The Legislative Assembly Oct 1791- Sept 1792

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Deputies were elected to the Legislative Assembly for two years by a two-tier limited suffrage system. None of them served those two years, though, as it only sat from October 1st, 1791 to August 10th, 1792, when it was dissolved at pike-point by the parisian insurgents. Initially the king chose his cabinet from among the constitutional monarchists, known as the 'feuillants'. They were opposed by a group known as the 'Brissotins' (after their most influential speaker, Brissot). There were only a few more radical revolutionaries among the deputies at this stage.

The biggest issue of this period was war. Many nobles had fled France and were now congregating in the Rhineland in preparation for counter-revolution, supported by the Hapsburg royal family in Vienna. The Brissotins supported a declaration of war against Austria in the interests of galvanising revolutionary France into action and thereby strengthening the new regime. The royal court was convinced that in the case of success, the war would strengthen the king's position, while in the case of defeat, it would allow his foreign royalist allies to re-establish him as absolute monarch. On April 20th 1792 France declared war on Austria.

After Varennes, the slippery slope

The war against Austria initially went badly, with French armies suffering several defeats in April and May 1792. This situation was made all the more urgent by the counter-revolutionary peasant uprisings in the staunchly royalist regions of the Vendée and Brittany. The Legislative Assembly reacted by voting three new decrees; ordering the deportation of refractory priests, the abolition of the king's bodyguard and the creation of a 20,000 strong National Guard division based close to Paris. The king vetoed the first and third of these decrees and dismissed the Girondin cabinet. Replacing them with more conservative monarchist supporters. In response to this unco-operative attitude, a major popular demonstration was planned in Paris for June 20th.

The demonstrators, mostly from the poorer parisian suburbs broke into the Tuileries palace where the king faced them for over three hours. In spite of this, he remained firm on his position regarding the vetoed decrees. In the assembly, this riot actually resulted in a swing of opinion in favour of the king, in the interests of maintaining order. In July the assembly called for National Guard divisions from all over France to congregate in Paris for that year's 'Fete de la Federation'. This constituted a direct threat to the king's authority, further exacerbated when he and his court were accused in the assembly of treason. On July 10th the cabinet was forced to resign and the Girondins pressed for their candidates to replace the outgoing ministers. Meanwhile, in the clubs, radicals such as Danton and Robespierre were imploring the people of Paris to rise up against the king.

Towards the end of July the National Guard divisions from Brest and Marseille arrived in Paris to public acclaim. They immediately petitioned the assembly for the king to deposed but were refused. In this tense atmosphere, the people of Paris learned of the Brunswick Manifesto in which the Duke of Brunswick threatened to raze Paris to the ground if any harm was done to any member of the royal family. Representatives from the Parisian sections were sent to the assembly, once again to petition for Louis to be deposed. The new regime was becoming increasingly troubled and events beyond the control of the Legislative Assembly would soon bring it tumbling down in a single day.

The Storming of the Tuileries Palace

At midnight of August 9th/10th 1792 church bells rang out all over Paris giving the signal for insurrection. Organised in the clubs, the
Paris sections first attacked Town Hall where the legally elected municipal council, the Commune, was based. They set up an 'insurrectional commune' and summoned the commanding officer of the National Guard, a conservative named Mandat. Mandat was summarily executed, effectively paralysing the only direct form of defense open to the constitutional regime. The insurgents quickly regrouped with the recently arrived National Guard troops from the provinces and surrounded the Tuileries palace.

When the attack on the palace began in earnest the king and his family took refuge with the deputies in their debating chamber (situated in the same building). Santerre and Westermann led the insurgents against the king's Swiss guards and although initially successful, were soon pushed back. They were only finally victorious when the king, prompted by the deputies, ordered a cease-fire to prevent further bloodshed. In fact, when the Swiss guards obeyed, most of them were killed anyway and the insurgents ransacked the Tuileries. The assembly was dissolved and Danton took the head of a provisional executive council until a national convention could be elected by universal manhood suffrage. This was the end of monarchy in France1

The September Massacres

Tensions run high as news reaches the capital of new military defeats at Longwy and Verdun; the Austro-Prussian troops are now on French soil. While Danton and other leaders of the Paris Commune frantically organise the sans-culottes volunteers from the parisian sections into an army journalists like Marat, Fréron and Gorsas daily exacerbate the popular ill-feeling against the counter-revolutionary 'traitors'. In a pre-emptive measure against counter-revolutionary 'suspects' in Paris Danton orders widespread raids on homes all over Paris before the troops set out to defend the Republic. Initially it is by decree of the Assembly, but as the wave of violence intensifies, the political leaders lose control of the Paris mobs and have to stand back in horror as prisons are emptied and inmates brutally slaughtered en masse.

By the September 2nd, in a matter of days, the wave of arrests had resulted in a sense of total autonomy among the leaders of the sans-culottes sections. The bloodbath began in earnest that day when a cartload of prisoners in transit simply had their throats cut where they stood. Their 'executioners' immediately made for the nearby Abbaye prison where the cart had been taking their victims and the bodies soon began to pile up. Not far away dozens of refractory priests were being slaughtered at the Carmes Convent where they were being held. For the next four days bands of vigilante sans-culottes men and women (reputed to be even more wildly enthusiastic in these scenes of butchery than the men) passed from prison to prison, cell to cell, pronouncing and executing summary justice in the form of a kangaroo 'revolutionary tribunal'. Few went free. Some victims came from the aristocracy, many from the clergy, but a great many too were common law criminals, thieves, prostitutes or even madmen. It is estimated that there were as many as 1400 killed in Paris alone, with similar massacres taking place in Orleans, Versailles, Meaux and Reims. The Assembly did nothing to condemn these massacres, outfaced by the temporarily all-powerful Commune.

The Victory at Valmy - Sept 20th, 1792

Key military victory over the invading Prussians for the revolutionary armies led by Dumouriez and Kellerman. Surprised by the resistance of the French and more interested in the partition of Poland, the Duke of Brunswick withdraws from French territory pursued by Dumouriez.

1Until the restoration of 1815-1830)

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