It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood. — James Madison

Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

The Girondins

If you examine a map of France, you will see a department on the west coast, near the city of Bordeaux, called Gironde. A party in the French Convention who (many of them, at least) came from that district were called Girondins. This party led the Revolution for a time; but when the leaders of the mob became its leaders also, the Girondins, who were generally high-born gentlemen, saw that it would be an evil day when France was ruled by mob law. They therefore formed what we may call a Conservative party, and were hated accordingly by the rabid Republicans. The Girondins were for abolishing royalty, and yet not altogether for the murder of the king; for though many of them did vote for his death, they yet tried to get a reprieve for him, but failed in the attempt.

After the king was dead, the Girondins became yet more and more opposed to the Jacobin leaders; and at length, on May 31, 1793, the Convention was surrounded by armed multitudes, who loudly demanded the imprisonment of twenty-nine (or, as some say, thirty-three) deputies of the Girondin party. So these men, in obedience to the will of the mob, were kept under police observation; and Madame Roland, a noble Frenchwoman, the wife of the late Minister Roland, was cast into prison.

While they were thus in the strong grasp of the ruling party, Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat fatally in his bath; and this rash deed had probably much to do with the death of the Girondins generally. When Charlotte went on her errand to Paris, Barbaroux gave her a note of introduction to the Girondin deputy Duperret; and when Charlotte had succeeded in slaying Marat, Duperret was arrested, and the papers were examined.

At Lyons the Girondin party, who were strong, put a Jacobin named Chalier to death. When Chalier was dying, he said that his death would cost the city dear; and his prophecy was fulfilled.

Eleven of the Girondin deputies retreated to Bordeaux, dressed in the uniform of National Volunteers. Every place through which they passed bristled with dangers to them; for in each town and village there was a Revolution Committee of a jealous temper, ever on the lookout for men who would not go their lengths. Louvet, one of the Girondins, has left an account of this retreat. He tells us how one of the party was tortured with the gout, how another was too fat for marching, and how a third had to walk on tiptoe; while Barbaroux (the same man who had written with tears in his eyes for "six hundred men who knew how to die") had to limp with a sprained ankle. So they jogged on, through perils and dangers, sleeping where they could,—now in the summer woods, now in a straw-shed. The country got so hot about them at last that they had to march only by night; and once, as they passed through a mean village, they heard the dreadful words from some wakeful peasant, "There they are!" and they glided off quickly through the darkness, over hedge and ditch, into the wood of Quimper, and there under the wet bushes crouched together, and were found, in the morning by a kind-hearted pastor, who took them to his home and concealed them. Luckily for them, the Quimper folk were friendly to Girondins, and allowed them to hide themselves until a miserable little ship could be found to bear them away to Bordeaux. There they were landed, but they found it no place of safety. No! Tallien and the Jacobins were there with their guillotine, cutting off the heads of all who dared to say a word against the now powerful party in the State.


The prisons at Paris were crowded with occupants, and every day about the set of sun the death-carts went loaded with victims to the guillotine, which still did its dreadful work in the Place de la Revolution. The Girondins, who had been since May under the charge of the police, were now thrown into prison, and had good reason to fear the worst. Twenty-two of them, all true Republicans and all eminent men, were in course of time placed on their trial before Fouquier Tinville, the famous attorney-general.

Twenty-two Girondin members of the National Convention, who had been tried, were now to suffer death. It was the 30th of October, 1793, or, according to the new Revolutionary calendar, the 9th of Brumaire, in the year 2 of the Republic. Anno Domini was now knocked on the head, and the old months of January, February, and so on; for the Republicans, wanting everything new, constructed a brand-new almanac, which lasted fourteen years.

On the 9th of the month Brumaire, therefore, of the year 2, the twenty-two Girondins were brought to the bar of Tinville, and condemned to suffer the last dread penalty of revolution law. They were, remember, the flower of French patriots, all eloquent men, and great in their day; but now, suspected of a want of energy, they checked the glowing wheels of the great Revolution. After a lengthy trial, in which they defended themselves with surprising skill, the jury, by a fresh decree made for the purpose, declared the accused guilty, and they were sentenced to suffer the loss of life and of all their property. One of them, named Valaze, when he heard this wicked sentence, drew out a dagger and stabbed himself to the heart. The rest were taken back to prison, singing, as they went, the "Marseillaise Hymn."

Another of them, named Vergniaud, had poison with him; but he would not swallow it because he had not enough to kill his friends as well as himself. He therefore threw the poison away. The last night of the condemned Girondins was spent in a very strange manner. The fear of death does not seem to have affected their spirits in the least, for with songs and light-hearted mirth they met the "last enemy."

A vast crowd of sight-seers were out when the Girondins went forth to die. It was something new and strange, surely, to behold the Revolution thus devouring her own children; and many a man that day who saw them carted to the Place de la Revolution must have asked himself, "Who slew all these?" No rescue was attempted; and the twenty-two died, man after man, shouting, "Vive la Republique!" or singing the "Marseillaise Hymn" to the very last.

There they perished, those twenty-two Girondins, while some of their party who escaped had, perhaps, a still more bitter fate to encounter. Some of them were guillotined in Bordeaux. Barbaroux shot himself with a pistol; while Buzot and Petion were found in a cornfield, their bodies half eaten by dogs. Louvet, after many dangers, happily escaped to Switzerland. Thus the Revolution began to devour her own children; and the Girondins were not the last, though they were among the best, whom she devoured.