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The French Revolution (1789–1799)

History SparkNotes

Escalating Violence: 1791–1792

The National Assembly: 1789–1791

Escalating Violence: 1791–1792, page 2

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Events
June 20–21, 1791 Louis XVI and his family flee Paris but are caught near the Austrian border
August 27 Austria and Prussia issue Declaration of Pillnitz
September 14 Louis XVI approves National Assembly’s new constitution, which establishes constitutional monarchy
April 20, 1792 France declares war on Austria
August 10 Jacobins and sans-culottes storm Tuileries; depose and arrest Louis XVI
September 2 Sansculottes initiate prison massacres in Paris
Key People
Louis XVI -  French king; fled Paris with family in June 1791 but was captured near border with Austria
Jacques-Pierre Brissot -  Member of Legislative Assembly and National Convention; driving force behind moderate group called the Girondins
Sansculottes -  General term for underrepresented French laborers and commoners who, frustrated that their efforts were largely unrewarded and concerns unrecognized, resorted to mob violence

Louis XVI’s Flight

Although King Louis XVI maintained a supportive front toward the Revolution, he remained in contact with the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Sweden, asking for their help in restoring his family to power. In late June 1791, Louis XVI and his family attempted to escape to the Austrian border, where they were supposed to meet the Austrian army and arrange an attack on the revolutionaries. However, the runaway party was caught just before reaching the border and brought back to Tuileries in Paris.

This escape attempt considerably weakened the king’s position and lowered his regard in the eyes of the French people. Beforehand, although he had little real power remaining, he at least still had the faith of his country. The king’s attempt to run away, however, made it clear to skeptics that he was a reluctant associate at best and would turn his back on the constitution and its system of limited monarchy at any moment. The more radical revolutionaries, who had never wanted a constitutional monarchy, trusted the king even less after his attempted escape. The more moderate revolutionaries, who once were staunch proponents of the constitutional monarchy, found themselves hard-pressed to defend a situation in which a monarch was abandoning his responsibilities. Therefore, although Louis XVI constitutionally retained some power after being returned to Paris, it was clear that his days were numbered.

The Declaration of Pillnitz

In response to Louis XVI’s capture and forced return to Paris, Prussia and Austria issued the Declaration of Pillnitz on August 27, 1791, warning the French against harming the king and demanding that the monarchy be restored. The declaration also implied that Prussia and Austria would intervene militarily in France if any harm came to the king.

Prussia and Austria’s initial concern was simply for Louis XVI’s well-being, but soon the countries began to worry that the French people’s revolutionary sentiment would infect their own citizens. The Declaration of Pillnitz was issued to force the French Revolutionaries to think twice about their actions and, if nothing else, make them aware that other countries were watching the Revolution closely.

The Constitution of 1791

In September 1791, the National Assembly released its much-anticipated Constitution of 1791, which created a constitutional monarchy, or limited monarchy, for France. This move allowed King Louis XVI to maintain control of the country, even though he and his ministers would have to answer to new legislature, which the new constitution dubbed the Legislative Assembly. The constitution also succeeded in eliminating the nobility as a legal order and struck down monopolies and guilds. It established a poll tax and barred servants from voting, ensuring that control of the country stayed firmly in the hands of the middle class.

The Jacobins and Girondins

Divisions quickly formed within the new Legislative Assembly, which coalesced into two main camps. On one side were the Jacobins, a group of radical liberals—consisting mainly of deputies, leading thinkers, and generally progressive society members—who wanted to drive the Revolution forward aggressively. The Jacobins found Louis’s actions contemptible and wanted to forgo the constitutional monarchy and declare France a republic.

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