History is consummated in them; the future is in their hands; they believe themselves gods on earth. In this critical state, their reason, like a pair of ill-balanced scales, yields to the slightest touch; under the pressure of the manufacturers of enthusiasm, a sudden reaction will carry them away. They consider the Constitution as a panacea, and they are going to consign it, like some dangerous drug, to this coffer which they call an ark.
They have just proclaimed the liberty of the people, and are going to perpetuate the dictatorship of the Convention. This summerset must, of course, seem spontaneous and the hand of the titular rulers remain invisible: the Convention, as usual with usurpers, is to simulate reserve and disinterestedness. They are at once understood by the leaders, great and small, also by the selected fifteen hundred Jacobins then filling the hall.
And better still, they are going to mark out its course of action. The scheme is successful; a semblance of popular will has authorised the staff of officials, the policy, the principles and the very name of Terror. As to the tools employed, they are fit only to be sent back to the places they came from. Through the outrages committed in May and June, the Convention had lost its legitimacy; through the manoeuvres of July and August it recovered the semblance of it. The Montagnards still hold their slave by his leash, but they have restored his prestige so as to make the most of him to their own profit.
With the same blow, and wearing the same mask, they have disarmed their adversaries. Rulers and citizens, all declared that, the Convention not being free, its decrees after the 31st of May, no longer had the force of law; that the troops of the departments should march on Paris to deliver that city from its oppressors, and that their substitutes should be called out and assemble at Bourges.
In many places words were converted into acts. Already before the end of May, Marseilles and Lyons had taken up arms and checkmated their local Jacobins. At Marseilles, Bordeaux and Caen the representatives on mission, arrested or under Edition: current; Page: [ ] guard, were retained as hostages.
Through the sudden manufacture of an ultrademocratic constitution, through a convocation of the primary assemblies, and a ratification of its work by the people in these assemblies, through the summoning of delegates to Paris, through the assent of these converted, fascinated, or constrained delegates, it exonerates and justifies itself, and thus deprives the Girondists of the grievances to which they had given currency, of the axioms they had displayed on their standards, and of the popularity they thought they had acquired.
And in the first place, in the departments, as at Paris, 54 the party is without roots. For the past three years, all the sensible and orderly people occupied with their own affairs, who are not politicians, nine-tenths of the electors, either through taste or interest, stay away from the polls, and in this large mass the Girondists have no adherents. But the majority goes no further, and soon falls back into its accustomed inertia. It is not in harmony with its leaders: 57 its latent preferences are opposed to their avowed programme; it does not wholly trust them; it has only a half-way affection for them; its recent sympathies are deadened by old animosities: everywhere, instead of firmness there is only caprice.
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All this affords no assurance of steadfast loyalty and practical adhesion. Elected judges, or department, district, and city administrators, commanders and officers of the National Guard, presidents and secretaries of sections, Edition: current; Page: [ ] they occupy most of the places conferred by local authority, and hence their almost unanimous protest seems at first to be the voice of all France. In reality, it is only the despairing cry of a group of staff-officers without an army.
Chosen under the electoral pressure with which we are familiar, they possess rank, office and titles, but no credit or influence; they are supported only by those whom they really represent, that is to say, those who elected them, a tenth of the population, and forming a sectarian minority. Again, in this minority there are a good many who are lukewarm; with most men the distance is great between conviction and action; the interval is filled up with acquired habits, indolence, fear and egoism.
Uncertainties beset one at the outset; the road one has to follow is found to be perilous and obscure, and one hesitates and postpones; one feels himself a home-body and is afraid of engaging too deeply and of going too far. At Caen, Wimpfen, having ordered the eight battalions of the National Guard to assemble in the court, demands volunteers Edition: current; Page: [ ] and finds that only seventeen step forth; on the following day a formal requisition brings out only one hundred and thirty combatants; other towns, except Vire, which furnishes about twenty, refuse their contingent.
In short, a marching army cannot be formed, or, if it does march, it halts at the first station, that of Evreux before reaching Vernon, and that of Marseilles at the walls of Avignon. On the other hand, by virtue of being sincere and logical, those who have rebelled entertain scruples and themselves define the limits of their insurrection. Lodged as they are in official quarters, they are merely to print formal statements, write letters, and, behaving properly, wait until the sovereign people, their employer, reinstates them.
It has been outraged in their persons; it must avenge itself for this outrage; since it approves of its mandatories, it is bound to restore them to office; it being the master of the house, it is bound to have its own way in the house. As to the department committees, it is true that, in the heat of the first excitement, they thought of forming a new Convention at Bourges, either through a muster of substitute deputies, or through the convocation of a national commission of one hundred and seventy members.
