La Fayette assumes Command of the National Guards

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest
of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without
tuition or restraint.”—BURKE.
PARIS ran red with blood. The ghastly knife of the guillotine fell
incessantly. The terrible tocsin sounded forth its ominous knell under
the black midnight sky, and clanged its harsh and horrid discords in the
midst of the summer’s stillness, and the glowing brightness of midday.
Why were these demons of chaotic riot let loose upon the doomed city?
Why had men, and even women, become like wild beasts, thirsting only for
blood? Ah! there had gone forth unheeded another wail, before the
_awful_ cry of _Blood! Blood! Blood!_ rang through the land. From the
homes of twenty-five millions of people had ascended the pitiful appeal
for _Bread! Bread! Bread!_ And they had been answered only by the
exasperating spectacle of gorgeous banquets, spread in the splendid
_salons_ of Versailles, where the weak-minded king and the selfish,
shortsighted nobles surfeited themselves with luxuries, while the people
died of starvation unheeded.
“What is the price of bread?” asked a stranger of a workingman’s wife.
“Three francs twelve sous the quartern,” was the answer. “The price is
fixed at twelve sous, but it is not to be had. My husband is obliged to
pass a whole day at the door of the baker. He loses his wages of three
francs; so that the bread comes to three francs twelve sous the
But soon it rises to fourteen sous. “A brisk business is doing on the
bridges, in the open places, where men passing with a loaf of bread
under their arms re-sell it to the workmen for twenty sous.”
“We want powder for our wigs,” Jean Jacques Rousseau had said; “that is
the reason of the poor wanting bread.”
“And the reproach touches the hearts of actresses and fashionable
ladies; they discard powder, or use as little as possible: the
starch-makers are ordered to employ barley instead of wheat; the pupils
of the college Louis le Grand resolve to eat rice, and to offer
twenty-eight sacks of wheat. The king forbids the playing of the
fountains at the fêtes, in order to turn the water to the Versailles
mills; but it is of no use: the associates of the grain monopoly, the
makers of the vile Famine Pact, cause a fictitious scarcity by having
the markets pillaged, the mills burned, the corn thrown into the river
by a band of ruffians. Poor Louis is astonished, and begins to doubt
whether he is really king of France.” But there were other causes back
of the famine which led to the volcanic outburst of the French
Revolution. For long years the terrible mine had been preparing beneath
the French monarchy, and at length exploded with awful destruction and
blood-curdling horrors.
The dazzling glory of the gorgeous Louis XVI., with all its power and
grandeur, was reared over a sleeping volcano, destined to shock the
continent of Europe, when at length its slow fires should unite their
direful forces for the last mighty eruption.
The glorious success of the American Revolution inspired suffering
people in all lands with a clearer hope of future freedom. Regarding its
effect upon France a writer says:—
“It is difficult to suppose that so many thousand officers and soldiers
had visited America, and fought in behalf of her rights, without being
imbued with something of a kindred spirit. There they beheld a new and
happy nation, among whom the pride of birth and the distinctions of rank
were alike unknown; there they for the first time saw virtue and talents
and courage rewarded; there they viewed with surprise a sovereign people
fighting, not for a master, but themselves, and haranguing,
deliberating, dispensing justice, and administering the laws, by
representatives of their own free choice. On their return the contrast
was odious and intolerable; they beheld family preferred to merit,
influence to justice, wealth to worth; they began to examine into a
constitution in which the monarch, whom they were now accustomed to
consider as only the first magistrate, was everything, and the people,
the fountain of all power, merely ciphers; and they may well be supposed
to have wished, and even languished, for a change.
“In fine, the people being left entirely destitute of redress or
protection, the royal authority paramount and unbounded; the laws venal,
the peasantry oppressed; agriculture in a languishing state, commerce
considered as degrading; the public revenues farmed out to greedy
financiers; the public money consumed by a court wallowing in luxury;
and every institution at variance with justice, policy, and reason,—a
change became inevitable in the ordinary course of human events; and,
like all sudden alterations in corrupt states, was accompanied with the
temporary evils and crimes that made many good men look back on the
ancient despotism with a sigh.
“But it was not, however, the influence of the officers and soldiers
fresh from the field of American liberty which gave the most fatal blow
to the dynasty of the Bourbons. The wanton and reckless extravagance of
past courts, culminating in the splendid lustre of _Le Grand Monarque_,
whose dazzling genius and rod of iron won shouts of enthusiastic
admiration, even amid the groans of oppression, but whose gorgeous state
could be maintained only at the expense of his people’s degradation and
bondage, followed by the disreputable court of the despicable Louis XV.,
had brought the public finances to a condition of chaotic ruin. The
annual deficit amounted to millions; and when poor, weak, good-natured
Louis XVI. ascended the throne, it was even then tottering upon the edge
of the awful abyss, which soon engulfed king and nation in its black and
baleful horrors…. When the fearful gulf became visible to Louis XVI.
and his cabinet, they looked around despairingly for some means of
escape. Maurepas, Turgot, M. de Clugny, and Necker have each tried to
stay the coming of the direful doom, but each and all have failed. And
now M. de Calonne becomes comptroller-general. Now surely the royal
inmates of the Œil-de-Bœuf may breathe more freely. Obstacles seem
for a while to flee away before this incomparable comptroller-general.”
“I fear this is a matter of difficulty,” said her Majesty, Queen Marie
Antoinette.—“Madame,” replied the comptroller, “if it is but difficult,
it is done; if it is impossible, it shall be done.” Truly most admirable
was such an all-conquering comptroller-general!
