License they mean when they cry liberty

THE outburst for the time being is quelled. The king and queen have been
brought by the surging mob to the gates of their royal residence in
Paris. As they enter the portals, the mob cries, “Now we will have
bread! we have with us the _baker, and the baker’s wife, and the baker’s
son_!” and poor Louis falsely imagines that peace has come.
As the year of 1790 dawned, La Fayette hoped that the light of liberty
was rising. He realized that France was not ready yet for a republic,
but a constitutional monarchy might unite king and people.
In March, 1790, La Fayette writes thus to Washington:—
“MY DEAR GENERAL: I have learned with much pain that you have not
received any of my letters. I hope, however, that you have not suspected
me of being guilty of negligence.
“It is difficult in the midst of our troubles to be informed in time of
good occasions; but this time it is by M. Cayne, who departs for London,
that I confide the care of making known to you news concerning me.
“Our revolution proceeds on its march as well as it is possible with a
nation who receives all at once its liberties, and is therefore liable
to confound them with license. The Assembly has more hatred against the
ancient system than experience to organize the new constitutional
government. The ministers regret their ancient power, and dare not avail
themselves of that which they have; in short, as all which existed has
been destroyed, and replaced by institutions still very incomplete,
there is ample material for criticisms and calumnies.
“Add to this that we are attacked by two sets of enemies,—the
aristocrats, who aspire to a counter-revolution, and the factions, who
wish to destroy all authority, perhaps even to attempt the life of
members of the royal family. These two parties foment these troubles.
“After having said all this, my dear General, I will say to you with the
same frankness, that we have made admirable and almost incredible
destruction of all abuses and all prejudices; all that which was not
useful to a people, and all that pertained not to them, have been cut
off, which, in consideration of the topographical situation, moral and
political, of France, we have performed more changes in ten months than
the most presumptuous patriots could have hoped for, and the reports of
our anarchy and our internal troubles have been much exaggerated.
“After all, this revolution, where one only desires to find (as at one
time in America) a little more energy in the government, will extend and
establish liberty; it will be made to flourish in the whole world, and
we can wait tranquilly through some years until a convention corrects
the faults which could not be perceived at present by men scarcely
escaped the yoke of aristocracy and despotism.
“You know that the Assembly has adjourned all discussion upon the West
Indies, leaving all things in their natural state. The ports remain thus
open to American commerce. It was impossible, under present
circumstances, to take a definite resolution. The next legislature will
form its decision according to the demands of the colonies, which have
been invited to present them, and particularly regarding their
“Permit me, my dear General, to offer you a painting representing the
Bastile, such as it was some days after I had given the order to destroy
it. I give to you also the principal key of that fortress of despotism.
It is a tribute which I owe to you, as a son to my adopted father, as an
aide-de-camp to my general, as a missionary of liberty to his patriarch.
“Adieu, my beloved General; offer my tender respects to Madame
Washington; speak of my affectionate regard to George, Hamilton, Knox,
Harrison, Humphrey,—all my friends. I am with tenderness and respect,
“Your affectionate and filial friend.”
[Illustration: KEY OF THE BASTILE.]
But La Fayette’s fond hopes regarding the dawning of liberty in his
cherished land were doomed to speedy and terrible disappointment.
The constitution was growing under the hands of the Assembly; the
executive and legislative and judicial departments were carefully
examined and established upon a better model. Vacillating Louis,
assenting and dissenting to every proposition, was at length partially
pledged to a freer constitution. Then came the 14th of July and the
grand festival in the Champ de Mars. King, queen, and court, churchmen
and soldiers, nuns and countesses, nobles and peasants, all were to
participate in this national ceremony. Four days before the celebration
the different deputations met in the Hotel de Ville to choose a
president for the federation. La Fayette was hailed President by
universal acclamation. He wished to decline the honor, but the Assembly
refused to excuse him. And still another honor awaited him. By a special
act of the Assembly the king had been appointed, for the day of the
ceremony, supreme commander of the National Guard. This office he
delegated to La Fayette, who thus became high constable of all the armed
men in the kingdom.
On the 13th of July the Confederates, with La Fayette at their head,
repaired to the National Assembly to pay their homage to the monarch and
to that body. La Fayette thus addressed the members: “You well knew the
necessities of France and the will of Frenchmen when you destroyed the
gothic fabric of our government and laws, and respected only their
monarchical principle; Europe then discovered that a good king could be
the protector of a free, as he had been the ground of comfort to an
oppressed, people. The rights of man are declared, the sovereignty of
the people acknowledged, their power is representative, and the bases of
public order are established. Hasten, then, to give energy to the power
of the state. The people owe to you the glory of a new constitution, but
they require and expect that peace and tranquillity which cannot exist
without a firm and effectual organization of the government. We,
gentlemen, devoted to the revolution and united in the name of liberty,
the guarantees alike of individual and common rights and safety,—we,
called by the most imperative duty from all parts of the kingdom,
founding our confidence on your wisdom and our hopes on your
services,—we will bear without hesitation to the altar of the country
the oath which you may dictate to its soldiers. Yes, gentlemen, our arms
shall be stretched forth together, and, at the same instant, our
brothers from all parts of France shall utter the oath which will unite
them together. May the solemnity of that great day be the signal of the
conciliation of parties, of the oblivion of resentments, and of the
establishment of public peace and happiness. And fear not that this holy
enthusiasm will hurry us beyond the proper and prescribed limits of
public order. Under the protection of the law, the standard of liberty
shall never become the rallying point of license and disorder.
