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8 - 17 July 1791: massacre and consternation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

David Andress
Affiliation:
University of Portsmouth
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Summary

This account has now arrived at the point at which we began, the confused journée of 17 July. By now it will be apparent just how complex were the fields of political and cultural force surrounding that event. In the hours before and after the massacre, the police and National Guards detained a swathe of individuals, many, if not most, of whose offences were trivial. Their interrogations, however, illustrate three key facets of the political landscape of July 1791: the ability of individuals to critique the authorities in scathing fashion, the determination of the authorities to treat such dissent as illegitimate, factious and dangerous, and the desperate confusion of many ‘good citizens’ caught between these two positions.

Before the horror

At 1 a.m. on 17 July, the same sergeant Chabrol who had been humiliated at the Société fraternelle the previous month brought to the Palais-Royal commissaire a medical student (perhaps one of the Surgical Club), who had remarked to a group that it was ‘abominable’ to see patrols of Guards with fixed bayonets, and that ‘all this would finish, that today they had made a deliberation at the Champ de la Fédération and tomorrow two hundred thousand men should gather at the field, and the National Guards had only to turn up’. When challenged on this by Chabrol, the student, Felix Nicolas Traisuel, claimed to have orders from the municipality allowing the meeting, despite Chabrol's objection that all gatherings had been banned.

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Massacre at the Champ de Mars
Popular Dissent and Political Culture in the French Revolution
, pp. 174 - 190
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2000

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