Desmoulins: A Radical’s View of the Constitutional Monarch (May 1790)

In the spring of 1790, there was much debate in the Constituent Assembly and in the press over who should have the power to declare war or peace under the new constitution—the King or the legislature? On 22 May, the Count de Mirabeau fashioned a compromise by which the King would have power to initiate a war or agree to a peace treaty, but only with legislative approval. For many observers, this compromise was a great victory for the "people" over the crown. However, in this passage from his newspaper, Revolutions of France and the Netherlands, Camille Desmoulins, an uncompromising republican, questioned why supporters of the Revolution were content with an arrangement that left so much power in the hands of the monarch.


In my opinion, the best touchstone as to whether a decree is good is the consternation it causes in the Tuileries Palace as seen on the long faces of the King's ministers. Alone in the palace do the children not through their countenance tell good citizens what they should hope or fear [from a given law]. For example, on Saturday, 22 May, the young prince applauded Mirabeau's decree [on the right of war and peace] with a good sense well beyond his years. The people applauded as well . . . thinking it was exalting the triumph of Barnave and all the glorious Jacobins who, it imagined, had won a great victory, and those deputies were weak enough not to recognize their own error.

Robespierre was more frank. He said, to the deafening applause of the crowd, "Well, gentlemen, what are you celebrating? The decree is detestable to the highest degree; let us leave this monkey [the prince] to beat his hands at his window; he knows better than us what he is doing."

Lately, the King has appeared more often in public. He goes hunting and marches in processions. He gives his thanks to the National Parisian Guard; he reviews it on the marching fields, and I saw him galloping sadly amidst infinite cries of "Long live the King!" I alone made myself hoarse by daring to shout in his ears "Long live the nation!"

I recall some years ago, his wife, on one occasion entering Paris to a very cold reception, saying these highly comical words: "I feel that my people annoy me." For the past year, Madame in turn, has been annoying her people.

Source: Les Révolutions de France et de Brabant, no. 28 (May 1790), 665–66.