Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVII: The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists and La Vendée. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XVII: The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists and La Vendée. - 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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The French Army During the Reign of Terror; the Federalists and La Vendée.
The conduct of the French army during the period of terror was truly patriotic. No generals were seen violating their oath to the state; they repulsed foreigners while they were themselves threatened with death upon the scaffold, at the slightest suspicion that might be excited against their conduct. The soldiers belonged not to any particular chief, but to France. France no longer existed but in the armies; there, however, at least, she was still beautiful: and her triumphant banners served, if we may so say, as a veil to the crimes committed in the interior. Foreigners were compelled to respect the rampart of iron which was opposed to their invasion; and, although they advanced within thirty leagues of Paris, a national feeling, still in full strength, did not permit them to arrive there. The same enthusiasm displayed itself in the navy. The crew of a man of war, Le Vengeur, struck by the English,1 repeated, as with one voice, the cry of Vive la république while they were sinking in the ocean; and the songs of a funereal joy seemed still to re-echo from the bottom of the deep.
The French army was then unacquainted with pillage, and its chiefs sometimes marched like private soldiers at the head of their troops because they did not have money to purchase the horses which they needed. Dugommier,2 commander in chief of the army of the Pyrénées, at the age of sixty, set out from Paris on foot to rejoin his troops on the frontiers of Spain. The men, on whom military glory has since conferred so much renown, distinguished themselves also by their disinterestedness. They wore, without blushing, uniforms which had become threadbare in the service, a hundred times more honorable than the embroidery and decorations of every kind with which, at a later period, we have seen them bedizened.
Honest republicans, mingled with royalists, courageously resisted the Conventional Government at Toulon, at Lyons, and in some other departments. This party was known by the name of Federalists; but I do not believe that the Girondists, or their partisans, ever conceived the project of establishing a federative government in France. Nothing would be less suitable to the character of the nation, which loves splendor and bustle; for both of these require a city, which may be the focus of the talents and the riches of the empire. We may with reason complain of the corruption of a capital, and of all great assemblages of men in general; such is the condition of mankind: but in France we could scarcely bring back men’s minds to virtue, but by the diffusion of knowledge and the need to obtain the votes of the public. The love of consideration or glory, in its different degrees, is the only thing that is able to raise us gradually from egoism to conscientiousness. Besides, the political and military state of the great monarchies which surround France would endanger her independence if the strength of her union were weakened. The Girondists never thought of any such plan; but, as they had many adherents in the provinces, where, by the simple effect of a national representation, political knowledge was beginning to be acquired, it was in the provinces that opposition to the factious tyrants of Paris displayed itself.
It was about this time, also, that the war of LaVendée3 began, and nothing does more honor to the royalist party than the attempts at civil war which were then made. The people of these departments were able to resist the Convention and its successors for nearly six years, being headed by some gentlemen who drew their principal resources from their own minds. The republicans, as well as the royalists, felt a profound respect for these warrior citizens. Lescure, La Roche Jacquelin, Charette,4 etc., whatever their opinions might be, fulfilled a duty to which all the French at that time might have thought themselves equally bound. The country which was the theater of the Vendean war was intersected by hedges intended to enclose the different estates. These peaceful hedges served for bulwarks to the peasants become soldiers, who sustained one by one the most dangerous and most daring struggle. The inhabitants of these parts of the country had much veneration for the priests, whose influence at that time did good. But in a state where liberty has long subsisted, the public mind would not need to be excited except by public institutions. The Vendeans, it is true, demanded in their distress some succours from England; but it was only auxiliaries, not masters, whom they accepted; for their own forces were much superior to those which they borrowed from abroad. They did not therefore compromise the independence of their country. Accordingly the chiefs of la Vendée were held in consideration even by the opposite party, and they expressed themselves upon the Revolution with more moderation than the emigrants beyond the Rhine. The Vendeans having fought, so to say, man to man with the French, were not easily persuaded that their adversaries were but a handful of rebels, whom a single battalion could have brought back to their duty; and as they themselves had recourse to the power of opinions, they knew what they were, and acknowledged the necessity of compromising with them.
One problem remains still to be solved: it is, How was it possible for the government of 1793 and 1794 to triumph over so many enemies? The coalition of Austria, Prussia, Spain, and England, the civil war in the interior, the hatred with which the Convention inspired every man of consideration that remained out of prison—none of these circumstances diminished the resistance, against which foreigners saw their efforts crushed to nothing. This prodigy can be explained only by the devotion of the nation to its own cause. A million men took arms to repel the forces of the coalition; the people were animated with a frenzy, as fatal in the interior as invincible without. Besides, the factitious but inexhaustible abundance of paper money, the low price of provisions, the degradation of the landholders, who were reduced to doom themselves eternally to misery, all tended to make the working classes believe that the yoke of inequality of fortune was at last on the point of ceasing to oppress them; this extravagant hope doubled the force which nature gave them: and social order, the secret of which consists in the endurance of the many, appeared suddenly threatened. But the military spirit, which then had no other end than the defense of the country, gave tranquillity to France by covering her with its shield. This spirit followed the same noble direction till the moment when, as we shall see later, one man turned against liberty herself the very legions that had sprung from the earth to defend her.
[1. ] The incident occurred not far from Brest on June 1, 1794, and was reported by Barère in the Convention.
[2. ] Dugommier (1738–94), a French marshal who served in Guadeloupe and the Pyrénées.
[3. ] The revolt began on March 10, 1793, as a refusal to submit to conscription and ended nine months later. On the Vendée rebellion, see Furet’s entry in A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 165–76; and Tilly, The Vendée.
[4. ] Louis-Marie de Salgues, Marquis de Lescure (1766–93), La Rochejacquelin (1772–94), and François de Charette de la Contrie (1763–96), fought on the Vendeans’ side.