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- History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 5/202 -


interference of the stranger. The flight of King Louis from Paris in June, 1791, followed by his capture and his strict confinement within the Tuileries, gave rise to the first definite project of foreign intervention. [4] Louis had fled from his capital and from the National Assembly; he returned, the hostage of a populace already familiar with outrage and bloodshed. For a moment the exasperation of Paris brought the Royal Family into real jeopardy. The Emperor Leopold, brother of Marie Antoinette, trembled for the safety of his unhappy sister, and addressed a letter to the European Courts from Padua, on the 6th of July, proposing that the Powers should unite to preserve the Royal Family of France from popular violence. Six weeks later the Emperor and King Frederick William II. of Prussia met at Pillnitz, in Saxony. A declaration was published by the two Sovereigns, stating that they considered the position of the King of France to be matter of European concern, and that, in the event of all the other great Powers consenting to a joint action, they were prepared to supply an armed force to operate on the French frontier.

[Declaration of Pillnitz withdrawn.]

Had the National Assembly instantly declared war on Leopold and Frederick William, its action would have been justified by every rule of international law. The Assembly did not, however, declare war, and for a good reason. It was known at Paris that the manifesto was no more than a device of the Emperor's to intimidate the enemies of the Royal Family. Leopold, when he pledged himself to join a coalition of all the Powers, was in fact aware that England would be no party to any such coalition. He was determined to do nothing that would force him into war; and it did not occur to him that French politicians would understand the emptiness of his threats as well as he did himself. Yet this turned out to be the case; and whatever indignation the manifesto of Pillnitz excited in the mass of the French people, it was received with more derision than alarm by the men who were cognisant of the affairs of Europe. All the politicians of the National Assembly knew that Prussia and Austria had lately been on the verge of war with one another upon the Eastern question; they even underrated the effect of the French revolution in appeasing the existing enmities of the great Powers. No important party in France regarded the Declaration of Pillnitz as a possible reason for hostilities; and the challenge given to France was soon publicly withdrawn. It was withdrawn when Louis XVI., by accepting the Constitution made by the National Assembly, placed himself, in the sight of Europe, in the position of a free agent. On the 14th September, 1791, the King, by a solemn public oath, identified his will with that of the nation. It was known in Paris that he had been urged by the emigrants to refuse his assent, and to plunge the nation into civil war by an open breach with the Assembly. The frankness with which Louis pledged himself to the Constitution, the seeming sincerity of his patriotism, again turned the tide of public opinion in his favour. His flight was forgiven; the restrictions placed upon his personal liberty were relaxed. Louis seemed to be once more reconciled with France, and France was relieved from the ban of Europe. The Emperor announced that the circumstances which had provoked the Declaration of Pillnitz no longer existed, and that the Powers, though prepared to revive the League if future occasion should arise, suspended all joint action in reference to the internal affairs of France.

[Priests and emigrants keep France in agitation.]

The National Assembly, which, in two years, had carried France so far towards the goal of political and social freedom, now declared its work ended. In the mass of the nation there was little desire for further change. The grievances which pressed most heavily upon the common course of men's lives--unfair taxation, exclusion from public employment, monopolies among the townspeople, and the feudal dues which consumed the produce of the peasant--had been swept away. It was less by any general demand for further reform than by the antagonisms already kindled in the Revolution that France was forced into a new series of violent changes. The King himself was not sincerely at one with the nation; in everything that most keenly touched his conscience he had unwillingly accepted the work of the Assembly. The Church and the noblesse were bent on undoing what had already been done. Without interfering with doctrine or ritual, the National Assembly had re-organised the ecclesiastical system of France, and had enforced that supremacy of the State over the priesthood to which, throughout the eighteenth century, the Governments of Catholic Europe had been steadily tending. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which was created by the National Assembly in 1790, transformed the priesthood from a society of landowners into a body of salaried officers of the State, and gave to the laity the election of their bishops and ministers. The change, carried out in this extreme form, threw the whole body of bishops and a great part of the lower clergy into revolt. Their interests were hurt by the sale of the Church lands; their consciences were wounded by the system of popular election, which was condemned by the Pope. In half the pulpits of France the principles of the Revolution were anathematised, and the vengeance of heaven denounced against the purchasers of the secularised Church lands. Beyond the frontier the emigrant nobles, who might have tempered the Revolution by combining with the many liberal men of their order who remained at home, gathered in arms, and sought the help of foreigners against a nation in which they could see nothing but rebellious dependents of their own. The head-quarters of the emigrants were at Coblentz in the dominions of the Elector of Trčves. They formed themselves into regiments, numbering in all some few thousands, and occupied themselves with extravagant schemes of vengeance against all Frenchmen who had taken part in the destruction of the privileges of their caste.

[Legislative Assembly. Oct. 1791.]

[War policy of the Gironde.]