Gentlemen, we swear to you to respect the law which it is our duty to
defend, swear by our honor as free men, and Frenchmen do not promise in
To King Louis, La Fayette then addressed these loyal words: “Sire, in
the course of those memorable events which have restored to the nation
its imprescriptible rights, and during which the energy of the people
and the virtues of their king have produced such illustrious examples
for the contemplation of the world, we love to hail, in the person of
your Majesty, the most illustrious of all titles,—chief of the French,
and king of a free people. Enjoy, Sire, the recompense of your virtues,
and let that pure homage which despotism could not command be the glory
and reward of a citizen-king. The National Guards of France swear to
your Majesty an obedience which shall know no other limits than those of
the law, and a love which shall only terminate with their existence.”
Let Carlyle again describe the scene on that memorable 14th of July.
“In spite of plotting aristocrats, lazy, hired spademen, and almost of
destiny itself, for there had been much rain, the Champ de Mars is
fairly ready. The morning comes, cold for a July one; but such a
festival would make Greenland smile. Through every inlet of that
national amphitheatre—for it is a league in circuit, cut with openings
at due intervals—floods in the living throng, covering without tumult,
space after space. Two hundred thousand patriotic men, and, twice as
good, one hundred thousand patriotic women, all decked and glorified, as
one can fancy, sit waiting in the Champ de Mars.
“What a picture, that circle of bright-dyed life, spread up there on its
thirty-seated slope, leaning, one would say, on the thick umbrage of
those avenue trees, for the stems of them are hidden by the height; and
all beyond it mere greenness of the summer earth, with the gleam of
waters, or white sparklings of stone edifices. On remotest steeple and
invisible village belfry stand men with spy-glasses. On the heights of
Chaillot are many-colored, undulating groups. Round, and far on, over
all the circling heights that embosom Paris it is as one more or less
peopled amphitheatre, which the eye grows dim with measuring. Nay;
heights have cannon, and a floating battery of cannon is on the Seine.
When eye fails, ear shall serve. And all France, properly, is but one
amphitheatre; for in paved town and unpaved hamlet men walk, listening,
till the muffled thunder sounds audibly on their horizon, that they,
too, may begin swearing and firing.
“But now to streams of music come confederates enough, for they have
assembled on the Boulevard St. Antoine, and come marching through the
city with their eighty-three department banners and blessings, not loud
but deep; comes National Assembly, and takes seat under its canopy;
comes Royalty, and takes seat on a throne beside it; and La Fayette, on
a white charger, is here, and all the civic functionaries; and the
confederates form dances till their strictly military evolutions and
manœuvres can begin.
“Task not the pen of mortal to describe them; truant imagination droops,
declares that it is not worth while. There is wheeling and sweeping to
slow, to quick, to double-quick time. Sieur Motier, or Generalissimo La
Fayette—for they are one and the same, and he, as general of France in
the king’s stead, for twenty-four hours—must step forth with that
sublime, chivalrous gait of his, solemnly ascend the steps of
Fatherland’s altar, in sight of heaven and of scarcely breathing earth,
and pronounce the oath: to king, to law, to nation, in his own name and
that of armed France; whereat there is waving of banners and sufficient
“The National Assembly must swear, standing in its place; the king
himself, audibly. The king swears; and now be the welkin split with
vivats; let citizens, enfranchised, embrace; armed confederates clang
their arms; and, above all, let that floating battery speak. It has
spoken, to the four corners of France! From eminence to eminence bursts
the thunder, faint heard, loud repeated. From Arras to Avignon, from
Metz to Bayonne, over Orleans and Blois, it rolls in cannon recitative.
Puy bellows of it amid his granite mountains; Pau, where is the shell
cradle of great Henri. At far Marseilles, one can think the ruddy
evening witnesses it; over the deep blue Mediterranean waters, the
castle of If, ruddy-tinted, darts forth from every cannon’s mouth its
tongue of fire; and all the people shout, ‘Yes, France is free!’
Glorious France, that has burst out so into universal sound and smoke,
and attained the Phrygian cap of Liberty.”
It is not king, or queen, but La Fayette, who is this day the cynosure
of all eyes, as he ascends the altar and takes the prescribed oath. His
noble nature is neither paralyzed by difficulties nor weakened by
popular applause. For the people’s love he is grateful, but to gain that
approbation he would not relinquish one iota of his principle. Neither
does any rank or power tempt him to seek his personal aggrandizement.
When urged by the deputation at this time, that he should accept the
permanent command of the military force of the realm he unselfishly
refused, accompanying his declination with these disinterested words:—
“Let not ambition take possession of you; love the friends of the
people, but reserve blind submission for the law, and enthusiasm for
liberty. Pardon this advice, gentlemen; you have given me the glorious
right to offer it, when, by loading me with every species of favor which
one of your brothers could receive from you, my heart, amidst its
delightful emotions, cannot repress a feeling of fear.”
That the confederates fully appreciated the noble motives which actuated
his decision in this matter is revealed by their farewell words to him:—
“The deputies of the National Guard of France retire with the regret of
not being able to nominate you their chief. They respect the
constitutional law, though it checks, at this moment, the impulse of
their hearts. A circumstance which must cover you with immortal glory
is, that you, yourself, promoted the law; that you, yourself, prescribed
bounds to our gratitude.”
Paris and Louis were too vacillating and unstable to allow any permanent
peace, or permit France to enjoy any prolonged prosperity. Before the
1st of August the solemn oath which had been taken on the Champ de Mars
was forgotten by both king and people. The same contentions were again
fanning the flames of a still more ominous conflagration.
On the 26th of August, 1790, La Fayette thus writes to General
“We are disturbed with revolts among the regiments; and, as I am
constantly attacked on both sides by the aristocratic and the factious
parties, I do not know to which of the two we owe these insurrections.
