Front Page Titles (by Subject) RAPID OBSERVATIONS On the Indictment drawn up by Amar against the Members of the Convention. - An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland
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RAPID OBSERVATIONS On the Indictment drawn up by Amar against the Members of the Convention. - Jeanne Marie Roland de la Platière, An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland 
An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland, wife of the Minister of the Home Department, or A Collection of Pieces written by her during her Confinement in the Prisons of the Abbey and St. Pelagie, Part I (London: J. Johnson, 1795). Vol. 2.
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If there have existed a conspiracy against the unity and indivisibility of the republic, against the liberty and the safety of the French people, it is evident that it can only have been formed by the abettors of despotism, by ambitious men, wishing to monopolize power and riches, or by the enemies of mankind.
Brissot, Gensonné, Vergniaux, Gaudet, Gorsas, Petion, Buzot, &c. are accounted such. These men must then have shewn, on more occasions than one, their hatred of liberty, their thirst of gain, their eagerness to obtain places, all the vices and corruption, in short, that are natural to such characters. Supposing even that they had assumed the mask of hypocrisy, it was impossible for the end they had in view to remain concealed: their conduct must have betrayed it, and their interested motives must have evidently appeared. Let us enquire into what they were; let us see how they have acted; and we shall be able to judge of what is ascribed to them. After that it will be time to go in search of the conspiracy itself, which very possibly may resemble the story of the golden tooth; or may amount to nothing more than the well-known efforts of aristocrates and royalists, manifested as early as the infancy of the revolution, and connected with the enterprizes of foreign powers.—Let us look at a few of these men in private life before the year 1789, the æra when the busy scene of politics, then opening, first brought them forward to public view; and let us observe the course they afterwards pursued. Advocates for the most part, some had distinguished themselves at the bar, others had made themselves known in the republic of letters; several, remarkable only for the integrity they had displayed in their professions, were seated in the States General, by the esteem that integrity had procured them, while several others devoted themselves to the laborious, but honourable functions of journalists, and struggled courageously with despotism driven to despair.
Pétion, simple in his manners, moderate in his desires, and married to a woman of good sense, resided at Chartres. Esteemed by his fellow citizens, who had witnessed his birth, and already noted for that philosophy which marks a good understanding at an early period in life, he was deemed worthy of a seat in the assembly of the states.
Buzot, distinguished at Evreux by his strict probity, and premature prudence, inspired confidence, and deserved consideration at an age when so many others think of nothing but pleasure. A taste for study, and the solitary habits of a meditative mind, filled up all those moments which he did not devote to the bar; while manners equally pure and gentle, rendered him dear to his friends. The warmth of his sentiments, the ease of his elocution, and the austerity of his principles, procured him the honourable office of carrying his country’s complaints and demands to the States General.
Gorsas, the father of a numerous family, undertook from the very beginning of the revolution, to conduct a periodical paper, in which he combated the still powerful court, and devoted himself to the defence of the people, ever endeavouring to establish, and never neglecting to reclaim, their rights.
Brissot, a writer from his early youth, had preached liberty in the time of despotism, and humanity during the reign of tyranny: he had long prayed for the revolution, had helped to bring it forward by exposing the abuses of the times, and had undergone imprisonment as a punishment for the freedom of his writings. More taken up with moral truths in politics than with the care of his fortune, he had engaged in several speculations, the failure of which had increased his poverty without injury to his honour. The revolution was the signal of his political life: he began his career, in the midst of storms, discussing principles, sparing no one who appeared to violate them, and labouring without intermission for the public weal.
I stop for a moment at these four personages: the two first made a figure in the constituent assembly; Brissot obtained a seat in the succeeding legislature; and all four became members of the Convention. Was there a single circumstance in which they acted unlike themselves? Did they assume any authority? Did they acquire any wealth? Or did they aim at the supreme power for themselves and their friends?
Petion and Buzot served the cause of liberty in the constituent assembly, with a zeal and constancy which procured them the hatred of aristocracy, and the favour of the people: but popular favour is inconstant while persevering hatred gains fresh strength from the accession of all the jealous, whose attacks never fail to follow any brilliant success. Buzot, belonging to the criminal tribunal of Evreux, preferred doing his duty in his native country to the exercise of the same functions at Paris; which would have better suited an ambitious man; supported his reputation in the presence of his fellow-citizens, and of the enemies he had made himself by his civism; and obtained by his merit a seat in the Convention, after having established a popular society in the town, as an indispensable barrier against the struggles of despotism in chains, but not subdued. It cannot be said that he had either his re-election, or any kind of employ in view on leaving the constituent assembly, any more than Petion; for they were the very men who procured the passing of the decree, forbidding the members of that assembly to hold any place or to be re-elected, for four years to come. They had even demanded an interval of six; but at the time of the revision that decree was repealed, in spite of their endeavours to maintain it. Buzot then entered the convention as pure as he had left the constituent assembly; and there for a while we will leave him. We shall see hereafter how he conducted himself, and shall be able to judge whether a man who braved clamour and outrages in support of his opinions, even admitting some of them to be erroneous, could be an ambitious hypocrite, or a conspirator.
