An Attempt at Conciliation: The Royal Address of 4 February 1790

On 4 February 1790, the Marquis de Favras was executed for plotting to spirit the King out of France and stage a coup against the Constituent Assembly. The exposure of this plot generated such negative publicity for the crown that after the execution, the King addressed the Constituent Assembly and condemned Favras, declaring his support for the Revolution. At Necker’s prompting, he here "places himself at the head of the Revolution" and declares fidelity to the "nation" and to the constitution. In return, he requests that the National Assembly take up at last the question of the deficit. The speech is enthusiastically received in the assembly, and Pierre–Victor Malouet, a leading supporter of the crown, tries to exploit this support by asking the assembly to vote to confirm Louis as head of the army and state—ensuring a powerful executive role for the King in the new constitution. However, Malouet’s proposal is not adopted. Although an apparently well–thought–out and necessary attempt at conciliation, the speech is seen by hard–liners at court as a humiliating capitulation.


You know Messieurs that more than ten years ago, when the nation had not yet explained its desire on provincial assemblies, I started substituting ancient and long habits for this kind of administration. Experience showed me I was not wrong, and I tried to establish this kind of administration to all the provinces of my kingdom. And to assure a general trust to all the new administrations, I wanted their members to be elected freely by all the citizens. You improved these views in many different ways, and the most important one, I think, deals with an equal subdivision. It weakens the former separations from province to province, it establishes a general and complete system of balance, and it gathers to a same spirit and a same interest all the different parts of the kingdom. We owe you this great idea. All this could be done because the Nation representatives wanted to do it, and also because of their influence on the public opinion.

I will favor, I will assist by all the means in my power, the success of this vast organization, in which the safety of France depends on. I am too busy with the interior situation of the kingdom, my eyes are fully open on the various dangers around us, and I think it is necessary to say that a new order has to be established with calm and quietness, or else the kingdom will be exposed to all kind of calamities. . . .

Let's do our best to accomplish our hopes through a unanimous agreement. Everybody should know that the Monarch and the Nation representatives have the same interests and the same desires, so the opinion will spread in the provinces a spirit of peace and goodwill. Also all the commendable citizens need to hasten to take part in the different subdivisions of the general administration, whose linking and the whole must participate effectively to reestablish order and prosperity in the kingdom.

I will defend, I will maintain the constitutional freedom, whose general desire has devoted principles. I will do more, and together with the Queen, who shares all my feelings, I will prepare early the spirit and the heart of my son to the new order of things. I will teach him at a very young age to be happy for the French people's happiness. I will also tell him that a wise Constitution will preserve him from the dangers of inexperience, and also a fair freedom will add a new price to the feelings of love and fidelity.

I shall not doubt that you will take care with wisdom and ardor to the strengthening of the executive power. Without it a durable order could not exist. It is your duty, as citizens and as faithful representatives of the Nation, to assure the State and the public freedom that everything will remain stable. . . .

I cannot talk about the main interests of the State without urging you to take care of everything concerning the reestablishment of finances. It is time to calm all fears down. It is time to give this kingdom all its strength back. You cannot do everything at the same time. So when you will have made decisions about Justice, when you will have assured the foundations of a perfect balance between incomes and expenses, finally when you will have finished the work with the Constitution, you will be publicly recognized. New means of prosperity will be added to the successive continuation of National Assemblies. May this day, when your Monarch comes to unite with you in the most honest and personal ways, be an unforgettable time in the history of this empire!

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), 1:429–31.