But deficits will not be removed by promises, however prodigal of wind
and words, and royal deficits of millions form too wide an abyss for
even this boastful comptroller to bridge.
“If we cannot cross this yawning gulf at a leap, what shall we do?” ask
king and nobles of their pet Calonne. “We must hold a _Convocation of
the Notables_,” replies the intrepid comptroller-general.
And so the Assembly of the Notables was convened by royal proclamation,
and on the 22d of February, 1787, La Fayette, who had been chosen a
member from his province, took his seat with his associates in this
memorable gathering.
And now the dreadful secret must be revealed; these titled notables must
be conducted to the edge of this terrifying precipice, and made to gaze
into the black depths of the financial chasm. Consternation blanches the
cheeks of these assembled lords; but the courage of La Fayette is not
extinguished, nor his love of liberty impaired, nor his bold spirit
benumbed by evils however monstrous, or difficulties however defiant. To
right the wrong is ever his aim, and to remove the root of error is
always his persevering endeavor. Back of the ruinous deficit of millions
is a still deeper abyss of evil, into which the brave soul of La Fayette
courageously gazes; and though startled at the infamous disclosures of
corruption, injustice, bitter abuses, and shameful oppressions, he is
not appalled, but in the face of king and nobles he rises chivalrously
as the people’s champion, and demands redress. Though a brother of the
king is president of this council, though he must protest against both
monarch and court, with dignified firmness he fearlessly exclaims: “I
repeat with renewed confidence the remark that the millions which are
dissipated are collected by taxation, and that taxation can only be
justified by the real wants of the state; that the millions abandoned to
peculation or avarice are the fruits of the labor, the tears, and
perhaps the blood of the people, and that the computation of unfortunate
individuals, which has been made for the purpose of realizing sums so
heedlessly squandered, affords a frightful subject of consideration for
the justice and goodness which, we feel convinced, are the natural
sentiments of his Majesty.”
But La Fayette stood alone as the upholder of the people’s rights; the
principles of liberty which he thus boldly declared were received with
horrified amazement by the old aristocracy, and the heart of the weak
monarch was filled with strange foreboding. Before the Assembly closed
its session, the heroic words of La Fayette had begun to work their
brave mission. Threats of danger reached his ears; but his eye did not
quail; he was not awed into silence. His enemies proposed to the king
that he should be sent to the Bastile; but their menaces were only
received with a smile by La Fayette, who dauntlessly continued his
efforts in behalf of the down-trodden people.
The following letter from La Fayette to Washington will give a clearer
insight regarding the opinions of the marquis upon public affairs:—
“PARIS, May 25, 1788.
“MY DEAR GENERAL: In the midst of our internal troubles it is a great
consolation for me to enjoy the assured prosperity of my adopted
country, because the news from America gives me the hope that the
constitution will be accepted. Permit me once more, my dear General, to
beseech you not to refuse the presidency. The constitution, such as is
proposed, responds to many desires; but I fear there are, regarding it,
certain passages which will not be completed without danger, if the
United States have not the happiness of possessing their guardian angel,
who will appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of each clause, and
will be aware, before re-entering his quiet retreat, how to determine
with precision the degree of force which it is indispensable to give the
government, and to limit those powers which one might abuse; in short,
to indicate that which remains to be done, in order to attain that
perfection to which the new constitution is nearer than that of any
other form of government, past or present.
“The affairs of France are reaching a crisis, of which the good results
are most uncertain, as the people in general have no inclination to come
to extremities. _Mourir pour la liberté_ is not the motto upon this side
of the Atlantic; as all the classes are more or less dependent, as the
rich love their repose, at the same time that the poor are enervated by
misery and ignorance, we have but one resource: it is to reason with
them, and to inspire the nation with a sort of passive discontent, or
non-obedience which will fatigue the levity and baffle the plans of
“The Parliaments, in spite of their inefficiency, have been the
necessary champions to move. You will see by the publications—because I
have sent you all which have appeared—that the king has raised
pretensions, and that the courts of justice are established upon
principles so contradictory, that one can scarcely believe that these
assertions have been declared in the same country and in the same age.
Affairs cannot remain thus; the government has employed the force of
arms against the disarmed and expelled magistrates. And the people, say
you?—The people, my dear General, have been so benumbed that it has made
me sick, and medicines have been necessary to cool my blood. That which
has greatly increased my indignation is a bench of justice where the
king has created a plenary court composed of judges, of peers, and of
courtiers, without a single real representative of the people, and the
impudence of the ministers who have dared to say that all the taxes and
loans will be registered.
“Thanks to God, we have prevailed against them, and I begin to hope for
a constitution. The magistrates have refused to sit in the plenary
courts. The thirty-eight peers, of whom a small number have some sense
and some courage, will not obey. Some of them, such as my friend La
Rochefoucauld, conduct themselves nobly; the others follow at a
distance. The Parliaments have unanimously protested, and made an appeal
to the nation. The greater part of the inferior courts represent the new
_régime_. Discontent is displayed everywhere, and in several provinces
has not been repressed. The clergy who find themselves assembled at this
time make remonstrances; the advocates refuse to plead; the government
is embarrassed, and begins to resort to apologies; the governors in some
cities have been pelted by stones and mud.
“In the midst of these troubles and of this anarchy the friends of
liberty fortify themselves daily, close the ear to all negotiations, and
declare that they will have a National Assembly or nothing.
