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XIV: Dumouriez - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Lectures on the French Revolution, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, with a foreword by Steven J. Tonsor (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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As the war was more often a cause of political events than a consequence, it will be convenient to follow up the progress of military affairs to the fall of Dumouriez, postponing the catastrophe of monarchy to next week.
On the 17th of February 1792 Pitt informed the House of Commons that the situation of Europe had never afforded such assurance of continued peace. He did not yet recognise the peril that lay in the new French Constitution. Under that Constitution, no government could be deemed legitimate unless it aimed at liberty, and derived its powers from the national will. All else is usurpation; and against usurped authority, insurrection is a duty. The Rights of Man were meant for general application, and were no more specifically French than the multiplication table. They were not founded on national character and history, but on Reason, which is the same for all men. The Revolution was essentially universal and aggressive; and although these consequences of its original principle were assiduously repressed by the First Assembly, they were proclaimed by the Second, and roused the threatened Powers to intervene. Apart from this inflaming cause the motives of the international conflict were indecisive. The emperor urged the affair of Avignon, the injury to German potentates who had possessions in Alsace, the complicity of France in the Belgian troubles, and the need of European concert while the French denied the foundations of European polity.
Dumouriez offered to withdraw the French troops from the frontier, if Austria would send no more reinforcements, but at that moment the queen sent word of an intended attack on Liége. The offer seemed perfidious, and envenomed the quarrel. Marie Antoinette despatched Goguelat, the man who was not at his post on the flight to Varennes, to implore intervention. She also gave Mercy her notions as to an Austrian manifesto; and in this letter, dated April 30, there is no sign of alarm, and no suggestion yet that France might be cowed by the use of exorbitant menaces. Dumouriez, who desired war with Austria, endeavoured to detach Prussia from the alliance. He invited the king to arbitrate in the Alsatian dispute, and promised deference to his award. He proposed that the prerogative should be enlarged, the princes indemnified, the émigrés permitted to return. Frederic William was unmoved by these advances. He relied on the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine to compensate both allies, and he expected to succeed, because his army was the most illustrious of all armies in Europe. He wished to restore the émigrés, who would support him against Austria, and the émigrés looked to him to set up the order of society that had fallen. “Better to lose a province,” they said, “than to live under a constitution.”
The allied army was commanded by the Duke of Brunswick, the most admired and popular prince of his time. His own celebrity disabled him. Many years ago Marshall Macmahon said to an officer, since in high command at Berlin, that an army is best when it is composed of soldiers who have never smelt gunpowder, of experienced non-commissioned officers, and of generals with their reputation to make. Brunswick had made his reputation under the great king, and he feared to compromise it. Want of enterprise made him unfit for his position, although nobody doubted his capacity. In France, they thought of him for the command of their armies, and even for a still higher post. In spite of the disasters I am about to describe, the Prussians believed in him, and he was again their leader when they met Napoleon. The army which he led across the Rhine fell short of the stipulated number by 35,000 men. Francis, the new emperor, did not fulfil his engagements, and entered on the expedition with divided counsels.
Kaunitz, who was eighty-two years of age, and knew the affairs of Europe better than any other man, condemned the policy of his new master. He represented that they did not know what they were going to fight for; that Lewis had never explained what changes in the Constitution would satisfy him; that nothing could be expected from disaffection, and nothing could be done for a system which was extinct. On August 2 he resigned office, and made way for men who speculated on the dismemberment of France, and expected to see a shrunken monarchy in the north and a confederate republic in the south.
The entire force brought together for the invasion amounted to about 80,000 men, of which half were Prussians. When they were assembled on the Rhine, it became necessary to explain to the French people why they were coming, and what they meant to do. Headquarters were at Frankfort, when a confidential emissary from Lewis XVI., Mallet du Pan, appeared on the scene. Mallet du Pan was neither a brilliant writer like Burke and De Maistre and Gentz, nor an original and constructive thinker like Sieyès; but he was the most sagacious of all the politicians who watched the course of the Revolution. As a Genevese republican he approached the study of French affairs with no prejudice towards monarchy, aristocracy, or Catholicism. A Liberal at first, like Mounier and Malouet, he became as hostile as they; and his testimony, which had been enlightened and wise, became morose and monotonous when his cause was lost, until the Austrian statesmen with whom he corresponded grew tired of his narrowing ideas. He settled in England, and there he died. As he was not a man likely to propose a foolish thing, he was heard with attention. He proposed that the allies should declare that they were warring on Jacobinism, not on liberty, and would make no terms until the king regained his rightful power. If he was injured, they would inflict a terrible vengeance.