What is worse, through conscientiousness and patriotism, they prepare their own defeat: they refrain from calling upon the armies and from stripping the frontiers; they do not contest the right of the Convention to provide as it pleases for the national defence. Lyons allows the passage of convoys of cannon-balls which are to be subsequently used in cannonading its defenders. The insurgents are thus conscious of their false position; they have a vague sort of feeling that, in recognising the military authority of the Convention, they admit its authority in full; insensibly they glide down this slope, from concession to concession, until they reach complete submission.
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Henceforth, the Girondist cause is lost; the discharge of a few cannon at Vernon and Avignon disperse the only two columns of soldiery that have set out on their march. In each department, the Jacobins, encouraged by the representatives on mission, raise their heads; everywhere the local club enjoins the local government to submit, 65 everywhere the local governments report the acts they pass, make excuses and ask forgiveness.
Proportionately to the retractation of one department, the rest, feeling themselves abandoned, are more disposed to retract. On the 9th of July forty-nine departments are enumerated as having given in their adhesion. Several of them Edition: current; Page: [ ] declare that the scales have dropped from their eyes, that they approve of the acts of May 31 and June 2, and thus ensure their safety by manifesting their zeal.
To avoid isolation, to rejoin the most numerous herd as soon as possible, to always form masses and bodies and thus follow the impulsion which comes from above, and gather together scattered individuals, such is the instinct of the flock. Nevertheless, efforts are made to stop them, sometimes to surround them and take them by surprise; for, a warrant of arrest is out against them, transmitted through the hierarchical channel, and every local magistrate feels bound to do his duty as gendarme.
Under this administrative network, the meshes of which they encounter everywhere, the proscribed deputies can do naught else but hide in caves or escape by sea. On reaching Bordeaux, they find other sheep getting ready and preparing their companions for the slaughter-house. Inevitably, when anarchy brings a nation back to the state of nature, the tame animals will be eaten by the savage ones—these are now let loose and immediately they show their natural disposition.
But neither Bordeaux, Marseilles nor Lyons are royalist, or in alliance with the foreigner. We, royalists! They tell you that our streets are filled with refractory priests, when we have not even opened the doors of Pierre-en-Cize prison to thirty-two priests confined there by the old municipality, without indictment, without any charge whatever against them, solely because they were priests.
On the 2nd of August at Bordeaux, and the 30th of July at Lyons, the Committee-Extraordinary of Public Safety resigned; there no longer existed any rival assembly opposed to the Convention. After the 24th of July, 72 Lyons solemnly recognised the supreme and central authority, reserving nothing but its municipal franchises.
Better still, in striking testimony of political orthodoxy, the Council-General of the department prescribed a civic festival for the 10th of August analogous to that of Paris; already blockaded, the Lyonnese indulged in no hostile manifestation; on the 7th of August, they marched out of their advanced positions to fraternise with the first body of troops sent against them. On the contrary, should the Paris faction persist in imposing on them the domination of its Maratists there was a risk of their being thrown into the arms of the enemy.
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Rather than fall back into the hands of the bandits who had ransomed and decimated them, Toulon, starved out, was about to receive the English within its walls and surrender to them the great arsenal of the South. Not less famished, Bordeaux might be tempted to demand aid from another English fleet; a few marches would bring the Piedmontese army to Lyons; France would then be cut in two, while the plan of stirring up the South against the North was proposed to the allies by the most clear-sighted of their councillors.
In any event, there was danger in driving the insurgents to despair: for, between the unbridled dictatorship of their victorious assassins and the musketry of the besieging army, there could be no hesitation by men of any feeling; it was better to be beaten on the ramparts than allow themselves to be bound for the guillotine; brought to a stand under the scaffold, their sole resource was to depend on themselves to the last.
But this is precisely the Jacobin aim; for, he is not satisfied with less than absolute submission; he must rule at any cost, just as he pleases, no matter how, no matter over what ruins. A despot by instinct and installation, his dogma has consecrated him King; he is King by natural and divine right, in the name of eternal verity, the same as Philip II.
Hence he can abandon no jot or tittle of his authority without a sacrifice of principle, nor treat with rebels, unless they surrender at discretion; simply for having risen against legitimate authority, they are traitors and malefactors. And who are greater malefactors than the backsliders who, after three years of patient effort, just as the sect finally reaches its goal, oppose its accession to power! Accordingly, it must proclaim them heroes and martyrs, it must canonise their memory, 81 it must avenge their tortures, it must resume and complete their assaults, it must restore their accomplices to their places, it must render them omnipotent, it must fetch each rebel city under the yoke of its populace and malefactors.
It matters little whether the Jacobins be a minority, whether at Bordeaux, they have but four out of twenty-eight sections on their side, at Marseilles five out of thirty-two, whether at Lyons they can count up only fifteen hundred devoted adherents. In effect, whether brought under subjection or not, they are crushed out.
Consequently, at Bordeaux, where not a gun had been fired, the mayor Saige, and principal author of Edition: current; Page: [ ] the submission, is at once led to the scaffold without any form of trial, 85 while eight hundred and eighty-one others succeed him amidst the solemn silence of a dismayed population. Fourteen have already paid for their infamous treachery with their heads. Tomorrow, sixteen more are to be guillotined, all chiefs of the legion, notaries, sectionists, members of the popular tribunal; tomorrow, also, three merchants will dance the carmagnole, and they are the ones we are after.
At Lyons, to increase the booty, the representatives had taken pains to encourage the manufacturers and merchants with vague promises; these opened their shops and brought their valuable goods, books, and papers out of their hiding-places. Meanwhile, the guillotine is kept going, and people are fired at and shot down with grape-shot.
Notwithstanding that the inhabitants the most compromised, to the number of four thousand, take refuge on board English vessels, the whole city, say the representatives, is guilty. All this is not enough; the two cities that dared maintain a siege must disappear from the French soil.
Clair, those of the Rues de Flandre and de Bourgneuf, and many others; the cost of all this amounts to four hundred thousand livres per decade; in six months the Republic expends fifteen millions in destroying property valued at three or four hundred millions, belonging to the Republic. Again, one can understand how the Mongols, who were nomads, desired to convert the soil into one vast steppe. But, to demolish a town whose arsenal and harbor is maintained by it, to destroy the leaders of manufacturing interests and their dwellings in a city where its workmen and factories are preserved, to keep up a fountain and stop the stream which flows from it, or the stream without the fountain, is so absurd that the idea could only enter the head of a Jacobin.
His contracted mind is so worked up that he is no longer aware of Edition: current; Page: [ ] contradictions; the ferocious stupidity of the barbarian and the fixed idea of the inquisitor meet on common ground; the earth is not big enough for any but himself and the orthodox of his species. Employing absurd, inflated and sinister terms he decrees the extermination of heretics: not only shall their monuments, dwellings and persons be destroyed, but every vestige of them shall be eradicated and their names lost to the memory of man.
Lyons is no more! Etienne, and Lesage; pronounced outlaws and traitors, they are to be led to the scaffold without trial as soon as they can be got hold of. Finally, on the 3d of October, a great haul of the net in the Assembly itself sweeps off the benches all the deputies that still seem capable of any independence: the first thing is to close the doors of the hall, which is done by Amar, reporter of the Committee of General Security; then, after a declamatory and calumnious speech, which lasts two hours, he reads off names on two lists of proscriptions: forty-five deputies, more or less prominent among the Girondists, are to be at once summoned before the revolutionary Tribunal; seventy-three others, who have signed secret protests against the 31st of May and 2d of June, are to be put in jail.
No debate, the majority not being allowed even to express an opinion. To those who might be tempted to imitate them or defend them this is a sufficient lesson. Under the skylights, which serve for windows, and at the foot of the staircase are two pig-pens; at the end of the apartment are the privies, and in one corner a night-tub, which completes the poisoning of the atmosphere already vitiated by this crowded mass of human beings; the beds consist of sacks of straw swarming with vermin; they are compelled to endure the discipline, rations, and mess of convicts.
And they are lucky to escape at this rate: for Amar takes advantage of their silent deportment to tax them with conspiracy; other Montagnards likewise want to arraign them at the revolutionary Tribunal: at all events, it is agreed Edition: current; Page: [ ] that the Committee of General Security shall examine their records and maintain the right of designating new culprits amongst them.
The betrayal of Dumouriez is imputed to them, also the murder of Lepelletier, and the assassination of Marat; while pretended witnesses, selected from amongst their personal enemies, come and repeat, like a theme agreed upon, the same ill-contrived fable: nothing but vague allegations and manifest falsehoods, not one definite fact, not one convincing document; the lack of proof is such that the trial has to be stopped as soon as possible.
Why so much ceremony in shortening the days of wretches whom the people have already condemned?