Monday, August 10, 2009

10 August 1792: The Storming of the Tuileries: "Second French Revolution"

Medal by Duvivier, issued by the Commune of Paris:
Obverse: Liberty, bearing pike with Phrygian cap, and armed with thunderbolts, tramples the emblems of monarchy
Motto: "Example to the Peoples 10 August 1792"
Reverse: "To the Memory of the Glorious Battle of the French People Against Tyranny at the Tuileries"

The summer of 1792 was the culmination of months of crisis: domestic rebellion, military setbacks in the wake of the ill-advised declaration of war against Austria in April, and the threat by the Allied Commander, the Duke of Brunswick, to punish the people of Paris with "exemplary and forever memorable vengeance" if they harmed the King, who had been in effect a prisoner since his attempted flight from the country just over a year earlier. Calls for the deposition of the monarch increased, but when the National Assembly declined to indict the Marquis de Lafayette on the charge of leaving the front to pursue his political campaign against the radicals, it became clear that no action against the crown could be expected either.

On 10 August, the Sections (local political units) of Paris, armed in the wake of the Brunswick Manifesto, declared themselves to be in insurrection and marched on the Tuileries Palace. Although the Royal family had fled to the nearby Assembly and remained unharmed, the Swiss Guard in the Palace fired on the crowd, which prevailed and killed some 600 of the soldiers, some after their surrender. The crowd took spontaneous action against symbols of royalism throughout the city. The Assembly declared the monarchy suspended until a new legislative body could take up the issue, and in the meantime, the king became a prisoner in the old fortress, The Temple.

The Deputy Michel Azéma wrote:
August 10, midnight, in session
the 4th year of liberty, 1792

My prophecies are proving only too true; abuses can't last . . . The people are the same today as on July 14, 1789; the second Bastille, the Tuileries palace, was forced open and taken as promptly as the famous Bastille at Saint-Antoine. The Revolution's worst enemy . . . —the veto, using the Constitution as a pretext to destroy the Constitution—had long been a grievance; the evil was tolerated patiently as long as the majority of the National Assembly showed itself; but it was intolerable as soon as, in the La Fayette business, fear, etc., gave the black or vetoizing side a majority . . . .

The indignation was so general that it was breaking out with no fear or restraint; everyone was expecting a terrible explosion; day and night, the palace was filled with brave and valorous knights, was bristling with bayonets and cannon, etc. Yesterday the fears intensified; still, no reason for it appeared in actuality, so just after midnight we went to bed
. . . . . . . . . .
Someone came to announce to us that the cannon filling the Place du Carrousel were aimed against the Tuileries palace, which the people wanted to break down like the Bastille. After a short discussion, because time was pressing, it was decreed to send a deputation of twenty members of the Assembly to the people, to speak to them in the name of the law and to appease them by persuasion. . . . I had the honor, which at the same time almost a misfortune, to be in it; we had barely arrived at the door of the palace toward the Tuileries [gardens] when our eyes were dazzled by furious musket fire at the bottom of the stairway; at once, a second round; then a cannonade knocked down part of the façade. My word! Death was right before us. . . . a mass of sabers, pikes, and bayonets rushed from all sides, with indescribable rage, on our brave guards, who, angered by our obstinacy in advancing into the fire instead of retreating, finally grabbed us and swooped back with us into the National Assembly. . . .

Brave sans-culottes fortunately appeared at the rail; they got a very prompt hearing. They notified us that the sovereign people was using its sovereignty and had charged them to assure us of its respect, to affirm obedience to our decrees . . . and that we were the only constituted authority and there was no other in existence. They concluded, "Swear in the Nation's name to maintain liberty and equality with all your power or to die at your post."
. . . . . . . . . .
Meanwhile, a great brawl was going on in the palace, in the Tuileries [gardens], and on the Champs Élysées, and the Swiss [Guards] who had been deceived by the aristocratic instigators in the palace and had fired on the people, especially on the brave Marseillais running to embrace them after false assurances of friendship and brotherhood, were being hotly pursued and were defending themselves in the same way, everywhere in the Tuileries gardens, in the palace, and around it; the ground is still to be seen covered with corpses. . . .
[from Philip Dawson, ed., The French Revolution (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1967), 103-8]
The events are generally taken as signifying a "Second" Revolution because they not only sealed the fate of the monarchy but also marked a shift of de facto power from the legislative body to the people and commune of Paris, a dynamic that would drive the Revolution in an ever more radical direction for nearly two more years. The so-called "September Massacres," in which radicals, with the acquiescence or encouragement of the Commune, massacred some 1,100-1,400 "counter-revolutionary" political prisoners at the start of that month, were one stark sign of the change.

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