to commence between the constitutionalists and the republicans. In times of revolution such is the inevitable course of events. The partisans of the order newly established then met and renounced differences of opinion which were detrimental to their cause, even while the assembly was all powerful, but which had become highly perilous, now that the emigration party threatened it on the one hand, and the multitude on the other. Mirabeau was no more. The Centre, on which this powerful man had relied, and which constituted the least ambitious portion of the assembly, the most attached to principles, might by joining the Lameths, re-establish Louis XVI. and constitutional monarchy, and present a formidable opposition to the popular ebullition.

This alliance took place; the Lameth party came to an understanding with Andre and the principal members of the Centre, made overtures to the court, and opened the club of the Feuillants in opposition to that of the Jacobins. But the latter could not want leaders; under Mirabeau, they had contended against Mounier; under the Lameths against Mirabeau; under Petion and Robespierre, they contended against the Lameths. The party which desired a second revolution had constantly supported the most extreme actors in the revolution already accomplished, because this was bringing within its reach the struggle and the victory. At this period, from subordinate it had become independent; it no longer fought for others and for opinions not its own, but for itself, and under its own banner. The court, by its multiplied faults, its imprudent machinations, and, lastly, by the flight of the monarch, had given it a sort of authority to avow its object; and the Lameths, by forsaking it, had left it to its true leaders.

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.

While this was passing in the assembly and at Paris, the emigrants, whom the flight of Louis XVI. had elated with hope, were thrown into consternation at his arrest. Monsieur, who had fled at the same time as his brother, and with better fortune, arrived alone at Brussels with the powers and title of regent. The emigrants thenceforth relied only on the assistance of Europe; the officers quitted their colours; two hundred and ninety members of the assembly protested against its decrees; in order to legitimatize invasion, Bouille wrote a threatening letter, in the inconceivable hope of intimidating the assembly, and at the same time to take upon himself the sole responsibility of the flight of Louis XVI.; finally, the emperor, the king of Prussia, and the count d'Artois met at Pilnitz, where they made the famous declaration of the 27th of August, preparatory to the invasion of France, and which, far from improving the condition of the king, would have imperilled him, had not the assembly, in its wisdom, continued to follow out its new designs, regardless at once of the clamours of the multitude at home, and the foreign powers.

In the declaration of Pilnitz, the sovereigns considered the cause of Louis XVI. as their own. They required that he should be free to go where he pleased, that is to say, to repair to them that he should be restored to his throne; that the assembly should be dissolved, and that the princes of the empire having possessions in Alsace, should be reinstated in their feudal rights In case of refusal, they threatened France with a war in which all the powers who were guarantees for the French monarchy would concur. This declaration, so far from discouraging, only served to irritate the assembly and the people. Men asked only another, what right the princes of Europe had to interfere in the government of France; by what right they gave orders to great people, and imposed conditions upon it; and since the sovereigns appealed to force, the people of France prepared to resist them. The frontiers were put in a state of defence; the hundred thousand men of the national guard were enrolled, and they awaited in calm serenity the attack of the enemy, well convinced that the French people, on their own soil and in a state of revolution, would be invincible.

Meantime, the assembly approached the close of its labours; civil relations, public taxation, the nature of crimes, their prosecution, and their punishment, had been by it as wisely regulated as were the public and constitutional relations of the country. Equality had been introduced into the laws of inheritance, into taxation, and into punishments; nothing remained but to unite all the constitutional decrees into a body and submit them to the king for his approval. The assembly was growing weary of its labours and of its dissensions; the people itself, who in France ever become tired of that which continues beyond a certain time, desired a new national representation; the convocation of the electoral colleges was therefore fixed for the 5th of August. Unfortunately, the members of the present assembly could not form part of the succeeding one; this had been decided before the flight to Varennes. In this important question, the assembly had been drawn away by the rivalry of some, the disinterestedness of others, the desire for anarchy on the part of the aristocrats, and of domination on that of the republicans. Vainly did Duport exclaim: "While every one is pestering us with new principles of all sorts, how is it overlooked that stability is also a principle of government? Is France, whose children are so ardent and changeable, to be exposed every two years to a revolution in her laws and opinions?" This was the desire of the privileged classes and the Jacobins, though with different views. In all such matters, the constituent assembly was deceived or overruled; when the ministry was in question, it decided, in opposition to Mirabeau, that no deputy could hold office; on the subject of re-election, it decided, in opposition to its own members, that it could not take place; in the same spirit, it prohibited their accepting, for four years, any post offered them by the prince. This mania of disinterestedness soon induced Lafayette to divest himself of the command of the national guard, and Bailly to resign the mayoralty. Thus this remarkable epoch entirely annihilated the constituent body.

The collection of the constitutional decrees into one body led to the idea of revising them. But this idea of revision gave great dissatisfaction, and was almost of no effect; it was not desirable to render the constitution more aristocratic by after measures, lest the multitude should require it to be made more popular. To limit the sovereignty of the nation, and, at the same time, not to overlook it, the assembly declared that France had a right to revise its constitution, but that it was prudent not to exercise this right for thirty years.

The act of the constitution was presented to the king by sixty deputies; the suspension being taken off, Louis XVI. resumed the exercise of his power; and the guard the law had given him was placed under his own command. Thus restored to freedom, the constitution was submitted to him. After examining it for several days, "I accept the constitution," he wrote to the assembly; "I engage to maintain it at home, to defend it from all attacks from abroad; and to cause its execution by all the means it places at my disposal. I declare, that being informed of the attachment of the great majority of the people to the constitution, I renounce my claim to assist in the work, and that being responsible to the nation alone, no other person, now that I have made this renunciation, has a right to complain."

