The Mayor of Paris on the Taking of the Bastille

Jean Sylvain de Bailly, mayor of Paris and leader of the National Assembly, recorded his views of what was going on in Paris in the uprising of mid–July. Here we see the efforts of the delegates and their rejection by Louis XVI. As the men of the National Assembly could not imagine their country without a monarch, they refuse to blame the King. Yet they asserted themselves and the rights of the bourgeois militia.


It was decided to inform [the King] about what was worrying the representatives and about the dangers posed to the people and to himself. Consequently, the following decree was drafted:

"A delegation will be sent to the king to warn him of all the dangers that threaten the capital and the kingdom and to show him that the troops, whose mere presence is inflaming the people’s despair, need to be withdrawn. He would also to be informed that the people's militia would be entrusted with the city’s defense."

"It was also decreed that if the Assembly obtained the king's oath concerning the withdrawal of the troops and the establishment of the people's militia, it would send its deputies to Paris carrying this comforting news, thereby helping to bring about the return of the peace."

Accompanied by forty deputies, the president took the decree to the king. As for this Paris delegation, M. de Gustine asked that the provinces be allowed to share in the honor and the danger. As deputies of Paris we wanted to assert our rights, so it was decided that there would be eighty deputies taken from the various provinces, and all of the deputies from Paris.

The president and the delegation returned with the king's answer, which did not include either the people’s militia nor approval for the trip from Paris. In presenting the decree, the archbishop of Vienna had painted a picture of the true state of affairs for the King: the danger to the capital, the need for a people's militia, and the feelings of the Assembly that, while recognizing the King's right to name his ministers, strongly believe that the changing of ministers was the principal reason for the current misfortunes. The King replied:

"I have already informed you of my intentions as far as the measures I have been forced to implement in response to the chaos in Paris. Only I may judge what is needed, and can make no changes to my decision. Several cities are providing for their own protection, but the large expanse of this capital does not allow for that kind of surveillance. I am sure that your motives, which have inspired you to offer your help during these distressing circumstances, are pure. But your presence in Paris will not help in the least. Rather, your presence is required here in order to accelerate the completion of your important tasks; tasks for which I am endlessly suggesting follow-on actions."

This was not how the king really felt. As yet, only the work of brigands could be seen behind the troubles in Paris. The ministry could not rise to the level of confidence that the good citizens deserved. The old principal was still at work: that the people needed to be contained. It was forgotten that when a force develops that cannot be destroyed, the policy is to try to direct it more than to try to compromise it. While such discussions were going on with the King, the citizens of Paris, recovering their natural rights and set free by their needs, took on the duties of their own protection that they had been refused. And what becomes of a government when, without calculating the circumstances, it dares to refuse today what it will be forced to approve tomorrow?

The Assembly was dismayed and paralyzed with fright by the King’s response. But the assembly’s strenglth was doubled in response to the public misfortunes, only gaining more courage and prestige. M. de La Fayette, taking up the motion of M. Biauzat and urged on by M. Target and M. Gleizen, requested that the ministers' share of the responsibility be reported. Immediately and by unanimous vote, the Assembly, in an act worthy of the senate in Rome when Hannibal was at the gates of the city, decreed the following:

"His Majesty's answer has been reported by the deputies that had been sent to the King. Upon receiving this response, the National Assembly, interpreting the feelings of the nation, declared that M. Necker, as well as the other ministers that had recently been removed, take with them the Assembly’s esteem and its regrets."

"Declare that the Assembly, fearful of the dire results that could stem from the King's response, will not stop insisting that the troops extraordinarily stationed near Paris and Versailles be withdrawn, and that the people's militia be stood up."

"Again declare that no intermediary can exist between the King and the National Assembly."

"Declare that the ministers and the civilian and military agents in positions of authority are responsible for all actions which violate the rights of the nation and the decrees of the Assembly."

Source: Jean Sylvain de Bailly, Mémoires de Bailly, avec une notice sur sa vie, des notes et des éclaircissements historiques, vol. 1 (Paris: Baudouin frères, 1882) 338–341.