The Attack on the Tuileries (10 August 1792)

In early August, the Legislative Assembly was deadlocked, unable to decide what to do about the King, the constitution, the ongoing war, and above all the political uprisings in Paris. On 4 August, the most radical Parisian section, "the section of the 300," issued an "ultimatum" to the Legislative Assembly, threatening an uprising if no action was taken by midnight 9 August. On the appointed evening, the tocsin sounded from the bell tower and a crowd gathered before the City Hall and headed toward the Tuileries Palace. As the King’s bodyguards prepared to defend him, Louis recognized that it would be more prudent to flee. He and his family escaped through a secret passage and placed themselves under the protection of the Legislative Assembly, which arrested him. A deputy, Michel Azema, describes in this letter the dramatic events that came to be referred to as the "second French Revolution."


Paris
10 August, midnight, in session
The 4th year of liberty, 1792

The indignation was so general that it was breaking out with no fear or restraint; everyone was expecting a terrible explosion; day and night, brave and valorous knights filled the chateau, which bristled with bayonets and cannon. Yesterday the fears intensified; nevertheless, there was no real threat to justify all this excitement, so just after midnight we went to bed. . . .

Upon entering the Assembly hall, I was greatly surprised to find the King, the Queen, the Prince, the King's oldest sister, Madame Elisabeth, and others [of the royal entourage] all very carefully dressed, with heads lowered like wet hens; they had all taken refuge in the Legislative Assembly to seek there the safety which could no longer be found in the palace. The cannoneers, having been ordered to do their duty if the people were to force its way into the palace, had instead simply unloaded their cannon; knowing this, the King's closest advisers had advised him to flee the palace and come amongst the nation's representatives.

The Legislative Assembly was not deliberating; [under the Constitution] it could not do so in the King's presence, although it urgently needed to. The King and the royal family could not be sent out, because they were done for if they left their asylum. After great and tumultuous debate, the King moved from the president's rostrum and his family moved from inside the rail, taking up places in the little box behind the rostrum, ordinarily used by journalists.

Someone came to announce that the cannon filling the Place du Carrousel were aimed against the Tuileries Palace, which the people wanted to break down like the Bastille. After a short discussion, because time was pressing, the Assembly sent a deputation consisting of twenty of its members to speak to the people in the name of the law and to appease it by persuasion. . . . This deputation left at once, preceded by an usher and surrounded by a guard. I had the honor to be in it; although this was also nearly a misfortune, because we had barely reached the door of the Tuileries Palace when our eyes were dazzled by furious musket fire at the bottom of the stairway; at once, a second round; then a cannonade knocked down part of the façade. By God, we saw our death right before us! As we did not yet feel worthy to allow it to pass behind us, we stopped in our tracks and proposed a discussion, but a well-aimed cannon rejected our proposition. We then thought we had found a safe alternative of going to the other side of the Carrousel, preferring the cannon tails to the mouths; but scarcely had we emerged from the riding-school [in which the Assembly met] when a mass of sabers, pikes, and bayonets rushed from all sides, with indescribable rage, on our brave guards, who, angered by our obstinacy in advancing into the fire instead of retreating, finally grabbed us and swooped us back into the Legislative Assembly. . . .

[In the assembly hall,] brave sans-culottes had appeared at the rail and were promptly heard from. They explained to us that the sovereign people, making use of that sovereignty, had charged them to assure us of its respect, to affirm obedience to our decrees . . . and that we were the only constituted authority and there was no other in existence.

They concluded by asking us to "Swear in the Nation's name to maintain liberty and equality with all your power or to die at your post." Seeing this declaration to be our only means of our salvation, all the deputies shouted eagerly and in a single voice: "I so swear!" The roll was called at once, and on the rostrum each deputy in turn pronounced the words indicated by the sans-culottes and the proposal was considered to be adopted. Our co-deputies, who had fled the hall earlier fearing for their lives, were now reassured by a declaration so easily pronounced . . . they returned to join us in session and showed the utmost courage in taking this charming oath, which they uttered with the greatest firmness, without troubling over the difficulty and even the impossibility for them of carrying it out.

In the interim, a great brawl had broken out in the palace, in the Tuileries [gardens], and on the Champs Élysées. The Swiss guards, who had been deceived by the aristocratic instigators in the palace and had fired on the people . . . were now being hotly pursued and were defending themselves in the same way . . . so that corpses covered the ground.

The royal palace had been pillaged, although everything of value had been carried scrupulously to the Assembly, which had in turn sent it to the Commune [i.e., city hall]; the people themselves did justice to those who concealed or stole the smallest thing . . . all the jewels, money, and other valuables found on the dead Swiss guards were carefully gathered up and returned; for instance, a true sans-culotte faithfully deposited 173 gold louis [equivalent to 3,460 livres] that he had discovered on the body of an abbot in the basement of the palace. Our sovereign people, truly French, respected the ladies of honor, or non-honor, of the court; they inflicted not the least scratch on them, ugly as certain of them may be; but they showed no mercy to the obsequious nobles of the court. . . .

The King has been suspended from all his functions and powers; we have driven out his counterrevolutionary ministers and have named others worthy of public confidence. Louis, Antoinette, their children and hangers-on are still in their cell, the stenographer's box, from which they have not budged . . . and where their fare as this has consisted, deliberately, of scarcely more than bread, wine, and water. Good God, what a sight! It is really true that opinion is often all-important and that without opinion on their side the great, however great they may be, are nothing; these gods on earth, stripped and deprived of their masks . . . are now not even men, and in the end they have the same fate that false divinities have always had when the blindfolds of error fall away. Our assembly-hall commissioners are taking steps to prepare apartments for them in the former Capuchins' convent [next to the assembly-hall on the west]; for their majesties would run the risk of not being respected as they deserve if they were to go and stay in the Luxembourg Palace, which one of our decrees assigned to them today instead of the Tuileries Palace.

Source: Camille Bloch, ed., La Révolution Française, no. 27 (1894), 177–82.