Abbildungen der Seite

dictator, a true patriot and statesman. O jabbling people, did you but know how to act /"

An indescribable tumult took place on the perusal of this pithy address. "To prison with the wretch! to the guillotine!" was the general cry. The accusation of Marat was proposed. He again demanded to be heard, and once more took possession of the tribune with increased confidence and effrontery. "As to that writing which the member has denounced, I am far from disavowing it. A falsehood has never passed my lips, and fear is a stfanger to my heart." Nevertheless Marat proceeded to state, that the address just produced was written a week back, and suppressed, but republished that morning against his knowledge by his printer. This was a manifest falsehood; for a week past the convention did not exist, nor could there then have been a motive or on object of insurrection: but the excuse appeased the placable assembly; and Marat, reading them a more moderate article from a new journal which he had just commenced, was hearkened to in silence, and even not without applause. Having produced this effect, he proceeded, certainly with the perfection of all impudence, to lecture them on the baleful effects of passion: "Had I not written a moderate paragraph this morning, you would have delivered me over to the sword of justice. But no, I had still a mode of escape from persecution. With this," said he, drawing forth a pistol, and putting it to his forehead, "I would have blown out my brains at this tribune. Such was to have been the reward of three years' sufferings, imprisonments, wakings and watchings, fears and labors, privations and dangers. As it is, however, I shall remain amongst you, and brave your fury."

This parliamentary scene has been minutely dwelt on; it depicts fully the character, the gait, and the tactics of the rival parties. The Gironde commences in all the strength of indignation, sure of its cause and of the majority of the assembly; yet even in the most rapid flow of its eloquent resentments, there is a vacillation, a yielding of purpose, which might be taken for magnanimity, but which proved weakness. Barbaroux commenced against Robespierre with the defiance of an inveterate foe, yet terminated with regret, with professions of friendship, and proffers of aa oblivion of injury. At this very moment, when the Gironde deemed itself triumphant, the Jacobins made the first step towards acquiring that mastery in the assembly, which they had already secured out of its doors: this was the very crisis of the quarrel. Had the Gironde remained firm, and pressed the condemnation, at least of Marat, the final victory nrght have been on its side


but they gave up the struggle, in lassitude, or in contempt of their enemies; deeming, unwisely, that the thunders of their eloquence were sufficient to blight the brows and humble the power of the Jacobins. The newly returned deputies, that occupied the Plain, learned in this famous debate that the Jacobins were not altogether the monsters which had been represented; or, if this was difficult, they at least saw that there was firmness, conviction, and even talent, in their monstrosity. The influence of the Gironde was shaken. The termination of this long and fiery debate proves forcibly this effect. It ended by a decree, declaring the republic one and indivisible; thus guarding, as it were, against the supposed federalism of the Gironde, rather than against the renewal of massacre and the establishment of a dictatorship by the Mountain. Nothing could be more inconsequential and absurd than such a vote succeeding such a debate; nor can any thing more strongly paint the vacillation of the assembly and the weakness of its leading party.

Whilst all the attention and zeal of the national assembly were spent in these quarrels, the Prussians were still at St. Menehould. But not even the menacing presence of a foreign enemy could distract the Mountain and the Gironde from the canine combat, in which they tore each other, and struggled for mastery. Day after day it was renewed. The municipality or commune was attacked for not submittirig to the decree for its renewal or re-election. The commune replied in the following sitting by denouncing former decrees to have been bought by the court, and declaring that they had found documents which would prove this. The debate in consequence turns for many days upon these papers, and the existence of the commune itself is forgotten. Neither of the questions is decided, and in lieu of them we find that of the guard to be drawn from the departments to protect the convention again brought on by Buzot, discussed, disputed, and abandoned with the usual inconstancy. The commune withheld the usual stipend or succor paid to the indigent Its Jacobin leaders pretended to want funds, and applied to the convention. The convention called for the accounts of the commune, and ordered its minister to draw up a report, which fully disclosed the system of fraud, murder, and anarchy established at the Hotel de Ville. Yet, despite of this, the municipality held its ground, and defied the efforts of its enemies.

The national convention at this time had the singular infelicity of displaying at once all the disadvantage of party, as well as all the disadvantaged of wanting it. The public weal and fortunes were absolutely forgotten in the struggle betwixt personal foes; and at the same time there was so little concert, foresight, and party organization, that the Gironde was continually marred and crossed in its attempts to restore order and consolidate liberty by the trimming timid inertness of the Centre or Plain. Unused to political life, the wisest plan with these seemed to be, to hold the balance even, and to smother strife, that is, to prolong and aggravate it; whereas, by flinging their weight at once into either side, the question would have soon been brought to an issue betwixt order and insurrection, betwixt the law and the populace. For even had the Centre united with the Jacobins at this early period, the latter had not stood in need of either insurrection or massacre to support them; on the contrary, finding themselves undisputed and rightful masters of the government, they must have endeavored to organize peaceably the system of their power; but the maxim, that neutrals are the most pernicious enemies, is even more true in revolution than in civil war.

