The King Flees Paris (20 June 1791)

After 14 July, some of the King’s entourage had urged him to flee so that he would not have to approve a new Constitution. Aristocrats such as the Baron de Breteuil and the Marquis de Bouillé, along with the King’s brothers, who had already fled France, urged the King to join them in Austria, where they could organize a military invasion that would put an end to the changes being wrought by the assembly and restore the old regime. For two years, the King had resisted such entreaties, claiming that he should remain with the people—and moreover, that some of the changes were for the good. By mid–1791, the plans drawn up by Breteuil and Bouillé for the King’s escape, to be followed by a military invasion, were ready. As the Constituent Assembly moved toward the completion of the constitution, expected in July, the moment had come to act. Louis agreed to a plan whereby he would flee in secret, in the dead of night. To explain his action, he left a written statement to the assembly, justifying his action and proposing revisions to the existing draft of the constitution as the conditions for his return. In response, the National Assembly voted to have the King arrested to prevent him from leaving France.


The calling of the Estates-General, the doubling of the deputies of the Third Estate, the efforts which the King made to clear up the difficulties which might delay the meeting of the Estates-General, and those which arose after its opening, all the retrenchments which the King made in his personal expenditure, all the sacrifices which he made for his people in the session of June 3rd, finally the union of the orders, brought about by the expression of the King's desire, a measure which His Majesty then judged indispensable for the inauguration of the Estates-General: all his anxiety, all his efforts, all his generosity, all his devotion to his people, all have been disparaged, all have been misconstrued.

The time when the Estates-General, assuming the name of the National Assembly, began to busy itself with the constitution of the kingdom, calls to mind the memoirs which the factious were cunning enough to cause to be sent from several provinces and the movements of Paris to cause the deputies to disregard one of the principal clauses contained in all their cahiers, which provided that the making of the laws should be done in concert with the King. In defiance of that clause, the assembly put the King entirely outside the constitution, in refusing to him the right to grant or to withhold his sanction to the articles which it regarded as constitutional, while reserving to itself the right to reckon in that class those which it thought belonged there, and by restraining for those regarded as purely legislative the royal prerogative to a right of suspension until the third legislature; a purely illusory right, as so many examples prove only too fully.

Justice is rendered in the name of the King . . . but it is only a matter of form. . . . One of the latest decrees of the assembly has deprived the King of one of the fairest prerogatives everywhere attached to royal power, that of pardoning and commuting penalties. . . .

Internal administration. It is entirely in the hands of the departments, districts, and municipalities, too many authorities, who clog the movement of the machine and often thwart each other. All these bodies are elected by the people, and have no relations with the government, according to the decrees, except for their execution and for those special orders which are issued in consequence thereof. . . .

Finances. The King had declared, even before the meeting of the Estates-General, that he recognized in the assemblies of the nation the right to grant subsidies, and that he no longer desired to tax the people without their consent.

But the nearer we see the assembly approach the end of its labors, the more we see increased measures which make difficult or even impossible the carrying on of the government and create for it lack of confidence and disfavor; other regulations, instead of applying balm to the wounds which still bleed in many provinces only increase the uneasiness and provoke discontent. The spirit of the clubs dominates and invades everything; thousands of calumniating and incendiary newspapers and pamphlets, which increase daily, are only their echoes and prepare men to become what they wish them to be. The National Assembly has never dared to remedy that license, so far removed from true liberty; it has lost its credit, and even the force of which it would have need in order to turn upon its steps and to change that which would seem to it well to correct. We see by the spirit which reigns in the clubs, and the manner in which they make themselves masters of the new primary assemblies, what must be expected from them; and if they allow to become perceptible any inclinations to turn back upon any matter, it is in order to destroy the remainder of the monarchy and establish a metaphysical and philosophical government impossible to put into operation.

In view of all these reasons and the impossibility for the King, from the position in which he is placed, effecting the good and preventing the evil which is perpetrated, is it astonishing that the King has sought to recover his liberty and to put himself and his family in safety?

Frenchmen, and especially Parisians, you inhabitants of a city which the ancestors of His Majesty were pleased to call the good city of Paris, distrust the suggestions and lies of your false friends; return to your King; he will always be your father, your best friend: what pleasure will he not take in forgetting all his personal injuries, and in beholding himself again in the midst of you, when a constitution, which he shall have freely accepted, shall cause your religion to be respected, the government to be established upon a firm footing and made useful by its operation, the property and status of each person no longer disturbed, the laws no longer violated with impunity, and, finally, liberty founded upon firm and immovable foundations.

Signed, Louis

Paris, 20 June 1791.

The King forbids his ministers signing any order in his name, until they receive further orders; he commands the keeper of the seal of the state to send it to him, as soon as may be required on his part.

Signed, Louis

Paris, 20 June 1791.

Decree for the Arrest of the King. 17 June 1791.

The National Assembly orders that the minister of the interior shall immediately send couriers into all the departments, with orders to all the public functionaries and the national guards or troops of the line of the kingdom, to arrest or cause the arrest of all persons whomsoever leaving the realm, as well as to prevent all removal of goods, arms, munitions of war, and every species of gold, silver, horses, vehicles and munitions of war; and, in case the said couriers should encounter any persons of the royal family and those who may have assisted in their removal, the said public functionaries or national guards and troops of the line shall be required to take all the necessary measures to stop the said removal, to prevent them from continuing their route, and to render account of everything to the legislative body.

Source: Frank Maloy Anderson, The Constitutions and Other Select Documents Illustrative of the History of France, 1789–1907, 2d ed. (Minneapolis, Minn.: H. W. Wilson, 1908), 46–50.