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1791-1792 - Legislative Assembly

With the meeting of the National Assembly's successor on 01 October 1791, war was already possible; that possibility was to be transformed very soon into probability, and at last into actuality. In the new Parliament the weight, not of numbers but of leadership, fell to a group of enthusiastic and eloquent men who, from the fact that certain of their principal members came from the Gironde, were called The Girondins. They represented the purest and the most enthusiastic ideal of democracy, less national, perhaps, than that advocated by men more extreme than they, but of a sort which, from that time to this, has been able to rouse the enthusiasm of historians. Vergniaud and Isnard were their great orators, Brissot was their intellectual intriguer, and the wife of Roland, one of their members, was, as it were, the soul of the whole group. It was the fact that these men desired war which made war certain, once the temper of this new second Assembly should be felt.

The extremists over against them (known as "the Mountain"), were especially Parisian in character. Robespierre, who had been first an obscure, and later a sectarian orator of the National Assembly, though not sitting in this second Parliament, was perhaps the most prominent figure in that group, for he was the public orator of Paris; and indeed the Mountain was Paris; Paris, whether inside or outside the Parliament; Paris acting as the responsible brain of France. Later, it was the Mountain (that had first opposed the war) which was to ensure the success of the French arms by a rigidity and despotism in action such as the purer and less practical minds of the Girondins abhorred.

On the 3rd of December, 1791 (to quote a fundamental date in the rapid progress towards the war which was to transform the Revolution), the King writing in a manner which betrays dictation by his wife begged the King of Prussia (as she had begged the Emperor) to mobilize an armed force, and with it to back a Congress that should have for its object the prevention of the spread of the Revolution.

The true causes of the war was the desire of the unreformed European Governments (notably those of Prussia and Austria) that the Revolution should, in their own interests, be checked, and the conviction that their armed forces were easily capable of effecting the destruction of the new French regime.

On the French side, with the exception of the Mountain and notably of Robespierre, there was a curious coalition of opinion demanding war. The Court and the reactionaries were sufficiently certain of the victory of the Allies to find their salvation in war. The revolutionary party, that is the mass of public opinion and the "patriots," as they called themselves, the Girondins, also, and especially, desired war as a sort of crusade for the Revolution; they suffered grievous illusions, as enthusiasts always must, and believed the French armed forces capable of sustaining the shock.

At this critical moment the French armed forces and the French strongholds were at their worst. The discipline of the army was deplorable. The regular soldiers of the old regime had lost from six to nine thousand officers by emigration, and mixed no better than water and oil with the revolutionary volunteers who had been drafted (to the number of over two hundred battalions) into the ranks of the army; moreover, these volunteer battalions were for the most part ill provided, far below their establishment, some only existed on paper; none were trained as soldiers should be trained.

Panics at once ludicrous and tragic opened the campaign upon the French side. The King took advantage of them to dismiss his Girondin Ministry and to form a reactionary Government. The Parliament replied by measures useless to the conduct of war, and designed only to exasperate the Crown, which was betraying the nation. It ordered the dismissal of the royal Guard, the formation of a camp of revolutionary Federals outside Paris, the transportation of the orthodox priests.

The King and Queen, the Dauphin and his little sister, with others of the royal household, had taken refuge during the fighting in the hall of the Parliament. After the victory of the populace their fate was debated and decided upon; they were imprisoned in the Tower of the Temple. The known accomplices of the supporters of the Court's resistance and alliance with the invaders were arrested by the hundred.

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Page last modified: 07-08-2018 23:39:50 ZULU