A Girondin View: Roland Calls on the King to Declare War

In the spring of 1792, the Legislative Assembly—particularly its Executive Committee, dominated by Girondins—took a more aggressive attitude toward Austria, repeatedly arguing that France needed to act first to ward off invasion and thereby not only preserve but advance the Revolution by spreading it across Europe. In June 1792, Jean–Marie Roland de la Platière, a Girondin minister in the King’s cabinet, wrote the following letter, informing the King that the assembly favored war and suggesting that the constitution required him to execute this decision as the will of the people and warning that if he did not act, the people would consider Louis an accomplice of the "conspirators" against the Revolution. Upon receipt of this letter, Louis dismissed Roland, signaling that he did not feel compelled either to obey the will of the assembly on this matter or to distance himself from counterrevolutionaries.


The French people gave themselves a Constitution, and this created malcontents and rebels. The majority of the nation wants to keep it and has sworn to defend it even if it means they must spill their blood. They have also seen, with joy, the war that provided the way for them to keep it. However, the minority, sustained by hope, united all of their efforts in order to gain the upper hand. That led to this internal struggle against the laws, this anarchy which pains good citizens and of which malicious people take great care to cite in order to slander the new regime. That led to this divisiveness and provocation that is spreading to every corner of the nation because nowhere does indifference reign. People are either for the constitution's victory, or for changing it, and their actions either support it or seek to alter it. I shall refrain from examining what the constitution is, in and of itself, and only consider what the circumstances require. As much as possible, I shall try to see it as a stranger would, looking for that which we can expect from it and that which it admits to encouraging. . . .

Can Your Majesty openly ally himself today with those who claim to want only to reform the constitution, or should he generously and unreservedly devote himself to its triumph? That is the real question for which the current state of things makes resolution inevitable. As for the very metaphysical question of knowing if the French are ready for liberty, that discussion has no place here. It is not a matter of judging what we may become in a hundred years, but rather of seeing what the current generation is capable of.

What has happened amidst the unrest in which we have been living for four years? Onerous taxes have been abolished. The concepts of justice and equality are universally widespread, reaching everywhere. Public opinion concerning the rights of the people has justified these actions. The formal recognition of those rights has become a sacred doctrine. Hatred of the nobility, long inspired by feudalism, became deep-rooted, exacerbated by the obvious opposition of the majority of nobles to the same constitution that destroyed them.

During the first year of the Revolution, the People saw these nobles as men made odious by their enjoyment of their privileges as oppressors. This hatred would have stopped if, after the destruction of those privileges, the behavior of the nobles had not reinforced all of the possible reasons to fear them and fight them as irreconcilable enemies.

Devotion to the constitution grew at the same rate. Not only were the People indebted to it for its kind and beneficial effects, but they decided that it was also preparing them to receive greater ones. This was so because those who usually made them bear the load were trying so hard to destroy or modify the constitution.

The Declaration of Rights became a political gospel, and the French constitution has become a religion for which the People are ready to perish.

Also, zeal sometimes went so far as to replace the law. And when the law was not harsh enough to control the troublemakers, the citizens took it upon themselves to punish them.

This is how the property of émigrés was opened to the ravages that vengeance inspires. That is why so many departments believed they were obliged to clamp down on the priests whom public opinion had outlawed, and of whom that same public opinion would have made victims.

In this collision of interests, every feeling took on a degree of passion. "Homeland" is not a word that the imagination took pleasure in embellishing. Rather it is an entity for which we have made sacrifices, and to which we become more attached each day because of the worries it brings. Our homeland has been created by our tremendous efforts. It rises up amidst our worries, and we love it because it costs us, not just because of our hopes for it. Every attempt made against it serves only to enflame our enthusiasm. At this moment when enemy forces are united outside our borders and conferring with internal plotters to strike the most deadly blows, how far will this enthusiasm take us? . . . Ferment is extreme in all corners of the Empire and will explode in a terrible way unless reasonable confidence in Your Majesty's intentions finally calm them. This confidence however cannot be based on protestations. It can only be based on deeds. . . .

Because of the attempts of our enemies and the troubles evident in the capital, because of the extreme unease that had stirred up your guards and the declaration Your Majesty gave them in order to satisfy them, which, under the circumstances was truly impolitic, and because of the situation in Paris and its proximity to the borders . . . all of these things have made us feel the need of an armed camp in our neighborhood. All reasonable minds are struck by the wisdom and urgency of this measure, and it awaits nothing but Your Majesty's approval. Why is it that delays make it seem regretful, when promptness should give it the recognition it deserves?

Already the attempts by the heads of the Parisian National Guard against this measure have brought suspicion that they were acting on orders from above. Already the rantings of some outraged demagogues have awakened suspicions about their relationships with those interested in overthrowing the constitution. Already public opinion compromises Your Majesty's goals. The people will be saddened to think their King is acting as a friend and accomplice of the conspirators. . . .

I know that the stern language of the truth is rarely welcome close to the throne. I also know that, because it is almost never heard there, that revolutions become necessary. I know above all that I must hold the truth up before Your Majesty, not only as a citizen subject to the law, but as a minister honored with his confidence, or at least cloaked in a role that presumes it. I know of nothing that could prevent me from fulfilling a duty that is so clear to me.

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), 45:163–64. Translated by Exploring the French Revolution project staff from original documents in French found in J.M. Roberts, French Revolution Documents, vol. 1 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966), 459–63.