Our safeguard against them is the National Guard. There are more than a
million of armed citizens, among them patriotic legions, and my
influence with them is as great as if I had accepted the chief command.
I have lately lost some of my favor with the mob, and displeased the
frantic lovers of licentiousness, as I am bent on establishing a legal
subordination. But the nation at large is very thankful to me for it. It
is not out of the heads of aristocrats to make a counter-revolution.
Nay, they do what they can with all the crowned heads of Europe, who
hate us. But I think their plans will either be abandoned or
unsuccessful. I am rather more concerned at a division that rages in the
popular party. The club of the Jacobins and that of ’89, as it is
called, have divided the friends of liberty, who accuse each other; the
Jacobins being taxed with a disorderly extravagance, and ’89 with a
tincture of ministerialism and ambition. I am endeavoring to bring about
a reconciliation.”
“To defend the king and the constitution” was La Fayette’s unswerving
purpose. There had been a time when he had hoped that France might
become a republic like the United States; but as he carefully watched
successive events he became convinced that the nation was not prepared
for such a change, and henceforth he decided in favor of a
constitutional and limited monarchy; and notwithstanding the king’s
exasperating blindness, in regarding La Fayette as his enemy rather than
his defender, and the queen’s open enmity, La Fayette enacted faithfully
and consistently the double and difficult rôle of upholding the rights
of royalty at the same time that he was defending the sacred rights of
the people.
Madame Campan says in her “Memoirs of Marie Antoinette”:—
“The queen gave frequent audiences to M. de La Fayette. One day, when he
was in her inner closet, his aides-de-camp, who waited for him, were
walking up and down the great room where the persons in attendance
remained. Some imprudent young women were thoughtless enough to say,
with the intention of being overheard by those officers, that it was
very alarming to see the queen alone with a rebel and a _brigand_. I was
hurt at such indiscretion, which always produced bad effects, and I
imposed silence on them. One of them persisted in the appellation
_brigand_. I told her that, as to rebel, M. de La Fayette well deserved
the name, but that the title of leader of a party was given by history
to every man commanding forty thousand men, a capital, and forty leagues
of country; that kings had frequently treated with such leaders, and if
it was convenient to the queen to do the same, it remained only for us
to be silent and respect her actions. On the morrow the queen, with a
serious air, but with the greatest kindness, asked what I had said
respecting M. de La Fayette on the preceding day, adding that she had
been assured I had enjoined her women silence, because they did not like
him, and that I had taken his part. I repeated to the Queen what had
passed, word for word. She condescended to tell me that I had done
perfectly right.”
As La Fayette was the commander of the National Guard, and as Louis and
Marie Antoinette had been brought forcibly to Paris, and were in some
sense under the _surveillance_ of La Fayette and his Guard, they were
unable to perceive that he was their best friend, and they at length
determined to fly from their enforced restraint in Paris. The plan was
made and executed.
“And so the royalty of France is actually fled? This precious night, the
shortest of the year, it flies and drives! But in Paris, at six in the
morning, when some patriot deputy, warned by a billet, awoke La Fayette
and they went to the Tuileries? Imagination may paint, but words cannot,
the surprise of La Fayette, or with what bewilderment helpless Gouvion
rolled glassy Argus’ eyes, discerning now that his false chambermaid had
told true!”
A new danger now assailed La Fayette. The infuriated mob, apprised that
the king had escaped, laid the blame upon his keeper. “Down with La
Fayette!” “Away with the traitor!” are the cries which meet his ear, as
he boldly faces the vast throngs of excited Parisians who crowd around
the Hôtel de Ville. With folded arms and calm dignity, he stood before
the riotous mob. With unflinching courage he surveyed that surging mass
in silence for a moment; then, when he spoke, it was neither to excuse
nor defend himself. His thoughts, as ever, were not for himself; only
for the interests of the people. Casting his piercing glance over the
multitude he exclaimed, in clarion tones, in which there was no
quavering of fear or hesitation in their clear ring:—
“If you call this event a misfortune, what name would you give to a
counter-revolution, which would deprive you of your liberty?”
Filled with admiration for his courage, and inspired with the emotion of
applause, which, in the fickle fancy of the French so quickly follows
its opposite, wrath, the vast multitude rent the air with one deafening
shout: “Let us make La Fayette our king!”
But the loyal Knight of Liberty instantly replied, with stern
“I thought that you professed a better opinion of me. What have I done
that you do not believe me fit for something better?”
And the admiring people, recognizing his magnanimous unselfishness,
shouted with wild enthusiasm:—
Meanwhile, in the National Assembly, it was announced that La Fayette
was in danger from the mob, at the Hôtel de Ville. A deputation was sent
to him, offering an escort, to protect him from the violence of the
people. To whom La Fayette courteously replied: “I will order an escort
for you, as a mark of respect; but, for myself, I shall return alone. I
have never been in more perfect safety than at this moment, though the
streets are filled with the people.”
Prompt means were taken for the arrest of the royal fugitives.
“By first or by second principles, much is promptly decided: ministers
are sent for; instructed how to continue their functions; La Fayette is
examined, and Gouvion, who gives a most helpless account—the best he
can…. La Fayette’s aide-de-camp, Romœuf, riding _à franc etrier_,
on that old herb-merchant’s route, quickened during the last stages, has
got to Varennes, where the ten thousand now furiously demand, with fury
of panic terror, that royalty shall forthwith return Paris-ward, that
there be not infinite bloodshed…. So then our grand royalist plot, of
flight to Metz, has executed itself. On Monday night royalty went; on
Saturday evening it returns; so much, within one short week, has royalty
accomplished for itself.”
