Fired up by the events in Paris, people mounted insurrections in twenty-eight of the largest thirty cities in France throughout the summer of 1789. In response to these movements and peasant mobilizations in the countryside, the National Assembly decreed the abolition of feudalism on 4 August and proposed the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen in August. However, the King resisted these actions. Moreover, word spread among the people of Paris that royal soldiers attending a party at Versailles had trampled the tricolor cockade, as a gesture of opposition to the Revolution. Enraged, populist radicals promised a response, of which the 14th had only been the beginning. To add to the atmosphere of crisis in Paris, bread prices remained perilously high. Under the weight of these pressures, market women initiated a protest in the marketplace and then decided to march to Versailles and bring the King to Paris as a means of safeguarding the Revolution and guaranteeing the supply of bread. As they set off, National Guard soldiers, commanded by Lafayette, joined in, hoping to prevent violence. Upon arriving at Versailles, the crowd issued demands to the King and then occupied the palace overnight until the royal family descended and agreed to return to Paris. Soon thereafter, Louis, now based in the Tuileries Palace, consented to sign the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and again, it seemed the people's intervention had pushed the Revolution forward.

Over the next two years, Parisian workers did not take to the streets in the same numbers and with the same broad goals as they had in the middle of 1789. Nonetheless, tensions continued to mount as the radical press harped on the many problems that were still unresolved, and the workers remained poised for direct action. Radical political discourse directed hostility not only toward the King, but also toward the lawyers and other "bourgeois" who led the National Assembly, the Commune of Paris (that is, the new municipal government installed after the insurrection of 14 July), and the National Guard. By the summer of 1791, these bodies—formerly seen as instruments of the Revolution—had become the targets of ever more protests. After Louis XVI tried unsuccessfully to escape the country on 21–22 June 1791, Parisian radicals demanded a national referendum on what to do next, because the newly drafted constitution did not give the National Assembly the authority to depose the King.

The ensuing debate over the fate of the King and the constitution itself came to a head at the Federation Festival of 14 July 1791, when patriots demonstrating on the Champ de mars (parade ground) in favor of a republic were attacked by the Paris National Guard. The radical press issued an immediate call for aggressive action and in the following months continued to press the people of Paris to defend themselves and their revolution. The following summer, Parisian artisans demonstrated just such aggression in a series of demonstrations that culminated in an attack on the Tuileries Palace on 10 August 1792. It ended with the arrest of the royal family and the dispersal of the Legislative Assembly.

Having liquidated the national government and created a temporary power vacuum, radical activists focused their attentions on the Paris Commune, an administrative body over which they could exercise disproportionate influence through public pressure. Amid this unrest, foreign forces drew closer to Paris, with a careful eye on the internal resistance that now seemed to be posing a threat to the Republic. Tensions in the capital reached new heights and finally overflowed in September 1792 in a violent massacre of thousands of political prisoners. Even the most extreme commentators denounced these "September Massacres" as excessively violent.

In this fevered fall of 1792, elections were held for a new Constitutional Convention (a legislature that would not have to share power with an executive authority) that would rule France as an interim government while preparing a new, republican constitution. When the National Convention met several weeks later, it was deeply divided over how to proceed. On one side were the Jacobins, a group that believed they had been elected to carry out the will of the people, through decisive action; on the other side were the Girondins, a faction no less committed to the Revolution but bent on creating proper decision-making mechanisms to guard against the public's passions of the moment. At first the latter group, led by Jean-Pierre Brissot, dominated the debate. It had the support of other, less activist deputies referred to as "the Plain" (because they sat in the lower, central section of the Convention's meeting hall). The Girondins were drawn primarily from mercantile, provincial cities such as Bordeaux and had been the same men in control of the just-dispersed Legislative Assembly. Thus they held no great sway among the populace of Paris, who considered the Jacobins more responsive to their demands for lower bread prices, the more rapid sale of confiscated church lands, and a more democratic government.

DESTROYING A HATED SYMBOL OF OPPRESSION

VIOLENCE SPREADS TO THE PROVINCES

ROYALIST PARTY

A REVOLUTIONARY THREAT

MARCHER'S TESTIMONIES

WOMEN INTERVENE

RADICAL PETITIONS

OFFICIAL VIOLENCE

PALACE STORMED

         

ARREST THE KING

SEPTEMBER DESTRUCTION

MASSACRE OF THE PRISONERS

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