Petion was elevated to the mayoralty by popular favour; and preserved it till after the 10th of August, as well as the hatred of the court, which manifested itself on every occasion, even to the very last. It is only of late that any one has ventured to accuse him of going to the palace for the purpose of defending it, while it is well known that he was exposed to its fire. The calumnious assertion of his having given Mandat orders to fire upon the people, is also of recent date. I ask what could tempt Petion, detested by the court, and beloved by the people, to betray the latter, and serve the former, when it stood on the very brink of ruin? Could he who had acquired popularity by combating regal power, have any reason to forfeit it, when the people were beginning to get the upper-hand? Let us put the philosopher and the zealous citizen out of the question: let us look only to the man; and we shall see that even in the regard of ambition and self-interest, the conduct attributed to Petion would have been absurd; and that if he had not too much principle, he had at least too much good sense, to fall into such an error. He was prevented by his office from putting himself at the head of the insurrection; and to prevent his opposing it, he should have been rendered incapable of acting, or confined. This the heedless commune forgot to do, and I remember, that Lanthenas went twice from the Mairie to the town-house, to advise their putting a strong guard over his hotel. The reporter (Amar) did not say a syllable of the massacres of the second of September: he wisely avoided the danger of touching on a question, both sides of which had been supported by the Mountaineers. When Roland denounced those massacres, the Jacobins said they were the work of the people and of its vengeance: they even made it a crime not to applaud them; and when Petion, with the rest of the right side, obtained a decree to prosecute the murderers, Petion and the right side were called the enemies of liberty and of the people. But when the decree had fallen into desuetude, when the Jacobins triumphed, and the twenty-two were proscribed, the Jacobins themselves, and Hebert among the first of them, impudently asserted that the massacres were the infamous work of Petion.
Gaudet, Vergniaux, and Gensonné, distinguished by their talents, and well known at Bourdeaux, as friends to the revolution, were elected members of the legislative assembly. They were the first men for talents in that body, a kind of aristocracy which procured them more numerous and more dangerous enemies, than any want of civism could have done. They alternately filled the president’s chair on the tenth of August, at that critical moment when the weak would have trembled at such a painful pre-eminence; nor can any but knaves reproach them with the moderation and the temper they displayed in their conduct at that interesting period. Brissot naturally became intimate with them, because he approached nearer to their level than any body else, in like manner as a similarity of sentiments had made him connect himself with the defenders of principles in the constituent assembly, to which he did not belong: the countryman and friend of Petion, he became acquainted with such of his colleagues as supported that cause in favour of which his journal was composed.
He had laboured under the same mistake as many other persons, in regard to la Fayette; or rather it may be said, that la Fayette, swayed at first by the principles he had adopted, had no longer the strength of mind necessary to support them when the struggle became difficult; or that, fearing the consequences of too great a power in the hands of the people, he deemed it prudent to establish a kind of counterpoise. The fact is, that as he professed even republicanism in private, Brissot was a long while before he could believe him guilty, even when he was become so in the eyes of more violent men. But he had blamed him without reserve, and publicly declared his rupture with him, before the affair of the Champ-de-Mars. Here the reporter piques himself so little upon accuracy, that he confounds dates; he makes Brissot come to the Jacobins in March 1791, to prepare the business of the Champ-de-Mars, which did not take place till July, and which was solely occasioned by the flight and return of the king in the month of June. It is well known besides, that Brissot did not go to the Jacobins to excite them to sign the petition, but merely because he was appointed one of the committee to draw it up. I remember to have heard him relate on the following day, that Laclos, who was also of the committee, complained of such a violent head-ach, that he could not hold the pen, and that he begged of Brissot to take it; that the same Laclos proposed the insertion of an article which he mentioned with an air of indifference, but which would have been favourable to d’Orleans; and that he (Brissot) rejected it with indignation, and substituted the passage recommending a republic, for which that moment was peculiarly proper, and might have been turned to great account. It is also well known that the assembly having decided in favour of the king, the Jacobins, instead of sending their petition to the Champ-de-Mars, sent deputies there to say, that it was not a proper place for their purpose, since the passing of the decree. This took place on the Saturday. I saw the deputies come to the Champ-de-Mars, where I was at noon, with not more than two or three hundred persons, and where Verrieres, the little hump-backed cordelier, and some others, were declaiming upon the national altar. It was on the Sunday morning, that two men were hung, when there were not thirty persons assembled, a fact which I have heard attributed with some probability to the contrivance of the Lameths in coalition with others, who wanted an opportunity of employing force, and of inspiring terror. Certain it is, that Sunday having brought together a great number of people, who had been attracted by the vague report of a petition, while that of the hanging business had not as yet got abroad, Robert set about drawing one up, completed it, and was getting it signed, when the military were called out, in consequence of a denunciation made to the assembly, and of the violent letter written by Charles