Jean Jaurès Socialist History of the French Revolution 1901-1907

The Insurrection of August 10, 1792

Source: Histoire Socialiste de la Révolution Française Volume II. Paris, Éditions Sociales, 1968;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2010.

The revolutionary gears finally went into motion. The alarm was beaten, the tocsin was sounded and on the peaceful night of August 9-10 the people of the faubourgs, grabbing their rifles, hitching their cannons, prepared to deliver combat at dawn. But these men weren’t animated by narrow and immediate interests. The workers, the proletarians who were entering combat alongside the boldest section of the revolutionary bourgeoisie didn’t formulate any economic demands. Even when they had fought against the hoarders and monopolists who had increased the price of sugar and other goods the workers of Paris said: “It’s not bonbons we’re demanding, like a bunch of women. We don’t want to leave the Revolution in the hands of a new selfish and oppressive caste.”

It was above all else full political freedom, it was full democracy that they demanded. This they would certainly provide guarantees for their interests, their wages, and their very existence. Already in the vast popular movement, in the great agitation of July and August, the Le Chapelier Law had been abrogated in fact and the feuillantine bourgeoisie complained on August 7 that the workers were forming assemblies to demand a raise in wages.

The proletarians knew that any extolling of national life and of liberty would be an extolling of their strength, and they felt a certain foreboding. But their direct and conscious thoughts were for their fatherland threatened by foreigners, for freedom betrayed by the king’s deceit. They must bring down the traitorous king in order to more surely repel the foreign kings. And so it was not an explicit and immediate class movement that animated the proletarians.

And yet, while on July 14 and October 5 and 6 it was against royal despotism that the united workers and bourgeoisie fought, on that August 10 they fought both against royalty and against that portion of the bourgeoisie that had rallied to it. In bringing down the king they would at the same time take their revenge on the bourgeois moderantistes who, on the Champ de Mars in July 1791 had fired on the people in order to defend royalty.

And the red flag, which was the flag of martial law, the bloody symbol of bourgeois repression, was taken over by the revolutionaries of August 10. The made it the signal of revolt, or rather the emblem of a new power.

What was the precise moment when the idea occurred to the revolutionary people to appropriate the flag of martial law and to turn it against their enemies? It appears that it was around June 20. When Chaumette recounts in his memoirs the preparations for June 20, he shows that the citizens of the faubourgs Saint-Antoine and Saint-Marceau “took pride in being called sans-culottes by the aristocrats in lace,” and prepared to go to the king to impose the sanctioning of decrees.

“On the other hand, the most ardent and enlightened patriots went to the Cordelier Club and spent nights together planning.

“Among others there was a committee where they made a red flag bearing this inscription: ‘The martial law of the people against the revolt of the court,’ under which all free men were to rally, all the republicans who had a friend, a son, a relative murdered on the Champ de Mars on July 17, 1791 to avenge.”

Carra, recounting the preparations not of June 20 but of August 10, wrote: “It was in the Soleil d’Or cabaret [where the insurrectionary directorate met] that Fournier the American brought us the red flag whose invention I’d proposed and upon which I’d had these words written: ‘The martial law of the sovereign people against the rebellion of the executive power.’ It was also to this same cabaret that I brought 500 copies of a poster upon which was written these words: ‘Those who fire on the people shall be put to death immediately.’”

And so the idea of appropriating the red flag seems to have come to the people before June 20, as soon as the era of popular movements against royalty began. But it seems that on June 20 the red flag was not used, either because there wasn’t enough time to prepare a large enough number with the revolutionary inscription, or because Pétion, who sought to legalize the movement of June 20, had had his friend renounce its use. But the idea persisted and on August 10 the red flag floated above the revolutionary columns. It signified that: “It is we the people who are now the right. It is we the people who are now the law. Power now resides in us. And the king, the court, the moderate bourgeoisie, all the traitors who, under the name of Constitutionals, in fact betray the constitution and the fatherland. In resisting the people they resist the true law, and they are the ones against whom we proclaim martial law. We are not rebels. The rebels are in the Tuileries and in the name of the fatherland and freedom we turn against the seditionists of the court and moderantismes the flag of legal repression.”

