The treason of Dumouriez gave the Mountain another weapon to use against the Girondins. The general had been friendly with the Girondins, and his desire to restore the Constitution of 1791 only proved to the “Mountaineers” that, like the Girondins, he was a conservative and counterrevolutionary. Danton alone called for peace between the warring factions. “Let us become reconciled like brothers,” he cried on April 4, 1793. “It is for the safety of us all. If the counter-revolution triumphs, it will proscribe all who have borne the name of patriot, of whatever shade of party.”
But neither the Jacobins nor the Girondins would listen to calls for peace. Marat was crying out against the Girondins in the Convention. The Enragés and even the Paris commune were demanding an armed rebellion against the Convention. The Jacobin Club and the Paris sections opposed such dangerous measures; but on April 8 and 10, two of the city’s sections demanded that the Convention indict the Girondin leaders as enemies of the revolution.
The Girondin leaders were high-minded and noble in their devotion to their ideals, but they had no support outside the regions they came from. In Paris, they were surrounded by enemies and had no friends except Danton — and they did not return his friendship. The Girondins opposed any measures to control the price of food or restrain the merchants who made great profits off the suffering of the poor, and this stance further enraged the Enragés and men like Marat.
On April 12, 1793, the Girondins made the foolish move of demanding that the Convention indict Marat for plotting violence against the government. In response, the leaders of the Paris sections and the commune presented a petition demanding that the Convention dismiss 22 of its Girondin leaders as “guilty of felony to the sovereign people.” Then came Marat’s trial on April 24, when the mob in the galleries so intimidated the Convention deputies that they acquitted him of all charges. The jubilant mob, taking Marat on their shoulders, carried him to the tribune. There, Marat dramatically pointed toward the Right of the assembly hall where the Girondins sat. “I have them now,” he cried. “I have the rope around their necks.”
In early May, news of Austrian and Prussian victories against the French intensified the battle between the parties. Rancor against the Girondins increased when, on May 3, they opposed a measure passed by the Convention to place a maximum price on grain and force a loan of money from the rich. So serious were the outcries against the Girondins that, on May 18, a Girondin deputy demanded that the Convention dissolve the Paris commune. The measure did not pass, but the Convention did approve the formation of a Committee of Twelve to investigate conspiracy against the government.
To the Paris extremists, the Committee of Twelve was just a committee of tyrants. Extremists repeated their calls for the arrest of 22 Girondin leaders and threatened to kill them. The Convention responded by arresting two of the extremist leaders, along with Jacques Hébert. Hébert was a Jacobin like Marat and the editor of a lewd and blasphemous journal.
On May 25, the Paris commune denounced the arrests and demanded the release of Hébert. The president of the Convention that day was the Girondin leader Maximin Isnard, a man given to violent outbursts. In reply to the commune’s demands, he cried out, “You shall have speedy justice.” Then, accusing the commune of aiding the extremists, he added, “I declare to you, in the name of all France, that Paris will be blotted out, and it will soon be questioned on the banks of the Seine whether such a city has ever existed.” Danton tried to get the words wiped from the public record, but the Girondins refused. Instead, they warmly applauded Isnard’s statement. Isnard’s outburst doomed the Girondins. Most Parisians had not gone along with the extremists; but hearing that the president of the Convention had called for the destruction of Paris, they joined in the cries against the Girondins. Robespierre, speaking at the Jacobins Club, called on “the people to rise in revolt in the National Convention against all the corrupt deputies.” Facing all this opposition, the Convention released Hébert; but it still refused to disband the Committee of Twelve.
The Enragés and other extremists were now prepared for insurrection. At a meeting held on the evening of May 30 (at which both Marat and Hébert were present), they declared that Paris was “in revolt for the arrest of the traitors” — the Girondins. At 3 a.m. on May 31, the extremists sounded the tocsin for revolt and appointed a commander for the popular army. But that evening, the more moderate Jacobins were able to take control of the revolt and hold off an armed attack against the Convention.
Frightened by the insurgents, the Convention finally agreed on the night of May 31 to abolish the Committee of Twelve. As the Convention’s members issued from the assembly hall, they were even cheered by the mobs, who carried torches to light the deputies’ way through the streets.
But the Girondins knew they still faced danger. The Jacobins had decided to join with the extremists to force the Convention to arrest the Girondin leaders. High-toned as ever, the Girondin leaders refused to call in armed forces from the departments for their protection. Such a call would lead to civil war, from which the Girondins shrank with disgust. “Rather death than civil war!” declared the Girondin leader Pierre Vergniaud.
The meeting of the Convention on June 2, 1793, opened with bad news: the Vendeans had captured Fontenay and royalists had risen in revolt in Lyons, a large city in southeastern France. Far fewer than the usual number of deputies, however, had gathered in the Convention that day. Most of the seats on the Right were empty. Most of the Girondin deputies were not present. Outside the hall, in the courts of the Tuileries and the palace garden, armed men had gathered. These were National Guardsmen, but among them were armed sans-culottes. They had come at the summons of the commune and the Jacobins, but not to guard the Convention.
The Convention deputies knew they were facing an insurrection. But what were they to do about it? The Committee of Public Safety, whose leader was now Danton, gave its advice — the Girondin leaders should voluntarily resign as deputies, “in order to restore peace to the republic.” From the Mountain, Marat spoke for the radicals; the Convention, he said, must indict the Girondin leaders as traitors to the People. The majority of the Convention voted to leave the assembly hall and seek protection from the National Guard.
Outside the hall, armed men stopped the deputies, and the commanding general demanded that the deputies return to the hall and “deliver up the victims called for by the People.” When the deputies did not obey, the general ordered his men to prepare to fire. One deputy, seeing it was hopeless to resist, cried out, “All is over; liberty is lost!” As the deputies retraced their steps to the hall, Marat, surrounded by a gang of ragged children, called out, “I summon you, in the name of the people, to return to your posts!”
When the deputies had resumed their seats, a man named Georges Couthon, an ally of Robespierre, arose and demanded the arrest of 22 Girondin leaders, along with the members of the Committee of Twelve and two other men. Because they were frightened by the armed men outside, the deputies in the Center refused to vote. The few deputies on the Right protested but could do nothing. The Mountain voted for indictment and arrest. The names of the condemned were announced. They included the Girondin leaders and nine others. Thirty-one Girondins were declared prisoners of the Convention.
The Jacobins had triumphed over their enemies. Though there still were Girondins in the Convention, their power had been broken. Under Jacobin leadership, France was now to enter the most radical phase of its revolution — a phase called The Terror.
A Song for the Revolution
Le Chant du Depart (“The Song of the Departure”) was a song written to inspire the French to fight for the French Republic. The music (1794) was by Etienne Nicolas Mehul with words by Marie-Joseph Chenier.