Lameth, the president, to the commune of Paris, setting forth the necessity of repressing the horrid disorders of which two men had been the victims. Thus did the morning murder, committed, as it were, by stealth, serve as a pretext for shooting the people assembled in the afternoon. The red flag was hoisted at the town-hall, terror and imprisonment were the order of the day, and prepared the triumph of the revisors, who wished to give strength to the party of the court. Surely it will be quite enough to read the Patriot* of that time, to judge whether it be possible that Brissot, who denounced the affair of the Champ-de-Mars, supported the people, and attacked the revisors, could at the same time have been their accomplice. This accusation is absurd in the extreme! but every thing is so from one end to the other of this work of iniquity. I will not enter here into the question of the war, which was the signal of the great division that took place among the patriots. Robespierre, fiery, jealous, greedy of popularity, and inclined to domineer both by his nature, and the high opinion he entertained of his own merit, put himself at the head of the party that opposed the declaration of hostilities. It would be worth while to see the speeches on the subject: but to me it appeared that the mass of enlightened people were in general for the affirmative, and consequently of Brissot’s opinion. Certain it is that the court was very repugnant to the measure, and that the king was in a manner overruled by his council. He had every thing to gain by delay: the enemy were making their preparations at their ease, and our inaction would have delivered us into their hands, a defenceless prey. Robespierre could not forgive Brissot this triumph. The ice was broken, and from that moment it became his sole object to bring forward all the misfortunes that besel us, whether inevitable, or not, as crimes against the partisans of the war. The exaggeration of passion, became by degrees a system of refined calumny, artfully contrived, and obstinately persevered in. Brissot could no longer make the eulogium of any man, without its being construed into perfidy, if that man afterwards departed from the line of duty. Brissot was acquainted with several persons in the ministry by whom he was esteemed—here was another reason of jealousy and distrust. These ministers, honourably disgraced by the court, were recalled after the fall of the throne; and Brissot at that time was one of the few men in the assembly possessed of any talents, or exercising any influence there: Brissot consequently appeared an important personage to Robespierre, who determined to ruin him, and had full leisure to effect his purpose, for Brissot, constantly confiding in the goodness of his intentions, could not prevail upon himself to go and enter the lists at the Jacobins with an everlasting harangue-maker, who tired him to death. He despised the adversary by whom he was overcome. But who could have believed the convention so weak, or the people so stupid? Those who not suffering themselves to be hurried along by the current of daily events, recur frequently to the page of history, meditate upon its contents, and compare the present with times past. I never saw any man in place do so since the revolution; indeed they have hardly time to breathe, and to answer to the calls of each returning day, without an extreme and uncommon economy in the distribution of their hours.
The letter of Gensonne and his associates to Louis XVI. cannot be construed into treason, unless by the most determined malevolence. Certainly nobody could at that time be sure of a successful revolution: the wisest men were therefore desirous that the king should feel the necessity of enforcing the constitution, and resolve upon recalling, and retaining those ministers who were sincerely inclined to execute the laws. They had given proofs of their patriotism, and the application for their recal was not a step directed by private interest, but the expression of the general will. Roland, for his part, knew nothing of this letter until these latter times, and probably would never have heard of it if it had not become public. But let us attend to the charges brought against him in these articles of impeachment, which will reflect everlasting disgrace on the age and nation, that could either applaud, or suffer them to pass, without the strongest marks of reprobation.
“The very day after the 10th of August,” say these articles, “Gensonné and his faction posted up libels reflecting upon those who had contributed to the fall of the throne, upon the Jacobins, upon the council-general of the commune, and upon the people of Paris. The pens of Louvet, Brissot, and Champagneux, were set to work; enormous packets of these libels were seen at Roland’s house, and all his servants were employed in dispersing them.”
I have read this passage twice, without being able to conceive how any one could dare to write it. Gensonné never to my knowledge posted up any thing: Louvet was editor of the Sentinel, of which complete collections exist: it was of great service to the revolution, and is an everlasting refutation of these assertions; for it breathes nothing but liberty, great and wise principles, the hatred of tyranny, and the love of equality. Roland has perhaps contributed as much as any body to reconcile men’s minds to the revolution; his circular letters exist; let them be read; and let any one be pointed out, that is not even excellent. Champagneux never dispatched any papers but those printed by order of the assembly; nor was any alteration ever made in them; the contrary supposition is as absurd as abominable. In the first place, it was impossible, for it was not Roland who had them printed, but the authors at Baudoins, from whom the minister used to demand a certain number of copies: secondly, it was useless; for supposing that he made a selection, he was free to send off a smaller number of those which he deemed the least deserving of attention: and, lastly, if there had been the smallest breach of faith, the persons interested would not have waited a year to make their complaints, and demonstrate the deceit. What then can be intended by this ridiculous passage?—I have divined it; and it is a matter which demands some explanation.