Whilst Mallet’s text was being manipulated by European diplomacy at Frankfort, Marie Antoinette, acting through Fersen, disturbed their counsels. The queen understood how to control her pen, and to repress the language of emotion. But after June 20 she could not doubt that another and a more violent outrage was preparing, and that the republicans aimed at the death of the king. The terms in which she uttered her belief outweighed the advice of the sober Genevese. “Save us,” she wrote, “if it is yet time. But there is not a moment to lose.” And she required a declaration of intention so terrific that it would crush the audacity of Paris. Montmorin and Mercy were convinced that she was right. Malouet alone among royalist politicians expected that the measure she proposed would do more harm than good. Fersen, to whom her supplications were addressed, employed an émigré named Limon to draw up a manifesto equal to the occasion, and Limon, bearing credentials from Mercy, submitted his composition to the allied sovereigns. He announced that the Republicans would be exterminated, and Paris destroyed. Already Burke had written: “If ever a foreign prince enters into France, he must enter it as into a country of assassins. The mode of civilised war will not be practised; nor are the French, who act on the present system, entitled to expect it.” Mallet du Pan himself had declared that there ought to be no pernicious mercy, and that humanity would be a crime. In reality, the difference between his tone and the fanatic who superseded him was not a wide one.
The manifesto, which proceeded from the queen, which had the sanction of Fersen, of Mercy, of Bouillé, was accepted at once by the emperor. The Prussians introduced some alterations, and Brunswick signed it on July 25. His mind misgave him at the time, and he regretted afterwards that he had not died before he set his hand to it. Mercy, when it was too late, wished to put another declaration in its place. The Prussian ministers would not suffer the text to be published at Berlin. They allowed the author to fall into poverty and obscurity. He had acted in the spirit of the émigrés.
On July 27 the Princes issued a declaration of their own, to the effect that not Paris only should suffer the extremity of martial law, but every town to which the king might be taken if he was removed from the capital. Breteuil, although he complained that the invaders exhibited an intolerable clemency, disapproved the second proclamation. But Limon demanded the destruction of Varennes, and the émigrés expected that severities should be inflicted on the population as they went along. The idea of employing menaces so awful as to inspire terror at a distance of 300 miles was fatal to those who suggested it; but the danger was immediate, and the consequences of inaction were certain, for the destined assailants of the Tuileries were on the march from Toulon and Brest. It was not so certain that the king would be unable to defend himself. The manifesto was a desperate resource in a losing cause, and it is not clear that wiser and more moderate words would have done better. The text was not published at Paris until August 3. The allies were too far away for their threats to be treated seriously, and they are not answerable for consequences which were already prepared and expected. But their manifesto strengthened the hands of Danton, assured the triumph of the violent sections, and suggested the use to which terror may be put in revolutions. It contributed to the fall of the monarchy, and still more to the slaughter of the royalists three weeks later. The weapon forged by men unable to employ it was adopted by their enemies, and served the cause it was intended to destroy.
The Declaration united the French people against its authors. The Republicans whom it threatened and denounced became the appointed leaders of the national defence, and the cause of the Republic became identified with the safety of the nation. In order to withstand the invasion, and to preserve Paris from the fate of Jerusalem, the army gave itself to the dominant faction. The royalist element vanished from its ranks. Lafayette made one last attempt to uphold the Constitution, but his men repulsed him. He went over to imperial territory, and was detained in prison as the guilty author of the Revolution. Dumouriez succeeded to his command, and adhered to the new government. Out of 9000 officers in the king’s service, 6000 had resigned, and, for the most part, had emigrated. Their places were filled by new men. In 1791, 100,000 volunteers had been enrolled, and enjoyed the privilege of electing their own officers. This became the popular force, and recruits preferred it to the line, where discipline was sterner and elected commanders were unknown. The men who now rose from the ranks proved better professional soldiers than the fine gentlemen whom they replaced. Talent could not fail to make its way. Those volunteer officers of 1791 and 1792 included most of the men whom the long war raised to eminence. Seventeen of the twenty-six marshals of Napoleon were among them.
