Marat (3 December 1792)

As a journalist, Marat had for the first few years of the Revolution supported the monarchy as an institution. Yet he opposed Louis personally; in this text, published in his newspaper, Journal of the Republic (but not delivered before the Convention), he argued for a trial of "Louis Capet," as a man not the King.


The crimes of Louis XVI are unhappily all too real; they are consistent; they are notorious. Do we even have to ask the question of whether a nation has the right to judge, and execute, its highest ranking public official . . . when, to more securely plot against the nation, he concealed himself behind a mask of hypocrisy? Or when, instead of using the authority confided to him to protect his countrymen, he used it to oppress them? Or when he turned the laws into an instrument of violence to crush the supporters of the Revolution? Or when he robbed the citizens of their gold in order to subsidize their foes, and robbed them of their subsistence in order to feed the barbarian hordes who came to slaughter them? Or when he created monopolies in order to create famine by drying up the sources of abundance so that the people might die in misery and hunger? Or when he declared himself the leader of the traitors and conspirators, and when he turned against the nation those arms he had received to defend it? Or when he hatched the plot to have the defenders of liberty slaughtered, and enchain the people once again? To even ask this question is an insult to reason, an outrage to justice, a perversion of nature. To doubt if a despot sullied with all possible crimes, or if a monster still covered with the blood of those friends of France whose slaughter he had commanded, can be brought to judgment and executed? To doubt this is to mock humanity and to abandon all sense of shame. . . .

The committee on legislation has made clear, by a series of arguments drawn from natural law, from the law of nations, and from civil law, that Louis Capet should be brought to judgment. That step was necessary to instruct the people; for it is important that all members of the Republic be brought to this conviction by those different routes that are suitable to their different spirits. The representatives of the sovereign people can only see the question though the lens of politics.

Among the speakers who preceded me to this rostrum, those who saw the question from this point of view, referring to the supposed initial contract and arguing for the reciprocity of the conditions stipulated between people and prince, have inferred from this fact that Louis Capet, having broken his contract by his crimes, has fallen from the throne and can be considered only as a simple citizen. This is an erroneous conclusion, laboriously deduced from a futile sophism—because there was never a contract between the people and their agents, although there was a binding one between the sovereign and its members. A nation which delegates its powers to representatives does not contract with them, it assigns them various duties in the general interest. The representatives may very well, on occasion, refuse these duties, yet they always remain accountable to the nation which can withdraw these duties at any time and without the representatives' consent. Thus, regardless of whatever pomp may be associated with these duties, they should never be considered as anything but an honorable duty. Gentlemen, such are the true bonds which exist between the sovereign and his representatives. The original contract which has been cited as the basis for these bonds is completely imaginary. If such a contract exists, it is only among conquering nations; and even then, it can have no effect except when the head of the army has become the head of state and has found a means to inspire fear, or when he is in open war with a nation he has forced to surrender. What! Shall we turn away from the crimes of a usurper in order to establish his prerogatives, and shall we accept the usurpation of sovereignty by our highest representative as a legitimate and sacred right? Nonetheless, such is the odious contract which existed between the French and their princes: an iniquitous contract which the representatives of the French people renewed with Louis Capet, heir to the power usurped by his ancestors, after his excessive squandering had forced him to assemble the Estates-General in order to fill the abyss which he had dug. And after his last attacks that caused the nation to rise against the tyranny, he was forced to humble himself and ask for mercy. Such a contract is totally null and void, not only because it offends the most beloved interests and most sacred rights of the people, but because the people have not ratified it. . . .

The constitution states that the person of the King is inviolable and sacred. But that inviolability, which the legislators were careful to avoid defining clearly and which is invoked today for the benefit of Louis the traitor as a certificate of impunity, applied only to the legal acts of the monarch. It was therefore merely the privilege not to be called to account for the choice of means by which the laws were executed. As such, inviolability was only aimed at smoothing the workings of the political process by preventing constant hindrance to him who was supposed to give it movement and life. . . .

If the Constitution was completed and liberty consolidated, if the wounds of the state were healed, if peace reigned among us, if abundance, flowing through its various channels, had once again begun to bring life to the Empire, if the nation could rest at last in the shadow of wise laws and look forward to happy times . . . perhaps then the scourge of the monarchy would be nothing more than a painful memory. Perhaps then we might be able to abandon the tyrant to his regrets, to the long punishment of life for the ills he has done us, or rather, for the liberty which followed his attacks. But, gentlemen, if you were ever able to lend an ear to the sophisms of those who wish to spare his life while yet subjecting him to the rule of law, concern for the public safety alone should force you to reject any penalty short of death. For as long as the former monarch draws breath and an unforeseen event may free him, he will be the center of all the conspiracies of France's enemies. And if his prison does not become the home of their endless plots, it will become their rallying point. Consequently, unless the tyrant loses his head, there will be no liberty, no security, no peace, no rest, no happiness for the French, and no hope for other peoples of breaking their yokes.

Must I speak to you of the bloody scenes, the disasters, the dissolution of the state, the slaughter of all the friends of liberty, of your own suffering, which would be the result of his dreadful vengeance if he were ever to escape and place himself at the head of enemy armies who even now ready themselves to return against us? What pen could describe them, what heart so hard that it could bear the thought?

Gentlemen, Louis Capet was not alone in plotting the nation's ruin. Once on trial, he will denounce his accomplices, his ministers, his agents, the people's disloyal deputies, the administrators, the judges, and the generals who conspired with him against public safety. The preparation of his case is therefore the surest means to finally deliver the nation from its most formidable enemies, to strike fear into the traitors, to cut off their plots at the root, and finally, to assure liberty, peace, and public bliss. Without these, your efforts to reestablish order and prepare for the reign of law will be in vain.

"The former monarch must be judged; that is beyond doubt; but by whom shall he be judged?" I would reply: by an ordinary state tribunal, composed of the people's direct delegates—if one could confide so important a case to an ordinary tribunal and if a prompt decision were not so important for the public safety. Let there be no more doubt: Louis Capet is still the rallying point for the enemies of liberty, just as he is the source of their hopes. Therefore, he can only be judged by the National Convention which represents the nation itself. Let no one object, in order to invoke for the accused the title of born-representative of the people, that this convention will not have jurisdiction; it is a false and misleading title conferred upon him by baseness, shrewdness, and treachery in order to raise him above the law. The monarch was merely the highest public official, and for that title he can claim no prerogative.

A final question remains to be examined. How should the former monarch be judged? With pomp and with severity. We are far from those mistaken ideas of clemency and generosity by which the national vanity is flattered! How could they listen to us without laying upon us the blame of the nation and all the ills which would befall the land if we left the former monarch the possibility of plotting again? To grant a pardon would therefore not be merely weakness, but treason, villainy, and treachery.

Gentlemen, France's safety and the establishment of the Republic depends on the course you choose. I conclude that the tyrant be judged by the Convention and that his punishment be death.

Source: M. J. Mavidal and M. E. Laurent, eds., Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860, première série (1787 à 1799), 2d ed., 82 vols. (Paris: Dupont, 1879–1913), 53–56:246–49.