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FrRevol_301-350.indd 35 3/16/12 1:08 PM CHAPTER XII Tn"al ofLouis XVI. What a subject! But it has been so often treated on that I shall here allow myself to make only a few particular observations.1 In the month ofOctober, 1792, before the horrible trial ofthe King had begun, before Louis XVI had named his defenders, M. Necker stood forward to receive that noble and perilous charge. He published a memoir2 which posterity will accept as one of the truest and most disinterested testimonies that could be given in favor of the virtuous monarch thrown into captivity.* M. de Malesherbes3 was chosen by the King to be his advocate in the National Convention. The dreadful death of this admirable man and of his family demands the first place in our memory; but the sound reasoning and sincere eloquence ofM. Necker's publication in defense of the King must render it a document for history. It cannot be denied that Louis XVI was considered as a prisoner from the time of his departure for Varennes, and consequently he did nothing to forward the establishment of a Constitution, which the most sincere efforts would not, perhaps, have been able to maintain. But with what *The property which M. Necker possessed in France was sequestered from the very day on which his Memoirejusticatifde Louis XVI appeared. I . On this issue, see Walzer, Regicide and Revolution; Jordan, The King's Trial: Louis X VI vs. the French Revolution; and Ozouf'sentry on the trial ofLouis XVI in A CriticalDictionary ofthe French R evolution, 95-106. 2 . Rijlexionspresentees ala nationfran,caise sur le procis de Louis XVI (Berne and Paris, I792). 3· Guillaume-Chretien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (I72I-94) was a former president ofthe Cour des aides in the Parlement ofParis and a minister ofLouis XVI's (1775-76, I788). He served as Louis XVI's counsel for the defense and was subsequently arrested and executed in '794· He was a relative of Tocqueville. For more information, see Wyrwa, ed., Malesherbes, le pouvoir et les lumieres. FrRevol_301-350.indd 36 3/16/12 1:08 PM PART III delicacy does not M. Necker, who always believed in the force of truth, place it before us upon this point. Men ofattentive minds-just men, will admire the patience and moderation which the King displayed when everything changed around him, and when he was continually exposed to every kind of insult; but if he had committed faults, if he had misunderstood on some points the new obligations imposed upon him, should it not be attributed to the new form of government? to that constitution in which a monarch was nothing but in appearance, in which royalty itself was out of its place; in which the head of the executive power could discern neither what he was nor what he ought to be; in which he was deceived even by words, and by the equivocal sense which might be given to them; in which he was king without any ascendency; in which he occupied the throne without enjoying any respect, in which he appeared to possess the right to command without having the means of making himself obeyed; in which he was alternately, and according to the unrestrained will ofa single deliberative assembly, at one time a simple public functionary, and at another the hereditary representative of the nation? How could a monarch, suddenly placed in the trammels of a political system equally obscure and absurd, and ultimately proscribed by the deputies of the nation themselves; how could he alone be required to be consistent in the midst of the continual fluctuation of ideas? And would it not be the height of injustice to judge a monarch by all his projects, all his thoughts, in the course ofa revolution so extraordinary, that it would have been necessary for him to be in perfect harmony, not only with the things which were known, but even with all those of which it would have been in vain to preconceive any just idea? [Riflexions presentees ala nation fran,caise, I9-2o] M. Necker goes on to retrace in his Memoir the acts of beneficence which marked the reign of Louis XVI before the Revolution; the extinction of the remains of servitude, the interdiction4 of the torture, the suppression of the corvee, the establishment of the provincial administrations, the convocation of the Estates General. "Is it not Louis XVI," says he, "who, in occupying him unceasingly...


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