Louis XVI’s Flight

  • Louis XVI outwardly supported Revolution but contacted rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Sweden, asking help in restoring his power
  • June 1791, Louis XVI and family attempted to escape to Austria to meet Austrian army and arrange an attack on revolutionaries
  • Bourbons caught just before reaching border and brought back to Tuileries in Paris
  • Escape attempt greatly weakened the king’s position among French -> had little real power remaining but had faith of France

o    Sceptics believed Louis XVI would revoke constitution and its system of limited monarchy

o    Radical revolutionaries had never wanted a constitutional monarchy and distrusted king

o    Moderate revolutionaries,  proponents of constitutional monarchy, were hard-pressed to defend a king abandoning his responsibilities

The Declaration of Pillnitz

  • In response to Louis XVI’s capture and return to Paris, Prussia and Austria issued Declaration of Pillnitz on August 27, 1791, warning against harming king and demanding monarchy be restored
  • Declaration implied Prussia and Austria would intervene militarily in France if Bourbons were harmed
  • Prussia and Austria concerned that French revolutionary sentiment would influence own citizens
  • Pillnitz forced French Revolutionaries to reconsider actions

-> awareness that other nations were watching Revolution

The Constitution of 1791

  • September 1791, National Assembly released anticipated Constitution of 1791, which created constitutional (‘limited’) monarchy -> allowed Louis XVI to maintain control but King and Cabinet would answer to new legislature, Legislative Assembly
  • Constitution eliminated nobility as legal order and struck down monopolies and guilds
  • Established a poll tax and barred servants from voting, ensuring control of France stayed in hands of Bourgeoisie

The Jacobins and Girondins

  • Divisions formed within Legislative Assembly around two main camps; the Jacobins and the Girondins
  • The Jacobins were a group of radical liberals—mainly deputies, leading thinkers, and progressive society members—who wanted to drive Revolution forward aggressively

o    Jacobins found Louis contemptible and wanted to forgo the constitutional monarchy and declare France a republic

  • Disagreeing with Jacobin opinions were more moderate members of Assembly, who wanted constitutional monarchy; most notable was Jacques-Pierre Brissot whose supporters were thus called ‘Brissotins’, and then more commonly ‘Girondins(because many of them came from Gironde region of France)
  • Many historians attribute rivalry of Jacobins and Girondins to class differences, labelling Jacobins poorer, less prestigious
  • Number of other factors were involved, as two groups came from vastly different geographic and ideological backgrounds

o    Jacobins were modern urban idealists who wanted change and independence from any semblance of ancien regime

o    Jacobin radicals were students of enlightened, progressive thought of the time

  • Girondins wanted independence and equality but were more conservative, more loyal and had less contempt for  monarchy
  • Fundamental differences would cause schism that future revolutionary governments in France could

not overcome

The ‘Sans-culottes’

  • In cities throughout France, sans-culottes began to wield significant and unpredictable influence; their mocking name “without culottes” indicated their disdain for upper classes
  • Sans-culottes consisted mainly of urban labourers, peasants, and other poor who hated nobility; summer of 1792, sans-culottes became increasingly violent and difficult to control

War against Austria and Prussia

  • Girondin leader, Brissot, wanted Louis XVI to remain in power, but felt threatened by Declaration of Pillnitz so rallied Legislative Assembly to declare war against Austria on April 20, 1792
  • Austria and Prussia anticipated this reaction and had troops massed along French border à French army was trounced and fled, leaving France vulnerable to counterattack
  • Louis XVI had Brissot removed from command -> mob of Girondins marched on Tuileries on June 20 and demanded  Brissot be reinstated

The Storming of Tuileries Palace

  • August 10, anti-monarchy Jacobins rallied loyal sans-culottes and stormed Tuileries, capturing Louis XVI and family as they tried to escape -> mob ‘arrested’ king for treason
  • September 2, 1972, hysterical sans-culottes, hearing rumours of counterrevolutionary talk, raided Paris’s prisons and murdered more than 1,000 prisoners

The Danger of the Sans-culottes

  • Indication throughout Revolution that no governing body truly had control -> Proof found in sans-culottes; group easily swayed into mob hysteria (extraordinarily difficult to manage)
  • Bourgeoisie groups “in charge” of Revolution hoped to harness power of masses for own plans, but it became apparent the sans-culottes were uncontrollable.
  • Girondins, had originally rallied sans-culottes to Revolution, found that rabble was more radical than expected; massacres on September 2 revealed true power of sans-culottes and showed chaos they created
  • Despite their contributions to revolutionary cause, they had little input into government dominated by bourgeoisie; having gained freedom from monarchical oppression, sans-culottes switched their cry from “Liberty!” to “Equality!”

Failures of the Legislative Assembly

  • Legislative Assembly’s complacency in 1792 led to violence that followed; Revolution had accomplished everything desired, and new government had much legislation as proof
  • But assembly had not organized an army capable of taking on combined forces of Austria and Prussia, nor calmed its own internal feuds

-> new government was still too unstable to go to war – yet it did so, and was soundly defeated

  • Girondins were radical enough to want to go to war, yet conservative enough to do so only under rule of a constitutional monarch (same monarch over whom war was being fought)

-> this peculiar and baffling decision left little question as to why Jacobins and other more radical elements wanted to take control

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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