In revolutionary movements, the most active people are not always the most blameless: how many beings come forward only that they may appear of some consequence in the world! Their services, however, are not to be despised; but when once the point in view is gained, it becomes necessary to lose no time in re-establishing order to avoid the dissolution of the social body. The commune formed on the 10th of August had contributed to the fall of the tyrant: they did well; but several of its members had been guilty of various excesses; a great deal of pillage and robbery had taken place at the Tuileries and elsewhere; considerable sums had been given to the commune for the purchase of corn; and it was the duty of the minister of the home department to demand their accounts, and to transmit them to the legislative body. Roland then pressed the commune to give in their accounts; but the commune being little disposed, and still less able to comply, the minister, with a view to justice, and to avoid sharing in the blame, made his report to the assembly accordingly. If the assembly had possessed sufficient energy, it would not have waited for such an opportunity, or at least would have laid hold of it, to renew the commune, a political operation equally equitable and necessary. But Danton, who made use of the commune, was minister, had partisans in the assembly, and contrived to keep his tool. Roland remained then in a difficult situation; liable to accusation if he did not demand these accounts, and sure to be hated if he did. His upright character did not permit him to hesitate; his austerity perhaps gave still greater solemnity to the demand; and when he was required to represent the state of Paris to the assembly, he gave no quarter to the errors, the follies, and the faults of the commune. They were in great number; and the commune consequently became his enemy. Thus did he acquire the hatred of that active body, who among the populace, had the reputation of being the patriots of the 10th of August, and the exterminators of tyranny. Add to the commune all those excited by the plunderer, Danton, against a colleague whose austerity was a constraint upon him, and who had besides denounced the September massacres, another exploit of a part of the commune, Santerre, &c. Add also those whom the jealous Robespierre set against Brissot’s connexions, and you will have altogether a very considerable number, either of guilty men who felt the necessity of getting rid of their watchful denunciator, or of extravagant patriots prepossessed in favour of the heroes of the 10th of August, without seeing to the bottom of the business, or of people interested in supporting them, or of the ignorant whom they imposed upon, with a few envious popular leaders, well skilled in contriving the overthrow of a man in possession of the public esteem. Such was the origin of a party, which was increased by all the new-comers to the convention, too little acquainted with Paris, and public affairs, to form a right judgment of things, and by all those whose vanity was hurt by the superiority of the distinguished members, with whom Roland naturally became intimate, because men of equal capacity are ever fond of one another’s company. Had I more time, I could follow this party through all its ramifications, and indicate all its enterprises; but this is enough to put others in the way of coming at the truth.
It now appears clearly, that the party at present predominant, of which Amar is the organ, bestows the appellation of libel upon those writings in which Roland exhibited the state of Paris, called for the accounts of the commune, held up the massacres of September to public indignation, and recommended the establishment of order to reconcile all hearts to the revolution; which is somewhat more difficult than killing folks, according to the practice of these gentlemen. They do not point out these pretended libels, for that would be burning their fingers; but they hold forth concerning the distribution of certain libels, and the public believing that there must needs be some foundation for a charge so boldly brought forward, applauds the declamation, and think itself avenged when its own champions are put to death.
The understanding kept up with the Prussians is a piece of extravagance which one knows not how to characterize, and Brunswick must surely laugh at seeing people accused of being his friends who attacked him with so much vigour. It will suffice to read the letter in which it is pretended that Roland confesses the existence of a plan for quitting Paris, to form a judgment of the matter, especially as to the intention of opening a passage for Brunswick. I know, that on the supposition of the Prussians approaching very near to Paris, the question of what it would be proper to do, and whether it would be expedient to send away from that town the national representation, in which the whole empire was interested, was once debated; but the discussion was slight, and hypothetical, more so indeed than it ought to have been; nor did any one of the ministers threaten his colleagues. It was Danton, who, after the event, thought of bringing forward this denunciation, by way of making a merit of it to himself, and of injuring Roland. I recollect these matters perfectly, having heard my husband mention them on the breaking up of the council, which was then held at his hotel. As to the great movement of the people of Paris, it is well known that it served as a veil for the massacres of the month of September, and that it was Kellerman’s action on the 20th of that month that saved the republic.
It is not less ridiculous to hear the government of that time accused of starving the people. Never during Roland’s administration were provisions so scarce, and difficult to procure, as they have become since: his anxiety on that head was extreme, and any one may recur to what he says of the bad administration peculiar in that respect to the commune of Paris.
It is an infamous and absurd calumny to assert that Roland employed the sums given him to purchase provisions, in the pay of hireling writers. In the first place, those sums never passed through his hands, nor could he dispose of them otherwise than by orders upon the treasury indicating the purposes for which they were wanted. Secondly, he gave an account of these monies; he did so every month, and repeated it on his going out of office, the whole accompanied by sufficient vouchers. Of these accounts he never ceased to call for a report; and they were accordingly examined; but as no fault could be found with them, the Mountain would never suffer any report to be made. Those who doubt it need only ask Dupin, a member and one of the commissioners charged with their examination; they need only ask Saint-Aubin, a commissioner of accounts, by whom the commissioners of the convention were assisted in their labours, which lasted two months, and in which they proceeded with great rigour and a desire of finding fault, but without success. In the third place, no more than one hundred thousand livres (£.4167) were given to Roland to pay for compositions and printing, out of which in six months he only spent thirty-four thousand, (£.1417) of which he likewise gave an account: the rest remained in the public treasury, as appears by the statement of what has been disbursed.