“Such, my dear General, is our present situation. For my part, I shall
be satisfied to think that, after a little, I shall be in an assembly of
the representatives of the French nation, or at Mount Vernon.
“I am so absorbed by these affairs that I will say little to you upon
European politics. My disapprobation of the projects of the
administration, and the small attempts I have made against it, have
forced me to discontinue to see the archbishop; but I become more united
to him and to the keeper of the seals, the more I have made clear my
indignation against the infernal plan. I am well pleased that the decree
regarding America was passed before these troubles, and I occupy myself,
through other ministers, in endeavoring to suppress totally the duties
upon oil and whalebone, so that the French and American negotiations
will be placed upon a basis of equality, even under the revenue
premiums, and that without obliging the fishermen to leave the coasts of
their country. If we become reunited, it will be necessary to consider
immediately the commerce with the West Indies.
“I am happy that we have here M. Jefferson for an ambassador; his
talents, his virtues, his excellent character, all constitute a great
statesman, a zealous citizen, and a precious friend.
“I pray you, my dear General, to receive my tender homages, etc.”
Regarding Washington’s feelings in view of accepting the presidency, the
following lines to La Fayette upon that subject will not be without
interest. They were written in answer to La Fayette’s ardently expressed
hopes that his revered commander-in-chief would not refuse the important
office which the needs of his country forced upon him. The letter was
written in 1788.
“I have but a few things, nothing new, except to respond to the opinion
which you have already expressed. You think that it will be expedient to
accept the office of which you speak; your sentiments are more in
accordance with those of my other friends than with mine.
“In truth, the difficulties appear to me to multiply and increase in
approaching the period when in accordance with the general belief it
will be necessary to give a definite response. In case the circumstances
should in some sort force upon me my acceptance, be assured, my dear
sir, that I accept the burden with sincere reluctance and with great
self-distrust—that which will probably be little credited by the world.
“If I know well the bottom of my heart, the conviction that I fulfil a
duty will alone determine me to resume an active part in public affairs;
at that time I shall endeavor to form a plan of conduct, and at the risk
of losing my past reputation and my present popularity; I will work
without respite to remove my fellow-citizens from the difficult
situation where they find themselves, in need of credit; and to
establish a system of politics which, if it will be followed, will
insure their future power and prosperity.
“I believe I perceive a ray of light illuminating the way which leads to
that end. The present state of affairs and the tendency of public
opinion give me the hope that there will result union, honesty,
industry, and frugality—those four pillars of public felicity.”
But this encouraging picture of American affairs was offset by direful
scenes in France.
Feeling that justice demanded that if the people were to be taxed they
should be represented, La Fayette offered to the Assembly a memorial for
the king, in which he entreated his Majesty to convoke a _National_
Assembly, which might accomplish the regeneration of France.
“What, sir!” exclaimed the President of the Council, starting from his
seat in astonishment; “do you ask for the convocation of the
“Yes, my lord, and even more than that,” was La Fayette’s dauntless
“You wish me then to write and announce to the king that the Marquis de
La Fayette moves to convoke the States-General?”
“Yes, my lord,” calmly answered the marquis.
This daring proposition appalled the Notables, but was hailed with
shouts of acclamation by the public. The States-General was first
convoked by Philippe le Bel, in 1303, and had only rarely assembled
since that time. The despotic governments looked upon this institution
with abhorrence, for in it the common people were represented. It was
composed of the three estates of the kingdom,—the nobles, the clergy,
and _tiers état_, or common people,—and Louis and his court were
determined if possible to avoid this dreaded Assembly. But the shout
rang out from every quarter of France, in answer to the clarion bugle
note which La Fayette had so bravely sounded even in the very midst of
the enemy’s camp. “Give us the States-General!” From the Alps and the
Pyrenees, the shores of the Mediterranean, and the borders of the
Channel, was re-echoed the wild cry, “Give us the States-General!” And
Louis, unable to resist the raging tempest of popular opinion, yielded
to their demand, and the States-General was by royal edict convened on
the 5th of May, 1789.
La Fayette was chosen a deputy by the nobility of Auvergne. To say “let
States-General be” was easy; to say in what manner they shall be is not
so easy. “How to shape the States-General? There is a problem. Each body
corporate, each privileged, each organized class, has secret hopes of
its own in that matter, and also secret misgivings of its own; for,
behold, this monstrous twenty-million class, hitherto the dumb sheep
which these others had to agree about the manner of shearing, is now
also arising with hopes! It has ceased or is ceasing to be dumb; it
speaks through pamphlets, or at least brays and growls behind them, in
unison, increasing wonderfully their volume of sound. _What is the third
estate? What has it hitherto been in our form of government? Nothing.
What does it want? To become something._” These are questions and
answers which must now be met. The Assembly was opened with great pomp.
A solemn procession in which king, nobles, clergy, and the _tiers état_
all repaired in grand state to Notre Dame, paraded through the streets,
and formed a splendid spectacle which was greeted by the people with
joyous demonstrations and loud acclamations.
At the first meeting of the Assembly, the three orders convened in
separate departments. Here arose the first difficulty. The nobles and
the clergy were unwilling to meet with the representatives of the common
people, and the _tiers état_ were determined to maintain their contested
rights. La Fayette advocated the cause of the _tiers état_ in the
assembly of the nobles, but the aristocracy would not yield, and at the
end of five weeks the States-General as a united body was still
inactive. At length the _tiers état_ resolved upon momentous action.