A decree was passed by the Assembly, suspending Louis from his kingly
functions, as it was contended that by his flight he had voluntarily
abdicated the throne; and a guard was placed over the king, queen, and
La Fayette, as commander-in-chief of the National Guards, was in reality
the head of the government in France. Though Louis was his captive, he
endeavored by every attention of respect to make him feel his restraint
as little as possible.
The Jacobins had now gained the supremacy in France. They contended that
the people should elect a ruler instead of Louis, whom they declared had
relinquished his rights. The Assembly were not yet prepared for this
step, and they resolved to restore Louis to power.
A decree was therefore issued by the Assembly, removing the ban from
Louis, and declaring that he was not culpable for his recent journey.
This decree raised a storm of opposition. The day after the bill was
passed, a vast mob assembled in the Champ de Mars, to protest against
this unpopular measure.
Quickly the crowd raised a riotous tumult, and again La Fayette, _the
Patriot_, stood in their midst. But this time his voice could not be
heard on account of their wild clamors, which filled the air and were
echoed from surrounding streets. When his words of command were
partially understood, their frenzy had reached too high a pitch to be
quelled; threats were muttered against him, and even a musket was fired
at his breast. But his fearless spirit was resolved to put down this
dangerous insurrection, and he was determined not to leave the spot
until his efforts had been successful. By his nerve, and quick plans as
speedily executed, the rioters were at length forced to give way, but
not until blood had been shed, for which his enemies called him to an
Appreciating the necessity for a firmer government, the Assembly
completed its constitution, and it was submitted to Louis for his
acceptance. Poor vacillating Louis was ill-pleased with this same
constitution, but the past had taught him that it was safest to submit;
and thereupon he repaired to the Assembly and accepted the constitution,
and on the 30th of September it was declared that the Constituent
Assembly had terminated its sittings. This Assembly had been in
existence three years, and had enacted 1309 laws and decrees.
A few days afterwards La Fayette resigned his office as
commander-in-chief of the National Guard, deeming that his country no
longer required his public services, and desiring intensely to retire to
his private estates and enjoy the delights of a quiet life. He sent the
following letter to his late comrades in arms:—
“To serve you until this day, gentlemen, was a duty imposed upon me by
the sentiments which have animated my whole life. To resign now, without
reserve, to my country, all the power and influence she gave me for the
purpose of defending her during recent convulsions,—is a duty which I
owe to my well-known resolutions, and it amply satisfies the only sort
of ambition I possess.”
The Guard could not part with him without renewed expressions of
admiration for their idol. Finding that they could not move him, by
their persuasions, to withdraw his resignation, they forged a sword from
the bolts of the Bastile, and presented it to him, with profound marks
of their esteem and affection. The municipality of Paris voted him a
medal, and ordered a complimentary inscription to be placed upon the
bust of La Fayette, which had been presented by Virginia to the city of
Paris twelve years before.
“Now that his Majesty has accepted the constitution, to the sound of
cannon-salvoes, who would not hope? La Fayette has moved for an amnesty,
for universal forgiving and forgetting of revolutionary faults; and now
surely the glorious revolution, cleared of its rubbish, is complete….
Welcome, surely, to all right hearts, is La Fayette’s chivalrous
amnesty. The National Constituent Assembly declares that it has finished
its mission; so, amid glitter of illuminated streets and Champs Elysées,
and crackle of fireworks, and glad deray, has the first National
Assembly vanished…. La Fayette, for his part, will lay down the
command. He retires, Cincinnatus-like, to his hearth and farm, but soon
leaves them again.”
But the king and court seem blindly destined to bring about their own
destruction. The Royalists, far from distinguishing between such men as
La Fayette, Robespierre, and Pétion, strengthened the hands of the two
last, thinking by those means to weaken the former. The court, incited
by the queen, treated La Fayette with a blindfold hatred, by opposing
Pétion to him at every turn. When the honest, well-meaning soldier was
about to be elected mayor of Paris, Marie Antoinette, through her
machinations, caused the nomination of Pétion, who employed his exalted
position in overturning the throne and the constitution. But not only
was France at the mercy of the factions within, but foreign hosts
threatened them without.
La Fayette’s quiet life of repose was soon disturbed. Startling rumors
reached Paris that a large army was preparing for an invasion. Quick to
respond to his country’s call, La Fayette relinquished his coveted
delights of rest and reunion with his family, and accepted the command
of one of the three armies which France was raising to meet the
advancing foe.
At this time La Fayette issued the following stirring proclamation to
his army:—
“The legislative corps and the king, in the name of the French people,
have declared war. Since the country, by constitutional means and by her
will, calls us to defend her, what citizen can refuse to her his arm?
“At this moment, when we leaders take again the oath which was
pronounced by the nation and army upon the altar of the Federation, I
come to explain my intentions, and to recall to you my principles.
“Convinced by the experience of a life devoted to Liberty, that she can
only be preserved in the midst of citizens submissive to the laws, as
she can only be defended by disciplined troops, I have served the people
without cajoling them, and in my constant struggle against license and
anarchy I have incurred the honorable hatred of the ambitious, and of
all factions.
“To-day that the army awaits me, it is not with a pernicious
complaisance, but with an inflexible discipline, and with a rigorous
fulfilment of duty, that I will justify the affection which they accord
to me, and the esteem which they owe me.
