Robespierre 1791

On the King’s Flight

Speech given at the Jacobin Club, June 22, 1791;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

It’s not to me that the flight of the first public functionary should appear to be a disastrous event. This day could have been the most beautiful of the revolution; it could still become so, and the gain of 40 million in support that the royal individual cost would be the least of the benefits of this day.

But for this other measures must be taken than those adopted by the National Assembly, and I seize a moment where they are not in session to speak to you of the measures it seems should have been taken and that I wasn’t permitted to propose.

The king chose the moment to desert his post when the opening of the primary assemblies was going to awaken all ambitions, all hopes, and all parties, and arm half the nation against the other by the application of the decree of the marc d'argent, as well as through the ridiculous distinctions established between full citizens, half citizens and quarter citizens.

He chose the moment when the first legislature, at the end of its labors, sees approaching it — with the eye one uses to look on an heir — the legislature that is going to chase it and exercise the national veto in reversing some of its acts. He chose the moment when treacherous priests have, by orders and bulls, stirred up fanaticism, and provoked against the constitution all that philosophy has left behind of idiots in the eighty-three departments.

He waited for the moment when the emperor and the king of Sweden would have arrived at Brussels to receive him, and when France would be covered with harvests so that a small band of brigands, torch in hand, could have starved the nation.

But these aren’t the circumstances that frighten me: let all of Europe league against us and Europe will be defeated.

What frightens me, Messieurs, is the very thing that seems to reassure everyone. And here I need to be listened to until the end. Once again, what frightens me is the very thing that seems to reassure everyone else: it’s that since this morning, all of our enemies speak the same language as us.

Everyone is united; everyone has the same face, and nevertheless it’s clear that a king who had a pension of 40 million, who still disposed of all places, who still had the most beautiful and the most secure crown on his head, could not have renounced so many advantages without being sure of recovering them.

So he couldn’t have based his hopes on the support of Leopold and the King of Sweden and on the army from beyond the Rhine: let all the brigands of Europe league together and they will again be defeated. It is, then, in our midst, it’s in this capital, that the fugitive king left those supports upon which he counts for his triumphal re-entry. Otherwise his flight would be too foolish.

You know that 3 million men armed for freedom would be invincible; he thus has a powerful party of great intelligence in our midst. But look around you and share my fear in considering that everyone wears the same mask of patriotism

These are not conjectures that I am making; these are facts of which I am certain. I am going to reveal all to you, and I defy those who will speak after me to respond to me.

You know the memorandum that Louis XVI left on departing; you noted how he marks in the constitution those things that wound him and those that have the happiness of pleasing him. Read that protest by the king and you will grasp the entire plot.

The king is going to reappear on the frontiers, assisted by Leopold, by the King of Sweden, by d'Artois, by Condé, by all the fugitives and all the brigands whose ranks the common cause of kings would have swollen. In their eyes the ranks will be even more swelled.

A paternal manifesto will appear, like that of the emperor when he re-conquered Brabant. The king will say in it: “My people can always count on my love.” The sweetness of peace and even that of liberty will be vaunted in it.

A transaction will be proposed with the émigrés: eternal peace, amnesty, fraternity. At the same time the chiefs in the capital and in the departments, with whom this project is coordinated, on their side will paint the horrors of civil war. Why kill each other in a war between brothers who all want to be free? For Bender and Condé will speak of themselves as more patriotic than us. If, when you had no more harvests to preserve from arson, nor enemy armies on your frontiers, the Constitutional Committee had you tolerate so many nation-icide decrees, would you hesitate to cede to the insinuations of your chiefs when you are only asked to make slight sacrifices in order to bring about a general reconciliation?

I know well the character of the nation. Will the chiefs who had you give votes of thanks to Bouillé for the St Bartholomew’s massacre of patriots in Nancy have any difficulty in the short term in bringing to a transaction a worn out people, one with whom great pains have been taken to wean them of the beauties of freedom, while it was effected to weigh upon them all the charges, and to make them feel all the privations, their preservation impose?

