Removal of the monarchy and the Paris Commune
author Stoica Gilda, May 2016
War-time fragility, La Fayette’s Revolt, the homeland in danger, inauguration of the Revolutionary Commune, the fall of the monarchy.

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The war, begun with general enthusiasm, soon brought the weakness of the French army to light. Revolutionary propaganda and mass emigration of officers had ruined the discipline of the regular army. Volunteers were no longer trained or equipped for battle. This led to a temporary halt in the French advance in the Netherlands and the retreat towards Lille.

After the Lille retreat, the general of the army was killed. Hard times followed for the French army, with mass desertions. This led to an increase in the desire for peace among the other army generals. The effects were serious. Allied armies began to invade France.

The government was confronted with the opposition of the recalcitrant priests and the counter-revolutionaries. The Girondists felt they must act against traitors due to public demand. As a consequence, the Assembly passed a series of laws decommissioning the Royal Guards and creating a camp for the 20,000 soldiers of the National Guard, men brought in from the provinces. These soldiers were called federates. The name was due to the fact that their arrival in Paris was on the 14th of July, the Celebration Day of the Federation.

During these tough conditions, when France was under attack, the treason of queen Marie Antoinette was uncovered. She had sent the Austrians details of the French military plans. Her actions were discovered and the queen was accused of high treason.

The federates’ mission was to defend Paris from foreign invasion. The government was afraid of a coup d’etat by the generals, especially La Fayette. Louis refused to approve the laws passed by the National Assembly. Roland, the Girondist minister, protested. This caused the king to dismiss him, together with other Girondist ministers. Dumouriez, foreign minister, resigned. Thus, Louis was able to use his right of veto against laws concerning recalcitrant priests and the camp of the provincial guards.

La Fayette’s letter was read in the Assembly. It accused the Jacobins of creating a state within the state. At the same time, it called on the Legislative Assembly to put an end to the reign of the clubs.

La Fayette’s letter illustrated France’s division into two camps. The first was represented by La Fayette and most of the army officers. The second was made up of the Assembly, the Jacobins and the large majority of the people.

The leaders of the 48 city subdivisions (arrondissements) reacted to La Fayette’s letter by organizing an armed demonstration. Most of the leaders of the protest came from the Cordeliers’ Club. The Jacobins did not intervene, so 8,000 protesters, most of whom were members of the National Guard, stormed Tuileries.

At Tuileries, the protesters tried to intimidate the king and make him accept the laws. However, Louis refused to withdraw his veto and restore the Girondist ministers to their positions. The revolt was a failure, but it demonstrated the power of the arrondissements.

The Assembly took action to acknowledge the growing importance of the sans-culottes. The most important measure granted suffrage to passive citizens, who were being called to fight for their country anyway. The Assembly declared a state of emergency and passed the decree La patrie en danger, calling all Frenchmen to battle.

Tensions in Paris were aggravated by the arrival of the federates from the provinces and by the Braunschweig manifest. This manifest threatened all members of the National Guard caught fighting, with punishment as rebels. Thus, the Parisians were made responsible for the king’s safety. Although the manifest was intended to aid the king, it infuriated the French and stirred up animosity against the monarchy.

The federates were revolutionaries and militant republicans, in contrast to the Parisian National Guard, whose officers were royalists. The federates expressed their patriotic feelings through the War Song for the Rhine Army, composed in Strasbourg by Rouget de Lisle. Later it was renamed La Marseillaise, because it was sung by the federates from Marseilles on their march to the capital.

The federates arrived in large numbers in Paris. They called for the removal of the king.

Due to the tension created after the revolts, the Girondists changed their attitude and went over to the king’s side. When they realized the situation that had been created, they warned the king that a much wider rebellion was possible, which could lead to his deposition. They offered him their support with the condition that the king call back the dismissed ministers. Louis arrogantly rejected their offer.

The Jacobin leader, Robespierre, cooperated with the central committee of the federates. Thus, in a speech at the Jacobin Club, he announced his proposals, renouncing the support formerly given to the 1791 Constitution and calling for an overthrow of the monarchy. He argued for an elected National Convention which would replace the Legislative Assembly. He called for a cleansing among the department leaders, many of whom were royalists.