They formed themselves into a legislative body, under the name of the
National Assembly, and declared their intention to accomplish political
reform. The king and nobles received this unexpected news with
consternation. La Fayette warmly urged a union between the departments,
but the king and aristocracy refused. Louis then determined to awe these
rebellious subjects to submission. He ordered the doors of the hall
where the _tiers état_ usually met to be closed and guarded. When the
members gathered and found their usual place of meeting denied them,
they proceeded to another, and thereupon issued their defiant demand,—_A
Constitution for the French People_; and they solemnly declared with
oath, in view of the indignity which had been offered to them by the
crown, “never to separate, and to assemble whenever circumstances should
require, till the constitution of the kingdom should be established and
founded on a solid basis.”
At length, on the 23d of June, the king and nobles assembled in the hall
formerly occupied by the _tiers état_, and after some delay the doors
were opened to that body, and the king reproached them for taking the
title of National Assembly, and bade them renounce it, and also
commanded that the Assembly should immediately separate. The king then
left the hall, followed by the nobles and part of the clergy. But
scarcely had the sound of the footsteps of royalty died away ere a man
arose in the Assembly. It was Mirabeau. With eyes flashing like stars
from the gloomy shadows of his pock-marked, disfigured countenance, he
“What means this insulting dictation? this threatening display of arms?
this flagrant violation of the national temple? Who is it that dictates
to you the way in which you shall be happy? He who acts by your
commission. Who is it that gives you imperious laws? He who acts by your
commission,—the minister, who by your appointment is vested with the
execution of the laws,—of laws which we only have a right to make.

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“To us, twenty-five millions of people are looking to guard from further
desecration the sacred ark of liberty, to release them from the
burdensome yoke which has so long crushed them, and to give them back
their own inalienable right to peace, liberty, and happiness. Gentlemen,
an attempt is made to destroy the freedom of your deliberations. The
iron chain of despotic proscription is laid upon you. A military force
surrounds your Assembly. Where are the enemies of France? Is Catiline at
our gates? Gentlemen! I demand that, clothing yourself in your dignity
and your legislative authority, you remain firm in the sacredness of
your oath, which does not permit us to separate till we have framed a
constitution—till we have given a _Magna Charta_ to France.”
Then as the grand master of ceremonies again reminded the Assembly of
the commands of the king, Mirabeau exclaimed, “Go and tell your master
that we are here by the order of the people, and that we shall depart
only at the point of the bayonet.”
La Fayette, with the forty-seven who had stood by his side in declaring
the expediency of uniting with the commons, now left the nobility, and
took his seat in the National Assembly. The king and aristocracy,
finding at length that their resistance was useless, submitted to the
popular demand, and on the 27th of June the three orders met together
and commenced their united deliberations.
La Fayette was closely observed by all parties. He spoke often in the
Assembly, and always on the side of freedom. On the 11th of July he
brought forward his famous Declaration of Rights; which after a long and
stormy debate, during which it was warmly supported by the republicans,
and denounced by the adherents of despotism, was adopted; and the name
of La Fayette, “THE PEOPLE’S FRIEND!” was on every lip and enshrined in
every heart throughout the kingdom.
This renowned Declaration of Rights reads as follows:—
“Nature has made all men free and equal; the distinctions which are
necessary for social order are founded alone on the public good.
“Man is born with inalienable and imprescriptible rights, such as the
unshackled liberty of opinion, the care of his honor and life, the right
of property, the complete control over his person, his industry, and all
his faculties; the free expression of his opinion in every possible
manner; the worship of the Almighty; and resistance against oppression.
“The exercise of natural rights has no other limits than those which are
necessary to secure their enjoyment to every member of society.
“No man can be made subject to laws which he has not sanctioned, either
himself, or through his representatives, and which have not been
properly promulgated and legally executed.
“The principle of all sovereignty rests in the people. No body or
individual can possess any authority which does not expressly emanate
from the nation.
“The sole end of all government is the public good. That good demands
that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be distinct
and defined, and that their organization should secure the free
representation of the citizens, the responsibility of their deputies,
and the impartiality of the judges.
“The laws ought to be clear, precise, and uniform in their operation
toward every class of citizens.
“Subsidies ought to be liberally granted and the taxes proportionally

“And as the introduction of abuses and the rights of succeeding
generations will require the revisions of all human institutions, the
nation ought to possess the power, in certain cases, to summon an
extraordinary assembly of deputies, whose sole object shall be to
examine and correct, if it be necessary, the faults of the
On the 14th of July a riotous crowd march to the Invalides, and having
armed themselves with the twenty-eight thousand muskets found there, and
dragging twenty cannon, they proceed to storm the Bastile. After five
hours the Bastile is taken by the people, and the Revolution, which
might perhaps have been stayed by different measures on the part of the
government, is henceforth destined to work out its direful doings.
The National Guard, composed of citizens rather than mercenary soldiers,
was now formed, and La Fayette was entrusted with the command. The key
of the demolished Bastile was given to him, as the most worthy person to
receive this memorial of past oppression. La Fayette was now looked up
to by the people as their defender, and the masses gave him warm but
fickle homage. Toulongeon says of him: “La Fayette, whose name and
reputation acquired in America were associated with liberty itself, was
at the head of the Parisian National Guard. He enjoyed at once that
entire confidence and public esteem which are due to great qualities.
