Jean-Paul Marat 1792

Louis Capet at the Bar of the Convention

Source: Journal de la république française, No 73. December 12, 1792;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

Tuesday the 11th of this month, at 3:00 in the evening, Louis Capet appeared at the bar of the National Convention in order to submit to an interrogation and recognize the evidence.

It was quite a new and sublime spectacle for the philanthropic thinker; that of a despot, no longer surrounded by splendor, pomp and the formidable apparatus of his power, stripped of all the imposing signs of past grandeur, and brought like a criminal before a popular tribunal to receive the penalty for his crimes. Has the reign of servile prejudices finally passed? Yes it has, and with no chance of return, not even for those classes of society most degraded by despotism and among who thought could least make the dignity of the human person bloom, for the tribunes saw the ex-monarch appear without giving the least sign of approbation or reprobation; I would even say with the most perfect indifference, if they could have been indifferent to the judging of the tyrant.

What must have passed through the mind of the former despot of the French, brought like a criminal before an assembly of these men, upon whom he once disdained to cast his gaze; of these men he called his subjects; of these men he only remembered in order strip them of everything; of these men he made wait in his antechambers when they came to ask of him some grace; of these men who insolent valets, covered in the colors of servitude, rudely pushed away, insulted with effrontery, and oppressed with impunity. Judging by his air and his bearing one would think him insensible to the change in his fortunes. What? The loss of a sparkling throne and all the pleasures of a voluptuous court are thus nothing in his eyes? One could believe this given the manner he used them when they were in his possession. How many times, ceding to a natural taste, did he quit the joys that are the object of desire of ambitious hearts to attend to the labors of the most common arts as if instinct, despite pride, had brought him to the place nature defined for him.

It is owed to truth to say that he presented and comported himself at the bar with decency, however humiliating his position was. He heard himself called Louis Capet 100 times without flinching – he who had only heard resound in his ears the name of “majesty” – and he never showed the least impatience the entire time he was kept standing, he before whom no man had the privilege of sitting.

In his humiliation how great he would have been in my eyes if he had been innocent and full of feelings, and if this apathetic calm had come from the resignation of a sage to the laws of necessity.

His responses to the questioning proved that he is less stupid than is thought, if it weren’t more than probable that they were suggested to him[1]; he passes for having an excellent memory. With the exception of a few answers they were all evasive, i.e., impudent lies.

What then is the idea that should be formed of Louis Capet? That of a man without a soul, a man never worthy of the throne; of a despot whose courtiers always had him maintain a conduct that changes according to the circumstances; of a tyrant who they pushed into all crimes. His conduct has always been a tissue of inconsistencies and horrors: sometime haughty, insolent, low, base, begging; he always showed himself hard, barbarous, ferocious, false, cheating, traitorous; he always dipped his hands without regret in the blood of the people, and if he isn’t himself the author of the plots hatched against public freedom, he consented to them and is no less criminal in the eyes of justice.

1. How suggested? I don’t know, but the extreme dilatoriness in the triage of the papers and in reporting to the commissions of 24 and 12 seemed to me to be concerted in order to allow the members of these committees the means to prepare the historical act and charges; while the delays in their presentation had as their goal not allowing the assembly the time to examine and correct it.