Source Problems on the French Revolution

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3. L’assemblée Nationale, I, 160. The 20th.

They were on their way to the hall of the estates, as usual, and at the hour indicated, when they heard announced in the streets by heralds at arms that which follows: "The King having resolved to hold a royal session of the states general, Monday, June 22d, the preparations to be made in the three halls which serve for the meetings of the orders make it necessary that these assemblies should be suspended until after the holding of the said session. His Majesty will make known by a new proclamation the hour at which he will betake himself on Monday to the assembly of the estates." The deputies, seeing in this proclamation no particular order not to go to the hall, seeing in it only an exhibition of authority, only an outrage upon the liberty of the entire nation, and which it is always glorious to repulse with all one’s power, took one and all the road to the usual place of their session. Having arrived at the gate of the Menus, what a novel spectacle! The deputies found there French guards, officers of the guards, who with fixed bayonets and drawn swords would have plunged like vile assassins the sword of despotism into the breast of the citizen, of the representative of the nation, whom the profound sense of injustice would have cast into the midst of these sacrilegious battalions. And who would believe it? It is a deputy who commands these French Guards, it is the Duc du Chatelet, it is he who figures among the representatives of the nobility, and who is the leading fanatic on the side of the majority.

I cannot express here the sentiments the deputies experienced: some, filled with the keenest sorrow, saw in the future nothing but the dissolution of the estates; others were filled with indignation at seeing the majesty of the nation thus profaned, vilified by an exhibition of authority which since the monarchy reposes upon unshakable foundations and in the most oppressive reigns has never seen the like. But no deputy was frightened; the love of the public welfare, devotion to country, bolstered up their courage and inspired them with resolutions, one after the other, worthy of the finest ages of Rome or Sparta.

Gathered in groups in the Avenue de Versailles, they asked one another reciprocally what should be done in such trying circumstances. Here some one cried out in a loud voice: "Let us all go to Marly. Let us go there, right in front of the chateau, and hold our session; let us force into the hearts of our enemies the fear with which they have filled ours; let them tremble in their turn. The king announces a royal session, he has postponed it [the session] until next Monday. This delay is too long; he shall hold it immediately; he shall come down from his chateau and will only have to place himself in the midst of his people."

There some one said: "What! Do they want to dissolve the estates? Does the government want to plunge the country into the horrors of civil war? Everywhere there is lack of food; everywhere fears of famine exist. For two years French blood has been reddening the ground; we were going to put an end to these misfortunes, to raise the thick veil with which the activities of the monopolists were covered, to free the government itself from the charge of having starved the people, to prove that the two hundred millions which are in the royal treasury do not come from this crime, and it stopped US in our course!"

"Let them open our annals; the Louis XI.’s, the Mazarins, the Richelieus, the Briennes have attacked, rended, oppressed corporations, individuals; but does one believe that twelve hundred deputies of the nation are subject to the caprices, to the changing, momentary whim of a despotic ministry?" Such were the different emotions of the deputies who in the midst of those who surrounded them, of travelers who stopped to contemplate this spectacle, of the people who gathered in crowds, expressed the sentiments of their hearts with that frankness, that liberty which formerly animated those ancient Romans in the public places.

Some wished to assemble in the Place d’Armes. It is there, they said, that we must revive those beautiful days of our history; it is there we will hold the Champ de Mai. Others wished to gather in the gallery [of the château] and there give the novel spectacle of speaking the language of liberty by the side of that sinister hall in which, a short time since, was designated for the executioner the head of him who had pronounced this sacred word; when it was announced to the assembly that M. Bailly had just entered the hall with two commissioners and twenty deputies to take away the papers left there the evening before; that M. Bailly had then fixed the place of assembly in the tennis court, Rue Saint-François.

Groups of deputies united to go to the place indicated by the president. At the opening of the meeting M. Bailly announced that he had received this morning a letter from the Marquis de Brézé of the following content:

"The King having ordered me, Sir, to make public by the heralds at arms that he was going to hold a royal session next Monday, June 22d, and to prepare in consequence the halls of the states general, I have the honor to inform you of it. I am with respect," etc.

M. Bailly added that he had replied in the following terms: "Not having yet received orders of the King, Sir, the assembly being announced for eight o’clock, I shall go where duty calls me."

Hardly had the reading of this reply ended when a second letter of M. de Brézé to the president was announced. The Marquis de Brézé excused himself by saying that he had been charged by the king to notify the president, and that it was equally by the orders of his majesty that he had placed sentinels at the doors of the estates.

It appeared from this letter that it was the Marquis de Brézé who had rendered himself guilty of high treason against the nation by placing troops at the door of the national hall. It appeared also that he should be charged with this crime if he could not justify himself by an order in the handwriting of the king. The assembly made some observations upon the criminal conduct of the grand master, but it had other causes of alarm which did not permit it to fix its attention upon a single individual.