The faculty of raising the spirits, or rather of infusing fresh courage
into the heart, was natural to him. His external appearance was youthful
and bold, which is always pleasing to the multitude. His manners were
simple, popular, and engaging. He possessed everything which is wanting
to commence and terminate a revolution,—the brilliant qualities of
military activity and the calm confidence of courage in times of public
commotion. La Fayette was equal to everything, if everything had been
done fairly and openly; but he was unacquainted with the dark and narrow
road of intrigue.”
La Fayette’s idea of liberty was always accompanied with a firm belief
in law and order; it was not the liberty of unbridled license. When he
first upheld the Revolution in France, it was with the same spirit with
which he had aided the American Revolution, contending only for liberty
and order; and when, during the Reign of Terror, riot and license held
the reins of power, then La Fayette was to be found not in sympathy with
this wild, reckless turmoil, but always standing by the recognized
government, though that government were even a monarchy, and risking his
own life to save those royal lives, who so poorly repaid his generous
and chivalrous devotion as even to turn with contemptuous coldness
toward him who had sacrificed his own popularity to save them from
At the head of the National Guard La Fayette had a most difficult task
to perform during those days of riotous commotion. His sympathies were
with the oppressed people; his duty was to maintain public order; his
loyalty made him true to his king. When the unfortunate minister Foulon
was seized by the mob and dragged before the Assembly, where the rioters
clamored loudly for his death, La Fayette thus appealed to the furious
“I am known to you all; you have appointed me your commander,—a station
which, while it confers honor, imposes upon me the duty of speaking to
you with that liberty and candor which form the basis of my character.
You wish, without a trial, to put to death the man who is before you;
such an act of injustice would dishonor you; it would disgrace me; and
were I weak enough to permit it, it would blast all the efforts which I
have made in favor of liberty. I will not permit it. I am far from
desiring to save him, if he be guilty; I only wish that the orders of
the Assembly should be carried into execution, and that this man be
conducted to prison, to be judged by a legal tribunal. I wish the law to
be respected; law, without which there can be no liberty; law, without
whose aid I would never have contributed to the revolution of the New
World, and without which I will not contribute to the revolution which
is preparing here. What I advance in favor of the forms of law ought not
to be interpreted in favor of M. Foulon. But the greater the presumption
of his guilt is, the more important is it that the usual formalities
should be observed in his case, so as to render his punishment more
striking, and by legal examinations, to discover his accomplices. I
therefore command that he be conducted to the prison of L’Abbaye St.
[Illustration: VIEW OF THE BASTILE.]
These remarks were hailed with applause by those within hearing of them;
but at this moment a fresh mob broke into the Assembly, and set up a
furious yell for vengeance; and notwithstanding the loud intercessions
of La Fayette, deaf to everything but their wild fury, the rioters
seized the hated Foulon, and rushing forth, hanged him to a lamp post in
front of the Hôtel de Ville.
Liberty and law may both be spoken almost synonymously with the name of
La Fayette. His abhorrence of such lawless acts of vengeance was as
strong as his zeal for freedom. Horrified at the lawlessness of the
populace, and feeling that his honor was thereby jeopardized, La Fayette
determined to resign his office as commander-in-chief of the National
Guard, which he did in the following letter addressed to the mayor of
“SIR: Summoned by the confidence of its citizens to the military command
of the capital, I have uniformly declared that in the present state of
affairs it was necessary, to be useful, that confidence should be full
and universal. I have steadily declared to the people that, although
devoted to their interest to my last breath, yet I was incapable of
purchasing their favor by unjustly yielding to their wishes. You are
aware, sir, that one of the individuals who perished yesterday was
placed under a guard, and that the other was under the escort of our
troops, both being sentenced by the civil power to undergo a regular
trial. Such were the proper means to satisfy justice, to discover their
accomplices, and to fulfil the solemn engagements of every citizen
toward the National Assembly and the king.
“The people would not hearken to my advice; and the moment when the
confidence which they promised, and reposed in me, is lost, it becomes
my duty, as I have before stated, to abandon a post in which I can no
longer be useful. I am, with respect,
The news of La Fayette’s resignation spread consternation throughout the
city. The National Guard flocked around him to beseech him to retain his
position as their commander. The mayor and council waited upon him at
midnight, to solicit him to withdraw his resignation. But La Fayette
calmly declined, and the next day appeared before the Assembly to state
his reasons for so doing, in the following dignified and courteous
“Gentlemen, I come to acknowledge the last testimonies of your kindness
with all the warmth of a heart whose first desire, after that of serving
the people, is to be loved by them, and to express my astonishment at
the importance they deign to attach to an individual, in a free country,
where nothing should be of real importance except law. If my conduct on
this occasion could be regulated by my sentiments of gratitude and
affection, I should only reply to the regrets with which you and the
National Guard had honored me by yielding obedience to your entreaties;
but, as I was guided by no feeling of private interest when I formed
that resolution, so also, in the midst of the various causes for
agitation that surround us, I cannot allow myself to be governed by my
private affections.
“Gentlemen, when I received such touching proofs of affection, too much
was done for me and too little for the _law_. I am convinced how well my
comrades love _me_, but I am still ignorant to what degree they cherish
the principles on which liberty is founded. Deign to make known to the
National Guard this sincere avowal of my sentiments. To command them, it
is necessary that I should feel certain that they unanimously believe
that the fate of the constitution depends upon the execution of law, the
only sovereign of a free people; that individual liberty, the security
of each man’s home, religious liberty, and respect for legitimate
authority, are duties as sacred to them as to myself. We require not
only courage and vigilance, but unanimity, in these principles; and I
thought, and still think, that the constitution will be better served by
my resignation, on the grounds I have given, than by my acquiescence in
the request with which you have deigned to honor me.”
