The great French revolution, 1789-1793


46. The Insurrection of May 31 and June 2

Preparations for rising — Activity of sections — Commission of Twelve — Want of union among revolutionists — Les Enragés — New class of middle-class property-owners — May 31 — Failure of insurrection — Preparations for fresh revolt — June 2 — News of rising at Lyons — Fury against Gironde — Letter to Convention — Speech of Marat to Jacobin Club — Girondins join counter-revolutionists — Convention outlaws Girondins

Once more the people, in their sections, got ready for insurrection as on August 10. Danton, Robespierre and Marat held frequent consultations with each other during those days; but still they hesitated, and again action came from the “unknown ones,” who constituted an insurrectionary club at the Bishop's Palace, and appointed a Commission of “Six” for that purpose.

The sections took an active part in the preparations. The section of the Quatre Nations had already, in March, declared itself in a state of insurrection, and had authorised its Watch Committee to issue mandates of arrest against citizens suspected of anti-revolutionary opinions, whilst other sections, those of Mauconseil and Poissonniere, openly demanded the arrest of the “Brissotin” deputies. The following month, that is to say, on April 8 and 9, after the treachery of Dumouriez, the sections of Bonconseil and the Halle-aux-Blés insisted on the general's accomplices being prosecuted, and on the 15th, thirty-five sections published a list of the twenty-two members of the Gironde, whose expulsion from the Convention they demanded.

From the beginning of April, the sections had also been trying to constitute their own federation, for action, outside the Council of the Commune, and on April 2 the Gravilliers section, always in the vanguard, took the lead in the creation of a “General Committee.” This committee acted only in an intermittent way, but it was reconstituted on the approach of danger, on May 5, and on the 29th it undertook the direction of the movement. As to the influence of the Jacobin Club, it was never very great, and its members themselves admitted that the centre of action lay in the sections.[226]

On May 26, numerous gatherings of the people besieged the Convention, into which they speedily forced their way, and those who entered the hall demanded, with the support of the galleries, that the Commission of Twelve should be suppressed. But the Convention resisted this demand, and it was not until after midnight that, wearied out, it at last, yielded, and the Commission was broken up.

This concession was, however, only for the moment. The very next day, on the 27th, profiting by the majority they had in the Convention owing to the absence of a great many of the “Montagnards,” who were on commissions in the provinces, the “Gironde,” supported by the “Plain,” reestablished the Commission of Twelve. The insurrection had thus had no effect.

What had rendered the insurrection powerless was that there was no agreement among the revolutionists themselves. One party of the sections, inspired by those known as the “Extremists” (les Enragés), wanted a measure that would strike terror into the counter-revolutionists. They wanted, after rousing the people, to kill the principal Girondins: they even spoke of slaying the aristocrats in Paris.

But this scheme met with strong opposition. The National Representation was a trust confided to the people of Paris; how could they betray the trust of all France? Danton, Robespierre and Marat opposed it strenuously. The council of the Commune with Pache, the mayor, also refused to agree to this scheme; and the Popular Societies would not support it either.

There was another thing to be taken into account. It was necessary to consider the middle classes who were at that time already very numerous in Paris, and whose battalions of Nation Guards would have put down the insurrection if it became a question of defending their property. Guarantees had thus to be given that property should not be touched. This is why Hassenfratz, one of the Jacobins, who declared that there was nothing in theory against the pillage of the scoundrels — for so he called the rich — nevertheless tried to prevent the insurrection from being accompanied by pillage. “There are a hundred and sixty thousand menn having their homes in Paris, who are armed and ready to repress pillage. It is clear that it is an absolute impossibility to make an attack on property,” said Hassenfratz to Jacobins; and he therefore called on all the members of the club to “pledge themselves to perish, rather than allow attacks to be made on property.”

A similar oath was taken on the night of th 31st, in the Commune, and even at the Bishop's Palace, by the “extremists,” the sections doing likewise.