M. Bailly described with force and energy the frightful situation of the national assembly; he suggested the discussion of the question of what course the assembly should take at such a stormy moment. There was but one opinion, adopted unanimously; it was due to M. Mounier. In truth, some changes were made in it. M. Target, M. le Chapelier, M. Barnave supported the measure he proposed with that eloquence of the moment which difficulties arouse, which the sentiment of liberty animates, and that courage which struggles against danger and turns to steel against obstacles. One would have imagined that he was listening to Cicero thundering from the tribune against the faction of Catiline.

Here is the decree as it was passed:

DECREE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, JUNE 20TH

"The national assembly considering that, called to fix the constitution of the kingdom, effect the regeneration of public order, and maintain the true principles of the monarchy, nothing can prevent it from continuing its deliberations and consummating the important work for which it has assembled, in whatsoever place it may be forced to establish itself, and that, finally, wherever its members may meet, there is the national assembly; decrees that all its members shall take at once a solemn oath never to separate, and to assemble wherever circumstances may demand until the constitution of the kingdom and the regeneration of public order shall be established on solid bases, and that, the oath being taken by all the members and by each one in particular, they shall confirm, by their signatures, this unshakable resolution."

As soon as it was approved, applauded, each one took the solemn oath just given. It is thus that these virtuous citizens devote themselves, for the love of country, to all the dangers which despotism, persecution, and calumny prepare around them; it is thus that they bind themselves in a holy conspiracy for promoting the welfare of their fellow-citizens, to respect the fundamental laws of the monarchy, by annihilating the abuses which violate them every day and by posing upon eternal foundations the happiness of the country and the splendor of the state. It was not sufficient to pronounce it; the national assembly wished to sign it and bind itself by the strongest possible chains.

That each deputy might come in his turn, there was a general roll call by baillages. All the deputies signed with the enthusiasm of liberty. There were but two men who, incapable of responding to the call of duty, feared to submit to the oath. Two deputies of Castelnaudary, M. Guilhermy, procurer of the king in the presidial, withdrew without signing,1 M. Martin d’Auch, advocate, signed it, it is true, but added a protestation to it. No one at the time noticed it; it was only at the end of the signing. M. Bailly asked the assembly if it would consent to have these protests remain in the minutes. Opinions were divided, and it was only after a long debate that they agreed upon one opinion, which was unanimously approved. The prooès-verbal, it said, will be printed, and those protests of M. Martin will prove his devotion to the country. M. Martin realized fully the mistake he had allowed himself to make; he wished to justify himself, advanced to the table, talked some time, but without success. The deputation of Saint-Domingo, which had been admitted to the sessions of the assembly, but without having any right to be there, asked to be definitely admitted in order to sign the oath. M. Bailly said that he had in hand an opinion pronounced by the bureau of verification, which stated that the deputation should be received to the number of twelve. This opinion was followed in the assembly; the deputies of Saint-Domingo were admitted into the assembly to the number of twelve and took and signed the oath.

M. Chapelier proposed, thereupon, to prepare an address to the king; he read a sketch of one, M. Barnave another. But the assembly, while approving them, believed it was not the fitting moment to send an address to the king, as that would be to multiply them, since the assembly some time before had asked the king to fix the time when it could present one to him and it had not yet been indicated. The session closed at six o’clock in the evening, it being voted that next Monday, at eight o’clock in the morning, the assembly should betake itself to the usual place of its session. It was proposed that an orator should be named, but it was replied that it would be useless; that if it was necessary to reply to the king, M. Bailly, the president, would acquit himself of the task with the prudence, the sagacity, and the respectful courage he has manifested since he had the honor to preside over the assembly.

1 In the facsimiles of the signatures of the oath, published by Brette in his "Serment du Jeu de Paume," the name of Guilhermy is found.

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Chicago: "3. L’assemblée Nationale, I, 160. The 20th," Source Problems on the French Revolution in Source Problems on the French Revolution, ed. Fred Morrow Fling and Helene Dresser Fling (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1913), 29–37. Original Sources, accessed December 14, 2019, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=68QIA695L1NX9LD.

MLA: . "3. L’assemblée Nationale, I, 160. The 20th." Source Problems on the French Revolution, Vol. I, in Source Problems on the French Revolution, edited by Fred Morrow Fling and Helene Dresser Fling, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1913, pp. 29–37. Original Sources. 14 Dec. 2019. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=68QIA695L1NX9LD.

Harvard: , '3. L’assemblée Nationale, I, 160. The 20th' in Source Problems on the French Revolution. cited in 1913, Source Problems on the French Revolution, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.29–37. Original Sources, retrieved 14 December 2019, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=68QIA695L1NX9LD.