And so it was more than a symbol of vengeance. It wasn’t the banner of reprisals: it was the splendid flag of a new power conscious of its right, and this is why since then, whenever the proletariat was to affirm its strength and its hopes, it would be the red flag it would unfurl.

In Lyon under Louis-Philippe the workers, ground down by hunger, unfurled the black flag, the flag of poverty and despair. But after February 1848, when the proletarians wanted to illustrate the new revolution through a symbol of their own they asked the provisional government to adopt the red flag.

In order for it to burst forth anew like a flame long hidden under the ashes it was necessary for the revolutionary tradition of August 10 to have been continued for a half century in the impoverished houses of the faubourgs, from the father’s mouth to the son’s heart. And Lamartine demonstrated a strange form of memory lapse when he said to the people assembled before the Hôtel de Ville: “The red flag never did anything but circulate around the Champ de Mars dragged in the rivers of the blood of the people.”

Why did the people not answer? “Yes, but this flag, dyed with the blood of the people on July 17, 1791 led the people against the Tuileries on August 10, 1792. And in its splendor working class hope is mixed in with the republican victory.”

On the night of August 9, around midnight, the sound of the tocsin, the beating of the drums, alerted the legislators scattered around Paris that a great movement was being prepared. They hastily went to the Assembly, and at midnight the session was opened. It was a session of expectation. The Assembly was resolved to keep an eye on events, but not to intervene directly in the fight between the people and the king.

It was in vain that the ministers, in order to make the Assembly understand its responsibilities, let it know that it was urgent that it take measures to protect the Tuileries chateau and defend the constitution. It responded that that was a matter for the administrative authorities. It was also in vain that several deputies proposed to their colleagues that they go to see the king, as they’d done on June 20. Choudieu loudly proclaimed that in this hour of danger the true duty of the peoples’ representatives was to remain at their posts. The Assembly applauded.

At the same time the chateau laid a trap for Pétion. He was called there and the mayor, fearing he’d be seriously compromised if he refused to respond, went to the Tuileries. There it was clear that they above all else wanted to hold him hostage. Frightened by his long absence the administrators of the police of the Paris Commune wrote to the Assembly and the latter, in order to save him, called him to its bar. Mandat, who commanded the National Guard and was devoted to the court, didn’t dare hold on to Pétion. The mayor went to the bar of the Assembly and alluded in measured terms to the offensive words that had been addressed to him. He announced that the defensive measures taken by the chateau were quite severe, sufficient to block any movement. Had Pétion wanted to give the people of Paris a final counsel of prudence? Or provide the Assembly the pretext it needed not to intervene? Or else have himself authorized not to reinforce the defense of the chateau? At this time the general assembly of the sections gathered at the Hôtel de Ville. And the boldest sections, those of the Théâtre Français and Gravilliers, at around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. issued the opinion that the constituted authorities had to be replaced by new and revolutionary authorities.

Around dawn, at the moment when from all the faubourgs, from Saint-Antoine and Saint-Marcel, the federals and workers formed in columns and marched on the Tuileries, the assembly of sections substituted itself for the legal Commune and organized itself into a revolutionary commune.

This was a daring and perhaps decisive move, for through it the fighting people had behind it the support of an organized public force. Through it as well the general staff of the National Guard, its commander Mandat, stripped of office, could be placed in a worrisome state. And the revolutionary Commune spread doubt and confusion in the ranks of the enemy. The new Commune immediately issued the following decree, which established it:

“The assembly of commissioners of the majority of the sections, assembled with plenary powers to save the public thing, has decided that the first measure the public thing demanded was the seizing of all the powers the Commune had delegated and to take from the general staff the dangerous influence it had until this day had over the fate of liberty. It considers that this method could only be employed if the municipality, which can only and in every case act in accordance with the established forms, is suspended and that the mayor and the procurator general shall continue in their administrative functions.”