The fact is, that a new class of middle-class property-owners had already sprung up at this time — a class which has increased so enormously during the nineteenth century — and the revolutionists were compelled to take them into consideration, so as not to be opposed by them.

On the eve of an insurrection one can never tell whether the people will rise or not. This time there was also the fear that the Enragés would try to kill the Girondins in the Convention, and so compromise Paris in the eyes of the departments. Three days, therefore, were spent in conferences, until it was agreed that the insurrection should be directed by a union of the different revolutionary elements — the Council of the Commune, the Council of the Departments, and the General Revolutionary Council at the Bishop's Palace; that no personal violence should be committed, and that property should be respected. They were to confine themselves to a moral insurrection, to putting pressure on the Convention, so as to force it to hand over the guilty deputies to the revolutionary tribunal.

Marat, on leaving the Convention on the evening of the 30th, explained this decision at the Bishop's Palace, and afterwards, at the Commune. And apparently it was he who, braving, the law which punished with death any one who rang the tocsin, rang the first peal at midnight from the belfry of the Hôtel de Ville. The insurrection thus began.

The delegates who sat at the Bishop's Palace, and who were representing the centre of the movement, first deposed, as had been done on August 10, the mayor and the council of the Commune; but instead of dismissing the mayor and appointing another council, they reinstated both, after first making them take an oath to join the insurrection. They did the same with the council of the department, and that night the revolutionists from the Bishop's Palace, the Department, and the Commune met together, constituting a “General Revolutionary Council” which undertook the direction of the movement.

This council appointed Hanriot, the commander of one of the battalions, that of the sans-culottes section, to be General Commander of the National Guard. The tocsin was rung and drums were beating the “alarm” throughout Paris. But still indecision was the most noticeable thing in this rising. Even after the alarm-gun on the Pont-Neuf had begun to fire, about one o'clock in the afternoon, the armed sectionaries, pouring into the streets, did not seem to have any fixed plan. Two battalions, faithful to the Girondins, had been the first to hasten to the Convention, and they took up a position in front of the Tuileries. Hanriot, with forty-eight cannon from the sections, surrounded the Tuileries and the Assembly Hall.

Hours passed by without anything being done. All Paris was on foot, but the majority of the people only wanted to put some pressure on the Convention, so that the Girondin Vergniaud, seeing that they went no further, put a resolution to the effect that the sections had merited well of the country. He no doubt hoped by this to mitigate their hostility towards the “Gironde.” It looked almost as if the day were lost, when new crowds of people came up in the evening and invaded the Hall of the Convention. Then, the Montagnards feeling themselves reinforced, Robespierre demanded not only the suppression of the Commission of Twelve and the trial of its members, but also the trial of the principal members of the “Gironde,” whom they called “the Twenty-Two” and who did not include the Twelve.

This proposition was not discussed. All that the Convention decided to do was to break up the Commission of Twelve once more, and to have all its papers settled and sent to the Committee of Public Welfare, for a report to be made on them within three days. For the rest, the Convention approved of a resolution of the Commune which directed that the workmen who remained under arms, until public tranquillity was restored, should be paid forty sous a day. Upon this the Commune levied a tax on the rich, so as to be able to pay the workmen for the first three days of the insurrection. It was decided, also, that the galleries of the Convention should be thrown open to the people, without tickets being required for admission.

All this meant, however, very little. The “Gironde” was still there, and continued to have a majority in the Convention. The insurrection had failed. But then the people of Paris, comprehending that nothing had been done, set to work to prepare for a fresh rising for the next day but one, June 2.

The revolutionary committee formed within the General Council of the Commune gave the order for the arrest of Roland and his wife. He had gone away, and she was arrested alone. It furthermore demanded very plainly that the Convention should have twenty-seven of its Girondist members arrested. That evening the tocsin was rung, and the measured reports of the alarm-gun began again to resound.

On June 2 all Paris had risen, this time to finish matters. More than a hundred thousand armed men assembled round the Convention. They had with them one hundred and sixty-three pieces of artillery, and they asked that the Girondist leaders should hand in their resignations, or, failing this, that twenty-two of them, the number being afterwards raised to twenty-seven, should be expelled from the Convention.

The horrible news that arrived that day from Lyons reinforced the popular insurrection. It became known that on May 29 the famished people of Lyons had risen, but that the counter-revolutionists — that is, the Royalists supported by the Girondins — had gained the upper hand and had restored order by murdering eight hundred patriots!

This was unfortunately only too true, and the share taken by the Girondins in the counter-revolution was only too evident. The news roused the people to fury; it was the doom of the “Gironde.” The people who were besieging the Convention declared that they would let no one pass out so long as the expulsion of the principal Girondins, in some fashion or other, was not pronounced.

It is known that the Convention, or at least the Right, the “Plain” and part of the “Mountain,” declaring that their deliberations were no longer free, tried to get out, hoping to overawe the people, and so make their way through the crowd. Whereupon Hanriot, drawing his sword, gave the famous order: “Gunners, to your guns!”

After a three days' resistance, the Convention was thus obliged to do as it was bidden. It voted the exclusion of thirty-one of the Girondist members; whereupon a deputation of the people brought to it the following letter:

“The whole of the people of the departments of Paris have deputed us to tell you, citizen legislators, that the decree which you have just made is the salvation of the Republic; we come to offer hostages from among us, in numbers equalling those of whom the Assembly has ordered the arrest, so as to answer their departments for their safety.”

On the other hand, Marat gave an address to the Jacobins on June 3, in which he summed up as follows the meaning of the movement that had just been carried out, and proclaimed the right of well-being for all.

“We have given a great impetus to the Revolution,” he said, speaking of the expulsion of the thirty-one Girondin deputies, “it is for the Convention now to confirm the bases of the public happiness. Nothing is easier; you only must make up your minds definitively. We wish that all the citizens spoken of as sans-culottes may enjoy happiness and comfort. We wish that this useful class should be helped by the rich in proportion to their capacities. We do not wish to attack property. But what is the most sacred property? It is that of existence. We wish this property to be respected. . . .

“We wish that all men who have not a hundred thousand livres' worth of property should have an interest in the maintenance of our work. As to those who have more than a hundred thousand, let them cry out as much as they like. . . . We shall tell these men: `Acknowledge that we are the great number, and if you do not help us to turn the wheel, we shall drive you out of the Republic, we shall take possession of your property, and divide it among the sans-coulottes.' “

And to this he added another idea which was soon to be put into execution:

“Jacobins,” he went on to say, “I have a truth to tell you. You do not know your most deadly enemies; they are the constitutional priests. It is they who declaim most in the provinces against anarchists, disorganisers, Dantonism, Robespierrism, Jacobinism. . . . Do not cherish any longer the popular errors; cut at the roots of superstition! Declare openly that the priests are your enemies.”[227]

At that moment Paris did not in the least desire the death of the Girondist deputies. All that the people wanted was that the revolutionary members of the Convention should have a liberty of action for carrying the Revolution further on. The arrested deputies were not sent to the Abbaye prison; they were guarded in their own homes. Their pay even, of eighteen francs a day, allotted to each member of the Convention, was continued, and every one of them could move about Paris, accompanied by a gendarme, whom he had to feed.

If these deputies, acting in accordance with the principles of antique citizenship, which they so much liked to vaunt, had withdrawn into private life, it is certain that they would have been let alone. But instead of that, they hurried off to their departments to stir them up against the Convention, and when they saw that in order to excite the counter-revolution and to rouse the departments against Paris, they would have to march hand in hand with the royalists, they allied themselves with the royalist traitors, rather than give up their plans. They marched with these traitors against the Revolution.

Then, and only then — in July 1793 — the Convention outlawed them as rebels.


[226]^ Vide Aulard, Jacobins, vol. v. p. 209.

[227]^ Aulard, Jacobins, vol. v. p. 227.

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