The French Revolution— Volume 1

Author: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine


Intervention by the popular leaders with the Government. - Their pressure on the Assembly.

On the 30th of July, the harlequin who led the insurrection at Rouen having been arrested, "it is openly proposed at the Palais Royal[22] to go in a body and demand his release." — On the 1st of August, Thouret, whom the moderate party of the Assembly have just made President, is obliged to resign; the Palais-Royal threatens to send a band and murder him along with those who voted for him, and lists of proscriptions, in which several of the deputies are inscribed, begin to be circulated. — From this time forth, on all great questions-the abolition of the feudal system, the suppression of tithes, a declaration of the rights of man, the dispute about the Chambers, the King’s power of veto,[23] the pressure from without inclines the balance: in this way the Declaration of Rights, which is rejected in secret session by twenty-eight bureaus out of thirty, is forced through by the tribunes in a public sitting and passed by a majority. — Just as before the 14th of July, and to a still greater extent, two kinds of compulsion influence the votes, and it is always the ruling faction which employs both its hands to throttle its opponents. On the one hand this faction takes post on the galleries in knots composed nearly always of the same persons, "five or six hundred permanent actors," who yell according to understood signals and at the word of command.[24] Many of these are French Guards, in civilian clothes, and who relieve each other: previously they have asked of their favorite deputy "at what hour they must come, whether all goes on well, and whether he is satisfied with those fools of parsons (calotins) and the aristocrats." Others consist of low women under the command of Théroigne de Méricourt, a virago courtesan, who assigns them their positions and gives them the signal for hooting or for applause. Publicly and in full session, on the occasion of the debate on the veto, "the deputies are applauded or insulted by the galleries according as they utter the word ’suspensive,’ or the word ’indefinite.’ " "Threats," (says one of them) "circulated; I heard them on all sides around me." These threats are repeated on going out: "Valets dismissed by their masters, deserters, and women in rags," threaten the refractory with the lamp post, "and thrust their fists in their faces. In the hall itself, and much more accurately than before the 14th of July, their names are taken down, and the lists, handed over to the populace," travel to the Palais-Royal, from where they are dispatched in correspondence and in newspapers to the provinces.[25] - Thus we see the second means of compulsion; each deputy is answerable for his vote, at Paris, with his own life, and, in the province, with those of his family. Members of the former Third-Estate avow that they abandon the idea of two Chambers, because "they are not disposed to get their wives’ and children’s throats cut." On the 30th of August, Saint-Hurugue, the most noisy of the Palais-Royal barkers, marches off to Versailles, at the head of 1,500 men, to complete the conversion of the Assembly. This garden club indeed, from the heights of its great learning, integrity, and immaculate reputation, decides that the ignorant, corrupt, and doubtful deputies must be got rid of." That they are such cannot be questioned, because they defend the royal sanction; there are over 600 and more, 120 are deputies of the communes, who must be expelled to begin with, and then must be brought to judgment.[26] In the meantime they are informed, as well as the Bishop of Langres, President of the National Assembly, that "15,000 men are ready to light up their chateaux and in particular yours, sir." To avoid all mistake, the secretaries of the Assembly are informed in writing that " 2,000 letters" will be sent into the provinces to denounce to the people the conduct of the malignant deputies: "Your houses are held as a surety for your opinions: keep this in mind, and save yourselves !" At last, on the morning of the 1st of August, five deputations from the Palais-Royal, one of them led by Loustalot, march in turn to the Hôtel-de-Ville, insisting that the drums should be beaten and the citizens be called together for the purpose of changing the deputies, or their instructions, and of ordering the National Assembly to suspend its discussion on the veto until the districts and provinces could give expression to their will: the people, in effect, alone being sovereign, and alone competent, always has the right to dismiss or instruct anew its servants, the deputies. On the following day, August 2nd, to make matters plainer, new delegates from the same Palais-Royal suit gestures to words; they place two fingers on their throats, on being introduced before the representatives of the commune, as a hint that, if the latter do not obey, they will be hung.

After this it is vain for the National Assembly to make any show of indignation, to declare that it despises threats, and to protest its independence; the impression is already produced. "More than 300 members of the communes," says Mounier, "had decided to support the absolute veto." At the end of ten days most of these had gone over, several of them through attachment to the King, because they were afraid of "a general uprising," and "were not willing to jeopardize the lives of the royal family." But concessions like these only provoke fresh extortions. The politicians of the street now know by experience the effect of brutal violence on legal authority. Emboldened by success and by impunity, they reckon up their strength and the weakness of the latter. One blow more, and they are undisputed masters. Besides, the issue is already apparent to clear-sighted men. When the agitators of the public thoroughfares, and the porters at the street-corners, convinced of their superior wisdom, impose decrees by the strength of their lungs, of their fists, and of their pikes, at that moment experience, knowledge, good sense, cool-blood, genius, and judgment, disappear from human affairs, and things revert back to chaos. Mirabeau, in favor of the veto for life, saw the crowd imploring him with tears in their eyes to change his opinion :

"Monsieur le Comte, if the King obtains this veto, what will be the use of a National Assembly? We shall all be slaves "[27]

Outbursts of this description are not to be resisted, and all is lost. Already, near the end of September, the remark applies which Mirabeau makes to the Comte de la Marck:

"Yes, all is lost; the King and Queen will be swept away, and you will see the populace trampling on their lifeless bodies."

Eight days after this, on the 5th and 6th of October, it breaks out against both King and Queen, against the National Assembly and the Government, against all government present and to come; the violent party which rules in Paris obtains possession of the chiefs of France to hold them under strict surveillance, and to justify its intermittent outrages by one permanent outrage.


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Chicago: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, "IV.," The French Revolution— Volume 1, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The French Revolution—Volume 1 (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022,

MLA: Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe. "IV." The French Revolution— Volume 1, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The French Revolution—Volume 1, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Taine, HA, 'IV.' in The French Revolution— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The French Revolution—Volume 1, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from