Once in power, the leaders of the new assembly quickly saw their relations with the King deteriorate. Moreover, the near-universal support that the Revolution had enjoyed within France for two years as the old regime was dismantled now began to dissolve in response to the assembly's efforts to build a new basis for French society. In some areas, especially the western part of France, church reform proved very unpopular. But what really intensified the situation was the onset of war with other European powers. The emerging leaders of the new legislature, known as "Girondins" for the region in the southwest from which many had come, found it intolerable to have a threatening army of émigrés sitting just across the border, so they issued bellicose demands that Leopold cease to support the revanchist nobles. The expected popularity of such a war also motivated these leaders. Leopold resisted French provocation, but when he died unexpectedly in early March, his sixteen-year-old son Francis II did not prove as forbearing. However, the Girondins did not wait for the Austrians to act and declared war themselves in April. As news spread to Paris of the poor performance of the French army in their first encounters with the better-supplied invaders, the reputation of the Legislative Assembly and the King suffered a serious setback.

From Paris, in late summer 1792, it seemed that counterrevolution loomed while hostile powers threatened a weak and divided government. The Girondins, who had done so much to create this situation, escaped responsibility by focusing popular hostility on the monarch, who they claimed was subverting the Revolution from within. In the neighborhoods of Paris, political clubs, such as the Jacobins and the Cordeliers, flourished, often led by deputies. Participants called themselves sans-culottes ("without breeches") to illustrate that they were no fancy-pants lawyers (as in the assembly) but rather the salt of the French earth—their labor gave them greater moral authority to intervene in politics than any number of votes. From these Parisian clubs came the shock troops who unseated the monarchy in August 1792. Even though they had long been restive over rising bread prices and had mobilized to seize the Bastille and to carry out other, similar demonstrations (journées), the sans-culottes had not yet reached their present, more radical conclusion, namely that the monarchy could not be trusted. A series of mobilizations culminated in the invasion of the royal residence at the Tuileries Palace on 10 August 1792, where the sans-culottes arrested and effectively deposed the King. They declared that France should become a republic. Following these events, Louis and Marie Antoinette lost whatever respect they may have had and became engulfed in scorn, as is evident in the caricatures that depicted them as animals.

The journée of 10 August set off another series of events that pushed the Revolution in an ever-more radical direction. With the King removed from the political scene, the recently adopted constitution became invalid, and the Legislative Assembly, elected less than a year earlier, was dissolved. A new constitutional convention had to be called. Seated in September 1792, this National Convention had three purposes: to draft a new constitution for France, which would henceforth be ruled as a republic; to provide rules that would keep the country going until that constitution could be put into effect; and, in the shortest term, to decide the fate of the King.

On this last matter, the leaders of the Convention seemed to oppose holding a trial, because it was unclear who would be tried: Louis personally? The monarchy as an institution? And for what? In early November, however, the discovery of a "locked chest" containing letters to the King from his ministers and former bodyguards in exile was taken as evidence that the King had been plotting against the Revolution, and the public outcry against the King was renewed. Thus, in early December, Louis was brought before the Convention and charged with a series of malfeasances and crimes, and the deputies began a trial that lasted over two months.

When the debate began, the Girondins again took the lead, seeking to follow a middle road on constitutional issues and on economic policy and to defer any punitive action against the King. However, the radical Parisian press expressed such hostility to the monarch that, to retain credibility, the Convention had to convene a trial of Louis, the terms of which were much debated. As the Girondins stalled for time, a more radical faction of Jacobin deputies, the Mountain, sought to accelerate the proceedings, arguing that as long as Louis lived, he called into question the legitimacy of the Revolution. The Girondins could only counter with frail arguments about proper procedure and careful investigation. They also feared that harming Louis would bring new combatants such as Great Britain, Spain, and Savoy into the war against France. The uncommitted, moderate delegates—referred to as "the Plain"—decided the issue by throwing their support to the Mountain; the Convention voted unanimously to convict Louis of treason. After a dramatic and tumultuous final debate, the Convention sentenced Louis XVI, or "Citizen Capet" as they called him, to death within twenty-four hours. Thus the thousand-year-old French monarchy came to an end in the name of "revolutionary justice."

 

 

MARIE ANTOINETTE RALLIES THE RELATIVES

MONARCHY FAILING

MONARCHY ENDS

HUMILIATION

THE TRIAL

JACOBIN ARGUMENTS

ROYAL DEFENDERS

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