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Massacre at the Champ de Mars

Massacre at the Champ de Mars: Popular Dissent and Political Culture in the French Revolution

David Andress
Volume: 17
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Massacre at the Champ de Mars
    Book Description:

    On 17 July 1791 the revolutionary National Guard of Paris opened fire on a crowd of protesters: citizens believing themselves patriots trying to save France from the reinstatement of a traitor king. To the National Guard and their political superiors the protesters were the dregs of the people, brigands paid by counter-revolutionary aristocrats. Politicians and journalists declared the National Guard the patriots, and their action a heroic defence of the fledgling Constitution. Under the Jacobin Republic of 1793, however, this 'massacre' was regarded as a high crime, a moment of truth in which a corrupt elite exposed its treasonable designs. This detailed study of the events of July 1791 and their antecedents seeks to understand how Parisians of different classes understood 'patriotism', and how it was that their different answers drove them to confront each other on the Champ de Mars. DAVID ANDRESS is senior lecturer in Modern European History, University of Portsmouth.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-007-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
    David Andress
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    On 12 November 1793, a day of wet, numbing cold, a grim and unique ceremony took place on the Champ de Mars, the open space in south-western Paris where the Festival of Federation had been celebrated in 1790, and where today stands the Eiffel Tower. In 1793, for that one day alone, the centre of this vast space was occupied by the guillotine. A single victim journeyed there in the executioner’s cart from prison in central Paris, reviled along the route by screaming crowds that twice attempted to break through the cordon of guards and seize him. Jean-Sylvain Bailly, astronomer,...

  6. 1 The People of Paris and their Historians
    (pp. 19-38)

    Having looked directly at the place of the Champ de Mars Massacre and its actors in historians’ writings, several broader dimensions of historiographical development will need to be explored to lay the foundations for the study which follows: work on policing, neighbourhood and culture under the Old Regime; on cultures of the artisanate in the eighteenth century; on the identity of the sans-culottes; and on the elite perception of the urban population at the beginning of the Revolution. This will be largely, with some important exceptions, an anglophone historiography, and some comment on this is needed.

    It would be unfair...

  7. 2 Aristocrats, Priests and Brigands: January–February 1791
    (pp. 39-60)

    In January 1791 Parisian politics were already seething with doubt and fear, most of which was directed towards what had already become the Revolution’s principal enemies – the aristocracy and the clergy. Around this time, former monarchiens and other royalist elements in the National Assembly coalesced under the leadership of Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre to form the ‘Society of Friends of the Monarchical Constitution’, commonly called the Club monarchique, and which in the first weeks of its existence had already become the preferred target of radical accusations concerning aristocratic conspiracy of all types.¹ Meanwhile, in the face of clerical resistance to their...

  8. 3 Guards, Spies and Commissaires: Policing the Capital
    (pp. 61-84)

    The tragic incomprehensions that formed the political landscape of Paris would be reflected again in responses to the confused journée of 28 February. Before returning to that we need to gain a clearer view of the operations of those charged with public order, an arena within which the Fayettist quest for political order was played out. The multiple demands of the Section de la Place-Vendôme on 22 February give a sense of the alarm that frequently arose in the population at the threat of disorder. The unauthorised wearing of Guard uniforms was a particular concern, considering both the revolutionaries’ highly-tuned...

  9. 4 Plots, Pamphlets and Crowds: February–April 1791
    (pp. 85-108)

    The events of the journée of 28 February 1791 would offer every side in the revolutionary political equation the chance to validate its own interpretation of the forces at work. Several thousands of the ordinary population of the Faubourg St-Antoine chose that day to march to the château of Vincennes, a few miles to the east of the city. They were moved by a growing concern over the previous week that the municipality’s recently-begun refurbishment of the château as an overflow prison had sinister connotations. It appears that on the 25th the Cordeliers Club had sent a deputation to the...

  10. 5 The Saint-Cloud Affair and the Wages Movement
    (pp. 109-135)

    Events during Passion Week were to further expose the fault-lines in the constitutional settlement, and would help to turn radical attitudes toward the authorities from muted hostility to outright opposition. This process, and its impact on popular opinion, was exacerbated by the city’s economic difficulties, raising the spectre of famine plot through accusations of official collusion in currency speculation. At the same time, a series of clashes over the control of artisans’ work practices set official laissez-faire on the side of former masters, while workers claimed that revolutionary justice and the Rights of Man backed their arguments for regulations and...

  11. 6 Before and after Varennes: The Rise in Popular Hostility
    (pp. 136-156)

    The situation in the capital after Easter was one of constantly aggravating social and political confrontation. Tensions created by the perception of the aristocratic and brigand threat, and exacerbated by the clerical challenge of the spring, now began to impinge, as we have seen, on all aspects of social relations – repression of disorder was swift and violent, and economic grievances provoked bitter rhetoric. A continued undercurrent of confrontation with aristocratie heightened the atmosphere of instability. On 2 May, for example, Clermont-Tonnerre made a speech to the National Assembly in which he condemned the idea of annexing Avignon, and two days...

  12. 7 The Constitution in the Balance: Events after the King’s Return
    (pp. 157-173)

    The apparent calm which greeted the return of the king did not last long. The Argus Patriote reported that on 28 June ‘a crowd of workers went . . . to the Abbaye, to ask that they should be given the Gardes-du-Corps who are confined there’.¹ This was not a rescue, but a lynch-mob, the dispersal of which required the summoning of the Guard by sounding the générale. It was in response to a ‘false rumour’ that the royal bodyguards, couriers for the Flight to Varennes, ‘were to be set free by their comrades’.

    Some smaller incidents, meanwhile, point to...

  13. 8 17 July 1791: Massacre and Consternation
    (pp. 174-190)

    This account has now arrived at the point at which we began, the confused journée of 17 July. By now it will be apparent just how complex were the fields of political and cultural force surrounding that event. In the hours before and after the massacre, the police and National Guards detained a swathe of individuals, many, if not most, of whose offences were trivial. Their interrogations, however, illustrate three key facets of the political landscape of July 1791: the ability of individuals to critique the authorities in scathing fashion, the determination of the authorities to treat such dissent as...

  14. 9 After the Bloody Field: Commentaries, Narratives and Dissent
    (pp. 191-212)

    The initial perception of the journalist Gorsas, that the massacre signified a fundamental breach in the body politic, could not be sustained for long within the prevailing political climate. By 19 July as we saw, he would be driven to recant his initial suspicions of the Guard fulsomely, by which time other journals had already developed multiple levels in their arguments for an explanation based on brigandage. The Feuille du Jour was already taking the argument a stage further on that day: ‘All appear convinced that the movements which agitate us are fomented by outside instigators.’ Such ‘missionaries of all...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 213-224)

    The Champ de Mars Massacre did not, in the end, change very much. In terms of the constitutional crisis ignited by the Flight to Varennes, it was a mere postscript, as the leaders of the Jacobin Club understood when they withdrew from the petitioning process. The train of events launched by the massacre itself, most notably the tortuous judicial inquiry dissected by Albert Mathiez, expired in the amnesty of September 1791 as France supposedly turned her back on past troubles. Insofar as the event lived on during the revolutionary era, it was thanks to its revival as part of a...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-234)
  17. Index
    (pp. 235-240)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)