Had the elections which followed the dissolution of the National Assembly sent to the Legislature a body of men bent only on maintaining the advantages already won, it would have been no easy task to preserve the peace of France in the presence of the secret or open hostility of the Court, the Church, and the emigrants. But the trial was not made. The leading spirits among the new representatives were not men of compromise. In the Legislative Body which met in 1791 there were all the passions of the Assembly of 1789, without any of the experience which that Assembly had gained. A decree, memorable among the achievements of political folly, had prohibited members of the late Chamber from seeking re-election. The new Legislature was composed of men whose political creed had been drawn almost wholly from literary sources; the most dangerous theorists of the former Assembly were released from Parliamentary restraints, and installed, like Robespierre, as the orators of the clubs. Within the Chamber itself the defenders of the Monarchy and of the Constitution which had just been given to France were far outmatched by the party of advance. The most conspicuous of the new deputies formed the group named after the district of the Gironde, where several of their leaders had been elected. The orator Vergniaud, pre-eminent among companions of singular eloquence, the philosopher Condorcet, the veteran journalist Brissot, gave to this party an ascendancy in the Chamber and an influence in the country the more dangerous because it appeared to belong to men elevated above the ordinary regions of political strife. Without the fixed design of turning the monarchy into a republic, the orators of the Gironde sought to carry the revolutionary movement over the barrier erected against it in the Constitution of 1791. From the moment of the opening of the Assembly it was clear that the Girondins intended to precipitate the conflict between the Court and the nation by devoting all the wealth of their eloquence to the subjects which divided France the most. To Brissot and the men who furnished the ideas of the party, it would have seemed a calamity that the Constitution of 1791, with its respect for the prerogative of the Crown and its tolerance of medićval superstition, should fairly get underway. In spite of Robespierre's prediction that war would give France a strong sovereign in the place of a weak one, the Girondins persuaded themselves that the best means of diminishing or overthrowing monarchical power in France was a war with the sovereigns of Europe; and henceforward they laboured for war with scarcely any disguise. [5]

[Notes of Kaunitz, Dec. 21, Feb. 17.]

Nor were occasions wanting, if war was needful for France. The protection which the Elector of Trčves gave to the emigrant army at Coblentz was so flagrant a violation of international law that the Gironde had the support of the whole nation when they called upon the King to demand the dispersal of the emigrants in the most peremptory form. National feeling was keenly excited by debates in which the military preparations of the emigrants and the encouragement given to them by foreign princes were denounced with all the energy of southern eloquence. On the 13th of December Louis declared to the Electors of Trčves and Mainz that he would treat them as enemies unless the armaments within their territories were dispersed by January 15th; and at the same time he called upon the Emperor Leopold, as head of the Germanic body, to use his influence in bringing the Electors to reason. The demands of France were not resisted. On the 16th January, 1792, Louis informed the Assembly that the emigrants had been expelled from the electorates, and acknowledged the good offices of Leopold in effecting this result. The substantial cause of war seemed to have disappeared; but another had arisen in its place. In a note of December 21st the Austrian Minister Kaunitz used expressions which implied that a league of the Powers was still in existence against France. Nothing could have come more opportunely for the war-party in the Assembly. Brissot cried for an immediate declaration of war, and appealed to the French nation to vindicate its honour by an attack both upon the emigrants and upon their imperial protector. The issue depended upon the relative power of the Crown and the Opposition. Leopold saw that war was inevitable unless the Constitutional party, which was still in office, rallied for one last effort, and gained a decisive victory over its antagonists. In the hope of turning public opinion against the Gironde, he permitted Kaunitz to send a despatch to Paris which loaded the leaders of the war-party with abuse, and exhorted the French nation to deliver itself from men who would bring upon it the hostility of Europe. (Feb. 17.) [6] The despatch gave singular proof of the inability of the cleverest sovereign and the most experienced minister of the age to distinguish between the fears of a timid cabinet and the impulses of an excited nation. Leopold's vituperations might have had the intended effect if they had been addressed to the Margrave of Baden or the Doge of Venice; addressed to the French nation and its popular Assembly in the height of civil conflict, they were as oil poured upon the flames. Leopold ruined the party which he meant to reinforce; he threw the nation into the arms of those whom he attacked. His despatch was received in the Assembly with alternate murmurs and bursts of laughter; in the clubs it excited a wild outburst of rage. The exchange of diplomatic notes continued for a few weeks more; but the real answer of France to Austria was the "Marseillaise," composed at Strasburg almost simultaneously with Kaunitz' attack upon the Jacobins. The sudden death of the Emperor on March 1st produced no pause in the controversy. Delessart, the Foreign Minister of Louis, was thrust from office, and replaced by Dumouriez, the representative of the war-party.

[War declared, April 20th, 1792.]

Expostulation took a sharper tone; old subjects of complaint were revived; and the armies on each side were already pressing towards the frontier when the unhappy Louis was brought down to the Assembly by his Ministers, and compelled to propose the declaration of war.

[Pretended grounds of war.]

[Expectation of foreign attack real among the French people; not real among the French politicians.]

It is seldom that the professed grounds correspond with the real motives of a war; nor was this the case in 1792. The ultimatum of the Austrian Government demanded that compensation should be made to certain German nobles whose feudal rights over their peasantry had been abolished in Alsace; that the Pope should be indemnified for Avignon and the Venaissin,


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