The National Guards were already assembled, impatiently awaiting La
Fayette’s answer; and upon receiving this decision, they immediately
passed the following resolution:—
“The National Assembly has decreed that the public forces should be
obedient, and a portion of the Parisian army has shown itself
essentially disobedient. General La Fayette has only ceased to command
that army because they have ceased to obey law. He requires a complete
submission to the law, not a servile attachment to his person. Let the
battalions assemble. Let each citizen-soldier swear on his word and
honor to obey the law. Let those who refuse be excluded from the
National Guards. Let the wish of the army, thus regenerated, be carried
to General La Fayette, and he will conceive it his duty to resume
After some hesitation La Fayette resolved to resume his command, and
withdrew his resignation. His desires were only for the public good.
When urged by the municipality of Paris to accept some remuneration for
his services, he unselfishly replied:—
“My private fortune secures me from want. It has outlasted two
revolutions; and should it survive a third, through the complaisance of
the people, it shall belong to them alone.”
Mirabeau said of La Fayette: “There is one man in the state who, from
his position, is exposed to the hazard of all events; to whom successes
can offer no compensation for reverses; and who is, in some manner,
answerable for the repose, we may even say the safety, of the
public,—and that man is La Fayette.”
But La Fayette was not superhuman. His arm could not turn backward the
awful Juggernaut of the oncoming revolution. The corruption and
oppression of past centuries could not be wiped out by the untarnished
purity of life and principles of this self-sacrificing Knight of
Liberty. And beneath the bloody wheels of the huge Juggernaut of
license,—law, liberty, and La Fayette were all to be ruthlessly
The sword of Damocles hung suspended over the head of the unfortunate
king, and the throne was tottering, soon to be engulfed in hopeless
On the morning of the 5th of October, a woman, frenzied with hunger,
rushed into a guard-house, and seizing a drum, ran with it along the
streets, accompanying her wild beating with the frantic cry of “Bread!
bread!” As the crowd increases, every voice takes up the shrill shriek
for bread, until at last the mad chorus changes to a furious clamor, and
the words “To Versailles!” “_A Versailles!_“ ring out in hoarse yells
from street to street, and the alarm bell sounds the direful tocsin
which sends a knell of despair to every listener’s heart.
The news of the riot reaches La Fayette, and he says: “As soon as the
tidings reached me, I instantly perceived that, whatever might be the
consequence of this movement, the public safety required that I should
take part in it, and after having received from the Hôtel de Ville an
order and two commissaries, I hastily provided for the security of
Paris, and took the road to Versailles, at the head of several
Alarmed lest the Guard themselves might be induced to join in the
revolt, he halted on the way and made every one renew his oath of
fidelity to the king and obedience to the law. A description of this
momentous march is nowhere so quaintly and so graphically told as by
Carlyle, who, in spite of certain sarcasms, seems to appreciate La
Fayette’s difficult position, and surely it would seem as though only
the grim irony of fate could have placed this Knight of Liberty in the
midst of such lawless rioters: and yet, throughout all these trying
circumstances, La Fayette is not once inconsistent to his avowed
principles; and whether he sympathizes with the people’s wrongs, or
endeavors to shield his king from their furious attacks, he is ever true
to his principles of right and honor.
And so we will let Carlyle take La Fayette to Versailles in his own
inimitable way.
“The Three Hundred have assembled; all the Committees are in activity;
Lafayette is dictating despatches for Versailles, when a deputation of
the Centre Grenadiers introduces itself to him. The deputation makes
military obeisance; and thus speaks, not without a kind of thought in
it: ‘_Mon Général_, we are deputed by the six companies of Grenadiers.
We do not think you a traitor, but we think the government betrays you;
it is time that this end. We cannot turn our bayonets against women
crying to us for bread. The people are miserable; the source of the
mischief is at Versailles; we must go seek the king, and bring him to
Paris. We must exterminate [_exterminer_] the _Regiment de Flandre_ and
the _Gardes-du-Corps_, who have dared to trample on the National
“‘If the king be too weak to wear his crown, let him lay it down. You
will crown his son; you will name a Council of Regency, and all will go
“Reproachful astonishment paints itself on the face of La Fayette,
speaks itself from his eloquent chivalrous lips in vain. ‘My General, we
would shed the last drop of our blood for you, but the root of the
mischief is at Versailles; we must go and bring the king to Paris; all
the people wish it’ (_tout le peuple le veut_).
“My General descends to the outer staircase, and harangues once more in
vain. ‘To Versailles! To Versailles!’ Mayor Bailly, sent for through
floods of Sansculottism, attempts academic oratory from his gilt
state-coach, realizes nothing but infinite hoarse cries of, ‘Bread! To
Versailles!’ and gladly shrinks within doors. La Fayette mounts the
white charger; and again harangues and reharangues, with eloquence, with
firmness, indignant demonstration, with all things but persuasion.
“‘_To Versailles! To Versailles!_’ so lasts it hour after hour, for the
space of half a day.
“The great Scipio-Americanus can do nothing; not so much as escape.