It requires a degree of ill faith scarcely credible to advance such scandalous falsities! Roland never established any new offices in his department; he only assigned to particular clerks the care of forwarding the papers he was charged to send off; nor did he ever give to any thing the name of formation of public spirit: his enemies began by inventing the chimera, and afterwards christened it as they thought proper. As to me, I never interfered, much less did I direct anything: I defy it to be proved. Roland had nothing to do with his colleagues in the department of the finances, in like manner as his colleagues never interfered with the forwarding of any papers; and it is impossible to mention a single one dispatched by Roland himself, which did not tend to attach the public to the 10th of August, instead of endeavouring to cast an odium upon the events of that day. Roland had no command over the administration of the post-office to get any thing intercepted; nor if he had, would the administrators ever have been able, without courting their own ruin, to engage in so odious a manœuvre. If they had only attempted it, would they not have been punished, they who have been so much persecuted, whose places have been taken from them, but whose persons it was not possible to touch?
It is false that Roland ever suppressed any thing which was ordered to be forwarded: I have seen him send off the speeches of Marat. It is equally false that any thing was or could be mutilated, as I have said before: I have shewn that it was as impossible as improbable; that the denunciation would not have been delayed till now, if only a single instance of the kind had occurred; and that even now, when they have the impudence to advance it, they neither can nor dare cite a fact. But what an excellent precaution was that of accusing Roland and the Moniteur of making the mountaineers appear like madmen in the eyes of the whole republic, by the misplacing of a word! Not being able to annihilate history, they wish to bring its materials into discredit! But, O my God! even if nothing were to remain but their calumnies and their conduct, the atrocity of their falsehoods would nevertheless appear. For a few years truth may be reduced to silence; but it cannot be extinguished: the very efforts that are made to annihilate it operate a contrary way, and give evidence of its existence.
The discovery of the iron door is also brought forward against Roland as a crime; and nothing is more easy, by way of accounting for the want of proof against the pretended Brissotine faction, than to suppose that he suppressed a part of its contents. But Roland had witnesses, and Roland did not contradict himself. A locksmith of the name of Gamin, living at Versailles, gave information of his having been employed by Louis XVI. to make a little hiding-place in his apartment at the Tuileries; but did not know what it might contain. Roland was charged with the inspection of the Tuileries: the palace and every thing belonging to it were intrusted to his care. Taking with him Gamin and Heurtier, a respectable architect, he repaired to the king’s apartment, where, in a passage between two doors, Gamin lifted up a pannel of wainscoat, and discovered a little iron door, which Roland made him open. It served to close a hole in the wall in which several packets of papers were found. Roland called a servant, ordered a napkin to be brought, took out the packets, without untying them, cast his eyes upon the indorsements, which announced a correspondence with the generals and other persons, put them in the napkin in the presence of Heurtier and Gamin, gave the parcel to his servant, and repaired to the convention, where he deposited them in a formal manner. As he was passing through the apartments he met a member, who asked him what he had there.—‘Good things,’ answered he, ‘which I am going to carry to the convention.’—It remains to be said, that when the minister of the home department was made responsible for the palace, and every thing it contained, the convention appointed a committee of some of its members to examine all the papers printed or in manuscript, which were there at the time of the assault, and which had been collected in one place. The members of this committee were angry that the minister had not sent for them to be present at the discovery. But Roland thought that nothing could be more natural, upon Gamin’s information, than to repair to the place; and upon finding the papers to submit them to the inspection of the convention. He conducted himself like a man whose conscious rectitude renders him incapable of distrust; though certainly very unlike an artful man of the world, who foresees every thing, and takes care not to hurt the vanity of others. Roland was guilty of no real fault upon this occasion; but he discovered a want of prudence and caution. Add to this, that among the members of the commission at the palace was one Calon, a person whom Roland despised, and with whom he sometimes had disputes, because these commissioners wished to exceed their powers, and to turn every thing topzy-turvy at the palace as they pleased, while Roland, naturally rigid, and strong in his responsibility, frequently opposed their proceedings. To give a good idea of this Calon, it will suffice to say, that it was a matter of public notoriety, that he had entered into partnership with his mistress in setting up a coffee-house and tavern close to the assembly.