This was signed by Huguenin as president and Martin as secretary. All these men placed their heads at risk. And so it was because the constituted authorities could not free themselves of legal forms that the sections smashed them. Pétion and Manuel, who were continued in office, were invested anew, but for fear that Pétion, still tied down by legal forms, would paralyze the people’s movement, the revolutionary Commune placed him under house arrest. In this way it preserved the freedom of popular action. And it also clearly showed from the beginning of this great day what its true character was. This was not a summoning of the king. It was rather a question of a change in power, and the people installed itself as sovereign at the Hôtel de Ville in order to drive from the Tuileries the sovereignty of treason.

How would the legislative assembly receive this new power, the revolutionary expression of the people’s will? It was informed of the events in the Hôtel de Ville around 7:00 a.m. by a complaining deputation from the former municipality. But what was to be done? Several deputies proposed repealing the new power as illegal. But the fight around the chateau had already begun, and the proposal failed. The new power acted and it decisively backed the people’s efforts. Even before constituting itself as a commune the delegates from the sections had obtained from the legal municipality that it recall Mandat, the commander of the National Guard devoted to the king.

In the morning the latter, at the moment when his presence at the Tuileries would have been most necessary, had finished by surrendering to the municipal order, and upon arriving at the Hôtel de Ville found before him a new power. The revolutionary Commune treated him as a defendant and demanded that he account for the irregular orders he had given without the explicit authorization of the mayor to arm the National Guard against the people. And at the moment when the interrogation having finished he prepared to hastily return to the Tuileries, it had him arrested.

The resistance of the Tuileries was immediately disorganized. The court had lost every legal point of support; the National Guard no longer gave the Swiss Guards or the gentlemen the least assistance. The king became fully aware of this at about 6:00 when he briefly left the castle to review the positions at the Carrousel and the Tuileries. The artillerymen of the National Guard received him either with a gloomy silence or with shouts of “Long Live the Nation!”

Louis XVI had the stinging, fatal sensation that he was alone against the people. He returned to the chateau in a state of despair. Little by little the attackers were arriving and beginning, though at first half-heartedly, to invest the chateau via the Carrousel and the Tuileries. Would the king and queen, half abandoned, be able to support the risks of a siege? The disquiet was great at the Assembly. What would happen if, in the fury of the assault, the king and queen were massacred? Wouldn’t France, which on June 20 had already been moved to support the threatened king, rise up against those who would have killed him, against those as well who, through their inaction, would have been accomplices in the murder? Several deputies requested that the Assembly call for the king to come to it. But doing this meant not only protecting the king’s life; it also in a way covered his power with national protection. It also perhaps meant turning the revolutionary forces against the Assembly itself, now appearing to be in solidarity with the king.

The Assembly understood this and didn’t surrender itself. A proposal that was less clear and which exposed the Assembly less was formulated. It wouldn’t call for the king to come, but it would let him know that it was assembled and that if he wished he could go to it. But this too meant tying the Assembly’s responsibility to that of the king. It hesitated again, despite the visible emotion of Cambon, who shouted that the Assembly’s inaction would be at least as dangerous as action, and that it was necessary to “save the glory of the people,” that is, preserve the king’s life. Since the Assembly continued to hesitate and remained immobile, stagnant in the storm, the king, pressured by Roederer, the syndic of the department, decided to leave the Tuileries and go to the Assembly.

Via the central alley of the garden, and then via the alley of the Tuileries already scattered with dead leaves after an arid and hot summer, the royal family arrived with difficulty, passing through a half-uncertain half-hostile crowd in order to reach the door of the Assembly. Louis XVI was never again to return to the home of kings. On this Friday, which the pious souls of the royalists turned into a Good Friday, he began his Passion. A justice of the peace appeared at the bar of the Assembly: “Gentlemen, I come to inform you that the king, the queen, and the royal family are about to present themselves before the National Assembly.”

Was it a king who was coming to the Assembly, one of the powers of the constitution come to join with the other? Or was it an outlaw seeking asylum at the altar of the law, which his treason had vainly attempted to overthrow? For the Assembly it was a king, or at least the shadow of the king, and twenty-four deputies, those closest to the door, advanced ahead of him in the growing tumult and confusion. The ceremonial of the constitution was thus still maintained. The assembly had raised it before itself like a shining shield, a shield of glory, of eloquence and wisdom. It knew that at the Commission of the Twelve it had been temporizing and prudent. It thus thought that in this mounting crisis it wouldn’t go beyond what was demanded by circumstances. But the people had maintained the memory and the vibrations of the powerful and prophetic speech of July 3. And the Assembly hoped that the afterglow of popularity remaining on the visage of the great orator would appease the crowd. The prestige of glory for a moment supplemented the authority of the king.