Having to make use of auxiliaries so timid, the Girondists should have avoided proceeding to the extreme of impeachment or accusation, unless upon grounds so manifest and strong that there was no possibility of refuting. Short of this, the measures of the departmental guard, or of breaking the municipality, were wisest to insist on. The Girondists adhered, however, to no plan. From time to time the thunder of their eloquence burst forth in fitful peals ; but the bolts fell not, and their enemies learned to mock the empty sound of menace. On the 29th of October, after hearing one of the courageous reports of the home-minister, an anonymous letter was read, giving an account of the efforts of the Jacobins to blacken the Gironde and excite a new insurrection to get rid of the cabal Roland. "They will hear of none but Robespierre," continued the letter.

There was no doubt of the probable truth of these allegations; but the mere paragraph of an anonymous letter was not a testimony on which to ground an accusation. The passions of the Girondists were, however, excited. Lou vet rushed to the tribune, instantly and solemnly accused Robespierre, and poured forth an extemporaneous philippic of unusual force and eloquence. He commenced by relating the rise of the anarchists, whom he described as "a party feeble in number and in means, strong in boldness and immorality," appearing in the club of the Jacobins not earlier than the January preceding, and soon driving the Girondists from them by theii violence, and the noisy aid of the galleries. "At first," con


tiriued Louvet, "they astonished rather than disquieted us, until we saw them commence to make war upon all talent, all distinction, all who were not of their coterie. They soon set up an idol in Robespierre." The speaker here related an instance, proving the ambitious pretensions of this demagogue.

"But what are their claims to popularity and rule? The insurrection of the 10th of August, which they attribute solely to themselves. I tell them, the revolution of that day belongs to us all; to the fauxbourgs, that rose to a man; to the brave federals, whom these men refused to admit within the walls. (' Not true!' exclaimed a voice.) So true, that for two successive nights I heard Robespierre at the Jacobin club declaim against the camp near Paris. The revolution of the 10th of August belongs to the two hundred courageous deputies who issued the decree suspending Louis, as well as others, that the so much calumniated commission of that day held ready prepared. To the Breton federals—to the worthy sons of the proud Marseilles—to us all, belongs the glory of the 10th of August.

"But that of the 2d of September, atrocious conspirators, is yours,—all yours,—yours alone! Ye have made it your claim and your boast. Ye have named us, in your sanguinary pride, the patriots of August; yourselves, the patriots of September! May the distinction endure, for our justification and your eternal shame!

"The people, ye say, participated in these murders. Else, ask ye, why did they not prevent them 1 Why 1 Because the tutelary authority of Petion was chained; because Roland spoke in vain; because Danton, minister of justice, did not speak at all; because the presidents of the forty-eight sections, ready to repress such disorders, waited for the summons that never arrived; because the officers of the municipality, wearing their scarfs of office, presided at these executions. But the legislative assembly ] Representatives of the people! avenge its powerlessness. For that powerlessness, to which your predecessors were then reduced, was, even amongst the enormous crimes of the day, the most audacious and most fatal of all. What could the legislative assembly do?—-tormented, degraded, menaced by an insolent demagogue, who came to the bar to dictate its decrees; who returned to the commune but to denounce it; and who dared to threaten the executive council with the tocsin."

This vehement apostrophe roused to such a pitch the indignation of the assembly against Robespierre, that his instant condemnation seemed inevitable For a long time it refused even to hear his defence; which nevertheless, when quiet was restored, he was utterly unable to enter upon. He demanded a week to prepare it, and his demand was granted. A week, however, was more than sufficient to allow the passion of the majority to subside; and when Robespierre appeared to pronounce his elaborate defence, he no longer addressed an exasperated audience. We cannot refrain from giving a specimen of this demagogue's oratory:—

"One innocent victim perished. The number has been exaggerated; but even one is too much. Citizens, weep for this cruel mistake! We have long lamented it. The victim was a good citizen; he was one of our friends. Lament even those criminals, in immolating whom the justice of the people did but anticipate the vengeance of the law. Give full vent to pity; but let it have a term, like all human things and sentiments. Let us keep some tears for calamities more touching, for an hundred thousand patriots sacrificed to despotism. Let us compassionate our citizens expiring under their burning roofs;n (Lille had been then bombarded;) "their sons massacred in their cradles, or in the bosom of their mothers. Have ye, too, not brothers, children, husbands, to avenge? for the family of French legislators is their country; it is the whole human race, saving only tyrants and their accomplices. For my part, I respect that sensibility that limits its commiseration to the enemies of liberty. Cease to act the part of Antony; cease agitating before my eyes the blood-stained robe of the tyrant; or I shall believe that you seek to bring Rome back to slavery."

Applauses as loud as those which cheered the resentment of Louvet, here hailed the reply of this advocate of massacre. On hearing them, well might the sternest republican have doubted of the triumph of honesty. Louvet in vain sought to resume his accusation. Barrere, the spokesman of the Plain, arose, and uttered the sentiments of the majority:—

"Citizens," said he, "if there existed in the republic a man born with the genius of Caesar and the boldness of CromweL, a man uniting the talents of Sylla to his means of ambition ;—if there existed a legislator of great genius, vast aspiration, and profound character; a general, for example returning amongst you crowned with laurel, and raised bv his fame above laws or rights, then I would propose a decree of accusation. But to apply this terrible honor to men of a day, to petty planners of insurrection, to those whose only civic crowns are interwoven with cypress,—this is what I cannot conceive! Such men as these, in my opinion, have ceased to be dangerous in a republic." So spoke the wisdom

« ZurückWeiter »