This letter excited general approbation. Lafayette demanded and procured an amnesty in favour of those who were under prosecution for favouring the king's flight, or for proceedings against the revolution. Next day the king came in person to accept the constitution in the assembly. The populace attended him thither with acclamations; he was the object of the enthusiasm of the deputies and spectators, and he regained that day the confidence and affection of his subjects. The 29th of September was fixed for the closing of the assembly; the king was present; his speech was often interrupted by applause, and when he said, "For you, gentlemen, who during a long and arduous career have displayed such indefatigable zeal, there remains one duty to fulfil when you have returned to your homes over the country: to explain to your fellow-citizens the true meaning of the laws you have made for them; to counsel those who slight them; to clarify and unite all opinions by the example you shall afford of your love of order, and of submission to the laws." Cries of "Yes! yes!" were uttered by all the deputies with one common voice. "I rely on your being the interpreters of my sentiments to your fellow-citizens." "Yes! yes!" "Tell them all that the king will always be their first and most faithful friend; that he needs their love; that he can only be happy with them and by their means; the hope of contributing to their happiness will sustain my courage, as the satisfaction of having succeeded will be my sweetest recompense"

"It is a speech worthy of Henry IV.," said a voice, and the king left the hall amidst the loudest testimonials of love.

Then Thouret, in a loud voice, and addressing the people, exclaimed: "The constituent assembly pronounces its mission accomplished, and that its sittings now terminate." Thus closed this first and glorious assembly of the nation. It was courageous, intelligent, just, and had but one passion - a passion for law. It accomplished, in two years, by its efforts, and with indefatigable perseverance, the greatest revolution ever witnessed by one generation of men. Amidst its labours, it repressed despotism and anarchy, by frustrating the conspiracies of the aristocracy and maintaining the multitude in subordination. Its only fault was that it did not confide the guidance of the revolution to those who were its authors; it divested itself of power, like those legislators of antiquity who exiled themselves from their country after giving it a constitution. A new assembly did not apply itself to consolidating its work, and the revolution, which ought to have been finished, was recommenced.

The constitution of 1791 was based on principles adapted to the ideas and situation of France. This constitution was the work of the middle class, then the strongest; for, as is well known, the predominant force ever takes possession of institutions. When it belongs to one man alone, it is despotism; when to several, it is privilege; when to all, it is right; this last state is the limit, as it is the origin, of society. France had at length attained it, after passing through feudalism, which was the aristocratic institution, and absolute power, which was the monarchical institution. Equality was consecrated among the citizens, and delegation recognised among the powers; such were to be, under the new system, the condition of men, and the form of government.

In this constitution the people was the source of all powers, but it exercised none; it was entrusted only with election in the first instance, and its magistrates were selected by men chosen from among the enlightened portions of the community. The latter constituted the assembly, the law courts, the public offices, the corporations, the militia, and thus possessed all the force and all the power of the state. It alone was fit to exercise them, because it alone had the intelligence necessary for the conduct of government. The people was not yet sufficiently advanced to participate in power, consequently, it was only by accident, and in the most casual and evanescent manner, that power fell into its hands; but it received civic education, and was disciplined to government in the primary assemblies, according to the true aim of society, which is not to confer its advantages as a patrimony on one particular class, but to make all share in them, when all are capable of acquiring them. This was the leading characteristic of the constitution of 1791; as each, by degrees, became competent to enjoy the right, he was admitted to it; it extended its limits with the extension of civilization, which every day calls a greater number of men to the administration of the state. In this way it had established true equality, whose real character is admissibility, as that of inequality is exclusion. In rendering power transferable by election, it made it a public magistracy; whilst privilege, in rendering it hereditary by transmission, makes it private property.

The constitution of 1791 established homogeneous powers which corresponded among themselves, and thus reciprocally restrained each other; still, it must be confessed, the royal authority was too subordinate to popular power. It is never otherwise: sovereignty, from whatever source derived, gives itself a feeble counterpoise when it limits itself. A constituent assembly enfeebles royalty; a king who is a legislator limits the prerogatives of an assembly.

This constitution was, however, less democratic than that of the United States, which had been practicable, despite the extent of the territory, proving that it is not the form of institutions, but the assent which they obtain, or the dissent which they excite, which permits or hinders their establishment. In a new country, after a revolution of independence, as in America, any constitution is possible; there is but one hostile party, that of the metropolis, and when that is overcome, the struggle ceases, because defeat leads to its expulsion. It is not so with social revolutions among nations who have long been in existence. Changes attack interests, interests form parties, parties enter into contest, and the more victory spreads the greater grows opposition. This is what happened in France. The work of the constituent assembly perished less from its defects than from the attacks of faction. Placed between the aristocracy and the multitude, it was attacked by the one and invaded by the other. The latter would not have become sovereign, had not civil war and the foreign coalition called for its intervention and aid. To defend the country, it became necessary that it should govern it; then it effected its revolution, as the middle class had effected its own. It had its 14th of July in the 10th of August; its constituent assembly, the convention; its government, which was the committee of public safety; yet, as we shall see, without emigration there would have been no republic.