‘_Morbleu, mon Général!_’ cry the Grenadiers, serrying their ranks as
the white charger makes a motion that way; ‘you will not leave us, you
will abide with us!’ A perilous juncture; Mayor Bailly and the
Municipals sit quaking within doors; My General is prisoner without; the
Place de Grève, with its thirty thousand regulars, its whole irregular,
Saint Antoine and Saint Marceau, is one minatory mass of clear or rusty
steel; all hearts set, with a moody fixedness, on one object. Moody,
fixed are all hearts: tranquil is no heart, if it be not that of the
white charger, who paws there with arched neck, composedly champing his
bit, as if no world, with its Dynasties and Eras, were now rushing down.
The drizzly day bends westward; the cry is still, ‘To Versailles!’
“Nay, now, borne from afar, come quite sinister cries; hoarse,
reverberating in long-drawn hollow murmurs, with syllables too like
those of ‘_Lanterne!_’ Or else, irregular Sansculottism may be marching
off, of itself, with pikes; nay, with cannon. The inflexible Scipio does
at length, by aide-de-camp, ask of the Municipals whether or not he may
go. A letter is handed out to him, over armed heads; sixty thousand
faces flash fixedly on his; there is stillness, and no bosom breathes
till he has read. By Heaven, he grows suddenly pale! Do the Municipals
permit? ‘Permit, and even order,’ since he can no other. Clangor of
approval rends the welkin. To your ranks, then; let us march!
“It is, as we compute, towards three in the afternoon. Indignant
National Guards may dine for once from their haversacks; dined or
undined, they march with one heart. Paris flings up her windows, ‘claps
hands,’ as the Avengers with their shrilling drums and shalms tramp by;
she will then sit pensive, apprehensive, and pass rather a sleepless
“On the white charger, La Fayette, in the slowest possible manner, going
and coming, and eloquently haranguing among the ranks, rolls onward with
his thirty thousand. Saint Antoine, with pike and cannon, has preceded
him; a mixed multitude of all and of no arms hovers on his flanks and
skirts; the country once more pauses agape: _Paris marche sur nous_.
“Towards midnight lights flare on the hill; La Fayette’s lights! The
roll of his drums come up the Avenue de Versailles. With peace or with
war? Patience, friends! With neither. La Fayette is come, but not yet
the catastrophe.
“He has halted and harangued so often on the march; spent nine hours on
four leagues of road. At Montreuil, close on Versailles, the whole host
had to pause, and, with uplifted right hand in the murk of night, to
these pouring skies, swear solemnly to respect the king’s dwelling, to
be faithful to king and National Assembly. Rage is driven down out of
sight by the laggard march; the thirst of vengeance slaked in weariness
and soaking clothes. Flandre is again drawn out under arms; but Flandre
grown so patriotic, now needs no ‘exterminating.’ The wayworn battalions
halt in the Avenue; they have, for the present, no wish so pressing as
that of shelter and rest.
“Anxious sits President Mounier; anxious the Château. There is a message
coming from the Château, that M. Mounier would please to return thither
with a fresh deputation swiftly, and so at least _unite_ our two
anxieties. Anxious Mounier does of himself send, meanwhile, to appraise
the general that his Majesty has been so gracious as to grant us the
acceptance pure and simple. The general, with a small advance column,
makes answer in passing, speaks vaguely some smooth words to the
National President, glances only with the eye at that so mixtiform
National Assembly, then fares forward towards the Château. There are
with him two Paris Municipals; they were chosen from the three hundred
for that errand. He gets admittance through the locked and padlocked
gates, through sentries and ushers, to the royal halls.
“The court, male and female, crowds on his passage to read their doom on
his face, which exhibits, say historians, a ‘mixture of sorrow, of
fervor and valor,’ singular to behold. The king, with Monsieur, with
ministers and marshals, is waiting to receive him. He ‘is come,’ in his
highflown chivalrous way, ‘to offer his head for the safety of his
Majesty’s.’ The two Municipals state the wish of Paris; four things of
quite pacific tenor. First, that the honor of guarding his sacred person
be conferred on patriot National Guards, say the Centre Grenadiers, who
as _Gardes Françaises_ were wont to have that privilege. Second, that
provisions be got if possible. Third, that the prisons, all crowded with
political delinquents, may have judges sent them. Fourth, _that it would
please his Majesty to come and live in Paris_. To all which four wishes,
except the fourth, his Majesty answers readily Yes; or indeed may almost
say that he has already answered it. To the fourth he can answer only
Yes or No, would so gladly answer Yes _and_ No! But in any case, are not
their dispositions, thank Heaven, so entirely pacific? There is time for
deliberation. The brunt of the danger seems past.
“La Fayette and D’Estaing settle the watches; Centre Grenadiers are to
take the guard-room, they of old occupied as _Gardes Françaises_; for
indeed the _Gardes-de-Corps_, its late ill-advised occupants, are gone
mostly to Rambouillet. That is the order of _this_ night; sufficient for
the night is the evil thereof. Whereupon La Fayette and the two
Municipals, with highflown chivalry take their leave.
“So brief has the interview been, Mounier and his deputation were not
yet got up. So brief and satisfactory, a stone is rolled from every
heart. The fair palace dames publicly declare that this La Fayette,
detestable though he be, is their saviour for once. Even the ancient
vinaigrous _Tantes_ admit it; the king’s aunts, ancient _Graille_ and
Sisterhood, known to us of old. Queen Marie Antoinette has been heard
often to say the like.
“Towards three in the morning all things are settled; the watches set,
the Centre Grenadiers put into their old guard-room, and harangued; the
Swiss and few remaining body-guard harangued. The wayworn Paris
battalions, consigned to the hospitality of Versailles, lie dormant in
spare beds, spare barracks, coffee-houses, empty churches.
