|The demonstration of 20 June 1792|
|Part of the French Revolution|
Le Peuple pénètre dans le Château des Tuileries
Pierre-Gabriel Berthault, 1800
The demonstration of 20 June 1792 (French language: Journée du 20 juin 1792) was the last peaceful attempt made by the people of Paris to induce the king to abandon his policy of duplicity and to govern in sympathy with the Revolution and in accordance with the wishes of the Legislative Assembly, to defend France against foreign invasion and to preserve the Constitution. They hoped to induce him to withdraw his veto and recall the Girondin ministers. It was the last phase of the unsuccessful attempt to establish constitutional monarchy in France and resulted in the fall of the monarchy after the insurrection of 10 August 1792.
The war, which was to last almost continuously until 1815 and which shook the very foundations of Europe, put new life into the revolutionary movement in France. The monarchy was its first victim.
Of even greater consequence was the economic crisis, because it struck the towns and again set the masses in motion. This time its cause was not scarcity but inflation, as currency in circulation had increased by 600 millions since October. Depreciation of the assignat continued and the exchange rate fell even more rapidly: in Paris, French money once worth British ₤100 would buy only ₤50 by March. The flood of paper notes, misused by speculators, aggravated unrest.
War was declared on the King of Bohemia and Hungary (Austria) on 20 April 1792, and the inadequacy of the army and its leadership caused serious reverses from the very beginning. The French army was in a state of total disarray. The regiments of the line were now below strength because most men preferred to enlist in volunteer battalions, which were better paid, elected their own officers, and could disband after the campaign. In spite of these attractions, even these battalions were slow to form. The true volunteers who were fired with revolutionary enthusiasm filled only a part of the ranks; frequently National Guardsmen, not wishing to leave their firesides, offered bonuses to muster the necessary quotas, and it took time for enough men to be enlisted. Equipment was furnished by local authorities and arrived slowly, and there were not enough arms.
Dumouriez thought the army could get its training in combat. Arguing that the enemy had not more than 30,000 men to throw into a campaign and that foreign troops would be arranged in a cordon from the sea to Lorraine, he proposed to break through this barrier: one column each from Furnes, Lille, Valenciennes, and Givet, totalling more than 50,000 men, would set out on April 29 towards the enemy line. The generals, however, were trained for regular war and would hear nothing of this plan. Besides, the officers distrusted their undisciplined troops and the men suspected them in return; out of 9,000 officers at least half had already emigrated, and a few more deserted on the eve of the offensive. In May several others took three regiments into the enemy camp. On April 29, in sight of the first Austrian troops, Dillon and Biron ordered a retreat. Their men cried treason and disbanded; Dillon was murdered at Lille.
The generals laid the entire responsibility on lack of discipline and on a ministry that tolerated such conditions. In reply the Gironde ordered Dillon’s murderers prosecuted, along with Marat, who had been exhorting the soldiers to get rid of their generals. A new decree tightened military justice and authorized the generals to issue regulations bearing penalties for infractions. The decree undeniably marked a surrender of legislative power—to no avail: on May 18 the heads of the armies, meeting at Valenciennes, disregarded repeated orders from the ministry and declared an offensive impossible, advising the king to make immediate peace.
As a result, the generals suspended the offensive, and in May a whole corps, the Royal-Allemand, went over to the enemy. Rochambeau resigned, and Lafayette went as far as deliberate treachery: he secretly proposed to the Austrians that fighting should be suspended so that he could turn his army against Paris in order to disperse the Jacobins and establish a strong regime.
Decrees of the Assembly
The Girondins saw no choice but to fall back on the policy of intimidation that had brought them to power. This was the situation when the assembly passed three decrees.
The first decree was directed against the priests who had refused the oath to the civil constitution. Religious disturbances necessitated some decisive action against them, for it would have been incompatible with the preservation of the state to continue treating as members of society those who were evidently seeking to dissolve it. It was proposed to assemble the non-juring priests in the chief places of the departments, but this would have meant creating eighty-three centers of discord, fanaticism, and counter-revolution. The majority of the assembly concluded the country must be purged. After a discussion of several days, fearing the overthrow of the constitution, the assembly passed the following decree, on 27 May 1792: "When twenty active citizens of a canton shall demand that a non-juring priest leave the realm, the directory of the department must order his deportation, if the directory agrees with the petition. If the directory does not agree with the demand of the twenty citizens, it shall determine through committees whether the presence of the priest is a threat to public peace, and if the opinion of the committee supports the demand of the twenty petitioners, the deportation shall be ordered." This decree made the clergy choose between the oath and deportation.
