The Legislative AssemblyThe Legislative Assembly, the successor to the Constituent Assembly, met on 1 October 1791. It was an overwhelmingly
|'Jacques Pierre Brissot, by|
The Assembly found itself confronted with two problems: the refractory priests and the perceived threat from the émigrés, led by the king’s brothers, the Counts of Provence and Artois. On 9 November the Assembly passed a decree, first proposed by Brissot confiscating the revenues of the princes and all other public officials who were abroad without good cause; those who had not returned by 1 January 179s were to be deemed conspirators and guilty of a capital crime.
On 11 November the king vetoed the decree, ending the brief honeymoon between him and the Assembly. Although Louis was acting within his constitutional rights, Brissot and his friends began to voice suspicion of a secret ‘Austrian committee’, seeking to undermine the Revolution. They were not wrong as Marie-Antoinette was engaged in a secret correspondence with enemies of the Revolution.
On 29 November the Assembly had decreed that all non-jurors take a new civic oath and that those who refused should lose their pensions and be denied the use of redundant churches for their services. This was designed to force the king’s hand and on 19 December Louis used his veto a second time.
The coming of warWith the émigrés massing forces on the French border, in the territories of the electors of Trier and Mainz, the Assembly became increasingly alarmed that France would be invaded. For various reasons, groups within France were beginning to see war as an answer to the problems thrown up by the Revolution. The king believed that a war against German princelings might drag in the Emperor, who would be able to defeat the French armies and reverse the Revolution. Lafayette and Marshall Narbonne, the new minister of war, believed that the war would invigorate the army. Brissot and his friends saw the war as restoring the purity of the Revolution and forcing the king’s hand.
On 14 December Louis came to the Assembly and announced that he had issued an ultimatum to the archbishop of Trier. He was greeted with almost universal enthusiasm. However at the same time he was secretly in touch with the emperor.
In December a fierce debate at the Jacobin Club began. In arguing against war, because the real enemies of France were not the émigrés but the enemy within, Robespierre found himself increasingly isolated. Brissot was the most powerful advocate of war, arguing in messianic language that the war would be one of liberation, freeing oppressed peoples from their tyrannical rulers.
On 21 December the Emperor Leopold announced that Austrian troops would march if France continued to threaten the Rhineland electors. When the news of this reached Paris on 31 December, there was uproar in the Assembly. The news of the Emperor’s sudden death did nothing to stop the march to war. On 10 March 1792 Louis dismissed his ministers and replaced them by close associates of the Girondin position. One of the most notable of the new ministers was Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, who became Minister of the Interior. His wife, Manon, a much more assertive character than her husband, ran a salon that was frequented by many revolutionaries.
|'Jean-MarieRoland' by Unknown - |
On 20 April Louis announced to the Assembly that because the new Emperor Francis II had failed to meet his obligations, France was at war with ‘the king of Hungary and Bohemia’ as the new emperor was styled. Only seven deputies opposed the declaration.
The war would last for twenty-three years, leaving a million and a half Frenchmen dead.
War: the early phaseThe Girondin ministry began the war in a spirit of optimism. France would teach the Austrians a lesson, deter foreigners from interfering, destroy the émigrés’ bases, and flush out internal traitors.
However, the war was conducted against a background of domestic tensions and it did nothing to ease them.
- The slave uprising in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) in the autumn led to a severe sugar shortage. By January 1792 the price of sugar had risen three-fold and grocery stores were attacked.
- The French economy was stumbling from crisis to crisis. Thousand were thrown out of work. The harvest of 1791 was poor. Though Paris was well stocked with supplies of grain, the countryside around the capital was going short.
- The livre and the assignats were falling in value, pushing up the price of goods still more. This was blamed on currency speculation and food riots broke out among the urban population.
- A profound cultural gulf had opened between the urban elites and the rural population. Large areas of north-western France and the Vendée were loyal to the non-juring priests.
- There were sectarian disturbances in the south, where revolutionaries fought a refractory party known as the Chiffon.
In spite of initial enthusiasm, the war began badly. The army had been badly depleted by the emigration and was initially no match for the Austrians. On 29 April, following an unsuccessful skirmish near Valenciennes, General Théobald Dillon was murdered by his troops and his body hanged from a lamppost. His body was then dismembered, paraded through the streets of Lille and burned on a bonfire. On 18 May the three commanders, worried about their troops’ lack of discipline, urged peace negotiations. The situation seemed even more dangerous when Prussia declared war in June, threatening the eastern frontier. From the front General Lafayette sent a letter to the Assembly denouncing the extremism of the Jacobin Club.
Lafayette’s letter confirmed the feeling of the radicals in the clubs that the generals were more afraid of their own people than they were of the Austrians. In the Assembly Brissot and Vergniaud continued to attack the ‘Austrian committee’. The Cordeliers Club widened the attacks to include the ‘rich’, who were sponging off the people, with Marat’s L’Ami du Peuple in the forefront of these attacks.
The truly radical phase of the Revolution was now at hand.