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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 7

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The debates and voting on these three questions occupied the convention till late in the evening of the 17th. On the first question thirty-seven pronounced Louis guilty, but proposed only that he should be taken care of for the general safety; six hundred and eighty-three declared him guilty simply; and, as the assembly consisted only of seven hundred and forty-nine members, there was a majority affirming his guilt of the whole, except forty-three members. He was- therefore declared, by the président, guilty of conspiracy against the liberty and safety of the state. On the second question twenty-nine members were absent; four, namely, Mousion, Lafon, Lacroix, and Waudelclaincourt, refused to vote; eleven voted conditionally; two hundred and eighty for the appeal to the people, being Girondists; and four hundred and twenty-three rejected it. The président, therefore, proclaimed that the appeal to the people was declined.

The last fatal question, of death to the monarch, was put on the 16th. By this time the excitement was as intense all over Paris as within the walls of the convention itself. Not only the galleries, but all round the house, the crowds were eager and crushing. In the theatres, the play of L'Ami des Lois being acted, voices were raised in favour of Louis. This created great alarm amongst the jacobins. The commune ordered the theatres to be all closed; the executive council ordered them to be re-opened. Humours were spread, by the jacobins, that the barriers were closed; that plots were on foot to liberate Louis, and resume the massacres of September. A terrible alarm spread through the prisons. The convention could not proceed to the votes till it had ordered the barriers to remain open, and had taken measures for the public safety. Before the voting could commence, the question was raised as to the majority which should decide the sentence. Lehardy proposed that \t should not be less than two-thirds; Danton, who had Just arrived from Belgium, insisted that a bare majority should be sufficient, and this was carried.

Owing to these hindrances, it was half-past seven in the evening before the first vote was taken. Mailhe interposed that those who voted for death should do so, if they pleased, with a proviso that the execution should be stayed. This was violently opposed, and the voting proceeded amid much tumult; silence only was observed as each member advanced to the bureau to give his vote, so that it might be heard; but the moment he had voted, cries of approbation and murmurs of resentment arose from the différent parties; but the great voice of the assembly was for death. Amongst the voters, Marat gave his for death within twenty-four hours; Robespierre, for death, and with it death to all royalty; Sièyes exclaimed, in a shrill voice, "Mort sans phrases!" (death without comments.) But, perhaps, no vote astonished the assembly and the public more than that of Vergniaud - the same Vergniaud who had passed whole nights in tears on account of Louis's fate, and who had pleaded for appeal to the people; he now voted for death, only adding to it the amendment of Mailhe about staying execution, which was certain to receive no attention whatever. Nothing could exceed the cowardice and hypocrisy of these Girondists. The duke of Orleans did not excite so much astonishment as horror by his vote. Pale as death itself, and trembling in every joint, he mounted the tribune, and read these words: - " Exclusively governed by my duty, and convinced that all those who have resisted, or shall resist, the sovereignty of the people, deserve death, my vote is for death! " There was a sensation of disgust and revolting indignation which passed through even this callous assembly, at hearing a man consign his near relative to the block, for the cowardly motive, palpable to every one, of saving his neck.

The voting continued all through the night of the 16th, and till seven in the evening of the 17th. As it drew near its close, the excitement was indescribable. It was whispered that the votes did not amount to a majority for death. It seemed to many that the words banishment or imprisonment had been heard as frequently as death. Others said that there was a majority, but the very barest one. The suspense became unbearable. At this moment it was announced that the counsel of the monarch requested admittance to urge some new plea. The clamour of the Mountain was beyond bounds. There were loud outcries from that quarter. Robespierre insisted that the counsel should not be admitted; that the defence was finished, and nothing remained but to pronounce the judgment. It was accordingly resolved that the counsel should not be admitted till after the pronouncing of the judgment; and Vergniaud, who was président, proceeded to sum up the votes.

It was found, that of the seven hundred and forty-nine members, fifteen were absent; two hundred and eighty-six voted for detention or banishment; two for imprisonment alone; forty-six for death, with a reprieve, either till peace, or till the ratification of the constitution; twenty-six voted with Mailhe for death, with the option of staying the execution; three hundred and sixty-one voted for death unconditionally, so that, independent of the fourteen absent, the majority for death unconditionally was only thirteen.