On the 19th of August, four months after war had been declared, the allies entered France by the line of the Moselle. There was one French army to their left at Metz, and another to their right along Vauban’s chain of fortresses, with an undefended interval between. To widen the gap they laid siege to Longwy, the nearest fortified place, and took it, after a feeble resistance, on August 24. When the news spread there was a moment of alarm, and the Council of Defence proposed to retire from the capital. Danton declared that he would burn Paris to the ground rather than abandon it to the enemy. Lavergne, who made so poor a defence at Longwy, was afterwards condemned to death. He was disheartened by disaster, but his wife cried out that she would perish with him, and the judges granted her prayer. She strove to give him comfort and courage along the way, and they were guillotined together.
From Longwy the Prussians advanced upon Verdun, which surrendered September 2, after one day’s bombardment, and there was not a rampart between them and the capital. A few miles beyond Verdun the roads to the west traversed the Argonne, a low wooded range of hills pierced in five places by narrow defiles, easy to defend. Then came the open country of Champagne, and the valley of the Marne, leading, without a natural or artificial obstacle, to Paris.
On the 7th of September Pitt wrote that he expected Brunswick soon to reach his goal. There was no enemy in his front, while on his flank Dumouriez clung to his frontier strongholds, persuaded that he would arrest the invasion if he threatened the Austrians at Brussels, where they were weakened by recent insurrection and civil war. The French government rejected his audacious project, and ordered him to move on Châlons, and cover the heart of France. At Sedan, Dumouriez could hear heavy firing at a distance, and knew that Verdun was attacked, and could not hold out. He quickly changed his plan, postponing Belgium, but not for long, and fell back on the passes of the forest that he was about to make so famous. “They are the Thermopylae of France,” he said, “but I mean to do better than Leonidas.”
Brunswick, delaying his cumbrous march for ten days, while Breteuil organised a new administration at Verdun, gave time for the French to strengthen their position. Before moving forward, he pointed out on the map the place where he intended to halt on the 16th, and men heard for the first time the historic name, Valmy. On the 14th Clerfayt, with the Austrians, forced one of the passes, and turned the French left. At nightfall, Dumouriez evacuated his Thermopylae more expeditiously than became a rival Leonidas, and established himself across the great road to Châlons, opposite the southern defile of the Argonne, which extends between Clermont and St. Ménehould, where Drouet rode in pursuit of the king. His infantry encountered Prussian troopers and ran away. Ten thousand men, he wrote, were put to flight by fifteen hundred hussars.
Napoleon said, at St. Helena, that he believed himself to be bolder than any general that ever lived, but he would never have dared to hold the position that Dumouriez took up. He was outnumbered, three to one. He had been outmanoeuvred, and driven from his fastness by the most enterprising of the allied generals; and his recruits refused to face the enemy. He never for a moment lost confidence in himself, for the time wasted at Verdun had given him the measure of his opponents. He summoned Kellermann, with the army of Metz, and Beurnonville, with 10,000 men, from Lille, and they arrived, just in time, on the 19th. Beurnonville, when his telescope showed him a regular army in order of battle, took alarm and fell back, thinking it must be Brunswick. It proved to be Dumouriez; and on the morning of September 20 he was at the head of 53,000 men, with the allies gathering in his front. The Prussians had come through the woods by the pass he had abandoned, and as they turned to face him, they stood with their backs to the great Catalaunian plain, which was traversed by the high road to Paris. They had been for a month in France, and had met with no resistance. Lafayette had deserted. The military breakdown was so apparent that the colonel of infantry, as he marched out of Longwy, threw himself into the river, and the governor of Verdun blew out his brains.
Clerfayt’s success on the 14th and the rout of the following day raised the hopes of the Germans, and they wrote on the 19th that they were turning the enemy, and were sure of destroying him, if he was rash enough to wait their attack. From his prison at Luxemburg Lafayette urged them onward, and hinted that Dumouriez might be induced to unite with them for the rescue of the king.
Therefore, on the morning of September 20, when the mist rose over the French army drawn up on the low hills before them, there was joy in the Prussian camp, and the battalions that had been trained at Potsdam, under the eye of the great king, to the admiration of Europe, received for the first time the republican fire. They were 34,000. Kellermann opposed them with 36,000 men, and 40 guns against 58. It soon appeared that things were not going as the invaders had expected. The French soldiers were not frightened by the cannonade. Beurnonville rode up to one of his regiments and told them to lie down, to make way for shot. They refused to obey whilst he exposed himself on horseback. After time had been allowed for artillery to produce its effect on republican nerve, the Prussian infantry made ready to attack. Gouvion St. Cyr, the only general of his time whom Napoleon acknowledged as his equal, believed that the French would not have stood at close quarters. But the word to advance was never given.