This measure was followed by another directed against the king's bodyguard. The guard had revealed anti-revolutionary sentiments and had uttered threats against the assembly. It was believed to be royalist in its sympathies and wholly devoted to the person of the king, hostile to the government and wholly lacking in esprit de corps. Bazire proposed its dissolution, charging its officers with orgies and a plan for carrying away the king and asking that he be allowed to give his proofs the next day. Chabot declared that he had 182 documents that proved the existence of a plot to dissolve the assembly. Following a report of a counterplot, set for May 27, the assembly decreed that its sessions should be continuous, that the Paris guard should be doubled, and that Pétion should be required to report on the state of the capital daily. Gaudet stated three reasons why the guard should be dissolved: first, it was illegally organized; second, its chiefs sought to inspire revolt; third, the majority favored a counter-revolution. The assembly decreed on May 29, 1792, that the guard should be dissolved and its commander, the Duc de Brissac, put under arrest. This decree was executed at once.
The third decree provided for a camp of 20,000 fédérés, to be assembled on June 14 near Paris. Servan made this proposition on June 4, reportedly without previously consulting either his colleagues or the king. He urged that the act was necessary to establish tranquility in the country. The decree itself stated that its purpose was to draw closer the bonds of fraternity between the departments of France. The discussions in the assembly showed that the object of that body was to insure public security. The allies were approaching from without and enemies of the constitution were plotting from within. Paris and the assembly must have protection.
Fall of the Girondin Ministry
Louis refused either to sacrifice the non-jurors or to authorize the establishment of a military camp. On June 12 a letter from Roland urged him to yield on these two points, stating that his conduct would provoke the fall of the throne and a massacre of the aristocrats. The next day Roland was dismissed, and Clavière and Servan along with him. On June 15 the reception of Dumouriez by the Assembly was hostile enough to convince him that he would be arraigned, and, since the king insisted on approving only the decree disbanding his guard, Dumouriez submitted his resignation and left to rejoin the Army of the North. The Feuillants returned to power in a new ministry.
Lafayette, judging that the moment had come, declared on June 18 that the "Constitution of France was threatened by seditious groups within the country as well as by its enemies abroad." In saying this, he called on the Assembly to destroy the democratic movement. The use of the royal veto, the dismissal of the Girondin ministers and the formation of a Feuillant ministry all served to show that the Court and the generals were attempting to enforce the political program advocated by the followers of Lameth and Lafayette. They sought to get rid of the Jacobin threat, revise the Constitution so as to reinforce royal authority, and bring the war to an end by making a deal with the enemy.
Journée du 20 juin
Faced with the threat of a coup from either the royal family or the Feuillants, the Girondins tried to make use of the popular dynamism evident in the Paris sections. Pétion, the mayor of Paris, was sympathetic to their cause and helped them in this.
The 20th of June was approaching, the anniversary of the Tennis Court Oath. Sergent and Panis, the administrators of police sent out by Pétion, reached the Faubourg Saint-Antoine at about 8 o'clock. They urged the people to lay down their arms, telling them it was illegal to present a petition in arms. The people answered that they had no intention of abandoning their arms and that they did not intend to attack the assembly or the king. They said they had two objects, to form a procession for the twenty legal petitioners who wished to present a petition to the assembly and the king, and to celebrate the anniversary of the Oath of the Tennis Court by planting a maypole in military fashion.
Already at five o'clock in the morning on June 20 groups had formed in the Faubourgs Saint-Antoine and Saint-Marcel, consisting of National Guards, pikemen, gunners with their cannon, men armed with sabers or clubs, and women and children. Other armed petitioners had already appeared before the National Assembly, and as one was as good as another, "the law being equal for all," these must be admitted as well. In any event they, too, would ask permission of the National Assembly. To prove to the city officials that they had no desire to engage in a riot, they requested them to join the procession and march along with them.
The Legislative Assembly met about noon on the 20th, but did not at first, as might have been expected, turn its attention to the threatened uprising. After some other business had been discussed, the president announced that the directory of the department wished to be admitted. The directory had shown great interest in trying to prevent the procession and had been in session since four o'clock in the morning.
Roederer, the procureur of the Paris department, brought the news to the assembly, but in the meantime the crowd had reached the doors of the hall. Their leaders asked permission to present a petition and to enter the assembly. A violent debate arose between the Right, who were unwilling to admit the armed petitioners, and the Left, who, on the ground of custom, wished to receive them. Vergniaud declared that the assembly would violate every principle by admitting armed bands; but in the actual circumstances he admitted that it was impossible to deny a request in this case that had been granted in so many others. It was difficult not to yield to the desires of an enthusiastic and vast multitude, when seconded by a majority of the representatives. The crowd already thronged the passages when the assembly decided that the petitioners should be admitted. The deputation was introduced.