“But since I control free men by the imperious will of a chief, it is
necessary that we all feel—general, officers, and soldiers—that in this
coming war it is a combat to the death between our principles and the
pretensions of despots. We must work for the rights of each citizen and
the safety of all. We must work for the constitution which we have sworn
by, and for the sacred cause of liberty and equality. In short, we must
work for the National Sovereignty, by which only we shall be able to
resist any such combination of force and danger as there may be; and
without which, not only will the French people, but humanity itself, be
“Soldiers of Liberty! it is not sufficient for merit to be brave; be
patient, indefatigable. Your general ought to plan and order; you, to
obey. Be generous! respect a disarmed enemy. Those troops which always
grant quarter, and will never receive it, will be invincible. Let us be
disinterested, so that the shameful idea of pillage will never soil the
nobility of our motives. Let us be humane; it will make every one admire
our sentiments and bless our laws.
“Resolve ye, with your general, that we shall see Liberty triumph, or
that we shall not survive her.
“Soldiers of the Constitution! fear not that she ceases to watch you
when you fight for her. Fear not when you go to defend your country,
that these internal dissensions shall trouble your firesides. Without
doubt the legislative corps and the king will intimately unite in the
decisive moment to insure the empire and the law, every one, and their
property will be respected. Civil and religious liberty will not be
profaned; the peaceable citizen will be protected, whatever may be his
opinions; the culpable will be punished, whatever may be his pretences.
“All parties will be dispelled, and the constitution alone will rule;
and upon the rebels who have attacked with open voice, and upon the
traitors, who have perverted it by their vile passions, will be meted
out such judgment as shall make them fear it inwardly and respect it
“Yes, we will have the reward of our labor and of our blood. Let us all
attest with confidence,—both the representatives elected by the people
who have sworn to transact only the duties of the constitution, as we
its dangers; and the hereditary representative, the citizen-king, whom
the constitution has firmly established upon the throne; and all the
other depositories of authority to whom the constitution has delegated
power,—let them all believe that the execution of that authority is a
duty which the constitution has laid upon them, as obedience is demanded
from those who must submit to them; and that any one transgresses the
laws in not making them to be obeyed, as they were placed in office that
the laws might be defended.
“Let us also affirm, all ye National Guard, that the constitution, newly
born, shall find us united for its establishment, and that the
constitution, in peril, will always find us ready to defend it; for
patriotism renders even glorious the calumnies which we may have to
endure in support of the constitution.
“As for us, furnished with the arms which liberty has consecrated, and
with the declaration of rights, let us march towards our enemies!”

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The central army was assigned to La Fayette, with his headquarters at
Metz. War was declared against Austria on the 20th of April, and on the
24th La Fayette was ordered to collect his regiments and report at Metz
by the 1st of May. This required such marvellous celerity that his
enemies hoped he would fail to accomplish it, but on the appointed day
La Fayette was at the post assigned, awaiting further orders. From his
camp at Metz La Fayette wrote thus to Washington:—
“This is a very different date from that which had announced to you my
return to the sweets of private life, a situation hitherto not very
familiar to me, but which, after fifteen revolutionary years, I had
become quite fit to enjoy. I have given you an account of the quiet and
rural mode of living I had adopted in the mountains where I was born,
having there a good house and a _late_ manor, now unlorded into a large
farm, with an English overseer for my instruction. For as I have
relinquished my title of nobility, I manage my estate as a simple
country gentleman. I felt myself very happy among my neighbors, no more
vassals to me nor anybody, and had given to my wife and rising family
the only quiet weeks they had enjoyed for a long time, when the threats
and mad preparations of the refugees, and, still more, the countenance
they had obtained in the dominions of our neighbors, induced the
National Assembly and the king to adopt a more rigorous system than had
hitherto been the case.
“I had declined every public employment that had been offered by the
people, and, still more, had I refused consent to my being appointed to
any military command; but when I saw our liberties and constitution were
seriously threatened, and my services could be usefully employed in
fighting for our old cause, I could no longer resist the wishes of my
countrymen; and as soon as the king’s express reached my farm, I set out
for Paris; from thence to this place; and I do not think it
uninteresting to you, my dear General, to add, that I was everywhere on
the road affectionately welcomed.”
Again La Fayette writes to Washington, in March, 1792, from Paris,
whither he had been recalled from Metz by political affairs:—
“MY DEAR GENERAL: I have been called from the army to the capital for a
conference between two other generals, the ministers, and myself; and I
am at present about to return to my post. The coalition of the
continental powers concerning that which touches our affairs, is
certain, and will not be broken by the death of the Emperor Leopold II.
But as regards the preparations for their continental war, it is yet
doubtful whether our neighbors will dare approach in order to extinguish
a flame so contagious as that of liberty.
“The danger for us is in the state of anarchy which arises from the
ignorance of the people, from the immense numbers of non-proprietors,
and from the habitual mistrust regarding every kind of measure of the
government. The difficulties are augmented by the discontents and the
distinguished aristocrats, because these two parties unite in
counteracting our ideas of public order.
“Do not believe, however, my dear General, the exaggerated accounts
which you will receive, especially those which come from England.
Liberty and equality will be preserved in France, that is certain; but
if they succumb, you may know well that I will not have survived them.
Yon can be assured, however, that we go forth to meet this painful
present situation, by an honorable defence, and for the amelioration of
our internal affairs.
“We have not had time to prove just at what point our constitution can
bring to us a good government. We know only that it is established upon
the rights of the people, destroys nearly all abuses, changes French
vassalage into national dignity; in short, it renders to men the
enjoyment of their faculties, which nature has given to them, and which
society assures to them.
