The French Revolution— Volume 2

Author: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine


Policy of the Assembly. - State of France at the end of 1791. - Powerlessness of the Law.

If the deputies who, on the 1st of October, 1791, so solemnly and enthusiastically swore to the Constitution, had been willing to open their eyes, they would have seen this Constitution constantly violated, both in its letter and spirit, over the entire territory. As usual, and through the vanity of authorship, M. Thouret, the last president of the Constituent Assembly, had, in his final report, hidden disagreeable truth underneath pompous and delusive phrases; but it was only necessary to look over the monthly record to see whether, as guaranteed by him, "the decrees were faithfully executed in all parts of the empire." — " Where is this faithful execution to be found?" inquires Mallet du Pan.[1] "Is it at Toulon, in the midst of the dead and wounded, shot in the very face of the amazed municipality and Directory? Is it at Marseilles, where two private individuals are knocked down and massacred as aristocrats," under the pretext "that they sold to children poisoned sugar-plums with which to begin a counter-revolution?" Is it at Arles, "against which 4,000 men from Marseilles, dispatched by the club, are at this moment marching?" Is it at Bayeux, "where the sieur Fauchet against whom a warrant for arrest is out, besides being under the ban of political disability, has just been elected deputy to the Legislative Assembly?" Is it at Blois, "where the commandant, doomed to death for having tried to execute these decrees, is forced to send away a loyal regiment and submit to licentious troops?" Is it at Nîmes, "where the Dauphiny regiment, on leaving the town by the Minister’s orders, is ordered by the people" and the club "to disobey the Minister and remain?" Is it in those regiments whose officers, with pistols at their breasts, are obliged to leave and give place to amateurs? Is it at Toulouse, "where, at the end of August, the administrative authorities order all unsworn priests to leave the town in three days, and withdraw to a distance of four leagues?" Is it in the outskirts of Toulouse, "where, on the 28th of August, a municipal officer is hung at a street-lamp after an affray with guns?" Is it at Paris, where, on the 25th of September, the Irish college, vainly protected by an international treaty, has just been assailed by the mob; where Catholics, listening to the orthodox mass, are driven out and dragged to the authorized mass in the vicinity; where one woman is torn from the confessional, and another flogged with all their might?[2]