“The troublous day has brawled itself to rest; no lives yet lost but
that of one war-horse. Insurrectionary Chaos lies slumbering round the
palace like ocean round a diving-bell,—no crevice yet disclosing itself.
Deep sleep has fallen promiscuously on the high and on the low,
suspending most things, even wrath and famine. Darkness covers the
earth. But, far on the northeast, Paris flings up her great yellow gleam
far into the wet, black night. For all is illuminated there, as in the
old July nights; the streets deserted, for alarm of war; the municipals
all wakeful; patrols hailing with their hoarse _Who goes?_
“La Fayette, in the Hôtel de Nôailles, not far from the Château, having
now finished haranguing, sits with his officers, consulting. At five
o’clock the unanimous best counsel is, that a man so tossed and toiled
for twenty-four hours and more, fling himself on a bed and seek some
“The dull dawn of a new morning, drizzly and chill, had but broken over
Versailles. Rascality is in the Grand Court…. Barricading serves not;
fly fast, ye body-guards: rabid Insurrection, like the hell-bound chase,
uproaring at your heels…. ‘Save the Queen!’ Tremble not, women, but
haste, for, lo! another voice shouts far through the outermost door,
‘Save the Queen!’ It is brave Miomandre’s voice that shouts this second
warning. He has stormed across imminent death to do it; fronts imminent
death, having done it….
“Trembling maids-of-honor hastily wrap the queen, not in robes of state.
She flies for her life across the _Œil-de-Bœuf_, against the main
door of which, too, Insurrection batters. She is in the king’s
apartment, in the king’s arms; she clasps her children amid a faithful
few. The imperial-hearted bursts into mother’s tears: ‘O my friends,
save me and my children’ (_O mes amis, sauvez-moi et mes enfants!_). The
battering of insurrectionary axes clangs audible across the
_Œil-de-Bœuf_. What an hour!…
“Now, too, La Fayette, suddenly aroused, not from sleep (for his eyes
had not yet closed), arrives, with passionate eloquence, with prompt
military word of command. National Guards, suddenly roused by sound of
trumpet and alarm drum, are all arriving. The death-melly ceases; the
first sky-lambent blaze of insurrection is got damped down; it burns
now, if unextinguished, yet flameless, as charred coals do, and not
extinguishable. The king’s apartments are safe. Ministers, officials,
and even some loyal national deputies are assembling round their
Majesties. Now, too, is witnessed the touching last flicker of
etiquette, which sinks not here in the Cimmerian world-wreckage without
a sign! as the house cricket might still chirp in the pealing of a trump
of doom. ‘Monsieur,’ said some master of ceremonies, as La Fayette, in
these fearful moments, was rushing towards the inner royal apartments,
‘_Monsieur, le roi vous accorde les grandes entrees_’ (Monsieur, the
king grants you the grand entries)—not finding it convenient to refuse
“However, the Paris National Guard, wholly under arms, has cleared the
Palace, and even occupies the nearer external spaces, extruding
miscellaneous patriotism, for the most part, into the grand court, or
even into the forecourt. The body-guards, you can observe, have now of a
verity hoisted the national cockade, for they step forward to the
windows or balconies, hat aloft in hand, on each hat a huge tricolor,
and fling over their bandoleers in sign of surrender, and shout, _Vive
la nation!_ To which how can the generous heart respond but with, _Vive
le roi! vivent les gardes-du-corps!_ His Majesty himself has appeared
with La Fayette on the balcony, and again appears. _Vive le roi!_ greets
him. Her Majesty, too, on demand, shows herself, though there is peril
in it. ‘Should I die,’ she said, ‘I will do it.’ She stands there alone,
her hands serenely crossed on her breast. Such serenity of heroism has
its effect. La Fayette, with ready wit, in his highflown, chivalrous
way, takes that fair, queenly hand and, reverently kneeling, kisses it;
thereupon the people do shout, _Vive la reine!_
“So that all, and the queen herself, nay, the very captain of the
body-guards, have grown national! The very captain of the body-guards
steps out now with La Fayette. On the hat of the repentant man is an
enormous tricolor, large as a soup platter or sunflower, visible to the
utmost forecourt. He takes the national oath with a loud voice,
elevating his hat; at which sight all the army raise their bonnets on
their bayonets, with shouts. Sweet is reconciliation to the heart of
man. La Fayette has sworn Flandre; he swears the remaining body-guards
down in the Marble Court; the people clasp them in their arms: O my
brothers, why would ye force us to slay you? Behold, there is joy over
you, as over returning prodigal sons! The poor body-guards, now national
and tricolor, exchange bonnets, exchange arms; there shall be peace and
fraternity. And still, ‘_Vive le roi!_’ and also, ‘_Le roi à Paris!_’
“Yes, _the king to Paris_; what else? Ministers may consult, and
national deputies wag their heads; but there is now no other
possibility. You have forced him to go willingly. ‘At one o’clock!’ La
Fayette gives audible assurance to that purpose; and universal
insurrection, with immeasurable shout and a discharge of all the
firearms, clear and rusty, great and small, that it has, returns him
acceptance. What a sound! heard for leagues! a doom-peal! That sound,
too, rolls away into the silence of ages. And the Château of Versailles
stands ever since vacant, hushed, still, its spacious courts grass
grown, responsive to the hoe of the weeder. Times and generations roll
on, in their confused gulf-current, and buildings, like builders, have
their destiny.”