“Permit me, my dear General, to present to you alone an observation
upon the last choice of an American ambassador. I am a personal friend
of Gouverneur Morris, and I have always been, as an individual,
content with him; but the aristocratic principles, and even
counter-revolutionary ones which he has professed, render him scarcely
the proper person to represent the only nation of which the government
resembles ours, since both of them are founded upon the plan of a
democratic representation. I will add, that as France finds herself
surrounded by enemies, it would seem that America ought to desire to
conform herself to the changes in our government.
“I speak not only of those which democratic principles can hasten and
introduce, but of those new projects of the aristocracy, such as the
re-establishment of a nobility, the creation of a chamber of peers, and
other political blasphemies of that kind, which, so far as we are able,
we shall not have realized in France.
“I have desired that we should establish an elective senate, a more
independent judiciary corps, and a more energetic administration; but it
is necessary that the people should be taught to know the advantages of
a firm government before knowing how to reconcile it with their ideas of
liberty, and to distinguish it from those arbitrary systems which it has
“You see, my dear General, I am not an enthusiast regarding all the
clauses of our constitution, though I love those principles which
resemble those of the United States; as to the exception of an
hereditary president of executive power, I believe it conforms to our
circumstances at present.
“But I hate all that resembles despotism and the aristocracy, and I
cannot relinquish the desire that these principles, American and French,
should be in the heart and upon the lips of the ambassador of the United
States in France. I make these reflections in case only that some
arrangements conformable to the wishes of Gouverneur Morris can in the
sequel be made.
“Permit me to add here the tribute of praise which I owe to M. Short for
the sentiments which he has expressed, and for all the esteem which he
has inspired in this country, I desire that you should personally
recognize it.
“There are changes in the ministry preparing. The king has chosen his
council from the most violent portion of the popular party, that is to
say, from the club of the Jacobins, a kind of Jesuitical institution
more likely to make deserters from our cause than to attract to us
followers. These new ministers, however, are not suspected of being able
to have a chance of re-establishing order. They discuss that which they
should apply to themselves. The Assembly is little enlightened; they
value too highly popular applause. The king in his daily conduct from
time to time acts very well. After all, the thing will go on, and the
success of the revolution cannot be placed in doubt.
“My command extends upon the frontiers from Givet to Bitche. I have
sixty thousand men, and this number will be increased by young men who
will come from all parts of the empire to complete the regiments. The
voluntary recruits are animated by a spirit most patriotic. I go to make
an entrenched camp with thirty thousand men, and with a detached corps
of four to five thousand; the remainder of the troops will occupy strong
places. The armies of the Maréchaux Luckner and Rochambeau are inferior
to mine, because we have sent several regiments south; but in case of
war we can gather respectable forces.
“If we have yet some reasons for discontent, we can, however, hope to
attain our just cause. License, under the mask of patriotism, is our
greatest evil, because it menaces property, tranquillity, and even
“Adieu, my dear General; think sometimes of your respectful, tender, and
filial friend.”
But La Fayette’s confidence in his countrymen was repaid by ingratitude;
and he was yet to learn that few men were actuated by his unselfish
loyalty and stern integrity.
His enemies now plotted his ruin. A treacherous plan was laid to draw
off his expected re-enforcements, so that when he reached Givet, he
would find himself at the mercy of the advancing foe. This disgraceful
scheme was put into execution, and La Fayette, finding himself exposed
to overwhelming dangers, wisely retreated to his former post to await
further developments. But soon the direful rumors from Paris filled his
patriotic heart with more painful concern than his own perilous
position. “Would that he had trusted me!” exclaimed magnanimous La
Fayette, as courier after courier brought news of the woes thickening
around the helpless, weak king. In a letter to the Assembly, La Fayette
boldly declared war against the defiant Jacobins, who were fast
clutching the reins of government, or, rather, planning a
counter-revolution, which should give up the city and the nation to the
diabolical power of a wild anarchy and unbridled license. It was this
memorable letter in which he said: “Can you dissemble even to yourselves
that a faction—and to avoid all vague demonstrations, the _Jacobin
faction_—have caused all these disorders? It is that society which I
boldly denounce; organized in its affiliated societies like a separate
empire in the metropolis, and blindly governed by some ambitious
leaders, this society forms a totally distinct corporation in the midst
of the French nation, whose power it usurps by tyrannizing over its
representatives and constituted authorities. Let the royal authority be
untouched, for it is guaranteed by the constitution; let it be
independent, for its independence is one of the springs of our liberty;
let the king be revered, for he is invested with the majesty of the
nation; let him choose a ministry which wears the chain of no faction;
and if traitors exist, let them perish under the sword of the law.”
No other man in France would have dared to write such a letter; and this
brave letter lost him his popularity, for the masses were imbued with
the influence of the Jacobins. This party now took an oath to destroy
the fearless marquis who had thus laid bare their base designs. They
harangued the mob, and persuaded them to believe that Louis and La
Fayette were leagued against them. It required little to inflame the
excited people. Twenty thousand men from the lowest ranks paraded the
streets, and with wild shouts of “_Down with the king! to the
Tuileries!_” they swept onward to the palace, and with yells of
execration they trampled down the guard and burst into the very
apartment of the king. Louis for once was roused and played the part of
a man. His calmness awed the mob; and the Assembly sending a deputation
to his relief, the multitude were persuaded to retire.
This news was wafted quickly to La Fayette; and on the 28th of June he
appeared in Paris. He left the army, and came alone as a simple citizen,
and, visiting the Assembly, he boldly met their charge against him,
which was that he had made an attempt at dictation; and he was there to
answer this slander, and to demand reparation for the indignity to which
the king had been subjected. He ended his speech with the words, “Such
are the representations submitted to the Assembly by a citizen whose
love for liberty, at least, will not be disputed.”