And see how everything works together to execute this plan, and how the National Assembly itself marches to this goal in concert.

Louis XVI wrote to the Assembly in his own hand; he signs that he is fleeing and the Assembly in a lie that is: cowardly, since it could call things by their name in the middle of 3 million bayonets; crude, since the king had the impudence to write: I am not being abducted, I leave so that I can return to subjugate you; perfidious, since this lie tended to preserve to the king his quality and the right to dictate to us, arms in hand, the decrees that would please him. The National Assembly, I say, has today in twenty decrees called the king’s flight an abduction. We can guess for what reason.

Do you want any other proofs that the National Assembly betrays the interests of the nation? What measures did it take this morning? Here are the principal ones:

The Minister of War will continue in office, under the oversight of the Diplomatic Committee, and the same for the other ministers.

And what is the Minister of War? It’s a man who I have never ceased denouncing to you, who has constantly followed in the steps of his predecessors, persecuting the patriotic soldiers, and naming aristocratic officers. What is the Military Committee that is charged with watching over him? It’s a committee entirely made up of disguised aristocratic colonels and our most dangerous enemies. I need only their works to unmask them. The decrees most fatal for liberty have come from the Military Committee.

What is the Minister of Foreign Affairs? It’s a Montmorin who, a month ago, two weeks ago, answered you saying that the king adored the constitution. It’s to this traitor that you abandon foreign relations! Under whose oversight? Of the Diplomatic Committee, of this committee where reigns an André, and where one of whose members told me that a man of good will, a man who wasn’t a traitor to his country, could not put his feet. I won’t continue this review. Lessart no more has my confidence than does Necker, who left him his coat.

Citizens, have I demonstrated enough the depths of the abyss that is going to swallow up our freedom?

Do you see clearly enough the coalition of ministers of the king, some of whom, if not all, I will never believe did not know of his flight? Do you see clearly enough the coalition of your civil and military chiefs? It is such that I can’t not believe that it didn’t favor that escape, which they confess to have known about. Do you see that coalition with your committees, with the National Assembly?

And as if this coalition wasn’t strong enough, I know that soon a reunion with your best known enemies is going to be proposed to you; in a moment all 89, the mayor, the judge, the general, the ministers, it is said, are going to arrive here! How can we escape? Antony commands the legions that are going to avenge Caesar! And it’s Octavian who commands the legions of the republic.

They talk bout unity, of the need to gather around the same men. Bur when Antony camped around Lepidus and also spoke of unity there was soon nothing but the camp of Antony, and there was nothing left for Brutus and Cassius but to kill themselves.

I swear that all I have just said is the exact truth. You well know you would never hear it in the National Assembly. And here, among you, I feel that these truths will not save the nation without a miracle of Providence, which deigns to better look after freedom than your chiefs.

But I wanted to at least depose in your transcript a monument of all that is going to happen. At least I would have predicted everything to you; I will have traced the march of your enemies, and I cannot be reproached for anything.

I know that by a denunciation — dangerous for me to make but not dangerous for the public thing; I know that in thus accusing almost all of my colleagues, almost all the members of the Assembly of being counter-revolutionary, some from ignorance, others from terror, others from resentment, others by wounded pride, others from a blind confidence, many because they are corrupt, I raise up against me all the prideful; I sharpen a thousand daggers, I offer myself to all the hatred.

I know the lot that is reserved for me. But if in the beginnings of the revolution, and when I was barely glimpsed in the National Assembly, if when only my conscience was seen I sacrificed my life to the truth, to freedom, to the fatherland, then today, when the suffrage of my fellow citizens, when universal benevolence, when too much indulgence, recognition and attachment have paid me well for my sacrifice, I would receive death almost as a benefit that would prevent me from witnessing the evils that I see to be inevitable.

I have just put the National Assembly on trial. I dare it to do the same to me.