When this result had been announced, the counsel were admitted. Their demand was, that the majority in favour of the death of the king being so small, the appeal should be made to the nation. Malesherbes also demanded twenty-four hours to compose his agitated feelings before urging this plea to the best of his ability. Robespierre opposed the motion altogether; Merlin maintained, that though the majority for unconditional death was small, yet the majority for the guilt of Louis was almost total. The plea for appeal was therefore dismissed, and the next day was appointed to consider the question of reprieve. On meeting the next morning, an objection was raised that the enumeration of the votes was not correct, and the whole day was consumed in a scrutiny of them. They were pronounced correct; but the question of reprieve was necessarily postponed to the next day. On the 19th the Girondists made a feeble effort in Louis's favour, by con- tending that, if he were put to death, people, both within and out of France, would arm to avenge him. But it was replied, if he were alive, people would arm to release him; and Barrère asserted that, in that case, Louis would suffer a new death every time there was movement of armies in his favour. On the 20th, at three o'clock in the morning, the voting on this point terminated, and the président declared that there was a majority of three hundred and eighty voices against three hundred and ten, and that there could be no reprieve; the execution must take place without delay.

Such was the trial of Louis XVI. - commenced in a spirit of vengeance unworthy of a nation calling itself civilised, and conducted in a heat of brutal truculence most scandalous to so august an occasion. The French thought they were imitating the English in their trial of Charles I.; but what a difference betwixt the monarchs and the people! The imitation of the French was a base counterfeit. Charles l. and his whole line and family were the most resolute and unprincipled maintainers of despotic power, and he right divine of kings to do what they please. No word, no oath, no compact or promise could bind Charles. He war solemnly, and, according to his education, religiously and inflexibly bent on accomplishing his object, at all hazards. No liberty could have been given to him without his immediately using it to resume the struggle for paramount power. It seemed necessary to put him beyond the possibility of renewing the troubles and bloodshed which his bigoted belief in unlimited kingship bad occasioned, and to make an example of dangerous and incorrigible sovereigns. Such was the gloomy and unconquerable bent of his race, that even this solemn execution could not deter his son James from a like course, and it became imperative to expel the besotted race of tyrants for ever. But as for poor Louis XVI. of France, he was completely in the hands of his people. He had neither the will nor the power to act the tyrant. Had his people and government behaved generously to him, and kept the constitution to which they had sworn with him, no age or country of Europe would have seen a more constitutional monarch - a happier king or people. His virtues as a man were admirable, and his virtues as a monarch required only that the assembly and people should have kept their compact as he did. But the two peoples, the English and the French, were as dissimilar in political wisdom and moral tone as two nations could in possibility be. The English were anxious only for the preservation of constitutional liberty; the French were in a wild ferment for boundless licence. The English were grave, religious, Christian; the French, naturally excitable, and wanting ballast, were on the highway to the destruction and renunciation of ail religion - of ail belief in soul and Deity. They were in the rapid current of a philosophy which, under the plea of liberating them from the ancient thraldoms of earth and heaven, was delivering them, bound hand and foot, first to the apostles of blood and death, and finally to military absolutism. Therefore, the conduct of the two revolutions was as différent as were their ends. William Hazlitt has ably pointed out these differentia of the Anglican and Gallic character in sketching the features of this celebrated trial: - " The sitting of the convention, which concluded the trial, lasted seventy-two hours. It might naturally be supposed that silence, restraint, a sort of religious awe, would have pervaded the scene; on the contrary, everything bore the marks of guilty dissipation and the most grotesque confusion. The farther end of the hall was covered with boxes, where ladies, in a studied dishabille, swallowed ices, oranges, liqueurs, and received the salutations of the members, who went and came, as on ordinary occasions. Here the door-keepers on the Mountain side opened and shut the boxes reserved for the mistresses of the duke of Orleans – 'Egalité and there, though every sound of approbation or disapprobation was strictly forbidden, you heard the long and indignant 'ha! ha's!' of the mother- duchess, the patroness of the bands of female jacobins, whenever her ears were not greeted with the welcome sounds of death. The upper gallery, reserved for the people, was, during the whole trial, constantly full of strangers of every description, drinking wines, as in a tavern. Bets were made as to the issue of the trial in all the neighbouring coffeehouses. Ennui, impatience, disgust, sate on almost every countenance. The figures passing and repassing, and rendered more ghastly by the pallid lights, and who, in a slow, sepulchral voice, only pronounced the word ' Death! ' others calculating if they should have time to go to dinner before they gave their verdict; women pricking cards with pins, in order to count the votes; some of the deputies fallen asleep, and only waked up to give their sentence - all this had the appearance rather of a hideous dream than of a reality."