But the Jacobin leaders had now the upper hand in the Assembly; and they
declared him guilty of treason. And when the chivalrous and true-hearted
La Fayette waited upon the king, for whom he had risked his reputation
and his life, “he was insulted by the courtiers, coolly received by the
king, and the queen expressly forbade any one to give him the slightest
support. His efforts at rallying around him the National Guard, in order
to march upon the Jacobins and make them prisoners, proved equally
fruitless. He returned full of grief, but not utterly discouraged, to
the army, whence he continued to offer his services to the king; but all
his offers were rejected. ‘The best counsel I can give M. de La
Fayette,’ answered the king, ‘is to serve as a scarecrow to the factions
in following his profession as a general.’”
The Princess Elizabeth, more clear-sighted than Louis XVI. and Marie
Antoinette, advised that the royal family should throw themselves with
confidence into the protection of the only man who could save the king
and deliver his family from the awful dangers which threatened them. But
the imprudent queen is reported to have replied, “It is better to perish
than to be saved by La Fayette and the Constitutionals.”
Thus was this noble-spirited man rewarded by those whom he had risked
his life to try to save.
The awful Reign of Terror came remorselessly striding on in its
resistless march of death. La Fayette made one more attempt to save the
perverse and blinded king and queen. A plan was formed for removing the
royal family from Paris, and placing them under the protection of the
army of which La Fayette had command; but the haughty Marie Antoinette
replied, “No; we have once owed our lives to La Fayette; but I should
not wish it to be the case a second time.” Thus was their last chance of
escape refused, and the Reign of Terror soon numbered them among its
And the diabolical Reign of Terror also laid its ghastly hand upon the
freedom of the Knight of Liberty, and against his illustrious name wrote
this infamous “_Decree of Accusation_”:—
“NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, Aug. 17, 1792.
“I. It appears to this Assembly that there is just ground for accusation
against M. de La Fayette, heretofore commander of the army of the North.
“II. The executive power shall, in the most expeditious manner possible,
carry the present decree into execution; and all constituted
authorities, all citizens, and all soldiers are hereby enjoined, by
every means in their power, to secure his person.
“III. The Assembly forbids the army of the North any longer to
acknowledge him as a general, or to obey his orders; and strictly
enjoins that no person whatsoever shall furnish anything to the troops,
or pay any money for their use, but by the orders of M. Dumouriez.”
This decree was widely circulated throughout the army. Against such a
hydra-headed demon of persecution it was useless to attempt to contend.
La Fayette’s only safety lay in flight. For his king and his country he
had sacrificed all that was dear to him in life; and this was his
thankless reward.
At this time La Fayette thus wrote to his wife:—
“I make no apology to you or my children for having ruined my family; no
one among you would wish to owe fortune to conduct contrary to my
conscience.” Surely the actions of his heroic wife and brave children
fully confirmed his exalted opinion of them.
After taking every necessary precaution for the safety of his army, La
Fayette and his three friends, Messieurs Latour-Maubourg, Bureaux de
Pusy, and Alexandre Lameth, with a little party of twenty-three exiles,
departed from France and turned their faces towards the Netherlands.
Reaching Rochefort, La Fayette and his friends endeavored to obtain
passports. But La Fayette was quickly recognized, and the commandant
instantly despatched a messenger to the Austrian general at Namur, with
the startling intelligence that he held in safe-keeping the illustrious
La Fayette, one of the bravest generals of France. The Austrian general,
Moitelle, could scarcely credit this astounding piece of good fortune.
“What!” exclaimed he, “La Fayette? _La Fayette?_” Turning to one
officer, he cried, “Run instantly and inform the Duke of Bourbon of it”;
to another the order was given, “Set out this moment and carry this news
to his Royal Highness at Brussels”; and sending others here and there to
spread the wonderful intelligence: before many hours the news had been
despatched to half the princes and generals in Europe, that the
illustrious La Fayette was a captive in the hands of the allies. The
prisoners were conducted to Namur, then to Nivelles, and afterwards to
Luxembourg, where an attempt was made to assassinate La Fayette by some
of the French refugees. The Austrians finally decided that La Fayette
and his three companions should be given over into the power of the
Prussians. The captives were accordingly closely guarded and hurried to
Wessel. Here they were separated and thrown into different cells. The
many shameful indignities which they suffered and the hardships of their
cruel prison life soon prostrated La Fayette, and he became dangerously
ill, and for a time his life was despaired of. No mitigation of his
confinement was, however, allowed him. Once the king of Prussia offered
him aid if he would assist in the plans forming against France. La
Fayette received this base message with indignant scorn, and bade the
officer return and inform his master “that he was still _La Fayette_.”
The king, foiled in his attempt to weaken the stanch loyalty of the
heroic marquis, who would not swerve one hair‘s-breadth from his
conscientious principles, even for the longed-for boon of liberty,
determined to wreak his mortified pride by inflicting further cruelties
upon the helpless captives, whom, though he could not bribe to dishonor,
he might still torture to death.
The monarch resolved to gratify his malignity by removing them to still
more dismal and unhealthy dungeons. Whereupon, the prisoners were
conducted to Magdebourg; and as they were thrown into the loathsome
vaults of that prison, they were informed that they should never again
behold the light of day. Here they existed, desolate and despairing, for
a year. Frederic William occasionally sent to learn if their sufferings
were sufficiently intense to satisfy his fiendish cruelty, and then
devised new torments. La Fayette dared not send letters to his wife,
fearing that his writing would be recognized, and accordingly addressed
them to a friend in England, hoping that his family would in some manner
receive them. He thus describes his situation:—
“Imagine an opening made under the rampart of the citadel, and
surrounded with a strong high palisade; through this, after opening four
doors, each armed with chains, bars, and padlocks, they come, not
without some difficulty and noise, to my cell, three paces wide, five
and a half long. The wall is mouldy on the side of the ditch, and the
front one admits light, but not sunshine, through a little grated
window. Add to this two sentinels, whose eyes penetrate into this lower
region, but who are kept outside the palisade, lest they should speak;
other watchers not belonging to the guard; and all the walls, ramparts,
ditches, guards, within and without the citadel of Magdebourg, and you
will think that the foreign powers neglect nothing to keep us within
their dominions.