When the king had entered and, in accordance with protocol, taken his place alongside the president, he said to the Assembly:

“I have come here today to avoid a great crime and I will always feel myself and my family to be safe amidst the representatives of the nation.”

As reported in the Moniteur, the Logographe, and the Journal des Débats et Décrets Vergniaud responded:

“The National Assembly knows its duties. It swore to maintain the rights of the people and the constituted authorities.”

Royalty’s ghost thus continued to live, but after all the constitution itself permitted the pronouncing of removal or suspension from office, and Vergniaud had hardly committed himself. A few minutes later the Assembly officially recognized the “constituted” authorities, but it was those constituted that night by the Revolution. After the departure of the royal family the crowd investing Tuileries had grown. The federals, the people of the faubourgs with bayonets, pikes, and cannons arrived, swelling the crowd. Was it impossible to avoid a bloody collision? The Assembly hastily addressed a proclamation to the people, but who would see to its taking hold? The former municipality had been dissolved and was powerless. Thuriot openly proposed to the Assembly that it recognize the new municipality, the revolutionary Commune: “I request that all the commissioners who will be going to the city be authorized to confer with all those in whose hands resides, either legally or illegally, any form of authority and who have at least apparent public confidence.”

The Assembly adopted Thuriot’s motion and it was thus through the Commune that the first sliver of the republican revolution entered the still-monarchical constitution of 1791.

A few minutes later the Assembly decided to allow the revolutionary Commune the at least provisional choice of a new commander for the National Guard. In the meanwhile, in a Tuileries devoid of the king, it seemed the watchword of disarming was given. From the windows the Swiss shouted words of friendship to the people. The door opening onto the grand staircase opened and the people of the faubourgs and the federals joyously rushed through them. But suddenly, from every step of the staircase a terrible fusillade answered the confident Revolution. Was this an abominable trap and trickery? Or was it that in the anarchy of a small army suddenly abandoned by its king and issued contradictory orders there was an awful misunderstanding? A horrible cry of pain, death, and anger rose from the people as they were pushed back. They aimed their cannons at the walls, their rifles at the windows from which the Swiss’ muskets crackled. The buildings built against the palace walls were set on fire and there could be heard the sound of the cannon, deep, wrathful, and gloomy; the piercing and irritated noise of the fusillade, the crackling of the flames lightened by the breaking day; a clamor, a tumult of destruction and combat filled the courtyard of the Carrousel and echoed in the Assembly. At around 9:00 a cry of panic was heard at the door of the meeting hall: “The Swiss have arrived. The room has been forced.”

The frightened Assembly believed that royalty’s mercenary soldiers were going to lay hands on them; that treasonous royalty, after having vanquished the people, was going to strike the people’s representatives and that there was nothing left for it but to die and in this way leave to new generations the heroic memory of an immortal protest in support of liberty.

At the first cannon shots all the citizens in the tribunes rose: “Long Live the National Assembly! Long Live the Nation! Long Live Liberty and Equality!” The Assembly immediately decided that all the deputies would remain in their places and await their fate, to save the Fatherland or die for it.

“Here come the Swiss,” the citizens on the tribunes shouted again, who were both sublime in their courage and confused by the uncertain rumors. “We won’t abandon you; we’ll die with you!”

And they applied the Assembly’s decree to themselves: like the Assembly they bound themselves to liberty and death. This was a heroic and great moment, when all disagreements and distrust were effaced in the common passion for liberty, in the common contempt for death, and where the hearts of the men of the tribunes beat with the hearts of the Girondins, of the “statesmen.” The Gironde, in this maelstrom that it had presided over through Vergniaud a short while ago and Guadet now, again mingled with the people’s great revolutionary passion.

