Front Page Titles (by Subject) 132.: On the Trial of Louis XVI - Judgments on History and Historians
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132.: On the Trial of Louis XVI - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On the Trial of Louis XVI
[Based in part on Edgar Quinet’s La Révolution, I, 425 ff.] Like Charles I, Louis was engaged in the crime of laesa revolutio [treason against the Revolution]. And like Charles, Louis had also grown up with the idea of a different law according to which he was infallible and not accountable; this was the only law of which he was conscious. Therefore he was punished according to a law that was alien to him.
The trial was highly characteristic as a measure of the revolutionary quality of the parties. The Girondists proved that they were not the truest personification of the Revolution. Only the most violent could be this, at a time when audacity was identical with power.
When was it that Billaud-Varenne proposed taking the king across the border “under sufficient escort”? And would there still have been sufficient escort? At any rate, it would have had to take place long before December 26, 1792.
No dynasty has ever been overthrown through the execution of one king. The decapitated return,with the aid of vast sympathy, in the shape of their successors.
The monarch was beheaded by the Jacobins; but the monarchy slipped away from them, and the rest of Europe felt more revulsion than fear. The consequence was an endless, irreconcilable struggle, to wage which “on se redonna un maître” [they gave themselves another master].
A Louis XVI roaming about abroad would have been a hundred times less dangerous than the beheaded Louis with the martyrdom of his family. The perpetrators are supposed to have assumed that no versatilité [fickleness] need be feared among the people, that it had broken with royalty forever. (No, worthy Quinet, they did not imagine that.)
The Napoleonic Count Sieyès and the Duke of Otranto must be counted among the small majority which decided in favor of unconditional death.
Louis’ death was inevitable, because alive and in a French prison he could always have been used by a more moderate party or by reaction; his death really was part of the complete rule of the Jacobins.
If he said on the scaffold, “Je pardonne à mes ennemis” [I forgive my enemies], he was the last one to speak thus; later ones usually died avec les passions et les fureurs de la terre [with the passion and violence of this world].
The next consequence was war with England, Spain, and Holland. Finally there arose a new royalism and the longing for some master.
For the time being, to be sure, the alternative was victory or downfall. The enemies sharpened their methods with their hatred, and the French did likewise.
What would have happened if the plebiscite had pardoned Louis? He would probably have been murdered in the Temple. Those who dared the September massacres would have forced this murder through as well.
The spiritual survival of the monarchy is comparable to the sensation in an amputated limb.
The parties, which were now wrangling over power rather than principles, each gave themselves up to a special savage suspicion; each charges the other with monarchist ideas and conspiracy against the republic. And force and tyranny were indeed elements in all of them. No one seriously believed the republic to be established, and this drove them to frenzy and despair, so that all compassion ceased.