It is now easy to see the origin of all the outcry about the iron cabinet, and to conceive how eagerly Roland’s different enemies availed themselves of appearances to throw suspicion upon his conduct, and how many little passions concurred in raising doubts concerning this circumstance. Of what value is it since become to those, who, wishing to accuse Roland’s friends in the Convention of a conspiracy, find it so convenient to make the world believe that the cabinet contained papers which the minister concealed! But recollect dates, calculate facts, and by attending particularly to the one in question, you will see, that if Roland had meant to convey any thing away, he would first have repaired in secret to the place, after which he would have called witnesses, and observed every necessary form in the discovery. His rapid and incautious way of proceeding, by exposing him to blame, must prove his innocence to every reflecting mind. Heurtier exists; he is a man advanced in years, and generally esteemed; and Gamin exists also: they took a minute of all that passed, which will not be lost to history any more than these details. I shall make no remark upon the charge in which Roland is accused of favouring the partisans of aristocracy, and of receiving the emigrants with open arms. Roland in his administration was just, impartial, and severe: he received nothing but the law with open arms: it was the object of all his attention, and the guide of all his decisions. It must no doubt appear as strange to aristocracy to be put under the protection of such a patron, as it must to Brunswick to hear himself styled Roland’s friend: but these are follies which will not long go down. True it is that the republic once established, Roland wished to attach its very enemies to it by an equitable form of government: he wished for good laws instead of blood. These principles inspired with a kind of confidence even those people, who, without being fanatics in the cause of royalty, were however far from being republicans. They felt their prejudices give way, and acknowledged that the minister of the home department, although a patriot, appeared to be an honest man. The jealous noted down these confessions, that they might represent Roland as a partisan of aristocracy; a title by which they have since distinguished every friend of reason and humanity.
I should be glad to know how Roland, who, under the old government, had stood in the way of his own promotion by supporting the liberty of commerce, on which subject his opinions were considered as a crime; who had professed his principles in works published from fifteen to twenty years before; who faithful to those principles at the time of the revolution, had taken such a decided part in its favour as to attract the enmity of all the aristocracy of Lyons; who, elevated to the ministry, had there conducted himself with the greatest firmness and energy; who had dared to write a letter to the king, which the partisans of the throne have not yet forgiven him; who, recalled to the administration of public affairs by the insurrection of the 10th of August, was interested in defending it both by his interest and his glory; how, I say, could Roland seek to decry it; to favour the royalists who hated him, or would have looked upon him with eyes of distrust; and to restore aristocracy, of which he had deserved the hatred, and which at this very moment is rejoicing at the persecution he undergoes? What could he have in view? He had reached the highest elevation then attainable, and enjoyed great consideration: both ambition and self-interest could seek for nothing more than to remain in place; and if he had listened to them he would have soothed men’s passions, flattered the different parties, and have been upon his guard against giving offence. The care of not making enemies is the strongest characteristic of the ambitious man, already arrived at eminence in a republic; while Roland, on the contrary, rigorously denounced the abuses he could not repress, never flattered any man whatever, nor ever gave way to the violence or to the prejudices of the times. This is the conduct of a sincere and courageous man, and not that of a hypocrite.—Let us now return to the members of the Convention, to whom the same reasoning will apply.
The electoral body of Paris was evidently at the command of Robespierre and Danton: its nominations were entirely their work. It is notorious that Robespierre made an harangue against Priestley, and in favour of Marat: it is notorious that he brought forward his brother: it is equally well-known that Danton, casting aside his ministerial functions, repaired to the hustings to exercise his sway; nor is it forgotten, that these ringleaders of the electors were the means of getting d’Orleans returned. (Here I ask, by the way, Why he was not waited for at the trial of the deputies, with whom he was confounded in the articles of impeachment, and to whom he was assigned as an accomplice?) Among the Parisian delegates to the Convention were seen the members of the famous Committee of Vigilance (surveillance), that directed the September massacres, and advised the departments to imitate so good an example, in a circular letter, which is well known, and which Danton forwarded under his own cover. There were also seen men accused of robberies, whom the council-general, composed in part of new members, has since thought it indispensable to denounce, although sitting in the Convention, where they still remain upon the top of the Mountain (Sergent and Panis). The constituents, repairing to the Convention, and acquainted with Paris, the revolution, and all the men of any note, came there uneasy at this Parisian deputation, indignant at the events of the 2d of September, and disposed to distrust the one, and to punish the authors of the other. This disposition would not have escaped the persons interested, even if the constituents had endeavoured to conceal it, which they did not do. But the Convention opened before it was complete, and the Parisian members formed a party, which was recruited with all the ignorant and weak, as fast as they arrived: it had already collected a good number by the time the whole Convention had got together, and all the constituents were there. I need not say, that I give this appellation to the members who had belonged to the assembly of 1789, and who, for the most part, seated themselves on what was called the right side of the Convention.
