Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2010
At the beginning of the revolution, no one, or almost no one, seriously believed that France could one day cease to be a monarchy. The proclamation of the sovereignty of the nation did not prevent the majority of revolutionaries from holding as sacred the person of the king, and even the institution of the monarchy. The idea of transforming France into a republic did not unite more than a handful of sectarians, at least until Varennes. Divided in their definition of republican government, condemned to political impotence by their isolation, republicans never formed a ‘party’, only ‘one of those conspiracies of ideas, in which the members occasionally meet but more often act singly, according to individual initiative’.
They remained unnoticed for a long time. The existence of a republican faction began to be discussed toward the spring of 1790, after the king had been stripped of all prerogatives of sovereignty. The Révolutions de Paris at the time remarked on the prudent silence maintained by numerous deputies in regard to the king, ‘for fear of leaving an opening for the accusation, so often repeated, that they … want to make France a republic’.
The first writings to call openly for an abolition of the royalty were also published during this period. The ex-poet Lavicomterie began in September 1790 with Dupeuple et des rois, which was followed in November by a more substantial article by Francis Robert4 which was echoed in different articles published by journals close to the radical circles of the capital.