“The noisy opening of the four doors is repeated every morning to admit
my servant; at dinner, that I may eat in the presence of the commandant
of the citadel and of the guard; and at night, to take my servant to his
prison. After having shut upon me all the doors, the commandant carries
off the keys to the room where, since our arrival, the king has ordered
him to sleep.
“I have books, the white leaves of which are taken out, but no news, no
newspapers, no communications,—neither pen, ink, paper, nor pencil. It
is a wonder that I possess this sheet, and I am writing with a
toothpick. My health fails daily…. The account I have given you may
serve for my companions, whose treatment is the same.”
At length, despairing of making La Fayette yield by any cruelties,
however barbarous, the Prussian king, fearing that the peace which he
was concluding with France would require the surrender of La Fayette, he
determined to transfer him, with Maubourg and De Pusy, to the Austrians.
Olmütz was selected by their new jailers, and the prisoners were
accordingly carried thither.
Though placed within the same castle, and occupying cells in the same
corridor, the friends were as completely guarded against all intercourse
with each other, and all knowledge of each other’s condition, as if an
ocean or a continent separated them. As they entered their cells, it was
declared to each of them, “that they would never come out of them alive;
that they would never see anything but what was enclosed within the four
walls of their respective cells; that they would hold no communication
with the outer world, nor receive any kind of information of persons or
things there; that their jailers were even prohibited from pronouncing
their names; that in the prison reports and government despatches they
would be referred to only by the number of their cells; that they would
never be suffered to learn anything of the situation of their families,
or even to know of each other’s existence; and that, as such a situation
of hopeless confinement would naturally incite to suicide, knives and
forks, and all other instruments by which they might do violence to
themselves, would be thenceforth withheld from them.”
Such were Austria’s improvements upon the cruelties of Prussia.
In a dark and loathsome dungeon, the walls of which were twelve feet
thick, and guarded by doors of wood and iron, covered with bolts and
bars, the only air admitted into the cell coming through a loophole in
the wall, beneath which was a ditch of stagnant water whose poisonous
effluvium stifled the suffering victim on a bed of rotten straw filled
with vermin, by the side of which stood a worm-eaten table and broken
chair, lay the sick and tortured La Fayette, whose keen anxieties
regarding the fate of his adored wife and children were added to the
bodily torments which his enemies inflicted upon him. Again he became
ill. His physician represented to the authorities that fresh air was
absolutely necessary; three times the brutal answer was sent, “He is not
yet sick enough.” At length, however, he was allowed a daily walk of a
few moments under the eye of his jailer.
The news of the imprisonment of La Fayette had been received with
profound sorrow throughout the world. Many efforts had been put forth in
his behalf from time to time. While La Fayette was at Magdebourg, the
American minister in France took upon himself the responsibility of
directing the banker of the United States, at Hamburgh, to advance ten
thousand florins, which were sent to La Fayette, and was the means of
procuring for him many needed comforts. This act was afterwards ratified
by Congress under the head of military compensation.
The imprisonment of his loyal and devoted young friend caused the warm
heart of Washington the deepest anguish, but, as the president of a
neutral nation, his public acts were governed by caution; though his
personal influence as a man in behalf of his friend was strong in
endeavoring to secure the release of the marquis. To Mr. Pinckney, then
in Europe, he thus wrote:—
“I need hardly mention how much my sensibility has been hurt by the
treatment this gentleman has met with, or how anxious I am to see him
liberated therefrom; but what course to pursue as most likely and proper
to aid the measure is not quite so easy to decide on. As President of
the United States, there must not be a commitment of the government by
any interference of mine; and it is no easy matter in a transaction of
this nature for a public character to assume the garb of a private
citizen in a case that does not relate to himself. Yet such is my wish
to contribute my mite to accomplish that desirable object, that I have
no objection to its being known to the imperial ambassador in London,
who, if he think proper, may communicate it to his court, that this
event is an ardent wish of the people of the United States, to which I
sincerely add mine. The time, the manner, and even the measure itself, I
leave to your discretion; as circumstances, and every matter which
concerns this gentleman, are better known on that than they are on this
side of the Atlantic.”
At length a young German physician, Dr. J. Erick Bollman, filled with
admiration for the illustrious and persecuted La Fayette, although he
had never seen him, nevertheless enthusiastically espoused his cause,
and determined to attempt the liberation of the marquis. Meeting at
Vienna Francis Kinlock Huger, the son of Colonel Huger, of South
Carolina, at whose house La Fayette was first received when he landed in
America, the two young men resolved to attempt at all risks to
themselves his release. They were so far successful, that by their aid
La Fayette eluded his jailers, while out for exercise, and mounted a
horse provided by his friends, and succeeded in reaching Sternberg, but
was there again arrested and carried back to endure still greater
tortures in his loathsome prison at Olmütz. His two devoted friends were
also captured and obliged to suffer imprisonment for six months, as a
punishment for their unselfish deed; while La Fayette was informed by
his cruel tormentors that his zealous friends were to be executed for
their attempt in his behalf.

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