The secret of war, said Wellington, is to find out what is going on on the other side of the hill. When Brunswick rode over the field some days later, a staff officer asked him why he had not moved forward. He answered, “Because I did not know what was behind the hill.” There was Dumouriez’s reserve of 16,000 men. He had sent to the front as many as were needed to fill Kellermann’s line, and left to his colleague the part for which he was fitted. For his conduct that day Kellermann was named a marshal of the Empire and duke of Valmy; but the whole world was aware that the event was due to the brain of the man in the background. When the French had lost 300 men without wavering, the Prussians ceased firing, and broke off the engagement. Their loss was only 184. Yet this third-rate and mediocre action is counted, with Waterloo and Gettysburg, among the decisive battles of history; and Goethe was not the only man there who knew that the scene before him was the beginning of a new epoch for mankind. With 36,000 men and 40 guns the French had arrested the advance of Europe, not by skilful tactics or the touch of steel, but by the moral effect of their solidity when they met the best of existing armies. The nation discovered that the Continent was at its mercy, and the war begun for the salvation of monarchy became a war for the expansion of the Republic. It was founded at Paris, and consolidated at Valmy. Yet no military event was less decisive. The French stood their ground because nobody attacked them, and they were not attacked because they stood their ground. The Prussians suffered a strategic, though not a tactical defeat. By retiring to their encampment they renounced the purposes for which they went to war, the province they occupied, and the prestige of Frederic. They no longer possessed the advantage of numbers, and without superior numbers there could be no dash for Paris.
The object of the invasion was unattainable by force, but something might be got by negotiation, if it was undertaken before force had definitely failed. They were losing heavily, by disease and want, while French recruits were pouring in. Therefore Dumouriez wished for time. The king’s secretary had been captured, and he sent him with overtures, representing that the intended advance upon Paris was hopeless, and that Prussia had more interests in common with France than with Austria. Frederic William at once surrendered the original demands. He made no stipulations now regarding the future government of France or the treatment of the émigrés. He only demanded that Lewis should be restored, in such manner as might seem good to France, and that the propaganda of revolution should be put an end to. That propaganda was one of the weapons by which the French checked and embarrassed the champions of European absolutism, and it was obvious that it would receive encouragement from their success at Valmy. And it was a point of honour to speak for the imprisoned monarch. But it had become a vain thing. Dumouriez produced a newspaper with the decree of the new Assembly abolishing monarchy. It was hard to say what the allies were now doing on French soil. “Only do something for the king,” said Brunswick, “and we will go.” The Austrians would be satisfied if he was only a stadtholder. Kellermann promised that peace might be obtained if he was sent back to the Tuileries. It was all too late. The Prince, in whose behalf the allies invaded France, was now a hostage in the power of their enemies; all that they could obtain was a pledge not to carry the revolution into foreign countries. Their position grew more dangerous every day, and Dumouriez grew stronger.
At the end of September Frederic William abandoned Lewis to his fate. He had contributed to his dethronement by entering France, and he contributed to his execution by leaving it. He did not feel that he had deserved so prodigious a humiliation. If the Austrians had joined as they promised with 100,000 men, the march upon the capital would have been conceivable with energetic commanders. And the king could justly say that he had favoured spirited schemes, and had been baffled by the faltering commander-in-chief. He attempted, by throwing out hints of neutrality, to escape without further loss. Dumouriez calculated that every attack would weld the allies more closely together, and refrained from molesting them. Early in October they evacuated the conquered province, and retreated to the Rhine, pursued by a few random shots, while Dumouriez hastened to Paris, to be hailed as the saviour of his country.
The invasion of 1792 roused a crouching lion; and the French, after their easy and victorious defence, went over to the attack. Whilst the invaders were standing still, too weak to advance and too proud to withdraw, the conquest of Europe began. The king of Sardinia, as the father-in-law of the Comte d’Artois, had thrown himself into the counter-revolutionary policy, and the scheme for attacking Lyons. Of all European monarchs, since the murder of Gustavus, he was the most hostile. An army under Montesquieu occupied Savoy and Nice without resistance, and the people readily adopted the new system. A week later Custine seized the left bank of the Rhine, where diminutive secular and ecclesiastical territories, without cohesion, were an easy prey. The Declaration of Rights, said Gouverneur Morris, proved quite as effectual as the trumpets of Joshua. Mentz fell, October 21, and Custine occupied Frankfort and replenished his military chest. This excursion into the middle of the Empire was not authorised by State policy. The idea was already taking shape that the safety of France required the defensible and historic, or, as they unscientifically called it, the natural frontier of the Rhine, and that the grand conflict with Austria should be transferred to Italy. Germany was a nation of armed men, and was best let alone. In Italy, the Austrians would have only their own resources for war. Their most vulnerable point was the outlying principality of Belgium, so distant from Vienna and so near to Paris.