The patriots’ fears didn’t last long. The Swiss who’d been shouted about had already been vanquished. They retreated from the chateau forced by the people via the Tuileries gardens; they fell under the balls, the pikes and the bayonets of the victors. During this drama, what was the king’s state of mind? This is an impenetrable mystery. Did he briefly hope that the castle would defend itself and that the Revolution would be defeated? He watched the Assembly’s session from the stenographer’s box. The cries that announced the arrival of the Swiss doubtless echoed joyously in his heart. It’s also possible that when he heard the cannons, heard the crackling of the fusillade, he regretted not having remained among his soldiers to inspire them with his presence. Choudieu, who observed him closely, affirmed that as long as the combat continued his face remained impassive, and that he only showed emotion when the defeat of his final defenders became known to him. Too late he ordered the Swiss to cease fire. The victorious people invaded the Tuileries, dug around it from the cellar to the roof, and men covered with powder or with bloody faces entered the assembly bearing papers, gold coins, or the queen’s jewels and shouted: “Long Live the Nation!”

This was the victory of the Revolution and the fatherland. It was also the victory of the revolutionary Commune. It was the latter that, by substituting itself for the legal commune, burned the bridges behind the advancing revolution. It had to win or perish. It was the revolutionary Commune as well which, by holding Pétion and arresting Mandat, ensured the free expansion of popular force. On the morning of August 10, and with the chateau hardly forced, the Commune presented itself to the Assembly, not to request the legal confirmation of a power it owed the Revolution itself, but on the contrary to dictate laws. In its name Huguenin, accompanied by Léonard Bourdon, Truchon, Berieux, Vigaud, and Cellier, said the following:

“It is the new magistrates of the people who present themselves at your bar. The new dangers to the Fatherland provoked our election; the circumstances counseled it and our patriotism will render us worthy of it. The people, finally having had enough, for the past four years the playthings of the perfidies and intrigues of the Court, felt that it was time to stop the Empire at the brink of the abyss. Legislators: all that is left is to back up the people: we come here in its name to work out with you measures for public safety. Pétion, Manuel, and Danton are still our colleagues; Santerre is at the head of the armed force.

“May the traitors perish in their turn. This day is the triumph of civic virtues. Legislators, the people’s blood has flowed; foreign troops, who have remained within our walls through a new crime of the executive power, have fired on our citizens. Our unfortunate brothers have left behind them widows and orphans. .

“The people who have sent us to you charged us with declaring to you that it again invests you with its confidence. But at the same time it has charged us with declaring to you that it only recognizes the French people, your sovereign and ours, gathered in primary assemblies as fit to judge the extraordinary measures which necessity and resistance to oppression have led it.”

The Assembly didn’t protest against the victorious Commune that claimed to treat it as an equal and that invested it again in the name of the people, but only so that it convoke the people itself.

It was this revolutionary Commune that the Assembly charged with transmitting to the people decrees inviting them to calm. On that same day, based on reports by Vergniaud, Guadet, and Jean Debry it rendered the decisive decrees without debate.

With the first it invited the French people to form a National Convention, deciding that the method and time of its convocation would be decided the next day. At the same time it declared “the head of the executive power provisionally suspended from his functions until such time as the National Convention has pronounced on the measures it believes must be taken to ensure the sovereignty of the people and the rule of liberty and equality.”

With the second it declared that the ministers in place did not have its confidence and it decided that ministers would be provisionally named by the National Assembly and by individual election. They could not be taken from within that body.

Finally, with a third group of decrees it decided that the decrees already rendered that hadn’t been sanctioned, and that the decrees to be rendered which couldn’t be because of the suspension of the king, would nevertheless bear the name of laws and would be in force throughout the kingdom.

