Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VI: Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the Means Employed in 1792 to Establish the Republic.
The French are but little disposed to civil war, and have no talent whatever for conspiracies. They are little disposed to civil war because, among them, the majority almost always draws the minority after it; the party that passes for the stronger soon becomes all-powerful, for everyone joins it. They have no talent for conspiracies for the same reasons which make them extremely fitted for revolutionary movements; they stand in need of mutual excitement by a communication of their ideas; the profound silence, the solitary resolution, necessary for a conspirator does not enter into their character. They might, perhaps, be more capable of this now that Italian features are blended with their natural disposition; but we see no example of a conspiracy in the history of France; Henri III and Henri IV were each assassinated by fanatics without accomplices. The Court, it is true, under Charles IX prepared in darkness the massacre of St. Bartholomew; but it was an Italian queen1 who communicated her artful and dissembling spirit to the instruments of which she made use. The means employed to accomplish the Revolution were not better than those generally used to form a conspiracy: in fact, to commit a crime in a public square or to contrive it in the closet is to be equally guilty, but there is the perfidy the less.
The Legislative Assembly overthrew the monarchy by means of sophistry. Its decrees perverted the good sense and depraved the morality of the nation. A kind of political hypocrisy, still more dangerous than hypocrisy in religion, was necessary to destroy the throne piecemeal while swearing to maintain it. Today the ministers were accused;2 tomorrow the King’s guard was disbanded;3 on another day rewards were granted to the soldiers of the regiment of Chateauvieux, who had mutinied against their officers;4 the massacres of Avignon found defenders in the heart of the Assembly;5 in short, whether the establishment of a republic in France appeared desirable or not, there could be but one opinion on the choice of the means employed to attain it; and the more one felt attached to liberty, the more did the conduct of the republican party excite indignation in the bottom of the soul.
That which, in a great political crisis, ought, above all things, to be considered is whether the Revolution desired is in harmony with the spirit of the time. By endeavoring to accomplish the reinstatement of ancient institutions; that is, by endeavoring to make the human mind retrograde, all the popular passions become inflamed. But if, on the other hand, it be attempted to found a republic in a country which the day before had all the defects and all the vices to which absolute monarchies must give birth, men are obliged to exercise oppression in order to acquire freedom, and to sully themselves with crimes in proclaiming that government whose basis is virtue. A sure method of never mistaking the wish of the majority of a nation is never to follow any other than a lawful course for the attainment even of those objects which are thought most useful. So long as we allow ourselves to do nothing immoral, we are sure of never violently thwarting the course of things.
The war afterward so brilliant to the French began with defeats. The soldiers at Lisle, after being routed, killed their commander, Theobald Dillon, whose fidelity they, most unjustly, suspected. These early checks had diffused a general spirit of mistrust. Accordingly the Legislative Assembly pursued the ministers with incessant denunciations, like restive horses who cannot be spurred forward. The first duty of a government, as well as of a nation, is doubtless to ensure its independence against the invasion of foreigners. But could so false a situation continue? And was it not better to open the gates of France to the King, when desirous of quitting the country, than to act in the spirit of chicane, from morning to night, with the royal power, or rather the royal weakness; and to treat the descendant of St. Louis, when captive on the throne, like a bird fastened to the top of a tree, and against which everyone in his turn aims a dart?
The Legislative Assembly, weary even of the patience of Louis XVI, determined to present to him two decrees to which his conscience and his safety would not allow him to give his sanction. By the first, they sentenced to deportation every priest who had refused the constitutional oath, if he were denounced by twenty active citizens, that is, citizens who paid taxes; and by the second, they called to Paris a legion of Marseillois whom they knew to be determined to act the part of conspirators against the Crown. But what a decree was that of which the priests were the victims! The fate of a citizen was surrendered to a denunciation which proceeded on his presumed opinions. What is there to be feared from despotism but such a decree as this? Instead of twenty active citizens, we have only to suppose courtiers, who are active also in their manner; and we shall have the history of all the lettres de cachet, of all the exiles, of all the imprisonments which people wish to prevent by the establishment of a free government.
A generous impulse of the soul determined the King to expose himself to every hazard rather than accede to the proscription of the priests. He might, by considering himself as a prisoner, give his sanction to this law and protest in private against it; but he could not consent to act in religion as in politics; and if as King he dissembled, as a martyr he was true.