Dumouriez was now at liberty to deliver the stroke by which he had hoped to stop the invasion, as Scipio drove Hannibal from Italy by landing in Africa. By carrying the war in that direction he would occupy the Imperialists, and would not excite the resentment of Prussia. The country had not long been pacified, and it presented the unusual feature that Conservatives and Liberals alike were patriotic and rebellious. As a place where disaffection would assist war, it was there that the process of European revolution would properly begin. On October 19 Dumouriez assumed the command of 70,000 men, in the region he had held before his flank march to the Argonne. One of his lieutenants was the Peruvian adventurer Miranda, whose mission it was to apply the movement in Europe to the rescue of Spanish America. The other was known as Prince Egalité, senior, whose wonderful future was already foreseen both by Dumouriez and Danton.
During the operations in Champagne the Austrians had begun the siege of Lille, and at the turning of the tide they withdrew across the frontier and took up a strong position at Jemmapes, in front of Mons, with 13,000 men. Clerfayt, again, was at their head; and when, on November 6, he saw the French army approaching, nearly 40,000 strong, like Nelson in the hour of death he appeared in all his stars and gold lace, that his men, seeing him, might take heart. He was defeated, and the next evening, at the theatre of Mons, Dumouriez was acclaimed by the Flemish patriots. A week later he was at Brussels, and before the end of the month he was master of Belgium. Holland was undefended, and he proposed to conquer it; but Antwerp was already in the power of the French, and his government feared that England would come to the defence of the Dutch. They directed him to march upon Cologne and complete the conquest of the Rhine.
By a decree of November 19 the Convention proffered sympathy and succour to every people that struck a blow for freedom; but the cloven hoof of annexation soon appeared, and it was avowed that the war would be carried on, that the financial needs of France might be supplied, at the expense of the populations which the French arms delivered. These things offended the political, if not the moral sense of Dumouriez. He became alienated from the Convention; and as England went to war on the death of the king, there was no consideration of policy protecting Holland. The invasion was undertaken, and immediately failed. The Austrians, under the duke of Coburg, who on that day founded the great fortunes of his house, came back in force, and gave battle at Neerwinden, close to the fields of Landen and of Ramillies. Here, March 18, Clerfayt crushed Dumouriez’s left wing, and recovered the Belgic provinces as suddenly as he had lost them four months earlier.
Dumouriez had already resolved to treat with the Imperialists for common action against the Regicides. Five days after his defeat he informed Coburg that, with his support, he would lead his army against Paris, disperse the Convention, and establish a constitutional monarchy without the émigrés. He promised that the better part of his force would follow him. The volunteers were Jacobinical; but the regulars were jealous of the volunteers, and would obey their general. As he felt his way, hostile officers watched him, and reported what was going on in the camp of the new Wallenstein. Twice the Jacobins attempted to avert the peril. They invited Dumouriez to Paris, that he might place himself at their head and overpower the Girondin majority, and they employed men to assassinate him. At last they sent the minister of war, accompanied by four deputies, to arrest him. There was to have been a fifth, but he did not arrive in time, and his absence saved France. For Dumouriez seized the envoys of the Convention, and handed them over to Coburg, to be hostages for the life of the queen. The deputy who failed to appear was Carnot. After that, Dumouriez was deserted by his men, and fled to the Austrian camp. He survived for thirty years. He became one of the shrewdest observers of Napoleon’s career, and was the confidential correspondent of Wellington on the art they understood so well. The future “king of the French,” who went over with him, remained true to his chief during the strange vicissitudes of their lives; and at the Restoration he asked that he should be made a marshal. “How could you think,” was the proud comment of Dumouriez, “that they have forgotten the Argonne?”
On the 20th of June in the following year Louis Philippe drove into town from Twickenham to learn the news from the Low Countries. His sons still know the spot where he found his old commander gesticulating on the pavement at Hammersmith, and learned from him how the great war, which began with their victory at Valmy, had ended under Napoleon at Waterloo.