At first the king seemed inclined to work with the revolution and to try to solve the problems. But the influence of the queen and of the courtiers were too strong. He was encouraged by them to disregard all promises he had made and sought to flee from France in order to obtain aid against the revolution from Austria.
It led to the storming of the royal palace of the Tuileries on Aug. 10, 1792. The king and his family escaped before the mob arrived and took refuge in the hall of the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly declared that the king was suspended from office and ordered that he and his family should be imprisoned. They then called a new assembly, the Convention, to decide whether France should continue to be a monarchy.
On 20-21 September, on Abbé Grégoire's motion, the Conventionnels steeled themselves to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic. By December, even advocating the restoration of the monarchy was punishable by death. Then one of the Assembly's most pressing task was to decide what to do with the person of the ex-ruler, Louis Capet.
So a debate started in the Convention, opposing the Jacobins and the Girondins, about whether yes or not the king would be judged.
Firstly, it was not easy to clothe the revolt of the country against the king in the forms of law, for the country as a body had no legal standing under the old regime. There were no conventionally specifiable legal rules or moral principles by which a king could be judged, and there was no one who could judge him, that's to say exercise authority over him . Moreover, it was a legal maxim in both England and France that the king could not do wrong. This principle the revolutionaries were committed to deny, and their denial was a large part of the revolution they made.
[...] So the revolutionary rhetoric portrayed Louis XVI virtually in pagan terms, as a magical being whose death was necessary for the health of the polity and moral regeneration. As a matter of fact, the king is the body politics (the state is represented by the king's person), and his private life becomes synonymous with the public life of the kingdom. Even if according to Clifford Geertz the principle of kingly authority destroyed long before the pointing rightly to the long process of erosion, that process was far from complete in 1792. [...]
[...] But some people blamed the Assembly for the condemnation of the king, and they were right to be afraid of Louis XVI death. First, Joseph de Maistre, in his “considerations on France” (1753–1821) wrote that of the greatest possible crimes is undoubtedly an attack upon sovereignty, no other having such terrible consequences. ( ) If this sovereign has not deserved his fate through any fault of his own, if his very virtues have strengthened the guilty against him, the crime is beyond description. [...]
[...] After the reinstauration of France's National Assembly (the Estates-General) which quickly curtailed the king's powers, and the storm of the hated prison at the Bastille, feeling that power was shifting to their side, the mob forced the imprisonment of Louis and his family. Louis attempted escape in 1791 but was captured and returned to Paris. In 1792, the newly elected National Convention declared France a republic and brought Louis to trial for crimes against the people. At first the king seemed inclined to work with the revolution and to try to solve the problems. [...]
[...] But Biroteau dismissed the association made between the very person of Louis XVI and the symbol of monarchy: is not only the life of death of a prisoner that public tranquility depends. It is really Louis's death that is supposed to guarantee our freedom? No, it is the abolition of royalty that will set us free”. Maybe he was right Accordingly, although the Girondins, like virtually everyone else at the Convention, agreed that the King was guilty of various misdeeds and voted accordingly, they rejected the mythic persecutory claim that in one man could reside responsibility for the crisis as well as for its solution, for both the fall and salvation. [...]
[...] Since 1793, the death of Louis XVI has been a potent vehicle for political and moral reflexion, a catalyst for exploring the relationship between violence and progress, pity and justice, amnesty and vengeance. Ballanche, Hugo, Michelet, Lamartine, Quinet and Camus ultimately depoliticized the supremely political act of regicide and radical political change. Theorv calls for reconciliation, unity, and forgetting their pleas for compassion, amnesty and pardon indicate their embracement of moral values. Nineteenth century historians were convinced that, after the regicide, the unity of the revolutionary “brothers”, who had joined in revolt against the Father-king and succeeded in taking his place, was essential for the survival of the Republic. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee