The Champ de Mars Massacre took place on 17 July 1791 in Paris against a crowd of republican protesters in the midst of the French Revolution. The event is named after the site of the massacre, the Champ de Mars. Two days before, the National Constituent Assembly issued a decree that the king, Louis XVI, would retain his throne under a constitutional monarchy. This decision came after Louis and his family had unsuccessfully tried to flee France in the Flight to Varennes the month before. Later that day, leaders of the republicans in France rallied against this decision, eventually leading royalist Lafayette to order the massacre.
Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.
The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.
The Champ de Mars is a large public greenspace in Paris, France, located in the seventh arrondissement, between the Eiffel Tower to the northwest and the École Militaire to the southeast. The park is named after the Campus Martius in Rome, a tribute to the Latin name of the Roman God of war. The name also alludes to the fact that the lawns here were formerly used as drilling and marching grounds by the French military.
Jacques Pierre Brissot, editor and main writer of Le Patriote français and president of the Comité des Recherches of Paris, drew up a petition demanding the removal of the king. A crowd of 50,000 people gathered at the Champ de Mars on July 17 to sign the petition,with about 6,000 having signed the petition. However, earlier that day two suspicious people had been found hiding at the Champ de Mars, "possibly with the intention of getting a better view of the ladies' ankles", and were hanged by those who found them. Jean Sylvain Bailly, the mayor of Paris, used this incident to declare martial law. The Marquis de Lafayette and the National Guard, which was under his command, were able to disperse the crowd.
Jacques Pierre Brissot, who assumed the name of de Warville, was a leading member of the Girondins during the French Revolution and founder of the abolitionist Society of the Friends of the Blacks. Some sources give his name as Jean Pierre Brissot.
Jean Sylvain Bailly was a French astronomer, mathematician, freemason, and political leader of the early part of the French Revolution. He presided over the Tennis Court Oath, served as the mayor of Paris from 1789 to 1791, and was ultimately guillotined during the Reign of Terror.
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, known in the United States simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the Siege of Yorktown. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
Later in the afternoon, the crowd, led by Danton and Camille Desmoulins, returned in even greater numbers. The larger crowd was also more determined than the first. Lafayette again tried to disperse it. In retaliation, the crowd threw stones at the National Guard. After firing unsuccessful warning shots, the National Guard opened fire directly on the crowd. The exact numbers of dead and wounded are unknown; estimates range from a dozen to fifty dead.
Georges Jacques Danton was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, in particular as the first president of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton's role in the onset of the Revolution has been disputed; many historians describe him as "the chief force in the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic".
Lucie-Simplice-Camille-Benoît Desmoulins was a journalist and politician who played an important role in the French Revolution. He was a schoolmate of Maximilien Robespierre and a close friend and political ally of Georges Danton, who were influential figures in the French Revolution. Desmoulins was tried and executed alongside Danton when the Committee of Public Safety reacted against Dantonist opposition.
When Louis XVI and his family fled to Varennes, it set off political turmoil: people felt betrayed and had anger towards Louis. Earlier, information had been received by the assembly that there was potentially a plan for the king to flee. The idea that Louis planned on fleeing the Tuileries palace began in early 1791 and was one of the causes of the Day of Daggers on 28 February 1791.The escape event was not subtly planned, and enough suspicions were aroused in those working in the palace that the information trickled down to newspapers. The Marquis de Lafayette promised on his own life that such a thing was not true, and was proven wrong when the king did try to escape. Lafayette and the Assembly created a lie that the king had been kidnapped. Ultimately the king and his family were brought back and the assembly decided that he needed to be a part of the government if he agreed to consent to the constitution.
On the Day of Daggers, 28 February 1791, hundreds of nobles with concealed weapons, such as daggers, went to the Tuileries Palace in Paris to defend King Louis XVI while Marquis de Lafayette and the National Guard were in Vincennes stopping a riot. A confrontation between the guards and nobles started as the guards thought the nobles came to take the King away. The nobles were finally ordered to relinquish their weapons by the King and they were forcibly removed from the palace.
At the time of the massacre, divisions within the Third Estate had already begun to grow. Many workers were angered by the closing of various workshops, which took away jobs, leaving some unemployed. Higher skilled journeymen were also angered due to a lack of increase in wages since the beginning of the Revolution. The attempted flight of the King only increased the tensions between groups. The massacre was the direct result of various factions reacting to the decree by the Constituent Assembly in different ways. The Cordeliers Club, a populist group, chose to create a petition for a protest. This was originally backed by the Jacobins, though support was withdrawn at Robespierre's suggestion. The Cordeliers proceeded by creating a more radical petition calling for a republic and planning a protest that would help gain more signatures.
The Society of the Friends of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, mainly known as Cordeliers Club, was a populist club during the French Revolution from 1790 to 1794, when the Reign of Terror ended and the Thermidorian Reaction began.
Based on records of the petition and of the dead bodies, the crowd was made up of individuals from the poorer sections of Paris, some of whom may not have been able to read. The organizers seemed to desire representation of Paris as a whole, rather than any specific section.
After the massacre, the republican movement seemed to be over. 200 of the activists involved with the movement were arrested after the massacre, while others had to go into hiding. Organizations stopped meeting and radical newspapers no longer published. However this did not hold true for long.
Lafayette, the commander of the National Guard, was previously long revered as the hero of the American Revolutionary War, and many French looked up to him with hope, expecting him to also lead the French Revolution in the right direction. One year before, on the very same Champ de Mars, he played an important ceremonial role during the first Fête de la Fédération (14 July 1790), in memory of the 1789 Storming of the Bastille. However, Lafayette's reputation among the French never recovered from this bloody episode. The people no longer looked towards him as an ally or supported him after he and his men shot into the crowd, causing the massacre. His influence in Paris diminished accordingly.He would still command French armies from April to August 1792, but then he fled to the Austrian Netherlands, where he was taken prisoner.
In 1793, the former mayor of Paris, Bailly, was executed, and one of the crimes he was charged with and punished for was inciting the massacre.
The following is an excerpt of a news report about the incident printed in the Les Révolutions de Paris, a republican newspaper in support of the anti-royalists who had assembled on the Champ de Mars:
The following is the text of the manifesto which was being read and signed by French citizens in the Champ de Mars on the day of the massacre, 17 July 1791:
Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an Archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She became Dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, heir apparent to the French throne. On 10 May 1774, her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI and she assumed the title Queen of France and Navarre, which she held until September 1791, when she became Queen of the French as the French Revolution proceeded, a title that she held until 21 September 1792.
Louis XVI, born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as Citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was guillotined. In 1765, at the death of his father, Louis, son and heir apparent of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin of France. Upon his grandfather's death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title "King of France and Navarre", which he used until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of "King of the French" until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.
The royal Flight to Varennes during the night of 20–21 June 1791 was a significant episode in the French Revolution in which King Louis XVI of France, his queen Marie Antoinette, and their immediate family unsuccessfully attempted to escape from Paris in order to initiate a counter-revolution at the head of loyal troops under royalist officers concentrated at Montmédy near the frontier. They escaped only as far as the small town of Varennes, where they were arrested after having been recognized at their previous stop in Sainte-Menehould.
The National Constituent Assembly was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.
The Declaration of Pilnite, more commonly referred to as the Declaration of Pillnitz, was a statement issued on 27 August 1791 at Pillnitz Castle near Dresden (Saxony) by Frederick William II of Prussia and the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II who was Marie Antoinette's brother. It declared the joint support of the Holy Roman Empire and of Prussia for King Louis XVI of France against the French Revolution.
The September Massacres were a number of killings in Paris and other cities that occurred from 2–4 September 1792 during the French Revolution.
The French Revolution was a period in the history of France covering the years 1789 to 1799, in which republicans overthrew the Bourbon monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church perforce underwent radical restructuring. This article covers a period of time slightly longer than a year, from 14 July 1790, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, to the establishment of the Legislative Assembly on 1 October 1791.
The short-lived French Constitution of 1791 was the first written constitution in France, created after the collapse of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime. One of the basic precepts of the revolution was adopting constitutionality and establishing popular sovereignty.
The Insurrection of 10 August 1792 was a defining event of the French Revolution. The storming of the Tuileries Palace by the National Guard of the Paris Commune and fédérés from Marseille and Brittany caused the fall of the French monarchy. King Louis XVI and the royal family took shelter with the suspended Legislative Assembly. The formal end of the monarchy occurred six weeks later as one of the first acts of the new National Convention. This insurrection and its outcomes are most commonly referred to by historians of the Revolution simply as "the 10 August"; other common designations include "the day of the 10 August" or "the Second Revolution".
The Storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris, France, on the afternoon of 14 July 1789.
The Fête de la Fédération was a massive holiday festival held throughout France in honour of the French Revolution. It is the precursor of the 14 juillet French National Day which is celebrated every year in France on July 14. Celebrating the Revolution itself, as well as National Unity.
The Women's March on Versailles, also known as The October March, The October Days, or simply The March on Versailles, was one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of 5 October 1789, were near rioting over the high price and scarcity of bread. Their demonstrations quickly became intertwined with the activities of revolutionaries, who were seeking liberal political reforms and a constitutional monarchy for France. The market women and their various allies grew into a mob of thousands. Encouraged by revolutionary agitators, they ransacked the city armory for weapons and marched to the Palace of Versailles. The crowd besieged the palace, and in a dramatic and violent confrontation, they successfully pressed their demands upon King Louis XVI. The next day, the crowd compelled the king, his family, and most of the French Assembly to return with them to Paris.
The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, better known as Feuillants Club, was a political grouping that emerged during the French Revolution. It came into existence on 16 July 1791 when the left-wing Jacobins split between moderates (Feuillants), who sought to preserve the position of the king and supported the proposed plan of the National Constituent Assembly for a constitutional monarchy; and radicals (Jacobins), who wished to press for a continuation of direct democratic action to overthrow Louis XVI. It represented the last and most vigorous attempt of the moderate constitutional monarchists to steer the course of the revolution away from the radical Jacobins.
When the National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on 3 September 1791, it decreed as a final measure that King Louis XVI should have a Constitutional Guard, also known as the garde Brissac after its commander Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, duc de Brissac. This guard's formation was the only court reform to be put into effect, but it only lasted a few months, being superseded by the National Guard.
The Demonstration of 20 June 1792 was the last peaceful attempt made by the people of Paris to persuade King Louis XVI of France to abandon his current policy and attempt to follow what they believed to be a more empathetic approach to governing. The demonstration occurred during the French Revolution. Its objectives were to convince the government to enforce the Legislative Assembly's rulings, defend France against foreign invasion, and preserve the spirit of the French Constitution of 1791. The demonstrators hoped that the king would withdraw his veto and recall the Girondin ministers.
Events from the year 1791 in France.
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