The agitation of Paris, the conduct of its commune, the weakness of the department* , the high tone of its deputies, and the tyranny of the galleries, suggested the idea of a departmentary guard, as the first step to insure the liberty of the national representation, to remind the Parisians that they were not its masters, and to prevent the departments from forgetting the necessity of maintaining an equilibrium for the common advantage. In Buzot’s report on the subject may be seen the principal reasons in favour of this proposition. It was a gauntlet thrown down as the signal for combat. The Parisian members felt that they were in danger of losing their ascendancy, and as some of the number were criminals, who could only be saved by maintaining it, every effort was made to parry so fatal a blow. From that moment it became a war of extermination, and as such they carried it on; but their adversaries were not sufficiently aware of the danger: they were not ready enough to coalesce, because they did not imagine that truth stood in need of a party; they neglected the Jacobin club, because the Jacobins gave them a bad reception; and they did not intrigue, because they had neither money nor cunning enough for that purpose. About forty of them used indeed to meet and converse at Valazé’s, whence there proceeded much courage to support principles, and brave clamour, and much devotion to the public good; but never any measures, unless in the shape of motions, which were imputed to them as crimes. They wished to go to work upon the constitution in the best way they might be able, since it was in vain to hope by further skirmishing to obtain a better situation. The leaders of the Parisian deputation were desirous, on the contrary, to entangle the Convention in a trial, that they might keep up the heat of the public mind, make a merit of the death of a man already tumbled from the throne, and incapable of doing mischief, and retard a constitution, of which the completion would have restored order, and set bounds to their power. But, it may be said, these are the men who have made one since the 2d of June—Yes, and these are the men who prevented it before, as the journals of the time will shew; and the proof that they care no more about it at present is, that after having got it accepted, they have suspended its execution, by declaring that France remains in a state of revolution; so that the departments, which were only induced to accept it by lassitude, enjoy no better repose than before. Never, indeed, did they suffer so much agitation and misery of every kind. It is easy for any one who has attended the sittings of the Convention, to say from whence all the scandalous scenes proceeded. When the members of the right side reasoned, they were accused: if they attempted to defend themselves they were called to order, loaded with abuse by the galleries, and even spit upon. If, indignant at this treatment, they appealed to their constituents, they were called conspirators, and clubs and pistols were shewn to them; and yet it is now said upon their trial, that they governed. What was it that they did to their liking?—Nothing whatever: they could not then be either in possession of power, or leading men in the Convention. Their speeches in the affair of the king sufficiently prove their good sense, and their desire of establishing the republic by wisdom rather than blood. I shall not enter into an examination of these speeches: it is necessary to read them to form a judgment of their merit. All these things will no doubt be appreciated by posterity without partiality: it will see, that forgetting themselves, they calculated for its advantage; it will honour their memory, and strew their graves with flowers; a vain and tardy homage, which cannot restore life to those who have lost it; but the hope of which affords consolation to those who sacrifice themselves for their country’s good.
The murder of le Pelletier is still a kind of mystery; but I shall never forget two facts, which I will mention here: the first is, that all the members, at present proscribed, were afflicted beyond measure at that event. I saw Buzot and Louvet shed tears of rage, persuaded that some bold mountaineer had done the deed with a view of ascribing it to the members of the right side, and of exciting against them the revolutionary sanaticism of the people. The second is, that Gorsas, expressing this opinion in tolerably clear terms, added, that either the assassin would never be discovered at all, or that he would be found dead. It is certain that a Parisian Mountaineer, dispatched with another in pursuit of Paris, did not overtake him till he came to an inn in Normandy, where they said that he had blown out his brains. It is also certain, that the Mountain made a kind of saint of le Pelletier, who certainly little expected such an honour. A weak and rich man, he had only gone over to them through fear, like Heraut-de-Sechelles, and other ci-devant nobles of the same stamp; and was only of use to them by the manner of his death. Its effect was such as the right side had foreseen; and this is an additional reason for being satisfied that the fugitives are not the authors of that of Marat, even if it were not absurd to suppose, that resolution like Charlotte Corday’s could be assumed at any man’s bidding. Besides, considering the circumstances of the times, and their intention of coming to Paris, their having any share in the immolation of Marat, would have been a most dangerous act of folly. To this we may add, that men, abhorrent of blood, endeavouring to repress murder, pillage, and all other excesses, and bold enough to defy their adversaries to their faces, are not likely to have recourse to such means; while they are natural enough to a Danton, who drew up the lists of the September massacres at his own house, and who dispersed the eulogium of them under his own covers, and to his coadjutors, the members of the Committee of Vigilance, who were the directors of that bloody business.
It is necessary to study the sittings of the Jacobins in all these conjunctures, to see how the 10th of March was prepared, and to be acquainted with that day’s conspiracy, which first miscarried, and was afterwards resumed, to be able to set a just value upon the audacious charges which attribute our misfortunes to the sages about to be sacrificed.
It is truly curious to see how Amar, the reporter, confounds dates, things, and persons. He makes the war of la Vendée the work of the right side, of the pretended faction in which he includes Roland.—Now the troubles in la Vendée did not begin till two months after he had gone out of office; and certainly at that period the Brissotines were not the leaders of the Convention: it cannot then be their fault if efficacious measures were not taken to appease those disturbances. I will go further: I will venture to affirm, that with Roland’s activity, and his vigilant correspondence, the troubles in la Vendée would never have had time to get to any head: it was Garat’s want of energy that encouraged their growth. I know from his first clerk, that in the beginning that weak minister was strangely tardy in his proceedings. Champagneux presented to him his ideas concerning the rapid means it was proper to employ; but Garat, always uncertain how to act, adopted no plan, and suffered a spark to kindle a conflagration.