Yet there were some isolated cases of right feeling: Salles contending for nothing more than imprisonment; Morrisson and Lanjuinais protesting, against the whole furious herd, that they had no right to try the king for anything but dethronement, in the face of the constitution, but one year old - were redeeming incidents. And just as this strange scene closed a letter was sent in by Kersaint, a naval captain and Girondist, announcing the resignation of his seat, adding that he could no longer endure the disgrace of sitting amid a body of bloodthirsty men, whose sentiments, governed by terror, prevailed over those of upright minds; where Marat prevailed over Petion. Nor must we omit the strenuous effort made by Thomas Paine to ward off the last fatal blow from the unhappy monarch, whom he had so willingly assisted to dethrone. A letter of his was read from the tribune, in which he reminded them that Louis had proved himself the friend of the Americans, and that the error of their having put to death their liberator would be calculated to destroy that unity and sympathy which should exist amongst republicans. He implored them not to give England the pleasure of seeing the man sent to the scaffold by them who had helped his beloved American brethren to break their chains. He observed that France had just appointed an ambassador to the United States, and he called upon them to give the American patriots the pleasure of receiving from him the news that, in consideration of the part which Louis Capet had taken in the American revolution, they had suspended the penalty of death.

These arguments were well chosen; but all arguments were lost on the mind of the convention, burning with the desire of " terrifying kings," according to the phraseology of Robespierre. After the condemnation, and the receipt of the letter of Kersaint, Gensonné spoke against the decree of death - when, in fact, it was too late - and contended that? if they punished the misdeeds of tyranny, they ought to punish other and more mischievous misdeeds; they ought to punish the massacres of September. This proposition was received by the Girondists with acclamation. It was opposed by the jacobins, through Marat and Tallien, who said, if they punished the Septembrisers, they ought to punish the murderers of the 10th of August, who had entrenched themselves in the palace. The assembly decreed to punish both, and then dispersed.

Malesherbes, who had been so affected at the sentence passed on Louis, was the first who had the misfortune to communicate it to him. Clery, who saw him approach, ran out to meet him, and inquire. " All is lost! " replied Malesherbes, in deep emotion; " the king is condemned." When he was introduced, he fell at the king's feet, unable to speak for sobs and tears. Louis raised him and embraced him, and then Malesherbes communicated the terrible tidings. Louis received the news with the utmost firmness, and conducted him into his closet. They remained there for about an hour, and then the distressed old man took his leave. Louis pressed him to return the next morning, and to give him all the company he could in his few remaining hours. Malesherbes gone, Louis then perceived Clery standing, overwhelmed with grief. He seemed to feel nothing for himself, but strove to console this faithful servant, whom Sir Walter Scott says "was a model of pristine faith and loyalty which never can be forgotten. Gentlemanlike and complaisant in his manners, his deep gravity and melancholy features ever afterwards announced that the sad scenes in which he had acted a part so honourable were never for a moment out of his memory." " Come," he said to Clery, " more courage!" In the evening, he said again to him, "You have heard the sentence they have pronounced upon me? " Clery replied, he hoped they would yet reverse it. The king shook his head, and said he did not indulge any hope; but he felt severely the conduct of his near relative, Orleans, handing Clery the list of the votes, where his appeared for the king's death. Clery endeavoured to cheer his master, by telling him that he heard that there were great numbers who were horrified at the proceedings of the convention; that Dumouriez had come to town, and that much might be hoped from his exertions; and that he heard that all the foreign ambassadors were going to the convention in a body to protest. " Clery," said Louis, " I do not fear death, but I am torn with grief at the situation in which I leave my family, and the faithful servants who never forsook me - these old people, who depend on the little pensions which I allowed them. I am agonised for France, the victim of terrible factions, rushing from crime to crime. Oh, my God! and is this the reward of all my sacrifices? Have I not tried everything to insure the happiness of the French people? "

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