Desmoulins on His Own Role

Camille Desmoulins, an aspiring journalist and author of an anti–aristocratic pamphlet, had been closely following political events. Like many observers, he interpreted Necker’s dismissal as evidence that the King would soon use the troops stationed in Paris to dispel the Estates–General and suppress any demonstrations. Upon receiving the news, he headed to the Palais Royal, a gathering place for the politically aware to exchange news and give speeches. In this letter, he describes how he called upon the people of Paris to act decisively by giving a rousing speech that inspired a crowd to "take arms" and defend the Estates–General against royal troops.


Dearest father,

I can now write to you. . . . How things have changed over the last three days! Last Sunday, Paris was dismayed at the dismissal of M. Necker. Although I was getting people worked up, no one would take up arms. About three o'clock I went to the Palais-Royal. I was deploring our lack of courage to a group of people when three young men came by, holding hands and shouting Aux armes! (To arms!) I joined them and since my enthusiasm was quite obvious, I was surrounded and pressed to climb up on a table. Immediately six thousand people gathered around me. . . .

I was choking from the hundreds of ideas that overwhelmed me and, my thoughts a jumble, I spoke: "To arms!' I cried, "To arms! Let us all wear green cockades, the color of hope." . . . I grabbed a green ribbon and was the first to pin it to my hat. My action spread like wildfire! The noise from the tumult reached the camp; the Cravates, the Swiss, the Dragoons, the Royal-Allemand all arrived. Prince Lambesc, leading the regiment of Royal-Allemands, entered the Tuileries on horseback. He personally cut down an unarmed French guardsman with his sword, and knocked over women and children. The crowd became furious, and from that point on, there was but a single cry heard across Paris: To Arms!

Source: Jules Claretie, ed., Oeuvres de Camille Desmoulins, 2 vols. (Paris: Charpentier, 1906), 2:329–31.