Amar pretends that the fugitives after their proscription, attempted to assemble in la Vendée. What was there then to prevent them, if so inclined? They would be in safety, instead of wandering about, forlorn adventurers. They are every moment in danger of losing their lives, which they might insure by going over to the English, whose agents they are said to have been.—What is it then that restrains them?
Abominable calumniators, worthy to be compared with the insensate wretches who condemned Socrates, with the jealous beings who ruined Phocion, with the intriguers who banished Aristides, and with the villains who murdered Dion, you say to the people: Here is liberty, and you violate it in the persons of their representatives; you pretend to give them a constitution, and you will not permit them to enjoy it; you proscribe, imprison, or bring to trial, two hundred members of the convention; and you say that they over-awed you, that they were a faction: what then are you? You who despise all rights, who set yourselves above all authority, who abuse every species of power, who govern by the sword, who preach up nothing but terror, and who have imposed upon groaning France the most execrable tyranny!—What did these men, whom you accuse of many crimes, without proving a single one, get in the honourable struggle they sustained with intrepidity against villany and blind delusion, in the midst of mortifications without number, and of dangers which they were aware of, which they predicted, which you collected over their heads, and with which you have overwhelmed them?—They made a trade of their opinions concerning the colonies.—Why the rich planters hated them: they did not pay them then; or if they did, where are their bills? Was it not they who got a decree passed to oblige every member to furnish an account of his fortune, and to assign the reasons of its increase since the revolution? You did not enforce its execution, and you have since pretended not to remember it, by lately passing another of the same purport, and of which the effect will be the same. You bring Perrin to trial: why then do you keep Sergent among you, and why do you not make Danton regorge his ill-gotten wealth? The day perhaps will come; for it is natural that you should destroy one another at last, and for that purpose make use of your own hands. But how happens it that the wives of the rich members you have proscribed are so pinched by poverty?
Gaudet’s wife, suckling a child born in these disastrous times, guarded since her husband’s departure by a gendarme, who makes a mockery of her tears, and watched by a barbarous porter, the president of the section, who will not suffer a parcel to be carried out, only subsists upon the produce of a few effects; watches, silver spoons, and linen, which she disposes of by stealth. The wife of Gensonné, dying of grief and of disease, depends upon the secret assistance of a few friends to provide for the support of two charming children. Brissot’s wife, confined at first in ready furnished lodgings, because her door was sealed up, was afterwards dragged to the Force; where she would be living still, as she did for five days, upon bread and water, and be lying upon straw, if a friendly hand had not afforded her some relief. The wives of Petion and Roland, fellow prisoners at Sainte Pelagie, are obliged to borrow, to pay the trifling expences to which they confine themselves. And you, Chabot, where did you get those sums, that you call the fortune of your bride. And you — but recrimination, however just, is unworthy of the cause of those celebrated men, who are now kept standing by tyranny at the bar of a sanguinary tribunal, the composition of which would make us laugh, if it did not inspire us with horror. And these men, not yet under sentence, are crowded into a single room of the prison, to the number of twenty-nine, with one bed for every five! O France! you suffer this treatment to be inflicted on, I will not say your children, but your fathers in liberty, and your champions, and yet you talk of a republic!
I have not courage enough to dwell upon the particulars of these abominable charges, after the public reading of which an advocate for the prisoners was heard to observe, that not one of the written documents on which they were founded had been communicated to him, as the law directs. On his request that the tribunal would take this matter into consideration, the president whispered for a moment to somebody on his right, and then answered in a faltering voice, that the immense number of these papers rendered their communication difficult; that besides a great many of them were sealed up at the houses of the accused; that they should be sent for, but that the trial in the mean time must go on.—Thus did they proceed to the drawing up of the charges upon the strength of papers that had never been seen, and which are supposed to be at the houses of the accused; and thus do they proceed to judgment without communicating those they pretend to have in their possession, under the pretext they are too numerous—and this is not an imposture!—Good heavens!—Never could I have believed these things if I had not been present. Called upon to attend as a witness at the trial, I was one of the auditory at the opening of the business: I imagined that it was their intention to take advantage of the truth I might have the courage to tell, to effect my ruin.—After the reading of the charges I withdrew, and waited for my turn to be called: it did not come; and I was carried back to my prison: this is the third day, and nobody as yet is come for me. I passed the hours of expectation on the first in the office of the clerk of the court, where I spoke with energy and freedom to all those who happened to be there. Have they reflected that this energy and freedom might have an effect upon the audience, that it is better to avoid it, to dispatch the deputies first, and then to send for me to finish my own affairs, without making me an interesting accessory at the trial of others?—I am afraid so.—I am desirous of deserving death, by bearing witness in their favour while they are alive, and I fear I shall lose the opportunity. I am upon thorns; I wait for the messenger as a distresled soul waits for its deliverer; and have only written the above observations to beguile my impatience.
[* ]Brissot’s Journal.
[* ]Department means here the directory of the department of Paris, which made some feeble attempts to check the presumption of the Commune. Trans.