Prudhomme’s Description of the Coup against the Girondins (31 May–2 June 1793)

Throughout the spring of 1793, radicals in the Convention, in the Paris Commune, and in the sections struggled for power against Jean–Pierre Brissot and his allies, known as the "Girondins." They differed over how the revolution should be affected by popular pressure. In late May, Robespierre proposed a motion that accused the Girondins of being a threat to the Republic and ordered their arrest. When the moderate deputies of the "Plain" resisted passing this measure, radicals from the sections mobilized over the course of three days, from 31 May to 2 June, culminating in a show of force by surrounding the Convention Hall. Duly intimidated, the Convention deputies voted for the measure. But even though the die was cast, most Jacobins were uneasy about resorting to such a direct threat that might later undermine their authority. Twenty–nine deputies from the Girondin faction were expelled from the Convention and placed under house arrest. In the aftermath of the coup, the radical faction known as "the Mountain," which usually followed Robespierre’s lead, took control of the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety.


. . . For two or three weeks now, in working-class gatherings, in the sections, at the bishop's palace, in the Commune, and even at the Convention, there has been talk about firing a warning shot, of raising the alarm, of sounding general quarters. Every citizen was asked to rise up because the need to add another round to that of August 10th had been felt most strongly. The meeting, which has been proposed several times by the two parties that are tearing the Convention in half, was rejected as unworkable, useless, even deadly. As Billaud-Varennes said to the Jacobins, "It is not possible for virtue to ally itself with crime," and we totally agree with him. As gold must be extracted from its alloy, it was the natural result, and it seems as if that was where the petition that was proposed against the 22 [deputies] was heading. This measure's lack of success gave rise to threats and calls for revenge. From that point to hatching a plot was but one step, and it was all that was required to make it believable, real, and actually carried out. This gave the Right the idea of seizing the first opportunity, once it was in the majority, of establishing an authority capable of disconcerting the conspiracy, or at least of imposing that authority on its authors. . . .

Because of its people and its wisdom, Paris is still, and always will be, the most worthy city in the entire empire of defending the national legislature and bringing it respect. All of these vows, and many others more secret, necessarily resulted in an explosion, or at least in the development of that public spirit that continues to enliven Paris and leads it to a moral revolution or another 20 June. And this was the true conspiracy, the "despicable conspiracy," that the deputies of the Right dreaded so much.

The day before, Paris seemed to be totally calm. However, that evening the sections, more heated than they had been in the preceding two or three months, were getting ready for the next day's grand spectacle. The Convention broke up at four o'clock in the afternoon, but forewarned by one party about what was supposed to happen, the deputies reconvened at eight o'clock in the evening. Finally, all the revolutionary instruments were ready. At three o'clock on Friday morning, 31 May, the alarm sounded in several parts of the city and quickly spread to all the others. Upon this signal the recall, and even the general alarm, were sounded.

If the mood wasn't uniform, the concert of wills proved to be perfect. Everyone ran to their post, meaning to their sections. However, in several streets, the means that we have already mentioned were being used. The citizens stood guard in front of their doors. At eight o'clock there were more than 100,000 men under arms, united, brothers, all determined to perish before letting the national legislature be threatened. Not that the public hadn't clearly expressed its opinion about certain members of the Convention, but as a body, Parisians will defend the legislature to the death. Everyone was already in this frame of mind, and the behavior exhibited during the course of this day proved it beyond a doubt and reassured the women, mothers above all, and pregnant wives, whose patriotism is not up to the test of these great upheavals. A good woman and citizen is far removed from those women who run through the streets under a banner that is not one of decency and civic responsibility. . . .

Towards seven o'clock the commissioners from most of the sections of Paris appeared before the assembled general council. After the verification of their authority, they adjourned the old city council and the next minute reinstated it under the title of the Revolutionary and Provisional Commune. Then they devoted themselves to the important happenings of the day. Various decrees befitting the occasion were passed, and one proposal, among others, was to tear down the aristocratic posters that could be found on the walls of the world's first free city. However, out of respect for the vague freedom of the press, this proposition was not adopted. . . .

We were right when we said in the last edition that a project to assassinate a certain number of deputies could not be carried out in Paris. The 31st of May was good proof of that.

What an imposing effect Paris offered. Close to 300,000 citizens were under arms because all the urban areas in the department, and even beyond (5,000 men rushed over from Versailles), hurried to add their numbers to this peaceful insurrection. Let us say that there were 300,000 citizens assembled at the first sound of the alarm, anxious to demonstrate under the gaze of the entire Republic their devotedness to the homeland and their respect for the law! What a lesson for 700 still-divided lawmakers, i.e., that harmony and fraternity reigned amongst 300,000 citizens! And an entire day was spent like this, exceedingly proud, but also calm and quiet. A federation was requested. Is there any revolutionary day more perfect, which was not premeditated or begged for? All of Paris arose as one and seemed to say to the slanderers, "Vile sort, write to the departments, go tell them that Paris is a city of murder and pillage. Go tell them that the national legislature daily runs risks in the heart of this city, and that, sooner or later, our walls will be covered with the blood of the Republic's lawmakers."

Oh! What a shame that the departments were not witness to the solemnity of the 31st of May, since it was a sort of national holiday. If only they could see the people of Paris en masse, they would know that the People are sensitive to insults, they are great, they are generous, and they sacrifice their feelings for their rights and for the salvation of the fatherland. If we were to give them up to themselves, they would respect themselves and bring respect to the precious object that they have in their custody. The day of 31 May is truly their work. And the sublime totality of this spectacle was due neither to the Convention nor to the constituted authorities. Neither decree nor regulations were needed to maintain order. Things would not have gone so smoothly if the Convention and the other powers that be had not been content to be spectators of the this far-reaching movement. When action does nothing but impose silence on slander, it has already accomplished a great deal.

It is said that 31 May had been prepared with another aim entirely. Anarchists are mentioned, as are seditionists. But this day shall prove to them that their moment has passed. Today, the citizens of Paris are too enlightened to be in a mood to cut each other's throats to please this or that faction. As each day passes, a civil war becomes more and more impracticable.

Source: Les Révolutions de Paris (1793), 422–29.