As soon as the veto of the King became known,6 intelligence came from all quarters that a tumult was preparing in the suburbs of Paris. The people, having become despotic, were irritated by the slightest obstacle to their will. We saw on this occasion too the dreadful inconvenience of placing the royal authority against a single chamber. The conflict between these two powers has, in such a case, no arbiter, and the appeal is made to insurrection.
Twenty thousand men of the lowest rank, armed with pikes and lances, marched to the Tuileries7 without knowing why; they were ready to commit every crime, or could be persuaded to the noblest actions, according to the impulse of events, and of their leaders.
These twenty thousand men made their way into the palace; their faces bore marks of that coarseness, moral and physical, of which the disgusting effect is not to be supported by the greatest philanthropist. Had they been animated by any true feeling, had they come to complain against injustice, against the dearness of corn, against the increase of taxes, against compulsory service in the army, in short, against any suffering which power and wealth can inflict on poverty, the rags which they wore, their hands blackened by labor, the premature old age of the women, the brutishness of the children, would all have excited pity. But their frightful oaths mingled with cries, their threatening gestures, their deadly instruments, exhibited a frightful spectacle, and one calculated to alter forever the respect that ought to be felt for our fellow-creatures.
All Europe knows how Madame Elizabeth, the King’s sister, endeavored to prevent those around her from undeceiving the madmen who took her for the Queen, and threatened her under that name. The Queen herself ought to have been recognized by the ardor with which she pressed her children to her breast. The King on this day showed all the virtues of a saint. The time was past for saving himself like a hero; the dreadful signal of massacre, the red cap, was placed on his devoted head; but nothing could humiliate him, for all his life had been a continued sacrifice.
The Assembly, ashamed of its auxiliaries, sent several of the deputies to save the royal family, and Vergniaud, perhaps the most eloquent orator of those who have appeared at the French tribune, succeeded in dispersing the populace in a few moments.
General la Fayette, indignant at what was passing at Paris, left his army to appear at the bar of the Assembly and demand justice for the terrible day of 20th June, 1792.8 Had the Girondists at that time joined him and his friends, they might perhaps still have prevented the entrance of foreign troops and restored to the King that constitutional authority which was his due. But at the instant that M. de la Fayette closed his speech by the words which so well became him, “Such are the representations submitted to the Assembly by a citizen, whose love for liberty, at least, will not be disputed”; Guadet, the colleague of Vergniaud, stepped quickly to the tribune and made a dexterous use of the distrust that every representative assembly naturally feels toward a general who interferes in domestic affairs. However, when he revived the recollection of Cromwell dictating, in the name of his army, laws to the representatives of his country, the Assembly were perfectly aware that they had neither tyrant nor soldier before them, but a virtuous citizen who, although friendly to the republican form in theory, could not tolerate crime, under whatever banner it might pretend to range itself.
[1. ] Catherine de Médicis.
[2. ] The Girondists accused the minister of foreign affairs, de Lessart, whose arrest eventually led to the fall of the Feuillants in March 1792.
[3. ] On May 29, 1792.
[4. ] On April 9, 1792, the Legislative Assembly honored the Swiss soldiers from the Chateauvieux regiment. They revolted at Nancy in August 1790 and were subsequently arrested.
[5. ] The massacres occurred on October 16, 1791, when the “patriots” of Avignon, supporting annexation to France, massacred about sixty aristocrats who opposed this measure.
[6. ] The King twice vetoed such laws, in 1791 and 1792. This was, in fact, his second veto, which occurred after France had declared war on the European powers.
[7. ] On June 20, 1792.
[8. ] La Fayette came to Paris on June 28, 1792, and spoke in the Legislative Assembly against the rising influence of the Jacobins. In early August, Debry asked the Legislative Assembly to condemn La Fayette’s behavior. The first vote was in favor of acquittal (400 votes to 224). La Fayette was, however, indicted on August 18 and had to flee Paris on the night of August 19–20. For more information on La Fayette’s role, see P. Guéniffey’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 224–33; Gottschalk and Maddox, La Fayette in the French Revolution, vols. 1 and 2; and Taine, The French Revolution, vol. 2, 600–604.