These troubles, it is said, are transient; on the Constitution being proclaimed, order will return of itself. Very well, the Constitution is voted, accepted by the King, proclaimed, and entrusted to the Legislative Assembly. Let the Legislative Assembly consider what is done in the first few weeks. In the eight departments that surround Paris, there are riots on every market-day; farms are invaded and the cultivators of the soil are ransomed by bands of vagabonds; the mayor of Melun is riddled with balls and dragged out from the hands of the mob streaming with blood.[3] At Belfort, a riot for the purpose of retaining a convoy of coin, and the commissioner of the Upper-Rhine in danger of death; at Bouxvillers, owners of property attacked by poor National Guards, and by the soldiers of Salm-Salm, houses broken into and cellars pillaged; at Mirecourt, a flock of women beating drums, and, for three days, holding the Hôtel-de-Ville in a state of siege. - - One day Rochefort is in a state of insurrection, and the workmen of the harbor compel the municipality to unfurl the red flag.[4] On the following day, it is Lille, the people of which, "unwilling to exchange its money and assignats for paper-rags, called billets de confiance, gather into mobs and threaten, while a whole garrison is necessary to prevent an explosion." On the 16th of October, it is Avignon in the power of bandits, with the abominable butchery of the Glacière. On the 5th of November, at Caen, there are eighty-two gentlemen, townsmen and artisans, knocked down and dragged to prison, for having offered their services to the municipality as special constables. On the 14th of November, at Montpellier, the roughs triumph; eight men and women are killed in the streets or in their houses, and all conservatives are disarmed or put to flight. By the end of October, it is a gigantic column of smoke and flame shooting upward suddenly from week to week and spreading everywhere, growing, on the other side of the Atlantic, into civil war in St. Domingo, where wild beasts are let loose against their keepers; 50,000 blacks take the field, and, at the outset, 1,000 whites are assassinated, 15,000 Negroes slain, 200 sugar-mills destroyed and damage done to the amount of 600,000,000; "a colony of itself alone worth ten provinces, is almost annihilated."[5] At Paris, Condorcet is busy writing in his journal that "this news is not reliable, there being no object in it but to create a French empire beyond the seas for the King, where there will be masters and slaves." A corporal of the Paris National Guard, on his own authority, orders the King to remain indoors, fearing that he may escape, and forbids a sentinel to let him go out after nine o’clock in the evening;[6] at the Tuileries, stump-speakers in the open air denounce aristocrats and priests; at the Palais-Royal, there is a pandemonium of public lust and incendiary speeches.[7] There are centers of riot in all quarters, "as many robberies as there are quarter-hours, and no robbers punished; no police; overcrowded courts; more delinquents than there are prisons to hold them; nearly all the private mansions closed; the annual consumption in the faubourg St. Germain alone diminished by 250 millions; 20,000 thieves, with branded backs, idling away time in houses of bad repute, at the theaters, in the Palais-Royal, at the National Assembly, and in the coffee-houses; thousands of beggars infesting the streets, crossways, and public squares. Everywhere an image of the deepest poverty which is not calling for one’s pity as it is accompanied with insolence. Swarms of tattered vendors are offering all sorts of paper-money, issued by anybody that chose to put it in circulation, cut up into bits, sold, given, and coming back in rags, fouler than the miserable creatures who deal in it."[8] Out of 700,000 inhabitants there are 100,000 of the poor, of which 60,000 have flocked in from the departments;[9] among them are 30,000 needy artisans from the national workshops, discharged and sent home in the preceding month of June, but who, returning three months later, are again swallowed up in the great sink of vagabondage, hurling their floating mass against the crazy edifice of public authority and furnishing the forces of sedition. — At Paris, and in the provinces, disobedience exists throughout the hierarchy. Directories countermand ministerial orders. Here, municipalities brave the commands of their Directory; there, communities order around their mayor with a drawn sword. Elsewhere, soldiers and sailors put their officers under arrest. The accused insult the judge on the bench and force him to cancel his verdict; mobs tax or plunder wheat in the market; National Guards prevent its distribution, or seize it in the storehouses. There is no security for property, lives, or consciences. The majority of Frenchmen are deprived of their right to worship in their own faith, and of voting at the elections. There is no safety, day or night, for the élite of the nation, for ecclesiastics and the gentry, for army and navy officers, for rich merchants and large landed proprietors; no protection in the courts, no income from public funds; denunciations abound, expulsions, banishments to the interior, attacks on private houses; there is no right of free assemblage, even to enforce the law under the orders of legal authorities.[10] Opposed to this, and in contrast with it, is the privilege and immunity of a sect formed into a political corporation, "which extends its filiations over the whole kingdom, and even abroad; which has its own treasury, its committees, and its by-laws; which rules the government, which judges justice,"[11] and which, from the capital to the hamlet, usurps or directs the administration. Liberty, equality, and the majesty of the law exist nowhere, except in words. Of the three thousand decrees given birth to by the Constituent Assembly, the most lauded, those the best set off by a philosophic baptism, form a mass of stillborn abortions of which France is the burying-ground. That which really subsists underneath the false appearances of right, proclaimed and sworn to over and over again, is, on the one hand, an oppression of the upper and cultivated classes, from which all the rights of man are withdrawn, and, on the other hand, the tyranny of the fanatical and brutal rabble which assumes to itself all the rights of sovereignty.


Related Resources

French Revolution

Download Options

Title: The French Revolution— Volume 2

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The French Revolution— Volume 2

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, "I.," The French Revolution— Volume 2, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The French Revolution—Volume 2 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed August 17, 2022,

MLA: Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe. "I." The French Revolution— Volume 2, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The French Revolution—Volume 2, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 17 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Taine, HA, 'I.' in The French Revolution— Volume 2, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The French Revolution—Volume 2, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 August 2022, from