Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

The Day of the Sections

Such is the name given to the 5th of October, 1795, the last day of the Revolution, and the first day of Napoleon's real power. Robespierre fell, as we have seen, in July, 1794, and after his fall everyone seemed to breathe more easily. The word "mercy" was once more heard in France. The Convention became supreme again, and free discussion went on, and the prisons were opened, and the suspects set free; the Jacobin club-room was locked up, and its key laid on the table of the Convention; the key was given up again, but the glory of the Jacobins was over. The moderate men rose in favor every day. Paris became again a joyous city, a city of song and dance; and the ruffianism of St. Antoine was kept in check by young fellows of the respectable classes, who formed themselves into well-drilled bands, and carried clubs loaded with lead. They used to say, "We have suffered enough, our friends have been guillotined: down with these cursed Jacobins!"—or, sometimes, "Jacoquins" (coquin being the word for "rascal"). On the 29th of November, 1794, these armed dandies of Paris attacked the Jacobin club-room, and smashed the windows. This led to a scrimmage outside, where the Jacobin members had the worst of it, and the troops were obliged to interfere, after which this once mighty club was finally closed as a nuisance.

But the Paris mob looked upon all these revivals of genteel life with the greatest dislike. The bakers' queues were still as long as ever they were, bread was very dear, trade was slack, and on the 1st of April, 1795, St. Antoine rose again, and flowed in a solid mass toward the Tuileries, shouting out, "Bread! bread!" The Convention was sitting when the great sea of people flowed like an irresistible tide into the hall; but, the alarm having been sounded, they were swept out again by some National Guards, assisted by the young volunteer gentry, who did not use their clubs loaded with lead, but actual bayonets.

In this year Fouquier Tinville, who had sent so many to a bloody death, was himself guillotined, and sixteen of his jurymen with him. They all pleaded hard for their lives, saying they had acted by order of the Committee of Public Safety. At Lyons great conflicts went on between the moderate men and the Jacobins. Sixty of the latter were burned to death, or stifled by smoke; and the Jacobins in other places avenged their Lyons brethren by killing or maiming those who were opposed to them.

At Paris, too, the old cry was again raised among the leaders of the mob, "To arms! to arms!" and the old scenes were enacted. Crowds armed with pikes and muskets filled the galleries and hall of the National Convention. Women were there, by the thousand, clamoring for bread; and the husbands, hearing that the Convention was assassinating their wives and daughters, burst open the doors and seized hold of Deputy Feraud, who was endeavoring to shield the President from injury. They trampled him under their feet, and dragged him nearly dead into the lobby, and then beheaded him; and once more this wild city saw its favorite sight of a bleeding head and a deathly face uplifted on a pike's point, and making the circuit of the principal streets. The bulk of the mob still remained in the Convention hall, its leaders insisting on this and that decree being passed at once; but the President, Boissy d'Anglas, would not yield,—no, not for a moment, though the wretches leveled muskets at him, and shook Feraud's gory head in his face. It was a frightful din,—men shouting, drums beaten, honorable members escaping when they could; no order, no law possible.

At four o'clock about sixty members were left; and they, in obedience to mob law, chose a president (for the real President had left the hall), and passed a number of decrees of a highly revolutionary character. While the people were thus triumphing over their success, and shouting out, "Decreed! decreed!" with a roll of drum music, an officer entered, followed by a number of National Guards and young gentlemen with fixed bayonets. These, with measured tramp, very soon cleared the place, many of the mob throwing open the windows and escaping that way. All the decrees that had been passed were declared null and void; and thirteen of the sixty who had passed them were accused, but not at once arrested. They, in a day or two afterward, set up a new National Convention in the east of Paris, and also a rival force; but the dashing sparks of Paris gentry proved too much for St. Antoine, and they cowed that noisy suburb and disarmed it. The actual murderer of Feraud was captured and all but guillotined. He was rescued by the men of St. Antoine, and he hid himself in one of the courts of this populous suburb; but hearing that St. Antoine was beaten and to be disarmed, he threw himself headlong from a lofty roof, and died miserably

Of the thirteen members who passed the decrees, all perished by the guillotine except three. Ruhl shot himself through the head; and Goujon, when he heard that he was sentenced, drew a knife, sheathed it in his breast, then handed it on to Romme, who did the same, and then quickly passed it to the next, who all but slew himself.

The 5th of October in that year was a day of very great importance to Europe, for it raised Napoleon Bonaparte out of obscurity into fame. That day saw him starting on his wonderful path of glory, and it also brought a certain amount of peace and order to the long-distracted city, though it was order brought about by the great soldier's sword.

Paris Mob


The Convention, wishing to end its labors, presented to the country a constitution. Many of its provisions irritated the Paris Sections, who, sooner than accept it, massed their forty thousand fighting men to resist it. The Convention had also its regular troops, but not nearly so many; and it had its officers, with Menou at the head. On the 4th of October the Convention ordered Menou to go and disarm the rebels; he went, but returned without any success, and was thrown into prison as a traitor. The rebels were emboldened at Menou's ignominious failure, and the Convention was disheartened. What were they to do? Some thought Barras was the man to disarm the rebels. Others, more to the purpose, bethought them of Bonaparte. The command was offered to him, and in half an hour it was accepted. And then the readiness and military talent of Bonaparte showed themselves. He at once sent off Murat at a gallop to secure the guns at the camp of Sablons. Murat arrived just in time to prevent them from falling into the other party's hands. Then the young general Napoleon made all his arrangements as only he could make them. "He drew a ring of steel discipline round the Tuileries, and saw that every gunner had his match burning," and that every soldier was on the alert. The 5th of October came, the anniversary of the insurrection of women, and the rebels of the Sections were counting on an easy victory over the Convention, and of making it bend to their wishes.

The rebels seized the Church of St. Roch, and the Pont Neuf. The outposts of the Convention fell back, and every now and then a stray bullet struck the Tuileries, There was a wish on the part of the Sectioners to settle the matter without bloodshed, and many women were busy as peacemakers; but Napoleon had his orders to repel the rebels by force, and he was not a man to shrink from the task.

Four o'clock in the afternoon arrived, and the rebels, finding no response to their messages of peace, began the attack on the Convention in earnest, upon which General Bonaparte ordered his great guns to be fired. In a few minutes two hundred of the rebels were blown to pieces, especially near the Church of St. Roch; and the Section soldiers, finding themselves exposed to such terrible discharges of grape, retired in all directions, and after a few more shells had been fired the whole affair was over. The Church of St. Roch shows to this day the marks of the cannon-balls. The Citizen Bonaparte, who had thus caused the Convention to triumph, was named by acclamation General of the Interior; and Paris felt at last that she had met her match in him who may with truth be called the First Soldier of his own time.