It was, in summary, the end of the monarchy. This was doubtless not a matter of removal from office but only of suspension. The people murmured for a moment, and then protests were raised. Vergniaud harangued the petitioners. He told them that it was from respect for the people’s sovereignty that the Assembly was only taking provisional measures. And the announcing of an upcoming National Convention changed all worries and recriminations to enthusiasm. It seemed to the people that this new Assembly, born of its victory, was going to have done with all the ruses, falsehoods, betrayals, and half-measures which, given the danger which confronted the Fatherland, were the equivalent of treason. It was its own strength that it had a presentiment of, that it hoped to find in the measure. The morning’s combat had caused an increase in the anger felt in the people’s hearts. The unforeseen fusillade by the Swiss, combined with the threat of Brunswick’s manifesto, gave rise to the most sinister rumors. According to Chaumette it was being said that the cruelest of tyranny’s inventions were to be employed against the patriots; that if the king had emerged victorious they would have been sacrificed in their thousands on a gallows similar to that cooked up by Louis XI and that their sons, placed below them, would be covered with a bloody mist. The people hunted down those it suspected of having taken part in the battle against them, in the morning’s ambush. And throughout the day of August 10 Louis XVI even under escort, even as a prisoner, couldn’t have crossed Paris without danger.

All day the Commune distributed cartridges, as if a terrible plot was still to be feared. But little by little, at the idea that soon the people were going to exercise their sovereignty and elect the great Assembly of combat and salvation, the anger fell. And the dying legislative Assembly seemed in a way to participate in the popularity of the new and unknown Assembly it had just promised France.

This Convention, without it having yet been clearly announced, meant the arrival of the republic. It was above all the arrival of democracy. No more cens, no more privileges, no more harmful and bourgeois distinctions between active and passive citizens. Upon the report of Jean Debry, deputy from the Aisne, in the name of the Committee of Twelve, the Assembly voted without debate at the session of August 10 that all citizens aged 25 were electors.

“The National Assembly wanting, at the moment when it solemnly swears its support for liberty and equality, to this day consecrate the application of a principle every bit as sacred to the people, decrees that in the future, and in particular in the formation of the upcoming National Convention, that every French citizen 25 years of age, a resident for one year, and living from the product of his labor, shall be admitted to vote in the assembly of communes and the primary assemblies in the same way as every other active citizen, and with no other distinctions.”

And so universal suffrage was founded. And it wasn’t only for the upcoming National Convention, but for all manifestations of national life throughout the infinity of time. And on August 12 the Convention again expanded the popular base, lowering the age of the electorate from 25 to 21. It maintained 25 as the age of eligibility, but it erased, both for eligibility as well as the electorate, any distinction between active and passive citizens. It maintained the system of election in two steps by primary assemblies, but rather as a counsel than as an imperative, and it set the naming of electoral assemblies for August 26, and the electing of deputies for September 2.

On August 10 the ministry had been constituted under the name of Provisional Executive Council. On the proposal of Isnard, ever the friend of theatrical demonstrations, the Assembly, renouncing individual election, named en bloc Roland, Clavière, and Servan, the three Girondin ministers the king had dismissed. But the Gironde could not be the only one to benefit from a movement it had only participated in half-heartedly and intermittently. The Assembly understood that it could only have an effect on the revolutionary people and could only satisfy the Paris Commune if it called a man of the Revolution to the responsibilities of power a man. So Danton was elected minister of justice with 222 of 284 votes. Monge was called to the navy and Lebrun to foreign affairs.

Danton hadn’t personally taken part in the assault on the Tuileries. But during the night he was actively involved in the preparations, ready to bear the terrible responsibilities that risky day held for the leaders of the Revolution. Victorious with the people, his thoughts were immediately generous and clement. Beautiful were his first worked at the Legislative Assembly of August 11: “The events that just occurred in Paris prove that there is no way to come to a compromise with the people’s oppressors. The French nation was surrounded by new plots. The people deployed all their energy. The National Assembly backed them, and the tyrants disappeared. But now it is I who, standing before you, makes a commitment to perish in order to wrest from a too prolonged popular vengeance these same men [the Swiss] who found refuge in your Assembly. (Lively applause) A few minutes ago I said this at the Paris Commune: where the actions of the agents of the nation begin popular vengeance must end. Gentlemen, there is no doubt but that the people feel this great truth: that they must not sully their great triumph. The assembly of the Commune appeared to be filled with these sentiments, and all those who hear us share them. I promise to march at the head of these men that the people, in their indignation, believed had to be outlawed but who they will pardon, since they have nothing more to fear from their tyrants.” (Repeated applause)

On August 11 Louis XVI had been taken with his family to the Luxembourg palace and from there, a few days later, to the Temple. He was nothing but a prisoner.