Many petitions from the federates, clubs and provinces called for the removal of the king. As a consequence, Petion, the mayor of Paris, came to the Legislative Assembly and asked, in the name of 47 out of the 48 arrondissements, for the abolition of the monarchy. The Assembly refused to depose the king and rejected the motion to send La Fayette to trial.

The Assembly’s refusal to abolish the monarchy convinced the protesters that insurrection was necessary.

The sans-culottes took over the Town Hall, based in Hôtel de Ville. They removed the town leadership and inaugurated the Revolutionary Commune, led by men such as Hébert, known for his participation in the Cordeliers’ actions in the past year, and for his close links with the arrondissements and the federates.

Thousands of members of the National Guard and 2,000 federates, led by those from Marseilles, marched on Tuileries. The palace had slim lines of defence, being guarded by 3,000 soldiers, of which 2,000 belonged to the National Guard. The others were Swiss mercenaries, the only ones the king could trust at that time.

With the situation getting worse, the king asked the Legislative Assembly for asylum, in order to protect his family. As was to be expected, the National Guard defending the palace joined the insurgents, who entered the court. The crowd in the palace court was taken by surprise when the Swiss mercenaries began shooting. The National Guard responded with fire, but things seemed to be getting out of control, so the king ordered the Swiss Guards to hold their fire.

The king was left without protection from the attackers. Lives were lost on both sides. 600 Swiss were killed, whereas in the insurgents’ camp, 90 federates and 300 traders, laborers and craftsmen - all Parisians - were killed or injured. This came to be known as the bloodiest day of the revolution.

The insurgents stormed the Assembly. The members were forced to recognize the new Revolutionary Commune, which had ordered the attack on the palace. The deputies, intimidated by the crowd, decided to hand the king over to the Commune. Louis the 16th and his family were transported to the Temple prison.

The Legislative Assembly was forced, under pressure from the crowd, to accept the appointment of a National Convention, chosen by male suffrage. The convention would go on to formulate a new democratic Constitution.

The constitutional monarchists, forming two-thirds of the Assembly’s deputies, began to go into hiding, since they no longer felt safe. The Girondists remained as leaders, although they were actually the beneficiaries of a revolution they had tried to avoid.

The Revolutionary Commune held dominion only over Paris at that time. The rest of France only recognised the authority of the Assembly.

The 300 deputies remaining in the Assembly appointed new ministers, including those dismissed earlier. Danton became minister of justice after coming to prominence in the Cordeliers Club and in the Parisian arrondissements. Through these measures, the sans-culottes were appeased.

The revolutionary troops gained their first victory over the interventionist troops, supporters of the monarchy, at Valmy. As a consequence, the king was suspended, and the Convention held the power to dethrone him. After the Convention meeting, the monarchy was abolished.

The abolition of the constitutional monarchy prepared the way for a different political regime and a form of government France had not known before - the Republic.

For the governance of the Republic, the National Convention was delegated to formulate a new fundamental law which would determine its organization. Until then, leadership was provided by the Legislative Assembly, which was still influenced by the Revolutionary Commune.

For six weeks, the Assembly did everything the Revolutionary Commune dictated. It was forced to pass radical measures, including the deportation of recalcitrant priests.

Under pressure from the Commune, the Assembly adopted a series of decrees against the enemies of the revolution. Thus began what French historians refer to as The First Terror, with victims in the large part from the clergy.

The Assembly decreed that redeemable feudal obligations should be annulled without compensation in cases where the elder did not have property deeds. The feudal regime was finally done away with through these measures. The peasants obtained everything they had been trying for since the beginning of the revolution. The Assembly also decided that the property of emigrants would be sold in small lots, enabling peasants to obtain title to the land.

The Assembly also adopted democratic measures, the most important of which was the introduction of universal suffrage. This meant that the notion of passive citizens disappeared. All citizens became equal, with the right to participate in the country’s leadership.