The deputation's spokesman, Sulpice Huguenin, expressed himself in threatening language. He said that the people were astir; that they were ready to make use of the means stated in the Declaration of Rights, resistance to oppression; that the dissenting members of the assembly, if there were any, wanted to destroy liberty and go to Koblenz; then returning to the true object of the petition, he added: “The executive power is not in union with you; we require no other proof of it than the dismissal of the patriot ministers. It is thus, then, that the happiness of a free nation shall depend on the caprice of a king! But should this king have any other will than that of the law? The people will have it so, and the life of the people is as valuable as that of crowned despots. That life is the genealogical tree of the nation, and the feeble reed must bend before this sturdy oak! We complain, gentlemen, of the inactivity of our armies; we require you to learn the cause of this; if it springs from the executive power, let that power be destroyed!”
The assembly answered that it would take their request into consideration; it then urged them to respect the law and the legal authorities, and allowed them to defile before it. This procession, amounting to thirty thousand persons, women, children, national guards, and men armed with pikes, waving revolutionary banners and symbols, sang, as they traversed the hall, the famous chorus, Ça ira, and cried: “Vive la nation!” “Vivent les sans-culottes!” “À bas le veto!” It was led by Santerre. On leaving the assembly, it proceeded to the chateau, headed by the petitioners.
The outer doors were opened at the king’s command; the crowd rushed in. They ascended to the apartments, and while they were forcing the doors with hatchets, the king ordered them to be opened, and appeared before them, accompanied by a few persons. The mob stopped a moment before him; but those who were outside, not being awed by the presence of the king, continued to advance. Louis XVI was prudently placed in the recess of a window. He never displayed more courage than on this deplorable day. Surrounded by national guards, who formed a barrier against the mob, seated on a chair placed on a table, that he might breathe more freely and be seen by the people, he preserved a calm and firm demeanor.
In reply to the cries that arose on all sides for his sanction of the decrees, he said: “This is neither the method nor the moment to obtain it of me.” Having the courage to refuse the essential object of the meeting, he thought he ought not to reject a symbol, meaningless for him, but in the eyes of the people standing for liberty; he placed on his head a red cap presented to him on the top of a pike. The multitude were quite satisfied with this condescension. A moment or two afterwards, they loaded him with applause, as, almost suffocated with hunger and thirst, he drank off, without hesitation, a glass of wine presented to him by a half drunken workman.
Meanwhile Vergniaud, Isnard, and a few deputies of the Gironde had hastened thither to protect the king, to address the people, and to put an end to these indecent scenes. The assembly, which had just risen from a sitting, met again in haste, terrified at this outbreak, and dispatched several successive deputations to try to protect Louis XVI. At length the mayor himself, Pétion, arrived; he mounted a chair, harangued the people, and urged them to withdraw quietly, and the people obeyed. These singular insurgents, whose only aim was to obtain decrees and ministers, retired without having exceeded their mission, but without achieving it.
The demonstrators of 20 June did not obtain the immediate success they had hoped for. The day's events were disowned by the Left of the Legislature, by the future Girondins, and by the Jacobins. Louis XVI, who had promised nothing, did not withdraw his veto. The petitioners thought they had converted him to the Revolution; they found he was embittered, humiliated, and irremediably hostile.
Europe saw the king insulted and a prisoner. In parts of France royalism revived. A large number of departmental administrations protested against the insult offered to the majesty of royalty. Lafayette, leaving his army, visited the Assembly on June 28, demanding in the name of his soldiers that the Assembly take action against the authors of the outrage, and "destroy a sect capable of infringing the national sovereignty." But on July 2 came the news that the Army of the North was in retreat and was falling back on Lille and Valenciennes. All the distrust and anxiety of the petitioners of June 20 seemed to be justified by events.
In the Assembly on July 3 Vergniaud denounced all the treasons of Louis XVI. He recalled the royal veto, the disorders it had caused in the provinces, and the deliberate inaction of the generals who had opened the way to invasion, and he suggested to the Assembly—though by implication rather than directly—that Louis XVI came within the scope of the article of the Constitution, "considered to have abdicated his royal office". He thus put the idea of deposing the King into the minds of the public. His speech, which made an enormous impression, was circulated by the Assembly through all the departments.
It was now certain that the demonstration of 20 June would have a more violent sequel. At Jacobins Billaud-Varrenne had outlined a program for the next insurrection: exile the King, dismiss the generals, elect a National Convention, transfer the royal veto to the people, deport all public enemies, and exempt the poor from taxation. This program was repeated almost unchanged in a strongly worded manifesto drawn up by Robespierre, and proclaimed by a federal orator before the House. The real question was how it would be carried out.
The answer came on 10 August 1792 with the storming of the Tuileries Palace.
- Legislative Assembly
- Jacobin Club
- The insurrection of 10 August 1792
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